Roadschooling Update (+ A Peek Into Our Travel Budget)!

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We have had an exciting 6 weeks in the beautiful state of Oregon. The kids and I are adjusting to our new homeschool routine, and since this is my FIRST year as a homeschool mom, it hasn’t been all rainbows and unicorns, but we are getting there. My youngest (autistic) child requires my full, undivided attention during school hours, so we’ve had to work out a system for a combination of independent work, and help from dad in the evenings for the other children. Even though it has been challenging, I am blessed to see my autistic son start to recognize sight words, and write his letters!

I’ll admit, I had a great deal of fear over homeschooling. If it wasn’t for the community over at Hip Homeschool Moms, I may have never taken the plunge. In this group (especially through their Facebook page) I found so much support and sound advice. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone! Love, love love them!

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On the weekends, we head out and explore the local area, taking advantage of all the free activities we can find. We had the most amazing experience at the Bonneville Lock & Dam, where we were able to watch the Chinook Salmon on their annual upstream swim through an underwater viewing window. We also visited a nearby fish hatchery where the kids fed the Rainbow Trout.

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Just a few miles down the road, we enjoyed the view of Multnomah Falls. Since we brought our lunch, or only expense for this entire amazing day of salmon viewing, trout feeding and waterfall gazing was $25 in gas!

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We spent some time exploring the local history, including parts of the Oregon Trail. This is a replica of a toll gate that stood in this very spot in the mid 1800’s. What an amazing experience it was to walk through it, and imagine what our brave countrymen must’ve been thinking!

Total cost: $0!

unknown pioneer woman

Near the tollgate, we visited the grave of an unknown pioneer woman. She crossed the entire country, and was 100 or so miles from her destination when she died. The kids and I talked about what might’ve happened to her, and what her trip must’ve been like. We all agreed she was undoubtedly a courageous and strong woman to come so far through all kinds of weather and adversity.

Total cost: $0!

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We take advantage of as many easy to moderate hiking trails as possible, since they’re free. This one took us to this breathtaking view of Mt. Hood from Mirror Lake. Incidentally, the photo at the top of the blog was also from a hike. We were at Lava Canyon at the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument when we came across this suspension bridge that just about took my breath away. I managed to summon the courage and cross it, but I won’t be doing that again, y’all.

Total cost: $0!

BUDGET UPDATE
Our budget of $4,000/month has been very do-able, especially since we have been taking advantage of our Thousand Trails membership. It allows us to stay for free at over 80 campgrounds nationwide, and pay only $10-$20 per night at several hundred other locations. We have also saved by staying in one location for several weeks at a time, which has cut down on the gas expense of pulling a huge trailer across the country. By finding campgrounds that are centrally located, we can explore the area while staying within our means.

Since we have no debt, no house payment, no lot rental fees (with TT membership), and no cable, electric, garbage or internet fees, we are able to do all this on an extremely tight budget! Who knew we could have so much fun for so little money! In fact, we have decided to lower our budget to $3,000/month for the time being so we can save more aggressively for the adventures that will come after our road trip is over (hint, it involves a tiny house)! If you are struggling to make ends meet, I recommend considering RV life. Once our debt was eliminated and the 5th wheel was paid for, we have been able to do so much for so little money, I am kicking myself for not doing this sooner!

We will be headed to Southern California in a few days, and we’ll give you an update on the free & frugal family activities we find as we go along. It will be a little more challenging to find free activities in such an expensive area, but I am up for the challenge!

Be sure to follow our Instagram page for more family travel pics! Or head over HERE to tour or 5th wheel, which we bought for pennies on the dollar!

Update From the Road

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If you’re new to MomsbyHeart, you can read about our year-long RV adventure HERE.

The last month has been an adventurous one for my family, as we headed out to see the country with four of our five kids, our fifth wheel and our trusty hula girl. Today I write from the mountains of Oregon, where we are enjoying great weather, and spectacular views.

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But not everything has been roses and rainbows. This is what happened just four hours into our trip to Oregon. We had an *ahem* unscheduled week-long stay in the Texas desert due to some truck issues. You can read all about it on our travel blog. But all ended well, and we were back on the road, no worse for wear.

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In fact, our unplanned adventure allowed us time to visit Big Bend National Park in Texas, something we would’ve missed otherwise.

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Once we made it to our destination, we were blown away.  Not only is Oregon indescribably beautiful, it is the perfect place for visiting on a budget. There are miles of free trails to hike, including parts of the original Oregon Trail! At our campground, we even have wild huckleberries and blackberries for the picking.

