Josslyn and Robert, both 41, and their two children -- Robby, 8, and Sawyer, 6 -- recently hit the road in search of a new home. Their adventure concludes our "Families off the Grid" series.
momlogic: Before going on the road, please describe what your life was like.
Josslyn: We were mostly happy in Southern California. But, shortly after we were married, we talked about moving to a different area. We were tired of the crowds, the smog, and just wanted a different place to raise kids. We were looking for more nature right in our own backyard: mountains, rivers, water, water, and water! We like to camp, hike, kayak, canoe, and just be out in nature. We actually wanted more weather too. Most people in Southern California would think that was crazy, but it's true -- we wanted seasons to enjoy and to appreciate the changes in nature.
We stayed as long as we did, however, in part because Robert's mother was in a vegetative state (some people call it a coma, but it's not the correct term) since one year before Robert and I met. As long as she was in the hospital in California, he was not going to leave the area. The circumstances of her illness and the stress and pressure it put on the entire family for almost nine years made it impossible for him to leave. He wanted to be close to visit her often, as well as be there to support his dad and his sisters, all of whom lived nearby. So, we stayed. We were both born and raised in So Cal, so we were comfortable with the status quo ... even if we didn't really like parts of it. (I was raised north of San Diego and Robert was raised in a suburb of L.A.)
After we were married and while his mom was still in a hospital, I gave birth to Robby and got pregnant with Sawyer. I was very active in my local "Mom's Club" and did a lot of volunteer work for them in many different roles. We really enjoyed Chino Hills and would have been happy to move back there if we had not found another place in the country that we liked as much. We somehow knew we would find a place that we loved, a place that we had consciously chosen for our family.
Robert was a financial planner for Dean Witter when I met him, but left that a few years later to go back into industrial sales. He enjoyed his job overall and it paid well. He made a job change shortly before his mom passed away, and he was not happy with the company or the long hours and large amounts of travel.
When Robert's mom passed away in March 2003, I was pregnant with Sawyer. Robert still would not leave his dad, and I was fine with that. I wanted to be near his dad as well. He only lived 15 minutes from us. His dad, however, passed away suddenly in October of 2005. He was much sicker than we had known, and I believe he had been through so much stress during his wife's illness that it took a great toll on him emotionally and physically.
Robert and his sisters spent a year working on the estate and preparing the house for sale. During that year, Robert worked his full-time sales job, for which he traveled about two weeks a month. On nights and weekends, he was working at his dad's home. After that year, Robert was tired, burned out, and still had not truly taken the time to grieve for his parents. He needed a break and some time with his own family. I was tired and burnt-out from taking care of the kids most of the time with little help. I had also suffered from postpartum depression very badly after Sawyer was born, and was having a very difficult time with little support from him. It was a very hard time for us all.
Robert was not happy with his sales job at the time, and I was not happy with him being away from us so much. We talked about what kinds of things he would enjoy doing and what kind of a life we wanted for ourselves and for the future. We had inherited some money from his parents and wanted to do something for our future with it. We had also learned that you never know what's going to happen in life and NOTHING is guaranteed. Even having a tomorrow is not a sure thing. We decided at that point in our lives we did not want to live by fear anymore. We did not want to have a bunch of regrets at the end of it all because we were too afraid to do something.
At one point, we were very involved with buying a franchise business that focused on children's enrichment. We spent four months in negotiations, incorporating, planning, and training for this franchise, and were very excited about it. In the end, the franchise never got off the ground and we walked away. The summer of 2006, we found ourselves starting at stage one again. We said, "What do we do with our lives?" We wanted to change so many things but did not know where to start. We had invested a lot of resources and emotion into the franchise idea and had seen those plans disappear. We had felt so sure it was what we wanted. But now, we were starting over.
ML: Whose idea was it to leave the house and live on the road? When did you come up with the idea? And what was your goal?
Josslyn: We had often talked about retiring and living in an RV on the road. Robert had a client who had done it and we'd even visited their RV and heard stories of their travels. We had always thought, "WOW, how cool ... maybe when we retire."
After the franchise died, we began the conversations again about "What do we want to do and where do we want to live." One day, Robert came home from work with an idea. He said to me, "OK, I have an idea. Don't say no right away, think about it a bit first." So he told me the idea was to hit the road and look for our ideal place to live while we traveled the country. The kids were young enough that they could be homeschooled and they still liked us a lot, so they wouldn't mind being with us 24 hours a day. We could rent the house out and come back if we didn't find a place we liked better.
