My Summer Vacation or How to Survive 32 Days with Your Family in a Travel Trailer

IMG_1206And so, we did it.  3 people (including an 18-year-old). 32 days.  84 sq. feet of space. 7 National Parks. 5031 miles.  It had been a dream for the past year, but I admit, as our departure drew closer, I was a little afraid it would turn into something of a slightly scarier variety.  After all, we have never had our trailer out for more than 3 days at a time.  And while we like each other, this was taking closeness to a whole new level.

As it turns out we had an amazing time.  We saw places that are beautiful beyond comprehension.  We laughed more than we bickered.  We ate a lot of yummy things not typically on the diet (yep chicken fried steak and huckleberry ice cream).

So here are the top 10 things I learned about not just surviving, but actually thriving through this kind of experience.

  1. Agree on Your Goals

I tend to be a Type A vacationer.  My perfect day starts with the 6-mile sunrise hike, takes in a museum in the afternoon, finds a place with live music for dinner and ends with s’mores around the campfire.  My husband and son are slightly more chill.  So, it was important to remind ourselves (OK remind me!) what the purpose of the trip really was.  In our case, it was pretty simple – spend time together.  Miss a sight because the navigation took us on 45 miles of dirt back road that led nowhere.  OK, we were together through the bumps.  Too hot or too much rain to see something I had been counting on.  OK hanging in the camper or going to the movies is still togetherness.  In your quest to have a great time, don’t forget what really makes for a great time.

These are the moments I was craving
  1. Accommodate Family Member’s Idiosyncrasies

For my husband, it is a cold Diet Coke with ice first thing in the morning, so we made sure to have a good cooler and made frequent stops to fill it.  For me, it is at least one non-fried meal every few days.  For my teenager, it is not going too many days without being able to connect with friends through Wi-Fi or text.  Despite ads to the contrary, most campgrounds do not have reliable internet so every few days we needed to find some café or restaurant we could park in for a while.  While you are trying to get away from the trappings of your everyday life, remember there are some things you still need to function!

My son said his favorite times were when we were just hanging out playing frisbee
  1. Stock Up on Ikea Bins

Genius way to make sure everybody keeps their stuff organized and in their own space.  Critical when your living space is less than the size of most apartment bathrooms!

2 boxes each for clothes and 2 for shoes
  1. Collect Something Together

Figure out something to seek out, collect and remember the trip by.  For us it became the National Park Vintage postcards and window stickers.  It just gave us another fun quest to pursue and talk about.  It was even a little competitive to see who could find new ones first.  Now we are having fun brainstorming ways to display them in the trailer.

It was fun tracking down these postcards and window stickers
  1. Download Audiobooks

Best. Tip. Ever. There were a few days when even after driving 5 or 6 hours we did not want to get out of the van because we were in the middle of a good chapter.  It also gave us something fun to talk about over dinner.   We listened to mostly action adventures by Preston and Child and Douglas Richards but I even managed to sneak in chapters of a few more substantive books like Francis Collins’ The Language of God and The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday.

One of the many beautiful roads we traveled
  1. Break Up the Rhythm

Our hope was to see 6 National Parks (we actually made it to 7) What we realized, however, was that between the glorious hikes and taking in the scenery, we needed a change of pace.  It actually is possible to get a little numb to all the beauty.  We learned to take break days.  Sometimes that meant hanging out in a close by town like Missoula or Jackson.  Sometimes it meant just spending the day hanging at our campsite playing games and doing laundry.

Hanging Out Time.

7. Don’t Think You Have To Do Everything 

Following #6 meant giving up some of the plans we had set.  This was stressing me out until my very wise husband said “Stop thinking of this as the only time you will ever be here. Think of this as a scouting trip for things you want to come back later and do.”  Somehow that idea helped me relax and focus more on what we were doing and less on what we might be missing.  Even if I never make it back to Zion I still have great memories and I can dream about hiking up Walter’s Wiggles sometime in the future.

