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From 3,000 Sq. Ft. in Texas Suburbia to Trawler Boat Life: Family of 5

Chris and Jolene have three preteen boys, and the family used to do the typical suburban rat race of tons of sports and activities, work 9 to 5, and a zombie-like existence trying to afford a 3,000 square foot cookie-cutter home.

Then, about two years ago, Chris sold his company and the family searched for the perfect boat to begin their life on the water. Now they enjoy travelling to islands in the Caribbean, “boatschooling,” and experiencing all the chaos and wonders of boat life!

Jolene shared some wonderful reflections on why they went tiny in our Q&A with her, so be sure to read more below and take the video tour of their houseboat. You can follow the family on Instagram here.

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Family W/ 3 Preteen Boys Travel Caribbean in Trawler

From 3,000 Sq. Ft. in Texas Suburbia to Trawler Boat Life: Family of 5 9

Images via Wandering Knapps

One of her sons was afraid of the water before boat life!

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Images via Wandering Knapps

Living room area.

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Images via Wandering Knapps

Back deck family area.

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Images via Wandering Knapps

Master bedroom area.

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Images via Wandering Knapps

Spot for everyone to eat (including their cats).

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Images via Wandering Knapps

They always have a view!

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Images via Wandering Knapps

Could you do the boat life?

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Images via Wandering Knapps

Interview with Jolene

What are your names?

Chris (dad), Jolene (mom), Carter (12), Chase (10), and Caleb (9). We have 5 people aboard our boat MV Illuminate and 2 cats, Cheddar and Tiger. (MV= Motor vessle)

How long have you lived tiny?

We sold our home in Texas in May of 2019 and traveled coast to coast boat shopping living in and out of hotels and condos till we moved aboard in Sept of 2019 in Key Largo FL.

What do you do for work? Or do you travel full-time?

Chris sold his salvage yard business in Texas to move on a boat and while in FL he worked as a snorkel, parasail, SNUB guide. Jolene stays home and homeschool “boat schools” the 3 boys.

In September 2020 Chris quit working and we have begun full time traveling. We crossed the Gulf Stream in October and have been traveling the Bahamas since.

What are you hoping to get out of living tiny/small?

We are hoping to get so many memories out of living small. Learning to focus our time and resources on memories with our family rather than things that won’t last. We also want to experience more than the rat race, and the boys see things from an on hand experience rather than in text books within 4 white walls.

Describe your decorating style and philosophy.

As far as decorating and decor…. we keep things really simple. We use floor coverings and window coverings with blue tones, but they are mostly for a purpose not just for looks. The rugs make it so we don’t slip while dripping wet, and the window curtains keep the blazing heat from the sun down. We love baskets so items don’t fall and topple everywhere when we cruise and make long passages.

What inspired you to choose a boat (rather than say a tiny house or a bus)?

We wanted to live small, get rid of debts and live free. We highly considered buying an RV, but we were just drawn so much to the cultures of the Caribbean. We took a few cruises on large ships and fell in love with the people of the islands and the slow pace of life island life brings. From one tiny seed planted we changed our dream many times from moving to an island, to where it is today, buy a boat so we can travel and see all the islands, not just 1.

We may not always live on a boat, but we sure love the less stress and low maintenance of small living and over accumulation of stuff.

What are bills/utilities like compared to before?

On a boat there are NO utility bills. We have systems. We get our power from our batteries which are charged by our generator or engines. We don’t have solar yet, but we will add it this summer when we revisit Florida, having things shipped into other countries has proven to be less than ideal. We burn 4 gal an hour while cruising at 8knots.

When we stay at anchor, which is the majority of the time we burn 1/2 gal of diesel and hour running our generator, which needs to be on about 4 hours a day in order to provide enough charge to fully charge our AGM (newly shipped into the Bahamas by the way) batteries.

The negative about no utilities is talking to banks and post offices, they usually ask for proof of residency using utility bills. (We have found this to be a challenge too. Many establishments don’t have a guide book yet about leading and providing services to those who live on a boat.

Before going tiny, what was life like?

Before we moved about MV Illuminate we had a 3,000sq ft home in suburbia Texas. Our neighborhood was like many, the homes all cut from the same mold, everyone going to work and coming home like zombies, the routine ruled our lives.

Kids did everything the same, we all met at the fields on Saturday for sports games and shopped at Costco in the afternoon and walked the dog to the park, while kids played on the playground.

