This Family Proves You Can Travel the World With Kids (And Love It)

One van, four people, 3,000 miles.

By Jenn Rose Smith
dad and sun surfers

When you’re camping and surfing places like La Pastora, everyone you meet has a story. It’s a sparsely populated surf break about 5 miles north of Todos Santos, with a rocky bottom that makes it too dangerous to teach surf lessons to tourists. That’s where I met the Hughes family in March, where they were living out of their Sprinter van parked right on the sand. The family already traveled an astounding 3,000 miles this year, but it was the kids themselves who intrigued me the most. Sean (12), and Juliet (10) both possess such confidence, maturity, and kindness… I was left wondering if their parents Ian (a professional mountain bike coach) and Melanie (a schoolteacher) hadn’t cracked the code for raising perfect children. Read on to discover how this family makes life on the road work — including school, work, cooking, and chores — and start planning YOUR family’s next adventure.

Ian Hughes, Melanie Roberge, Sean Hughes, and Juliet Hughes in their Sprinter Van

Tell us a little bit about your traveling home — the Sprinter van! How big is it? Where do you all sleep? Is there a kitchen? Bathroom?

Ian: So our Sprinter van is fully decked out with a full size mini kitchen, a lounge area, a cassette toilet, two king size beds and a garage for all our bikes and sports equipment.  Did I mention it’s 23 feet long? Really, who needs more? Well, maybe a real full-size toilet and shower would be nice, but who’s complaining… We are always in shock, and full mental breakdown, when we get home which is a three bedroom “mansion!”

Sprinter Van

Ian: Being a mountain bike coach, I needed a vehicle to work out of, to give out lessons, guide, plan camps and adventures, haul bikes, basically be able to live in it to work. So three years ago, we bought the Sprinter. It’s perfect for us as we can go anywhere, climb service roads to the top of mountain for mountain bike shuttles and get to remote sandy beaches. It has a 6 feet long garage to haul up to 8 bikes,surfboards, extra clothing. And we have a very comfortable living space big enough for the four of us. Four square meters divided by four people equals one square meter each… it’s perfect!

Ian Hughes, Melanie Roberge, Sean Hughes and Juliet Hughes in their Sprinter Van

How long have you been on the road for this particular trip? How many miles have you covered?

Ian: On this trip, we have been on the road for six months (and planning an extra four months before going home.) From Montreal to Todo Santos is approximatively 6000 kms. We started off our trip by driving straight to Utah where we mountain biked Moab (classic, had to show the kids), Hurricane, Virgin and St-George. Then we concentrated our trip to Southern California for a dirt jump and skatepark tour for the kids. Next we packed our bikes in a U-Haul storage unit in San Diego for our Baja trip, where we mainly surf and skate. We’ve been ‘’stuck’’ in southern Baja for the past three months where we are slowly growing roots. Would love to spend more winters here.

La Pastora Beach near Todos Santos, Mexico

Where is “home” (when home isn’t the Sprinter)?

Ian: Home is in Bromont, Quebec, a quaint mountain town in the eastern townships renowned for its mountain bike trails and vibrant community. Our friends and family are all living there, so it’s a perfect place for us during the summer months. It’s just beautiful and 45 minutes away from Montreal. I highly encourage everybody to come for a visit!   

Ian Hughes and Sean Hughes with their Sprinter Van

What do you love about life on the road?

Ian: Our house and vital belongings are all with us. Everything we really need is right here: family, just enough clothes, and our bikes and surfboards.Do you really need any other material possessions? We simplify our life with less clutter. Plus, no matter where our wheels take us, we are ‘’home’’!  Our home can be driven virtually anywhere, drives great and it is very comfortable for the whole family.

Sean: The family is closely knit in a camper van and we spend lots of quality time together. Our house is always right where we need it to be — at the beach, at the skatepark, or at a friend’s house.

Juliet Hughes

Juliet: We make lots of new friends on the road, I love spending time with my big brother, my best friend!

Melanie: I love the freedom! Our house and vital belongings are all with us, all in a tight little 23 feet package. It’s a tiny home on wheels that we take great care of and I love decorating it!

Ian Hughes and Melanie Roberge

Ian and Melanie, how do your jobs translate into life on the road? Are you working remotely?

Ian: Melanie is a kindergarten teacher in Quebec and had already planned to take a sabbatical this year.  She also runs an online business that allows kids with learning issues or need a little help with their schooling to be home tutored by certified teachers. It’s called Coup d’Pouce Études and it’s pretty successful and can be ran from the road. For myself, it’s long combination of factors. Long story short, came out of a pretty deep year long depression in 2018, lost my job, and had to reset and refocus for the next stage of my life. I was a professional mountain bike coach with Team Canada, running a successful development program for young up and coming athletes aged 19 and under. I also have a side business coaching and guiding adults for mountain bike skills development and for bike trips called Bike Skills. I have many projects on the burner, but it will revolve around sharing my passion for action sports, mainly mountain biking but also surfing, teaching and helping kids learn and develop through sports, and helping guide people into a healthy and active lifestyle, become more present, spend time where it matters with their kids and family, finding themselves through sports, reconnecting with their inner grom!   The future holds something pretty cool, I just don’t know what form it will take yet! 

Kids doing homework on the road

How do the kids keep up with school when they’re on the road?

Ian: Sean and Juliet are very engaged with their homeschooling. They work in a concentrated manner for one hour everyday and they get everything done. We realize that there is a lot of wasted time in formal education, unfortunately, and our kids have no learning disabilities so we are very fortunate. We concentrate our efforts on maths, science and languages. 

