LAWRENCEVILLE -- After selling their home in North Carolina and spending more than a year in an RV traveling throughout North America, a family of five has decided to plant new roots in Gwinnett County.
Brian and Ingrid Towey recently purchased a house in Lawrenceville following 14 months spent traveling about 30,000 miles with their three children -- 15-year-old Chaz, Gina, who is 13, and 9-year-old Sylvia.
The family left their home of 17 years July 9, 2009, and traveled west to Texas before heading north up through Canada to Alaska. A trek back down the West Coast extended into Mexico before the family returned to the states via Arizona and extended their trip along the East Coast up to the northernmost part of the U.S.
The extended, and extensive, vacation served two purposes.
"Our first idea is that we thought it would be this great educational opportunity," said Ingrid, who home-schools her three children. "We thought, 'Oh, here is this great thing we can do where we can show them places. It will be so much more interesting and they'll remember it better than if you just read about it in a book.'"
The family also decided traveling was a good idea since Brian Towey's work as a computer programmer had slowed.
"We were hoping to ride out the economic crisis," Chaz said. "Just take a vacation, sit back and let everything fall as low as it was going to fall and then buy as it came back up."
"You guys have a recession without us, we're going on vacation," Brian added.
Once the decision to travel was made, the Toweys bought a roomy, extended cab truck and a towable RV.
"If you have a bus and you have engine trouble you're homeless," Brian said, "but if you have a trailer and a truck to pull it, then you can take the truck in to work on it separately or even replace it."
The 31-foot RV had about 258 square feet inside with a small kitchen area, complete with a stove and refrigerator, a four- to five-seater table, a double bed in the front and three bunks in the rear, where Brian and Ingrid Towey hung curtains to give their children a little privacy.
"We wanted everybody to have a little space of their own," Brian said.
The RV also had space for a desk where the kids could complete their school work.
As living spaces go, though, it was a small version of a home away from home.
"What you end up doing is you end up living some of your time outdoors," Ingrid said. "You don't spend as much time in here as you would a house."
"Your tow vehicle becomes your living room," Brian added. "You spend a lot of time going places."
The family used part of the proceeds from the sale of their home in Durham, N.C., which sold while the family was in Alaska, as well as money they had in savings to finance the trip, which they finished debt free.
After leaving North Carolina, the family traveled into Georgia, where they spent time camping at Stone Mountain Park, before heading into Texas, Ingrid's home state, to establish residency and take advantage of a mail forwarding service that caters to many retired RVers. The family then headed north into Canada to make it to Alaska before any severe winter weather prevented them from enjoying the area.
"By the time you hit Sept. 30, you're starting to see snow and we had kind of had a late start so we wanted to get to Alaska and be able to spend a few weeks there," Ingrid said.
"I really enjoyed the Yukon," Brian said. "The Alaska Highway, going up to Alaska, was as good as Alaska itself, and Alaska was fabulous."
"That was really pretty," Sylvia said of the Alaska Highway.
Her sister, Gina, celebrated her 13th birthday Sept. 18 in Seward, Alaska, before the family traveled south back into the United States and spent time exploring the western part of the country.
Chaz celebrated his 15th birthday zip lining in Oregon near Tillamook and then it was on into California and the San Francisco Bay area, where the Toweys swam with dolphins at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and toured the prison on Alcatraz Island.
The family saw Death Valley, where Sylvia Towey experienced what she said was perhaps the worst part of her trip -- a long climb back up a 600-foot deep volcanic crater -- before celebrating her ninth birthday in Las Vegas.
"We really didn't have a set itinerary so if the weather turned bad we would just drive the other way," Brian said. "If some place looked interesting, we would stay longer, and that would drive some people crazy, but for us, it was the only way to go."
The family chowed down on burgers at the Heart Attack Grill in Chandler, Ariz., where customers can get a single, double, triple or quadruple bypass burger, before heading south of the border into Mexico and reaching the southernmost point of their travels, Puerto Angel in the state of Oaxaca.
The family spent Christmas in Mexico, where they learned that Tequila is an actual place, took their RV off road onto a dry lake bed, visited Mexico City and went fishing in Mazatlan, and where Gina experienced what she said was the worst part of her travels, running out of books to read.
"You just can't get books in English in Mexico," she said.
After crossing the border again in Arizona, this time traveling north, the Toweys headed back east into Florida and then up the coast to North Carolina, where they expected to end their trip after nine months. Finding the economy still in a recession, they decided to extend their vacation.
"We figured that after a year the economy would shake out but it turned out business was still slow," Brian said. "Rather than sit and twiddle our thumbs, waiting for the next contract, we thought, 'Well, let's keep traveling.' There was no reason to call the trip done unless I had to go back to work right away."
Having just started a study of the Civil War at Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C., the Toweys traveled to Virginia, then continued to Boston and began a study of the Revolutionary War. After reaching the northernmost part of the United States in Maine, the family headed back south to Georgia, where, on Sept. 9, they closed on their house in Lawrenceville and parked the RV.
"You can get more house for the money here," Brian said of the decision to settle down in Gwinnett. "The economy is bouncing back here better than it is in a lot of places that we've seen."
"In terms of home school, there's a lot to do in the Atlanta area, a lot of opportunities for the kids," Ingrid added. "We're not in the middle of nowhere."
But just because the family's RV has been parked for the past two-and-a-half weeks doesn't mean it hasn't been in use -- the Toweys have been living out of their small home away from home while their house is remodeled -- and staying in one place has been an adjustment.
"It was sort of like every morning I would open the door and it would be a totally different place. At first, I found that disorienting because I'd wake up and I'd think, 'Where am I?'" Ingrid said. "But now that I'm actually in the same place every morning, I'm thinking, 'This isn't right.'"