After 25 years of successfully growing a small family business into a multinational franchise, Peter van Stralen and his wife Carol decided it was time for a different adventure. So, Peter, Carol, and their three children set out on an Epic Family Road Trip. Seven years, fifty states, ten provinces, and several territories later, the van Stralen family still has a growing hunger for exploration as they set out to see more of the world.
Meet Peter van Stralen
Peter van Stralen is no stranger to hard work and has always been ambitious in the relentless pursuit of his goals. Growing up with 9 brothers and 5 sisters, Peter’s parents always emphasized commitment, diligence, and care for others. As a young teenager, living in Toronto, Canada, he, and his older brother Tim borrowed a lawn mower and started a lawn care business.
Sunshine Grounds Care steadily grew over the years and in 1989 it was officially incorporated. At the time, another van Stralen brother joined, and their single location serviced the Toronto area with 3 trucks. By 2009, all 10 van Stralen brothers were involved in the business and Sunshine Grounds Care had 24 locations across Canada.
After catching the eye of The Dwyer Group, a service-based franchise specialist out of Texas, Peter created an unprecedented arrangement for the Dwyer Group to operate as a separate legal entity and build the franchise across the US. Following the deal, Sunshine Grounds Care was rebranded as the Grounds Guys and the lawn care franchise continued to be successful.
Fast forward to 2015, 25 years after starting the lawn care service, Peter and his wife Carol were extremely busy with their business, while also raising three children. “Our kids were in their mid-teens and Carol, and I knew they’d only be with us for a short time before moving on with their own lives, so we decided to change our lifestyle in order to spend as much time together, as a family, as possible.”
Heading Out on an Epic Family Road Trip
In 2016, Peter officially sold the Grounds Guys to the Dwyer Group, but he and his brothers remained consultants and equity investors and Peter became executive director of Dwyer Group Canada. The Grounds Guys has continued to thrive under the Peter’s principals of C.A.R.E leadership and Peter has since used his 25 years of experience to lead and encourage other executives.
For years, Peter and Carol and dreamed of taking an epic family road trip together. Although it took them years of dreaming and working together to make their goal come to fruition, it was all a part of the journey. The van Stralens were finally able to set out on the adventure of a lifetime, and they attribute a large part of making this dream come true, to setting a clear goal from the very beginning. “Clearly articulated dreams help you make decisions today that will get you closer to your goals tomorrow. Dreaming helps to give purpose and focus despite the struggles of today.”
When Peter, Carol, and their kids first set out on their Epic Family Road Trip, they started with a trek to the summit of South Sister in Central Oregon. It was on this trip that the van Stralens were first introduced to the jaw-dropping beauty of the mountains and their wanderlust grew as they continued find more mountains to climb and new places to explore. “As we get older, we find ourselves taking the time to fully appreciate and experience the wonders all around us.”
Throughout the Epic Family Road Trip, Peter and Carol developed a deep appreciation for the small moments in life from sunsets to sunrises, the cool evening breeze, or even the sound of songbirds. They quickly realized that the best things in life truly are free. In the midst of enjoying nature, Peter’s favorite part of the road trip is the amount of quality time he gets to spend with his family. “I went from being busy in business to being busy as a father, which is what I enjoyed being the most.”
Creating Perfect Overland Set Up for a Family of Five
At the start of the Epic Family Road Trip, the van Stralen’s were living out of a motorhome. They loved the sense of security the motorhome gave them, with four walls and a roof over their heads, it felt like home. Much of their first year’s travelling were spent in the motorhome, traversing through every US state and Canadian province, while stopping at every National Park along the way. As the kids got older, the van Stralen’s began craving more adventure and started looking for ways to get off the pavement and further off grid.
Although they loved their journey in the motorhome, there were so many places they wanted to explore that it just wasn’t equipped to get to. The van Stralens craved being surrounded by desert and endless mountains, with no other people in sight. “That feeling of freedom, adventure and heading into the unknown is one of the reasons we love overlanding so much. Being out there with no distractions, no internet, no rigid plans, just following the line on the map or the trail ahead of us immersing ourselves the wild beauty of the places we’re in.” So, they put the motorhome in storage and moved their family of five into two jeeps and an adventure trailer.
Each jeep, Vandi and Worsley, and the trailer, has a roof top tent, offering plenty of sleeping space for five people. Housed within the trailer is gear storage, a portable shower, and their outdoor kitchen set up including a large fridge, propane tank, and a two-burner stove. Within each jeep there is storage and organization for all of their belongings, as well as other gear and gadgets that allow the van Stralens to make the most out of their overlanding lifestyle.
The van Stralens’ Overlanding Essentials
One of the van Stralens most important essentials for Overlanding, is their water purification system. While spending long periods of time boondocking, it’s difficult to find a tank that has enough water capacity for five people, and with their smaller profile vehicles, water tanks pose a weight issue. Luckily, their LifeSaver Jerrycan gives them “the ability to get fresh, filtered, and purified water from almost any source.” The van Stralen’s are able to find a water source along the way and have unlimited fresh water and drinking water while they’re off grid.
