Traveling Children and Making Friends

Quick thoughts on children growing up on the road, making friendships, and keeping them.

our traveling son Tristan mixed in a crowd of kids on a soccer team

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When we first hit the road as full-time RVers, my oldest son Tristan was only seven years old.

He’d gone to two years of kindergarten (not for being held back, but he was allowed to just do an extra early year at the Waldorf School of Pittsburgh, they’re cool and alternative like that). He did the usual kid stuff before that: played at parks, attended some preschool, visited the occasional relative. But he’d never been around a lot of kids otherwise. No neighbors or cousins would come over on a regular basis.

He’s always been the type of kid who’s been pretty good at independent play, but I saw something blossom in him after we began traveling. As much as he’s okay to just hang out with no one but his own imagination, he craves interaction with other youngsters.

Within a few weeks of full-time traveling, he’d made a great friend at Pecan Grove RV Park in Austin, where we’d been staying for about a month. This was the first friendship in a long line of pals he’d make–and say goodbye to–over the next several years.

For as long as we lived the RV lifestyle, he just got better and better at honing in on any available kids–at RV parks, neighborhood playgrounds, walking home from school–and instantly make friends. We had few issues with bullying or him being rejected, and though he didn’t always love saying farewell when we packed it up and moved on down the road, there were never tears.

As we began staying in short term housing and even renting apartments while waiting for his younger brothers to finish their time in the womb, it was clear that his talents were paying off. He’d make friends immediately, and find out how to become a great friend soon after.

All of this happened before he was ten years old. As he’s arrived in his “tweens”, and earned himself more freedoms, he is now a master of new greetings. He can literally find someone to hang out with the first day we arrive in a new town, and if we’re renting a house, you can be sure you won’t see him much more than you force him to stay home and spend some family time.

With his eleventh birthday he was also afforded an email address and owns an iPod Touch, using both to occasionally keep in contact with some of the kids he’s met and particularly liked. These relationships may not last the test of time, but he’s discovering how to keep in touch with folks not in your own ZIP code. Saying goodbye is for people you don’t like, “til we meet again” is for friends.

Do I think he’s missing out on anything?

Well sure. He’ll never have that “best friend since first grade” thing going on that many of us had. By many of us, I don’t mean me. I moved from group to group, best friend to best friend several times in my youth, always seeking out those who were like me, who were growing at my rate, finding the same new interests as I was. I’m not friends with 3,076 people on Facebook today, but I do have eight people in this world I know that I can depend on and the fact that they’re scattered around the nation is all the better; I don’t need go one place to visit friends, but can do a circuit if I’d like.

Is it ideal to move your kid around so often?

I don’t know, maybe not. Is it ideal to keep him in one place though? No. There are pros and cons of this traveling life and no one in this family is fooling themselves otherwise. I myself get lonely, wishing there were certain people around who I’ve spent my teenage and adult life learning to trust as brothers, but does it make me want to stop? Not necessarily. I know that when I really need a comrade, I can just pick it up and visit the place where they live.

In the end, anyone can live in the same house for eighteen years. You can do that when you’re twenty or when you’re two. Living in one place is not what makes you true friendships, though, it’s learning how to start conversations, how to be good to people, and how to quickly see who is out there to be true and who is just looking to play with your Legos that makes it possible to have lifelong acquaintances we’re happy to miss sometimes.