ORLANDO, Fla. — During a time when many families were spending more time at home in a COVID-19 lockdown — perhaps thinking about household projects and family game nights — the Gamble clan had a different idea: What if home had wheels?
After all, the family's teenagers Jack, 16, and Stellie, 14, were already going to school remotely. Grant, an author and business strategist, and Jana, a creative director, had the ability to meet with clients virtually while pursuing their own projects. The moment seemed ripe with opportunity to do something drastic, like traveling the nation — including a monthlong stay in Florida.Gallery: 'Therapy on steroids'
The thought of moving into an RV was hatched when Grant and Jana noticed how coronavirus restrictions and cabin fever were adversely affecting the whole family, especially the kids.
"You don't want to watch your children suffer, it's hard to do that," Jana said. "It was driven by the children and their well-being more than anything else."
The wheels were set in motion. Grant and Jana purchased a 40-foot, 15-ton recreational vehicle dubbed "Thelma," a motor home with lots of "character" and beige on the inside. Months of work went into their new home on wheels, bought for just over $20,000, making it livable and highway-ready.
"We spent about two months repairing, restoring and refitting her and that was pretty much full-time. We invested a lot in her, more in labor than money," Grant said. "Thelma is big and beautiful, that's the way we describe her. And well-worn."
The family came to terms with selling their Charlottesville, Virginia, home of 18 years, as well as with downsizing from a 3,000-square-foot abode to a 300-square-foot bus.
At the same time, they started spreading the word of their plans to friends and family.
"We thought people would think we were crazy," Jana said. "Pretty much everybody was like, 'What you're doing is amazing. It's what people dream of doing but don't really ever do.'"
On Oct. 30, 2020, after weeks of packing, selling, sorting and consolidating the family's belongings, the Gambles hit the road, bringing along their Great Dane and two Labradoodles. There were pangs of, "What were we thinking?" but after selling the house, there was no going back.
Following stops in Roanoke, Virginia; Asheville, North Carolina and Massachusetts, the Gambles headed south to warm up on sunny Hilton Head Island before spending nearly a month exploring Florida.
"We were surprised by how diverse (Florida) was and how big it was. We didn't really have a perspective on that," Grant said. "When you drive the state, it's quite amazing how big it is and how much it has to offer. We did love the Everglades."
After visiting iconic landmarks of the Southwest, including Big Bend National Park, White Sands National Park and Saguaro National Park, the family is now stationed in Los Barriles in the Mexican state Baja California Sur.
More than four months and 8,000 miles later, Grant and Jana have been able to recognize the rewards of traveling full-time, seeing communities and places they wouldn't experience on an ordinary vacation.
"Even now, when you look back 100 days, oh my goodness — we're different people with a completely different perspective," Grant said, with Jana adding: "Full-time travel like this is like therapy on steroids. It's individual therapy, couples therapy, parents therapy, family therapy — it's kind of amazing in that sense."
And while being on the road and living in such a small space has presented its own set of challenges, such as finding reliable internet, the family has found freedom in a more minimalist lifestyle.
"Everything we have on this bus is what we need," Jana said. "It's amazing how quickly you adjust and how liberating that is in so many ways. In some ways, I don't want to see our storage units ever again."
While some might think it's risky to travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Grant and Jana determined that the mental health benefits for the entire family outweighed pandemic-related concerns. In fact, having a home on wheels has allowed the Gambles to avoid coronavirus hot spots.
"We've been able to look at the COVID maps and see where there's hot spots and where it's safer," Grant said. "We've been very COVID-conscious Our contact points with people have probably been a lot lower on the road than they would be in normal circumstances."
In their travels, the family has been sure to abide by guidelines on mask-wearing and social distancing while taking other approaches to a holistic, healthy lifestyle. Grant, Jana and the teenagers exercise and spend time outdoors to boost their immune systems while eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated and dialing down stress.
Spending time on the road, despite some trials and tribulations along the way, has yielded myriad benefits for all members of the Gamble family. Despite that, the epic road trip won't last forever.
"We're sort of hibernating in Mexico and as soon as the weather turns, we're going to head north and go explore and then hopefully end in Hawaii," Jana said. "This is not an indefinite thing. This is meant to be six to 12 months."
Ultimately, the goal is to find a new place to settle in time for the school year to start in the fall. But the lessons, perspectives and memories from the adventure will live on forever.
(To learn more about the family's travels, visit gamblefamilyadventures.com.)
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