How One Family of 8 Downsized to a House With Wheels
Elisabeth Day and her husband sold their house and moved their family into an RV for a cross-country adventure. She shares how all families can make the most of their travel.
"Well, why can't you?"
It seems like a simple-enough question, but those four little words changed everything for mom of six, Elisabeth Day. In 2017, Day was talking with her friend who recently moved her family into an RV. She was over-the-moon excited for her pal—and a tad envious of the adventures they were about to go on.
"I said, 'I wish I could do that.'" And then her bestie posed that four-word question, so Day actually thought about it: What was stopping them from downsizing, packing up, and hitting the road? Could she do it?
After having a serious conversation with her husband, they made the decision to sell it all and hit the road. A few years later, Day is a content creator and the woman behind the popular Instagram and YouTube channels, Mommin' It Up, and The Runaway Parents. Through videos and photos, she shares their experiences and tips for other families fueled by wanderlust. While two of her children are now 24 and 21 and were old enough to move out before they became RVers, she homeschools her four other kids as they trek from spot to spot.
While Day's lifestyle isn't the right match for every family, there are lessons we can all learn from her about managing finances, making a fresh start, and building vacations that are beneficial and inspiring for the whole family. We asked Day to share everything from her budget-making tips to tricks for navigating uncomfortable conversations in close quarters.
Practice the emotional side of downsizing.
Once Day and her hubby decided they were actually going to give the RV life a real shot, their first step was quite clear: purge, donate, toss, and repeat. They had a six-bedroom, four-bath house, and a four-car garage that was filled to the brim with stuff and needed to fit what they planned to keep into 360 square feet.
What she didn't expect was how her children would react to letting go of their own belongings since every stuffed animal couldn't make the cut. Her youngest son didn't quite understand the new journey they were embarking on, and she had to coach and nurture him through the process. All parents may face this hurdle when they spring clean the basement. It can be helpful to have a conversation with your kids as you minimize. Not only does this teach healthy coping mechanisms, but it creates an open dialogue to understand triggers, too.
Build a nest egg for freedom.
Day's husband is a seasonal contract worker with peak times of performance. When they decided to move toward the RV life, he took six months to travel and build up their nest egg, leaving Day to deal with packing, purging, and prep. Once their house sold, they were able to purchase their truck and their RV, and took to the road with $60,000 and zero debt. Day explains for the first year, they made many large investments upfront like annual national park memberships (individual passes could cost up to $100 a night) and insurance. These days, Day earns money through online marketing and her husband continues to own his own business. They also make some additional income through their social media platforms. Their biggest cost is fuel, which she estimates is up to $150 per tank, averaging around seven to nine miles per gallon. They also allocate their budget to maintaining the RV tires and the tow vehicle.
What made their life change possible was having a steady savings account to fall back on for when they needed it. While you may not want to mimic their traveling family dynamic, there's no doubt that having money saved is beneficial. Whether you or your partner wants to pivot to a new career or move across country to seek warmer weather, having a leg to stand on provides freedom and flexibility, while diminishing stress levels, too.
Find your tribe, wherever you are.
Day says social media has helped introduce them to other families who share their same appetite for adventure, creating a community of nomads who often agree to meet up along the way. In fact, these days, most of Day's friends are folks they've met on the road. The opportunity to introduce her children to various people from all walks of life has expanded their horizons and taught them to open their perspectives. And, it provides much-needed adult friendship for Day and her husband.
"If we're with friends, most of the time our kids are off playing with their friends and socializing," she says. "This is kind of nice because then it leaves us with less that we needed to entertain them with or entertaining themselves, and then we're able to have conversations with each other."
Find educational value in vacations.
The Day family spends around $45 a month on homeschool programming and they make an effort to allow the country to be an extension of the classroom. Right now, they are stationed in the Florida Keys, so she decided to educate her kiddos on marine life, up close and personal. "Yesterday we went on a nature walk in the tide pools and we were able to find starfish and a stranded baby shark that was in the shallow pool," she says. "We ended up picking it up and putting it back into the ocean, so it wouldn't suffocate. Like, where else do you see that?"
They've traveled east to west, going on hikes, visiting gardens and centers, all in an effort to allow the country to be their classroom. "It's a cool way to teach your kids. It's not just a book, and they still talk about those things," says Day. "For us, that was part of the reason that we did this. We wanted to show them instead of just telling them."
When planning your family's annual vacation, map out places where you can incorporate a lesson into the getaway. Maybe it's visiting Washington, D.C., to tour the many (free!) museums. Or it's venturing to the deserts of California to discuss heat and animals. Even if it's not the bulk of your travel plans, having at least one day dedicated to expanding horizons and sparking curiosity will be memorable for everyone.
Get uncomfortable with your family.
When there are six people under one very, very small roof, it's not just close quarters; it's often zero privacy, 24/7. While Day admits it's sometimes difficult, not having the ability to "run away" has also brought her closer to her husband and to her family. "I'm really honest with my family," she says. "I tell my husband when I need some personal time and he'll take the kids somewhere. We try to be honest with each other and just like open and say, 'Hey, this is how I'm feeling. I don't want to be around anybody today. Can I have some personal space?'"
It's through those moments where you don't want to deal with conflict but you have to, they've become better communicators. Not only do they face what's bothering them, but they've also developed coping mechanisms that are effective, and discovered what it means to provide healthy boundaries. "Just because you live close doesn't mean that you will be close," she says. "You still have to make efforts to listen to each other and tell each other what you need and make those separate times for each other to grow closer."