Stay at home orders and school closures went into effect in Nevada mid-March, but not much changed in our day-to-day routine at home in Reno. Chris and I both already had fully remote jobs, and the kids were going into their second week of spring break. As the weeks progressed, our routine evolved to include distance learning and Zoom calls for the kids; long afternoon dog walks as a family; and solo, masked grocery runs every 10-14 days.
I joked about how full-time RV travel inadvertently prepared us for social isolation as a family. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how true it was, and how much that experience has helped us adjust to this strange new reality with minimal disruption, especially for the kids. In a lot of ways, we’ve fallen back to a familiar dynamic of just the four of us. Minus the actual traveling and seeing new places.
I want to stress that I’m writing this from a very fortunate position – a stable household; remote work; good health. Plus living in an area with plenty of outdoor space to practice social distancing without having to stay cooped up. We are nowhere near the front lines of this pandemic, and have deep respect and gratitude for those who are.
As I’ve been reading with empathy about families having difficulty adjusting to the stay at home directives, I’ve reflected on ways that RV-ing prepared us for quarantine.
- 1. Social Isolation? Been there, done that.
In 2016, when we sold our house and moved into an RV, we made the choice to remove our kids from their school, friends, activities, routine, and home. Aside from periodic visits with family and friends, and casual encounters at places we stayed, we were essentially socially isolated for a year and a half.
Did we worry about how this would affect our kids in the long term? Sure we did, but (so far) our concerns were unfounded. In fact the kids thrived, and the lasting positive effects were that we bonded together not only as a family, but Rita and Charlie as siblings. Their bond has remained strong even after we’ve settled down and they’ve been back in school.
- 2. Homeschooling (without ruining the kids for traditional school)
We never planned on homeschooling, and it was one of the aspects I was most nervous about. Of course, the great benefits of “roadschooling” – immersing ourselves in learning about the places we visit – cannot be replaced by the classroom, much less Zoom meetings. We found a routine that worked for us as a family, mixing roadschooling with basic workbook lessons and lots of reading. The big unknown was how the kids would adjust to going back to a traditional school.
We ended up homeschooling Charlie for Kindergarten and part of 1st grade; Rita for 2nd into 3rd. They went back to the classroom in a new school in a new town, mid-year. Which, on paper, sounds like a bad idea. But rather than being hindered by social isolation and moderate-to-lax homeschooling, both kids were eager to be back in their peer groups and quickly caught up. Because everything we’d been doing over the previous year was novel and outside our comfort zones, in a lot of ways this was just the next phase of our family experience, and the kids jumped right in.
- 3. Living and working in close quarters
This, we were more than prepared for after living and working in 300 square feet of space and coming out the other end still intact as a family. “Staying home”, in a place with multiple rooms over two floors is not such a challenge. It does get tiring, but that experience of co-existing in such tight quarters left us with the ability to each be doing our own thing in a shared space with minimal friction.
- 4. Making do with what’s available
We grew accustomed to periodic shopping for essentials, and to the adventure of exploring small town grocery stores across the country, never sure what we’d find inside. We’d stock up when we came across a Costco or Walmart, but there’s no hoarding in an RV; at least when you still want some space for four people and two dogs to live.
Whether it’s sticking to tried and true recipes (lots of variations on the burrito); sourcing skincare products at CVS because there isn’t a Sephora in a thousand mile radius (my one luxury); replenishing our wardrobes at Costco; playing the same few boardgames; cultivating a DVD collection based on what’s available in the $5 bin at Walmart – we all learned to make do.
- 5. Aversion to crowds
One of the great things about full-time RV-ing is not only the ability to travel with the weather, but the freedom to avoid peak periods as much as possible. When you’re not limited to school breaks and long weekends, there’s no reason to put up with crowds at the most popular destinations if you can time it right. (The flip side to this is losing track of the days – sound familiar? – and being taken by surprise by a holiday weekend when you find campgrounds sold out.)
Additionally, though, there’s the opportunity to discover lesser known parks, trails, and sites when you stay in an area for longer. While the National Parks have all lived up to high expectations, some of our most memorable times are unexpected gems, like Smith Rock State Park in central Oregon; Coral Pink Sand Dunes outside Kanab, Utah (another gem in itself); or the dog park in Buffalo, NY that was seriously its own island.
This inclination to seek out off-the-beaten track destinations will be put to good use once we venture back out in the RV at some point this summer – along with lots of other people looking to RV for a self-contained vacation option, according to recent news coverage. We’d love to get back to Zion, Bryce Canyon, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton. And we will someday, but for the immediate time, with still so much uncertainty and doing our best to continue social distancing, we’ll use this opportunity to explore lesser known parks and public lands closer to home in northern Nevada.
- 6. Adaptability
If I had to choose one thing that has been most valuable about our experience, and that ties all of the above together, it’s adaptability. For the kids, for us as parents and as a family – we’ve learned not only to adapt to changes, but to be comfortable with the unknown and to embrace impermanence.
Where would we go next? What if we can’t find a campground? What if we break down? What if one of us gets sick? How long are we going to do this for? Where are we going to end up? Will the kids become friendless truants? Am I ok with letting my hair go gray? The questions and challenges themselves change but never go away, whether we are on the road or settled in place.
I don’t mean in any way to minimize the seriousness of this global pandemic, nor the very real pain and loss that so many are experiencing. When we get back on the road we’ll have our masks with us, and will miss the easy socializing experienced in the past at campground pools, playgrounds, and shared campfires. If we find ourselves in a crowded place we’ll revise plans; not only out of preference but respect for the local community and frontline workers.
Taking the leap to full-time travel in the first place gave us the confidence that we’ll figure out a path forward for our family and that, ultimately, the kids will be OK.