As adults, we notice the rich and interesting differences between ourselves and the people we know. Why should our children be different? They possess strengths and quirks we celebrate as parents and confront challenges we encourage them through.
At one-day-old, we brought our son Caspian back from the hospital to his home on wheels. His first home was a Class A diesel RV and then we moved into a Winnebago View 24J in early 2019. After two lengthy trips through Mexico in our Jeep Wrangler, we became full-time overlanders in March 2021. Through full-time travel–the only life now four-year-old Caspian has ever known–we’ve seen first-hand how travel stimulates his growth.
As a parent, you may question whether travel is right for your children. Only you can answer that question, but my goal is to encourage and empower you through my own observations as a parent.
Here are five ways I believe children grow through travel, and specifically RV or overland travel.
This article was originally published on the Winnebago Life blog in April 2019.
1/ Travel promotes language growth
Developmentally, children learn language by listening and interacting with those speaking to them. Our little nomad has dedicated attention from my husband and me, and we’re constantly talking to him about our everyday experiences and including him in our conversations.
Rather than a constant monologue, we give him space to chime in. We also ask him open-ended questions that require him to mentally generate a response (we did this even before he knew the words to express his thoughts). A simple example would be to ask, “What color is the horse?” rather than, “Is the horse black?”
Learning to communicate is one thing, but travel is powerfully effective in expanding a child’s vocabulary. Strangers were astonished to hear our tiny tot spout the six-syllable phrase, “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” but Caspian excitedly picked it up with the famous train under his feet. Through travel, our children confront complex concepts and historical names years before the typical introduction in sixth-grade social studies.
2/ Travel fosters integrated learning
The more of our five senses we utilize while learning, the more likely we are to retain what we’re learning. I’m a self-confessed bibliophile who loves to learn through reading. But even I would rather transport my child to an environment where he can hear the birds, touch the clay, smell the rain, and taste the regional cuisine.
One of the aspects I look forward to as Caspian enters his school years is wrapping reading, writing, history, science, and art around one topic. As we study Native American history, I want him to be in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon studying astronomy and water control, journaling about the culture, and sketching the historical artifacts. Not to mention tapping into the extensive knowledge of the rangers on-site, who are specifically equipped to answer his questions.
Chaco Canyon is just one of 423 units administered by the National Park Service! The integrated learning opportunities are endless within the United States, not to mention outside of it.
3/ Travel naturally strengthens people skills
A common concern among parents considering full-time travel is how their children will make friends and strengthen social skills. After more than seven years of full-time RV and overland travel, I’ve found the children of my peers to be among the friendliest and most respectful out there.
When it comes to Caspian, he doesn’t know a stranger. Because we’re always on the move, we’re constantly meeting people. He has no problem embracing new friends because it’s become normal for him. In fact, he sometimes intimidates children his age and older when he walks up to them, ready to be friends and play.
Beyond accidental meetings, there are organizations that specifically cater to RV families. For example, Fulltime Families is a membership organization that hosts rallies, teaches workshops, and ultimately provides resources to families on the road. As the RV demographic becomes younger, I think we’ll see even more organizations like that.
In the overland community, Overland Expo offers a teaching track specifically for children and their parents. Events such as Northwest Overland Rally and Roof Top Tent Rally are known for being family-friendly.
4/ Travel develops life skills
Flat tire. Power outage. Wrong turn. For all its bright moments, vehicle-based travel isn’t for the faint of heart. In order to enjoy the matchless life experiences, we need to endure the hurdles along the way.
By confronting challenges with your children, you have the opportunity to live out your values and teach life skills. Along with his friendliness, I constantly tell people how flexible Caspian is. Whether we’re dry camping in 24-degree weather or off-roading in Moab, nothing phases him. As we confront curveballs, he watches us. Mommy and Daddy are keeping their cool and sense of humor? Then everything is okay.
5/ RV and overland travel provide a stable environment for learning
Our children are strong–capable of so much more than we often give them credit for. But after a long day of exploring, it’s comforting for them to return to a familiar environment. Outside the RV door or roof top tent, the scenery is constantly changing. Inside, Caspian has his pillows, books, lovies, and snacks.
Our home on wheels, whether an RV or overland vehicle, is a safe, stable, familiar place to process everything we see and do. It’s a unique facet of this mode of travel, unlike any other.
Stimulating your child’s growth through travel
After four years of full-time RV travel with Caspian, and the beginning of our journey as full-time overlanders driving around the world, I am thrilled by the positive impact this lifestyle is having on him, and more excited than ever to witness how his life unfolds. Seeing the world through his eyes is a priceless gift, and my personal experiences are enhanced with him by my side.
I can’t say this lifestyle is right for everyone. But if you’re on the fence, I can’t encourage you enough to give vehicle-based travel a try. With opportunities for language expansion, integrated learning, socializing, and life skill development–all in a stable, familiar environment–full-time travel has a lot to offer any family.