The stress of everyday life was already weighing on the Morse family before the coronavirus pandemic arrived in the United States. Amber Morse said she had been feeling like “the pace of life was just running kids to and from every activity and kind of getting absorbed” in the rush. So when it became clear that the ongoing pandemic would upend any normalcy as their kids returned to school in the fall, the family of six decided to hit the road.
“With having three older children in school, I think it started bringing kind of an angst in me about what that was going to look like, and being a working mom,” Amber said in a video call with the Statesman. “Knowing that there was a possibility of kids being in and out of school (we thought) ‘How are we going to manage that with two working parents?’”
The Morses — Amber, her husband Brandon, 15-year-old daughter Jadyn, 10-year-old twins Hudson and Brittan and 3-year-old son Koen — decided to leave their Meridian home to travel the country in an RV for a year.
“I was kind of just getting burnout,” said Brandon, who worked as a pastor in Meridian. “I took an extended period of time off from work (this summer), and we went camping at Ponderosa State Park in McCall. It was like a 10-day camping trip …. and we had just kind of started talking and dreaming about ‘what if,’ and as we started actually crunching the numbers and looking into the details of it and the logistics were like, ‘Wait, I think we could do this.’“
Brandon turned to his family to solidify the decision. First he called his mom to see if she thought the plan was too far-fetched. She paused.
“You know in the pause for her it was like, ‘Wait I don’t want my kids and grandkids to leave,’” Brandon said. “She thought about it for a second and she was like, “If I could go back with you and your sister, I would totally do it if we had the means to do it.’”
Next the Morses went to Jadyn, who began her freshman year of high school this fall. Jadyn didn’t need need to pause.
“She was like in tears at first. It wasn’t even a question,” Brandon said. “It was an absolute no because she’s super social.”
Jadyn didn’t want to leave her friends or her dance team, and her parents didn’t want to drag her on an adventure she wanted no part in. Their plan had hit a real snag. A few days later, as Brandon and Amber sat at the table having their morning coffee, Jadyn came downstairs.
“She said, ‘You guys, I’ve been really thinking about it, I’ve been praying about it, and I think we should do,’” Brandon said. “’I think this could be the best year of my life.’ And it was just one of those surreal moments where I was just like, ‘Alright, that’s what I needed to hear.’”
Figuring out finances, family dynamics from an RV
Within two weeks, Brandon and Hudson headed to Texas to pick up their RV — a 38-foot Open Range trailer that would become their home. The family customized parts of the 2020 trailer, which includes four pullouts for extra space, an outdoor kitchen and a full-size residential refrigerator inside.
Before leaving Meridian on Oct. 1, there were still budget details to work out.
“We know families work remotely and do this and that’s how they make it work,” Amber said. “What we came to is, “Could we give this year as a gift to our family? Could we be really intentional parents if we just both quit our jobs?’”
They decided they would. Brandon quit his job as a pastor, and Amber left hers as a labor and delivery nurse. They rented out their home in Meridian to help generate income. The Morses also own a couple of duplexes in Nampa that contribute income. And the adventure itself is paying dividends. Brandon decided to document the entire trip on a YouTube channel, Morses Go Mobile. Their third video — “Family of Six Moving Into an RV Full-time”— has nearly 4,000 views.
“One of my passions over the years is just video editing, videography and all,” Brandon said. “… And then we started our YouTube page and got kind of a quick little following right off the get go.”
Their family was featured on KBOI Channel 2 before they left the Treasure Valley. The company that made their RV saw the story on an affiliate TV station and reached out to the Morses, asking Brandon to help create some content for them, too.
For her part, Amber plans to take traveling nurse jobs to help fund the trip. She hoped to find a position in Florida, where the family was in mid-November when they spoke to the Statesman.
“I’d say this lifestyle can be expensive because we want to experience things,” Brandon said. “…There’s always something to do and tours to take and tourist things to do, and so we’re trying to balance the budget a little bit. But also, it’s kind of nice that every day feels like Saturday.”
But even a life of Saturdays isn’t without its issues.