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Huckleberries make for amazing pancakes, in case you were wondering…

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Have a look at that! It was so awesome to be able to teach my autistic son what a mountain is by showing him one!  Total cost for this experience: $0!  It’s been easy to stay on our $3000/month budget without feeling deprived when we can soak in these spectacular views for FREE!

If you’re wondering how we are able to travel on such a small budget, here are my top 10 tips.

  1. Pay off all debt.  This was our first step, and the most time consuming.  But a goal like this is worth the effort.
  2. Save to pay cash for an RV.  If you’re willing to get an older model, you can easily get one for $7,000-$9,000.  We found ours on Craigslist, but I’ve seen some great deals on RVtrader.  RVing is a surprisingly affordable way to travel.
  3. Establish a savings of at least 3 months living expenses.  This is to allow for some “cushion” in case your income drops, or you are in need of unexpected repairs.  Thanks to our savings, our trip was not derailed by our unscheduled pit-stop in the desert!
  4. Be willing to work while traveling.  I am blogging from the road, and my husband is lining up construction work wherever we go.  You can also workamp.
  5. Stay at campgrounds for at least one month.  Most places have HUGE discounts for monthly campers.  Our campground in Oregon charges $55/night, or $560 per month.  That’s a big savings of over 60%. Where else can you live for less than $600 while enjoying free access to swimming pools, hiking trails, weekend crafts, and free outdoor movies/popcorn?
  6. Consider memberships to Thousand Trails and/or Passport America for even more campground savings. *TIP* you’ll save hundreds by signing up for Thousand Trails membership at one of their campgrounds rather than online.
  7. No restaurants on the road.  For us, the experience of eating at a restaurant just isn’t worth the expense.
  8. No amusement parks.  Or anything that charges admission, for that matter.  I love Disney as much as the next gal.  But did you see that view of the mountain?  That was about $6000 less than the cost of seeing Mickey.  And I don’t feel deprived. At. All.
  9. Limited visits to museums.  This one might ruffle some feathers, but again, it’s about the most bang for our buck.  There are several “free” museum days, and often the small town museums are free all the time.  Occasionally, we will be paying to see a museum or two, but they will be very carefully chosen.
  10. Be realistic and don’t give up.  We planned and saved for almost 2 years before we were able to hit the road.  We were determined to hit our financial goals before heading out, because we knew it would be worth the wait!

We plan to stay in Oregon for the next several weeks, so we can see the gorgeous fall color change, and pick apples in neighboring Washington state. We still need to explore the Oregon Trail, hike to some waterfalls, and spend some more time at the campground’s indoor pool! I plan to do a Couponing Across America post in the next few weeks, so if you’re curious about food prices in different areas of the US, stay tuned!

Oh, and be sure to follow us on Instagram if you want to see the latest travel pics!

Update From The Road…

roadschool texas - picking peaches

Welcome to my Update From the Road post! My family of seven is living full-time in a 5th wheel for the next year on a budget of $3,000/month.  If you’re new here, you can read about our adventure in my roadschooling post.

We have had an eventful week! We are making the most of our new full-time RV life by seeing all the sights in and around San Antonio. Our first stop? A peach orchard in Fredericksburg, Texas.

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I wasn’t much of a peach fan when I lived in Michigan. But Texas peaches are a whole different experience! Sweet, plump and tender, they are unlike anything I ever tasted in my prior yankee life. Yum!

peachy josh

While I was there, I chatted a little with the orchard owners, and learned a thing or two about peaches. Did you know you should never wash a peach until you’re ready to eat it? It’s true! Keeping them dry prolongs their shelf life. Also, if you want to find a perfect ripe peach, look at the yellow. The yellow shade is the true indication of ripeness. If you see lighter yellow or even greenish hue, it’s not ready to eat. Look for a deep golden color. I was under the impression that softness and/or redness were indicators of a ripe fruit, but they’re not!

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While in Fredericksburg, we made a quick stop to visit a popular German sausage store where my husband picked up a rare treat for himself!

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Later in the week, we visited The Alamo, and the Riverwalk, two popular tourist attractions that offer free admission. For more FREE & cheap ways to explore San Antonio, head over to my travel blog for a list of my faves.

Our Budget

Many of you have asked how we are able to afford this trip, so I thought I’d give you a monthly behind-the-scenes look.

While traveling, our income will consist of my blog earnings and ebook income, along with workamping my husband will be doing. Two years of saving means we have enough set aside to supplement our monthly incomes, and pay for maintenance and emergencies.  To stay on budget, we must spend no more than $3,000 per month. In a future blog post, I’ll share our money-saving secrets for accomplishing this. For now, here is how our last month went.

