I grew up in a small town in Northern Alberta called Slave Lake, but never spent a full summer there. With family in British Columbia and Washington State, my parents were eager for me to spend time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to see the world that was a bit bigger than my hometown. To connect with family, we would do weeklong holidays on the road. My mom, dad and brother, and I would travel with our pop-up tent trailer, leaving early, stopping at sights along the way, talking, crawling in the back of our station wagon to watch the road behind us (it was the 80s) and always listening to music along the way–Randy Travis, Juice Newton and Fleetwood Mac (whose song “Rhiannon” which I was named after) always remind me of those days. We would stop in the mountains, at lakes, and towns along the way. What I remember most about those times was the true connection I felt with my nuclear family.
Even though my brother and I left our mom and dad for the summer, I knew the fun we would have with my extended family. My grandparents were up for anything, loved bowling, and any pool they could find, and would drive us to meet family in the United States in their conversion camper van. My grandma drove like she was in a race from one light to the next and the top bed would roll forward and slam back every take-off and break while my brother, cousins and I were just grateful to have seatbelts in the back so we weren’t flying around like the bed!
Once we got to the United States, we had an aunt and uncle who would rent a motorhome and take us on road trips. I will never forget the trips we took south and the many places we visited. Highlights included; Portland to see the submarine my uncle served in the Navy on, exploring the Redwood Forest, coastal towns in Oregon and the beauty of the coast, San Francisco and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, the Santa Cruz boardwalk amusement park, Carmel-by-the-Sea which became a favorite destination and my first experience in Napa/Sonoma wine country. I was too young at the time to drink the wine, but the beauty of each winery and the delicious food definitely planted a seed for what I would love as an adult!
As much as I loved the RV life, I was also lucky enough to be introduced to sailing life at a young age with an aunt and uncle who had a sailboat for as long as I can remember. We sailed every summer on the coast of Washington State and when I was in my 20’s they sold it all for a beautiful 48-foot Halberg-Rassy and began to sail the world. I was able to sail with them along the U.S. and Canadian coasts, Mexico, Hawaii, and from Tahiti to Bora Bora. It’s essentially the same as RVing with days planning where you will be, what you will do when you’re there, cocktails, cards, and yummy meals both onboard and on land. You just have to be a bit more in tune with the weather since you never want to get caught in the middle of the ocean in a bad storm. They taught me how an unconventional life can create amazing memories.
Time to Go Out on My Own
All of these trips and chances to get out and explore the world with my family made me less frightened to go out on my own. After graduation, I got a contract to dance in Mexico. I should mention that dance has been a big part of my life since I was four–and I currently teach ballet. I couldn’t wait to get down south. I know my parents were worried about me but they trusted I had enough street smarts from my years of traveling that I would be okay (plus, my best friend was coming with me). Living in another country taught me to be independent, gave me a good sense of direction–there were no phones with maps in those days, and forced me to get my first email address where I would email home to family and friends about my adventures, the highs, and lows of dancing and living in another country. I basically had my own travel blog before blogs were a thing. My mom saved and printed off all of the correspondences and they are a real flashback in time to read!
As I continued on into my 20s and really got into teaching ballet I realized the perfect job I had so seamlessly stumbled upon. I work hard for nine months of the year (often not having days off for weeks at a time) but then, get three months off to continue traveling. I even had the time and space one summer to spend a couple of months in Costa Rica getting my 200 Yoga Teaching Certificate. I have always felt a bit nomadic. I love the certainty and schedule I have during the dance season but extra love the freedom of my summers. Giving me time and space to explore and reconnect with family and friends.
Another Summer, Another Trip, and Another Day
During my time traveling, I was blessed with a nephew and niece who profoundly changed the course of my life. They allowed me to be grounded and stay in Edmonton (where I currently reside) to be closer to them. I wanted to be the kind of aunt my aunts were to me, immersed in their lives but also someone who could take them on fun summer adventures!
Family is and always has been so important to me and about five years ago my life changed dramatically when my dad was diagnosed with cancer. It was a shock (he was young, in his early 60’s) and I wasn’t ready to lose someone who I was so close to. My dad was someone who cheered me on for living the life I was living. He loved that I was a dance teacher, how much I traveled, and was often right there with me on my trips, visiting me when I lived in Mexico, sailing with me with my aunt and uncle, and constantly inviting me out in his RV whether he was living at the Lake in Slave Lake or cruising around with my mom planning their next big adventure.
