That thing you think is unsurmountable? Sometimes all it takes is to see somebody else doing it. Just seeing them do it puts it into the realm of Possibilities! And so it was for us concerning big family travel long term. Once we saw big family rooftop tents, we knew. This could be us!
We had already been away from home on Vancouver Island a couple of years. We had driven across Canada, lived on Cape Breton for 2 years with a winter in Arizona between them. Our family had driven from BC to Georgia and up the eastern USA coast. In 2010 we returned to Vancouver Island. I was itching to “flee to Mexico” before winter, but not Everette. He was keen to start his own company. And so that’s what he did.
We settled down for a couple years for him to establish a new business. Fortunately that enabled us to be close to family when my brother was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Within a year of losing my brother, we were ready to hit the road again. Not satisfied to live the status quo, we knew we wanted to go do some exploring.
Without a big bank account, no passive or online income and with 7 dependent kids, we were stumped as to how on earth we were going to be able to fund long term travel as a big family.
Tiny Homes Up High
That family with (just) 5 kids traveling from Alaska to Argentina with a rooftop tent on their truck gave us hope. We realized there had to be a way that we could do it with our 7 kids and the 15 passenger van that we already owned.
And so we found Cascadia Vehicle Tents. With a little bit of figuring we planned on getting 2 rooftop tents. We started our plans with a fury.
- Aug 28th Our 2nd eldest daughter (who was living with us while working on papers for her to live with her hubby State-side) gave birth to our first grand baby, born in our home.
- Sept 5th Surgery to get my tubes tied (no more babies)
- Sep 28th Our daughter, her hubby and their newborn moved to the USA
- Sept 30th We gave notice to our landlord
- Oct We were busy decluttering, selling, preparing
- Oct 28th We left Vancouver Island on our new adventure, heading “to Mexico & Beyond”
- Nov 2nd We bought 2 rooftop tents
We credit those rooftop tents for getting us on the road traveling. Without them to break us into our big family travel we still might be living in that old neighbourhood. Living a safe life.
Why Big Family Rooftop Tents?
- It was about all we could afford with cash
- We didn’t want to pull a trailer, figuring it would limit where we could go with it, greatly restricting off-road excursions
- We weren’t set up for any long distance cycling, and didn’t want to deal with the logistics of 9 of us cycling on the side of highways
- Motor homes that would sleep all of us were out of our price range
- Flying was costly for 9. At the other end we wouldn’t have a vehicle. The logistics of using public transit and keeping us all together seemed daunting at the time. We seriously considered selling our van & flying all of us to Ecuador where my sister was living at the time. But we scratched that idea off for several reasons. The main reason was that Everette needed to commute every few months back to BC for his business. Not only would the cost of frequent airfare increase our expenses, but we were considerate of the added travel time and jet lag for him/us.
We loved our big family rooftop tents . We felt safe & secure in our big family rooftop tents. Except for the terrible winds we experienced in Arches National Park in our first few weeks. Neither Everette nor I got much sleep that night. Everette was busy checking and rechecking ties etc while I was envisioning our entire van being pulled over in the gusts of wind catching the tents. Eventually we got used to the flapping tents when it got windy, and I learned to sleep with earplugs when necessary.
We were able to get off-road like we had imagined with the rooftop tents. We drove thru stream beds in search of natural hot springs, & even camped on hidden beaches. With not a whole lot more than the van’s footprint we could fit our rig into virtually anywhere we wanted to, provided there was enough height to accommodate the tents opened up.
Compared to Ground Tents
We spent the first winter with our big family rooftop tents mostly in Arizona and then down the length of the Baja.
Because some of the kids decided they wanted to have more space they set up their own ground tents. That enabled us to do some comparing between the rooftop tents and the ground tents in similar settings & weather.
- The ground tents got scorpion visitors…rooftop tents didn’t.
- We all got rained on, but only the ground tents ever had streams running beside or under them.
- After being stationary for awhile the ground tents also got burrowers underneath. Things like mice or glass snakes (aka glass lizards because they actually are classified as reptiles).
- When we needed to head to town for supplies or to sightsee we had to pack away the rooftop tents. That also meant resetting them when we got back with the van. Ground tents were just left As Is.
- Its quicker to get out of the ground tents when you have an emergency like you need to up-chuck because you’ve got the flu. Or you’ve got the runs NOW! It happens!!
- You feel safer and out-of-reach way up high when marauding cows come nibbling their way thru camp during the night.
- The rooftop tents could be folded up with much of the bedding still inside. Then of course the tents were stored safely on the roof, out of our travel space. Whereas the ground tents had to be completely emptied. Everything including all the bedding had to be stored somewhere within the belly of our van, making it crowded for the 9 of us.
Overall we loved the rooftop tents. We will be forever grateful we stumbled upon their very existence. Grateful for the possibilities they held for our family.
But we only had them about 9+ months.
We hadn’t planned to get rid of them. It was just the way things worked out the summer we spent in Colorado. You see, we met this lovely older couple on the Baja who were heading home to Colorado to build their house. They invited us to stop by and camp on their acreage, and take advantage of their grandkids’ BMX bikes, and other toys (the grandkids lived in Norway & had outgrown the stuff anyways). We took them up on their offer. But before we arrived the Mr. ended up having emergency quadruple bypass and their house-build was going to be on hold.
Since Everette was a professional house builder we offered to give a helping hand that summer. Everette and Mitchell became the helping crew to the 2 local builders that were hired on. Since we were Canadians without working visas there was no exchange of cash. But the Mr. had a plan hatched, unbeknownst to Everette and I.
He knew Mitchell loved boats, as did he himself. Taking a couple of the kids into town to a book store, he asked Mitchell if there was any particular book that really interested him. It was a book of boat building plans. Mr bought it for Mitchell.
Then a few days later when he saw Mitchell studying the boat plans, he asked, “If there was a boat you wanted to build, which one do you think you would choose?” Mitchell picked out the 16 ft dory.
Then the previous-professor in his teaching manner asked the 14yo Mitchell to pretend he was going to actually build it. Mr asked Mitchell to make out an actual material list.
When the list was made and handed to Mr, Mitchell was instructed to get into the truck where Mr proceeded to take our young teen to the lumber yard to load up on the necessities to get started with…to build his own dory boat! And thus was the beginning of “Girlfriend”.
Our 14-turned-15yo son build his own boat that summer of 2013. We were probably only half as proud as he was…and we loved the whole experience for him. But it left us in a dilemma. How were we going to pack this 16ft wooden boat?
Girlfriend was stinking heavy, a real challenge to hoist her up on top of the rooftop tents. Even though we could lift her, we wouldn’t want to be removing her every time we needed to access the tents.
We thought about getting a cargo trailer to haul our stuff. Mr even tried to sell us his… a beautiful red! But we still didn’t want to be trailing that behind us, limiting everywhere we could go. At the same time we didn’t want Mitchell abandoning his project. You see, we hadn’t been able to get her in any local waters. The rivers and reservoirs were all too low at the end of the summer.
It was a hard decision to make, but in the end we kept Girlfriend and ditched the big family rooftop tents. We had run out of time and had to move fast on our new plans before winter set in. Somebody got a great deal off of kijiji in Colorado.
We sold them for enough cash to buy the materials to build rooftop boxes for storing our stuff in, and stocked up on more ground tents & tarps. And thus was the end of our big family rooftop tents.
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