Becoming a Nomadic Family
The day we handed over the keys to our Charlotte house was one of the most difficult days of my life. It was my dream home complete with the white picket fence (well, wrought iron, but you know what I mean!) Actually, it wasn’t just my dream house. I loved every single thing about the life we’d created for ourselves.
It felt weird to want more.
Though, maybe ‘more’ isn’t the right way to describe it. We actually longed for less.
The nomadic life we envisioned for our family involved a massive slowdown. Admittedly, I wasn’t really ready to give anything up. But I also knew we needed a radical change to clear our calendar and simplify our life for a season. And we had a deep desire to do some extended travel with our kids.
One important thing to note about this backstory: We prayed and planned about this adventure for 5 years. May 2020 was always our go-date. Of course, in all of our planning we had no way of knowing what the spring of 2020 would look like in our world. Circumstances around us neither slowed us down nor created this life. It was something we pursued with intention.
Anything For a Year
Our dream of being a nomadic family involved a one year plan. We were firm on that. One year. Back in the planning stages we’d considered multiple options including purchasing an RV. However, once Brent learned about the Great Loop, that idea took root quickly. In theory, it sounded pretty simple considering the route was basically planned for us and typically took about a year to complete.
Within a 2-month window we purchased a boat, moved onto the boat and sold our house. Although we sold almost all of our “replaceable” possessions, we did make the decision to get a storage unit. At first we had a very methodical, organized way of filling the unit. But by the end we were literally standing at the door and tossing or shoving.
3 years later I have a vague recollection of the items in that storage unit. And guess what? There’s probably only a handful of things in there that we miss. I have a feeling when we empty it we will be annoyed with everything we saved. But I digress.
The mentality with which we entered nomadic life was based on a 1-year expiration date. I will admit that thought “I can do anything for a year” became my mantra in those first few months. Our family had every intention of re-emerging into the “real” world and escentially picking up where we left off.
To detail all of the events during our first year as a nomadic family would require a book (maybe one day!) There was a steep learning curve for all of us. Up to that point, the only boat my kids had really spent considerable time on was a Disney Cruise. And trust me when I say, there are zero similarities.
As crazy as this will sound, the biggest challenge of all was learning how to be together 24/7. We’d never, ever done it before. Brent was very accustomed to a corporate schedule. He left our house early and returned home late, sometimes missing the kids all together. Weekends were a treat with Brent around, but more often than not we took a divide and conquer approach. One of us would head in one direction with one kid, while the other went the opposite way with the other kid.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, we’d been leading very separate lives. It worked for us, until we moved aboard our boat. I won’t rehash all of the fun discussions, but the phrase “stay in your lane” may have been uttered more than once. We had to learn new boundaries with working, parenting, talking, scheduling and even eating!
Little by little, we made it work and figured things out. Brent learned that saying yes to cookies after breakfast might have been fun on the weekends, but wasn’t the best idea for an 8-year old boy who needed to do schoolwork. Likewise, I stopped critiquing all of his phone conversations. We also transitioned to sharing more of the meal prep responsibilities which helped a lot!
I can’t really pinpoint when the change occured. But at some point I realized our family wasn’t just surviving our year of adventure. We were thriving.
The kids were visiting places that they’d learned about in history. We were all making new friends. Everyone learned at least one new hobby. I could finally identify most boat noises. Everyday life stopped feeling overwhelmingly difficult. In fact, we were having a lot of fun.
About 8 months into our year as a nomadic family, we sat down to evaluate life. We’d traveled over 5,000 nautical miles through 19 or 20 states (I never know if I should count Missouri since we never actually docked in that state even though we traveled through?) Our adventure was nearing an end.
The natural next step was to begin planning our exit strategy. We needed to think about selling the boat, and buying a house. While I thought this was going to be a moment we looked forward to, it was just the opposite. We all felt depressed at the mere thought.
We’d changed. We’d grown.
I argued that I was just getting comfortable with the boat. Brent couldn’t imagine the idea of returning to the office full time. The kids protested that they desperately wanted to keep our nomadic little lifestyle. Miller did add the little caveat that he really wanted to play baseball again. And Mary Grace chimed in that she’d love to attend a church youth group. But other than that, they desperately wanted to stay on the boat.
One Year Becomes Three
I’ve done the math 10 times because the number just doesn’t seem possible. We’ve been onboard our boat full time for 3 years?
We completed our Great Loop and divided the next year between two of our favorite places: Hilton Head Island and Fort Myers. While not nearly as adventurous as the previous year, we were able to plant some roots into two amazing communities that will always be “home.”
Last summer, after much debate, we decided we needed another adventure. Brent hatched up a plan to travel from Fort Myers to Knoxville, TN. While we were excited to explore new waters, the real motivation was being part of the Vol Navy. It was a bucket list experience and one we’ll never forget.
On our way back to Fort Myers, Hurricane Ian altered our lives again. There really was no Plan B, but we made the most of it and found an amazing community in the Panhandle. We’re excited to head back up to the Tennessee River with lots of friends this summer, and meet up with the Loopers coming down from Chicago this fall.
That said, one of the best lessons I’ve learned as a nomadic family: write your plans in the sand at low tide.
Highs and Lows of This Crazy Life
I would be lying if I told you everything about this nomadic life is sunsets and chardonnay. I coined that phrase early on in this adventure, and it’s withstood the test of time. Like most families, we have highs and lows.
I was catching up with one of my best friends recently and she made a comment so profound, I have to steal it. Amy’s family has been living the nomadic life in a camper for the last year, traveling all over the US. Amy said, ‘I feel like in this life, the highs are really high and the lows are really low.’
There’s no way I could say it any better. We live a life of extremes.
Picture this: we’re traveling down a very remote river and one of the kids mentions the floor is wet. Cue the stress. Naturally, I assume we’re sinking (spoiler alert: I’m dramatic and we weren’t.) 5 hours later I sat on the back of our boat in an anchorage watching the most incredible sunset, and laughing about how I’d packed baseball gloves in our ditch bag hours earlier.
All it takes is like 5 straight days of rain to have me considering listing our boat for sale. But then we see dolphins jump out of the water behind our boat. Or I read Miller’s US history book and he lights up with memories of visiting many of the places described. Or a Looper gifts our daughter a book about marine water quality that she knows she’ll love.
I do my best to keep a realistic perspective, but based on conversations with other nomadic families I think Amy’s assessment is spot on. High highs, low lows.
As I mentioned, our plans are written in the sand at low tide. However, over the last 6 months we’ve taken a lot of steps to ensure that we can keep living this life. Brent leaving his corporate job was a decision we didn’t take lightly. But the tradeoff of flexibility and freedom offset all of our reservations.
Opening his own boat brokerage has been an enormous amount of work- and it’s been a family effort- but we couldn’t be more excited. Mary Grace hopes this will lead to us doing another trip around the Loop. And Miller volunteered his boat broker consulting services for the very reasonable price of $1 per boat sold. (Miller could sell ice in a snowstorm!)
Over the next year, we’ll celebrate our 4th round of holidays and birthdays aboard. We’re also planning to get back to some more non-boat travel too. Summer is jam packed with camps, Vacation Bible Schools and some much needed time with family and friends.
As always, thanks for keeping up with our crazy adventures. Cheers to the past 3 years of being a nomadic family! We are praying for many more exciting moments to come.
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