RV Lot Rent: $450
Gas: $610
Food & Household: $920
Entertainment: $17
Phones: $180
Clothing & Misc: $0
Total Spent: $2177 ($823 left over)

Included in the Food & Household category is $40 for half a bushel of peaches, and $27 for sausage from our Fredericksburg visit (don’t you judge me). Since we are still close to home, our gas expense is very minimal, but I expect this will go up quite a bit in the future. Our insurance expenses have been paid ahead, so they are not included here.

As you may have guessed by now, the bulk of the expense for this trip was covered before we ever left our home. We paid off debt. We established a savings. We paid cash for the 5th wheel, bought the homeschooling supplies, paid for insurance in advance and so on. So now, we are able to live very minimally on a tiny budget without feeling the pinch of it. We will both still be working while traveling, so it won’t exactly be a year-long vacation. And we are totally fine with that!

If you’d like to see how we are able to cram 7 people into a 5th wheel, you can head over HERE for a home tour. Read the story of our rig, and how we were able to afford it HERE.

You can follow us on Instagram, subscribe to MomsbyHeart, or visit our travel blog to follow our journey across the USA!

Update From The Road…

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Last week I shared the exciting news that we are officially roadschooling! It’s a dream we’ve been working toward for a while now, and after two years of hard work, we are finally on our way.

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As with all good things, there are always a few hiccups. Today my husband was rear-ended by a teen who had fallen asleep at the wheel. Luckily, he was not pulling our 5th wheel at the time, but he was pulling a flatbed trailer which caused the rear of the truck to buckle when it collided.

I had a mini panick attack when he came home early from work to share the news. As is my tendency. But God is teaching me through this journey to roll with the punches and to trust Him.

I am working on it.

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The bucking caused the exhaust pipe and a spring to push into the rear wheel. We have yet to hear from the mechanics, but are hoping there wasn’t any damage to the truck frame. The good news is that no one was seriously hurt, and the driver of the other vehicle had insurance which should cover everything. If all goes as expected, this should all be behind us in a week or so.

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In the meantime, we are exploring our great state of Texas and all it has to offer, while we tie up some loose ends before leaving the state. Case in point: peach season.

Being a Yankee, I arrived in the Lone Star State with no knowledge of the art of sweet tea, peach cobbler or smoked meats. But I’ve been working on it, Lord knows – hoping to get my honorary Texan card. Here I am making my second cobbler since becoming a full-time RVer. Amazing what a good toaster oven is capable of.

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My husband is working on perfecting his smoked meat technique.  His smoker is coming with us on our trip, in case you were wondering.  I don’t mind telling you, he kind of rocks at this whole thing.  You’d never know from the look of that pig that he’s a Yankee.

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Just look at that sandwich.  Oh, Lordy.

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This is a photo of my youngest child going under water for the first time, something he was afraid to do up until this point.

I’m positive the other campers think I’m a little wacky when they hear the hoots and cheers coming from my mouth whenever this child accomplishes something. It wasn’t so very long ago that he was completely non-verbal, paralyzed with fear, and showing no awareness of his environment.  With his autism, every new skill he attempts to acquire is an exercise in patience and faith.  So there are lots of tears and cheers with every single success.

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For example, he’s decided he loves gluten-free cake. But he still has a hard time recalling words, so it’s hard for him to tell me what he wants sometimes.

The other day, I was in my room.  He approached me and said,

“I want ha-bir-t-yoo please”

Umm, what?

“I want ha-bir-t-yoo please”

“Show me” I say. This is my technique for figuring out what he wants when I can’t understand him.  He stood still.

“I want ha-bir-t-yoo please”

Over, and over and over.  It is such a feeling of helplessness when he initiates language, and I don’t know how to reinforce it because I don’t know what he is saying.

“I want ha-bir-t-yoo please”

Suddenly, it hit me.

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My daughter had just celebrated her 14th birthday. He couldn’t think of the word for cake, but he remembered the song, “Happy Birthday to You”!

Needless to say, I made him a cake.

I think if he asked me for a sports car I would do my best to go and get him one.

Good job talking. Here’s your Mustang.

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So we haven’t done a lot of sight-seeing yet. We don’t have impressive photos of the mountains and the oceans yet. We are itching to start our full-fledged adventure, but we are entirely content with our present moments. Eating. Swimming. And growing closer as a family in our little trailer.

Follow along on our journey! You can subscribe for free daily email alerts from MomsbyHeart, and from our travel blog 7 Happy Hobos. Find us on Instagram, too!

We Did It! We Are Roadschooling!

happy hobos abode

About a year ago, I shared a dream with you. It was a big dream, but one that my whole family was excited about. We wanted to sell all our belongings, pay cash for a 5th wheel and spend a year traveling across the country while homeschooling the children.  It’s a little thing called roadschooling.

