Blogger Inspires Creative Family Lifestyle Adventure

bs_hugh_deburghAuthor Hugh DeBurgh, who blogs at The Way of the Passionate Warrior, ran a family business and dappled in real estate until last year, when he decided he and his family would start a new life. Since then Hugh, his wife, and four kids have been traveling North American in a motorhome, exploring the continent’s geography and becoming closer as a family along the way. Hugh’s chronicled his adventures on his blog. He took a break from his journey to discuss life on the road, a different approach to education, and child safety.

Life360: Tell us about what prompted you and your family to embark on the RV journeys?

Hugh DeBurgh: I think that like a lot of other middle-aged guys, I just woke up one day and thought, “What the heck am I doing?”  Life was boring.  I’d spent my whole life putting fun off so that I could save for the future.  I guess that I just decided that the future was now, even though, at that moment, I had not met the financial goals that I had been pursuing.

My soul just said, “enough,” and I knew that I had to make a serious change in my life. I had been making pretty good money, but my heart was empty.  I think that they call that “Golden Handcuffs.” I was running out of reasons for getting out of bed in the morning—at least reasons that really mattered to me.

My “Inside the Box” lifestyle just didn’t bring me happiness.  I either had to accept being miserable as I was or I had to look for more creative solutions.  It was a practical choice. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do, and it was a bit scary, frankly.  If I went in a different direction, where was the money going to come from, you know?

And there were other considerations. My four children were at a critical age.  My oldest was ten and my youngest was about five.  The youngest was just out of the diaper stage, and my wife and I decided that four kids were enough.  For the first time in 11 years, we weren’t pregnant or newlyweds.

So I figured that it was time to start living. At my children’s ages, the family was still cohesive.  But I knew that in just a few years my oldest kids would be teens, and their interest in hanging out with their family would soon be gone.  We had to do something right away, or we might lose the chance forever.  It was a window of opportunity to act. If I really wanted to get to know my kids, I figured it was now or never.

I had always had dreams, of course, and most involved travel, or learning experiences. But I had no idea how to pursue those, or if that was even possible. Once I decided to make a change, I also knew that I would have to convince my wife or nothing was going to happen.  Eventually, she did come around, and before we knew it, we were on our way.

Why the RV?  We just stumbled on the RV lifestyle as one of the simplest ways to pull all of our goals together into one neat package.  It was a great way to get started. And despite the initial cost, RV travel is cheaper than plane flights and hotels when you have a large family.  And it’s easier too, since you bring your settled home with you.  Each day, you open the door to a new landscape.  It’s pretty cool.

And the bad economy meant that we were able to pick up an RV at 50% of its regular price.  We knew that an opportunity like that doesn’t come around every day.  So we took the leap.  We just flew to Texas, since that seemed to be where the best RV inventories were.  I told everyone that we would tear up our return ticket, rent a car, and find our new rolling home.  At the third dealer we reached, we found it.  And that’s all she wrote.

In the future, we plan more overseas adventures when finances improve.  But for now, it’s North America or bust!

Did you have difficulty convincing your wife and kids to come along for the ride?

Well, yes.  At first it was just a matter of giving her time to wrap her mind around the idea of dropping everything and hitting the road. She has her own life, and her own business as well, so it was critical that I respect her responsibilities, which included involvement in the community and other activities.  At the same time, I gently but persistently communicated my point of view.  It was important that I helped her to understand how important this was to me and what a unique opportunity it was for our family.

It did take a while for her to come around (as in years).  And I found that patience and gentle persistence were key. I really did not know how she would react at first. But to her credit, she knew how important this was to me and she made the adjustment.  I really appreciate that.

The kids were easy.  They are still young enough that it’s possible to tear them away from their friends and activities to do something with the family. As I mentioned before, if we had waited until our older kids were teens, we may not have had such an easy time.

What are the biggest changes to family life you’ve encountered since hitting the road?

