Outdoor Connection

The Duncan's Epic Family Adventure

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Duncan Family
Duncan family fun

The Duncans are living the dream. They are hitting the road in their motor coach and embarking on a year long North American adventure with their children. Visiting National Parks, kayaking, hiking and dog-sledding are on the itinerary. Most recently they wrapped up their exciting travels in Canada. The best part is that it's all documented! You can follow the Duncans via their blog (a CRT favorite), Counting Fireflies. CRT caught up with Jennifer Duncan to talk about the ups and downs of traveling as a family, how to plan for an epic adventure of your own, and the intricacies of motor coach interior design.

CampingRoadTrip.com:  What ignited a 12-year plan to go on a epic journey across North America?

Jennifer Duncan:  My husband and I have always been outdoor people. We both spent our childhoods camping and hiking. One of our very first dates was a downhill skiing day and pretty soon after that we went rock climbing together. My husband has inherited his travel genes from his dad's side of the family. After his grandfather moved here from England as a child, the Duncan clan has spread out to the States, Canada and Australia. His family moved to Australia when he was a toddler as part of a teacher exchange program and he has been traveling ever since. One summer, when I was in high school, my Dad took all his leave in one batch, cleaned up an old trailer and we spent six weeks traveling to all the National Parks in the West. That was an incredible, amazing, life-changing journey and gave me a real love of exploring. I still remember sitting in the front seat of the van, waiting to see what was over the next rise or around the next hairpin curve and I still have that sense of anticipation when I get in the car.

How did you prepare the kids for such a change of lifestyle?

Slowly! We started by discussing, very casually, the latest adventure other families were having traveling. I have a fairly extensive blog list that I follow of adventuring families, and I would make a point of mentioning what was happening in their worlds. They thought it was totally cool that kids were out there traveling and road/boat/bike schooling, so by the time we were ready to share our plans with them, they were all for it. We also set in place several ways for them to keep up with their friends to lessen any feeling of separation anxiety they might have.

What has been the most challenging part of traveling?

The constant togetherness. No, I take that back, it has to be navigating in a vehicle that does not turn on a dime or back up without unhooking the Jeep.

And the constant togetherness. Make sure you build in time to do things on your own. Go to the grocery store without the crew. Read a book while the rest of the crew goes to the grocery store. Everybody needs personal space and if you aren't very aware of that and build that time into your day, then things are going to get hairy and you'll be unhappy and your crew will be unhappy. Definitely not a good place to be in a RV!

What is the key to making a motor coach home as comfortable as possible, while not sacrificing space?

Rip out everything the Motor Coach people put in! Honestly, I don't know what most RV designers are thinking when it comes to space allocation or interior design. We were very fortunate that we could rip a lot of our bus down to the studs, had to in fact, and start over. We looked to boat designs for ideas on how to make every inch count. Bookshelves surround the interior of the coach painted in a leftover pale blue from one of my kids' rooms. I used a lot of bright colors; we built in shelves for the kids so they have plenty of room for their treasures both from home and collected on the road; we made sure the kids have their favorite games and books, while limiting the toys due to space. I didn't go out and buy new dishes or towels, etc because I wanted to be surrounded by the things that made us feel comfortable. For example, I brought my favorite green serving bowls because I love the color. I got them at a home outlet type store, so if they break I won't be heartbroken.

We put the kids' schoolwork and art/craft items in sturdy baskets with handles that fit neatly between the captain's chairs as we are driving and then stow under the table if we want to. We also utilize a ton of hooks. We hang everything we can to make use of the wall space; guitar, banjo, coats, jackets & hats; net bags for produce and bread.

The last thing that we did that I haven't seen before is instead of putting in cabinets, we put in square cubbies that we purchased at Target, and the baskets to go in them. We are able to store an immense amount of food and clothes in the cubbies, with the added benefit of the splash of color the buckets and baskets add.

What has been the most rewarding experience so far?

I threw this question out to the whole crew and my kids all say that rock climbing in Acadia was their most favorite experience so far. They really got to push their limits and they loved every minute of it.

I think what my husband and I have loved seeing the most is the independence that our children are gaining. They are able to run down to the camp store to get firewood or a candy bar without us; our oldest son is the designated fire starter and they all can spend the entire afternoon combing the woods around our campsite without us needing to hover. In so many ways, I feel this trip is providing our children with the type of childhood my husband and I had, but which seems too scary to allow in the urban neighborhood we live in.

What is your best advice for families planning on starting a journey of their own?

Read. Read. Read. Subscribe to the blogs of families that are out there traveling. It will reassure you and the grandparents that you are not crazy and there is just tons of great advice from families who are making it work. Also, plan to take a real vacation as soon as you get officially on the road. I can't emphasize enough how stressful and tiring the transition will be, no matter how much time you have to plan or how carefully you do it. You are essentially moving house, so just as you should try to take a break after relocating to a new home, take a break when you get on the road. Your traveling will start off so much nicer and your kids will thank you for it.

You recently traveled to Canada. What other regions are up next for the Duncan clan?

We re-routed our New England trip due to Hurricane Irene, so we will be heading down through Boston and Philadelphia, which we missed on our way up to Canada, then over to the west coast for the holidays. Then it is the wide, wide west, with lots of cross-country skiing, rock-climbing and hiking to get cracking on! One of our sons really wants to try dog-sledding, so who knows, maybe a quick foray in our towed up north?

Check Out The Duncan Family Adventure.

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