Family Visits in an RV: When Home is Wherever We Roam

By:  Emily Rohrer

13th Mar, 17


Last month, I wrote about what home now means to us.

This month, I'm delving a little further into that concept — and trying desperately hard not to open the Pandora's Box of parental guilt — by telling you a little bit about what "going home" now means to our sons, who are out of the nest and impressively independent, but still just barely into adulthood.

Our older son just turned 22, and has been living in WA for more than 3 years. Our younger son turns 20 at the end of February, and has been living in Austin, TX, for about 18 months — the same amount of time we've been living and traveling full time in our Bighorn 5th wheel. Yep, as soon as "the baby" left the house, we did too!

Last year, we were able to celebrate both boys’ birthdays right here in our home on wheels — one in WA in January, and the next in TX in February.

That type of move is not without family precedent. My parents sold my family home right after I left the nest, so I do have some clue as to how my own children might feel about not having the same house to come home to.

The big difference? I lived in the same house from kindergarten through senior year, in a small town, with a graduating class of 150, so it really was my Home-with-a-capital-H.

I stood with the boys in front of my childhood home in 2007, 20 years -- and an entirely different color -- after I left it.

Our sons, however, are military brats, because of Tim's 25-year career as a naval officer. They grew up in three sets of military quarters, two houses we rented, and three that we owned. To them, the place we lived in when they left the nest was not the house, but merely a house.

As one son put it when I asked how being a military child prepared him for having nomadic parents, "The idea of moving is such a casual thought, all I care about is which time zone you are in." Not only did that put my heart at ease, it also reminded me how considerate he is to try not to call or text when we might be sleeping.

Always hug your mama, even when the door you walk through to get to her leads into an RV instead of a house.

One of our other Heartland bloggers, Kelly Barnett, whose husband is also retired military, had a son about the same age as ours when she and Michael started full-timing. "When we first ordered our Landmark," she said, "our oldest son was fresh out of college. His one question was, 'What am I supposed to tell my friends? My parents live in a trailer???'" According to Kelly, that same son now has a family of his own and owns a Road Warrior. "I'm guessing he no longer thinks living in a 'trailer' is a bad thing," she added with a laugh.

For us, the short answer to "How do your kids come home" is that they don't. With only a few exceptions, we take home to them.

Last winter, we pulled the RV to western Washington for the holidays, so we got to spend time with our older son and his girlfriend, and even hosted them for a couple of overnights. Our fifth wheel is "just a house that is close to a different airport each time," he explained. It was crowded in here, and it took a fair amount of discussion to explain the many ways we need to be conservative with water use, but we would not have traded that family time for anything.

And when we're parked in our home base of San Antonio, TX, for a few weeks every six months, our younger son stays with us in the RV for an occasional weekend home from the University of Texas at Austin. He's a little more blunt about the issue. "I went to college. I don't care where my parents live," he said.

Homework at the kitchen table, just like in a sticks-and-bricks.

Some things about his visits are different than perhaps we'd all expected. For one thing, he gets the RV couch instead of his old bedroom, and for another, he doesn't bring home his laundry because he's got a washer and dryer in his apartment. We parents are the ones schlepping our stinkies to the laundromat every week.

But other things are quite similar to the traditional image of having a child home from college:

  • We let him sleep in.
  • He does his homework at the kitchen table.
  • And we often send him back with food, like homemade cookies and rolls, and once, a gallon of our family's famous dutch oven chili.

We joke that he can tell his roommates that he stays in his parents' food truck for the weekend!

One exception to taking our home with us to visit our sons was when we recently did the reverse by flying our Texas Longhorn to Nevada to stay with us in the Bighorn for part of his winter break. 

(Photo Credit: Lisa Brown, Always On Liberty)

So… what do you do when you've got a 19-year-old joining you for the RV park's holiday ugly sweater party? With all the "old" people? Well. We tried to come up with an option that took his feelings into account, so I decorated our three sweaters with the words HO, HO, and NO.

Guess who got NO.

And guess who won the ugly sweater contest!

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Emily Rohrer

Emily Rohrer


Own Less, Do More

Goodbye suburbia. Hello, 2008 Heartland Bighorn! Rolling by the seats of our pants, searching for home.