We’d been on the road for a year and a half before we discovered we were expecting our second son, Winter Erik.
Our oldest, Tristan, already nine, was well accustomed to life in both an RV (at first) and eventually living in our VW Bus as we traveled the United States, primarily the American West. Back then (the dark ages of the Internet, 2009), there wasn’t a cavalcade of Instagram photos and endless blogs extolling the virtues of how to make a life on the road. We had no idea what we would do next, or if raising a baby on the road would be the end of all time as we knew it.
The truth is, we were scared. Having a baby, unexpected as he was at the time, can be scary all on its own. Even more so when your home is a 30 year old van prone to breakdowns.
A few months in, the heat beating down on that Volkswagen becoming too much for mama, we rented a beach house in the sleepy town of Manzanita, Oregon. Life went by, Winter was born, and we were wondering what to do next. Four months later, we were all packed back into that van, touring around New England for the summer.
About a year later, we’d welcome our third son, Wylder Reisen, into a treehouse we’d rented in North Carolina. While I won’t say it was “old hat” exactly, we knew what we’d do after he was born: travel more.
We enlisted the help of grandma, bought a Ford E-350 and a 31′ Airstream, and on down the road we went.
Our children have quite literally been born and raised on the road, spending only a few months in the towns they were born before we picked it up, packed it up and pushed on down the highway.
But just because something can be done, should it be?
In our firsthand experience, there were absolutely no issues we had with our youngsters–whether they were 4 months old or 4 years–that were specific to traveling. Temper tantrums, dirty diapers, crying all night and skinned knees all happened to us and our friends who have kids in more traditional houses.
I recall being an expecting father for the first time and being asked to fill out a baby registry at Babies R’ Us.
We were told we’d absolutely need things like an expensive baby monitor, giant stroller, this particular type of crib, a mechanical swinging chair, and a changing table. These were a few items on a list of something that came close to 200 “needs” for when baby arrived.
The moment your baby is born, you realize that fuck this fucking changing fucking station. I hate to be glib with profanity, but seriously, whoever told us we needed that either didn’t have a child of their own, or was the devil. Babies don’t poop by the changing table. They put at a restaurant, while you’re driving, and in your lap. You will never use that changing station once.
Babies need clothes, diapers, milk and eventually food. They need heat. They need skin to skin contact, love and attention.
They do not need a stroller that converts into a canoe. Babies don’t need anything but basic essentials to life, since, you know, they’re just babies. Legos and toy cars and iPads and Nintendo DSX 10,000ks will come later. For now, they need nothing.
That’s not to say there aren’t a few items that are useful, should you plan to travel with your baby.
You’ll want a carseat, you know, because your mom wasn’t strong enough to hold you back in that seat back in 1992 and neither are you today. One of those nifty carriers that allows you to wear your baby like a backpack are cool. We’ve had various ways to get a netted screen over our boys, for those nastier mosquito zones in the world. And a couple of iPhones making a Facetime call works perfectly as a baby monitor should you want to keep an eye on little Suzy while she sleeps in the van and you sit by the fire.
So the “needs” aren’t really that much different. What about safety?
After all, 9 out 10 deaths occur at a state park. Fact! Wait? No, that’s not right.
Whether you choose to camp in the forest, at RV parks or Walmart parking lots, camping and living out of an RV or van is absolutely as safe as living out of your house. That’s it. End of story. So many people are doing it these days, and yet you still don’t hear of weekly murders at the KOA.
I mention this largely because there will no doubt be the occasional reader who’s Aunt Debbie knew this one time this nutjob killed a whole family while they were camping in their Airstream in Texas (yes, I know the story too, and it’s sad) or that time the family floating around South America had their baby kidnapped (not sure if that one is true or not, though.)
Whole families get killed in their apartments in Pleasantville, USA and babies get kidnapped in Kansas. Terrible things happen in this world. That sucks. They have nothing to do with traveling.
If anything, you may be more safe. You’ll spend more time together, with your kids, and often in remote locations where murderers–contrary to belief–haven’t just been waiting for years for someone to stroll up so that they can cut their skin off and make a nice lamp.
If babies then can have all of their needs and safety taken care of, and you still dream of living on the road, traveling around, seeing the world, opening up your eyes and literal horizons, then we are simply here to tell you it is fabulously possible.
Our children have grown to love the outdoors. From bicycling to birdwatching, they embrace nature and being outside. They also still enjoy watching shows on their iPads before bed and occasionally just taking a break and sitting around in our van, but the entire world is their backyard and they know and embrace that.
Our boys learned to swim in the Pacific Ocean. We’ve hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back and learned Spanish first hand in Mexico. Most sunrises have poured through our van’s windows to wake them, and they’ve watched the stars poke through the atmosphere more nights than not. They refer to people as “black” or “red” people when they are wearing black or red shirts. They have seen cultures which range from the Garifuna of Belize to First Nations people in British Columbia, they’ve seen Southerners fly their Confederate flag and watched as the world has grown more easy with the Rainbow flag of loving everyone. They’ve met people, and other children, from all walks of life and whether it’s been a positive experience each time or not, it’s been an experience.
Traveling with children, especially those as malleable as newborns, is not only possible, it’s not only realistic, it’s good for them. It gives them perspective, shows them that there is no “one way,” no “one world” but an entire planet full of possibility. It makes them citizens of the world, closer to nature, and closer to their siblings and parents.
For us, it’s the only way to live. Hell, it’s so much fun, maybe we’ll give it one more go. :)