An incredible family adventure

Custom Illustration by Pip Kruger

Today we chat with Kate Potter, mother of 3, communications consultant and photographer. Kate shares her incredible family adventure with husband Isaac, Fox (7), Milla (4) and Scout (14 months). They went travelling across America (21 states) for three months, in a mini bus that they lovingly converted into an RV! 

Issac was the creative force behind this idea, spending countless hours researching and planning a van conversion. Kate explains “During this process, he decided to put all the ideas he had collected into one place. As a web developer, he could make this kind of thing happen… so his website Vanspiration was born.” 

With most of us either back at work or at the tail-end of the school holidays, we thought this story would provide some inspiration for your next family adventure! I realise that a three month road trip with kids might not be for everyone but I have to admit, it really got me thinking… 

I hope you enjoy this honest and funny read. The story behind the name of their bus, Shubbo is the best! Thank you Kate, for sharing your colourful adventure with us.

SO TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR TRIP AND HOW IT ALL CAME ABOUT! 

“Our holiday took us to the United States for three months, travelling around in an “old” (2003) shuttle bus which we converted into a camper van. My husband Isaac has been planning and researching buying a van or bus to convert into a camper for about two years! It’s something he’s daydreamed about for a long time and there’s been lots of late night Internet research.

I love to travel but I don’t love camping – I tolerate camping. However, you don’t learn anything new staying in a hotel. Camping gives you sunsets, stars and sunrises. The children love it. So I’m willing to put aside my misgivings about camping to experience all the amazing things about it.”

DID YOU HAVE AN ITINERARY OR ROUGH PLAN?   

“We had a rough idea that we wanted to explore the south east states but we didn’t have a firm plan. This is because we wanted to buy a vehicle to travel around in, and our starting destination was all depending on where the vehicle was found. We couldn’t buy it until we got there, so we had to play it day by day in the beginning! When we got on our way, we remained flexible – with a rough plan but always asking “where are we going tomorrow”?! Ultimately, our trip took us from Los Angeles to Florida, and back again, through 21 states!”

HOW MUCH PLANNING AND RESEARCH HAS GONE INTO THE TRIP?

“In August 2018 we did a practice trip – we took the kids up to Central Australia visiting Alice Springs, Kings Canyon and Uluru over three weeks in our Kia Carnival. We installed a rooftop tent and used WikiCamps to find places to boondock. This was an essential part of our holiday planning because it showed us that we COULD do it! From there, most of the planning and research went into logistics of where to purchase the bus, how to register it and insure it, and of course – where to go!”

TELL US A BIT ABOUT THE BUS!

“The bus belonged to a retirement village and was donated to a religious organisation who then listed the bus on Craigslist for fundraising. Isaac did a bit of negotiating but it was difficult because the kids climbed into the seats, buckled themselves in, and said “let’s go”! We could have looked around a bit more at other vehicles but every day that we spent doing that was another day in a hotel and delaying our trip! So we rolled the dice and went for it.”

TALK US THROUGH YOUR SLEEPING ARRANGEMENTS AND HOW THE BUS IS SET UP?

“The bus had seats and a wheelchair lift that needed to be removed before we could set up internally. As soon as we got the keys to the bus, this process started. After 12 seats and the wheelchair list were removed, this left four seats up the front and the driver’s seat. We also left some of the seat supports, which became the children’s bed platforms.

We set up a queen size bed in the back, affixed wooden platforms to the seat supports and added two small mattresses on top for the older kids (Fox is just able to fit on a cot mattress!). We also had a portacot for Scout, and could also fit in shelves for storage, and an esky.

An important factor was having a bed that was tall enough to fit our suitcases underneath. We bought curtains from IKEA and Isaac halved and hemmed them in a hotel room, and then affixed them to the windows.”

Is there a story behind the name Shubbo

“It’s a bit of a family joke! There is an episode of Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse where they all go camping in the woods. Raquel comes back to the cabin in a huff and says to a bear soaking the hot tub: “shove over, you won’t believe the day I had!”. Milla was convinced that Raquel was saying “Shubbo, you won’t believe the day I had!” and did a pretty great impersonation of Raquel. We called the bus “Shubbo” in tribute to that mis-named bear and so that we could come back to it at the end of the day and say “you won’t believe the day we had!”

WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE?

