A Look Back at 8 Years of RV Life as a Family: Oh, What an Adventure!?!

A Look Back at 8 Years of RV Life as a Family: Oh, What an Adventure!?
The Holcombes share life lessons and perspective shifts gained from RVing.
By: Kathy Holcombe

As we walked into the title company office, we could feel the gravity of the situation. We had worked for almost fifteen years in this community, built a life here, a thriving photography business, and a beautiful home. 

The broker handed us a huge stack of papers to sign, papers that would transfer the ownership of our home - a structure that had served as the foundation for our family for the past seven years - to someone else. The pen felt heavy as I scratched my name next to endless yellow sticky tabs, slowly making my way through page after page of legal documents. 

We had talked about and planned for this moment for over a year, weighed every imaginable option, and yet had no way to know if the decision we were making would serve as the cornerstone of our greatest achievement, or land a blow that would lead to financial ruin. 

Traditional wisdom said our plan was ludicrous. Our parents thought we were making a huge mistake, and our friends told us that we were incredibly cool, but completely crazy. But we had dreamt about this for more than a decade and had to know where this path might lead us. We were committed, come what may, to seeing this whole thing through. And after thirty minutes of small talk and signatures, the deed to our home was transferred to another family, and we were officially without a home – at least in the traditional sense.

As we walked away from that office, toward our new-to-us Winnebago View, we were overwhelmed by a curious mix of apprehension, exhilaration, excitement, and adrenaline … it felt very much like we were embarking on a true adventure, one with an uncertain outcome. Oh, if only we could have known in that moment, over seven years ago, what awaited us…

Home sweet home! Our first RV, 2008 Winnebago View, pulling a 12’ cargo trailer full of 21 kayaks. Yes, there are only three of us and they are our personal kayaks: fishing kayaks, sea kayaks, river runners, play boats. We might have a kayak problem :)

A New Meaning of ‘Home’

It’s a funny feeling leaving behind a perfectly good home. Home ownership is the hallmark of stability and success in our society, and the concept of homelessness often conjures up visions of desperation and discomfort. But we didn’t feel desperate or uncomfortable in our new circumstance at all. 

In fact, our Winnebago View had ALL of the basic “necessities”: two comfy beds; a small, well-equipped kitchen; power; water; sewer; heat. Pretty much all the comforts of home, with the added advantage of mobility: we could take our new home almost anywhere we wanted to go. 

Instead of feeling home-less, we now felt home-free. 

It was liberating, exciting, and we couldn’t wait to go … well, everywhere. And we have covered a LOT of ground in the past eight years: 50 states, 6 Canadian provinces, and 19 countries … and counting. 

Heading to Alaska was one of the many highlights of our journey and one of the most ‘wild’ places we have ever been (circa 2016).
We had the privilege of observing three grizzly bears from the comfort and safety of our View, and we couldn’t take our eyes off of them… for three entire days (circa 2016).
We encountered a humpback whale while kayaking around Katchikan, AK. I’m not sure if Abby raised her arms in reverence or fear (circa 2016).

Finding the Right Schooling Solution

While we were quick to challenge conventional wisdom about the value of living in a physical home, our traditional values on educating our daughter were much more deeply engrained. Abby was ten years old and in fifth grade when we hit the road, and we were committed to giving her the very best education possible. What this meant to us was an accredited, rigorous, online program. 

Our first year on the road, that meant she was logged into the computer from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. with twenty-five other students and a teacher who directed the entire day. Pretty much exactly what she would have in a normal classroom, except she could be logged in from anywhere. 

But as I observed her classes, there was so much downtime spent dealing with discipline and struggling students, the entire experience was mind-numbingly ineffective. The next couple of years, we opted for a go-at-your-own-pace online program. This program was full of facts and figures. Abby could log in when we had service, race through her assignments at breakneck speed, and then we could spend a majority of our time exploring the world around us. This worked, but I seriously questioned if she was actually learning anything from her speed lessons. 

So, we jumped ship again and tried a prestigious online college prep program where most of the students went on to pursue higher education from ivy-league institutions. The program was intense, with assignments that required critical thinking, and a colossal time commitment. In theory, I loved the program, except that Abby didn’t have any time to do anything besides school and was miserable. We argued about school ALL THE TIME. 

The breaking point for this program came when we were in Sort, Spain, where Abby was competing in the kayak freestyle world championships. All of her peers were out exploring the local village, getting to know athletes from all around the world, experiencing the food, culture, and people of Spain, while Abby was sitting inside working on …of all things, her Spanish assignments. 

She was literally reading about Spain and learning Spanish out of a textbook instead of exploring Spain and speaking to Spaniards in Spanish. The absurdity of it all was not lost on me, so I called the school and asked if we could modify her assignments to include the real-world experiences that were happening right outside our door. The school responded with a complete unwillingness to incorporate real life into Abby’s education. So, I withdrew her from the program and sent her outside to experience Spain in person. 

It’s incredible how fast you can learn a language when you have to use it to communicate what you want and need. After the epiphany that traditional education did not necessarily equate to learning, we began to immerse ourselves in the environment around us. We visited museums and historical sites from Normandy to Nuremberg studying World War II, and spent countless evenings debating European politics over the dinner table with new friends. Suddenly, history and the world at large came to life. 

We stood in front of original pieces of art from Picasso and Monet, Rembrandt and VanGogh, and marveled at their compositions, colors, and brush strokes. Abby wasn’t reading about things, she was experiencing them first-hand, in real life, and was engaged in her education, possibly for the first time ever. 

