On this page, we'd like to share exactly how we do it. Through a lot of trial and error, and thanks to my wife who has a talent for organization, we explain how we did it and all about our trip including how we've organized our RV. Our hope is that this will inspire others who are thinking about doing the same.
Unforgettable Experience to Travel the Country In an RV with our 6 Kids:
Everyone who hears about our trip is curious how we organized our life in such a small space. Here are 5 videos that show how we organized the RV...
Living in an RV Full Time with Six Kids Part 1: Food
Living in an RV Full Time with Six Kids Part 3: Clothing, Entertainment and the Bathroom:
Living in an RV Full Time with Six Kids Part 5: Making the RV a Home:
Laundry used to be a 24/7 task. Now, AnnMarie does laundry once a week. First of all, each person only has enough clothing for 1 week of summer clothing and 1 week of winter (warm) clothing. She takes all the dirty laundry once a week to the laundry-mat and washes all the laundry at once. Then all the kids help fold it and put it away. This video shows how we do it...
Having 5 boys, getting haircuts in a regular necessity each month. Thanks to my buzzers, here's how I cut the boys' hair...
How it All Started
In 2010 my wife and I created a family mission statement which was to define and give purpose to our family and encompass what we wanted to accomplish raising our children. It was not an easy task and we had many lengthy discussions about what should and should not be included. Once we finally completed it, we had 11 things we wanted to live by (see Norton Family Mission Statement on right hand side of our blog). It has become our creed and each morning during our family devotional, we recite it. The kids all have it committed to memory.
Shortly after creating our family mission statement, we started feeling promptings that we should travel and explore the country with our kids. At the time, we had already been home schooling for a few years and felt that a trip would be in line with our mission statement and a great opportunity for our family.
Unfortunately, at the time, my real estate investing business was still local to Michigan where we lived and required that I be there every day. Nevertheless, we made the goal, took our desire to God and put it in His hands and then went to work.
For two years I consciously worked at making changes in my business that would allow us to travel. At the end of 2010, I met Peter Conti, my now business partner, and we started working together doing real estate training and over the past two years we've created a multimillion dollar company that is nearly 100% online (no offices, no physical products, no seminars, no traveling and no speaking and selling from stage). We run our business remotely from a laptop and cell phone.
First Trip 33 Days
In July 2011 we sold our house at 1710 Algonquian Trl and rented an 8,000 sqft house on 80 acres on Stanton Rd in Oxford, MI. Now we felt ready to do a short cross county trip to see how we would do living in an RV with 5 kids (baby #6, William was actually conceived on the trip!). So we bought a used 30 ft class C Jayco RV that I found on Craig's list in Port Huron MI.
On September 18, 2011, we packed up and left on a 33 Day RV Trip. We pulled our mini-van behind the RV and drove from Michigan to Salt Lake City, UT to St. George, UT to San Diego to Arizona and then back home. We had an amazing experience and I blogged the whole trip (click here to check it out).
On our 33 day trip we learned a few things: 1). We loved traveling, being together as a family and seeing the country and 2). We needed a bigger RV! We had such a good time that we wanted to do a longer trip but ran into a few setbacks. The first was AnnMarie got pregnant again so we needed to wait until after the baby came. The second was Nathan was sick with Crohn's disease so we had to get him better.
Getting a Bigger RV
So we waited until the following year and at the end of July 2012, we sold our Jayco RV and bought a 2008 Four Winds Fun Mover. We had been looking for quiet some time for the right RV for our family. Most RV's don't accommodate big families since RVing is mostly done by retired people. Once we saw the Fun Mover model we knew that was what we wanted. The problem was they didn't make very many of that model before discontinuing it. It's 43 ft, diesel with air brakes so it's a lot bigger and heavy-duty enough to pull our 8,000 lb suburban. It also has a toy hauler (back of RV opens and has a lift gate to put motorcycles or ATVs in the back) which would make a great kids bedroom. It's a crew cab which we really wanted for the smaller kids to be able to sit forward facing in the front with us while we're driving. It had everything we were looking for.
