By SARAH DOOLITTLE, Four Points News
The Heidger family of Steiner Ranch are back home now after spending 403 days traveling the United States in an RV. Ben and Heidi Heidger and their four children, Max, Bowen, Sadie and Mazie, left in June 2013 and returned July 17. In that time they visited all 50 states including Alaska and Hawaii.
The couple was inspired in 2006 by friends who stopped in Austin during their own extended family road trip. The idea immediately captured Ben and Heidi’s imaginations. As much as they wanted to expose their kids to all the country has to offer, they themselves had always wanted to explore the U.S.
The trip quickly felt less like a vacation and more like a new way of life. “(Last) summer kind of felt like vacation, and also because we saw a lot of kids at all the RV parks. And then (in the) fall, when it was really just us alone in places and it was getting cooler… then it felt like just hanging out at home.”
That’s not to say it was exactly like home. Max was quick to note that, “It was hard sharing one bathroom.”
Mazie added. “We’d have like four people in there at a time, so they’d be brushing their teeth, or going to the bathroom, or taking a shower.”
“But it makes you realize how much stuff you don’t need,” concluded Heidi.
The family quickly learned that not only was there no need to accumulate “stuff” at any of the nearly 50 national parks they visited, but there was also no space to store it in their 400 square foot home-on-wheels.
Instead they accumulated memories. They skied in Breckenridge, stood beneath the balcony from which the Declaration of Independence was first read to the people of Boston (and were there during the World Series), explored the cool depths of Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and toured a reproduction of the Mayflower in Plymouth. Sadie lost a tooth at Wrigley field. Ben ran the New York Marathon. Bowen learned magic.
For school, the kids decided to homeschool, using workbooks or online courses, but to then repeat the year once they returned. “In the beginning I was feeling like I didn’t want to leave at all. Because I knew everyone in my grade and now I’m back a year. But I feel now that it’s a great thing.” explained Max, who will start ninth grade at Vandegrift High School this fall.
And the kids got to experience first-hand the difference between reading about an historic event or place versus seeing it in person. They had a limitless classroom at their disposal — the whole of the U.S.
Despite their many adventures, the kids all agreed that their least favorite part of the trip was the time spent driving. But it seems to have been a small price to pay for the overall value of their undertaking.
“There were so many national parks, so many beautiful things to see. This was a great way for us to just jet around and see them,” said Ben.
Ben and Heidi were able to work from the road, and over 40 thousand miles of driving seems to have given them itchy feet. Heidi revealed that, “As much as we saw and as much as we did… I started this whole new list of things we didn’t get to see. And how much more there is. We need to go back for another year to see all the stuff we didn’t get to.” She is already planning their 2025 departure when Sadie, their youngest, graduates from high school.
Besides learning about their country, the family got to know each other in new ways. Mazie said that, “I didn’t know this much about them, like, just every day learning new things about them. Like (at home) we’re all just kind of in our separate spaces… but it was weird just learning about everyone.”
Entertainment was homemade. They held Top Chef competitions wherein the kids cooked and Ben and Heidi were the judges. They played a lot of cards. The kids tried to get truck drivers to blow their horns.
“We had a lot of family game nights,” mentioned Sadie. Mom and dad even managed to go out on dates thanks to Max being old enough to babysit.
Everywhere the family went they shared their story with other families who were amazed at the scope of the Heidger’s adventure.
They also performed random acts of kindness. Their goal before departing was to perform 1,000 small acts — from handing out $25 gift card donated for the trip to opening doors and returning grocery carts — but they stopped counting after they reached over 1,500.
The kindness shown to strangers helped to cement their family bond, now stronger than ever. “When we go places — and I’m sure it’ll wear off — this is kind of what it’s like.” Heidi gestured to her kids sitting near and one on her lap. “We sit down and the kids are around us a lot. And that’s pretty cool. That was a big difference that I noticed… We were just super tight.”
Now that they’re back in their Steiner home, “We’re really wondering what to do with all this space,” Ben said. He also added, “I think we appreciate a lot more neighbors and friends and our community.”
Surprisingly, the most striking difference between home life and RV life for Heidi was not the space but the pace. “It was really cool for me how much we got to chat and how much we got to just sit and chat with the kids… There’s a lot of stuff going on here (at home). The kids go to school all day, we’re at work, not together all day, and then you come home and there’s activities and homework.”
Which made their year all the sweeter. For Heidi and her family, the lessons were simple. “When you kind of take all that away, and pare back the activities, and pare back the things that you have to do each day, you know — I really like hanging out with them… it was a real blessing to get this year to get to know everyone.”