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Why I’m Raising My Kids To Be Dirtbags

Dirtbags PIN

Raising Dirtbags is hard, it’s hard on you, and it’s hard on them, but it will change both of your life…for the better, it will make your kids gritty, and it will mean your kids love life just as much as they love you.

But what is a Dirtbag A dirtbag nowadays means someone who knows what they want out of life and will do whatever they have to to live that lifestyle.  I want to raise my kids to love their life even if it means being dirty and having no creature comforts or security and here’s why.

According to urban dictionary:

A dirtbag is a person who is committed to a given (usually extreme) lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment and other societal norms in order to pursue said lifestyle. Dirtbags can be distinguished from hippies by the fact that dirtbags have a specific reason for living communaly and generally non-hygenically; dirtbags are seeking to spend all of their moments pursuing their lifestyle.

In modern society, such a thing is not even mentioned to most kids.  In fact, for most kids, it’s “go to school,” “wash your hands,” “study hard,” and “get a well paying job.”

I feel, however, that the dirtbag way of life has it’s merits too, and can create strong, persistent, industrious human beings that could make a difference in the world. 

I don’t make my kids shower daily and often when they do shower, it’s a lukewarm, military style shower.  

They’re encouraged to tough it out and sleep in a tent in dozens of uncomfortable situation often.  When we were in Norway tent camping, it would only get dark for an hour a night and some nights the temperature dropped to freezing!

When we tent camped in Ireland, it rained every day and the temperature never got higher than 11 degrees Celcius. We’ve tent camped in Hawaii in rainstorms so strong that our tents would leak and the insides would be soaked.  

We’ve backpacked altogether in Abel Tasman in New Zealand, my kids carrying everything they needed on their backs, camping in tents on the beach, and sandflies eating us alive and keeping us awake all night with itches.

But Raising Dirtbags means my kids push through this. Sure they complain, but they are tough and they know this is only momentarily.

Related blog: Backpacking Abel Tasman with Kids

I often make my kids skip meals, especially if we are hiking or climbing for the first half of the day and know there’s a big meal waiting for them afterward.  

We rarely have a good WiFi and we definitely don’t have cable (does anyone anymore?) or Netflix and instead, our entertainment is found through reading, writing, drawing, playing instruments, thinking, planning, and daydreaming.

Raising My Kids to be Dirtbags
Isabelle doesn’t go anywhere with out here ukulele

For multiple 6 month periods, my kids had to wear the same five outfits over and over (the mere thought of doing so would cause you to be ostracized in some teenage circles). 

We live out of our RV and roam around the US and when we aren’t, we are traveling the globe, usually with a tent or RV as our form of accomodation. We have no house, but nature is our home. Our life revolves around adventure.

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Camping on the forest roads outside of Bend, Oregon

Seeking adventure is the “extreme lifestyle” we pursue that has taken priority over creature comforts and sometimes cleanliness.  

To some, I’m irresponsible, mean, selfish or just straight up crazy.  If you met me, you’d know I’m just overly idealistic (as well as a kind and loving mom) and believe the gifts I’m giving my kids, although quite unconventional, will carry them far in life. 

[click_to_tweet tweet=”In a world that struggles with entitlement and instant gratification, creating a life intertwined with doses of purposeful hardship is important to me.” quote=”In a world that struggles with entitlement and instant gratification, creating a life intertwined with doses of purposeful hardship is important to me.” theme=””]

I really am almost selfish. The only problem is, that in living this lifestyle and searching out new crags to climb, trails to follow, and waves to surf, it puts my kids in some of the most pristine nature and the little hardship they do endure becomes masked by panoramic views, jagged coastlines, rolling hills, and black forests.

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In Portugal, Wales, and Spain we camped on the most beautiful beaches overlooking prime surf breaks and only had to share the entire beach with a handful of other dirtbags.

In Germany, Italy, Norway, and Croatia we’d wake up with massive rock walls looming over us, begging to be climbed.

