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One of the biggest questions we had about full time RV living, and a question we get from other parents considering this lifestyle, is “How do your kids make friends? How do they get that much needed social time?” This question comes up with teenage kids specifically. Do teenagers and full time RV living work?
How Teenagers of Full Time RV Families Stay Connected and Make Friends
Let me start off by saying that I am 95% sure we would not be on the road full-time today if it wasn’t for our 14-year-old, Aaron. He had been begging us for over two years to do something like this. Travel is his number one passion. Being a minimalist is his second passion. Followed closely by skateboarding and drone flying. 🙂
He is a unique kiddo for sure who dreams of being able to put everything he owns in a backpack and travel the world.
He’s also a very, very social person who’s living in 200 sq. feet with a bunch of introverts. Poor kid.
Right now this lifestyle works for him. Will it long term? We’re not sure and are taking it a day at a time, which I’ll explain more at the end.
For now, let’s recap our experience traveling with a teenager starting at the beginning of our trip.
His First 6 Months on the Road
For the first 6 months, Aaron didn’t make any friends on the road. He stayed connected with friends from home via social media and that felt like enough for him.
The first six months was also very exciting. Everything was brand new and shiny. He wasn’t sick of being around us (yet) and he was content to spend his time with his family, hiking, exploring and learning all about this full-time RV lifestyle.
The first six months was the honeymoon stage and we were all soaking it in for everything it was worth.
Making His First Friend on the Road
We arrived in Sedona, Arizona for a two-week stay over Thanksgiving. After we were there for a couple of days, a few of us were playing pool at the lodge and a nice kid named Matt asked if we were a full-time family. We said yes. He said they were too. We asked how long they’d been on the road and he said…wait for it…8 years.
We were both shocked and excited to meet our first full-time family, especially someone with that much experience and who had a kiddo around Aaron’s age.
For the next week or so, we didn’t see much of Aaron. He and Matt hung out quite a bit and he loved every minute of it. I don’t think Aaron realized how much he actually missed that in-person connection you just don’t get via social media until he had it again.
Long story short, we became friends with Matt’s family and ended up meeting up with them in Florida several months later, along with tons of other full-time families.
The Full-Time Family Community
During our six weeks in Florida over the winter, we learned just how tight a community full-time RV families are. Aaron’s one friend introduced him to a bunch of friends, which meant we only saw him for breakfast, maybe lunch, and dinner during our time there. All of those other hours were spent with friends and he could not have been happier. He was in his element and was able to be his truest self.
Orlando, Florida is the hot spot in the winter where a lot of full-time families meet up. We had such a great time while in that location getting to know others over the campfire.
Making friends on the road is completely up to you and your teenager. That’s the bottom line. It’s up to you to make an effort to leave the comfort of your RV spot and meet people. It’s up to you to join a group like Full-Time Families and seek out others who are living this lifestyle. It’s up to you to put yourself out there and invite someone over for s’mores by the campfire, not really having a clue if you will “click” or not. You simply have to take some risks.
We’ve been on the road for a little over a year and we’ve all made some great friends. Friends we’ve made future travel plans with. Friends we’re always trying to cross paths with. Friends we know we’ll stay in contact with for years and years to come.
We quickly realized that in order for Aaron to stay connected with friends, we have to be intentional about it. Here are a few things we’ve done and are doing to make sure he has that social time he needs:
- Staying connected with friends we’ve met on the road to see where they’re headed next (so we can maybe meet them there)
- Spent time at our home base in Austin, Texas so Aaron could spend face-to-face time with friends (aka not just via social media)
- Hit up the full-time family ‘hot spots’ where we know there will be tons of kids
After that time in Orlando, Aaron seemed to make it his mission to meet people. When we got to Miami, immediately after we set up the RV he said ‘I’m going to go meet some people’ and off he went. Literally 10 minutes later he was playing basketball with a few guys.
As I’m writing this, we’re in upstate New York and we’ve barely seen the kid. Our first day here he headed to the basketball courts where he saw some kids and 10 minutes later they’re all playing dodge ball trying to chuck the ball as hard as they can at each other. (Don’t you miss the simplicity of being a kid sometimes??)
The Rough Weeks
Have there been rough weeks? Oh my goodness, yes.
There have been weeks (that felt like months) when we’re either at a campground with no kids in sight or it’s been raining non-stop and no one is outside. Those weeks are super rough. Those are the weeks I question what we’re doing. Those are the weeks I find myself longing for a neighborhood. Those are the weeks we make sure we have extra open communication with Aaron (and our other kids too obviously 🙂 ) to see how he’s doing.
As I mentioned at the beginning, we have no idea if this will work long-term for us. We are literally taking it a day at a time and making sure the lines of communication are always open.
The Suburbia High School Experience vs. the Full Time RVing Experience
Aaron is heading into 9th grade and we wondered if he was thinking about what it would be like to attend high-school and have all of those ‘normal’ experiences. He says he’s not ready for that yet and still loves the RV lifestyle.
If I’m being completely honest here, I’m split with how I feel. Part of me wants him to have that normal high-school experience. Since he’s so outgoing and social, we know he would love cheering on his school’s sports teams and maybe even playing on one. We know he would love the excitement of Friday nights and making plans with friends. And then there’s the fact that he’s about to be old enough for his permit…
Aaron would be the one in the football stands, shirt off, covered with body paint, freezing because it’s cold and cheering louder than anyone.
There are so many good things about suburbia that we know he would eat it up and thrive in.
But, then there’s the Full-Time RV Lifestyle where his “history class” is taking place on the U.S.S. Midway in San Diego or in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. or on the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
His P.E. class is hiking part of the Appalachian Trail or ziplining through the mountains of North Carolina or waking up super early in Canada to hike an intense trail that ends at a tea house on top of the mountain.
His social hour is spent with kids from all over the United States. Kids he just met. Kids that are completely different than him. Kids that either get this lifestyle completely because they personally live it or kids that are fascinated by it and are asking him a ton of questions.
Lunchtime is spent overlooking Lake Louise In Banff National Park, Canada after having taken a gondola ride to get there. Or veggie fajitas cooked over the campfire in the mountains of Colorado.
Wait…What State Are We In?
There are the days he wakes up and forgets what state he’s in, which he loves. (We all do this regularly, by the way, especially in the East where the states are so much smaller!)
I can see how that feeling and this lifestyle would be hard for him to give up right now.
So for now, the great days of full-time RV life outweigh the rough days. The highs outweigh the lows.
It’s when the rough days both outweigh and outnumber the great days, making them really hard to bounce back from, that he might be ready to settle down.
One day at a time…
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Julie Bonner is one-half of the TREKKN team. She specializes in helping you whip up delicious meals in your tiny RV kitchen, as well as RV organization tips and helping fellow RVers make their RV feel like home. Her favorite RVing spot is in Banff National Park in Canada where yes, the water really is that blue and the people really are that nice.