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What happens when you pack up your life, including three children in Australia, and take them on a year long US road trip? I’d like to say magic. But I’m thinking that it’d be more like 365 days worth of swings and roundabouts. And an adventure of kid wrangling and fun, all wrapped up in an RV.
Tracy and Colin Tunney decided to take the leap from Narangba in Queensland (about 40 minutes drive north of Brisbane), to the US last year. To do it, they sold their home, sent their two Australian Kelpies (Temperance and Booth after the Bones TV series, for those interested) to Nana Lynn’s place and their two guinea pigs to babysitter Gen; rounded up their three kids and set off an an adventure.
They’re travelling with daughter Kadence, who turned 14 today (happy birthday!), and sons Dominic, 12, and Nate, 9.
YEAR LONG US ROAD TRIP
We caught up with Tracy to find out about their epic year long US road trip, how it came about and what they’ve done so far! Tracy also runs a Youtube channel of the families exploits that you can follow.
What sparked the idea for your year long US road trip?
When we visited the USA in 2008 Kadence was only three and Dominic was 18 months. Nate was only a thought in my mind (haha). We travelled the USA for three weeks, beginning our journey with our friends in Florida. We travelled the east coast from Florida to New York, then flew to San Francisco drove to Las Vegas then onto Los Angeles.
On the plane home Colin and I were talking and we thought how great would it be to have three months in the USA to travel and see as much as we wanted. Back then we thought we would never do it because you would have to work, and what would we do for money? When I returned to full-time work I found out about the deferred salary payment. This means they take 20 per cent of your pay for four years full-time working, then the fifth year Is a year off as paid leave. This is available to anyone that works for the Australian government. I’m a primary school teacher and I took the paperwork home and told Colin that our dream of traveling for three months in the USA could be 12 months and we could make it reality.
Was there a certain moment that clinched the trip from just something you talked about, to something you decided to actually do?
Once I submitted the paperwork And my principal signed off on it and it was all successful. We then realized ‘Oh my gosh, this is actually going to happen for us, this is a dream come true!’. We had been through the financial downfall of the world in 2008 and we had lost our dream home. We had been through a lot of hard times so this was like a gift after what we had been through.
How long have you been on the road?
We arrived in the United States in February and we stayed with friends in Orlando until we could find our RV and get it set up. Then we had to wait for the title to arrive, so that was two weeks that we traveled around Florida. Then from March we were able to leave Florida and we have been on the road ever since.
Can you list the places you’ve been so far?
Wow, that list would take up your entire blog so I’m going to attach a map and you can see the states that we’ve been through. We also have a Facebook page, YouTube channel and Instagram account that have all our posts of places we have been. We have been across the bottom of the United States from Florida to Texas to New Mexico up to Utah and Arizona. We’ve been across to California, Oregon, Washington, we zigzagged across the top of the United States. We’ve gone back into the middle to Oklahoma, we’ve travelled to the north east to New Hampshire and New York, and we’re now traveling down the East Coast. We have pretty much hit nearly every state.
How did you go with organising the trip? What were the difficult parts?
There was a lot of logistics to think about when we organised the trip. We had to sell a house, store our stuff we were keeping (thanks Mum), we had to find somewhere for our dogs to go and find someone to look after our guinea pigs. We had to put our phone numbers on hold with Telstra so that we can have our phone numbers back when we get home to Australia. We also had to organise bills to be direct debited. We have a rental [property] as well, so we had to make sure the rental was OK before we left.
We had to travel to Sydney to get our visas because we needed a B1 and B2 visa, which allows a six month stay in the US. More on this later. We had to do a [visa] interview, which meant a weekend away, thankfully we didn’t have to take the kids. There was also the conundrum of working out what to pack when you’re going away for so long? We decided to only pack five set of clothes, a tracksuit for each, a pair of togs (eds note: cossies or swimming costumes for non-Aussie natives), a pair of flip-flops or thongs as we called them, we wore our joggers and jeans on the plane and we bought hiking boots and coats when we got here.
We also went to a travel doctor who was able to script all the medication we wanted to take with us overseas. Yes, we could buy medication overseas but it was easier if we took what we knew. We also have two kids that are on controlled medication so we had to talk to the pediatrician and get all the paperwork sent over to our friends in Orlando. They then talked with their GP to be able to get a script once we arrived. The Australian Government would only allow us to take six months of medication so we had to get another six months from the USA. Then there was the kids’ schooling to think about too.
When we got to Border Security, we had talk to them about wanting to stay for 12 months as the B1 and B2 visas don’t guarantee that you can stay 12 months. You have to have that conversation at border security. You must have evidence to prove that you have money coming in, that you have money to start with, that you are able to support yourself in the country, and that you are not going to be working. You also need to have evidence that you’re returning to Australia, like kids enrolled in schools, commencing work, and owning a house etc
Was it difficult to get your children a year out of school?
We pulled the kids out of school and we enrolled them into new schools near our new house. That was an interview processes as they both will go to a private school and our older son starts high school. Our daughter was already situated at a high school. She got 12 months off and can return to the same school.
