From Camping First-Timers to 9,033-mile Road Trippers
How-To's & Resources, National Parks, Renter Guest Posts, Traveling With Kids, Trip Ideas & Guides
When Sanjay and his family picked up their campervan in our Denver rental location this summer, they had never been camping before and were about to embark on a 56-day west coast road trip. By the end of the trip, they had visited 23 National Parks, 13 states, and 1 theme park after an estimated 9,033 miles of driving. Incredible! Needless to say, they were seasoned campers by the time they returned.
Sanjay was kind enough to answer a few questions we had about their trip. Whether it’s your first time camping or you’re looking to plan a west coast National Parks road trip of your own, this family’s story is amazing, and there are some great tips below that we can all learn from!
Tell us about yourselves!
We are Americans who moved to Bangalore, India, in 2014. My wife and I have been self-employed for the last three years and our son Rahul, 10, is homeschooled. We like to cook, eat out, spend time with family and friends, and explore the beautiful country around Bangalore through day-trips or weekend trips.
While in the US, we had this dream of doing a long road trip across the US, but our careers and then parenthood kept us from doing so. We finally had the time to pursue our dream in 2013, when both of us left our jobs to venture out on our own. But we had to put it on hold for a few years because of our move to India.
What led you to book a trip with Escape Campervans?
It was in fall 2016 that we actively started putting our road trip plan together. While poring over maps and itineraries, we learned about the Every Kid in a Park program, which lets 4th graders (including homeschoolers) and their families visit National Parks for free. Rahul met the requirements, so we decided to avail of this fantastic opportunity by focusing on national parks for the road trip.
We had never done a long road trip before, nor had we ever camped in the wild (or anywhere else) before. We have always been city people and never considered ourselves “outdoorsy” types. So this idea of spending a considerable amount of time camping out in the wild was intimidating and scary. But, partly for the sake of our son, and partly to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone, that is exactly what we decided to do.
We wanted to check out the total eclipse (August 21) as part of the road trip and so timed our trip from the end of June to end of August – basically peak summer season. We quickly realized that we wouldn’t be able to afford two months’ worth of hotels and lodges. It was the same situation with full-blown RVs. We would either need to rent a minivan and camp in tents almost the entire duration (which was not ideal since we had never ever camped before) or we would need to significantly reduce the duration of the trip to fit our budget.
How did you like traveling by campervan vs other forms of travel?
We had never heard of Escape Campervans and it was a YouTube video which led us to Escape. This idea of a compact van with a bed and kitchen sounded like it might be the ideal solution for us, logistically and economically. The more we researched, the better we liked this option.
One of our favorite features was the sofa that could be turned into a comfortable bed for 2 adults and a child. This would allow us to explore camping on our own terms. We could camp in a tent whenever we wanted. But on those cold rainy nights or the nights when we were exhausted from hiking or driving, we could just pull out the bed and crash in the van (we ended up doing this a lot). The small kitchen including a stove, a refrigerator, and a sink would allow us to cook in the van when convenient (we ended up doing this a lot too). This was cool since we love cooking and had looked up a lot of delicious recipes to cook on the road trip.
The only drawback was that it didn’t have a bathroom, but that disadvantage was more than made up for by the relative compactness of the van. We learned we could get into even the tent campsites because it’s length was no more than that of larger cars. Parking and driving was relatively easy vs RVs as well.
Tell us about your trip. How did you plan your route? What worked, and what would you have done differently?
By early February 2017, we had booked almost all our campgrounds and that’s when we committed to the trip fully by booking our flight from India to the USA as well as the Escape Campervan. Our plan was to visit 25 national parks on the west coast over 56 days. It was an ambitious plan involving an estimated 10k miles of driving.
Escape Campervans had recently opened a facility in Denver and that enabled us to plan our most optimal route given its centrality and proximity to quite a few national parks. We planned for a few city-breaks since we were not sure how our nature experience would go.
