Back to School: A First-Hand Look at Roadschooling

Back to School: A First-Hand Look at Roadschooling
After five years of learning on the road, this teen has some amazing insights.
By: Abby Holcombe

Peter and Abby sitting at dinette and Kathy sitting in passenger seat turned towards them. Peter and Kathy are on laptops and Abby is writing on note cards.

More than five years ago, my parents pulled me out of my public elementary school in Boulder, CO, replaced my schoolbooks and classroom with a computer and hotspot, and we hit the road full time in our Winnebago.

View driving in front of mountains pulling trailer with many kayaks

A Few Roadschooling Challenges

During our time on the road, I have taken advantage of three different online programs, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. The best part about online school is that you can go at your own pace, but the flip side of that is that you really have to be self-motivated to get it done.

Surprisingly, the transition from public school to online school was really smooth and I still keep in touch with old school friends while making new friends on the road. My teachers were, for the most part, super understanding and helpful in the transition, and our whole family really felt that this was a good solution for us.

Abby sitting in green hammock doing homework on laptop

While my online education has taught me a lot, our travels from the last five years have taught me even more.

Benefits of Roadschooling

Hands-On Learning

At the young age of ten, my family and I were kayaking down the American River in Coloma, CA, with our close friends, when one of them pulled off to the side, hopped out of his boat, and then instructed us to do the same. We hopped out of our kayaks to find our friend with a gold pan in hand knelt next to a crack, guaranteeing that we will find gold. Sure enough, in the very first pan, there were a few flecks of real gold.

Not only did I learn all about the different sediments and soils, as well as learning how to pan for gold, but I also got to pan in the very town that the California Gold Rush had started. While most kids read about these things in a textbook, I have been there and experienced it in person - along with many other places that my other peers are learning about in a classroom.

Abby sitting in chair doing homework on laptop with red mountains in background

Practical Skill Development

By the age of 13, I had fallen in love with public speaking and had presented in front of thousands of people. I would share the stories from my travels in multimedia PowerPoint slideshows in hopes to inspire other families and kids to get outside and explore. Instead of learning how to build speeches and presentations for my peers about random topics, like in a traditional speech class, I was out there in front of real audiences sharing messages that I was really passionate about.

This past spring, I also tried out for and qualified for one of three positions on Team USA for freestyle kayaking. This sport is completely self-funded and my parents challenged me to start a business to pay my way to Spain for the World Championships. I created a custom design for durable stainless-steel mugs and sold enough to fund my entire trip, from plane tickets to an apartment for a month.

Instead of completing assignments for speech or business, I am out in the world using these skills in real-life situations.

Abby and Kathy sitting at dinette doing school work on laptop

Cultural Immersion

The friends, the communities, and the cultures I have experienced from the road are phenomenal. I've met people from all around the world and tried their traditional foods and really have a broad perspective on different lifestyles and cultures.

This past spring my, parents took me to Slab City, which has a plethora of artists and hippies, and it was so interesting spending a few days in such a different way of life. Now we are driving our RV across Europe and learning about new languages and people. To me, that is the beauty of travel, no matter what age or what passions you might have, traveling is the exploration of locations and people. By road schooling, you get to experience it at a much younger age than most.

Abby sitting on inflatable mattress next to tree working on laptop with Tucker the dog at her feet.

Final Roadschooling Takeaways & Future Plans

I think the most important lesson that we have learned on the road is that the core of my education isn't dependent on an accredited school program. After five years of 'traditional' online school (which consists of completing assignments and earning credits), we have realized that I've learned more in my travels than I could ever learn from a textbook.

From spending a month in Spain speaking Spanish, to having the best geography lessons ever as I've actually seen the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Rockies, and the Appalachian Mountains. And as I complete my first year of high school, the ever-increasing workload has meant a lot more time behind the computer and a lot less time experiencing the incredible world around me.

Abby sitting at dinette writing in notebook

So, this year, we have decided to replace online school with homeschool in hopes to connect my travels to my schoolwork and avoid the busy work that is so prevalent in schools both online and otherwise. I am looking forward to merging my experiences and learning together to allow a quality education that fits with my lifestyle.

None of these incredible experiences would have been possible without my parents' realization that the real-life experiences are more important than getting credits, and pulling our family away from the white picket fence lifestyle to live on the road in a Winnebago View - and most recently, Winnebago Revel.

Revel driving down road with kayaks on top