Raising My Daughter on the Road

Jenn Norrell

My daughter has lived on the road more than half of her life. We moved into our first home on wheels when she was eight months old and now she is nearing two and a half. She learned to crawl in Colorado, said her first words in Texas and took her first steps in New Jersey.  She celebrated her first birthday in Chicago eating deep dish pizza and cupcakes, her second dipping her toes in the Atlantic Ocean and playing boardwalk games in Point Pleasant.  And while she likely won’t remember any of these things when she’s older, or the countless other things she has experienced, I know her early life traveling will shape the person she becomes. 

My husband and I chose a life of full-time travel because we were tired of living for once-a-year vacations. We wanted to see and experience the world around us. We wanted to be more thoughtful about how we chose to spend our time and how we raised our daughter. 

While taking the leap to live our life on the road was our dream it was also pretty damn scary.  I would never really describe myself as a risk taker. I’ve always liked to follow rules. I spent over ten years working with children and families as a social worker, often talking to parents about things like the importance of consistency, routines, socialization, and age appropriate structured activities. Now here I am, choosing to raise my daughter in an environment that, on the surface, is anything but those things.  Sometimes I wondered if we were being a little selfish.  And in the beginning each time someone said something like, “Well you’ll stop when it’s time for her to go to school, right?” or “Oh no, she won’t get to take dance lessons” or “It’s too bad you don’t have room for more toys,” I questioned myself a little more. 

We have now been on the road for a year and a half, and while I occasionally do still have moments of questioning, I wouldn’t change a thing. I have learned that not only is traveling full-time not a selfish choice, it is the best choice we could have made as parents for our daughter.  What I’ve experienced along the way is that travel is so much more than just seeing and exploring new places.  It’s natural for people to first think about what my daughter may be missing out on by traveling full-time, but I like to remind them of all the things she gains.  

"I have learned that not only is traveling full-time not a selfish choice, it is the best choice we could have made as parents for our daughter."

As we travel we share experiences as a family, which strengthen our bond.  We play, discover and explore together daily. We face and overcome fears or challenges alongside each other while giving and receiving encouragement, problem solving and celebrating together. These shared experiences reinforce our relationship, affirming our positive attachments and add to our family story. 

My daughter may not have as many toys as other children but she has an ever-changing backyard to encourage her curiosity. There is always something to explore and learn about. Whether it is seeing a Bison for the first time or finding a piece of fallen bark, my daughter wants to know more and she is excited about it. 

Each day I see my daughter’s imagination grow. Her time outdoors, wandering new landscapes, opens up so many possibilities for play. Travel encourages us to allow her to be a child. It opens up opportunities for unstructured play in nature and reminds us how much children thrive from the freedom to just be little. 

While traveling we are constantly meeting and talking to new people. And while this can be out of my comfort zone, as a generally shy introvert, it can also be the most rewarding part of travel. It allows so many opportunities to model openness, respect and kindness towards others. When I am walking with my daughter and I hear her say, “Mama let’s say hi to that lady” or tell someone she’s never met before, “I like your shoes” as we pass them by, I know we are doing something right.  

Our home may have wheels, but it is still our home. It is a comfort and a constant in our changing environment.  My daughter goes to bed in the same place each night even if she is somewhere new when she steps outside in the morning. She learns how to adapt to new environments and situations while always having the safety of her home.  As parents we have learned (and are still learning) to balance consistency and routine with exploration and adventure, watching and learning how these things shape our daughter’s behavior. Travel has made us more attune to her needs, and has allowed her to practice flexibility and adapting to new situations. 

It allows for authentic practice of so many skills for us as parents and for our daughter that are invaluable. We learn to go with the flow when things don’t go as planned and cooperate while each doing our part to set up camp or solving a problem together.  Travel builds independence and confidence while learning and trying new things and helps to sustain a child’s adventurous spirit. 

This life of travel has changed me both as a person and as a mother. I am more relaxed, adventurous and self-aware. I am far from perfect but I am a truer version of myself.  I am content even on the difficult days. While I am not always the mother I hope to be, travel encourages me to be that person. It pushes me out of my comfort zone and creates opportunities to model skills for my daughter that I wouldn’t have as regularly in a stationary life. It challenges me and makes me stronger. 

At this moment we have no time frame set for life on the road. We will travel full time for as long as it feels like the right decision for our family and we are able to. I look forward to seeing how travel continues to shape my daughter as she grows, and myself as her mother. Whether we choose to travel full-time for another ten years or stop in six months, I know travel will always be a priority in our lives. It has become too valuable for it not to be. 

Jenn Norrell is a stay-at-home mama and social worker on pause currently traveling North America full-time in her 17’ Casita Travel Trailer named Betty White with her husband, two year old daughter and dog in tow. When not wrangling her spirited daughter or out exploring a new area, she can be found reading, crafting and always enjoying a cup of hot tea. 

You can follow her family’s adventures of tiny living on the road at tinyasscamper.com.

Instagram: @her.tinyasscamper