Well, I mentioned earlier the closeness of a family in an RV.  You can’t take space for granted anymore.  And honestly, we are too close sometimes.  I’m a guy who enjoys my peace and quiet. So there is a cost to living closely with your family, especially in a rolling box on wheels.  But, all in all, the pluses outnumber the minuses.  There’s no way that I’m going back to my old life.

I’d have to say that the biggest change that I’ve noticed has been a new emotional closeness, a respect, and more natural communication between all of us. I think that my kids feel heard now, whereas they might not have felt that way before.  In fact, my oldest actually came to me and said that he really enjoyed getting to know me.  He kind of knocked me back with that one.  I had always thought that we were quite close, but obviously I was mistaken.  I suspect that is true for a lot of parents.  We never really get to know our kids because we are too busy. And that’s a real shame.

And then there’s the challenge of school for the kids.  My kids had been in a Montessori school since their early days, so we were already aware of and interested in educational alternatives.  We had read up on a lot of different educational theories, but we really weren’t sure what we were going to do on the road.

When we started out on the road, my wife put together an eclectic mix of workbooks and other materials to keep the kids minds active.  But after a while, that just broke down.  We were too busy learning incredible stuff from the places we were visiting. Today we are unschooling our kids.  It turns out that we had really been doing that ever since we gave up on working with the formal materials but we didn’t realize it at the time.

Before we started out on the road I would have told you that unschooling was a bit too radical of an approach for me.  But after experiencing the effect that this comprehensive approach to parenthood has had on my entire family, we have no plans to go back. Today I see one of my primary roles as a parent is as my kids mentor. My wife and I intentionally expose them to as much of life as we can, so that they can better discover their own true self and, ultimately, develop their own unique lifestyle as emerging adults.

I now much prefer this approach to parenting to the old “drop ’em off at school and let other people raise them” tradition that society seems to insist on from today’s families. In our travels we have intentionally sought out interesting places where we might learn something new. We generally avoid water parks and amusement parks.  It’s not that we don’t enjoy these.  We just know that we can do that anywhere, anytime.

What’s been the most exciting, memorable event? What’s been the greatest challenge in your new life?

The most exciting, memorable event.  There have been so many!  Well, there was the time that we stopped up all vehicular traffic at the Calgary, Alberta airport at 5:00 a.m.  Or watching the kids surf the sand dunes at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. Biting into the sweetest apple that I’ve ever tasted in eastern Washington State.  Or when I left the ladies at a gas station near Meteor Crater, Arizona (we did go back, eventually). Or the poison ivy and mango allergic reactions that two of my kids discovered that they had.  Then there was the $75 tea and crumpets that my wife indulged in at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton, Alberta.  The incredible volume and variety of wildlife everywhere.  Meeting a kitty cat outside of Death Valley, California that my kids wanted to kidnap and take home.

There was my kids discovering their mountain-climbing abilities (and their self-confidence) at Stone Mountain, Georgia.  Being awestruck by the shear massiveness of the Mount Saint Helens volcano. Or the way a desert comes alive with just a little water. And the vast emptiness, variety and beauty of so much of the North American continent. It just goes on. I guess there wasn’t just one thing.  What was so impressive was how many incredible things that we have experienced.

The greatest challenge?  Well, our parents all worry.  But I guess that’s what parents do. Fuel can be expensive.  But I guess the biggest challenge was the closeness, without much opportunity to get a breather.  We had not been bringing a tow car with us. But in a few days when we head off again we will bring our Jeep.  Although it’s a pain to tow, we hope that this will give us more mobility, and an opportunity to find some personal space when we need it.

There were things that we thought might be a problem but they weren’t. We were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to keep up with business matters.  As long as we had good internet (and it varied) we seemed to be able to cover everything quite well.  I know that this put my wife at ease.

