It’s September in Belize, which means the azul of the Caribbean Sea is breaking small waves from an afternoon breeze that’s finally cutting through the heat that’s been a long summer in Central America for our family.
We’re five people, living, working, learning and traveling around in our 1978 VW Bus, a home that consists of about 60 square feet of living space, depending on what you consider “living space”. With no air conditioning and only a couple of 12-volt fans to keep us cool, even when the wind starts pushing hard enough to rock the canvas pop top and send our young boys’ Legos scattering through the powdery beach sands, we embrace it. The rainy season has set in, too, and despite leaving us more or less waterlogged every morning (the rain tends to come only at night), even that is welcome as a cool sprinkle on your shoulders is as close to central air as we’ve known for the past several months.
From an outside perspective, it may not seem like paradise. To the five people who’ve lived in either this Bus or, previously, a 1976 Airstream travel trailer, it’s heaven.
So how did we end up here? It’s a rather long story, but not a particularly unusual one. Boy meets girl in college. Girl goes off backpacking around Europe, boy gets jealous, quits his job making pictures for a television station and buys a VW Bus.
There’s a little more to it than that, but you get the idea. I’m that boy, and my name is Nathan.
Renée is the love of my life, and though it took me ten years to convince her that I was the right guy for her, she eventually hopped into my VW along with my oldest son, Tristan, and we’ve been calling various state parks, deserts and backroads home ever since.
In the eight years we’ve called the road home, we made two more little boys, Winter and Wylder. They were born on the road, one along the Oregon Coast, the other in the Great Smoky Mountains.
So what is it like raising three boys and stuffing five people into what essentially equates to a mini-van?
Well, there’s a lot of time spent outdoors. <em>A lot.</em> In fact, it’s one of the things we love the most about this life. Our children have never known what it’s like to own a cable television subscription. They don’t beg to play video games all day, and save for when we end up somewhere cold or wet for the winter season, they always have a tan. Their ankles are currently covered in red bumps from all manner of biting ants, flies and mosquitos. Their toys consist of a couple of lunch boxes full of Legos, a bow and homemade arrows, and whatever sticks, shells or rocks they’ve found most recently and painted into their latest masterpiece.
Can it be a bit rough at times? Certainly! I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there are times when we go to grocery stores simply to bask in the air conditioning for a few minutes, or go out to eat for the same reason, even when no one’s hungry. When the rain does pour during the day, cabin fever sets in as we bump elbows like too many cue balls on a pool table.
On the other hand, I have witnessed all of my children’s first steps. I taught the oldest two to read, and likely will the youngest when he’s ready. Along with Renée, we’re their parents, teachers and, when acceptable, their friends. I can duck out of my job as a freelance web designer and writer at 10:30am to take a quick dip in some mountain river or just to go have brunch with the family in town. I’m not off at an office, missing my kids’ young lives. We are a family, knit like Kevlar, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
For those of you interested in how a life like this might work out for you, we’d love to invite you along to follow our story over the next few weeks here at the Tiny House Blog. We’ll talk about the realities of schooling, making a living on the road, what it costs us to live like this, finding amazing locations that make tiny living a little more comfortable, some of the trials and tribulations, and ultimately what it’s like to watch kids grow up this way (our oldest was 7 when he started, he’ll turn 15 next month).
Aside from just telling you how we’ve done it, we’d love to hear from you, too! Your questions, concerns, kudos or even criticisms, we’ll keep an eye on these posts and respond to as many as we can in turn, in kind.
Nathan is the editor in chief of Wand’rly, a magazine and blog for folks who want to travel