The school pushed clubs, activites, grades and test scores. (not that those are bad, but not everyone is the same) We wanted our kids to see there is more to life than getting a “good” job, which usually means you make a lot of money, just to buy a big house like we had, only to never use half of the space.

Our life was very easy. Nothing was a surprise, the routine was all we knew. We could have stayed in suburbia and enjoyed the “normal” life forever, never experiencing the adventure that we have.

We always tell people we can always go back to the rat race. It will welcome us back at any moment. I guess you can say it was more than just moving to tiny living for us, but rather changing our whole perspective, allowing us to see the world through locals in different cultures and countries without the race rat bearing it’s head down on us daily challenging our need for keeping up with the Jones’s.

Is there anything about your old life that you miss?

We don’t miss anything about living in our big old Texas suburban home other than the people, friends and community we had. We are learning it’s all about people. They matter more than any of the stuff we accumulated.

Our benefits of living tiny on a boat out way any of the hardships. We have all grown closer than ever on land, we don’t have the constant distraction of sports, events, activities and business that took up our tine from enjoying each other. We have met others with a like minded approach to life at each anchorage and learned about the world through locals on other islands.

We now have friends from all over the world. We have seen our boys especially learn about things they wouldn’t have in 4 brick walls, and overcome fears that have shaped and grown us into a much more confident person. Our oldest son was scared of the water, never wanted to snorkel, or swim in the salt water. There was no way he would put on a snorkel or mask, lead alone fins… goodness. But after a year, he has overcome all these fears and even wants to become a marine biologist and study coral reefs. This would have never happened had we stayed in our suburban bubble. These experiences give way to more opportunity than just learning about it in a book for a grade.

What about some challenges?

Living on a boat has many many challenges. It’s on the water for one thing, and the water is unforgiving. It doesn’t care if you like it calm, swell, waves, current and wind change daily and we are constantly moving for weather. Weather practically runs our life.

If it’s windy from one direction we move to find shelter. It doesn’t matter if we wanted to stay, we need to be safe first and foremost. Hurricanes are a big consideration for people, but we aren’t scared of those either. We know the seasons and locations to stay clear from and if things turn for the worst, we always have a plan B, C and D.

We have been in hairy situations and conditions we did NOT like. We have had things fall off the boat, break and heel over more than we’d like to admit, but it’s all a learning curve and it’s all from the power of the water. We are also challenged by the constant repairs required by the boat. She is always breaking something. A belt, a hose, and clamp, needing an oil change, a flush, charged, and more, the list is unending. We have found it doesn’t matter what type of boat or how new, things always deteriorate and break.

Despite all the challenges, it’s a very special place not because of what it is, but because of what it provides and allows. We are given the freedom and opportunity to travel with our home always with us, to see the most remote beautiful places that most others could only dream of.

We are given the opportunity to meet others and share in the excitement, joys and struggles we all face. We will always love this season of life. No matter what hardships, there is always something to look forward to.

What is your favorite part of your boat?

My favorite part, Jolene (mom), is the back deck. We find ourselves congregating here much of the time. Either for early morning coffee with a view, sunsets with friends, family games or dinner. We always use this space for making memories.

What helpful advice would you give to others interested in going tiny?

For those thinking about going tiny or living on a boat. We always say, try it, the rat race and home ownership will always welcome you back with open arms, but these opportunities are once in a lifetime. It’s scary to do something different than the majority of people. We have found whether it’s selling everything, facing the open ocean or using a snorkel, the most joy is right on the other side of your fears. Take the plunge. You’ll never know unless you try.

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Our big thanks to Jolene for sharing! 🙏

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Natalie C. McKee

Natalie C. McKee is a contributor for Tiny House Talk and the Tiny House Newsletter. She's a wife, and mama of three little kids. She and her family are homesteaders with sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and quail on their happy little acre.

Latest posts by Natalie C. McKee (see all)

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Theresa Perdue
    March 20, 2021, 1:11 pm

    What an idealic life. In my book they are very brave to live this kind of life but oh the memories they will have 😍! And I have to say those are some really cute kids. I will definitely be following them on Instagram.

  • Marsha Cowan
    March 20, 2021, 9:18 pm

    Wow! Pretty amazing life! I don’t know much about boats or living on the water, but I understand getting away from the rat race and learning new places and people. I know your boys will grow up with richer memories as a result of your adventures. God bless you and safe travels.

  • Richard Lynn Herrington
    March 20, 2021, 10:40 pm

    I would enjoy living like that… but with no wife… no kids… and no dog or cats.

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