A strange lifestyle choice by conventional standards, I’ll admit. But for the past few years as we dealt with unemployment, a cross-country move, and an autism diagnosis, we found ourselves stuck in a rut that went something like this. We worked too many hours, and spent less and less quality time together as a family, while throwing ourselves into helping our special needs child. The other kids spent most of their time with friends and extracurricular activities, and slowly we grew further and further apart. In a nutshell, we lost focus on what was truly important. I’m sad to admit it, but it’s the truth.

7happyhobos rv tour

Luckily, we recognized this growing distance and decided to take a hard look at our lives to see what could be done about it. For us, full-time RV living was the answer for many reasons.  Here are a few.

1. We can have an income while traveling.
This blog allows me to earn an income from anywhere.  Since we’re not independently wealthy, that was kind of important.  So we had that advantage.

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2. We need to restrengthen our family relationships. 
In this whirlwind of challenges, our children spent precious little quality time with us.  And vacations?  Non-existent.  This trip will allow us to create some much-needed memories and strengthen some bonds that have been weakening.

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3. Autism often creates fear of new places & people.
According to the experts, the best way to alleviate this fear is overexposure. In other words, doing the thing he is afraid of over and over.  Traveling the country, our son will have the advantage of bringing his home and all his familiar objects with him, but he will also learn to accept new things, instead of fearing them. We believe this will help him a great deal.

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4. We were struggling with public schools.
I’m a firm believer that no one choice is right for everyone. And for our children, public school just wasn’t working. I have felt a tugging on my heart to homeschool for a few years now, but to be honest, it was not something I had ever envisioned myself doing. So I was reluctant. But a series of events gave me just the right push to convince me it had to be done. And that made us work even harder to accomplish this roadschooling goal.

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5. Doors have opened for us to do this.
Spending 2 years working on a dream can be exciting. It can also be filled with challenges and disappointments. When it came time to purchase our 5th wheel, we had paid off our debt and saved $8700 for a rig. But finding an RV in that price range that would work for full-time living, and fit a family of seven was a near impossible task.  That’s where our first miracle comes in.

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We found a 2005 Excel (an excellent brand) that needed a LOT of TLC, and was in our price range. Luckily my husband is an amazing craftsman.  He spent every evening and weekend for five months pouring himself into it.  When the dust settled, we had a beautiful home that we OWNED, and that looked even better than the day it rolled off the assembly line.

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6. We Wanted to Simplify Our Lives
Minimalism is the new buzzword, and there’s a reason for it. As this recession drags on, folks are taking a hard look at their priorities and looking for ways to restructure them. They want a simpler life. At least, that’s what we wanted.

Would you believe it took two yard sales and a huge donation truck before our belongings were mostly gone? That’s too much stuff, y’all. You may think that we are suffering or doing without, but to tell you the truth, I hardly miss that stuff.  Everything I own, I love.  The rest of it was just cluttering up my life.  As a family, we have vowed never to let “stuff” take over our lives again. Having each other, our RV and the open road is more than enough for us!

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Over the next year, I’ll be sharing my adventures from the road in a weekly blog post. The rest of the time, you’ll continue to get all the time-sensitive deals you need to save on essentials for your family right here at Moms by Heart. We have every internet doo-hickey you can think of built into this RV, and I’m confident I’ll have strong internet access as we travel across the country. I have some folks backing me up too, just in case.

In a few weeks, I’ll start sharing some frugal family travel tips and ideas that we have tested out in a little series called Savings Across America!  We are so excited to get this dream rolling, and we hope you will come along for the ride! You can keep up with us on Instagram, or through our travel blog which is just getting rolling.  Or get free daily email alerts from me here at Moms by Heart.

SIDE NOTE: We have a budget of $4,000/month while traveling. As we go along, we’ll show you how we are making it work!

Roadschooling Update: We Bought a 5th Wheel

roadschooling rig

If you’ve been following along with my Roadschooling dream posts, you might remember that we have a goal of hitting the road full time in a 5th wheel starting this summer. We’ve been working hard to pay off debt, and save enough to pay cash for our dream rig. And yesterday was the day! We found an amazing deal on Craigslist, and headed to Houston to check it out. It was beautiful, and much nicer than anything we thought we’d be able to afford.  So we made an offer, and hauled it home!

Our plan is to blog across America, sharing deals and discounts as we go in a series called Couponing Across America. I’ll continue to share in-store and online bargains as well.  We’ll be homeschooling the children, and using our travels to help them learn about the history of our great nation. We can’t wait!  I’ll share more about our dreams and goals in an upcoming post. For now, you can scroll through HERE to read more about our adventure.

