I love to travel. It’s where I do some of my best thinking. It’s where I get inspired by new places and different cultures, and it’s one of the ways I recharge after a long season of work. The ebb and flow of life on Martha’s Vineyard means I can regularly sneak away during the quieter months, and for that, I am grateful.
As the island slowed down this past fall, my husband Philippe and I ventured west. We planned to visit many of the National Parks in Utah and Arizona, spending ten days on the road. We drove between Zion National Park, The Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We wanted to connect with our natural surroundings in a way we couldn’t do jumping from hotel to hotel.
So we planned to fly out to Las Vegas and opted to rent an 18-foot customized campervan by Native Campervan, which served as our means of lodging and transportation throughout the trip. I was first attracted to Native Campervans for their thoughtful design.
hey had room to sleep comfortably and a fully functional kitchen, all packed into a manageably-sized vehicle that meant we could remain accessible within the parks and the backcountry.
I got word that my friend Angela Prout (AP) and her husband Gavin Smith (GS) were planning a road trip around the same time, and I thought it would be fun to share our stories and tips from the road together. Angela works as a digital marketer, and Gavin is a private chef, so I knew they’d have some great pointers to offer for working productively and eating deliciously on the road.
While our destinations and accommodations were slightly different, our intentions were very much the same, and we both enjoyed the freedom and function that our road trips provided. We hope you enjoy following our adventures as much as we enjoyed reliving them and find some valuable tips and inspiration for planning your next great escape.
The packing process: Consider all options, but be intentional with your choices. And bring a lot of layers.
RB: For us, we base our packing travel on the activities we know we will be doing and the weather and climate of the location we are traveling to. I also need to consider the photographic gear I’m going to pack based on the work or personal project I intend to tackle along the way.
For our trip out west, we knew we would be hiking in the National Parks, in and out of slot canyons, and encountering challenging terrain. Our research showed temperatures would be ranging from 35-65 degrees and a possibility of snow. With so much fluctuation, packing strategic layers of wool and moisture-wicking clothing was essential. I discovered an incredible sustainable clothing company out of New Zealand called Ice Breaker, which sources and manufactures merino wool pieces based on close, long-term relationships with suppliers.
Ice Breaker is now my go-to brand, the clothing is warm and lightweight, and it doesn’t retain odors, a consideration when a laundry machine is not readily available. I also love Patagonia’s Nano Puffs which are warm, windproof, water-resistant, and are highly compressible, so they don’t take up much room in your suitcase. When it came to picking footwear, I needed a good pair of hiking shoes and a pair of slip-ons for aprei’ hiking “in camp” and for that, I opted for my Dasko clogs.
AP: Fifty percent of packing is planning, so we build our packing lists out far in advance. We intended to do a lot of hiking, biking, and dog-friendly activities, given our 30-pound puppy was joining us (with his own packing list). We also had to pack a couple of days of formalwear for a wedding we were attending along the way in Vail.
For this trip, it seemed like there were a lot of shoes to pack, from flip flops to hiking boots, casual sneakers, formal shoes, and rain boots, but an essential pair was what we call our “house shoes” or slippers, since the floor of our RV can get very cold at night. Gavin loves his trusty Crocs, and I swear by my warm alpaca slippers. I also love a snuggly pair of Uggs that I can easily slip on for quick dog walk around our campsite.
About those must-have kitchen items, we couldn’t have lived without.
RB: The van’s kitchen came equipped with sharp knives, utensils, cutting boards, and even wine glasses. No matter where we go, we bring a good foldable knife, usually, a french Opinel Pocket Knife, which is good for cutting up gruyere cheese and saucisson–Philippe’s go-to lunch while hiking or skiing.
We brought some of our homegrown garlic (which I usually travel with), some matcha tea for me, and maté for Philippe. We were comforted knowing the van was so well equipped, and since we started our trip in Las Vegas, we knew we’d be able to pick up anything else we needed along the way.
GS: We’ve been stocking our RV kitchen since we first purchased it in 2019, or 9,000 miles ago, so it’s pretty well equipped at this point. The kitchen includes a stove and an oven, so we have most of the comforts of home, just smaller. We have a set of carbon steel pans, which are great for traveling since they are lighter than cast iron but also distribute heat. I made sure to stock up on small sheet pans, which are super helpful in our tiny oven for roasting ingredients and warming things up. While we prefer to use glass and ceramic at home, we opted for hard plastic, non-breakable dishware on the road, as things often shift around in the cabinets when we’re driving.
One thing I can never leave home without is my knife roll. The two appliances I use the most are the french press and our coffee grinder. We have a Nespresso machine at home, but the french press provides us with an easy way to have great coffee every morning, plus it gives us an excuse to look out for awesome local coffee on the road. We make sure to bring multiple bags of Chilmark Coffee with us to enjoy and gift to family, friends, and hosts along the way.
