The Courage to Leave

A family, a VW bus and the open road teach a lesson

Angela Rehm

A little about the van. He got it for a steal, but I soon found out why… A little electrical work here, reupholstering some seats there… But, the restoration wasn’t enough. The van was just the beginning, just a taste of the possibilities. Soon he was talking about traveling around the world. Yes, of course I thought he was crazy at first.—Angela Rehm,

Launching a multi-year drive around the U.S. and to the tip of South America in a camper van with your family—even with little ones you love so much that you ache at the idea of them growing up—is both easy and hard. Easy in that all you have to do is decide, pack your junk and go. You don’t even need a plan or a map. It’s that deciding part that’s the most difficult, though. You start exploring emotions and thinking about consequences, like the ding you’ll put in your savings account, an uncertain financial future, time away from your friends, plus guilt trips from family (lovable, though they are). And, suddenly, out come the midday nightmares. Right, wrong or otherwise, I think we all go through it.

Jason and Angela of Bodes Well (Bode is their 5-year-old son) know both sides of the conflict very well, and have chronicled it on their blog for the rest of us to chew on. I’m feasting.

They left in August 2009 in a 1971 Volkswagen bus with a Westfalia camper conversion that Jason restored, and the trip hasn’t stopped yet. Bode was 4 years old when they began with a loop around the U.S. Then they crossed into Mexico and just kept on driving. The family is in Argentina right now, having already made the tip, and their entire journey is, more or less, played by ear. It gives me a big stoke to see that they transitioned from big doubts to bigger decisions; it’s inspiring.

I’d be a liar if I told you that extended family travel is a piece of cake, non-stop fun and always drama-free—not that you’d believe that, anyway. You’ve taken a trip to the grocery store with your children, haven’t you? That’s enough stress for a week sometimes. So naturally, at first, the big trip you’re planning seems like you could actually pull it off; then, after some thought, perhaps you think it’s crazy. May as well be honest about it. On a dig into the Bodes Well archives (alert: amazing photographs!), some eight months before they set out on their trip, I found a treasure of honest gems. They’re things that we all go through, even if we’re not thinking of a multi-year road trip. Check this out, from Angela:

...I know that Jason has always wanted to spend more time with Bode, and soon he’ll be in school. He wants some time off, and supposing I could get a job in this economy (I’m in marketing, a field most likely to be cut during tough times), I don’t think I could support the family in California. We discussed our other options—move back to Texas near our families, both of us getting a job here in Cali, etc. etc. But it kept coming back to doing something we both love—travel and adventure. Why not take advantage of the time we have before Bode is in school, wait for the job market to open more possibilities for both of us…and get the fuck out of here for a while?

So after all my initial hesitation, I am starting to come around to this idea. Jason, on the other hand, is having second thoughts. He’s worried about all the things I worried about at the beginning: Our retirement, our savings, being homeless and jobless upon our return, health care and getting the van running.

After reading that, if they need a place to stay, I say our house is always open. And so is a bottle of wine. Seeing that they’re not only pulling it off but also having a killer time, doesn’t that just stoke you?

Spending more time together was their motivation. It’s simple, honest and admirable. It really makes the point that whether you choose to raise a family in the suburbs or in a van on the road has nothing to the “right” way. Just spend time together, and make it good. For some (lucky bastards), traveling in a kick-ass camper van for a while has the most appeal.

Follow their adventure. It’s really fun:

Mark Stephens is a father and husband living in Arizona. He writes about the people, places and things that appeal to active parents enjoying outdoor adventure in any of its forms on his blog


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