Jennie Enloe gave the returning workers big hugs, then started to clean the Hideaway Speakeasy, the Minnesota State Fair concession she runs with her husband, Bryan, in the grandstand. Nearby, their two youngest sons raced a remote-control truck through the cavernous, empty building, which would soon be packed with fairgoers and vendors.
It was late July, and the Enloes were home in Minnesota to prepare their booth in between stints at state fairs in North Dakota and Iowa. This year, however, home means something different for this family of concessionaires.
In January, they decided to put their White Bear Lake house on the market, sold or gave away most of their possessions, and began driving the country, selling pizza at fairs and livestock shows. By June, the house had closed, the storage facilities were emptied and they had downsized from a 3,300-square-foot “sticks and bricks” house to a 260-square-foot RV.
Now, home is on the road for the Enloes and their two little ones. (The pair’s three older sons are grown and living on their own.) Already, they’ve logged more than 14,000 miles and peddled pizza at nine fairs.
Jennie has taken on the role of teacher for Grant, 6, and Danny (nicknamed Caboose), 5. They’re being “roadschooled,” with lessons and field trips inspired by their travels. Their English Labrador, Midway Barker, and two pet parakeets are along for the ride.
They are one of thousands of families across the country deciding to buck the norm, squeeze life into an RV and hit the road. While it’s difficult to determine if their numbers are growing, those living a nomadic life are more visible as social media popularizes tiny houses and #vanlife.
Of course, the fantasy of running away from home to join the circus has endured for centuries. But actually taking that leap with young kids isn’t easy. There’s learning how to share a small space and live with little while providing consistency and a sound education for the kids.
But the Enloes have found community and support through Fulltime Families, a national network with 28,000 Facebook followers and about 1,500 dues-paying members. The network was started in 2010 by young families that want to RV year-round while their kids are young instead of taking the more traditional route of waiting until retirement.
Occasionally, the Enloes will run across someone who questions their choice, asking why they would give up their home. Jennie calmly responds that their 35-foot Forest River travel trailer is their home. And explains that for the littlest Enloes, much about life stays constant, even as their backyard changes. Bedtime stories at night, morning chores and, every Tuesday, pancakes shaped like dinosaurs.
Jennie has been documenting their adventures on Instagram as @Enloes.On.The.Go, with hashtags like #carniekidsadventures, #homeiswhere youparkit and #fulltimetravel.
When asked if he misses his old room, Grant shook his head furiously.
“Not even one bit!” he said. “We get to have fun wherever we go.”
The Enloes may be better suited than most for life on the road. Bryan grew up in a Texas family of concessionaires. Since he was 14, he spent each summer selling funnel cakes and pizza at fairs around the country with his parents, who worked as teachers. He took to the carnival life so well that he stayed with it: This will be his 25th year working at the Minnesota State Fair.
“We always came to Minnesota in the summer,” he said, “and that’s how I got to love Minnesota.”
Less stuff, more fun
Bryan jokes that the weather helped them decide to pull up roots. The windchill in the Twin Cities dipped to 55 below as they finalized their plans. But it was the need to be together that drove the change.
For nearly a decade, he had been away for months at a time, running their mobile Leimons Pizzeria concession, while Jennie and the kids stayed home. They tried to join him for spring break and summer, but the separation proved hard for the family.
“We needed to recalibrate,” said Jennie. “We were all over the place trying to do everything and we’d go five, six months a year separated. And our family lost focus for a while.”
Now, they are sharing adventures — and very close quarters.
They say they miss friends and neighbors back in Minnesota as well as the ease that comes with being in one place. A day of driving can leave the boys full of pent-up energy. They rely on premium forwarding from the Postal Service and make do with no-bake peanut butter squares instead of cake for celebrations.
Still, they’re happy with the trade-offs so far. And not even the kids report missing the toys, furniture, clothes and other possessions they jettisoned.
“The more you let go of, the happier you are,” said Jennie. “We have all the things we need.”
In addition to building their academic skills, Jennie is trying to teach her kids, who are at kindergarten and first-grade levels, how to behave, how to be kind and how to fit in with the world. Her mother-in-law, a former teacher, helped Jennie develop a curriculum. She also looks for learning opportunities everywhere they go.
“It’s just loving your kids and giving them all the experiences you can, the things that they can see, that are tangible,” she said. “We like to read about what we’re going to see next week.”
While their dad tossed pizzas at the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show in Mercedes, Texas, the boys learned about different shark species on South Padre Island with their mom. At the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, they saw an alligator show and spent time with Food Network Carnival Eats host Noah Cappe. (Grant, who wants to be a television reporter someday, filmed a spot with Cappe.)
At the North Dakota State Fair in Minot, the boys helped Jennie give the RV’s interior a new coat of paint as Tim McGraw played the grandstand. Outside the fairgrounds, a stop at the Scandinavian Heritage Center spurred an obsession with Hans Christian Andersen, whose fairy tales have been added to the library of audio books they play as they drive.
No end date
After serving pizza in the Minnesota State Fair’s Food Building for many years, they opened the Hideaway Speakeasy in 2017. It’s a Prohibition-era-themed restaurant with sandwiches, shareable platters, craft beers and Minnesota wines in the remodeled grandstand area called the Veranda.
At most fairs, Jennie and Bryan tag team watching the kids and running the business, including managing a team of staffers who travel with them. Grandparents are stepping in to babysit during the Great Minnesota Get-Together, though.
This isn’t just another fair for them. It’s where Bryan proposed in 2011, putting the ring atop a cupcake from French Meadow Bakery (lavender-flavored, Jennie’s favorite).
Once the fair season winds down, the Enloes plan to meet up with other full-time traveling families in Texas for a STEAM-based (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) learning rally.
“The kids get their little tribe and children who actually understand their lifestyle,” Jennie said.
For now, there’s no end date to their adventures on the road.
“Our older three have graduated and grown and flown — it was time to just really enjoy these little ones at this small age,” she said. “It’s completely open-ended, as long as it works for us.”