017- Setting Big National Park Goals with American Field Trip

Published by This Indulgent Life on



Sometimes what you need to get you out and start having adventures with your family is to set some big goals! Madison of American Field Trip shares how she came up with her big National Park goals and how it’s changed her family!


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This interview is a little longer than normal because I really enjoyed talking to Madison about her family’s journey. She has so much insight into what it takes to dream big and then make those dreams happen. And after her experience of being both a fast fulltime traveler and taking small trips while being stationary, she gives tips on how to accomplish your own National Park goals!


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Big National Park Goals with American Field Trip | The Bowmans traveled for 18 months to 59 National Parks in a converted bus and now share their journey. Madison shares how setting big goals helped them see places they never imagined. | #nationalparks #travelgoals #intentionalliving #homeschooling #americanfieldtrip #nationalparksites #traveltheunitedstates #USAtravel #schoolbusconversion #skoolie #familytravel #travelingwithbaby #travelingwithtoddlers #travelwithkids



Who is Madison of American Field Trip?

Madison-amercican field trip-edar breaks-23

Madison is a mom of two young children and an avid writer. The Bowman family left their NYC home two years ago to explore the U.S. and visit all 59 national parks. After hitting their 59th 18 months after hitting the road, they decided to expand their goal to include all 419 sites run by the National Park Service. During their national parks trip, they lived in a self-converted shuttle bus, which they now use for shorter trips around the Northeast.



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In This Episode, Madison Covers Their Big National Park Goals and…

travel dreams from american field trip

Where did these travel goals come from?

Madison feels like she’s been a fairly adventurous person, especially in college, but David, her husband, had never had the opportunity. After college, he came home and married Madison right away, got the job, and had the 2 kids… living the American Dream, right? Turns out that while he loved his family he was already starting to feel lost and burned out.

As they talked, Madison discovered that the pressure of providing for the family pared with feeling like they weren’t living their values led to the pivotal conversation that changed the whole direction of their family.


Why national parks and why a bus?

bus conversion-national park goals

During their conversation Madison had him write down his bucket list. She wanted him to rekindle his imagination and sense of hope. On that list, she discovered he had always wanted to own a bus and to see all the National Park Sites in the United States. A better combination couldn’t have been made! So American Field Trip was born. Within a few months, a shuttle bus had been found and bought, they rented out their apartment in New York City, David quit his job, and they began their adventure of renovating their bus in order to live in it for 18 months!



The timing of the National Parks road trip.

The overall timing of their road trip was a bit arbitrary but fueled by the cultural expectation of her oldest needing to be back in time to start kindergarten. Being in New York City everyone put huge expectations on their children to get into great kindergartens and Madison felt she needed to make sure she did the same. That gave them an ending date.

Their start date was a bit more fun. Madison had tickets to see Bette Midler as Hello Dolly and she wasn’t about to miss that show. So in 4 weeks they worked on the bus and waited till March 31st to go to the show. They began their road trip April 1st… nope not an April fools joke!


national park goals- american-samoa- american field trip


Most Memorable National Park Trip Experiences

There are two types of memorable- soul soaring and everything’s gone wrong. Madison shares one of both!

The Painful

Skoolie in olympic national parkShe doesn’t recommend this to anyone. But the hardest part of their trip happened before the trip even began. Once they bought their Skoolie in January (in NYC mind you), they took 4 weeks to renovate it for the family to live on. That’s gutting and rebuilding in 1 MONTH! How did they do it?! She said it was a lot of long days and sleepless nights and it was mentally, emotionally, and physically painful.

At first, all she could see were the mistakes they had made. But in the end, once they moved in she saw how beautiful it really was. Now she’s thinking to the future and thinking maybe they renovate a van!

The Soul Soaring

With no one particular memory in general, the most impactful aspect of their trip was the majesty of nature. Not to mention the learning that happened completely naturally just by being surrounded by nature. Being dwarfed by the Grand Canyon or the Sequoias to bears in Alaska, all impacted and inspired her family.



The Impacts of Their National Park Trip

Creating Empathy & a Sense of Awareness

national park goals- olympic national park

While being inspired by the greatness and vastness of nature she realized how the trip was developing a sense of our place in the world. It was showing the whole family how small they really are in the world, how powerful nature was. When you’re standing next to a tree taller than your apartment building and seeing the plants and animals that depend on that tree, you start to realize the world doesn’t revolve around you.