Within and on the outside of the Jeeps and trailer, Alu-boxes are a functional and innovative storage solution that keeps the van Stralens’ gear organized and protected. All Alu-boxes are dust and waterproof, allowing for flexibility with storage inside or outside of the vehicle, optimizing their storage space. They’re perfect for small spaces as they can be easily moved, stacked, or rearranged to fit their needs, depending on what gear they need for their current adventure.
In addition to having lots of storage, its important that the van Stralens plan their travels according to the season and type of gear they bring. While they used to be able to carry a wide range of gear and clothing for any sort of weather, climate, elevation, and terrain, that’s simply not an option anymore. Now, the van Stralens plan their travels around certain climates or seasons, so they can ensure they have the appropriate gear and then they will switch it out before exploring places with vastly different weather. Although planning can be tedious for some, the van Stralens see it as a “fun and important part of every adventure.”
Remote Boondocking with Battle Born Batteries
Another key part of the van Stralens’ overlanding set up, is there robust electrical system. While running a YouTube and various social media channels off grid, it’s essential for the van Stralens to have plenty of power to charge all of their electronics in addition to their other daily electrical need such as lights, fans, and heaters.
Worsley is equipped with a Goose Gear platform that has easy access compartments that are perfect for the batteries and other electrical components. Their system includes, 4 – 12V 75Ah Deep Cycle LiFePO4 Battle Born Batteries, a 1200w Victron Inverter, solar panels and accompanying components. Since the Battle Born Batteries can be mounted on their side, they fit perfectly in the Goose Gear compartments.
“In terms of practicality, these batteries are much easier to use. They are far lighter than the lead acid batteries. They can be mounted on their side which allows them to fit into a tighter space and they are much easier to maintain and safer to have inside our vehicle.” With a nearly unlimited supply of power the van Stralens are able to run all of the electronics they need to and stay off grid for much longer periods of time.
Full-Time Travel with Three Teenagers
The ability to have unlimited power, allowing the van Stralens to get out there farther and stay out longer, also lends itself to more quality time as a family. Peter and Carol love that their lifestyle allows them to spend so much time creating memories with their children. “We consider it a great privilege to be able to spend so much time together doing what we all love.”
Peter and Carol have three children: their daughter Caroline who is 22, and their sons Peter Jr. and Dan who are 20 and 18 respectively. While all of the kids are adults now, much of Peter and Carol’s time on the road has been spent with teenagers. Although this could have been exceptionally challenging, Peter and Carol used their travels as a way to build strong communication channels with their kids. Additionally, the kids have been able to contribute to the cost of travelling by learning the skills of videography and editing to build a successful YouTube Channel.
While most wouldn’t choose to live out of a couple of Jeeps with 3 teenagers, Paul and Carol love every part of being able to travel full-time as a family and give their kids unparalleled experiences. “This lifestyle has exceeded our expectations in terms of building character and overcoming adversity together as a family. Challenging ourselves to thrive despite tough conditions has brought us all closer together as a family and created a lifetime of memories and wonderful experiences together.”
The Joys of Overland Travel as a Family
For the van Stralens, every part of their overland lifestyle brings them joy as they get to explore new places, together as a family. Some of their favorite things to do as they adventure off grid include hiking, snowboarding, mountain biking, and most other outdoor sports. In every season, there are always new and different ways for them to get out and enjoy nature.
Although it’s nearly impossible for them to pick a favorite place, the historic Alaska highway and Tofino are some of their recent favorites. Anywhere that has access unspoiled nature, whether on the coast, in the mountains, surrounded by desert, or somewhere in between is likely to get added to the list of favorites as well. “Every place we visit has its own special meaning and memories associated with it. It seems like every new place we visit becomes our favorite.”
In 2019, the van Stralens added more joy to their overlanding lifestyle when they picked up their German Shorthaired Pointer puppy, Lando. Named after Dan and Peter Jr.’s favorite book character, Orlando Sackett, Lando has become the perfect adventure buddy and a great travel companion. In addition to the many skills learned from raising a puppy, Lando has become a part of the family and the van Stralens couldn’t imagine their travels without him.
What’s Up Next on the Epic Family Road Trip?
Over the last 8 years of traveling, the van Stralens have been across every US state, every Canadian province, and even several territories. They’ve traversed across North America from Newfoundland to Alaska, as far south as Baja Mexico and even all-over New Zealand. Despite the vast amount of places they’ve traveled, there is a seemingly endless list of places they still want to travel.
Recently, while the kids were filming a Nordic Series with Expedition Overland, Peter and Carol traveled all the way to the north coast of Canada to the village of Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean. After previously traveling from the Atlantic coast of Newfoundland to the Pacific coast of Tofino, Peter and Carol were excited to reach their third coast on the Arctic.
Following the trip to Tuktoyaktuk, Peter and Carol and the kids will be spending some time in their off grid cabin this winter. They’re looking forward to being on the remote island in Ontario, Canada and trying to enjoy the Canadian winter rather than heading south to escape the cold. While they’re at the cabin, the van Stralens will be planning gout their upcoming travels. Next, they’re hoping to head to South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana, followed by some time travelling around Europe.