By Annie Gebel
“If you were stuck on a deserted island and could only take three things with you, what would they be?”
You’ve heard that question before, right? Last year, I posed a very similar question to my husband and our kids. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “So, what if we just lived in the camper for a while? Doesn’t that sound like an adventure?”
Kid 1: “Awesome! Can we have s’mores every night?”
Kid 2: “Where will I keep all my clothes and toys?”
Kid 3: “I can’t live without Legos!”
Even my husband whispered: “How are we going to have sex?”
Kid 3 is a bit of a drama king, but everyone had good points. After some discussion, compromise, and trial and error, we ended up spending ten months living in our 31 foot travel trailer – and we all survived!
How did we do it? Well, we didn’t have s’mores every night, for one. In fact, when it came to food, we didn’t even stray that far from how we ate in a house. Our camper has a small oven and stove top, as well as a microwave. We kept our grill outside and the crock pot under the sink. I actually pulled the crock pot out and tempted all the neighbors by plugging it into an outside outlet and slow cooking roasts, softball sized meatballs or chili at least once a week.
I grocery shopped twice a week since our fridge was only slightly larger than what you’d find in a college dorm room. That worked out well though, for having fresh produce and being able to restock items that I was used to buying in bulk before and therefore, forgot to check more frequently. Things like toilet paper and toothpaste always seemed to get added to the list when someone called, “Mama! We’re out of ____!” and not before.
As for storage, we kept only what we needed at the camper. That amounted to about five complete outfits for each of us – maybe a couple extras for us girls! We each had a pair of sneakers and sandals. We picked our 20 favorite movies, fifteen favorite board and card games, and a few inside and outside toys. The kids did a really great job choosing which toys they would keep in the camper, what they would give to charity, and what they wanted to have back when our adventure was over. We rented a storage unit for all those items – not to mention my husband’s tools, my kitchen gadgets, holiday decorations, furniture, out-of-season clothes… The storage unit came in very handy.
One of the biggest negotiations was over Legos. We allowed each of the children to have a plastic bin of their own personal creations and people. We also had a community tote with bags of color-sorted Legos that everyone could enjoy. And everyone did! We quickly became a hangout place for many of the kids that lived in the campground – even those that were just passing through. And our kids did a great job of putting their toys away when done playing. Apparently, not having much floor space to step around the toys makes it less of an argument to keep them picked up.
My husband, who chose to keep his Legos in the storage unit with his tools, probably had one of the biggest adjustments. He likes to be in the garage puttering, and didn’t have that option while in the camper. He found things to do, though, minor maintenance on the vehicles, online college courses, and family hikes.
The only television we had turned to face our queen sized bed or the living area, which has a couch and dinette. The easiest way to watch TV was for all of us to pile on the bed and cuddle up. I don’t know about you, but if I’m awake and in bed next to my husband, my mind wanders a bit. We’re a couple that touches quite a bit anyway, but I found myself caressing his arms, kissing the top of his head or his neck, quite often. And once the kids were tucked in for the night, we usually climbed under the blankets too.
I don’t think we rocked the camper any more often than when we lived in a house, but we didn’t find following through on all the touching all that difficult. Because we only had a dozen feet and two curtains between our bed and the kids’ bunks, we did give plenty of time for them to fall asleep. My husband also tends to be an early riser, which gave us another opportunity to have sex if, let’s say, I fell asleep the night before while waiting for the kids to hit REM. Not that that would ever happen.
Thankfully the kids never got out of bed when they weren’t supposed to and that piece of their innocence is still intact. There are other aspects of intimacy and privacy that I found to be just as tricky, though. Sometimes we had to talk about our budget, travel plans, bad days – things that the kids don’t need to be worried about. So, those conversations either happened after bedtime too or after we sent the kids outside for some adult-talk time.
As you might imagine, being within touching distance of each other sometimes led to a great desire, by any or all of us, to just get away. We homeschool, too, which means the kids didn’t even have the school day to be apart. Proactively, we scheduled time away for each of us. The kids all love “mom and me days,” where I get to take them out for lunch or shopping or to a movie. My husband travels for his job, so he got time away from us regularly. And I got to go grocery shopping on my own. Have you seen that meme that talks about knowing you’re a mom when a trip to the store by yourself is a vacation? Yeah, that’s me.
When we did have meltdowns, the fact that we homeschool came in handy. The kids could get sent to their room to cool down or even take a nap. We could pop in a movie and let the stress melt that way. Sometimes I would give the kids the day off because I was the one melting down. One of our favorite impromptu breaks was to drop everything and head to a playground or the library. At the playgrounds, we could all run, play, and climb to stretch out and enjoy space. The library gave a quiet place for everyone to do their own thing and give our brains a break.
At the end of the day, everyone’s concerns were addressed and we became a closer family for a while, literally. We’ve only just moved out of the trailer and into a home, so I don’t know what experiences will stick with us. My hope, though, is that the kids will look back at this year of their lives with fondness. I hope we continue to play games, cuddle together, and get outside…not because we have to, but because we want to. And if I ever have to go to a deserted island, those lessons learned might be what I take with me.
While I’m waiting to get stranded on my own personal tropical vacation, I learned a few things that can apply to our lives on the mainland. After all, living in a travel trailer isn’t all that different from living in a house. Being consistent is the best way to raise kids so they know what to expect and can act accordingly. Focusing on the positive will make any change more palatable. Laughter, home baked treats, hugs, and a good night’s sleep help provide a healthy and happy perspective on just about any situation.
So, if you’re thinking about giving camper life a try, I say, “Go for it!” Why not? It can be a way to save a little money, simplify life, and promote closeness with those you love. During our time in the campground, we met several other families living this life – all for their own reasons, but all enjoying it. And, I choose to believe, all growing through the adventure.
“Growth is the only evidence of life.” – John Henry Newman