One of the places I plan to go back to

8. Let Your Teenager Sleep in As Much as Possible

Our kids are under so much stress and definitely sleep deprived.  While I admit, I drug my son out early for a few morning hikes and bike rides I tried to satisfy my need for seeing sunrises without making it a family mandatory.  I wanted this to be a trip he enjoyed, not one he endured.

At least I got to see the sunrise!
  1. Have Some Personal Time Projects

Make sure you take personal things to work on.  There are the inevitable bad weather days and you do need occasional breaks and you really have to have some alone time to stay sane.   For me it was writing, for my son it was sketching and doing some computer art, for my husband it was having some trailer improvement projects to work on.

My morning ritual
  1. Don’t Eat the Asparagus

When you are living and sleeping in really close quarters its important to respect your roommates!

It was great and I’d do it again.  I hope for any of you who are saying “hmm I’d like to try that” you won’t hesitate – or rather, that you won’t let your hesitations stop you!

In the words of Walk Whitman “I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me.”


The final mileage

Cammie Dunaway is the author of a new book Fit Matters: How to Love Your Job.IMG_1206

The Games We Played Along the Way

Our game selection for our most recent trip

One of the things our family loves to do on camping trips (well actually any time) is to play board games.  There is just something really fun about sitting around the table in our camper arguing a little and laughing a lot, over who has the superior strategy.  On our travels we always enjoy tracking down game stores and finding new games to purchase and play.  That way many of our games combine memories of both heated competition and fun trips we have shared.

We purchased Kabaleo on a summer day in Copenhagen and played it there in an outdoor cafe.  Smallworld is from a game store in Scotts Valley, CA purchased on one of our many trips to Costanoa.  On this trip we stumbled into a great store,  Retrofix Games in Missoula, Montana and picked up a copy of a Kickstarter funded game called Artifacts, Inc.

I’ll start with that one and tell you a bit about some of our favorites.

Artifacts Inc.

Artifacts Inc.  was created by Ryan Laukat and funded through Kickstarter in 2014.  It is a strategy game for 2-4 players where you compete to grow the most famous archeology company.  The package says it takes about 60 minutes to play but it took us much longer the first time since the cards are a bit complicated.  Basically the game consists of rolling dice and making decisions about searching for or purchasing artifacts and then selling them to museums.  Based on your actions you gain reputation points and the person with the most reputation wins.  The artwork is beautiful and I liked the archeology context.  We found the various actions on the cards a little hard to keep track of and as a result, each person took a long time on their turn and the other players got a little disengaged. 

We will play some more but I don’t want think this will be a long term favorite.

Sushi Go Party

Sushi Go, on the other hand, is one of our all time favorites.  It’s fast (typically 15 – 20 minutes) and easy to carry and play anywhere.  While it is quick to learn, the game has tons of adaptions that keep it interesting.  We started with the regular version a few years ago and recently upgraded to Sushi Go Party which provides new cards and a nice game board.  In this game you are eating at a sushi restaurant and trying to grab the best sushi dishes as they go by.  You start with a set of cards and then decide one to keep and pass the rest. There are lots of different ways to win and to block your opponents so it never gets dull.  A great choice when you need a quick gaming fix.


Qwirkle is a tile based game for 2-4 players.  There are beautiful wooden tiles, each painted with one of six colors in one of six shapes.  The goal is to gain points by creating rows of tiles that share one attribute.  It kind of feels a bit like dominoes.  This one requires more luck than strategy, which may be why I like it so much.  Oh yeah, also because this is the one I win the most!

Ricochet Robots

This is a relatively unknown game and one our family (or at least 2 out of 3 of us) really likes. It is essentially a puzzle game in which the robots must be moved to selected locations in as few moves as possible, working within strict constraints.  It is unusual because everyone works on the same puzzle at the same time with the goal to be the person to solves it first and in the fewest moves. Each game consists of 17 puzzles and the person who solves the most wins.  In our family my son typically gets all the puzzles before I have even developed a strategy.  My  objective is to simply keep up.  If I am first in solving even one puzzle I count it a huge win.  Great game to help kids develop problem solving skills.


