The Out of Office Family may be relatively new to the full-time family travel world, but they’ve already managed to get a few incredible experiences under their belts: traveling around North America in an RV, and moving to Thailand. We spoke with Out of Office Family matriarch Courtney Fillner about both experiences and what’s next for this family of four.
Parennial Travel: How did you decide to go to Thailand? What are your plans there?
Out of Office Family: In typical fashion for us, we made the decision less than a week before our flight left! (Planning an international flight with very little time and in a campground with zero cell service was chaotic, to say the least!) The last leg of our journey we had planned to spend up the coast of California, Oregon and then into the PNW before hitting Banff and Jasper National Parks. The weather in the southwest and then California hadn't been in our favor for several weeks. Cold, tons of rain, even snow. The more we looked at what the forecast would more than likely be for these destinations over the next few months, the more we felt like the timing just wasn't right and that we were pushing it too hard. While we wanted to see these places really badly, we decided to put them on the back-burner for now and instead head to Thailand! Flights were cheap and so is lodging/food here. Also, Stephen lived here for 8 months before we met and definitely has a love for this beautiful country. We plan to be here for a month and will be hitting a few different spots: Bangkok, Krabi, Ko Pha Ngan and Chiang Mai.
PT: Do you plan to go back to RV life?
OOF: Our plan was to head back to South Carolina by June, where we would live in the RV while we arrange our permanent tiny living plans there. We are undecided as to whether we will try and squeeze a little more of the west coast in once we return from Thailand. We may just begin the trek back to the east coast a little earlier than planned. Either way, we will still be living that RV life for several more months—even if it is much more stationary than we're accustomed to!
PT: What made you guys decide to travel full-time in your RV?
OOF: The short answer is that we had both worked hard to achieve successful careers, but we were working a ton, I was extremely stressed out, we were passing each other by and missing out on time with each other and our kids. We were living this life we had been conditioned to think we needed to live but it was making us miserable. Stephen had always been talking about the idea of picking up and traveling, but I thought he was crazy. I knew international travel wasn’t really in the cards for us right now, but then we discovered this huge community of families full-time RVing through social media. I hit a really rough point in my work-life and in an instant everything just clicked—I knew this was what we needed to do.
PT: You recently took a break and rented an apartment. What made you decide to do that? How did it go?
OOF: We had been on the road in our 27-foot travel trailer for 8 months and to be honest, we were feeling burned out. We had been fighting cold weather and traveling fast (every 3-4 days) for a long time. So one day we said, "what about Mexico" and "what about storing the RV and renting an AirBNB?" Two days later it was booked. While we loved the extra space and the down time around the holidays not doing anything, we also missed our little home on wheels. It was a great reprieve and being back in a house also helped us make some decisions on what we do and don't need in our next home. (We plan to build a tiny home when we settle down this summer.)
PT: What have been some of the biggest challenges of RV life?
OOF: Two main things stand out for us. The first is finding alone time. We’re in about 200 square feet with a 2- and 4-year-old each and every day. We love our kids and this amazing time we have together, but it can also make you want to pull your hair out. It can be tough to ask for alone time, so usually it’s one spouse telling the other that they need to go and take it. Sometimes it's just a trip to the grocery store alone and other times it’s a full afternoon going on a solo date and doing something we love to do (an art museum, a movie, a nice lunch). Just a few hours away regularly is really needed and helps hit the reset button. The second has been working to be full-time travelers instead of full-time tourists. It seems to be an easy trap to fall into; you're visiting amazing places and you want to see all the must-see spots and behave like a tourist. We've found there is no faster way to burn-out and budget-breaking. This lifestyle is not a vacation. There is still work, responsibilities and the mundane tasks like laundry, washing the dishes, cooking dinner and maintaining some semblance of a routine for the kids and ourselves. Our day-to-day tasks haven't changed altogether too much, it's just that our location changes constantly and we're in a much smaller living space.
PT: And the best perks?
OOF: So many. Stephen and I have strengthened our relationship and we feel incredibly connected to our kids. Our experiences seeing new places and meeting new people on the road have been priceless. It’s helped change our perspectives and open our minds more. We can also see how it’s shaped the kids even in a relatively short amount of time. The most surprising has been the community though—we have been fortunate enough to connect with many other travelers on the road and have made some really amazing friendships. The RVing community is nothing short of awesome and we are proud to be a part of it.PT: Do you have any tips for getting good campsites in national parks?
OOF: Book in advance and don't be afraid to call and speak to a real person! We've found that some of the National Parks we want to stay at book out FAR in advance, so you need to do your research on when to book. We've also come across some that will tell you online that your rig isn't going to fit there. Our advice is always to call and speak to someone. At Yellowstone, there were campgrounds in the park that had double lots to fit larger vehicles and rigs, but they weren't advertised online.PT: What are the challenges of RVing in the winter?
OOF: It's a constant concern for us in very cold temps that our pipes will freeze (because it has happened twice.) You really have to keep an eye on your propane levels, make sure that you have a slow drip in your sinks and leave your cabinet doors open during freezing temperatures. We opted to skip a few places on our list in the southwest this winter because we didn’t want to risk it with the weather.
PT: What gear do you always travel with?
OOF: Our must-haves include our Osprey pack, double stroller, Hydroflasks for every family member, Yeti cooler for lunches/snacks on-the-go, iPad with a Speck holder for the kids on long travel days and my camera gear comes with me daily.
PT: Why do you think it's important to travel with your kids?
OOF: We think it’s important for our kids to realize that the world is much larger than their neighborhood, school and circle of people that they see day in and day out. There are so many different lifestyles, cultures, languages, foods—we want to give them every opportunity to see and appreciate it all starting from a young age. We also feel that they learn so much more from doing and seeing in real life. We can read about places with historic value, National Parks, astronomy or animals but there is so much more gained when they’re able to actually experience these places or things for themselves.
PT: Advice for any families nervous about traveling with their little ones?
OOF: Little ones are much more resilient than we give them credit for! Our kids adapted to their new, tiny surroundings and life on the road faster than we did. We’ve learned early on not to push it, however. Travel with kids is far different from how we traveled pre-kids and you have to come to grips with the fact that nap times, hangry-ness and meltdowns are going to factor into your days. Once you know they are at their limit, don’t try to squeeze in one more activity. Know when to throw in the towel, keep a positive attitude and stay flexible.
PT: What's next for the Out of Office Family?
OOF: We have no solid answers there yet! I think that is part of the beauty of this lifestyle and what this year of travel has taught us; to be flexible, go with the flow and just see what happens sometimes!