Rock Climbing Sella Pass in the Dolomites, Italy, 50 things to know when planning your 1st trip to Europe
Rock Climbing Sella Pass

In England, Scotland, France, and Switzerland we’d sleep in at the base of the most majestic mountains ready to hop out of bed early to follow the trail to the summit and see life from a new vantage point.

Throughout US we take our RV down bumpy dirt roads so we could camp in in the wild and see amazing skies full of stars. In Canada we’d sleep on the side of forest roads so we can wake up and mountain bike in the forest.

In New Zealand on a road trip we drove until 1am and set up our tents in the dark in places we’ve never been because we wanted to explore as much of New Zealand as possible and we wanted to wake up somewhere we could go hike, surf, or mountain bike.

It’s tough. It’s not just joy and ease. It demands serious effort and dedication.

Raising dirtbags means epic fights for who gets the hammock (and the bathroom) first. Raising Dirtbags means when we eat, elbows are thrown to ensure you get your fair share. But Raising Dirtbags also means my kids like talking to me, and more importantly they like doing things with me.

Over the last few years there have been a dozen moments of doubt.  Moments where almost go back to that life of conformity, but every time we take a look over the edge and we realize the life we created is the life we want to live.

A life where going to sleep to the sounds of the waves or crickets or complete silence and waking to the smell of the salt air, pine trees, or morning dew marks the end and beginning of days filled with intention, purpose, movement, and adventure.

These are my top six reasons why I’m going to keep raising dirtbags:

1 | Love of sports, movement, & health

I have raised dirtbags so that when we wake up, instead of getting ready for school or stressing out over a dub test, the first thing on the agenda is what activity each person wants to do. It could be hiking, climbing, biking, running, surfing, weight training, gymnastics, yoga, or jiu-jitsu, but regardless, everyone is going to want to prioritize their exercise for the day.  Many of our sports involve destination travel, which gives us purpose and direction for our travels.

Rotorua, RV Living with Kids
Mountain biking smooth single track in Rotorua

Instead of saying we want to go to various paid attractions and spend our time shopping or eating at restaurants, we center our travels on specific hikes, climbs, and surf destinations and if we happen to grab a bite at a restaurant afterward so be it, but that’s not what’s driving us to this nomadic lifestyle.

2 | Idealism

Raising my kids as Dirtbags was the best thing I ever did for myself and for them.

I’m sure this is why I started homeschooling my kids twelve years ago.  I knew I could give my kids a different view of the world.  Not that it’s necessarily better, but I do think it’s equally as good.

Raising My Kids to be Dirtbags
Isabelle contemplating life at the top of Frigid Air Pass

What homeschooling and our nomadic life have given my kids the most is time.  Being time rich gives you time to reflect, develop opinions, write novels (have you heard of our son’s book I Am Epic?), and create websites (the one you are on right now is Gabi’s masterpiece).  You’d think with the amount of time they have it would back fire and make them lazy, but I find it’s actually done the opposite and made them more driven to be productive with their time so they can script their own future.

With all this idealism, I like to think my kids are learning accountability and self-motivation.  And who can’t use more of that in the world?

3 | Family Bonding

What I haven’t deprived them of is time shared with us or love. Talking. There is a lot of talking going on in our family and it seems to know no boundary when it comes to topics.  We have conversations on the usual “hows the weather” talk, but also on running a business, dealing with complex relationships, analyzing literary works, politics, religion, the meaning of life, you name it.

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The historic building of the Louvre stands in contrast to the glass pyramids

People tend to think my kids are very sheltered, but in reality, they have a very in-depth knowledge of what the adult world is like.

4 | Sharing

There is no mine, his, her’s when you live in such a small space.  Raising Dirtbags means we are a team and have to work together as one to pull this off.  Everyone pitches in for meals (and we tend to throw together some amazing ones too!), as well as the cleaning and constant organization that our tiny space requires.

