INTERVIEW WITH THE SIMPSON FAMILY
Who are you and what is your backstory?
Hey Guys! We are the Simpson Family (Jerl, Jennie, Charles, Alex, & Nicholas) otherwise known as OurRVTrip, an adventure loving family who enjoys exploring the beautiful outdoors and finding local foodies spots.
Jerl and Jennie (both 43) were high school sweethearts and have been married for 22 years. Jerl loves to learn new things and is constantly working on developing new skills. If something breaks on the RV, he’s always up for figuring out how to fix it himself. Out of all of us, Jerl is the most social and loves to meet new people.
Jennie loves all things crafting and is a little OCD when it comes to planning and organizing. If she’s not working on a blog post or editing pictures, she’s making bracelets or baking (sometimes at the same time).
Charles (19) loves history and gaming. He’s a talented writer and is currently working on learning game development.
Alex (17) loves reading, hiking and gaming. He’s full of ideas and is always ready for anything. Alex will be working to become a National Park Ranger after he graduates highschool.
Nicholas (15) is a lover of music, anything creative...and pizza. You can usually find him drawing, listening to music, or gaming online with his friends. He plans to either open his own pizza place or become a National Park Ranger. Our family loves to explore outdoors...National Parks, State Parks... we’re always up for a new adventure!
We sold everything, bought an RV, and took off to explore our country to show our boys a different American Dream. In our five years of being RV Nomads, we’ve been to forty-nine states (all of the states we can drive to), explored one hundred and fifty National Park units (we’re in the middle of a National Park tour), and have had some seriously awesome field trips (homeschooling does have its perks).
Currently, we travel in our home-on-wheels fulltime, but before that we called Missouri City, TX home for nine years. Right now, we’re in Utah waiting out the pandemic and planning the rest of the year.
Take us to the moment you decided to begin your RV life?
Before we were “digital nomads”, we were the typical suburbia family. We lived in a desirable neighborhood, the boys attended top-notch schools, and we had some amazing friends. We had everything we wanted, but we weren’t truly happy. Something was calling us...we just didn’t know what.
One day in 2014 we learned of a family who had moved into an RV for thirteen months to show their kids all fifty states. We found the thought of traveling full time while living in an RV intriguing and couldn’t think of a single reason not to start our own full-time RV adventures.
"You will never have all of your ducks in a perfectly straight row. Make sure you have all of the basics figured out...RV, insurance, how you’re going to make money, schooling...but, make it happen sooner rather than later."
We spent a year figuring out all of the logistics of moving a family of five out of a sticks-n-bricks home and into a thirty-nine foot RV. Talk about a monumental downsizing! That was rough. It took another six months to get all of the pieces of the puzzle in place, to find an RV that would comfortably fit five people and two big cats, and get the boys completely pulled out of public school.
Our two youngest boys jumped at the chance to be homeschooled. Charles was really active in Middle School clubs and activities so he took a little convincing, but eventually his desire to travel full-time won him over.
The night before we left our sticks-n-bricks for good was a sleepless night for us. A combination of excitement and nerves kept Jerl and I awake. All of the “what ifs''...you know what I’m talking about. What if I didn’t think of everything? What if we hate the RV life? What if Jerl loses his job? What if this is a huge mistake? We had all of the questions running non-stop through our minds. But, life is meant to be lived. My biggest fear was...what if we don’t do it and regret it for the rest of our lives? We didn’t want to get to the end of our lives and say...I wish we’d done it. So, yeah, while it was the scariest leap of faith of our lives...it was also the absolute best decision we've ever made for our family.
Tell us about the advantages to the RV lifestyle?
May of 2015 we officially started our life as “digital nomads”. We were total RV newbs...so, of course, the first thing we did was drive all the way up to Alaska for the summer. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Ha! The thought of actually being able to spend an entire summer in Alaska exploring the “last frontier” was just too irresistible of an adventure not to go...even though we were still trying to figure out this whole RV/nomad/traveling thing. We would never have been able to make a trip like that if we had still been living the suburbia life.
"The nomad life has made us a stronger family unit. We’ve learned to rely on each other in times of difficulty and we know that we can overcome any obstacle as long as we do it together."
In retrospect, we were incredibly lucky with our Alaskan adventure. We heard so many horror stories of RVs falling apart, windshields and windows being completely busted out, wheels falling off, troubles crossing the border, bolts being sheared right off of important RV parts...we were blissfully ignorant of all of the hazards when we took off to Alaska. We had a few mishaps (a chipped windshield and a flat tire), but for the most part our Alaskan summer was flipping awesome!