He had big dreams of seeing the Eastern part of Canada and the United States in his RV with my mom and I couldn’t wait to fly in to meet them in towns and cities I had dreamed of visiting or revisiting. When he was diagnosed, the prognosis wasn’t good, he only had a few weeks. I cried thinking of all he had dreamed of seeing in retirement and how it was being ripped away from him. He went to another doctor and got a second opinion. That doctor said they believed he had a couple more years left. To my amazement, he completely changed his mindset from something terrible to how he could make the most of the time he had left and fought hard to camp another summer and take his family to Mexico. His perseverance and happiness to have yet another summer, another trip, and another day, profoundly changed how I move through this world–I do not take things for granted.
When he passed, he made me promise I would continue to travel (and teach dance), and then, on the one-year anniversary of his passing, COVID hit our world and I felt like I might never get out again. It was during that time my mom began looking at the Leisure Travel Vans. She would email me links and videos and tell me she was seriously considering buying one. To be truthful, I thought she was having a midlife crisis now that my dad was gone and I tried for a few months to get her to think about other ways to travel. She knew nothing about RVing on her own and I didn’t think she could drive it, so was very trepidatious. Eventually, she put a down payment for one and I worried for months about what she had done, until we went to the dealer and actually sat in one. She explained to me that she was heartbroken she and my dad would never be able to see the world like they thought they would, but she believed this way she and I could, and that he would be with us every step of the way.
I know now he was watching over us, guiding us to the perfect RV for the two of us. But the thing was, we knew nothing about RVing–I didn’t know what a generator was, what 30 amps meant, or how to dump and fill water or propane. Luckily, we got an amazing walk-through immediately, and even though it was still very overwhelming, it also felt somewhat doable for two novices, and because the LTV is so user-friendly and modern, it was easy to get started and not feel nervous about hitting the road. Plus, we had all the numbers of people who respond immediately when we are unsure of something.
Hooked on Harvest Hosts
Our first couple of trips were short, weekend getaways. But by the next summer when my mom mentioned going to Banff (just a few hours from us), I said we should try to cross over the border to Montana. Neither of us had been, but I felt we could do it! We had gone to a Rally with other LTV owners and we met people from all across Canada who shared some of their favorite destinations. Hearing them talk about some of the places in the States we could see made me eager to get going.
We had learned about Harvest Hosts at the Rally and although we were nervous to try boondocking, we were curious to stay at wineries, breweries, distilleries, and farms. This really spoke to my love of wine from way back in the days of camping in Napa and was excited to learn more about it in different wine regions. We alternate between three to four days with Harvest Hosts and then head to a campground for a couple of days of stillness for some relaxation (and to get laundry done).
Harvest Hosts is an amazing way to see the world. Often the hosts are off the beaten path in smaller towns we might have never stopped at and because traveling with the LTV is so easy, we can really go anywhere. Boondocking is also much easier than I thought it would be, it’s really just a stop, drop the jacks and head out to see what new awesome spot we are staying at.
Memories to Last a Lifetime
What started out as a few-week trip turned into over two months on the road. We would open up the map and realize we are just a few short hours from something spectacular. It’s the reason we stopped at the Grand Canyon last summer, it felt too monumental a place to be close to and not go! Our first long road trip included seven states and two provinces. The memories we created will last a lifetime.
On our travels, I plot the destinations and spend time learning about each town, city, or National Park we plan to visit in order to go to great coffee shops, delicious restaurants, and pretty sites along the way–I also book all of our stays. My mom is the primary driver and we generally drive 2-3.5 hours a day. I really love the ease with which we are able to navigate (it drives like an SUV) and find parking almost anywhere because the LTV isn’t too big. We chose the Unity Rear Lounge so we had a bit of separation of space which is helpful when you are on the road with one person for months at a time!
We also travel with our shared dog Chico, a 3.5-pound chihuahua. He is the biggest blessing and loves seeing each new place we visit, although he is still a bit of a nervous traveler. He loves his away from home as much as we do!
