The American dream of raising your family in a house with a two-car garage and a white picket fence is starting to feel a little outdated. At least, that's what my Instagram feed is telling me. (I'm looking at you, Bucket List Family . . . don't think I'm not seething in jealousy over your 30 days at Disney World.)
The latest parents to buck tradition and go their own way are David and Madison Bowman, who – along with their 4-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter – decided to give up their New York City apartment for an even cozier pad: a 120-square-foot shuttle bus.
Their mission? To visit all 59 national parks. They've given themselves 18 months for the adventure, which they've dubbed "The American Field Trip," and plan to return to their regular lives in time for their son Graham to start kindergarten.
But first, they had to essentially gut-renovate the former 2007 Ford E-450 Arizona city bus into a 25-foot-long home on wheels. Not necessarily handy, the couple turned to YouTube and now "feel pretty confident in figuring out just about anything."
In the five months they've been tooling around the US so far, they've visited such destinations as the Redwoods of California and the hot springs at Crater Lake, and they've hiked around Mount Rainier and walked across the Bonneville Salt Flats. They even had a black bear knock on their bus door in Alaska.
As I pore over their Instagram feed, which serves as a visual diary of their journey, I'm stunned that they've managed not just to see such an incredible cross-section of the American landscape but that they seem altogether happy about it. I get stressed driving five hours for a weekend trip to visit my parents (heck, I even had qualms about a staycation), and the Bowmans eat, sleep, and travel in their glorified family van.
So I won't deny that it makes me feel a little better knowing that even they are surprised at the success of their "experiment" so far.
"This was our biggest worry as we were planning this trip, and we decided early on that if the kids weren't adjusting well after a month, we would ditch our plans and find something that worked for them," Madison wrote on their blog. "They seemed to take to road life right away, though. We're spending lots of time outside, they get to see David much more, and we have seen and done some awesome things."
And unlike the brave Bucket List family, who travel the world with their two young kids more or less as backpackers, Madison explains just why that shuttle bus is so crucial for them: "One thing I love about living on the road is that even though we're often in a different place every night, we're always in the same space. The kids sleep in the same beds every night and have all their favorite things around them."
One of the most surprising questions the Bowmans get asked is something I myself admit to wondering: their kids are so young – is there any reason why they didn't wait to do this until they were old enough to remember it?
"Obviously it would be awesome if the kids remember the trip, but we think there are other benefits that don't rely on memory but will shape them in happy ways as they grow up: spending lots of time together, being outside all day, exploring and growing curious about nature . . .," she wrote.
So, if you are starting to think that living on a bus with your kids isn't such an insane idea after all, you're in good company. Of course, I've already listed about 37 excuses in my head for why it's just not feasible.
To that, Madison offered a wise reminder: "I don't know that there is ever an ideal time for something like this, and we knew that once the kids started school it would be harder to do. So here we are. If it turns out to be a total bust, it's seriously the funnest bust I could imagine."
OK, Bowmans, can I hitch a ride?