So we looked and looked and could not find one anywhere. Finally, we found one for sale in Mesa AZ with only 19,000 miles in really good condition. We knew immediately it was what we wanted (especially the paint job!) but when we called on it, it was already sold. The dealer said he'd call if anything happened and sure enough a week later he called and the sale fell through and it was available for sale again. We immediately jumped on it, negotiated a price and had it delivered to us July 27, 2012.
Once we got the Fun Mover, we had a lot of logistics to figure out like how were we going to live in an RV with 5 kids and a new baby. That summer and fall we did a lot of short trips to get comfortable and start figuring out what we needed and how we were going to organize and customize it. Thankfully, I had a lot of experience driving big trucks from when I used to work for my dad's construction business so I was really comfortable driving such a big rig. Also, AnnMarie is a genius when it comes to organizing and systematizing a household. For the next 5 months we worked on what we would need in the RV, how we would organize it and where everything would go. We did lots of trips to Ikea for ideas.
Preparing to Leave
While we were getting the RV ready, we had a lot of other things to figure out while still having Christmas, church and work responsibilities and 3 kids birthdays! I sold my boat and my car. We sold, gave away or donated most of our furniture and belongings. What little we had left, we put in storage. We gave our cats to friends and got all the kids caught up on seeing the dentists. We got Nathan's doctor to give us permission to go on the trip with his Crohn's Disease. We went though all of their closes and only kept 1 week's worth of closes to take in the RV. I arranged for my assistant to help with work stuff like mail, and banking and bookkeeping. We got all the kids home school ready by utilizing the iPad (each of our kids has their one iPad for home school).
We couldn't believe how much there was to do but we set a date to leave Jan 14, 2013 and kept working towards it. At times we thought we would never be ready. One of the greatest blessings was my good friend BJ Stapp. He stepped forward and offered to help us customize the RV how we had envisioned it. He is really amazing with carpentry and had a lot of good ideas.
For the entire month of December he came over in his free time and worked in the freezing cold garage on building bunk beds, pantry slides, book shelves, a door hatch, electrical outlets, a desk, and a ton of other things. He even made the kids ipad holders (his idea). Sometimes he wouldn't leave until 1:00 in the morning! Without him the RV would have never been as amazing as it is.
The kids' bedroom turned out to be so cool. BJ build 2 bunk beds on each side of the toy hauler. Underneath the beds are plastic bins and each kid has 2 bins for closes and 1 bin to keep their toys/stuff in. Above the bunks, there is a queen size bed that lowers down from the ceiling that Jarod (and sometimes Nathan) sleeps on. Here is a short video that shows the bunk beds...
Purpose of this Trip
It was hard to say goodbye to our big comfortable house and our friends and especially AnnMarie's parents. We had worked so hard and planned this trip for years and we couldn't believe we were finally doing it. Our last night, in our big empty house, AnnMarie and I felt such a sense of peace and excitement for our journey ahead of us.
On January 14th, we loaded everything we planned on taking into the RV and left. Our first destination was Fort Meyers FL. We chose that destination because it was the warmest place we could find in January being on the SW coast of FL.
It took us 3 1/2 days to get there. Since it was freezing in MI, we had the RV winterized until we got to Florida so we stayed in hotels on the way there, which was a fun treat. Since we weren't going to be living in the RV until we got to FL, we pretty much just piled everything in the RV. By the time we got to FL it was a disaster. This video shows what I mean...
First Stop Fort Meyers, Florida:
Being in Florida was a great experience. Our RV park, called Woodsmoke Camping Resort in Fort Meyers was really nice and clean. It had a 1950's classic feel to it. We were right next to the heated pool. Our internet connection was strong. Shopping and laundry was close. Our church ward was only 5 minutes away and best of all...the beach was 10 minutes away! We really couldn't have asked for a better location. We stayed there about 2 months and absolutely loved it. It was sunny and 75-80 every day.
