Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

From the ‘Burbs to the ‘Burgh

One family’s life-changing road trip – and how it led to a Pittsburgh home.




Photos by Dave DiCello, HDR Exposed
 

We used to be a normal family. With a new house in the ‘burbs, one son, one daughter and one cat, we were a dog away from a Kleenex commercial. Then we gave up normal for a chance at something better.

It started one night when I told my husband, Jared, that I wanted to take a year off to travel, full-time. I’d read about nomadic families online and wanted something similar for us – a life of adventure, minimalism, and quality time together. I was passionate; he was tired. He mumbled something that sounded like agreement and rolled over. A few weeks and several “what if” conversations later, we put our house on the market and started shopping for RVs.

Over the next eight months, we dismantled our perfect life, selling or giving away most of our belongings and quitting our jobs. On June 1, 2011, we moved out of our 3,000-square-foot home and into a 24-foot travel trailer and set out to see the country. Two hours later, the transmission in the decade-old SUV that was pulling our new home failed. As we lurched along the highway toward the nearest service station, I started to wonder if we were crazy.

In less than a year, we’d gone from the prototypical American family to nomadic hippies who were probably ruining our lives. We owned almost nothing and had no plan for our future (beyond an epic road trip).

What the hell were we thinking?

It was a question I’d been asked numerous times. I usually answered with some diatribe about the decline of public schools or my own wanderlust and mortality, most of which was crap – true crap, sure, but superficial compared to the real reason I’d asked my family to abandon everything.

The truth was that our life was pretty good, but I believed it could be better.

Jared worked at a job he hated, and my kids spent their days cramming for standardized tests. Our weekends consisted of long car rides running errands, because our suburban lifestyle meant nothing was within walking distance. We had nice stuff and relative financial security, but we spent most of our time maintaining the status quo.

I wanted to spend my time doing what I loved with the people I loved.

Inspired by stories I’d read and hours of research, we hatched a plan to slash expenses, liquidate possessions, and travel around America while I freelanced to support us. All the spreadsheets indicated we’d be OK for at least a year, and we were pretty sure the future beyond that would work itself out. Probably.

I reminded myself of all that planning and idealism as I lay in bed that first night, wondering how much a new transmission would cost. I acknowledged that I might, in fact, be crazy, but that I also wanted to be brave. A week and $800 later, we set out again for our grand adventure.

For most of the next year, the four of us wandered around America together in our portable home. We drove through 29 states, slept in 40 cities, and put our feet in two oceans. We ate street meat in New York City, hiked in the Grand Canyon, and got thoroughly soaked by the spray of Niagara Falls. We laughed, we loved, and we learned there was a lot we hadn’t known about one another.

It was everything I’d wanted and more.

Then, ten months into our trip, our course was changed again by an early morning phone call. My best friend’s dad had died, a month after being diagnosed with cancer. We drove 1,100 miles over three days to attend the funeral in our Iowa hometown. The unexpected death served as a poignant reminder of why we’d embarked on the journey in the first place: life is too short to go through the motions. It also marked the end of our trip.

It also marked the end of our wandering. Over time, it had become clear that we couldn’t roam forever. We loved the thrill of visiting new places, but we missed having a community to call our own. The kids needed friends to play with – and we needed them to argue with someone new. It was time to find a new home, but where? We knew we didn’t want to go back to our old lives.

We were done with suburbs. I’d always dreamed of city living and our time visiting America’s best had fueled my urban fantasies. However, if we didn’t want to go back to long hours at jobs we hated, we had to consider affordability, too. A hip NYC brownstone was out.

Early in our trip, we’d visited Pittsburgh because a good friend had insisted. We’d fallen in love immediately. The beautiful bridges, kind people, and constant activity charmed us during our month-long stay. I was awed by the Carnegie Museums. Saturday mornings on The Strip felt both urban and bohemian, and I finally saw Wicked – not on Broadway, but at the Benedum Center. I began to fantasize about a Squirrel Hill apartment and afternoon walks at Frick Park.

After we left, we compared everywhere else to the Steel City. San Francisco had better weather but was more expensive; Austin was nice but too sprawling. It was obvious Pittsburgh had captured our hearts, and it seemed to fit the bill of a big city that didn’t require big money.

But could we move there? We’d moved to Florida to escape harsh Midwestern winters. We had no family and very few friends. We knew almost nothing about the area. Everyone we talked to about Pittsburgh looked at us like we were nuts. Pittsburgh? Really?

Yes, Pittsburgh, really, because we gave up our perfectly normal life for a chance at something more. Because we might be crazy, but we also want to be brave. We want to do what we love with the people we love, and there’s no better place for us to do that than in the ‘Burgh.

We know, because we’ve looked.

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Steelers' GM Kevin Colbert Clears the Air on Big Ben

As a franchise QB with Hall-of-Fame credentials and as the only player in the locker room that’s actually won a Super Bowl in a Steelers’ uniform, Roethlisberger is perfectly positioned, Colbert insists, to run the show.

Impossible Burger 2.0 Comes to Pittsburgh

The plant-based meat alternative from Impossible Foods is a significant improvement on its initial offering.