We started by driving south from Denver to Great Sand Dunes to Mesa Verde then north to Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion coming down to Grand Canyon North Rim, Grand Canyon South Rim, hotel break in Las Vegas then cutting west to Theme Parks in SoCal, up the coast to Ventura & Channel Islands, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Yosemite, city break in San Jose, Lassen Volcanic, Redwoods, Crater Lake, city break in Portland, Mt Rainier, Olympic, night halt at Kamloops, BC on our way to Jasper, Banff then crossing over back into homeland in Montana on our way to Glacier, Yellowstone, Rexburg ID for the Solar Eclipse, Grand Teton, Dinosaur National Monument & Rocky Mountain.
Phew! This is exhausting even to think about now. But it was an absolutely “epic” (as Rahul says it) and unforgettable trip. We eventually ended up driving 9,033 miles through 23 National Parks and 1 theme park (Legoland in California) in 13 states in the US and Canada. We ended up having to cut out a couple of national parks (sadly) and add a couple of additional hotel breaks to cut the long drives, but we mostly stuck to the original plan.
What were some of your highlights?
Amongst all the unforgettable experiences, it’s difficult to pick one national park or one hike or one epic view. However, the solar eclipse, which we viewed at Rexburg, ID, was an unforgettable experience quite beyond words.
A few other magical moments include when we chanced upon a traffic jam at Grand Teton, jumped out of our van to see what was going on to find a grizzly bear and her two cubs cross the road a few feet from us. Or when we clung onto a clump of grass holding on for dear life while crossing a ridge at 8,000 feet at Mt Rainier’s Skyline Trail. Another highlight was wading the Virgin River on our hike to The Narrows at Zion or jumping into clear blue cold waters of Lake Crescent at Olympic.
Even the long drives were amazing – whether in horse country Montana or through the Badlands or the nail-biting drives in the Sierra area or through the endless flatlands of Utah. It was incredible to see how quickly the scenery changed and morphed into a completely different world.
This was your first campervan trip. How did it go? What did you learn?
Apart from all the fun and adventure, we learned a lot on this trip. Rahul participated in all the Junior Ranger Programs at the National Parks we visited. As a result, he now has 23 Junior Ranger Badges and wants all 59. So, there we have the next trip plan.
The Junior Ranger Programs required us to help him out and as a family we explored, hiked, attended Ranger talks and participated in spectacular events such as the one in Grand Canyon called the “Constellations in the Sky” where we found ourselves gaping in awe at the dark sky in all its resplendent beauty which we never see in our cities. We are now big fans of the International Dark Sky Program and want to do more to stop light pollution to protect night skies.
We learned a lot about ourselves as well. We learned how much we could push our bodies and minds beyond what we thought possible. We learned how little we really needed in our lives when living amidst nature. We learned how to be flexible and welcome the unfamiliar and the unexpected events in our lives. As “type A” people, we learned to relax and unwind and not necessarily do every single thing on the agenda.
Friendly people and gorgeous National Parks campgrounds made camping for us noobs super fun and the campervan made it easy. Actually, the van became an integral part of our experience. Its bold colorful style was a great conversation starter. We experienced a sense of camaraderie with other Escapes that we met or passed by on the way. We had a lot of fun honking and waving at other Escapes.
Would you do a campervan trip again?
Would we do it again? Absolutely. Would we change anything? Absolutely. Given how many parks we had to explore, we felt we only touched the tip of the iceberg of some of the parks. We felt rushed at times and so we will plan to spend more time at each destination and explore it more deeply. We’ll also be more adventurous in our camping and perhaps undertake a few backcountry trips. We also found our “city breaks” (Vegas, LA, San Jose, Portland) to be a bit jarring and we’ll avoid those.
Any tips for future renters?
For the international travelers, I would say it is important to plan thoroughly upfront, especially during peak season. Make sure to book campsites or hotels months in advance and take care of the big things or you might have more adventure than you had hoped for. At the same time, leave some of the details open-ended and make room for the spontaneous and unplanned, because that is often when the magic happens.
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Sanjay!
Read more renter stories here.