It only took a few days until we were famous throughout the park as the home school family with six kids. We really stuck out amongst all the retired RV people. Some didn't like us but most loved us and were really friendly and nice. Here's a quick video on the kid's view of the old people at the RV park...
Coloring on the Walls in the RV:
Since we converted the toy hauler into the kid's room, the walls were metal which work great for dry erase markers. Check out how much fun the kids have drawing on the walls in their room...
Dancing to the Wii at the RV Park:
Our RV has an outdoor TV and we love to play Dance Revolution on the Wii. I wonder if this looks funny to our RV neighbors...
Waking up The Kids in the RV:
Waking up the kids early for church is no easy task. For some reason I find sleepy kids who just wake up really funny...
During our stay we left for a few days and went up to Tampa. We also flew AnnMarie's mom in for a week and I surprised them all with a 3 day trip to Disney! We are a big Disney family. I woke the kids up at 5:30 in the morning and told them all to sit on the couch so I could talk to them. I pretended to be angry, then told them all we were going to Disney and to load up in the car. They were so surprised and excited.
Next Stop - Salt Lake City, Utah:
Finally, our time in Florida came to an end. AnnMarie and I had a speaking commitment in Salt Lake City at a home school convention. We had such a hard time leaving and were sad to say good bye to the palm trees and ocean. On March 9th we started the 2500 mile trek west and I made it there in 3 1/2 days! It was pretty intense coming into SLC that late in the dark with the big rig. After sleeping in Walmart parking lots, it was nice to be at a KOA right downtown about 1 mile from temple square. The kids were so excited to play and get their bikes out after 3 1/2 days of driving...
While in SLC, we hardly stopped. We had our home school conference which Grandma and Grandpa Franklin drove from Idaho to see us. We also saw AnnMarie's brother Josh and his fiance Rachael. We went to temple square and some of the other church sites. I even took the older kids to a Jazz game...
The Next Stop - Saint George Utah
There was one problem with SLC... It was still winter here! It was too cold for us to RV. So on March 19th (less then a week in SLC), we started heading to warmer weather. We stopped in Saint George to visit my 2 brothers Bob and Brian. The kids were excited to see their cousins. We stayed about 10 days. I flew to Annapolis for a few days to see my business partner Peter Conti who was in the hospital from a dirt bike accident. He shattered his hip and was in pretty rough shape.
While in St George we hiked Snow Canyon, visited the temple and other church sites and did a lot of swimming in the RV pool and playing with cousins. My brother Doug and his family also came into town so it was fun to see them as well. Us four brothers spent a day in the mountains shooting Brian's guns. I made a quick video...
On April 2nd we left UT (for now) and drove on through Vegas to Arizona. It was hard for the kids to say good bye to their cousins.
Next Stop - Arizona:
The first place we stopped was Wickenburg, AZ to see Grandma Jan and Grandma Norton. We stayed a few days at a little RV park in town. It was so nice to see Grandma's and spend some time with them. The kids were so sweet and loved on them. Our goal is to be able to visit them more often and have a closer relationship with them.
On April 4th we left late and drove down to Meza where we'd stay put for awhile. Our RV park was really nice and one of the largest in the country. In had several pools, one of which was just for kids! That was great since we go in trouble more then once for splashing old people. They even gave us a really big slip so we had a ton of room. We stayed about 3 weeks there and were able to spend a lot of time with my brother Scotty and his little family. Uncle Scotty is an amazing uncle and the kids love him to pieces!
We immediately fell in love with the Meza area especially Gilbert. It was not at all what we expected. We loved the citrus trees, warm weather, having a pool with a house and we even found a strong homeschool community. We thought for sure that was where we were going to move after our RV trip. We even spent time looking at houses.
Here are some fun videos I made while in Meza for 3 weeks...