My first reaction to things is always: "NO WAY!" Robert knows this about me, so he knew I'd need time to digest the idea and think it through. We talked about a lot of different fears and concerns about the trip. We talked and thought about it for a month or more. The main fears I think were money and the safety of our kids. Yes, we had some inheritance, but what do we do when we are done with the trip? What would we do for an income in a new place?
We spent about a month going back and forth on our decision. Some days I'd say, "OK, I'm ready, let's do it!" Then he'd be having second thoughts about it. Other days, it was the exact opposite, where he'd be ready to go and I'd have fears about it. We finally came together at the same time.
We felt the only reason NOT to do the trip was fear, and we did not want to miss out on a fabulous adventure due to fear. So, we decided to go for it. It was scary, yes, very scary at times. But, we also have huge faith that we will be taken care of by a higher power, and we put our trust in that belief. The only thing to fear is fear itself, as they say! So, we decided to go. We talked to the kids of course and handled all of their questions. Sawyer was all for it; he was only three and a half at the time, so of course it sounded fun to him. He's happy no matter what, as long as we are together. Robby, age six at the time, mainly had questions about his friends. But as he was moving from kindergarten to 1st grade, we would have had to get new friends anyway. What's one more year, he'll just get new friends ... in a new place. For the most part, they were excited, but did not quite understand what the whole thing was going to mean to them on a day-to-day basis.
Our goals were many:
Look for a new place to live that fits what we are creating our lives to be. More time with the family. (How does 24/7/365 sound?!) Heighten our spirituality and connection with spirit. Search for and open our minds to a new career that we can be passionate about while helping others and making money! Yes, we do believe it is possible. Be of service to both people and the earth, and pass this tradition on to our children by doing rather than saying. Write a book. Learn how to live "in the moment" and "FOR the moment." Learn to balance the household responsibilities between all four family members and work as a team. Shed attachments to the "things" we think we need. (Clothes, soap, toothpaste, you know ... the usual.) Foster our creative talents. Get closer to nature. (Back to that clothing thing again!) Learn how to HAVE FUN again! Expose ourselves and our boys to other people's world (living in their shoes, sort of).
ML: What was the reaction from friends and family? Were they supportive or were they surprised?
Josslyn: We had every kind of reaction that you can imagine when we told them what we were going to do. Most people were tactful enough to not give their honest or first opinion, I think. I think many of them thought we were crazy. At least that's what they admitted to later on, AFTER we'd taken the trip. I think many thought we would talk about doing it, but never go through with it. Some were concerned, some thought we were going through a midlife crisis (maybe we were, who knows, who cares!), and some were very excited and happy for us.
ML: Once you made the decision to go on the road, how long did it take you to prepare? What did you need to do to prepare? And when did you finally leave?
Josslyn: We decided to go on the road about September 2006. Robby had just started Kindergarten.
We had to do a lot of research (which took about six months). The first thing we had to decide on was an RV. We looked at over 80 different models (both in person and on the Internet). We ended up buying a new 5th-wheel trailer and customized it at the factory. We ordered it in February and took delivery in May of 2007. A lot of thought went into the layout and storage inside and out, as well as the ability to live in it full-time, in all weather and with a family of young children and a beloved pet. Due to my history of depression and chronic fatigue, I had two requirements: lots of storage (to keep things organized), and a separate bedroom so I could rest quietly and alone if I needed to. Once the RV decision was made, we had to find a truck big enough to pull it safely. More research and we ordered it.
Everyone asks if we had a budget. From our research, we determined it is as expensive or less than living in a bricks-and-sticks home. So we didn't stress any further than that. We DIDN'T account for the doubling of fuel pricing, however. That was an unfortunate situation, but we were not going to let it change our plans.
Robert researched everything we would need to have on the road. We bought new Apple laptop computers and put as much information as we could on them. Online bill-paying, recipes, music, anything we thought we would need was put on the laptops. It was a lot of work, and not fun. I helped with data entry.
Homeschooling had to be researched and planned for ... buying of books and joining homeschool groups. And reading, lots of reading.
Locations had to be researched and planned, roughly. We wanted to fly by the seat of our pants mostly, but we did have a few places that we were very interested in that we knew we didn't want to miss. Everything else we wanted to be guided by spirit as to where we needed to go. That was when the trip worked best, when we were not on any schedule at all and just went with the flow of the universe.
