Becoming a parent means parting with all kinds of luxuries. Gone are nights of uninterrupted sleep and afternoons spent devouring a novel. But being a parent doesn’t have to mean saying goodbye to adventure.
We caught up with three families who refused to abandon adventure once they welcomed children. Professional musicians Enion Pelta-Tiller and her husband David Tiller employed creativity and a road nanny to bring their son on tour before he’d even cut a tooth. The Nolan family described the sense of liberation they’ve experienced since embarking on a full-time RV journey. Karon and Rob Dickinson spend much of their time at desks as a marketing consultant and a software developer, but for their summer vacation, they took their three kids into the Colorado backcountry.
Though these families approach their adventures differently, they all possess creativity, a strong sense of personal values, and a passion for exploration.
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Backpacking Van LifeIn The Band
An extreme summer vacation
This fall, the Dickinson kids returned to school with a unique answer to the question, “What did you do this summer?” Karon and Rob Dickinson took their 13-year-old daughter and six-year-old twins on a backpacking trip in Colorado’s wilderness. While it might sound insanely adventurous to most, it was the most natural thing in the world for a couple who met through the Colorado Mountain Club and had been taking their kids camping since their eldest was four months old.
Parent Co: What inspired you to take your kids backpacking?
Karon Dickinson: We wanted to teach them the skills we had learned – resilience, responsibility, preparation and planning skills, trust, and emotional maturity.
PC: What were the most challenging parts of the trip?
KD: We carried two tents, five sleeping bags, five pads, cooking gear, extra clothes, and of course food for five, which meant my husband and I ended up with a lot of extra weight. Our six-year-old son cried for the first half hour until he got used to his pack. It rained for hours, and the trail ended up being three miles longer than the guidebook “suggested.”
Parent Co. partnered with Ems for Kids because they believe kids are the best partners in adventure.
PC: What were the best parts of the trip?
KD: Watching my 13-year-old carry more weight than me and entertain the twins on the long trek down. Getting back to the car, all three kids started yelling, “We did it!” and “Family hug!” We shed our heavy backpacks and hugged in the parking lot. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life.
PC: What do you think your kids got out of this experience?
KD: I think my twins grew closer to their sister, and she was more patient with them.
PC: What advice would you give other parents contemplating a similar trip?
KD: The lag time for medical emergency evacuation is formidable as there is no 911 in the backcountry. I highly recommend outdoor education classes. Also, give yourself plenty of time to prep. I spent at least 40 hours planning, shopping, preparing food, and packing for the trip.
Sarah and Ryan Nolan ditched most of their possessions and took what matters most – their sons, Kevin, age five, and River, age seven, plus their shared passion for adventure – on the road. As homeowners with stable jobs, Sarah and Ryan thought they were living the dream until they realized, “we were bored and felt our spirits squashed with the minutia of corporate life,” says Sarah.
Currently, the Nolans and their Airstream are in New Hampshire. As temps drop in New England, they’ll head south to Key Largo to help with hurricane relief. Stops in 2018 include San Diego, Arizona, Texas, the Pacific Northwest, and Colorado. This winter, they’ll leave their RV to fly to Hawaii where Sarah will lead a retreat. The Nolans have no plans to end their RV journey for the foreseeable future.
Parent Co: What has been the best part of your journey so far?
Sarah Nolan: Our family coming together around a common purpose. Also, the energy at the campgrounds has been great. Families in the full-time RV community have created a culture of following their dreams and living off the beaten path.
PC: What are your kids are taking from this experience?
SN: They’re learning how to make friends wherever they go and how to function as part of a family team. They also benefit from constant outdoor time and increased independence. They get to grow up with the belief that they can do anything. They’re making plans to start their own businesses, which will be part of their homeschool curriculum.
PC: How has this experience has enriched your life?
SN: I love the simplicity. We have very few possessions, which means minimal cleanup and little incentive to spend time inside.
PC: What advice would you give other parents contemplating a similar journey?
SN: Make a plan and set a date. It may seem daunting, but you can make this happen. It’s a pretty inexpensive way of life. You could RV full-time for a year for $25k. My kids’ courage and confidence has increased, and it’s changing how they see and experience the world.
He’s with the band
Aesop, now nine, went on tour with his parents’ band for the first time at two months of age and hasn’t stopped since. His mother, Enion Pelta-Tiller, is a violinist/fiddler and singer. She writes for music publications and teaches music when not touring with Taarka, the band she and her husband David Tiller, a mandolinist/guitarist and singer, co-lead. Although the family has been touring a bit less lately, they spend up to three weeks on the road about four times a year, staying with friends, in hotels, or in their Sprinter van.
Despite being on the go, says Enion, “Touring has always been a grounding experience for me. Before having a child, I could work more on the road – practice, write, do band business – but there was also more time to get involved in personal drama, stay up too late, and not take care of myself as well as I should. The rhythm of caring for a child brought a new kind of order to our lives on the road.”
For the first few years of Aesop’s life, his parents depended on a nanny while touring. By the time he turned four, Enion recalls “shows where he set up his entire Thomas the Tank Engine set on the stage behind us, and others where he ‘played’ ukulele or harmonica with us.”
Now that Aesop is older, he’s content to read a book or spend a little time on the iPad while his parents perform. If the venue is family-friendly, Aesop has no trouble finding and befriending other kids. Schoolwork also keeps him busy. Currently enrolled in public school, his teachers keep him up to date with homework assignments to complete while on the road.
Parent Co: Did you ever imagine taking a more traditional path once you became parents?
Enion Pelter-Tiller: We are both lifer musicians. It has never really felt like an option not to continue doing what we do, though the shape of it has changed over the years.
PC: What do you love most about touring as a family?
EPT: We enjoy the stops in beautiful places where we’ve camped for the night. Our son will often participate in the setup and breakdown of shows, or he’ll make sure we’re getting on the road on time. He’s even (voluntarily) done some business communications for us! The integration of our work and family lives has a feeling of tradition to it that I think is positive for us and our kid.
PC: What are your greatest concerns about touring as a family?
EPT: Oddly, the same thing that I love is also a concern – that our work and family lives are so integrated. In this era where individuality is so celebrated, the potential to have our child begin to create his own path seems like it could be limited.
PC: In what ways do you feel taking your son on tour has enriched your life?
EPT: Getting to spend so much time with him when he’s at an age that most kids end up spending more time away from their parents.
PC: What advice would you give other parents considering a similar path?
EPT: Plan ahead, but don’t go overboard. Kids are better than adults at rolling with what you give them. The best thing you can do is ensure that your child’s experience is full of joy, diverse experiences, and good food, whether on the road or at home.
Your Adventure Toolkit
Safety whistle, earmuffs, travel potty, quick-dry towels, binoculars, a kid's camera, and headlamp.