Every summer as soon as school is out our little family takes off on an adventure! We had been planning on taking a trip out west this summer long before Covid-19 came into the picture, and by the time June finally rolled around we were all beyond ready to get out of the house and into nature.
We’ve had our RV for a little over two years now and we absolutely love it. And I have to say that now that the world is practicing social distancing we love it even more! We are pretty much self contained in that thing. Bathroom, check. Refrigerator, check. Coffee maker, check. (Because priorities.) We even had solar panels put in so we could dry camp for longer durations without having to plug in. Our rig is a 25ft class C. We chose this model because it’s smaller (though perfectly spacey enough for our family of four to be comfortable) and this enables us to maneuver most parking lots, most roads and to stay in most campsites!
I’m sure you’ve all heard the sayings “Enjoy the journey” and “It’s more about the journey than the destination”. Well those are the kind of ideas that we wholeheartedly embrace when living the RV life. Most of the time our vacations take on more of a wandering concept than a schedule. We don’t usually know where we will be staying the next night until we get there. If something unplanned catches our eye, we change plans! We like this kind of nomadic way of life. It’s really freeing and refreshing to live without being held to a timeline and to be so spontaneous in where our adventures lead us.
I learned very quickly that the first rule of the road (in my photographer mind) was that I should keep my camera in the front seat with me at all times. Because you never know when that awesome pocket of light will show up through the back window as your kid sings her heart out into her water bottle. Or when a stunning field of flowers will catch your eye that you’ll make your kids go frolic in. The point is, having my camera ready and accessible was a must.
Surprisingly, I’m the light packer when it comes to photo gear for travel. I typically bring my two camera bodies everywhere I go, a Nikon D810 and a Sony S7riii. The Nikon will typically have a 35 1.4 attached to it and the Sony a 24-70 2.8. The only extra lens I brought along this time was my newest addition, a Sony 135 1.8. This small collection of gear was perfectly suited for documenting my family during our travels.
My husband, on the other hand, tends to want to bring ALL of his gear! He doesn’t like to find himself in a situation where he wishes he had a particular lens that he left at home, so he brings it all! He’s a Canon shooter and you can normally find him with two 5D Mark IV bodies and a myriad of lenses. He has everything from super wide angles for night sky shooting to those huge telephoto lenses for capturing wildlife. He also never shoots anything without a tripod.
Sol: Sun Clock App
This is an app I use even when I’m not traveling to help me determine the sunrise and sunset times in a certain location and on certain days. I use it when planning all of my sessions. It comes in especially handy when traveling because of things like time zone changes and differing hours of daylight.
There are several apps that I’ve found indispensable while road tripping. The first is called “Free Roam”. I used this app almost daily to find where we were going to camp each night. It lists all of the traditional campgrounds and also has a great overlay feature that indicates where you can find dispersed camping spots on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and USFS (United States Forest Service) land. We disperse camp whenever we can. Since we have everything we need in the RV we don’t need to rely on having to find a campground with amenities. Not only is this type of boon-docking free, we love the fact that many of these spots are primitive and isolated which make us feel completely immersed in our surroundings.
The second app that I love is “All Trails”. I’m sure many of you have already heard of this one as it’s a super popular tool for finding great hikes! It not only shows you what trails are near your current location and helps you to find which ones are right for you, it also lets you save and organize your favorites, plan trips and much more. We have discovered some of our favorite hikes using this app.
The third one is called “Harvest Hosts” and this was our first trip utilizing this amazing program! It’s basically where different farms, wineries, breweries etc. can sign up to be hosts for RV travelers. You pay a yearly fee to be a part of the program and then you are able to stay at any of the participating locations at no cost. It’s such a fun alternative to a traditional campsite. We didn’t get to use this program as much as I’d hoped during this particular trip because we were so very spontaneous with where we were going to end up on any given day. Therefore the dispersed camping sites worked out better for us since we could pull up at any time of night without a reservation. We are already planning a trip in the near future based only on Harvest Host camping though. I’ll have to be a little bit more organized with our plans, but I know it will be totally worth it.
Our favorite Harvest Host from this past trip was hands down The North 40 Alpaca farm in Osborne, KS. The owners were so friendly and accommodating. We got to mingle with and feed the alpacas which were super sweet and friendly, and they had an amazing little store where we bought some authentic alpaca merchandise!
Our trek this year ended up being a three week long exploration of Arizona, Utah and Montana. Although we did pass through some other states during our travels, these were the main areas we camped in and explored. We started out in Arizona at Grand Canyon National Park.
We made our way from Arizona up to Utah where we spent many days exploring. Zion National park was home to our favorite hike of the trip, one which led us to a magical oasis with a swimming hole and waterfall!
Moab, in my opinion, is one of the best places to hike because the landscapes are like those of another planet. The campground we stayed at here boasted rolling hills of stone which were unlike anything we had ever seen. While we were in the area we decided to rent a jeep and do some off the beaten trail exploring where only a 4 wheel drive can go! It was undoubtedly one of our favorite experiences of the trip.
After Utah we headed up to Montana and spent some time in Yellowstone National Park. This is unquestionably Mark’s favorite place in the United States to photograph as you can see from his collection of landscape and wildlife work from there.
Sometimes I will schedule client sessions when we are on the road and sometimes I will decide that I want a trip to be strictly about family time. Often my husband (who is a landscape photographer) will take us to a specific location where he will get up at the crack of dawn to get a shot, and other days we will sleep in and spend a lazy morning at a campsite. No matter what our days look like, when it comes to photographing my family and our travels there are two concepts that go hand in hand which I know I always need to remember. The first is that everything is worthy of documenting and the second is to embrace the imperfection.
I don’t know how many times in the past I’ve talked myself into leaving my camera behind or not taking a shot only to end up regretting the decision. I’d tell myself how long the hike would be and worry about the extra weight. Or that the light wasn’t going to be good. I might have even said to myself “this spot isn’t that great, I’m not going to find anything worth shooting.” And if it wasn’t the time of day, the location or the extra effort it might have taken to tote my gear along, it was often some little imperfection that kept me from picking up my camera. Isn’t it ridiculous that we do this?! We’ll discount a moment before it even happens. So what if the kids are wearing mismatched hiking gear and they look like they haven’t brushed their hair in days. Embrace it! Crappy light? Challenge accepted. The more I let go of an idea of perfection the more I fell in love with the incredible beauty in documenting authenticity. Simply accepting and appreciating what is has helped me grow as a photographer, a listener and a person…
Don’t leave the camera behind. Take the shot!