Packing, packing, and more packing. We had to pack one pile for the trailer, one for stuff to be stored at family and friend's homes in case we needed it during the trip (like larger clothes for the boys), one for give-away, and one big pile for long-term storage. I cataloged the items we left with friends and family so we wouldn't forget. Still, some stuff got lost or given away and we can't remember exactly what happened!
ML: As a mother, did you have any fears or concerns regarding living on the road with your children?
Josslyn: Yes, I had fears, a lot of fears. I tend to be a bit of a "worrywart." Probably not a good character trait for a gypsy lifestyle! I was concerned that I wouldn't have other mothers and girlfriends to talk to and to help me through the tough times. But, I did! They came with me on the trip via my cell phone and computer e-mails. Even some of the kid's friends e-mailed so Robby and Sawyer wouldn't feel lonely on the road. I would send e-mails out to all our friends and family every time we'd update the website. Many of our friends and family would e-mail little notes to us, encouraging us and letting us know how much we were missed back home. These e-mails kept me going ... they filled my heart and gave me the courage to continue.
I worried about the kids not having friends. When they would make friends on the road, I worried about them having to leave those friends behind when we would move on, over and over again. I worried about me not being a good enough teacher or them not wanting to learn from us as teachers. I worried about their safety and keeping them close to us. I worried about us being together 24/7/365 and driving each other crazy, which we did quite a bit. I worried we wouldn't have enough money or time to do what we wanted to do. I worried we wouldn't have any money left when we were done to start our life over in a new place. I worried that we wouldn't find our true calling when we got to wherever we were going. I worried that maybe we'd not find a place to call home. There are always plenty of things to worry about without even trying. But, I also knew that if I spent all my time worrying, I'd never get to spend any time living.
So, we worked on living and letting the fears go. If they'd pop up, I'd acknowledge them, deal with them, and let them go. Again, Robert and my friends helped me with this because it is an issue for me. Now and then I got to help Robert with his fears about the trip too. Luckily we rarely worry at the same time, so we can be there to support each other when we need it.
For the kids' schooling, I enrolled them in a homeschooling charter school in California for support and information. I bought a lot of new books and we brought a lot of books with us. We had decided to do "un-schooling," which is child- and activity-led. It was perfect for our travels. We could let whatever adventure we were having at the moment be our schooling activity for the day. If we were doing laundry, the kids could help with counting the money and sorting the clothes and discovering what was in the soap. If we were grocery shopping, they'd help write the lists and read them and mark items off. They could help figure out which item was a better deal ... lots to learn at the grocery store. Then there were the geography lessons -- that was easy. We had a map of the country on the back of the trailer and one in their room. We had a big celebration every time we crossed into a new state and put a new sticker on the map. We drew lines across the map in their room and would talk about where we had been and where we were and where we were going, over and over. They never got bored of it because it was an adventure happening right then to them. We went to a lot of science museums, National Parks, art museums, tours, and demonstrations that taught them and us so much more than books. The amount of history that Robert and I learned, let alone the kids, was amazing. We read out loud while we drove for hours at a time: Hardy Boys, "Little House on the Prairie," Wright brothers, history books about young important Americans, like presidents and George Washington Carver. And then we'd go to the places IN THE BOOKS!!! It was AWESOME!! It made it so real for all of us. I think Robert and I enjoyed it more than the kids, actually. Even if the kids don't remember all the details, they will remember the names, and when they come up in history lessons at school, they will perk up and be more apt to listen because it is more familiar to them.
ML: Please describe a typical day-in-your-life on the road ... From morning to evening, what was it like?
Josslyn: We never had anything called a typical day. We had no schedule and very few commitments. The only thing that stayed the same were mealtimes and bedtimes. Some days were quite "normal" compared to what our life used to be like. We would shop at Wal-Mart, we did grocery shopping, we did clothes shopping or toy shopping for birthdays. About every two weeks would be laundry day. I'd take ALL the clothes for the last two weeks to the laundry at the same time. Many of the RV parks have four or more washers and dryers, so I'd get it done very fast. Our record on laundry was 13 loads in one day. That RV park had eight washers and eight dryers!! It was the best.
Our best days were the days when we would go on adventures. Robert or I would pack a big lunch with lots to eat and we'd go out looking for adventure. Some days we knew where we were going and other days we'd just go to the local visitor's center and decide from there. Our best days were hiking, biking, walking, boating, or canoeing in nature. Any time we could be outdoors and take our dog Baylee with us too, we all had the best days.
