2 Parents, 2 Kids, 1 Dog and an RV

Two Bartlett, Tenn., parents, driven to educate their sons, buckle up for a 16-month, cross-country adventure

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Dan and Jennifer Taylor, along with sons Griffin and Mason, will visit 52 cities and make dozens more day trips on their 18-month adventure. (Photos courtesy of Mark Weber, The Commercial Appeal)

March 10, 2008 — The planning began more than a year ago, but the real commitment came during Christmas when Dan and Jennifer Taylor invested $135,000 in a used RV and mapped out a year-and-a-half journey across America.

From Bartlett to Orville and Wilbur Wright's old haunts and from the Baseball Hall of Fame to the Badlands, the Taylors headed out March 9 with sons Mason, 8, and Griffin, 6, and a 13-year-old miniature schnauzer named Priscilla.

A former air traffic controller, Jennifer, 36, and her family have planned overnight stops in 52 cities with dozens more day trips along the way. It will be one of the few major trips the family has taken together.

"My sons have never seen the ocean. We've never been skiing." So part of the trip will be devoted to what she calls "adventure travel," from whale watching to riding a covered wagon on a segment of the Oregon Trail.

More than that, it is an educational journey focused largely around a home-schooling curriculum for the boys.

Dan, 42, an Internet technician who has worked as a sales representative and a home electronics integration expert, designed and built a website to catalog the family's adventure with a daily blog to take readers along for the ride. Called driventoeducate.com, the site explains how the trip dovetails with the boys' study of American history, including the Lewis and Clark expedition.

"We plan to go rafting in the same river that Lewis and Clark were canoeing in," says Jennifer. The first English colony at Jamestown is part of the trip, along with the axis of the nation's history in Washington.

For Jennifer, there is another dimension to the trip — an inner journey stemming from a health scare that led to her early retirement. In the summer of 2006, Jennifer's job as a flight controller was threatened when she began having dizzy spells.

"At first, I blamed it on being too tired or just not eating. Healthy living is not one of my strengths. In my world, there are very few things that two aspirin, a Snickers bar and a Diet Coke can't cure," she writes on the website.

When doctors were unable to find a cause for the dizzy spells, it meant Jennifer couldn't get the required medical clearance to continue working as an air traffic controller. She took disability retirement. Then she began to wonder: "What would I do if I had very little time left?"

She says she "tends to go overboard with everything I do," including major parties to celebrate anything from birthdays to the times her sons were potty trained. To deal with mortality meant finding something spectacular.

"I thought about it a lot, and what kept coming to mind was spending time with my family and seeing my children learn and experience new things."

With savings, her medical retirement pension and help from her father, Jennifer says the RV trip began to take shape.

Dan wasn't sure at first: "I thought, 'How can we leave our jobs, leave our home?' Then we thought about it some more, meditated on it more and here we are."

The family began looking for renters for their home and shopping for the right vehicle to convert the family to nomads for more than a year. They looked at travel trailers that could be pulled by a truck, but settled on a self-contained motorhome with less square footage than the bedroom their sons share at home. The home is 3,600 square feet, while the RV is less than 400 square feet. They have spent the last few weeks packing their belongings to put in storage and make way for the renters.

What was left was putting their diesel-powered Monaco motorhome in the shop for last-minute tweaks and conversion of a sitting area in the rear to a small bedroom with bunk beds for the boys. That room is separated by a door from the RV's main bedroom, so that the boys can sleep without being disturbed by noises from the kitchen and living areas at the front of the RV.

Dan's expertise in home electronics and computers will help the family stay in touch through the blog on the website he created. "The idea is to take the community with us," he says. It also means his sons can continue as Cub Scouts and earn merit badges through a computer-based Scout program.

"It is a program for Scouts who live too far away from a Scout Troop. It makes us responsible for keeping track of their achievements, like merit badges," says Jennifer.

The family also sought sponsors who are advertised on the driventoeducate.com site. Because of the trip's educational theme, Oxford University Press provided them an 11-volume textbook series with teacher guides on US history. Just Kidz Books in Bartlett is providing children's books each month related to the boys' studies. The YMCA arranged a three-month free pass for the family at YMCAs across the country.

"By the time the YMCA membership runs out it should be warm enough for us to use the pools at the campgrounds and play outside more," says Jennifer.

The trip will include stops in at least 34 states, and a drive of that magnitude meant a few practice runs in the RV. For one, the Taylors visited her parents in Houston, learning that in even a 20-mph crosswind an RV "is like driving a big billboard down the road." They also learned that the electrical supply to an RV is picky about how much current is in use at one time. "I turned on the heater and a crockpot at the same time, and it blew all the fuses. So we learned to rotate the appliances."

The most memorable practice run was an ill-fated first attempt, says Jennifer. "Dan had the flu, so we had to put off the departure. When we did start, we realized we were driving to Jackson, Tenn., in an ice storm. We decided to just turn around and come home. Well, the kids were dying to sleep in the motorhome for the first time, so we came back and slept the first night in a Wal-Mart parking lot with the generator running all night to stay warm."

(Michael Lollar is a reporter for The Commercial Appeal.

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