Big Family, Tiny Camping

Wondering if a teardrop is big enough for you and a significant other? How about six other “significant others” like the Hansen family?

Between parents Emily and Brandon and five children ranging from under one year to ten, it’s understandable that you would expect the TAG to be busting at the seams. But when we caught up with this Eastern Idaho family, we learned that it’s all about judicious packing, efficient storage, and the addition of a rooftop tent and hammock-style bunk bed to ensure that there is room for everyone!

In this post, they share their tips and techniques as well as the benefits of traveling via teardrop. For more about their adventures, check out their Facebook page and their podcast.

This eastern Idaho family travels with their family of seven, staying in a TAG and a rooftop tent over their vehicle.

Let’s start with your travel schedule. How much time do you spend on the road on average in a year?

We aren’t full-timers, but we have taken all of our vacation time since we got our TAG on camping road trips. The past two years we took two or three road trips each year where we spent a week to 10 days seeing sites and camping along the way. We’ve covered a good share of the western states on our road trips and camped at a lot of amazing spots along the way. We also camped locally every second or third weekend through summer break the past couple of years.

This year we haven’t done as much because we started a business a couple of months back and have been devoting most of our time and energy to getting that up and going. Our last week-long trip was in January, and we went to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada and down into Arizona. We’ve done some weekend trips between then and now. We look forward to getting back into it as soon as we settle into our new jobs at our new business. There are a lot of places we have been wanting to see.

Unfortunately, we put a pause on our podcast also, but we don’t plan on that being permanent either.

Do you stay at campgrounds, boondock, or a mix of both?

We do a mixture of both. We have found that it’s a lot harder to boondock when we go outside of the area we are familiar with. In our area, there are a lot of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas where you can camp free anywhere you see an available spot. We take advantage of that a lot when we camp close to home.

We were also able to figure out where BLM land was and boondocked out in Colorado on one trip last year. Otherwise, we have found that some of our favorite sites when traveling have been USFS campgrounds with minimal amenities and small fees (usually $10-$20 per night). They usually don’t have hookups and will have only community water hydrants. We like beautiful wooded campgrounds that are more secluded and quiet if we can find them.

On most trips, we will spend at least one night in the middle of the trip at a resort-type RV park to use the amenities, refill our water, recharge our battery, etc. The kids also like those places because they usually have playgrounds and swimming pools. They cost quite a bit, but for one night on a long trip, it’s worth it (and still cheaper than hotels along the whole trip).

How do you prepare for trips when there are so many of you in one teardrop?

We’ve come up with a pretty good system for storing clothes and bedding in the teardrop while we travel. Then we’ve figured out how much we can pack into our tow vehicle using totes and containers that make it pretty quick to get in and out and utilizes the space we have.

We’ve figured out the place for everything we take. That’s pretty important for making the process quicker and it helps because we don’t really ever question what to take or not to take on those trips.

Do you have a limitation on what each person can bring?

Other than bedding and clothes our kids usually just take a small bag that they can have in the tow vehicle while we travel. Usually, the older kids take handheld gaming systems and books, the smaller kids take toys. When we are camping, the electronics stay put away usually, and we will hike and explore, or the kids will play around camp.

Doesn’t it get a little crowded in the teardrop? How do you keep everyone happy in such a confined space?

We don’t all sleep in the teardrop. We actually also have a rooftop tent that is mounted on the tow vehicle. The tent is (supposedly) large enough to sleep 4 adults “comfortably,” which means is plenty big for little kids. Usually, the sleeping arrangement varies a little depending on where we are, but most nights dad and bigger kids sleep in the rooftop tent, and mom and little kids sleep in the teardrop.

We also built kind of a hammock-style bunk bed in the teardrop that one of the littler kids likes to sleep in. We built it so that it can be removed or set up quickly and doesn’t mount with screws or anything actually attaching it to the walls of the teardrop so that it won’t damage the walls in the trailer.

We used to tent camp, and we enjoyed it except for the setup, takedown, and figuring out how to haul it all. We like having only the essentials and not having inside distractions when we are trying to enjoy the outdoors. The best part about teardrops and setups like ours is that just like when you’re tent camping, you only spend time inside when you’re going to bed. We enjoy spending the time we take for outdoor recreation actually being outdoors.

A few times we’ve had rainy days while camping. Those times, some of the kids will get in the tent and either read or we will let them use their video games and we will turn on a movie in the teardrop and watch it with a couple of the little kids. Those have been the only times we’ve resorted to hanging out inside during the day while camping.

What do you do to give each person some private space?

Sometimes one of the kids will climb into the rooftop tent to be alone for a while or will relax quietly away from others outside.

What will you do as your kids grow? How do you handle it if one of them says, “I’m not going”?

With a rooftop tent as big as ours we will have room for them as teenagers. One of the beauties of the teardrop is it fits the essentials for cooking and storing while traveling, but it’s small enough you can expand or adapt based on your needs. If and when we find ourselves outgrowing the rooftop tent set-up, we can look at adding an “add-a-room” tent to the side of the teardrop or look at other options.

So far, the kids always enjoy the trips and love to see the interesting places we’ve gone. We do occasionally get some pushback before a trip between one of the older two, but they end up going and they always enjoy it. I guess the answer to both questions is, “We will figure it out when we get there,” but I think solutions to either problem aren’t hard to come up with.

What are the benefits of traveling together?

We’ve made a lot of amazing memories with our kids over the last few years. We bought an annual park pass and have seen many of the National Parks and Monuments from Joshua Tree National Park to the Badlands in South Dakota and a good share of the parks in between. Many of those we are experiencing for the first time with our children.

I remember as a kid going to Yellowstone and how cool that is to a little kid. We just enjoy spending that time exploring with them and seeing them enjoying what there is to see and learn in the outdoors.

We’ve also worked camping in our teardrop and rooftop tent into other plans and vacations. A couple of years ago we camped at Great Basin and visited Joshua Tree on our way to Anaheim where we camped at an RV park for a few days to take the kids to Disneyland. Then on the way home, we camped near giant Sequoias and visited Yosemite.

Last year we took the very long route to a family reunion so we could camp at Dinosaur National Monument and take our kids to the dinosaur quarry. Another time we had an appointment in Utah, so we added a few hundred more miles to the trip and camped near and visited Zion National Park.

I don’t know a better way to spend a family vacation not only finding the destination but getting the most out of the journey as well.

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