There was a common phrase in the Blanton household in the 90’s. “Where to next?” Those three words were my gateway into years of riding co-pilot in our family RV. My brother and I were destination driven. Any mention of a new place and we were packing our bags for the next adventure. Over the course of nearly three decades, the four of us took our rig everywhere. From Disney World to Los Angeles, the Grand Canyon and the Carolina’s, we tackled terrain both common and unfamiliar to our crew.
My memories of my childhood are woven into the threads of sleeping in travel trailer bunk beds, playing cards at the dining table while riding down a nondescript highway and my mom making cheese sandwiches, served with pickles, Fritos and sweet tea the moment we reached our campsite. Navigating youth in the tight quarters of an RV is the very thing, or at least in my families case, that kept us close, all these decades later. In fact, we’re headed to see my 81-year-old grandmother this weekend, in our 45-foot Optima Toter. I’m nearly thirty now, but some things never change. That’s what I’ve always loved about RV travel, the nostalgia. No matter the state of the world or how many summers fly by, there is something inherently Americana about traveling the states, kids piled inside a motorhome, searching for the great American dream.
My father recently reminded me of how we became privy to RV world. He told me that he and his brother had planned to do many things together, mostly in the wilderness, fishing and camping, young men living off the land. When his brother passed far too young and their many a dream plans were stopped in their tracks, he couldn’t shake an unfulfilled promise he made to my brother and me. He had promised to take us to Disney World. After the funeral my father went straight to the local RV dealership and purchased his very first RV, a 36-foot Dutchman with a sixteen foot slide out and two sets of bunks in the back. That night we bundled up in the RV parked at my Granny’s house. At first light we packed up and made our way to Disney.
I grew up in the Florida panhandle. As a Florida kid, you quickly learn to love hurricanes. A category 3+ meant school was cancelled and the Blanton’s were on our way to Fort Wilderness. We went in 1995 during Hurricane Opal and again in 2004, when Hurricane Ivan pummeled way across the Gulf of Mexico. My parents convinced three other families to make their way to the happiest place on Earth and let the seven kids pile in the camper. This was my youth – Disney more times than I can count and a dad who kept promises no matter what.
When everything you need is confined to 30 feet, while in the throes of adolescence, you begin to see the bigger picture of what travel can do. My father’s love for NASCAR took us to Daytona and beyond year after year. In 1995 he leased an American Eagle for the entire race season, and a Fleetwood for the 2009 season. He even owned his own team, Blanton Motorsports, from 2010 – 2013. His drivers Johnny Sauter and Parker Kilgerman have both gone on to do great things in the industry. If ever there were a quintessential RVing family, it was us.
Traveling by roads, instead of planes, created a fire within me that I’ve yet been able to extinguish. When I graduated from high school in 2008, my entire family moved me from Destin to Los Angeles in you guessed it, our Allegro Tiffin. And then when I graduated from NYU in 2012 I began traveling on my own, for six months all over the country which turned into my very own photography business Hello America. I’ve come full circle, as I currently work with La Mesa RV, driving around the country with my soon to be husband and dog, creating Road Trip Guides and more, with the new family we’ve fostered for ourselves. Through it all, I can’t help but think about my dad, and the mystical childhood he created for us and how those deep roots to travel were impressed on me so many years ago.
Maybe this ode to my endless summer, RVing childhood is more of an ode to my father. The man who instilled the love for travel into his children very early on, who constantly worked to create new opportunities for how and why we were RVing. My road stories, even all these years later, even when he wasn’t there, contain many traces of my father. RVing for him was never about the rig, the footage or the newest model. RVing was a way of life – an opportunity for us to create memories and feed the love for travel, together. When my own children come along, they will sit side by side, playing cards at the dining table of our Class B (we can dream!), while my husband drives down the road and I make cheese sandwiches in the back.