Living the Dream
Former television star turned author
Lisa Whelchel and her family joined the Good Sam Club and
hit the road as fulltimers for a year.
By Brad Johnson
Lots of people dream of driving across the United Stares,
if not all of North America. There is so much to see and
so many things to do. For Good Sam Club members Lisa Whelchel
and Steve Cauble, and their three children, it was time
to stop dreaming.
You probably remember Whelchel from her days as "Blair" on
the NBC show The Facts of Life during its nine-year
run. Today, she's an author who also speaks to churches
and outreach groups. She and husband Steve, Good Sam Club
members since 1999, have had the idea of taking their kids
on the road for some time.
Well, that time has arrived.
Lisa, Steve, Tucker, 11, Haven, 10, and Clancy, 9, are
nearing the end of a year-long journey that not only took
them from coast to coast, but brought them closer together
as a family. They've gone from Broken Arrow, Okla., to
Butte, Mont. They sampled regional spice from Salem, Ore.,
to Celebration, Fla. And they drove their 40-foot Allegro
diesel to New York, Nashville, Atlanta and Seattle. Yes,
there have been some bumps along the way, but the family
has discovered another American treasure: What it's like
to share an adventure together.
"Our goals for the trip were to, first, avoid winter and
its dangerous driving weather, and second to spend major
holidays with our families," says Steve. Also integral
to the plan were pit stops for Lisa's acting and writing
career: interviews with local radio shows, tapings for
TV programs and book signings for her recently published
book The Facts of Life and Other Lessons My Father
Taught Me. While Lisa, Steve and the kids were meeting
America, America would meet them.
But there were concerns before they left their home in
Southern California. Would they have periods of depression
because they weren't with their friends? How would a family
of five cope with living in a motorhome for an entire year?
After all, pour a growing family into a confined space
and the result could be a jumble of mismatched socks, an
avalanche of toys, mysteriously missing clothing - the
tyranny of too much stuff.
But they adjusted. Tucker, Haven and Clancy were assigned
their own basement and cubby storage areas in the coach,
and were restricted to one stuffed toy apiece. Same for
Mom and Dad: reduced wardrobes, minimal toys and any goodies
accumulated along the way would be shipped home.
How would the children react to such a drastic uprooting? "To
make it less traumatic for the kids to be gone an entire
year, we built opportunities into our schedule for them
to visit relatives and friends," says Steve. Besides an
occasional flight home to visit grandparents and inviting
a friend from home aboard for a week-long sleepover, holidays
would be spent with relatives. The family rolled into North
Carolina to spend Thanksgiving with Steve's family, then
headed to Texas for Christmas and New Year's with Lisa's
Then there was the challenge of educating the kids and
maintaining discipline in a close-quarters, 24/7 environment.
Lisa, who had been home schooling her children for several
years prior to the trip, researched every state's national
parks, history and science museums, historical sites and
factory tours, scheduling visits that would serve as history,
geography and cultural lessons.
"I planned a scaled-down version of the home schooling
I do at home," says Lisa. "We're focusing on their math
and language-arts curriculum, a mandatory hour of reading
every day and the kids will be doing a lot of writing - reports
what we've seen, postcards and letters home. The rest will
be what the kids learn and absorb from being on the road."
Finally, jobs would have to be assigned, responsibilities
shouldered. There would be times when, for the safety and
morale of the ship, all crew members would need to pull
as one. First, all loose items on countertops and seats
must be stowed or secured before leaving the campsite.
Tucker is charged with taking out the trash, Haven with
securing all drawers and baskets and Clancy with locking
the interior sliding doors. Steve and Lisa have worked
out their own choreography for hooking up and double checking
the tow bars, wiring and braking system of the Dodge Grand
"There's no better time for our kids to do this than now," says
Steve. "They're old enough to enjoy and remember the trip,
and they're young enough to still want to be with Mom and
Though Lisa (author of Creative Correction, an
award-winning book on child discipline) and Steve are skilled
parents, the playing field had shrunk. For one thing, there
are times when you need to separate kids, but there's only
so much room in the motorhome. And where do you send a
child for "time out?" It turned out that a 15-minute time
out in the bathroom, with the motorhome swaying down the
highway, was equivalent to an hour's banishment at home.
On a typical day, the kids write postcards, do their math,
rider their bikes, organize basketball games and e-mail
friends. A sociable bunch, Tucker, Haven and Clancy are
quick to make new pals at national parks and at Mom's book-signing
and speaking engagements.
Of the many stops the family made as they crossed North
America, one of the more significant was in Toronto for
the filming to The Facts of Life reunion movie,
which for Lisa was an invigorating return to acting and
an opportunity to reestablish old friendships with the
cast members. But by the end of their five-week stay in
a hotel suite, the family was itching to get back on the
Life on the road, it seemed, had them hooked.
"We're surprised by how much we love this and how much
fun it is," says Steve. "It's not like being cooped up
in a car. Because we have the comfort and convenience of
home, we have all the benefits and none of the drawbacks
of long-term travel."
Says Lisa: "I hope that other folks with this dream realize
that they can pull it off, too. With a little bit of flexibility,
compromise and sacrifice and a whole lot of faith, it can
Adds Steve, "This trip is giving our kids memories they'll
have all their lives. They're never going to forget it."
The same, it must be said, goes for Mom and Dad.