Living and traveling full-time in an RV has opened up...well...everything for us. We’re not on a school/work vacation time limit so we get to live like locals in areas we like and quickly move on in areas we aren’t as fond of. We’ve had a chance to live in and explore forty-nine states. Our usual year has us heading north in the summer and south in the winter...we chase the good weather.
Our nomad life has been extremely educational for the boys. They’re not just reading about places in a book, they’re experiencing them in person. For example, because I grew up in Missouri, I only read about the giant redwood and sequoia trees in a book, but our boys spent weeks walking amongst them, learning all about them from first hand experience, and doing Junior Ranger activities while talking to the National Park Rangers. Hands on learning gives you a different perspective. Traveling opens your eyes to so many possibilities you might not have even known about otherwise. All of our National Park explorations and Ranger chats have made our middle son decide he wants to be a Park Ranger. Our boys have had opportunities and experiences they would have never had if we hadn’t ditched suburbia.
Tell us about the biggest challenges and downsides to the RV lifestyle?
Living the nomad life does have its challenges. One of our biggest challenges is finding places to stay that meet all of our needs. We need good cell service, full hookups (we aren’t set up for boondocking), and we don’t want to be right in the middle of big cities. Because we’re not on vacation, we do have to watch how much we spend on things. RV parks have gotten more and more expensive over the years and quite a few of them now charge us extra per kiddo.
Another challenge we’ve had is figuring out where to stay when something goes wrong with our RV. Two years into our nomad life, our engine gave out and we needed a new engine. Luckily, we were able to make it back to our family’s home in Missouri so we had a place to stay while our home-on-wheels was in the shop...for an entire month.
There are also things about a sticks-n-bricks home that we miss. This might sound weird to some people...but the biggest thing we miss is our home gym. We really miss being able to just head out to our garage and lift some heavy stuff. We also miss bigger bathrooms and showers with continuous running water...RV bathrooms tend to be on the small side.
"Wanderlust is a real thing. Once it bites you, the only cure is to travel so I don’t see us ever staying in one place for too long."
One thing you learn quickly when living in an RV is how big your water tanks are. We’ve had times where our grey tank was so full that it backflowed into the showers. One time we were out exploring all day and our cat got onto the kitchen counter to look out the window and turned on the water...eight hours later when we got home, there was a note on our door telling us our neighbor had turned off the water because there was water running out of the bottom of our RV. We went in to find that the grey tank had filled up and blackflowed into the shower (the one with the litter box). It was a mess. We spent the entire next day cleaning and sanitizing things. We now lock our kitchen faucet everytime we leave.
How do you find a sense of community when you’re always moving? How do you maintain and build relationships on the road?
One of our friends (who is a very social person) asked me once if we ever feel isolated or lonely since we move around so much. Honestly, we have more friends and a bigger community now, than we did before. We’ve met some of the best people in our travels and it’s incredibly easy to stay in touch. With all of the tech that’s so readily available, we text, message, email, and talk to friends old and new often.
The entire nomad/rv/vanlife community is so welcoming, supportive and willing to help. It’s the absolute best when we get the chance to meet back up with friends in different parts of the country. We first met the Levels Family in New York in 2016 and then we were able to spend more time with them again while we were in Alabama in 2017. Another full-time digital nomad family we’ve been able to keep in touch with is the Buoy Family. We met them for the first time in California and then ran into them again in Colorado! It’s always so fun to get to catch up with other RVing families.
One of the places we’ve found some good friends and a sense of community is the Escapees RV Club. We’ve also found that it’s easier to make connections and keep in touch on Facebook and Instagram. And, if we’re in need of some human connection… well, we have new neighbors on a weekly basis. All we have to do is head outside and say hello.
The nomad life has made us a stronger family unit. We’ve learned to rely on each other in times of difficulty and we know that we can overcome any obstacle as long as we do it together. Don’t get me wrong, you can’t put five people in a 39’ RV all day everyday and expect them to always get along. We all have moments when we need some space. Luckily, our backyard changes often so we always have a new area to go take a walk in or we can put our headphones on and zone out.
How do you support yourself financially?
One of the most asked questions we get is...how can you afford to live the nomad life? Or some variation of that...we’ve heard everything from, you must be independently wealthy, must be nice to have retired so young, to the straightforward...how do you make money? Jerl is a programmer and has worked remotely for years for a company out of Pennsylvania. In fact, he was working remotely when we decided to become digital nomads and travel around so there wasn’t really much of a transition for him. He still works Monday through Friday and has regular “office” hours.
What is your one piece of advice for people who want to do what you do?