I also get a lot of use from our small Weber Q 1200 gas grill. Grilling is an excellent way to enjoy a beautiful night in a scenic place while keeping the cooking mess outside since an RV kitchen gets very cluttered very quickly–plus, you can grill up a steak without smoking the house out.
How we decided what we were going to eat along the way.
RB: I plan our meals somewhat similar to how we eat/cook at home, minus the oven. I believe that one doesn’t have to forgo deliciousness just because you’re on the road. And in fact, it is even more important to eat well because your activity level each day is being challenged with the current day’s recreation. Philippe is always on the move on vacation- he doesn’t stop, so I need good healthy calories to keep up.
When we first arrived in Vegas we went on one big shopping trip before we left and planned our wholesome meals accordingly. Our menu was heavy on vegetables and fresh greens, proteins, and grains. We stocked basics like extra virgin olive oil, onions, carrots, kale, rice, Tamari, crackers, fruit, and dark chocolate which all have long shelf lives that could hold up in our small refrigerator and cooler for days.
For breakfast, our go-to is 2-minute eggs over greens–spinach, kale, and arugula mashed with avocado, plus whole-wheat toast, green tea, or maté. Just like at home, we make omelets on the weekends when there’s more time, and we can add even more–greens, onions, and gruyere cheese or mild goat cheese. Alternatively, we’ll enjoy yogurt and granola with fruit and/or honey.
Lunch on the go: Before we left Vegas we had breakfast at a Jewish deli and bought a pound of moist smoked salmon, which we enjoyed between two slices of bread for lunch most days. We added cream cheese, cucumbers, and whatever evergreens we had. It was delicious, and we also used the salmon for lox and eggs with onion for breakfast. Mid-day sweet treats included fruit and dark chocolate.
Dinner always required more consideration and was something we looked forward to after a long day hiking and exploring. And as we do at home, we always discuss what we were making for dinner that evening over breakfast that day. These meals usually take on a regional theme, which helps me plan the meal and ingredients needed. First and foremost, we consider the season and the local produce in the area, and then incorporate that into a themed dinner–Italian, Mexican, Basic American Hippie (AKA stir fry).
GS: Our meals are planned based on the stops we are making. If we know we will be spending a few nights in the same place and not driving for a few days; we stock up at the local grocery store. When we leave home, we clean out our pantry and pack the RV with any extra non-perishables we have at home like pasta, beans, lentils, rice, and canned tomatoes.
Breakfast often consists of eggs, greens, and sometimes leftover protein from the night before. We like to have sandwich ingredients stocked in the refrigerator at all times, as many of our lunches are eaten in parking lots off the highway on our way to the next stop.
Dinners are protein and veggie-heavy, and one-pot meals are nice for easy clean-up. A go-to favorite is roasting a chicken over vegetables on a sheet pan to contain everything. We’ll often use leftovers in a frittata for breakfast the next day or in fried rice or ramen for dinner.
Occasionally we’ll decide to pick up a meal at a local restaurant if it will offer us a taste of authentic flavor but never fast food.
These snacks kept us fueled throughout the day.
RB: Orange or apples, dried fruits, nuts, exotic veggie chips, and dark chocolate.
GS & AP: Homemade trail mix, fruit, yogurt, and baked goods like croissants we attempt to source from the best bakeries along the way.
In the pursuit of healthy food.
RB: I always think about where we will be visiting and the availability of fresh food. We started our trip in Vegas and bought probably 80% of our food at that time. We supplemented and restocked our larder only a few times during our 10 day trip with fresh greens, veggies, and protein when a fresh grocer presented itself. We are always thinking about meals ahead and take that opportunity to plan 2-3 meals out.
GS: All grocery stores are not created equal, so we took advantage of it when we knew we would be at a store with a broader selection of fresher meats and produce. In some cases, we were lucky to hit a farmer’s market while we were passing through and could enjoy shopping directly from local vendors.
The joy of cooking.
RB: When we are traveling, meals are a welcomed pleasure and a joy to cook. We enjoy sharing that time and taking turns with the cooking and cleaning, supporting one another in the same way we do at home. If you have the right ingredients and a variety of spices, you can get creative with your meals each day.
GS: I have become very comfortable cooking in our RV kitchen; it’s not much bigger than the kitchen in our small house at home. When I have the proper tools and access to good ingredients, I know I can create great food for us no matter where I am.
Work never ends… How we managed to get some done along the way.
RB: Each day was a new adventure, and my camera and lenses were always in my backpack–and I made good use of them. My van/office had limited working hours, and my priorities were parred down to client correspondence, eminent assignment deadlines, editing, and backing up images. This usually happened either in the morning or the late evening when chores and meals were complete.
