A 3-month family road trip around the United States, visiting 48 states and 8 provinces, paying special attention to U.S. and Church history sites.
This is the family trip of our lifetime. An epic adventure that involves all 15 of us, one that will generate fond memories that will last throughout our children's lives.
As a homeschooling family, it's also an educational opportunity. Our children haven't strayed too far from little Kalama, and while they have had many opportunities to get to know people from other places and cultures, we wanted them to be able to see more of the country.
- Cartography? Check! We're plotting routes and using more maps than we thought possible.
- Geography? Check! Driving through some 15,000 miles of the beautiful land we live in, and visiting numerous cities and towns. Each of the children has a thick notebook w/ pages for each of the areas we're visiting, w/ different categories of information, most of which they're gathering and recording.
- History? Check! As mentioned, a major focus of the trip is visiting U.S. and church history sites, and learning more about those who made possible the blessings of liberty that we enjoy.
- Social studies? Check! We don't keep to ourselves; we want our children to meet a wide variety of people from different regions and cultures. Many of the AirBnBs that we're staying at have onsite hosts that we can enjoy getting to know.
- Science? Check! As we see the incredible variety of natural beauties throughout this land and deal with the many practical aspects of the trip, we discuss and learn more about geology, the local plant and animal life, astronomy, meteorology, and physical sciences
- Chemistry? I'm pretty sure that some of the drinking water we've come across has stuff that they don't even allow in home science kits anymore. ;-)
- Religion? Check! (See also Social Studies.) As we talk to different people, visit their sacred places, and attend other religion's worship services, our children gain a greater appreciation for others' beliefs, and have the opportunity to examine and strengthen their own testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Mathematics? Well...we push that pretty hard at home. On the trip, they see practical applications, but they get a little break from the other exercises. Gotta leave some time for fun!
- P.E.? Check! Sitting on a bus all day is hard on a body, but once we're stopped the kids are off on a run! Each place we're in offers different opportunities for healthy exercise, adventure, and play.educational
- Fine arts? Check! Aside from listening and watching others' creations, our children are using art themselves to record their impressions of the trip.
- Industrial Arts / Domestic Science? Check! Alexander's Diesel degree and electrical & mechanical experience is sure handy on this trip. On the road it takes a lot more work than normal just to live and keep the household running, and each of the kids is stepping out of their comfort zone, learning new things, and taking on additional responsibilities. Cooking meals on the road's no picnic! Well, actually it often is....
- Language? Check! No foreign language immersion on this trip (though they get a bit of French in Canada) but it's a great opportunity to study dialects and English usage throughout the continent.
- Drama? Check! (We weren't expecting the impromptu skits, but the little kids set up the stage, prepared the acts, and invited us to the show!)
- Information & Communications Technology? Check! The older kids, especially, w/ online seminary and college classes, are learning more about some of the technologies that they took for granted at home. Supporting them and a father who has to work while on the road takes a fair amount of infrastructure and adaptation to operate mobile and in remote places.
- Literature? Check! With lots of travel time, Shana hits the book section of thrift stores every chance she gets, and we brought along a sizable collection of paper and electronic books to help the kids fill time when they're sitting.
- Psychology? Check! Not only do they get to study other people, but packing a family of 15 together in a bus and in small places for 3 months, add in lack of sleep, and there are plenty of chances to learn how the human mind works, and develop skills to keep everyone mentally healthy & happy.
- Economics/Commerce? Check! Each region of the country is unique in the ways that people support themselves, and the kids have a chance to see how everything works together to generate the wealth that modern-day Americans enjoy.
- Health & Hygiene? Check! Learning to stay clean and healthy in close quarters and meeting the challenges of such things on the road is essential to a happy trip.
I could go on, but you get the idea. Life on this trip is teaching our children far more that will serve them and others later in life than they could get in three months in a classroom!
It takes a lot of equipment and planning to make something like this possible. We travel in a 38ft touring coach (manufactured by Krystal Koach on an International truck chassis). We've upgraded & added a lot of things, including ways of storing and containing the incredible amount of gear & supplies needed to economically support 15 people for 3 months.
Some of the goodies you'll find on the bus:
- 12kWH of batteries
- 2kW Inverter
- 120VAC outlets, 12VDC PowerPole connectors, and 5VDC USB ports throughout the bus
- 6 laptop computers, ~ 10 e-readers/tablets/phones
- 2 dedicated cellular modems; gear to provide mobile data from 5 cellular networks (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, U.S. Cellular)
- Router/firewall & wireless access point to provide a consistent standard family network (named "boling-nomad") onboard the bus and wherever we're staying
- Additional WiFi gear to connect/extend networks to provide service where we need it
- 2-way radios: Basic 2-band ham radio up front for road communications, all-band/all-mode radio in the back for longer distances, mobile repeater to support family comms when we're spread out, and 9 or 10 handheld radios -- plus a couple of cheap wristwatch radios. Charles reluctantly left his big Civil Air Patrol radios at home. :-)
- 7 holes in the roof for ham radio antennas and arrays of cellular/WiFi antennas
- Additional gain / directional antennas to stretch Internet and 2-way radio link distances when needed
- Video screens, speakers throughout
- Android set-top box, DVD/CD player, Bluetooth, video converters/switches, etc. to allow A/V utilities and entertainment from a variety of sources
- PA microphone to address the whole family on the bus without yelling
- Lots of mounting hardware
- Porta-potti in the on-board lavatory (It may not be electronic, but it's definitely technology, and definitely important!)