Life is such a wild ride. It is so hard to see into the future–who you will be, where you will go, and who will be with you along the way. I know my mom imagined this part of her life with my dad, and I imagined I would be meeting them both on the road. Although things turned out much differently than we anticipated, we are so grateful to have each other to share these experiences with.
At the start of every day, I ask my dad to watch over us as we travel and to make sure he comes along for the ride!
Favorite Travel Destinations
Although Banff is essentially in my own backyard, I have grown to love the town and the surrounding area so much. It is generally the jumping-off point for many of our big road trips however, it is also unbeatable for a quick weekend getaway. The quietness of the mountains and their majestic presence is something I will never get tired of. It’s nice to escape the busyness of life and find solitude. I love rolling out my yoga mat and getting grounded surrounded by nature. But if you are up for a bit more excitement in your mountain escape, there is always something going on in town. It’s usually bustling with tourists, so it’s easy to meet people from all over the world at one of the many coffee shops, breweries, or restaurants.
Although there are many campgrounds close by (you book them through the National Parks website) we camp close to town in Tunnel Mountain II so I am able to walk into town or my mom and I take local transit (which is so user-friendly and convenient and free into town from Tunnel Mountain) to many local sites. Including the start of many great hikes or even to Canmore or Lake Lousie which are close by.
This summer in our LTV we were able to host my niece Blake for the first time! She was up for the adventure with us and we found a perfect mix of camping, hiking, shopping, dining out, and seeing some of the most beautiful spots in the area. I’m hopeful she will be the next in our family to get the travel bug and see how RVing can allow you a more intimate knowledge of an area. I think sharing Banff with her helped it climb even higher in my top “must-stop” list in Alberta!
This is such a beautiful destination. I saw photos and knew I needed to see it with my own eyes.
The town of Page is cute and has all the conveniences you might need before a couple of days camping in the desert. I knew I wanted to camp seeing Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Park so we found an oasis at Wahweap RV & Campground. It was beautiful to overlook Wahweap Bay and just a short drive to a beach at Lake Powell Resort & Marina. Which we needed; it was hot. Although we stopped by mid-July, I would definitely recommend the colder seasons if possible.
But the heat didn’t deter me from the real reason I was there. To see the Antelope Canyon Slot Canyons in the Navajo Desert. I went on a guided tour in a Jeep to the Canyon and loved my experience. The guide was kind, knowledgeable about the land and history of the Navajo people, and he knew how to take photos! Which, let’s be honest, is the reason people go. It can be a once-in-a-life experience for some and a place others may never get to see so I was excited to share this spot with friends and family back home. On the same tour we also went to the beautiful Horseshoe Bend – sometimes referred to as the “east rim of the Grand Canyon”. Because I was on a tour, we were escorted to a private spot to take in the scenery and get sunset photos–it was nothing short of magical. Even when I think back about it, it feels like a dream!
I am forever grateful for the LTV life, and the easy-going nature of our summer travels that allowed this to be a favorite destination.
I had always heard the wineries there were beautiful and they did not disappoint! They were plentiful and dotted all around where our Harvest Host, Four Lanterns Winery, was. The layout of the vines in rows that line the hills is lovely. After a beautiful drive from Montecito, we pulled up to our stay for the night, settled our LTV into an amazing spot amongst the vines, got a tasting (which was delicious), and grabbed a bottle of wine to enjoy in the lovely space available to Harvest Host guests after hours.
I think the reason this stop, in particular, was so special is because it marked the midway point of my mom and I’s first long-haul trip. We had made it one month on the road without too many fights and only a few hiccups along the way. We shared our bottle of wine that evening around the winery’s fireplace and talked about all of our stops. We also looked at pictures we had taken along the way and marveled at how far we had come. Both realistically (we were about 3000 km from home at that point) and figuratively (we felt pretty accomplished in our skills living our van life).
We talked a lot about my dad that night and how proud he would be of both of us. He’d be proud of my mom for taking a risk and buying an LTV and both of us for getting out there actively exploring, not letting setbacks turn us around. It was when we created plans for other summers of travel and thought of all the amazing places we could and would go in our perfect home away from home.
Sometimes it’s not about a destination but about the feelings a place evokes when you look back on pictures or journal entries. Paso Robles will always have a piece of my heart and will be a must-return spot in the years to come!