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< Camping

The Road Rules: Family Travel in an RV or Camper Van

WITH L.L.BEAN AMBASSADORS DINEO DOWD AND THE BOWMAN FAMILY

Travel might make you think of hotel rooms, microwave dinners and tiny bottles of shampoo, but it doesn’t have to be that way. More and more families are heeding the call of the open road and taking home right along with them, in the form of a recreational vehicle like a trailer or camper van. Two L.L.Bean Ambassadors, Dineo Dowd and The Bowman Family, have hit the road with their families in search of new destinations, more time together and more time outside.

In this wide-ranging conversation, we talked with Dineo Dowd and Madison Bowman about their vehicles (Buster, Minnie and Vanessa), what inspired them to get out on the road with their families, and the tips, tricks and products that make for a smooth ride.

Madison and Margie Bowman in front of the family's converted shuttle bus, Buster.

L.L.Bean: What vehicle do you do your traveling in?

Madison Bowman: For a few years, we lived in our self-converted Ford shuttle bus, Buster. We recently added a new baby to our family and needed a build that would accommodate a family of 5, so now we’re working on building out a Ford Transit van that we’ve named Vanessa.

Dineo Dowd:  Winnebago Minnie, a 32’5”-length travel trailer. It goes by “Minnie,” but its an 8-sleeper RV. The interior is modern style, feels like home, and is very comfy for the whole family. We have a private bedroom, and enough room to accommodate guests. The shower is amazing! And we’re able to watch movies whenever we want and snuggle on the sofa.

LLB: How do you make the most of the space?

MB: Every single thing has to have its own spot! It’s sort of a Swiss Army knife philosophy—a compact space can fit what you need if everything has a designated place that it automatically goes back to once we’re done using it.

DD: My daughter Armani’s clothes fit in a small Rubbermaid, and her L.L.Bean sleeping bag folds nice and small. We have closet to hang our clothes. Our refrigerator is very small, which is perfect – we’ve learned to save money and buy what we need, unlike when we were home and we would go to Costco stock up for a month. There’s even plenty of space even for the puppy, Zulu.

MB: Our bus had a great IKEA kitchen, passenger seats around a little table, and a bedroom area with bunks for the kids and a full-size bed. Our van is more compact. The kids’ bed is lofted over the row of passenger seats and the bulkhead, and we have a queen-size bed in the back with lots of storage underneath for gear and a pull-out composting toilet. We haven’t built it yet, but we’re working on a small kitchen that will go behind the passenger seats!

Dineo Dowd and family, getting ready for a hike.

LLB: Why did you decide to bring your family on an extended road trip?

MB: So many reasons! Both David and I had a long fascination with public lands and road life. Originally, we thought we needed to sow those wild oats before our kids started school, which is why we went out when we did (our oldest was 3 at the time). Along the way, we decided that homeschooling would actually fit our family really well, and schooling on the road is incredibly fun.

DD:  My family had a rough year with the pandemic, and the only way we could bounce back to life was to take a road trip out of the state to go see things we missed: meeting new people, exploring new places, tasting different food. We were craving the outdoors.

MB: We love that we can visit a lot of different places but, like turtles, we keep our home with us. The kids have consistency with their space and can go to sleep in the same beds every night. That’s been hugely beneficial in giving them a sense of home.

LLB: What’s the best part of life on the road?

DD: The best part on the road with Minnie is being able to park anywhere, pull out the grill and make dinner for the family. We can stay up watching the sky, then sleep in. We are meeting people from different states doing the same thing, creating memories and making friends.

MB: Discovering new places is so much fun. We love being able to go out and adventure, and return to our cozy little home on wheels at the end of the day. It’s a way to get out of our comfort zone – while also bringing a little comfort zone along, if that makes sense.

LLB: What’s the most difficult part of life on the road?

MB: Juggling work while also trying to take advantage of the places we’re in.

DD: The most difficult part is the fear of the unknown when arriving at the campgrounds or small towns. We are an interracial family, and during this time we realized that some of the campgrounds around America are not family friendly or welcoming to people of color. We still experience people staring at our family; it’s like walking into a lion’s den. Media and outdoor retailers have made RV life seem like a white people lifestyle. We need to diversify the RV life!

LLB: How does being on the road so much help you spend more time outside?

DD: It’s been a difficult time with global pandemic, and I remember when the state closed all the state parks – it was awful not to be able to continue living in the outdoors. I realized that small things that we take for granted are meaningful. Life is too short not to take that hike.

MB: When you live in a vehicle, the outdoors becomes part of your home too. There’s no way to comfortably stay inside all day with so little space! It’s also so much easier to get us all where we want to go when we have all our gear, food and supplies with us. We can drive right to the trailhead, throw together some sandwiches, grab the gear that the conditions require, and get going. And when we get back from that hike, we can change clothes, eat, take naps, whatever we need. Taking your home to the trail is the best.

The Bowman family.

LLB: What L.L.Bean products are essential to your traveling lifestyle?

DD: We can’t live without our SunSmart and No Fly Zone gear, because they are light and easy to store away. It is necessary for us to have bug-repellent apparel, since we are always outside.

MB: I live in the Vista Camp Pants whether we’re on the road or not, but they’re especially perfect for road life because they’re comfortable for long drives, but also great for hiking and doing anything outside. And they pack up so small!

DD: We wear our L.L.Bean clothes over and over, because our gear is SunSmart and treated with permethrin. We don’t want to spend hours doing laundry when we could be exploring!

MB: We always take Stowaway Day Packs on hikes. They hold everything we need for day hikes, but also fold up small. Boat and Tote bags can be used for anything—we love them for keeping kids’ stuff, snacks, gear and everything else loosely organized when we’re in transition, like if we’re doing a long drive.

Dineo Dowd and family.

LLB: What recommendations do you have for parents who want to hit the road with their families?

MB: Road life with kids is definitely not always easy. But regular life with kids is definitely not always easy, either. It’s been helpful for us to remember that the diapers, the tantrums, the sibling spats, the inconsistent sleep—all those things happen whether we’re home or not. But when we’re on the road, there are so many things we can see and do that we wouldn’t be able to at home.

DD: Don’t think about it too much – just go!

< Camping

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