Cross-Country Adventures via RV, Part 1

A van converted into an RV is parked lakeside.

Parked at Lake Mead. Photo © Phil Bryant.

Recently, I posted a two-part interview with Michael A. DiLorenzo, author of Adventures with Jonny: Road Trip to the Parks!, and though I’ve found myself inspired by Michael’s mission of promoting family travel to America’s outdoor treasures, I must admit that I’ve been equally impressed by another traveler’s story.

His name is Phil Bryant, and I initially “met” him in late February, when he contacted me via email, requesting a bit of information for a three-week, cross-country RV adventure that he and his family (which included his wife, son, nephew, and father-in-law) were planning to take during the summer. At the time, I thought his plan was quite ambitious. After all, he intended to start the journey in Durango, Colorado, and, via a small RV, explore various, one-of-a-kind attractions in America’s Western and Southern states, including Sequoia National Forest in southern California, Hoover Dam on the Nevada border, Arizona’s Meteor Crater, the Grand Canyon Railway, Amarillo’s Cadillac Ranch, the Oklahoma City National Memorial, and the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, among other destinations, before heading home to South Carolina. Even he admitted that it was “quite a trip to cram into a three-week period,” but, as he explained, “We want the boys to see a lot. They’re very excited about going through as many states as possible.”

Given my own road-trip experiences as a child (and my memorable, if harrowing, year as a full-time RVer), I could certainly appreciate the desire to see as much as possible. As I’ve occasionally shared on this blog, my mom and I took our own three-week, cross-country adventure when, back in 1988, we traveled from our home in New Orleans to various locales along the East Coast, including Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello, Washington, D.C., New York City, Martha’s Vineyard, Montréal, Niagara Falls, Hersheypark, and the Grand Ole Opry. So, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Phil’s plan wasn’t nearly as impossible as it sounded – save for the fact that Mom and I had stayed in motels and hotels along our journey while Phil was planning to share a small RV with four other people.

Although Phil had ostensibly contacted me for trip advice – particularly regarding family-friendly beaches near Big Sur and must-see attractions along I-40 in New Mexico – he really didn’t seem to need it. From the get-go, he appeared to be adept at planning. Nevertheless, I tried to assist him by suggesting a place called Pfeiffer Beach near Big Sur and warning that, “as a rule, you have to watch out for strong currents, especially with young children.” Of course, I added that “the water’s usually too cold to swim in anyway!” In addition, I pointed him toward trekaroo, a helpful website that offers reviews of kid-friendly hotels and activities, plus tips for traveling with children.

Naturally, I had a lot more to say about I-40 in Arizona and New Mexico, a lovely stretch of highway that my husband, Dan, and I often choose on our seasonal journey from New Orleans to Los Angeles – unless, of course, weather is a factor. Flagstaff is lovely, Albuquerque has some must-see attractions, and the Santa Fe detour is well worth exploring – but four attractions that I highly recommended to him are Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park, New Mexico’s Petroglyph National Monument, and, in and around Amarillo, the Big Texan Steak Ranch and Palo Duro Canyon. I also directed Phil to a two-part series that I’d written about I-40.

After dispensing what little advice that I could, I wished Phil a wonderful journey – and told him to take lots of pictures. Frankly, though, I didn’t expect to hear from him again. Over the years, I’ve helped several fellow travelers with their itineraries, but it’s rare that I’ve received any post-trip correspondence. Happily, though, I did hear from Phil again. In mid-May, he sent me a more complete itinerary, outlining all of the places that he hoped to see – across 15 states! By then, he’d already driven the RV from South Carolina to Colorado, where it was waiting with relatives, and he was writing me to get some feedback on his itinerary. In truth, I favored most of his intended stops (although I was surprised to see Baton Rouge’s Red Jacket Firearms on his list!) and simply encouraged him to check out some more of my previous posts, such as the two-part interview with road-tripping expert Jamie Jensen, a list of 10 incredible road-trip routes, several tips regarding road-trip essentials, and some advice for road-tripping RVers.

We emailed each other a couple more times before his big family vacation, and throughout our correspondence, I was impressed with Phil’s enthusiasm for travel, passion for the United States, and willingness to improvise – despite his wonderful organizational skills. So, I was delighted when, following his cross-country adventure in June, Phil was willing to participate in an interview about his experience – especially since it must have been exhausting to serve, according to him, as “the trip driver, navigator, logistics person, tour guide, and photographer.”

Here, then, is the first part of my interview with Phil:

American Nomad: You traveled with quite a crew. Can you describe your fellow travelers (and any interests or destinations that they hoped to experience on the trip)?

Phil Bryant: There was Veronica (Niki), my wife – a 37-year-old, full-time wife and mother. To be honest, she was a bit apprehensive about the trip. My son, Drake, a nine-year-old Webelos Scout and avid PlayStation player – he loves swimming, math, geography, and animals. He was very excited about seeing Meteor Crater. Ron (Pa), my father-in-law, a 67-year-old retired educator. Pa loves family and travel. The trip was win-win for him! J.J. is my wife’s nine-year-old nephew. He enjoys rocks, trains, and Nintendo DS games. He had no specific interest before the trip. We also had Donny, a nine-year-old stuffed donkey that is a member of the family; he’s been with us on every vacation since my son was born. Donny was very excited at the prospect of seeing Oatman, Arizona. That leaves me, a 51-year-old technical support person for the automated controls group of a major electric utility. I was really looking forward to seeing the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park, Meteor Crater, and Tombstone, Arizona. Can you tell I planned the trip?

AN: What was the RV like (how big, any slide-outs, etc.)?

PB: Our ride was a 2000 Ford F-350 Sportsmobile 4X4. It’s about the size of a 16-passenger van with an extended roof. We traveled in two modes, day and night. At night, the rear seats convert to a bed, and the extended roof converts to a bed. It has a kitchen, with pantry, ample seating and sleeping areas, excellent heating and air, electrical and water hookups, and a built-in generator, and the roof is made of solar panels to keep the batteries charged for when running solely on battery power. It looks like something you’d see on a National Geographic expedition. The RV was custom-built to my father-in-law’s specifications. It’s seen many trips to the Colorado mountains as well as the Blue Ridge Mountains here at home. You can learn more about Sportsmobiles at www.sportsmobile.com

AN: I can’t believe that you and your whole family managed to live in that cozy RV for so long! You’re all still speaking to each other, right? (Just kidding.)

PB: We, too, were surprised we survived the trip in the small RV. It really worked well for us, though. I would not recommend one that size for an extended camping trip for a group our size, but it worked really well for a road trip like we took.

AN: Do you think that using an RV was a more economical way to travel versus driving via car, staying in hotels, and eating in restaurants?

PB: Although, in preparing for the trip, we did have to drive it out to Colorado and fly back home in advance, I have no doubt it was by far a better choice economically. Our total bill for lodging for the trip was about $300.00, and we did in fact stay two nights in hotels! We did eat several lunches at restaurants, and still, our total dining-out bill was less than $400 for five people for nearly three weeks. Not too bad! (I’m a geek, so I have spreadsheets with cost analysis of every aspect of the trip.)

Stay tuned for the rest of my interview with Phil. In the meantime, I hope his experience has inspired you to embark on a cross-country family adventure of your own.

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