Juliet, what is your favorite subject?

Juliet: I really like writing in French and grammar. I find it really fun to express myself. As part of my homeschooling, one of our goals was to do a real life project. What I choose is to launch my online store called My Adventure Art. It’s going to be a family run website/instagram page where we wish to share our local art discoveries while on the road for people to buy. We are meeting lots of cool artists while on the road and we want to encourage people to buy directly from the artisans. It is going to be a really cool project to do!

And Sean, what’s your favorite subject?

Sean: Well, it has to be physical education! But I am really strong in mathematics and I love it. I am in my first year of high school and when I am home, I go to a sport-study program concentrating on free skiing. In the off season, we skate, BMX, slackline and workout. I love school for my friends but nothing beats living in the van and traveling!

Well, it has to be physical education! But I am really strong in mathematics and I love it. I am in first year of high school and when I am home, I go to a sport-study program concentrating on freeskiing. In the off season, we skate, BMX, slackline and workout. I love school for my friends but nothing beats living in the van and travelling!

What’s the hardest thing about living in the van?

Ian: We need our essentials: energy is unlimited with our solar panels, the fuel comes from dinosaurs and is unlimited (just kidding!), but it’s always  a hustle to find water to fill up our 100 liter water tank, and to find a clean place to do our, well, business…. (Thanks Starbucks and Mexican coffee shops, we don’t drink coffee but we LOVE using your facilities!). And working remotely on the road is a challenge, as it’s hard to have our work bubble and concentrate, especially if you need to be creative.  Personal space comes at a premium, especially when having a mental ‘’moment’’.  But the upsides largely make up for it!

Melanie: Our biggest challenges are keeping the van clean and cooking three meals a day on the road, it takes a toll on us! Making and tearing down our beds everyday, a five minute effort can also be a burden, but we love our van neat and clean. We need to practice our tolerance with the other family members, as we are constantly adapting to each others rhythm and our mood swings. Being alone is a luxury. Lastly, when a family member needs to go somewhere, for example the kids have a scheduled activity with friends, we must all go together in our home as a unit.

shoe box for family

Sean: I have to control myself in the van when I have the jitters and need to be active! I am always waking my family early in the morning because I am soooooo happppyyyyyy!!  Hahaha!

Juliet: I am sometimes homesick and miss my ‘’physical home’’.  I miss long hot showers which are a commodity! And going to a clean bathroom is a luxury. And I miss home cooked meals, such as maple syrup, poutine and ‘’paté chinois’’ (A Quebec classic, you can Google it!). Oh and I miss my friends. And Sprinter my dog, we could not bring him because he was still a puppy and was too young to cross the border.

Melanie Roberge

Melanie, the family is bragging about your wonderful pancakes! What else do you like to cook in the van?

Ian: Well, Mel’s pancakes are World Famous! It’s made with lots of love, fancy local organic flour from local farmers in Quebec, blueberries and maple sirup. We can start a food truck and it would be highly successful (maybe we will!). We love eating healthy and cooking, and the Sprinter was built with this in mind, she loves to cook! Other family favorite dishes are curries, no bake energy balls (which are World famous as well), soups and salads, lots of salads! And we love to eat local, so we cook a gazillion taco and ceviche variations with local produce and freshly caught fish, which the kids love.

Family picnic on the beach

How do you choose your destinations? And what made you choose this one (Baja Sur)?

Ian: Very simple. Is it reasonably drivable, is it favorable for our favorite sports (wavy for surfing, snowy for skiing, great mountain bike trails for biking?) Is it warm (especially warm waters and warm climate for surfing) and does it have a great vibe?  As we need to eventually drive back home, so we need to be careful how far south we are traveling. I mean, I would drive down to Costa Rica no problem, but it’s quite a haul to drive back home! Baja has everything we need: drivable distance from home (when staying for more than one month), good surf, excellent Mexican culture, warm climate and warm waters in Baja Sur.

Juliet Hughes

How long have the kids been surfing?

Ian: We’ve been traveling every summer to the Outer Banks in North Carolina since the kids were born. They were playing in the water, boogie boarding, then transitioned with beater boards and then shortboards. We’ve also spent at least two months every year traveling to Central America: Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Sayulita in Mexico, El Salvador and Southern California. With Sean and Juliet, it really started clicking two years ago in Costa Rica where they were able to surf the break with us and get into waves by themselves and surf down the line.

Sean Hughes and Juliet Hughes surfing in La Pastora

What’s the next stop for the Hughes family? 

Ian: We want to stay in Baja for as long as possible to get surfing out of our system, as we’ll be landlocked until next winter, but we have a fabulous bike season ahed of us!  We’re planning to hit all the south swells spots in Baja this spring: the East Cape, the Seven sisters and Scorpion Bay. By May 1st, we’ll be moving north. First stop will be visiting new friends in the San Francisco area, then move to Oregon and Washington State, mainly for mountain biking but also for hiking. Then (after a couple of coaching engagements between Squamish and Whistler BC) we’ll make our way back east, stopping in Saskatchewan (of all places!) for mountain bike coaching clinics. Then a quick three days of driving and we’ll be back home in our casa without wheels, dreaming of our next destination…

See you on the road!

Juliet Hughes and the family Sprinter van

Follow the Hughes family and their traveling adventures on @sprinterdreams!