Suburbia is a tile playing game where you are planning and building your own town.  The goal is to balance the growth of businesses, civic and residential features so that you are profitable and can attract the most residents.  I like that there is not one strategy that always wins.  I might be successful focusing on building a really nice community with features like movie theatres and lakes in one game and then in the next, my husband will triumph with heavy factories and slaughterhouses.  This makes it fun to play again and again!  The main challenge with Suburbia is that you do need a pretty good chunk of time to play.  Our games typically last at least 90 minutes.

Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride is another game that takes awhile to play, but is always fun.  The objective is to connect cities with trains and complete a series of goals known only to you.  You score points based on the number and length of your trains and on how many goals you conplete.  Depending on your mood you can really cause problems for other players or play nice.  We recently purchased the expansion pack so now we have even more routes.  We have played this with tons of different people and have yet to find anyone who didn’t enjoy it.

Kodama:The Tree Spirits

Kodama: The Tree Spirits is another recent game funded through Kickstarter.  It is super visually appealing with illustrations of trees and cute forest creatures.  Players attempt to cultivate trees with the right mix of flowers, insects and branches to attract Kodama tree creatures.  This one is pretty relaxing and creative.


The final board game we ended up playing on this trip was given to me by a friend whose family loves games as much as mine.  The unique part of Hanabi is that it is a cooperative game.  You work together to create colored fireworks (Hanabi means firework in Japanese.). You know the other player’s cards but not your own and have to communicate with bits of information to control the play and avoid blowing up the firework too quickly.  It actually reminds me of team work exercises I have done at offsides.  It’s a fast, portable game which makes it perfect for trips.

Finally, a quick shout out to car games.  I keep a box in the van for long boring stretches of road or for taking into restaurants.  Worst Case Scenerio typically makes us laugh with questions like “How do you protect your eyes after a volcano erupts?” You are given 3 answers to chose between.  In this case “wear a motorcycle helmet and scuba diving mask” ( I swear!). Over Under is basically a trivia game.  Theories is another question based game based on sometimes scientific, mostly weird theories about the world.  And of course I can always threaten my family with pulling out the Conversation Cards.  I can get them to do almost anything under threat that the alternative is to have to answer questions like “What historical person would you like to invite for dinner?”  

I hope you enjoy trying some of these out.

Lassen Volcanic – The National Park You Probably Don’t Know

Views of Lassen and Loomis Peaks
Once you start visiting National Parks it becomes a bit of an obsession to see as many as of the 59 as you possibly can.  You start “collecting” the experiences along with the prerequisite t-shirts, postcards and Jr Ranger stamps.  Despite being only 6 hours from our home, I had never even heard of  Lassen Volcanic National Park and had not made it part of our road trip plan.  This all changed when I saw it on a park map in a book we bought at the Grand Canyon, and realized it was just an hour off of our route home down I-5.

IMG_3456 (1)

Lassen, which is about an hour from Redding, California was the scene of a massive volcanic eruption in 1915 and became a full fledged National Park in 1916.  While it enjoys National Park status it appears to not enjoy  the same funding of the other parks we visited.  I read that a senator once said, “it should not cost anything to run a volcano.”  That being said, the information I could find promised lots of cool features like bubbling lakes and hot springs viewed from the boardwalk through Bumpass Hell.  As well as the opportunity to climb up and peer into a cinder cone at Prospect Peak.  Alas, when we got to the park we found that much of it, including those sights, was still inaccessible due to remaining snow.

Manzanita Lake
We were able to take a nice hike around Manzanita Lake which has lots of wildlife and lovely views of both Lassen and Loomis Peak.  You can canoe or paddle board, or like us, just enjoy skipping rocks and  scrambling around on the fallen trees.

One of the many birds in the Park

We also did a short hike through an area called Devastated Area.  It includes lots of interpretive signs about the effects of the 1915 eruption as well as some of the huge hot lava rocks that rolled miles away from the volcano’s crater.

Davis on one of the “hot” rocks

 We ended up only staying a few hours but I definitely plan to return when the snow has melted and more of the park is open.  For all my California friends, I think this is a great, close to home place to see a lot of the thermal features associated with Yellowstone.  And it’s a lot less crowded!