Initially we planned to pull a trailer that was made into office and sleeping space, but soon realized that it made a lot more sense for us to skip the trailer. Instead we're staying at 37 different homes (34 AirBnBs and 3 friends). Finding places that were able and willing to accommodate 15 people and a 40' bus was a challenge, and much of our route is defined by where we could find lodging. Setting that all up (and dealing w/ cancellations & finding replacements) took a lot of Matthew & Michele's time. One-night stays are brutal; we're just passing through and needed to break up a long drive, and we don't have time to enjoy anything -- it's unpack, sleep, pack, and go, with a couple of loads of laundry and meals squeezed in there. Most of the stays are 2-3 nights so we have at least one day to enjoy the house & catch up if we're not out visiting places.
Work & School
Fortunately, Charles already worked from home most (but not all) of the time, so is aquainted w/ the challenges of remote/multiple worksites. His employer, The Intelitech Group, who he's been with nearly since its inception more than 20 years ago, has been very gracious in allowing him the flexibility to take this trip and tolerating the loss of productivity. Working on the road has proven to be a lot harder than he thought! Motion sickness has prevented him from doing anything useful while rolling except to drive; he does this as much as possible to free Michele up to teach, cook, organize, clean, and occasionally catnap. Though he often foregoes playtime in favor of quiet work time when stopped, he battles the conflicting desires of helping his exhausted wife and putting in an honest work week.
Most of our homes are in rural areas, because they're cheaper, prettier, and often the only place we *can* get -- you're more likely to fit a 40ft bus and 15 people on a farm than the inner city or a subdivision w/ an over-active HOA). One of the features of such places is often poor Internet connectivity. Nobody wants to spent money on cellular/cable/fiber build-outs in sparsely poplulated areas, so often we have to rely on cellular boosters, external antennas, and flaky satellite connections. We learn to budget/control bandwidth, do what we can offline, and make use of great connections when we have them. 50Mbps business-grade uplink? Time to upload pictures!
Fortunately, two of the three kids in college are able to take all their classes online this quarter, and the third can skip it entirely in exchange for a heavier load in other quarters. Their work requires watching a lot of videos, and a lack of video-grade connections occasionally requires modifying their assignment work schedules a little (sometimes with the cooperation of their instructor) to get everything done. Sometimes taking advantage of those work opportunities requires a loss of sleep or recreation, but overall it works pretty well.
We began contemplating a trip...I don't remember when. By 2011, we were looking at used coaches and, having a bit of money saved already, seriously contemplating a purchase, thinking about the fun family trips we could make in it. After discussing it as a family, though, we realized that all of our grand dreams didn't mesh well with our values, which included being debt free. Here we were lookng at spending a ton of money, when we still had a mortgage hanging over our heads. All of the children agreed that we should make paying off the house a priority. Over the next 6 years we scrimped and put every extra dollar towards the mortgage. All of the children were active participants, trying to increase revenue and decrease expenses. Each month, during our "finance" Family Home Evening lesson, we'd look to see how many squares the kids could color in on the drawing that Michele had made of the house, representing the payoff. At last we achieved our goal, and the outline of a bus appeared under the carport on the house picture. This time, the squares represented money saved for the bus.
Suddenly, after about 6 years of "window shopping" online, getting to know the market, and as the time for Alexander's mission approached, Shana spotted a vehicle that was at first dismissed, but after some discussion, we realized that it really was about what we were looking for price & feature-wise. In January 2018, Charles, Michele, and her dad Wayne flew back to New Jersey and drove the bus back over 2-1/2 days. Over the next year and a half, we made repairs and improvements to the vehicle as we put it to use for everything from hauling a group of Chuukese saints to church, to girls camp, to a series of mini-vacations of increasing length to learn what worked and what didn't for us -- what we needed to do in order to have happy trips and not end up stressed out and hating each other! Lessons like what to pack and what not to, or not having to pack up and travel to a new place on Sunday.
Throughout this period, we began planning The Big Trip. Charles was especially busy with work and extended family's needs, so wasn't much help; the bulk of the planning fell on Michele and a couple of the kids. Driving was the easy part -- figuring out how to transport everything needed for 15 people and keep it accessible, make it so that Charles could work on the road, and where were we going to shower and eat and sleep? Where can you put that many people and a vehicle that big?
The past couple of years, Charles had used AirBnB for a couple of trips, and as we explored the listings there, we realized that we'd found our answer. It's still not easy to find places that will accommodate us, but there are options if you're flexible, and it's much more affordable for a family of our size than a lot of other lodging options.
Working around school schedules was another problem -- we didn't want any children to miss part of the trip because they had school. We originally planned to do it in the summer, after Alexander & Miriana had graduated but before Shana & Matthew started college, but we ended up doing a fall trip instead (much nicer) and worked school out with online classes as described elsewhere.
And here we are!