Julie Tower-Pierce is currently traveling the USA on a whirlwind 50 States RV Tour with her four homeschooled children. A former lawyer, she now is a yogi that runs Naked Earth Yoga in Vermont and blogs about her travels on Wanderschool.com. For the most part, she leaves her husband at home, so she has her hands full on the road.
While they travel, Julie and her children are also raising money for suicide awareness through a campaign they call Miles of Light. It’s a cause they hold close, and you can learn more about it on their fundraising page.
Meet Julie, after the jump.
Photos above and below (C) 2015 Julie Tower-Pierce
Meet Dynamic, Capable Julie
How did your trip come to be?
Two years ago, my then 10 year old homeschooled daughter, announced that she would like to roadtrip the 50 States. Having a love affair with Europe, and already feeling satisfied with the places I (and we as a family) had visited in the United States, I somewhat brushed off the idea of exploring more of the country. Then one snowy night in January 2015, I awoke around 3 a.m. overtaken by extreme wanderlust: I needed to Tour the 50 States with my four children ASAP! I immediately started researching everything about RVs, RV travel, the dos and don’ts of buying RVs, and joined every RV forum and relevant Facebook group I could find. In retrospect, the trip was ultimately an impulse decision, kind of like buying an irresistibly tempting chocolate bar at a checkout at the last second, fueled by the knee jerk compulsion to give my children (and myself) an educational and personal experience that would shape, and maybe even define, the rest of their lives. I was already homeschooling my kids and had previously done an extensive solo road trip with my kids around Europe, so it seemed like a doable adventure. My husband, who is no stranger to my wild travel ideas and plans, enthusiastically supported the plan, even though his work schedule would mean that he could only tour with us when he could arrange affordable and flexible weekend flights to meet us.
What size is your RV? Is it a trailer or drivable? What drew you to it?
I drive a 31 foot, class C motorhome. I spent two months, often staying up into the early morning hours researching RVs and learning everything I could about them–many times my four year old would stay awake snuggled beside me into the wee hours analyzing features of various RVs. He can probably articulate the differences between class As, Bs, Cs and trailers better than I can!
I had two requirements: (1) I wanted a class C because it would be one unit (no trailer to hitch/unhitch solo) and because I wanted to have an overhead cab sleeping area and separate bedroom for two distinct sleeping areas; and (2) I wanted a used, reliable unit that wouldn’t cost a lot up front (after all, I have four kids to eventually put through college)!
After dealing with sexism and awkwardness at a few dealership (no, I don’t need my husband’s “permission” to buy an RV, thank you, and yes, I know how to pop a hood without a man’s help), I finally found the perfect “previously well loved” rig at a small independent RV consignment shop. It had my must haves, plus several of my dream list features, including wood floors, a high quality generator, a sweet shower, and solar panels for boondocking–or dry camping off the beaten path–which means I can keep my cell phone, wifi hotspot, laptop, and even a small TV/DVD player charged (which makes for the perfect, occasional bribe/reward for the kids and an easy way to give myself downtime) when “off the grid”.
You’re a solo mom traveling with 4 kids. How is that challenging and how is it rewarding?
I have a good chunk of experience traveling solo with my four kids and staying in small accommodations, and I am used to spending 24/7 with them since we homeschool, but there’s no question that living space in the RV is definitely challenging, especially when everyone is overtired and cranky. On the plus side, RV life is simple living at it’s best. You really have to limit what you bring with you or buy along the way because there simply isn’t enough room for everything. Cleaning the RV is a breeze, which is great when you have kids. It takes about 10 minutes to go from total disaster to spic and span living quarters. Small living space also forces us to spend more time outside hiking, biking, running, and playing, which is a fabulous thing, and it encourages the kids to be creative. But perhaps the most rewarding about a solo mom traveling with four kids, homeschooling/roadschooling, and traveling together is that my children are truly not just siblings, they are the very best of friends and take care of each other.
With a large group and vehicle, have you figured out the pace of your travel?
We take it one day at a time. Sometimes we need to make it to certain destinations on a timeline, for example, to attend a swim camp, running race, or to meet my husband who has scheduled to fly in to meet us after his regular work week, somewhere on the road. Some days are “driving days” where I pack in a lot of hours driving and the kids pass time by playing legos, working on school assignments, drawing, reading, or playing Minecraft. Other days consist of no driving or a little bit of driving. I don’t plan too far in advance, which gives us a lot of flexibility in terms of pace and exploration.
Have you met other families on the road?
Yes, we have met other families on the road. It’s really unbelievable how many families are RV traveling full-time or on extended, slow travel, following their travel passions and dreams, homeschooling/roadschooling, and finding ways to financially support this incredible RV travel lifestyle.
How do you get “alone” time?
Haha! What’s that? Alone time doesn’t really exist on the road when you’re traveling solo with four kids! However, I do sneak in yoga and mediation along the way, and try to maintain a consistent practice as much as possible–this at least gives me a mini mental retreat and place to breathe. When we make our way to beautiful beaches, I love to spend time working on different poses–and photographing them, too, as keepsakes of “my own” special “alone time” moments. One of my favorite spots so far on our adventure was catching a few moments to “breathe” along the banks of the Mississippi River. I also spend time writing and connecting with friends and family after the kids are in bed. I can shut the bedroom door and enjoy a temporary mom-time oasis.
Take a photo of your five must-haves for road travel.
My must haves: iPhone (for navigation and to stay connected to friends and family), wifi hotspot (because campground Wifi isn’t always reliable), laptop, mala beads (just looking at them or twisting them on my arm helps me stay mindful) and lots of LEGO bits to keep my kids busy for hours on end when we’re driving or enjoying a quiet, rainy day.
What have you learned about yourself that you might not have otherwise?
This adventure has (and continues to bring me) closer to realizing what I need in order to be really happy. I have learned to embrace the saying: “not all who wander are lost.” I’m fueled by wanderlust. That’s who I am. It’s sometimes hard for friends, family, other parents, and strangers to understand why I would want to do what I do, especially traveling with children, but I’ve let go of needing to explain myself. Solo travel with my kids forces me to be even more present with my children, more truthful with myself, and self-reliant. Everyday when I wake up on the road, I am reminded that anything is possible–that you just need to act on your dreams and trust yourself. It’s important to me to instill this in my children. I want them to be self-reliant, confident, and fearless about stepping outside of their comfort zones, and know that they are in the driver’s seat of their own lives.
Where will your next trip take you?
We explored 22 States this spring/early summer, and recently paused for a few weeks to travel back to our home base to plant our garden, see friends and family, and spend a big block of time with my husband. We have just head out for a number of months to the west coast. We are all totally psyched, and look forward to trail running, hiking, cheering on my ultra runner husband at one of his big races, and enjoying the adventure wherever it brings us on the road.