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Balancing act: Finding a way to be both full-time grandparents and full-time travelers is easier than you think

Tracy and his wife Lana were all set to retire early and travel across the country when a new addition to the family made them reconsider everything

Photo: Tracy Russell

I was still in disbelief as we left the funeral home and got in the car to drive home. At just 50 years old, my brother-in-law had lost his long battle with cancer. Unfortunately, I am no stranger to losing family members—especially family who still have so much life left to live. Both my mother and father-in-law passed away at the respective ages of 46 and 42 from heart attacks.

As my wife Lana and I moved through the grieving process, we began to seriously reflect on the current state of our lives—and what we saw, we weren’t sure we were comfortable with. We were both working multiple jobs, putting in 16-hour days seven days a week, and convincing ourselves we were living the American Dream. But is it worth it if your life is cut short before ever getting to enjoy that dream?

The three saddest descriptors

A few years after my brother-in-law’s funeral, I was still pondering our definition of the American Dream when I came across a young couple on YouTube. They were traveling all across North America in an RV and they just seemed so happy. Watching video after video of their adventures roused something deep inside of me. I started daydreaming about life on the road, visiting all the places Lana and I had only ever seen on the covers of magazines and in snippets on travel shows. It seemed like the true dream. The only problem was that neither Lana nor I had ever camped before, let alone owned an RV.

But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that “could have,” “should have,” and “might have” are the three saddest descriptors for life.

Hard decisions

In July 2017, after some planning and careful consideration, Lana and I decided to own the dream and purchased a 40-foot class A motorhome (go big or go home). We spent the next year familiarizing ourselves with the rig, taking small trips, and getting a crash course in RV camping.

Everything was lining up perfectly and we were getting ready to hit the road full-time when life threw us a curveball—a beautiful, precious curveball. Our very first grandchild was born.

In an instant, our world was changed and we assumed new identities, officially becoming Mimi and Papa. But through all of this excitement, we began to struggle with the idea of being both full-time grandparents and full-time RVers. The internal questions were hard—do we live out our own personal dream at the expense of seeing friends and family? Or do we forego the RV plans entirely and risk a “should have” life descriptor?

Selfie of a young grandmother and grandfather in sunglasses holding and smiling with their young granddaughter
The newly designated Mimi and Papa, and our beautiful granddaughter. | Photo: Tracy Russell

In the end—like most things in life—we found a balance between being great parents and grandparents, and being travelers. We made the decision to retire early and become full-time RVers (or full-time tourists, as I like to say). And while social media, video calls, and digital communication have definitely helped us stay connected, by far the best part is getting to bring our family along for the ride.

Staying connected

Since being born, our granddaughter has traveled with us for a total of 12 weeks. She’s already visited six state parks and six national parks. She’s seen bears, elk, moose, antelope, and bighorn sheep. She’s eaten her first snowball, roasted her first marshmallow, and tried her first beignet. Our daughters have also come along for some of the ride, getting to see everything from the dazzling Riverwalk in San Antonio to the epic waterfalls along the Columbia River.

Bringing family along has shown them the vastness and dynamic beauty of our amazing country. And while we’ve gotten to see some pretty unforgettable things—Lake Louise and Multnomah Falls come to mind—we’ve also enjoyed the simple moments of just being together as a family. At a KOA in Grand Junction, Colorado, we got to watch our granddaughter run around the playground, take a swing at the miniature golf course, and laugh in the game room. These moments give us a sense of security and reconfirmed that we made the right decision.

Young toddler in pink shirt takes a bite out of a toasted marshmallow off the skewer
Trying out her very first roasted marshmallow. | Photo: Tracy Russell

Young toddler sits at the top of a yellow slide smiling down ready to slide down
All smiles at the KOA playground in Grand Junction, Colorado. | Photo: Tracy Russell

We’ve also found friendships along the way. One of my biggest concerns was that being away from friends, family, and a homebase would make us feel alone, but we’ve actually found that to be quite the opposite. Whether we’re boondocking in the Arizona desert or hooked up at our favorite St. Mary / East Glacier KOA Holiday in Montana, we’re finding inclusive communities everywhere we go. We routinely strike up conversations with other RVers, and oftentimes will exchange emails, enjoy a game night, share a potluck dinner, and even make plans to meet up again at another campground in the future. Like the YouTube couple I discovered, I think we’re all just happy to be here.

A full retired life

At the time, making the decision to travel full-time and live out our own dream was really hard. But looking back, we’re so happy with the outcome. Retirement doesn’t have to mean a sedentary life waiting for the daily newspaper to arrive. It also doesn’t have to contain the words “could have,” “should have,” or “might have.” Instead, it can be full of hiking in Yosemite, off-roading in Moab, and lots of delicious s’mores with our granddaughter.

Selfie of hiking couple wearing backpacks in front of old wooden cabin covered in flags and surrounded by pine trees
Retired life does not have to mean a sedentary life—take it from us! | Photo: Tracy Russell

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