We then had to enroll them into distance education through Cairns School of Distance Education. This was an expense of $1500 per child. We then had to wait for the resources to arrive and, yes, we had to pack them for the plane as well. This also meant that when we got to America we had to purchase a laptop and organize internet so that the kids would be able to do their schooling. We decided to do Distance Education over home schooling, as with DE the teachers do all the planning and lessons. We just make sure the kids get work done and returned to teachers via scan and email.
Some days we go to the library as a catch up day, as you don’t always have access to WiFi when you’re travelling through national parks and mountains. It also gives us some time apart. To be honest, the kids are doing better with this than they ever have done in mainstream school. I think it is because they can spend as much time on one subject as they need to and they can revisit the recorded lessons online if they need to. The thing to think about, too, is when we arrive home we’re going to only have two weeks to get the kids school books, new uniforms and everything sorted, as well as me back to work with all of my school gear.
What do you think you and your partner have gotten out of this trip?
Col worked away out west for five years before this trip, so this trip has really connected and bonded us again as a family. We have built a lifetime of memories together, and with the kids, while seeing so many splendors of the USA. We have seen more of the USA then some Americans. We haven’t seen as much of our own country but Col and I plan to do this when we are older and empty nested.
Some people ask ‘why American, not Australia?’ We decided to travel America because one it’s a cheaper cost-of-living so we are able to travel with three kids, and we can travel Australia later since we live there, and the kids can travel Australia too – it’s their backyard.
What do you think your children have gotten out of it?
So many experiences and so much knowledge of American culture. They have also learnt to work better as a team. They have learnt that fun doesn’t have to cost money, that different environments provide different experiences. They have learned to be careful and sense danger – move on if things don’t feel right. They have learnt how to talk to people and meet new people, how to embrace other cultures and what they offer.
They have tried so many new foods and loved most of them. Jambalaya, Gumbo, Mexican, and pumpkin pie to name a few. They are eager to grow their own food back home and have learned back to basic skills from the Amish culture. They have learnt about budgeting and what it means to live on a budget. They have learnt to window shop and not impulse buy. They have learnt to live with very few clothes and toys and that they can survive this (haha). They continue to love board games and making up their own games over device playing. That a family night of board games is just as fun as going to the movies or an event that costs money. We intend to keep this tradition when we go home.
We have continued to do our family movie Sunday afternoons through Redbox movies that cost $1.99 at Walmart to hire or through DirecTV which we were very lucky to be given access to with our internet sponsorship from new friends found (Thank you).
Did you plan the whole trip before you left, or are you doing it on the fly?
We only planned our one-way flights to Orlando, which we booked ourselves, and staying with friends to begin our trip. We watched YouTube videos before we left Australia and looked up places that we wanted to see, putting them into a book under each state name, then it was making it up on the fly. We would sit in the library and decide which direction we would take next, this was determined by weather and what we wanted to see. Also talking to local people, as I’m social and not shy to state I love talking, we found other places /hidden gems to explore. We chose to go west along the bottom of the USA first as they were still getting a lot of snow up north in March.
Where are your last few destinations before heading home in January?
We have just finished in New York so will now head south again along the east coast before arriving back in Florida.
Have you planned Christmas/New Year yet?
Our Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year will be spent with friends in Orlando – they have traditions that they do and events that they attend so we will be participating with them. They are our Florida family, as we call them, so we want to share these special celebrations of the year with them.
We are excited about our first Thanksgiving. On this trip, through social media and talking to people when we go to places like national parks, we have met the most amazing people on our trip. These people have taken us in, opened their homes and given us a place to park our RV. They have shared with us places to go, they have taken us places, they have shared their life with us for a moment. We will be forever grateful to these people and they will always be a part of our family and welcome at our home back in Australia.
Tell me about the decision to take deferred salary from work.
The paperwork is available from the Union. It wasn’t hard to organise however you have to be able to go without 20 per cent of your pay. For us this wasn’t a problem as the year before I started it our youngest was in day care and we were losing 60 per cent of my pay to day care, so 20 per cent was easy.
The cost of camping on a year long US road trip.
For the majority of this trip we have done what we called free camping also referred to as Boondocking. On the west side of the country we stayed on a lot of BLM land (you can find out more here).
We also stayed free on national forest roads where you can just park for the night. We have parked throughout the country at Cabela’s, Cracker Barrel’s and Walmart’s. We found these places with an app called RV Parky. We always go in to check with management first before we stay.
Doing free camping throughout this trip has saved us a lot of money. Our RV is self-sufficient so it has a toilet and a shower, the kitchen where we can our own cooking has also saved money on eating out as well. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a luxury shower, some nights it’s just a washer and a bucket of water. But we are used to camping so are OK with this. The two places that it cost us the most to stay was on the Florida Keys which was $75 for the night and when we got to New York we stayed at Liberty Harbor in New Jersey and it cost $105 a night with tax.
Have you got any questions for Tracy about logistics, planning or her family’s trip in general? That’s what the comments are for!