For those of you who still think couponing doesn’t help the budget very much, here’s a great example of what you can accomplish! We are a middle income family with five children, and we were able to stash away a little bit every week until finally we realized our dream!  If we can do this, anybody can!

Our Roadschooling Goals: An Update

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Those of you who follow this blog may recall the ginormous personal goal I am pursuing .  Since January, we have been saving and preparing to embark on a one year roadschooling adventure as a family. You can read all about it HERE. In a nutshell, roadschooling is homeschooling while traveling the country in an RV. We are selling most of our belongings and making the road our home for one full year.  During our travels, I will continue to operate this blog remotely, and with a few virtual helpers.  Our hope is to hit the road in June of 2014 and return in August 2015.

I have never homeschooled, but my heart has been heading in that direction for some time. I have resisted, mostly out of my own fear. I have four children who are still at home, including one who has autism. So homeschooling as a newbie is intimidating. To be perfectly frank, I don’t want to screw it up. But thanks to the dozens of successful homeschooling moms sharing advice via the blogosphere, I have gained some wisdom and courage, and we are going for it!  We have prayerfully pursued this dream of ours, and we are convinced this is the best thing for our family right now.

From our own experience as parents to five children, we have seen how significant hands-on learning can be.  Roadschooling allows us to walk our children through science and history by showing them American battlefields, natural wonders and a variety of museums and landmarks and pairing them with lessons.  This will be especially important to our autistic child, who is a very concrete learner.  My prayer is that God gives me the wisdom and tools to utilize the educational benefits of this trip to the fullest.

For those of you following along with our journey, here is the progress we have made over the past two months.

  1. We remain debt free, and have nearly doubled our savings!
  2. We have narrowed our 5th wheel choices down to three possible manufacturers: Nu-Wa, Excel and New Horizons.  All three are created specifically for fulltimers, which means they are higher quality and created for all-season use.  The older models are within our price range too!
  3. Through conversations with other roadschooling families we have learned about the Thousand Trails Campground Pass, which allows us free camping at dozens of campgrounds nationwide for an annual fee.  We are investigating, and considering adding this membership to our budget.  From what we see, it looks like it could save us some serious bucks.

Our goals for the next 30 days:

  • Continue to add to our savings account.
  • Create a list of family-friendly campgrounds across the US.  If any of you have any suggestions, I would be most grateful if you would leave them in the comments!
  • Begin formulating a plan for homeschooling next year.
  • Continue to simplify our lives by selling items on Craigslist and donating to a local thrift store.
  • Make no new purchases except what is absolutely necessary.

You can read about our Roadschooling Goals, or follow along with our Monthly Progress Reports.  Be sure to subscribe to Moms by Heart so you don’t miss a thing!

SPONSOR US!
If you own a business that would benefit from national exposure, contact me for details on how you can be one of our roadschooling sponsors. We will be providing media updates on our homeschooling adventures, Couponing across America, affordable family travel and more!

photo credit

Roadschooling Goals Update

I’m thrilled to report that over the past few months we have accomplished our goal of becoming debt free! We have also managed to stash $3,725 in savings for our 5th Wheel. This is the first time in our 20 year marriage that we have been debt free, and the first time since Dylan’s diagnosis that we have had a savings.  We have had a long and challenging road as a family, both with financial struggles and fighting autism, so this milestone is a little surreal.  We are filled to the fullest measure with gratitude and joy!

How We Did It

  • Debt SnowballDave Ramsey knows what he’s doing, man.  We followed the system and it worked.  Fewer monthly payments = bigger savings deposits. Simple as that.
  • Garage Sale – We had a wildly successful 2 day garage sale that netted us a little over $1,500. All of that went right into savings for our rig.
  • Extra Work – We are both putting in an extra 8-12 hours per week for the next several months so we can see this dream become a reality.
  • My Book has generated some extra income, and has allowed us to add to our savings and stay on track with our roadschooling goal.

With our progress so far, I am cautiously optimistic. But we still have a long way to go before we’re ready to hit the road. Our plan is to leave in June 2014 for a 15 month trip.  During this time, I will still be bringing you the best deals each and every day here on MomsbyHeart.  I will be hiring some helpers for those times when internet is spotty or unavailable, so you never miss a thing.

Please pray that God would give us patience as we pursue this dream along with wisdom in all the decisions we will be making. I leave you with our theme song ;)

You can read about our Roadschooling Goals, or follow along with our Monthly Progress Reports.  Be sure to subscribe to Moms by Heart so you don’t miss a thing!