We did not have cable in the trailer, but we did have DVDs, so now and then we could watch a favorite movie or show.
ML: What was the first place you visited while on the road? And then please take us through some of your favorite places you visited.
Josslyn: Our very first visit was Tehachapi, CA, to visit with a college friend of ours and her family. We had a fabulous camping spot on her dad's land with a wonderful view. They had a local festival going on and we got to participate with her and her family ... it was great. After that, we headed north to Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park.
Favorite places, boy, we had so many of them.
Triangle Lake Oregon - In Triangle Lake, we stayed three weeks at my aunt and uncle's home. Our trailer was parked within 20 feet of the lake. It was beautiful. We got to help my uncle on his mini-farm with chopping wood, burning trash, picking apples, and making cider and meeting some of the most amazing people we'd met on the whole trip.
Vancouver, B.C. - I think we can tell a lot of our favorite places by either the beauty of the area or the wonderful people we met. British Columbia had BOTH. We met and made fast friends with a family in Canada who also lived in a trailer with their daughter and traveled full-time. They took us on many local adventures, since they were at home in B.C., and we had a wonderful time playing with them and their daughter. We still keep in touch with them and hope to hook up this summer before they take off again on another adventure.
Sequim, W.A. - Obviously, Sequim was extremely memorable for us, as we ended up here! We felt at home in Sequim right away. The people are incredibly friendly and just seem really happy to be here and meet new people. Our first day in Sequim, we visited the Dungeness Spit, a natural sand spit about five miles in length jetting out into the Strait of Juan De Fuca, between the Olympic Peninsula and Victoria, B.C. I love a cold beach, and the spit has tons of interesting features. We walked on driftwood, carved treasure "X"s in the sand, took photos of multicolored rocks, goofed around, dodged the waves, and just had a wonderful time. The spit is one of my favorite places to be. I was sold on Sequim right away. We spent three weeks there, one of only two places on the trip that we stayed that long.
Zion National Park, Utah - As soon as we drove through the red rocks of Zion NP, we all fell in love. We felt like we'd come home. The steep red rock cliffs with snow and ice melting on them were incredible.
Bisbee, A.Z. - Bisbee was a special place because Robert's father's entire side of the family had lived in Bisbee. Robert was able to go to the museum and the library and find yearbooks from the 20s with his family members in them. He met people who still live and work in Bisbee who knew his family members and remembered them. Bisbee is a quirky mining town that stayed alive because when the mine shut down, the hippies moved in and kept it alive. Today it is an attraction for artists, musicians, and all sorts of interesting people.
New Mexico - The whole state of New Mexico certainly earns its name: The Land of Enchantment. I cannot think of a better word to describe it. I was totally enchanted by New Mexico. We had amazing adventures at the White Sands National Monument in Alamogordo, where we rented sleds and got to sled down 30- to 40-foot white gypsum sand dunes. We walked, climbed, and played music amongst million-year-old rock towers made by volcanic ash. We walked among hundreds of rocks carved with rock art by ancient Indians in Albuquerque. We had the best Southwestern meal of our lives in Chimayó.
Louisiana - A place that happily surprised us. We had heard many people tell negative stories about visits to Louisiana and the unfriendly people there. We had a wonderful time. We met some of the friendliest people we'd ever met before.
Outer Banks, N.C. - We had been reading a book to the kids about the Wright brothers that we had picked up in a used bookstore. We knew we were headed to Kitty Hawk and wanted to read about it before we got there. The boys couldn't wait to see Kill Devil Hills, where the Wright brothers first flew their test gliders. We read of the hardships they endured while there and the horrible mosquitoes and winds. It made it all the more real when we saw it, walked it, and sat upon the hill looking down at the markers where their flights had landed.
ML: What did you learn from the experience?
Josslyn: I don't know if I can put into words all that we learned. I think it will be years before we truly know the full impact the trip has had. I do know that I learned that diversity is what makes this country special -- people, the natural surroundings, and the differences in all of us. We cannot judge people based on how they dress, how they live, or what they look or talk like. Each and every one of us is unique because we are all so different in ourselves. It is our differences that make us special and we need to appreciate and learn from those differences.
We learned that our country has incredible beauty and variety ... both in the people and in the nature.