I make a point to keep my Instagram stories updated with my current travel adventures and share fun, aspirational content as people love to see images of faraway places. While I did work as needed, the trip was meant as a break from my rigorous shooting schedule and the day-to-day photography business. Our travels allowed me a creative journey and the time and space to focus on my personal projects.
AP: We were gone for six weeks so I knew I had to regularly carve out time to get work done on the road. As I planned our itinerary, I would build in three or four days every other week to work straight through, often selecting to stay in State Parks where I could be productive and have quick access to hiking and biking trails when I needed a break. On the days we were driving, I would wake up early to work for a couple of hours before leaving our campsite in the morning or try to catch up on work in the evening before bed.
I was strategic with the projects I took on in advance of the trip, knowing that my bandwidth on the road wasn’t as great as it is at home, but honestly, it’s incredible what you can get done with an internet signal and a laptop. To ensure stronger internet connections I purchased a Verizon JetPack mobile hot spot and used apps like Campendium to research the strength of Verizon cell service in a park before I booked it, especially for those sites I planned on hunkering down at for a few days to work. I also bought a mobile monitor that allows me to have a dual-screen set up on the road, something I can’t imagine living without.
Decisions, decisions. How we determined our routes and the stops we were going to make.
RB: Except for booking the campervan and knowing we were going to meet up with our friends Lisa and Jeff (who recently bought a camper), we didn’t plan much ahead of time. Since we were flying into Las Vegas, we knew we wanted to start our trip at Zion National Park, which was only a two-hour drive from the airport.
Once we were on the road, we realized that many campgrounds were already full. This was not a disappointment, though, as we were hoping to stay off the grid in locations that were more spacious and natural anyway. We soon learned of BLM land or Bureau of Land Management–an agency within the United States Department of the Interior that offers numerous opportunities for free primitive camping in many places in the west and southwest. BLM sites became our go-to virtually every night of the trip, and they awarded us our own private locations with mountain and river views and some of the best star gazing we’ve ever seen.
AP: The first part of our trip was centered around a family trip to Moab, Utah, followed by a family wedding in Vail, Colorado, so we were up against the clock to get out west for a particular date. Except for booking an Airbnb in Utah and a hotel in Vail, we didn’t reserve any campsites in advance until the day before we left for the trip, unsure how much driving we would be able to accomplish each day.
While convenient, the RV can be exhausting to drive, and it takes significantly longer to get somewhere than it would in a car, so a 4-hour drive can quickly become a six-hour drive. We’ve learned to be conservative with the amount of distance we try to do in one day, usually maxing out around 400 miles, and it’s why our RV trips are often several weeks long.
Before we leave for the trip, I plot a tentative route and identify campsites along the way that would be suitable for our stay, favoring State Parks that are the most affordable and the most scenic. Once I have a better idea of our trajectory, I will make the reservations 1-2 days out, not wanting to over plan if we decide to stay somewhere longer or change our path.
I’ve discovered some great apps in the last couple of years to help research parks, open land, and RV amenities, including Campendium, Hipcamp, and The Dyrt. Additionally, I discovered Harvest Hosts a membership-based app that pairs RVers with homeowners that have available land to park on along with wineries, breweries, farms, museums, and other unique locations.
Inspiration comes from everywhere. What we were most inspired by along the way.
RB: The mountains, high plateaus, and deserts of the southwest were all a sight to behold, but for me, the slot canyons in Arizona were the highlight. A slot canyon is a narrow canyon that is formed from water rushing through rock. What starts as a tiny crack steadily grows more significantly from repeat flash floods and erosion over millions of years. The result is a narrow canyon with very high walls.
In Zion National Park, we had the opportunity to hike through The Narrows, one of the world’s best slot canyon hikes. Slot canyons are particularly numerous in the southwestern U.S. and Australia, where the perfect canyon-forming combination of soft rock and extreme climate collide, and the result is truly something to behold.
AP & GS: Dead Horse State Park (located beside Canyonlands National Park in Moab) was something spectacular, and unexpected. It’s an immense desert landscape of canyons reminiscent of the Grand Canyon and doesn’t get nearly as much credit.
In Kansas, we found Monument Rocks, a group of rock outcroppings including 70-foot chalk pyramids, completely juxtaposed against their home in cow country. They were places we never knew existed, and the surprise and delight of finding them made them that much more special. We like to keep our itineraries loose to spend time appreciating these kinds of unpredicted sights.
Perhaps the most inspiring things along the way are not the places but the people. We have met some incredible people over just the last couple of years of traveling in the RV, and we’ve tapped into a generous community of travelers we had no idea existed. And above all, we’ve learned that America is beautiful and people are good. Here’s to the next adventure!