Meanwhile I earned my sticker!


Stops Along the Way Part 2 – Wyoming and Montana 

Cathedral of Saint Helena in Helena, Montana
When you are driving 350+ miles a day pulling a trailer you need some stops along the way (other than McDonalds).  Sometimes ours have been silly (I’m looking at you Oregon Trail museum in Montpelier, Idaho) sometimes inspiring.  Here’s a few favorites in Wyoming and Montana.

Afton, Wyoming is home to the world’s largest elkhorn arch.  It is made of 3011 elk antlers and spans across 4 lanes of US Highway 89.  I guess we all need something to be proud of and hey it is a pretty long way, with not much to see, when you are coming up into Wyoming from Utah.

Jackson, Wyoming actually has lots to love and is likely to be more than a pass through, but there’s one place I want to especially recommend whether you are stopping for a week or an hour.  The Teton Boulder Project is a free bouldering park, built by volunteers at the base of Snow King Mountain near downtown Jackson.  You could not ask for a better place to get out of your car and blow off some steam.  And it’s free!

The National Museum of Wildlife Art, outside of Jackson and before you reach the Grand Tetons, is another stop worth making.  There is a wonderful outdoor sculpture trail where you can stretch your legs while looking at beautiful wildlife sculptures set in breathtaking views. Inside there is a vast permanent collection and changing exhibits.  When we visited the museum was featuring a fascinating exhibit of Joel Sartore’s Photo Ark project.  Joel is well on his way to documenting all of the worlds endangered species.  These photos will move you.  Check them out here

Sometimes you just need a shopping stop.  Bozeman, Montana is a great place.  There is a funky, walkable downtown with lots of boutiques, restaurants and bars (this is a college town after all). Found a wonderful art gallery called Altitude and discovered my favorite new jewelry maker, Piper Hugos.  She  makes gorgeous pieces out of cars salvaged from junkyards.  Check her jewelry out at

One of our most special stops was in Helena, Montana.  You know Helena, the capital city that you could never remember on those 5th grade geography tests.  We stopped to see The Cathedral of Saint Helen which was built between 1908 and 1914 and modeled after the Votivkirche in Vienna.  There are 56 stained glass windows with depictions of the Bible from the fall of Adam and Eve through the resurrection of Christ.  My photos don’t begin to do justice to this sacred space.  You can take a virtual tour here

Public piano in downtown Missoula

We ended our Montana time with a short stop in Missoula.  How can you not love a place where people surf waves in the middle of the town, where the art museum is free, the carousel the fastest in the world and there are pianos on street corners just waiting for impromptu concerts.  Next time the stop will be a stay.

Huckleberry Marketing Genius

This week marketers everywhere are celebrating  the genius of their peers with the awarding of Gold Lions at Cannes.  I thought I’d awknowledge another bit of marketing brillance, turning a humble berry into a tourism mania!  Whoever in the Montana Chamber of Commerce came up with the idea to rename the humble blueberry a huckleberry and plaster it on every sign and restaurant menu in the state, has my unabashed admiration.

One of the many stores luring you into huckleberry mania!

At its heart, marketing is about solving problems.  Sometimes they are problems people fully recognize  (like after 4 weeks showering in campground bathrooms, I know I need a long soak in a tub with really good soap!) But frequently the most brilliant marketing unearths needs we were not even aware we have. Here is where the humble huckleberry excels.

It all started with the syrup

It all started with the syrup.  Despite having a perfectly good bottle of maple syrup in my very tiny camper pantry and an indulgent jar of blueberry jam and even fresh blueberries in my micro camper refrigerator, how could I pass up the “wild” huckleberry syrup displayed loving in the KOA general store.  What was this new fruit I was seeing everywhere? (Marketing triumph #1 ubiquitous distribution and signage)

One of the many scoops of huckleberry ice cream I have sampled

From there it was on to huckleberry ice cream almost every night.  After all I  needed to see whose was best.  The guy at the ice cream store near West Glacier told me despite having 20+ flavors, almost 50% of his sales are huckleberry. If that’s not marketing power I don’t know what is!