We learned that we do not need a lot of the things that we thought we needed in our lives before. TV, for instance. I was a reality show addict. I thought I couldn't live without "American Idol," "Survivor," and my home improvement shows. I can. We still do not have cable. We do not watch the news. Now and then, we'll put on a DVD for the kids or us, but it's an event when we do it, not an everyday occurrence. The difference is I have time now to read, garage-sale shop with friends, garden, and spend time with my kids and husband rather than watching television for hours on end.
We certainly don't expect everyone to do what we did, uproot their family and travel the country for a year or more. It was a way for us and not everyone. However, GO on the journey. LIVE life rather than watching it on TV.
ML: What do you think this has taught your children? Or what have they gained?
Josslyn: I don't feel I can really say yet what it has taught my children. All I can guess is from my own experience of traveling as a child. I learned a whole lot about geography, history, and most of all, about how other people live.
I think they saw and experienced how different people live. Not everyone lives in a middle-class neighborhood with matching houses and perfectly manicured yards, and they have seen it firsthand. Not everyone is as rich as them or as poor as them. Some people live on boats, in trailers that move or don't move, in shacks, on game farms or bayous, or in skyscrapers. They saw it all. Well, maybe not all, but a whole lot more than if we'd stayed in Chino Hills. They saw and experienced a whole lot. It will stay with them as a reference point for them in the future, we hope.
ML: How long were you on the road, and when did you finally settle into your new home in Sequim, W.A.? Are you happy? And how did the boys adapt?
Josslyn: We were on the road from August 13th, 2007, until late October 2008 (14 months). We moved into a rental home in Sequim right before the New Year, 2009. The first week in January, Robert flew down to Chino Hills to pack up our stuff into a moving truck. Yes, we are happy. Building a life from scratch takes a lot of work and that is hard. But, we are extremely happy with our choice of Sequim.
Robby has adapted to our new life here very well. He is very social and LOVES having friends that he doesn't have to leave behind every week. I don't blame him a bit. He's doing very well in school and is having fun in Cub Scouts.
Sawyer has had a much harder time adapting. At his age, he wants time with us rather than with friends. All of a sudden, Daddy is working and Robby is in school full-time and he is in school part-time. He had a hard time adjusting to that different lifestyle. But he is finally settling into a routine that he's happy with. Just in time for summer break. LOL. He's doing really well now.
ML: Financially, what were the benefits of living on the road vs. living in a home?
Josslyn: There really were not any benefits to living on the road the way we did it. We rented out our house in Chino Hills, so the mortgage was covered. But, with the payment on the trailer, the truck, and the cost of fuel (about $1,000 per month), and the cost of staying in campgrounds or RV parks, it adds up. We did save by not having to buy so much for our household and not buying extra things that were not necessary anymore. We had researched the typical costs of living on the road and were prepared mentally (with the exception of the fuel costs!)
There are ways to live on the road much more economically than we did it, but we choose not to. It just depends on what your family is up to doing and what level of convenience you're willing to live with. Me, I like convenience and comfort, so, our trip cost a bit more!
ML: Why did you decide to share your journey online?
Josslyn: We really did the website as a way to keep in touch with family and friends. We wanted our friends who couldn't go on such a trip with their family, but would have liked to, to be able to experience it through our website. I also had the idea for our homeschooling friends to do a history or geography lesson with the kids based on "Where are Robby and Sawyer this week?!"
It also helped a whole lot when we'd talk to friends on the phone, we wouldn't have to tell them everything that we'd been doing. Rather than talking the whole time about the adventures we were having, we could talk about them and what they'd been doing (if they had been keeping up with our blog).
ML: What do you want other moms to know?
Josslyn: All I can do is tell moms what I've learned in my life as a mom. I've suffered from depression on and off for 15 years, not just postpartum. I also deal with anxiety issues where I feel the need to escape, thus, the time and space alone was needed for me while on the trip. While on the trip, I was fortunate to have my husband to help with the kids so I could have the time I needed to meditate, read, or journal, or talk to friends to get me back in a better state of mind. We moms, especially with young children who are not in school during the day, need to have a little escape each and every day. Most of the time, we do not get it. That causes much bigger problems in the end.
ML: Do you have any regrets?
Josslyn: Yes, we do sometimes have regrets.... We wish we had more money left after the trip. LOL. Don't we all. We wish fuel hadn't been so bloody expensive! We wish we weren't landing in our new home during a very poor economy. But, none of those things can be fretted over. They are what they are. We are happy to be here and grateful we have a home and a job to get us started in our new home!