Our kids didn’t fight nearly as much as they had been doing at home.  It was easier to live together than we expected.  And we did not miss all of the stuff that we have at home, a strong indication that we really don’t need that junk.  We also never looked at TV for four months straight.  We didn’t have a rule or anything. We even brought a big flat panel TV with us.  But it just took up space.  Frankly, we lost the desire. The kids did miss our cat, though.

A lot of our readers are interested in children’s safety: is safety a major concern for your family when cruising in an RV around the U.S.? If so, what are the safety issues you face and how do you address them?

You know, safety has always been a big issue for us, too, and still is. A few years ago I took my oldest son to Costa Rica and we spent a little over two weeks at a Spanish Language Immersion School in Heredia, near San Jose, the capital.

We lived with a local family and we took breaks on the weekends to tour the far corners of the country with a local guide.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip (but I plan to do it again!). When I originally spoke to my wife about the idea she was quite concerned about my son’s safety in a strange country.  This would be the first time that I had taken any of our kids off alone.

I spent some time online looking for a creative solution, and I found one at the Brickhouse Security website. They had this watch-like device that my son wore on his wrist, and I had a portable tracker that I wore that showed me exactly in what direction he was and how far from me, on a kind of radar screen.  If he wandered too far, an alarm went off.  Honestly, I didn’t think that the device was necessary, but my wife insisted, and we agreed.

My son and I dutifully used the device during our trip and it actually worked quite well. Do I think now that this device was necessary?  No, I don’t.  But if it gives some peace of mind while we are scoping out a new destination, then why not take advantage of the new technologies available to us today?

Another safety issue came up for us when we started shopping for RV motorhomes. It amazed us that very few motorhomes had an adequate number of seat belts for the number of people who would likely be using the vehicle.  It isn’t unusual to see a motorhome in a show that sleeps ten but only has seat belts for two or four.  And the industry doesn’t seem to realize that this is a problem.

It appears to me that most motorhome buyers are elderly, and perhaps retain an old-style lackadaisical attitude towards the use of seat belts.  We, on the other hand, were just transitioning from the minivan world, with airbags everywhere, and safety a primary concern, so the lack of concern we found in the motorhome industry people we talked to was a shock for us.

We found it particularly difficult to find motorhomes with shoulder belt straps, which some car seats designed for smaller children require in order to function properly.  The reality is that we solved our shoulder belt problem by waiting until our youngest was old enough to use just a booster seat, and also by custom installing seat belts in our new RV once we got it home.  And, truthfully, those booster seats are primarily meant to protect young children from the potential choking hazard posed by shoulder belts, so we probably don’t need them when we are only using lap belts, though I’m no expert.

I also think that television spreads fear about traveling with children, and I’m sure that this leads to a lot of unnecessary safety concerns out there. For example, my mom, who spends the winters in Florida, is a major worrywart. She called me today and mentioned reports of large numbers of convicted child molesters who live in that state.  She was worried about our upcoming visit. Of course, she heard this on the nightly TV news.  I told her to relax and turn off her TV.

In reality, the vast majority of these types of reports are just media hype, designed specifically to scare TV viewers and keep them glued to the boob tube.  Stop watching the news like we have and your level of fear goes way down. I’m not saying that ignorance is bliss.  Rather I am saying that the world is a much more beautiful and less threatening place than you might think from listening to fear mongering.  We are intelligent, watchful, and aware parents.  We keep our kids close.  But I have no intention allowing them to be brainwashed by popular culture into ignorance and fear regarding the rest of our planet.

What’s the plan for your next big adventure?

Who knows?  Part of our style is that we don’t make plans.  We have talked about spending some time this spring in the Southeast US.  We are also interested in exploring Mexico, and I’ve written a bit about that on the blog. This summer we’ll be hangin’ in Ontario and Quebec.

Long term, the sky’s the limit.  The kids want to go to Japan, the wife wants to cruise on a barge through the canals of France, and I want to spend more time in South America and Australia/New Zealand. So I think that we’ll be busy for a while yet.

Hugh blogs at The Way of the Passionate Warrior.

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