When Brian and Shannon Ostrovsky left home with a modified travel trailer and all five of their children, they didn’t know where they’d end up.
The family of seven lived in Folsom, California, near where Brian and Shannon grew up.
“We did always think of the importance to us of wanting to see as much of the country as we could,” said Brian. “When we had five kids, it seemed nearly impossible.”
That is until the couple realized that opportunities with Brian’s job could line up with a months-long cross-country road trip.
Brian runs a software company called Locable that works with many small-town chambers of commerce and main street associations. As a high school history teacher by training, Shannon would be well-equipped to homeschool their five kids while they visited towns across America.
“It was a great work opportunity and a great family opportunity, and we decided we’d hit the road,” Brian said. They prepared for six months of travel. “I said at the beginning, ‘I think it’s going to be longer than that’,” Shannon said.
The Ostrovskys modified a travel trailer to ensure all five children — who ranged in age from three to 12 at the time — would each have their own beds. “That was important,” said Brian. “They always had their space.”
Even so, Shannon said some of their kids still had reservations; they were nervous about maintaining friendships and meeting new people while living in a trailer. “The fact that it was the middle of 2020 kind of eased us into that lifestyle because nobody was doing anything,” Shannon said.
Nomadic lifestyles — such as traveling around in vans, Airbnbs and even sailboats — have grown in popularity since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the exact number is difficult to quantify, the Census Bureau estimates that more than 165,000 households were living in recreational vehicles, vans, boats or other transitory structures in 2021 — up from 140,000 two years earlier.
Towing the trailer behind a Ford Excursion, the Ostrovskys traveled to Nevada and Wyoming, then slowly worked their way east. “We tried to find a local ice cream shop in almost every town,” Shannon said.
Around the six month mark, they reached the Outer Banks of North Carolina. “That was a big accomplishment,” Shannon said. “[Going] from one coast all the way to the other coast.”
At that point, the family of seven wanted to continue traveling but faced some unexpected challenges. “Our kids had grown and two of them barely fit their beds anymore,” said Brian. They also lacked winter clothing, having previously planned to return to California once it got cold.
After spending the winter in Florida, the Ostrovskys purchased a fifth-wheel trailer big enough to comfortably fit their growing children and continued traveling. It also had a better work station for Brian, who had been using a dresser as a standing desk.
The whole family adjusted to full-time traveling. Shannon connected with other traveling families on social media and the Ostrovky children learned how to make friends at RV parks along their route. “Our kids have now developed these fantastic friendships,” said Brian. “They’re on the phone, they’re video calling … that was a pleasant surprise about this experience.”
Though they enjoyed roaming, Shannon and Brian knew they eventually wanted to settle down. “Every place that we visited, we tried to really research,” Shannon said. While Brian worked, she and the kids would check out local parks, libraries, schools and home prices.
While exploring a number of properties near Fayetteville, Tennessee, they stumbled onto an old farmhouse on 36 acres of rolling hills. It had woods, a spring and farmable land. “[We] just fell in love,” Brian said.
After 27 months on the road, the family of seven finally parked their fifth-wheel trailer at their new home in Tennessee. “It needed a lot of enhancements,” Brian said. “And our kids are helping us.”
“For us, I think I think the idea of home has definitely changed,” said Shannon. “Originally, when we were married and thinking about kids, it was this perfect little house and the great entertaining space to have people over and ‘We’re going to stay in this house forever’ … but now it’s more of where we are in this moment and really enjoying what we have in the moment.”