Huckleberry Margarita

I have had huckleberries in my salad, in the marinade for my BBQ ribs, in my margarita.  I know this is basically a rebranded blueberry but I can’t seem to stop myself.

Huckleberry everywhere!

And of course I need to share this new found obsession with my friends back home!  Huckleberry honey, preserves or taffy anyone?

The huckleberry is even in the licensing game.  Looks like it is the official ice cream of the University of Montana!

So here’s to you Montana marketing genius, whoever you are.  I toast you with my delicious glass of huckleberry lemonade!

Glacier National Park – Majestic Peaks and Tiny Wonders

The East Side of Glacier
From a distance, the peaks of Glacier appear jagged and intimidating.  Staggering in their sharp edges and sheer size.  Everything feels more intense here – the sun, the wind, the huge raindrops.  

The view from Many Glacier Hotel

I was excited to experience Glacier.  It’s our Northern most park in the Continental US so a little harder to get to and less frequented than some of the others.  It’s known for the glacier carved peaks, the clear turquoise lakes and the abundant plant and animal life.

Jackson Glacier

Of course I wanted to see a Glacier, it’s in the name after all.  But it’s not as easy as you would think.  Turns out with global warming only 25 glaciers remain here, down from 150 when Glacier first became a National Park.  Scientists expect they all will have melted by 2030!  Knowing this I felt even more awe when looking at Jackson Glacier.  We did not have time for the 10 hour hike into Grinnell Glacier, designated one of the best hikes in the world.  But it is now officially on the need to return and experience list.
McDonald Lake

Long ago glaciers created the park’s beautiful deep blue glacier lakes, McDonald, Saint Mary and Watertown.  I was mesmerized by our time at Lake McDonald.  The lake is 464 feet deep and absolutely clear.  The native people called it “Sacred Dancing Lake.”  No dancing for us, but some pretty awesome rock skipping!

Rocks in a steam leading into Lake McDonald

The rocks themselves were beautiful colors of purple, red, green, yellow and white.  Worn smooth and perfect for competitions!

McDonald Falls

After playing around the Lake we headed up Going to the Sun Road stopping at sites along the way.  One favorite was the turquoise water of McDonald Falls.

Waterfall along Trail of the Cedars

I was frustrated and disapointed when we encountered the Road Closed sign at Avalanche Creek.  Typically Going to the Sun is completely open by mid June but this had been an unusually  harsh winter and late spring. But the blessing was that this caused us to slow down and walk on a trail we might have otherwise overlooked.  The Trail of the Cedars takes you deep into a forest of cottonwoods, fir and cedars.  You pass a stunning waterfall cut into a narrow gourge.  You notice the moss and ferns and wild flowers.  

Lush ferns along Trail of Cedars

It was nice going slow and appreciating the quiet beauty of the plants around us.  They may not take your breath away like the majestic glaciers, but the tiny wonders can feel you with just as much awe.

We started from both ends of the park and traveled as far as we could but still missed the fantastic section from Avalanche Pass to Siyeh Bend.   Even more reason to return!

Yellowstone Part 2 – The Cool Stuff

A rainbow shimmering across the Upper Falls
I have always associated Yellowstone with its hot springs and geysers but in a park that is larger than Rhode Island and Deleware combined, there are a lot of cool features to experience as well. Namely the 280 waterfalls!

Lewis Falls

We came in the South entrance so our first waterfall was the Lewis fall.  It seemed spectacular at the time, though we came to understand that it is actually one of the more modest falls the park.

Tower Falls

The excitement starts to build at Tower Fall a 132 foot fall near the North entrance.  It is a beautiful area with water tumbling around tall rock spires.  We also saw a bear cub nearby which was of course thrilling and a little scary.

The base of Upper Falls

The excitement really builds when you hit the Upper Falls in the Yellowstone Canyon and watch while water drops 109 feet over volcanic rock.  The roar is almost unimaginable and the sense of power unrefutable.  I could have stood and listened and watched for hours.