On the other hand, they would often see trash on the trails and in the campgrounds. In this way, we are big and make a huge impact on our environment. Even with toddlers and preschoolers, they are able to see how a tiny act can have big consequences.


The Thank A Park Campaign

In November 2017, in honor of their National Park Trip and Thanksgiving they started a campaign to bring awareness and gratitude to all the National Park System and all the people that make the parks work. Their trip opened their eyes to how hard fought for these parks were and how these men and women fight every day to continue to preserve these places for generations to come.

This past April, during National Park Week, American Field Trip campaigned again to bring awareness to the hard men and women working to preserve these amazing sites. Go to Instagram and search #thankyouparks to see everyone who has been thankful for the National Park System!



National Park Sites and Working From a List

national park sites-federal-hall

New National Park Site Goals

Now that they’ve seen all 59 National Parks (well 2 were added to the list since, but they’ll get there lol), they are back in NYC and taking on the 419 National Park Sites across the United States. Starting in their area of the North East. From statues to bathing houses there are national park sites all over the country that show you history, science, art, and nature.



Why Goals With a List Works

One thing the Bowmans discovered during their first trip, was that they enjoy working from a list. Not the attitude of just going to cross something off, but instead having definable goals that push you out of your comfort zone. Most of the places they’ve gone to now, they probably never would have discovered if it hadn’t been for their goals of hitting all the National Parks and National Park Sites.


What You Need to Know If You Want To Visit the National Parks

Madison suggests:

  • Just do it! If you have the dream and you have some traction to make it work, then just go for it. There will never be a perfect age or time.
  • Go slower. Instead of looking at the US or the world as a whole, look at focusing on regions. Maybe even consider a home base to come back to and recharge.
  • Fly to Hawaii from Alaska. Even though it’s further, the flights are cheaper.
  • Plan to do American Samoa before or after Hawaii since you fly through Hawaii to get there.
  • Figure out which parks you need to book ahead for, especially in the summer season. Alaska is definitely one area you should plan ahead for!
  • Try not to plan too far ahead though. Leave room for spontaneity and time to enjoy where you’re at.


Listen to Our Squad Abroad’s views on how fast you should travel here!


kids in mud- american field tripWorking and Schooling On The Road VS Being Stationary

Unlike when you’re stuck in a routine of the same places day in and day out, when you’re traveling you are getting continually recharged. Despite life still being life and needing to do work and be a parent. Life still happens when traveling full time, but the difference is your soul is being rejuvenated with each new place and all the family time.


Routines and Kids

The routines that are beneficial to your children are actually beneficial for you as well. The fact your kids get up about the same time every day, need healthy food, need time outside and so on all make travel life, and life in general, more balanced. They also encourage us to get out of our own comfort zones and explore around us.


Adjusting Back to Being Stationary

national park-mesa-verde

While they had looked forward to getting back and having space and time to do things life brings up, but the truth is comfort brings a lack of productivity. They’ve found that the traveling and the excitement of seeing new places actually made them more creative.

At the same time having individual spaces where they can play at will and having a consistent community are the pros of being stationary. She said she felt somewhat selfish to travel without being able to help her friends and family when needed.

In the future, they hope to travel part of the year and be stationary part of the year. This will allow them to have the community they desire as well as enjoy where they’re at without constantly planning for the next destination.


The Decision to Homeschool!

After this trip, the Bowmans realized they wanted to homeschool and gave themselves permission to go against the grain and do something different. I mean what’s more different than living in a converted school bus with no bathroom?! Homeschooling should be a breeze in comparison lol!

Madison is looking to the experts and realizing homeschool allows her to give the kids what research says is vital to the development of children:

  • Reading Aloud
  • Independent Play
  • Time Outside
  • Sleep



Where to Find Madison of American Field Trip

Email: [email protected]  

Website: www.americanfieldtrip.com

Instagram: @theamericanfieldtrip

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theamericanfieldtrip/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUnaHq_k1VJNglV__1jGL2A


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This Indulgent Life, The Podcast!
Mary Cook

Tools, strategies and encouragement to help you parent with confidence. Joyfully-Peacefully-Mindfully




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