Baby Will Trying Hard to NOT Fall Asleep:
This video is really funny. Will doesn't want to miss out on any of the fun and fights really hard to NOT fall asleep...
Easter Bunny Visits the RV:
Pulling off Easter was not easy in the RV. The bunny left the kids some goodies on the RV deck...
Mom Pulls Out Gracie's Tooth in the Pool:
While we were swimming in the pool, Gracie informed us that she had a loose tooth so mom just pulled it out...
Joshua Pees in the Pool:
Ok, not really but since we spend a lot of time at the RV pools while in Arizona, we had fun making this video.
Hiking and Camping Superstition Mountain:
While we were in Mesa, AZ, Jarod and I did a 3 mile hike up the Superstition Mountains and then camped on the ground overnight. it was really cool...
On April 26th we left Arizona to go to American Fork to a Homeschool conference our friend Diann Jeppson told us about. She has been so instrumental in our homeschooling journey.
While driving on the I-15 through the Gorge just before St George, I noticed that the Virgin River had water running in it so I pulled over RV and said, "kids get your shoes on we're going to explore the river." We had to climb over a barb-wire fence and once we got down to the water, we took our shoes off. It was so refreshing to walk in the cool water surrounded by the canyons. Soon the kids were splashing and swimming... It was so fun!
Swimming and Playing in the Virgin River:
While we were in American Fork at the home school conference something magical happened. The conference was at a private school that teaches LDS principles. It is very home school friendly and even has the only LDS home school curriculum. While we were there, the spirit confirmed to us that this was the place we needed to be. It was as obvious to us a getting hit with a ton of bricks! We were actually disappointed because we had our hearts set on moving to Gilbert AZ.
Our plan was to just stay for the conference but we decided to stay another week so Am could attend Women's conference at BYU. We also got to know some new friends the Knecht's and Bazinet's.We were staying at an RV park in Spanish Fork but Jonathan got a cat bite that got infected so we decided try a different park and found one we really liked up in Draper.
On May 9th, We took the RV and did a field trip to Little Sahara and spent the day climbing and playing in the sand dunes... Here's the video:
Playing in the Sand Dunes at Little Sahara in UT:
Playing in the Sand Dunes at Little Sahara in UT:
On May 10th, we left UT and drove to CA to spend some time at Disney. We found an RV park that was walking distance to Disney. The kids that it was magical that we could see the fireworks show from our RV park.
Once there we decided to get annual passes to Disney Land. We figured we would be coming enough to make it worth it. Since our family is bug time Disney, it was really fun to explore and get to know Disney Land since we are so familiar with Disney World in Florida. While there we also met up with my brother Scotty and his family at the beach and swam, flew kites and played...
Spending the Day at Oceanside Beach in California:
We even flew Grandma to CA to spend some time with us at Disney. It was her first time to CA.
After being in CA for 2 weeks on May 25th we left CA and headed back to Utah. It was hard to leave Disney, the beaches and the sunshine. Once back in UT we explored and visited Temple Square, Ensign's Peak, the Beehive House, as well as other home school co-ops and field trips. We realized that this was place that had the best home school groups, LDS culture and private school (American Heritage) that we've been looking for.
We wanted to stay longer but it was time to go to Boise Idaho for Uncle Josh's weeding. So on June 5th we left for Idaho. While there it was great to spend time with Grandma/Grandpa Franklin and AnnMarie's sister Jackie. Jackie took us "ice blocking," which is a fun summer activity in Idaho so we gave it a try. It's a lot harder then you think!
Ice Blocking in Boise Idaho:
Will Learns to Walk:
Over the past month or so, I've been videoing Will as he learns to walk. I wanted to capture the process for my parents. It's amazing to me to watch a a baby learn to walk...
How Dad Eats While Driving the RV:
This is really cute short video of Gracie feeding me while I'm driving...
River Hiking Lone Peak Wilderness in Alpine UT
more coming soon...