The view of Lower Falls from Artist Point

But the big one is Lower Falls.  From Artist Point you get a perfect view of the Yellowstone River thundering 308 feet through the beautiful Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  This is the place that will leave you breathless and as one of the early explorers said,  aware of your “inability to cope with or even comprehend the mighty architecture of nature.”

Pulling our trailer already alongside the June snow!

So while my friends at home were coping with unseasonable 90+ temperatures it was great to breathe in the cool air around the waterfalls and even enjoy throwing a few snowballs!

Yellowstone Part 1 – The Hot Stuff

Our oldest National Park, established in 1872 is home to 300 active geysers, more than anywhere else in the world. These hot spots can’t help but fascinate with their other worldly colors and bubbling caldrons. The omnipresent signs asking you to stay on the paths just seem to add to the temptation.  In fact it seems everyday some tourists wanders off and gets fined or burned.

Like most of the 2.5 million people who visit Yellowstone every year, our first stop was Old Faithful.  It’s a pretty comic scene, probably better for people watching than being inspired by nature.  On cue at the appointed time posted in the visitor center, hundreds of people rush out together, selfie sticks in hand.  It’s actually possible to miss the steaming water shooting into the sky for fear of being trampled by a group of seniors from a tour bus.  We did have lunch in the beautiful Old Faithful Inn which was definitely the best part of that stop.

Excelsior Geyser Crater

Our stop at the Midway Geyser Basin boardwalk was much more enjoyable.  The Excelsior Geyser Crater and The Grand Prismatic Spring, two of the parks largest hot springs, are mesmerizing. The springs are deep pools of blue surrounded by yellow and orange colored rocks.  It was a cool day and you could feel the heat from the steam.  I felt like I had landed right in the middle of a Star Trek episode.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Another interesting place was Beryl Spring. Easy to get too and gurgling with a sound that would strike fear into anyone’s heart!

Beryl Spring

My favorite hot feature, however was Mammoth Hot Springs.  These terraces of travertine are like living sculptures constantly building up as hot water flows along their surface.  You could even see where sticks and other objects had been turned into rock by the rapidly forming travertine.  There is a wonderful maze of walkways and staircases allowing you to wander all through the formations.

Minerva Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs

If pressed for time in Yellowstone bypass Old Faithful and head for the less crowded and in my view more interesting geysers, springs, mud pots and fumaroles.  Then prepare to be amazed and maybe a little intimidated!

Part 2 will cover the cool side of Yellowstone, some of the 290 waterfalls!

Grand Teton’s Beauty Rain and Shine

American geologist Fritnof Fryxell once said, “Irrespective of hour or season, whether viewed on clear day or stormy, the Tetons are so surprisingly beautiful that one is likely to gaze silently upon them, conscious of the futility of speech.”

A rainy view of Jenny Lake

With all due respect to Mr. Fryxell, I had no trouble speaking on our first cold, rainy day in the Tetons but it was less about the majesty of the scenery and more about the need to go shopping for a sweater!

In my flip flops and t-shirt I felt just like those crazy tourists I am always laughing at in San Francisco in the summer!

After shopping in downtown Jackson we braved the 35 degree rain, felt thankful that it wasn’t snowing and went to the Park Visitor Center.  That first day we mostly rode around the park  in the car, though we did stop and check out the lovely Jenny Lake Lodge and had lunch overlooking Jackson Lake in Signal Mountain.

Lake Taggart on a clear day

Thankfully the next day the sun was out and we were able to understand why everyone raves about the beauty of this place.  We did a great hike up to Taggart Lake.  The water is crystal clear with the mountain peaks reflecting across the surface.


Because there has been so much rain and snow the creeks were spilling over their banks, making for some spectacular waterfalls along the trail. I love when you head off on a hike excited about your destination, only to come across something even more delightful along the way.

To me the most impressive thing about the Tetons is the contrasts.  The sharp rocky cliffs viewed from the endless, soft sage meadows, the fields of  flowers lying by patches of late snow.  So many unexpected juxtapositions in the same scene.

So I guess the Tetons ended up captivating me after all.

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