Why I'm Raising My Kids to be Dirtbags
Setting up tents is a group effort

It’s become a shared dream with shared responsibilities.

5 | Lack of materialism and consumerism

We don’t really miss having “stuff”, after all, we have nowhere to put it.  I think the more I’m ridiculed, the more I try to make a point of how much you can do without.  We have just enough to enjoy our sports, our idle time, and eat well.  Books, kindles or iphones, and a camera have become prized possessions.  

living in an RV with 5 kids

We travel light and when we do buy something, I think it has a deeper meaning now.  We look at strip malls and Black Friday sales with a bit of disdain and feel like there are very few material goods can take the place of surrounding yourself with the people you love in great open spaces and the sense of adventure a constantly changing backdoor can bring.

6 | Self-sufficiency & independence

One of the greatest values this lifestyle has taught my kids is “I’ll figure it out or I’ll get by without.”  It’s a very different muscle that we’ve learned to flex and knowing they can get by with very little if needed has instilled toughness and confidence.

My favorite thing that it’s taught them though is resource management.  We are very aware at all times of how much water is in our holding tanks and not allowing our gray or black water tanks to get full too fast.  Recycling and reusing as much as possible plays a big role in our everyday life, as does planning ahead and not being wasteful.

Onetahuti Beach, How to backpack Abel Tasman: 3-4 day Abel Tasman Backpacking Itinerary
Everything we could ever need on our backs

I’m never trying to convert anyone to live my lifestyle, but I tend to sound defensive when confronted with the why’s. It makes me want to scream,

Go stand under Eiger Mountain with your quads burning from the intense hike up and gaze out to the tiny village of Grindelwald, Switzerland or scramble to top of Tryfan Mountain, facing your fear of heights with each hand hold, and gaze up at Mount Cook, New Zealand and then you’ll know why we love the dirtbag life.

Sure it’s nice to watch the sun rise over the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon and watch a sunset over Point Loma, but it’s the physical challenge of putting yourself in new situations, pushing past your comfort zone, and accomplishing feats you only once dreamed of that allows you to appreciate the sacrifice and feel the deep gratitude for the opportunity to experience this awesome planet we live on.

It’s why we started the #BraveForAdventure movement. Because when you act brave and do something hard that you never though you could do, you experience the miraculous feeling of ADVENTURE.

In defending our choice we solidify these ideals, and in doing so, we are choosing an ever changing front porch and an adventurous, carefree lifestyle that actively seeks out new experiences and adventures over stability, security, or social standing.  

We are telling the universe we are serious about living this life outdoors.

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A Friend

Tuesday 15th of February 2022

Aloha Robyn!

I am laughing so much right now! I found your website while searching for an affordable and decent (hot! clean!) campground shower in Washington state... and then I saw the title to this post and just HAD click- and I am SO glad I did!

I've been living the nomadic life for years now but not actually by choice. Even though I'm a normal person with lots of skills, my life just changed drastically and I ended up in these strange circumstances. Also I have severe (but invisible) disabilities, including serious food allergies to contend with. In fact, the last 24 hours I have been totally incapacitated by outrageous migraine pain, which is why I am looking up campgrounds with hot showers that are actually open in the winter. Otherwise my options are expensive gym memberships or even more expensive hotel rooms... or (hopefully not) the emergency room...sigh...

In the midst of severe pain, I am truly enjoying reading your stories and seeing your pictures. Our connection to nature is so important and you guys have inspired me to think about how I can overcome my challenges and reframe my view of my life as a nomad. I enjoy living close to nature, in fact I believe it's what will ultimately save us all from the challenges ahead.

Also, I really appreciate hearing about your experiences as a Mom because being a parent is probably the hardest and definitely the most important job in the world.

The way you have explained the feeling of pure joy in natural adventures truly does inspire the mood of courage, which is arguably the most important thing any of us can have.

Robyn, you and your family just made my day, right at the moment I most needed some encouragement and joy! ~~~Mahalo!!! ~~~ Thank you!!!

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