This was an education I felt good about, but still had lingering concerns about whether or not this would prepare her for college and a successful, independent life as an adult. We managed to find balance through a public school in Golden, CO, who embraced experiential learning, and gave her credit for the things she was learning from the road, while providing an accredited diploma that would be recognized by employers and institutions of higher learning as a legitimate education. 

Abby excelled in and accelerated through her studies in this environment and ended up graduating with an accredited diploma a year ahead of schedule and with a hunger to continue to learn on her own terms. I can’t believe how much time (and how many tears) we wasted clinging to the antiquated notion that traditional school was the only pathway to an incredible education. 

Abby is currently focused on pursuing a career as a professional kayaker and influencer at the age of 17. We can’t wait to see what this kid accomplishes.

Abby contemplates an original masterpiece in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France (circa 2019). A book just doesn’t adequately convey the scale, colors, or textures of the original piece.

Much of what has directed our itinerary is our passion for whitewater kayaking, which has allowed us to spend a great deal of time alongside some of the best kayakers on the planet. Which in turn has created a drive for Abby to want to become the best kayaker in the world herself. And she’s well on her way. In 2019 she placed 4th in the world in freestyle kayaking, and in 2021 placed second in the prestigious GoPro Games in Vail, CO (pictured above). She can’t wait to compete in the 2022 world championships in England and go for the gold.

 One of the unexpected challenges was teaching Abby how to drive while living on the road. Learning to drive is difficult enough, but learning how to drive an RV is a whole different animal. Did we mention that she had to take her driver’s test in a town she had never been to? We arrived four hours before her driving exam and drove every road in the area until she felt like she knew her way around. She passed with flying colors

Blurring Work and Play

Before hitting the road, we agonized over our careers for more than a year. How would living as nomads impact our boutique photography studio? We feared that the small and successful business that we had so lovingly nurtured for over a decade would slowly deteriorate and that we would be forced to end our travels and start over. 

And in all honesty, Holcombe Photography is extinct. We no longer photograph weddings and rarely create fine art portraiture for families anymore. But what we couldn’t even imagine as we embarked on this adventure was the dream career that would replace it. Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that we could build a business sharing the stories and photographs of our adventures on the road and creating images of #vanlife in our favorite locations. 

Some days, we are models and the “talent” for photo and video shoots, others we serve as spokesmen for our favorite brands, sometimes we are behind the camera shooting still images and video, and sometimes we are in front of the computer editing video or penning a narrative from a recent adventure. 

Our new business, Famagogo Media, envelopes all of our gifts and passions. It allows us to do exactly what we love, what we would do anyway, with or without a paycheck. It is our essence, and we feel blessed beyond measure that the line between work and play is completely indistinguishable.

While our life may seem like it’s all fun and games, we still work full time. Here we are parked alongside the Nantahala River in North Carolina finishing up our work so that we can go kayaking (circa 2016).

Peter creates many of the lifestyle images for new Winnebago products. Oftentimes during a shoot, a whole bunch of magic comes together to get the shot. We had been battling wind all afternoon and were about to call off the shoot when a sudden calm enveloped us just as the sun was setting. We quickly put out the awning, built a fire, and Kathy and cameraman, Seth Haley, jumped into the camp chairs just in time to capture the last of the light. You just never know when you will find us behind the camera, or in front of it, or both (circa 2021).

RV Life Lessons Learned & Dreams of the Future

As I look back over all of these years, there has been a profound shift in the ideals that we clung to as we released ourselves from home ownership. Our thoughts on education and career are almost diametrically opposed to what we believed when we stood outside of the title company office almost eight years ago. And now home has come to mean something very different too. It’s not about a particular place or a particular box. 

Coming home is now a multi-faceted ideology that could be as simple as returning to the comforts of the RV after an amazing adventure. But it is also the feeling of returning to a favorite location, and breathing in all of the familiar sights, sounds and smells that endear us to that special place. It can also mean going back to spend time with people we love, family and friends who envelop us with joy. 

Home is no longer a place, but a feeling of contentment and joy that comes from returning to something familiar, something as simple as stepping outside the van to be greeted by the morning sun stretching across the desert. 

Home is where we are overwhelmed with contentment and love.

We are lovers of rivers, mountains, deserts, and oceans, and there are so many places that now feel like home. (Dried lake bed near Death Valley National Park circa 2019).
Peter in his happy place in the mountains of Northern Italy, circa 2019.
Kathy is just as at home a hundred miles down a river as she is anywhere else. Here she serenades us in the bottom of the Grand Canyon on a 26-day, 286-mile expedition down the Colorado River in 2017.
One of our more circuitous routes through the Dolomites, Northern Italy circa 2019.

This journey has not always been smooth sailing. At times, it has been a crooked and tedious journey. And yet, overall, it has been the best experience of our lives. 

Through it all, good and bad, the only certainty that emerges is that there is no way to predict future possibilities. For us, one leap of faith has led to a new opportunity that becomes the next leap of faith. 

Do we think we could have planned out this dream life that we live knowing what we knew then? Definitely not. Our minds were not ready yet to even imagine the incredible journey that awaited us, much less the direct path that would lead to our current life. 

So, for now, it seems fitting that we are sitting in the vastness of the Mojave Desert, contemplating a future that holds infinite potential. We are plotting out our itinerary for the next couple of years, making our best guess based on what we can see now of the course we should take, knowing that there is something out there that awaits us beyond our wildest dreams. 

We are learning, forecasting, and dreaming, so that we are ready to fly when the next leap of faith presents itself. Onward!

Famagogo explores the dreamy backroads of Lofoton, Norway in their Winnebago Revel (circa 2019).

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