“There were many challenges but it is all part of the adventure! The bus broke down twice, once requiring a hefty repair bill to get back on the road, and another time leading us on an adventure with a kind but amusing stranger who took us to Walmart for repair parts! A couple of other times we dropped into vehicle repairers to ask about unusual noises or smells – these mechanics were some of the nicest and generous people we met along the way.

Getting used to camping was a challenge – but not for long. Honestly, you get used to it. You get used to washing dishes in a tub, brushing your teeth without a sink, and camp cooking. You get used to no showers and wearing clothes over and over again. You just have to be open minded and go with the flow!

Something I won’t ever get used to though, is dirty hands. Any roadside stop I would make all the children come out and scrub their hands!

We found the heat a big challenge – we were travelling in the middle of the US summer and the bus was HOT. Sleeping was difficult in those conditions, especially when you can’t open windows because of mosquitos (we never did come up with a good screen option for the windows).

About two months into our travels, I “hit the wall” and wanted to go home. I had decision fatigue and missed the routine and comfort of home. This feeling lasted a couple of weeks before I pulled myself out of it and really enjoyed the last fortnight of our travels. Although you can’t help feeling like this, I regret it – we should always appreciate where we are to make the most of our time.”

COULD YOU SHARE SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OR YOUR FAVOURITE SPOTS? 

“We have so many highlights. A few that stand out:

  • hiking in Sedona, Arizona
  • wandering the beautiful streets of Savannah, Georgia
  • visiting museums in Bentonville, Arkansas
  • touring an old plantation home in Louisiana with incredibly well-behaved children (a rare treat!)
  • celebrating 4th of July at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee
  • seeing fireflies in Junction, Texas
  • the incredible mountain views of Colorado
  • visiting far away friends – treasured time!”

WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART ABOUT TRAVELLING WITH KIDS?

“The hardest part about travelling with the kids for three months is just never being by yourself – ever. Except for the one hour doing laundry in the hotel guest laundry room. But apart from that, kids are hard work no matter where you are. They complain that they are hungry at home, and they complain they are hungry when we are travelling. They argue with each other at home, and they argue with each other on the road. The bottom line is, it’s hard work but it’s worth it.”

WHAT ARE YOUR TOP TIPS FOR TRAVELLING WITH KIDS?

“My number one tip would be to prepare them for all the walking. On the days that I work from home, we walk to and from school and kindy, and have been doing so for the last year. I honestly believe that this walking “practice” has prepared them so well for the rigours of travelling – they hardly complained about all the walking we did because they are so used to it.

We didn’t really have many toys but to be honest we used screens far less than what I thought we would. We had an iPad with a few games and some pre-loaded movies but they didn’t use it very often. Most of the time we talked about what we were doing and where we were going, we played games, and we joked around. Sometimes I would read a book out loud to them. When baby Scout was asleep on a midday nap that was when the iPad came out for a bit.

When it comes to keeping the children entertained in restaurants I always take crayons / pencils and a book of blank paper. “

EXTRAS

Kate and Isaac “guilt offset” their travel using Greenfleet Australia – they do amazing work.

If you would like to check out more about their trip please visit Shubbo. They have generously shared a lot of information, tips and documented their whole journey here.  

Feeling inspired or interested in learning more about converting your own van? Visit Isaac’s website Vanspiration.  

Kate is a professional photographer, so the number of photos for this trip was in excess of 8,000. It was hard to narrow it down to just a handful for this post! Check out her work and if you are based in Adelaide, I can personally recommend her if you are looking for a talented photographer to take beautiful family portraits. 

All images by Kate Potter and aerial drone images by Isaac Forman 

Custom family portrait illustration by Pip Kruger. Kate commissioned this piece for her husband Isaac, he says “Somehow over our giant USA trip this year, we failed to actually take a photo of all five of us with our bus, Shubbo. So here we all are, in front of a combination of three areas of the country (Utah, Saguaro NP and Blue Ridge Parkway). There is of course a roadrunner (Bird of the Trip?), the “In a dust storm” sign from New Mexico we didn’t shut up about, and Fox is holding a crystal from Crystal Campground in Arkansas. I have thousands of photos from the adventure and hundreds that I absolutely love, but it’s nice to have one single illustration to capture it.”

For more travel tips check out this post about unplugged creativity or this post for tips of travel prep with kids.

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