True confession time. This trip has not been all rainbows and unicorns. Don't get me wrong, the trip has been incredible. At the outset of this trip I really only had two goals: spend as much time with my family as I could, and see the USA and Canada with my family. On those two goals I feel this trip has been a complete success so far. However, I do feel that I owe it to those who have put forth the time to bother reading this blog, to be honest with some of the downsides.
We brought too much stuff. That's sort of a "well DUH!" thing. However, we did spend many months trying to cut down our worldly belongings, then weeks trying to figure out just what we would need. Now, almost two months in, there are numerous items that have never or almost never been used and they need to be donated or sent home. You can't open a cabinet or drawer in this camper without stuff shooting out because it's packed in too tight. Yes, Louie, you were right, our camper is WAY too small, and there is an increasing possibility we will upgrade before we get home. Kathy and I often like to imagine what it would be like to have a room where we could close the door and then stand up in the room. I'm not sure what is going to happen when we pick up all of our winter ski gear in New Mexico.
Homeschooling (or roadschooling) is hard. What we found out REAL quick is that our children treat us differently than then treat their teachers. Our children will argue and fight with us in a way they would never argue and fight with their teacher. So some days (many days) school work can be a complete struggle and fight. Kathy does most of the pushing on this, and it's good she does. If it was left to me our children might fall back several grades before this trip is over. Both of our daughters are very smart, and ultimately they will succeed. However when they don't want to do school work they will fight us harder than they ever would fight their teacher, and when they fail with an assignment with us, they are much harder on themselves than they would be if they failed with a teacher. All of this has the potential to causes the schooling process to be a lot more emotional than it would be otherwise. Part of the problem might be that the schedule is weird too. It took us a while to figure out when is the best time for our children to do their schooling (the mornings). Some days we will have long leisurely mornings where they can do homework, other days we need to get going right away. So in order not not fall behind, schooling has to be done every morning where we can do it, which means at least a couple hours of math and spelling regardless of what day of the week it is.
We didn't plan this trip out correctly. I now believe that there is an art to living on the road. There is a time for travel and and time for staying. There are places you need to plan ahead for, and there is a need to keep a certain level of flexibility. There is something that you just can not figure out by lookng at maps and reading articles on the internet. There is something about being transient that is learned with time and experience (hopefully we'll figure it out eventually). Our biggest mistake was leaving at least half of a month too late. As we rolled into the northeast (especially the far northeast and southeast Canada), we realized far too late that much of this part of the world shuts down at the end of September or shortly after. It has become very hard to find places to stay (other than Walmart parking lots...which we haven't done yet). This has forced us to eliminate a large part of Canada that we (or me at least) really wanted to see: New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia.
Being at the mercy of the weather sucks, especially when your home is a tiny box on the back of a truck. I had imagined that we would be living mostly outside and that the camper was only a place to store our stuff and to sleep at night. The problem is that on cold wet nights, out in the wilderness, you want to stay inside, and inside is really small. There is NO privacy at all for anyone. Usually we figure it out, the girls up on our bed playing with their Legos, Kathy and I down below getting caught up with emails. However if more than one person is trying to stand and get something done at the same time, fights can break out.
Health has been a concern. We try and eat healthy and Kathy has done a heroic job at coming up with wonderful one or two skillet healthy meals (we have no microwave or oven), but there are culinary wonders like Canadian poutine, Tim Hortons donuts, or Maine Lobster. Exercise is another concern. I would say that I am definitely more active on a day to day basis that I am when I'm working my normal hours in front of a computer, but with that said, I'm not going to the gym, I'm not running, I'm not lifting weights. I'm active, but I don't exersize. There is just pretty much hiking (and occasionally chopping wood).
Car trouble is a huge concern. When your car breaks down on the way to and from work it's a big inconvenience, but if it breaks down in the middle of nowhere where you don't have cell service it can really ruin your day. So when a check engine light comes on it's a huge stress. When a tire goes flat and you're at least a hundred miles from any really sizable town you are not happy, especially when you don't have a jack powerful enough to lift your truck + camper. Routine things like an oil change become stressful. Normally you take your car to your mechanic or to the dealership for the oil change, but what if you are more than 3,000 miles from home? Who do you trust? For a vehicle like a Ford F350 with a 3000 pound camper in it's bed you can't just roll into Quicky Lube, you really need to plan ahead (over a week ahead has been our experience). Not everyone can take a Ford F350 with a camper on back and fit it in their shop, and it's not easy to just pull the camper off and leave it somewhere, most campsites actually won't allow you to leave your camper without the truck.
We miss our friends and family. We really really do. Sometimes you want someone other than a family member to talk to. Sometimes you need to talk to someone other than family about your family. Kathy and I have gotten in the habit of quoting various friends and family ("That would be a NOPE", "Have you tried trying"), it helps, but we still miss you all. I had imagined that we would make many friends along the way, but in almost 2 months I can only think of 4 strangers who I have truly had great conversations with and thought this person is someone I would like as a friend (Peter in Prince Rupert, Sully in Hyder, German guy in Jasper, and Clement in Unity).
We've been lazy. I'm not sure this is fully a bad thing, but definitely not a good thing all the time. We sleep in. It is rare that this family is up before sunrise. This may sound wonderful at first, but when it takes 30 minutes to get yourself awake (at a minimum) then another 30 minutes to wake up your children, then another 30 to make breakfast, another 30 to break down their beds, another 30 to move all the gear from sleep mode to travel mode, and a couple hours of school work, you've pretty much lost your morning and sometimes part of your afternoon. Which leads me to...
We have surprisingly very little free time. I thought I would be working on developing the next million dollar iPhone app on the trip. We were all going to become ukulele virtuosos. I was going to get up every morning and take amazing sunrise photos and then stay out late every night for amazing star photos. Kathy was going to become a master water painter. There are the morning activities, then we see what we are going to see, or hike what we are going to hike, or drive to where we are going to drive. Then we get ready for bed and then repeat. This is something that we need to fix or at least fine tune before this trip is over. It probably doesn't help that the days are growing shorter. Perhaps after December 22 things will improve.
We collect hitchhikers. Bugs and spiders find there way in the camper, then we drive to someplace new and colder, and they don't want to leave. In South Dakota we picked up giant stink bugs that stayed with us until at least Michigan. In Wisconsin we picked serveral lady bugs and up a fly ("Jeff") who I think is still with us. The other day I found I had been bitten in the posterior by something, the thing is it must have happened in the camper, in bed, when I was wearing shorts. I never found the perp. Most of the little hitchikers are gone now, and we aren't picking up new ones because it's now too cold.
In the end, I don't regret a minute of the time I have spent on this trip. I do truly treasure spending almost every minute of the day with my family. I feel like I am far closer to my daughters now and know them better than I thought I could have (for example, Nadia is very flatulent sleeper. This is seriously how she wakes herself up most mornings). I have really enjoyed seeing so much of North America. Turns out, it is NOT a small world, it's a very big one, and there is a lot to see without even crossing an ocean, and we've just gotten started. We aren't giving up. Just wanted to let you know it's not all rainbows and unicorns.