Our Full 2019 Oscar Predictions

Somewhere beneath all the headlines and controversies, there are actual awards to hand out.

The 400-Word Review: Fighting With my Family

The rags-to-riches tale is an easy winner, when it's not a straight-up ad for WWE.

Pittsburgh's New Airport Design: What It Means for Travelers

A key goal of the new terminal at Pittsburgh International is to get passengers to their planes faster.

Defy Winter: 7 Great Ways to Get Moving in March

With spring (hopefully) right around the corner, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy gears up for a month of nature-centered activities.

Now Open Downtown: Magic Done Right

Liberty Magic, the new venue in the Cultural District, is all about perfect presentation.

The 400-Word Review: Paddleton

The Ray Romano/Mark Duplass dramedy is heartbreaking, but absolutely worth watching.

Perspectives: ‘He Wants to Talk to Ms. Betty’

An encounter at a healing garden in Larimer leads the writer to reflect on his own connection to others.

Astroid Brings Dialed-In Coffee to the South Side

Manager Emerson Graham's detailed approach to crafting a beverage makes for a tasty experience.

Watch: The First Episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

The landmark childrens television series was first broadcast 51 years ago this week.

Sweet Designs: Our Cookie Table Contest Winner and Runners-Up

These Pittsburgh couples certainly know how to bring the cookie table tradition to life.

Skip the Gift at this Wedding at the Carnegie Museum of Art

In a romantic twist on its Third Thursday events, the Carnegie Museum of Art is throwing a wedding this week, and everyone in Pittsburgh is invited.

See What Piece of Pittsburgh is Going to the Moon

Of all of the items proposed, this one earned the most votes.

The 5 Best Seats at PPG Paints Arena

From ultra-premium experiences to bargains with great views, here are five perfect places to watch the Pens.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Pittsburgh's New Airport Design: What It Means for Travelers

Pittsburgh's New Airport Design: What It Means for Travelers

A key goal of the new terminal at Pittsburgh International is to get passengers to their planes faster.

Comments

Defy Winter: 7 Great Ways to Get Moving in March

Defy Winter: 7 Great Ways to Get Moving in March

With spring (hopefully) right around the corner, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy gears up for a month of nature-centered activities.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Impossible Burger 2.0 Comes to Pittsburgh

Impossible Burger 2.0 Comes to Pittsburgh

The plant-based meat alternative from Impossible Foods is a significant improvement on its initial offering.

Comments

Astroid Brings Dialed-In Coffee to the South Side

Astroid Brings Dialed-In Coffee to the South Side

Manager Emerson Graham's detailed approach to crafting a beverage makes for a tasty experience.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 5 Best Seats at PPG Paints Arena

The 5 Best Seats at PPG Paints Arena

From ultra-premium experiences to bargains with great views, here are five perfect places to watch the Pens.

Comments

Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Don’t resign yourself to the gym treadmills just yet – fall is one of the best times of the year to get outside and pound the pavement, surrounded by falling leaves and the possibility of grabbing a hot latte on the way home.

Comments


Now Open Downtown: Magic Done Right

Now Open Downtown: Magic Done Right

Liberty Magic, the new venue in the Cultural District, is all about perfect presentation.

Comments

Ten Thoughts While Staring at a Golden Eagle

Ten Thoughts While Staring at a Golden Eagle

Reflections upon encountering Autumn, a four-year-old golden eagle now residing at the National Aviary.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Steelers' GM Kevin Colbert Clears the Air on Big Ben

Steelers' GM Kevin Colbert Clears the Air on Big Ben

As a franchise QB with Hall-of-Fame credentials and as the only player in the locker room that’s actually won a Super Bowl in a Steelers’ uniform, Roethlisberger is perfectly positioned, Colbert insists, to run the show.

Comments

Pens Need More from Malkin More Than Anything

Pens Need More from Malkin More Than Anything

Given what he’s capable of, and what we’ve too often seen instead, Evgeni Malkin has been the Pens’ most under-achieving player.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Our Full 2019 Oscar Predictions

Our Full 2019 Oscar Predictions

Somewhere beneath all the headlines and controversies, there are actual awards to hand out.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Fighting With my Family

The 400-Word Review: Fighting With my Family

The rags-to-riches tale is an easy winner, when it's not a straight-up ad for WWE.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Sweet Designs: Our Cookie Table Contest Winner and Runners-Up

Sweet Designs: Our Cookie Table Contest Winner and Runners-Up

These Pittsburgh couples certainly know how to bring the cookie table tradition to life.

Comments

An Email Spam Filter Delayed their Relationship for Years

An Email Spam Filter Delayed their Relationship for Years

Sometimes, the future love of your life is just around the corner, whether you know it or not.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Upscale Townhouses Slated for Strip District Near Produce Terminal

Upscale Townhouses Slated for Strip District Near Produce Terminal

Part of a three-phase plan, the 3- and 4-bedroom townhouses range in price from the mid-$600,000s up to $1 million.

Comments

Pittsburgh Textile Designer Launches Chic Wallpaper Line

Pittsburgh Textile Designer Launches Chic Wallpaper Line

Savannah Hayes adds six new wallpaper designs to her line of throw blankets, accessories and tea towels.

Comments