Home on the Road: A Q&A With the BodesWell Bunch

Long-term family travel is ripe for self-doubt. We rented out our home, pulled the kids out of school, dug deep into savings, reduced our stuff to what we can carry, jeopardized professional relationships, drove away from our neighborhood, and promptly stopped hearing from more than half of our friends.

Are we doing the right thing? And what exactly are we doing, anyway?

When the circumstances and those questions haunt me on a night like this — when I survey our family and our belongings consolidated into a shoebox of a room in a dumpy motel, and I consider our plans (or rather, our lack of planning) in the months ahead — I take solace and find humor in the loose-knit, far-flung network of other families who also decided to uproot their lives and experience a nomadic existence. Their blogs (several of which are linked to our blogroll listed on the right) have become a welcome source of support and socialization.

Most of these families, like us, decided to hit the road to educate their kids, strengthen their connection with one other and re-evaluate their values. It’s not about wanderlust as much as it’s about wandering together and surveying the big picture. I look up from reading their stories and view my night in this forgettable motel in a new light: I am so profoundly glad that all of us are here together, sharing two queen beds that are just two feet apart. All we really need — each other, and our essential stuff — is within arm’s reach.

The Rehm family -- Jason, Angela and Bode -- of BodesWell.org traded their Alameda home (pictured in the background) for a life of travel in their 1971 van this year. Photo by Aric Crabb, courtesy of the Contra Costa Times.

The Rehm family -- Jason, Angela and Bode -- of BodesWell.org traded their Alameda home (pictured in the background) for a life of travel in their 1971 van this year. (Photo by Aric Crabb, courtesy of the Contra Costa Times)

One blog I got hooked on is BodesWell.org, the story of a couple from Alameda, Angela and Jason Rehm, and their 4-year-old son, Bode, traveling the country in a 1971 VW campervan that Jason restored. On the one hand, we have a lot in common because they’re also from the East Bay, they’re close in age to Morgan and me, and they also departed in mid-August. On the other hand, they’ve chosen an entirely different — and in many ways more difficult — adventure. Keeping their van running is a never-ending challenge. As I follow their mechanical meltdowns and consider how difficult it must be to travel by car with a 4-year-old (as opposed to traveling with older kids, like Colly and Kyle, who are more self-reliant and can entertain each other), I think, How do they do it? They must be brilliant — and slightly insane.

Eager to know more about how — and why — they’re doing it, I conducted a Q&A with Angela via email:

Q: You’ve been traveling in a restored 1971 VW bus with your husband and 4-year-old son for about a month now. What’s been the best part about it?

Angela: Spending time with my family and improving our dynamics together. I stayed home with Bode before the trip, and it wasn’t always easy. I thought we may really be at odds with even more time spent together. But two great things have come from this experience so far: (1) having two parents around more often has made it easier, and Jason and I are learning from each other; and (2) Bode and I really look forward to the days we go off, just the two of us, and explore.

Why did you both decide to embark on this journey now and travel in this way, as opposed to waiting until your son is older, or choosing a more reliable mode of transportation, or choosing fewer destinations and staying put in one place longer?

My husband is a VW enthusiast and has always wanted a van. Once he began restoring one, I think he wanted to utilize it. He’d also been doing some soul searching and decided he wanted to spend some more time with his family. This trip was his idea, and I thought he was crazy at first. But the more we talked about it, the more sense it made. I was getting a little bored as a stay-at-home mom. The economy also had something to do with it. I wasn’t working, and wasn’t sure I’d be able to find a job in the next year. Why not embark on an adventure? Maybe I’ll have more options later.

Also, Bode will be starting school in a year, so we thought it was good timing before we get locked into school routines for the next 12 years. After reading your blog, I’m inspired, and hope we can continue to travel. We both love travel. The camper van provides us a mini-home, so although we’re constantly on the move, there is a sense of normalcy. Although it isn’t always easy with a kid, it sure is exciting!

What’s been most challenging?

New rules. On the road, different places have different rules. Bode is trying to test the rules. Also, when in difficult situations, we’ve broken the rules to make it easier on ourselves. Of course that comes back to bite us. For example, in trying to keep Bode still while broken down on the side of the road, we gave him some soda. He’s asked for some every day since.

Bode likes to test his limits. (Photo courtesy of the Rehms.)

Bode likes to test his limits. (Photo courtesy of the Rehms.)

Any regrets?

Not yet! I wish we had more time to create customized storage and better organize the van. There is daily chaos trying to find things and remember where we put them. We are hoping when we visit family around Thanksgiving we might have time to do this. Of course, we may have it figured out by then.

How about homesickness?

We miss our friends. Bode talks about his friends a little but he hasn’t shown signs of homesickness. We make a special effort every day to take him somewhere to play with other kids and burn off some energy. I miss having the time to check in with my girlfriends, but I’m using Facebook much more than I did before and it is a great way to keep up with everyone.

How do you think this road trip is changing you personally?

I asked Jason about this question, and he said “Less Reality TV”. It was a joke, but I think it rings true. Less distractions, more living. I’m happier, and my family is too. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you can find what makes you happy even if it isn’t easy, do it!

And how do you think it’s changing all of you as a family?

Our expectations of where our lives are headed have changed – in a good way. I think we’re all seeing things in a different way. Also, relying on advice and help from others has been a big wake up call about how good people really are. I hope Bode learns some great life lessons along the way, even if he doesn’t remember the specifics.

Any predictions about how things will go and how you’ll feel about the trip over the next 6 – 12 months?

I’m hoping things will continue to get easier. I’m sure it won’t all be easy, but after blowing the engine during our first month, I’m sure we can handle whatever is thrown our way. We are all excited about spending a warm winter in Mexico, learning the language and doing volunteer work.

Have you considered changing your mind and returning home?

We leased our house for a year, so there is no going back. We have friends and family all over the US and could stay with them should the going get rough. Before we embarked, we also discussed taking mini-vacations from our vacation, flying to visit people or going to Europe for a few weeks. So far so good, though. We haven’t felt the need to bail out.

What advice do you have for others considering extended travel with their spouse/partner — what are some things to consider and discuss before beginning the trip?

Make sure you travel well together. Jason and I have taken several extended trips together and have the same idea regarding what we want to do, see and accomplish.  We all have a great sense of adventure and want to get out and see the world. We work well as a team when traveling, almost more so than at home.

What advice do you have for parents considering extended car travel with a young child?

Be flexible. We don’t always get as far as we like, or do the things we would have done before kids. But, it is really great to not be in a hurry and to have these experiences together. And, don’t pack all the toys and distractions — they don’t need them when every day is different.

Do you have any motto or quote about your journey or approach to life that you want to share?

Have fun.

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