My advice to families thinking about becoming nomads and living the RV life is to do it. Make it happen. Put a plan in place and work on it every single day, but don’t take too long. There will never be an optimal time. You will never have all of your ducks in a perfectly straight row. Make sure you have all of the basics figured out...RV, insurance, how you’re going to make money, schooling...but, make it happen sooner rather than later. We really wish we’d started earlier while our boys were younger.
If you have questions and issues you’re having trouble finding answers to, utilize social media. There are a plethora of channels, pages, and accounts devoted to the RV/vanlife/digital nomad lifestyle. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you know or you’re following to ask for advice. This community really is the best and seems to always be ready to help others.
Another piece of advice is to really make sure the home-on-wheels you choose is the right one. Go look at as many different sizes and types of RVs as you can. Make a list of all of your hard and soft must-haves and stick to it. The hardest thing for us was finding the right RV. We looked far and wide for the right one and when we found it...it was immediately apparent to all of us.
My last piece of advice is to journal it. Journal everyday. It could be as simple as the name of the grocery store you went to or the hike you took...but write it down. Take tons of pictures and even some videos and absolutely, live your best life.
What have been the most influential and helpful books, podcasts, blogs, websites or other resources?
When we first started trying to figure out how to transition from suburbia life to nomad life, I found a YouTube channel (Gone With The Wynns) that discussed all of the ins and outs about RV life...except doing it with kids. I couldn't really find anyone doing the digital nomad thing with kids at that time. Now, there are tons of full-time RV families on social media so you shouldn’t have any problems finding someone to help!
I’ve been planning our adventures long enough now that the only thing I use to plan is my Google Map. Everytime I find out about a place, activity, RV park, or foodie spot I save it on my Google Map. My map is color coded. Yellow for activities/places, blue for places to stay, and green for foodie spots. This makes planning a route pretty easy. I pull up my Google Map and look for the places with the most yellow stars.
I find out about things to do and places to see from...you guessed it...social media. Mainly Instagram. I follow various travel accounts like Lonely Planet, National Geographic, National Park Service, Wonderful Places, US Interior, Discovery…as well as, blogger accounts like RV Wanderlust, Ditching Suburbia, McEvoys Adventure Travel, and The Bucket List Traveler...to name a few. Find accounts that reflect the places you’re interested in and follow them.
The only other apps I use are called Mountain Directory and AllTrails. The Mountain Directory app tells us about dangerous highways. It’s been so incredibly helpful when deciding which road to take. The AllTrails app helps us find hikes and OHV trails to explore in an area. Both are essential apps for us!
What does the future look like?
If you’d asked me what our future looked like four months ago, I could have told you exactly what our plans were. I’m an OCD level planner...I had us planned for the next two years and then had an idea of what would come after that. But recent worldwide events have laid waste to all of that. Now, we’re waiting to see when the travel restrictions will lift and what life will look like post-pandemic.
We plan to keep doing the digital nomad thing for at least another two years, but after that I think we’ll look for some land to buy so we’ll have a place to go if this type of pandemic happens again. Wanderlust is a real thing. Once it bites you, the only cure is to travel so I don’t see us ever staying in one place for too long.
Is there anything that you need that you can’t find or anything you are seeking help with?
As we start the process of preparing to buy land and build a house...we find ourselves once again learning new things and figuring out the logistics of a different lifestyle. If anyone has any advice for us on figuring out where we want to land and on building a house...we’d love to hear it!
Rapid fire questions
What are the top 3 RV essentials that you couldn’t live without?
A grill or smoker of some kind, extra water filtration system, and Magne Shades for the front and side windows
Top 3 favorite places you’ve visited?
Alaska (can we pick an entire state?), Colorado’s Alpine Scenic Loop (the entire area is gorgeous), and Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks
Where are you now?
Right now we’re in northern Utah soaking up the beauty of the mountains.
How long do you usually stay in one place?
How long we stay in a place really depends on how much there is to do. The average is two weeks, but we’ve spent two months at a place too.
When did you first start RVing?
May 2015...on Mother’s Day
Are you full-time or part-time RVing?
How many weeks have you spent in the RV in the last 12 months?
All of them
What kind of vehicle/rv/trailer/setup do you have?
We have a Class A motorhome and tow a 4Runner
Where can we go to keep up with you and your adventures?
The best places to find us are on Facebook, Instagram, and on our blog which is really just a digital journal. I started the OurRVTrip blog as a way to let family and friends keep up with our adventures, but it turned into my journal. We go to so many places and see so many things...it’s easy to forget the little details.