Will they appreciate what a gift this experience is at such a young age?
Will they understand the significance of the amazing places we visit?
Will they have any perspective at historical sites?
Will they remember this?
These were some of my main concerns when we decided to move into an RV and take our 4 and 6 year old daughters on a tour of the United States.
Brad and I had been toying with the idea of living in an RV for a number of years, and the scenario had changed shape as our life stage evolved. Once we had kids, the version of the story we most often told ourselves (although deep down I didn’t really ever believe this would happen), was that we would spend a year on the road when the girls were in their preteen years. Our thought was that they would be old enough to appreciate it, but still young enough to enjoy it. We weren’t sure how the rest of the supporting circumstances might ever possibly line up to make this dream a plan.
So in the winter of 2015-16, when circumstances started to line up in a way that began to feel like, “maybe this is now or never?”, I had mixed feelings about taking a 4 & 6 year old on the road. My chief concern was, “Will they remember this when they’re older?”
As we approach the one year mark, I have completely changed my mind about this being the right time to hit the road. Traveling with young kids is THE BEST! Here are a few reasons why:
1. They’re small
I know this is obvious, but never having spent any time in an RV before, I underestimated how great it is that only 2 of our family members have reached their full size. Whether it’s the 4 of us squishing into our tiny dining table seats, or all sitting on the couch at the same time, or all cuddling up on our bed for a movie night, it just plain helps that they are little people who don’t take up too much room. They are able to comfortably sleep in their closet-sized bunk room, and if they are in the window seats during dinner, they can still come and go by crawling under the table.
2. They still like us.
There have been so many people on the road telling us that this is the perfect time to travel with our kids that there’s no way I could have kept count. “You’re doing this at the perfect time.” “Good for you.” “I wish I could have done this when my kids were that age.” And SO OFTEN we hear, “Even if you could have done this with them 10 years from now they wouldn’t have wanted to go.”
At the age they are now, our girls LOVE to be with us all the time. Even with the intense, family-time, bootcamp we are experiencing, they still ask to have one-on-one time with each of us. But word on the street is that eventually it will no longer be that way. It could potentially be much more complicated when they have many more friendships and commitments as a teen or preteen. It could even cloud their vision enough that they would forget how amazing it is to hang out with us all day every day.
3. They don’t need privacy
While they have their own bunks, that 3 X 7 space is the only space that belongs exclusively to these kiddos. However, they don’t seem to mind in the least. They’ve personalized these little havens with cubbies full of treasures, cards and drawings from loved ones on the walls, and hammocks full of beloved stuffed animals.
Even though the floor space in their room is so small that they can’t both get dressed at the same time, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal. They tend to want to change clothes where ever they are standing at the time, often forget to close the bathroom door while using it, and frequently have to be reminded, “You can’t go outside without clothes on”.
While older kids could potentially be bothered by no semblance of privacy, or the necessity of going into their parents bedroom to go to the bathroom, these littles don’t give it a second thought. We are often all engaged in the same activity, whether I like it or not, so 281 square feet suits us just fine. Even back in Wenatchee in our full size house, at least one of the girls was usually touching me.
4. They are great ice breakers
Kids may be the next best thing to carrying a puppy when you want to meet new people. Whether we are at a crowded campground or boon docking in National Forest land, it’s so much easier to approach someone when you can say, “How old are your girls?” We meet a lot of other parents this way, but even other travelers without kids seem more at ease talking to strangers when there are little kids to use as a conversation starter.
5. They can’t fully appreciate this experience – but no one could.
This year has been amazing, but its been fast and furious. I worry that they don’t understand everything they are seeing – but neither do I! I worry that they aren’t fully appreciating how lucky they are to have seen all of these beautiful natural wonders – but neither am I! I worry that they will forget a lot of what we have seen and learned on the road – but I know that I will forget just as much!
While they may not have clear memories of seeing the Lincoln Memorial or the Statue of Liberty or the Golden Gate Bridge when they are adults, I still think that this experience will forever shape them. Even once the specific memories fade, they will know on a foundational level that they can go anywhere, explore anything, and that the things they learn about in school are real places where real events happened. This perspective can never be taken from them, even after the events of this year become fuzzy in their memories. And we are going to do our best to help all of us remember it by recalling our adventures together as much as we can. Early on during our trip, I once asked my youngest if she would PLEASE try to remember this adventure forever, even though she was only 4 years old. “Of course I will, Mom!” she replied. “You’re taking thousands of pictures!”
So even though I had a lot of concerns going into this year, I now think that traveling with small kids is the BEST! I feel like we’ve found the sweet spot…we are past nap times and diapers, but we are before hormones and peer pressure. If you can find a way to carve the opportunity for yourself, travel with your kids while they are young. I just can’t recommend it enough.