“It doesn’t necessarily feel more or less stressful as what a big family feels like in the house of 3,000 square feet,” Brandon said. “We still have the same struggles.”
And there are different challenges, too.
“Everyone has to, in some way, be sacrificial,” Amber said.
The most obvious issue is space. Jadyn, who had her own bedroom and bathroom in their Meridian home, shares the bunk room with her younger siblings. The kids had to adjust to days of long drive times in their truck, and they’ve all missed friends and family.
But they are trying to find the silver lining in each situation. Jadyn gets to stay up and sleep in later than her siblings so she can enjoy some time to herself. The kids are no longer fazed by a few hours’ drive. And Amber’s parents met up with the Morses in Florida last week.
“Those are things that we’re just trying to work out as a family to make this the most positive experience,” Amber said.
Kids’ lessons coincide with travel
One part of the Morses’ decision to pursue their RV trip was the uncertainty about their kids’ school — with COVID-19 concerns, the family didn’t know which of their kids might be doing online school or risking in-person classes.
“It just seems like we continually get more confirmation that we made the right decision, especially with what we hear how school is going back home and how they’re (attending classes) on opposite days,” Brandon said.
Their three school-age children are all doing online programs: Brittan and Hudson are doing fourth grade through West Ada School District, while Jadyn is doing ninth grade via the Inspire Connections Academy, an Idaho online K-12 school.
So far, the family’s travels have coincided with lessons the kids are learning in their courses. Their route took them south to Utah and into Arizona, then east to New Mexico and into Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Along the way, they’ve visited sites that illustrate exactly what the kids’ textbooks are talking about.
“They’ll be doing like an erosion lesson and then we go and visit the Grand Canyon and learn how erosion formed the Grand Canyon and all the red rock (in Utah and Arizona),” Amber said.
“Brittan was just reading as we were driving the other day,” Brandon added, “she said, ‘Hey, did you guys know like St. Augustine is the oldest city in the U.S.?’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah we’re gonna be going there.’”
The kids learned about the Mexican-American war ahead of their time in Texas. As they traveled around the state, they followed the Mission Trail and saw the Alamo in San Antonio.
“I think that’s been the coolest thing is to learn right alongside my kids,” Amber said.
Like online schooling in the Treasure Valley, the Morses’ school hasn’t been without its challenges. They use a WiFi hot spot for online schooling that isn’t always completely reliable, and they have to balance the kids’ class schedules with their driving and activities. Amber said she’s starting to get into the routine of flexible schooling, finding an ebb and flow that works best.
“Learning doesn’t just coincide between this time frame,” she said. “It can happen any time.”
A lot to love and learn on RV trip, Morse family says
With about 10 months left in their trip, there’s still plenty for the Morses to look forward to. They plan to spend harshest parts of winter enjoying the warm weather in Florida before traveling up East Coast.
“Jadyn is really pumped to see New York,” Brandon said. “She loves the big city stuff and I’m like, ‘Let’s stay away from the big cities and just do all the cool things.’”
Amber has family in Pennsylvania that they hope to visit before heading west along the northern part of the country. Next summer, they want to spend time exploring California and the Oregon coast. Their plan has been to make it back to Meridian next year in time for their kids to enroll in school back home. But that’s not necessarily set in stone.
“(It’s) open-ended because I kind of love this lifestyle,” Brandon said. “Who knows?”
Part of what they’ve enjoyed is showing their kids new cultures, like the French Quarter of New Orleans. They’ve also been blown away by the people they’ve met.
“It’s not just in our community that surrounded ourselves with, there are these wonderful people everywhere we go,” Amber said. “And I think that’s really opened my heart to just how incredible other people are.”
Even as the pandemic continues to upset everyday life, the Morses are finding plenty to be grateful for.
“Even though we encounter COVID restrictions … there’s a little bit of escaping it, in a sense, just because we’re traveling, we’re in our trailer,” Brandon said. “And in our life we choose activities that we want to be a part of, and we get to get to kind of steer the ship. I think that’s exciting for me — going from a place where we were quite overwhelmed with juggling all the things in life, to being able to just have a year of this.”