I’ve always loved words, but conventional was never among them. Growing up, I turned on the TV only for the Oscars and the Olympics, instead discovering the world through Lincoln Log cities and kitchen-sink science experiments. My education took advantage of nature, music, and hands-on exploration, dirt and noise my textbooks. It was an intense childhood, but one which encouraged independent thinking. To no one’s surprise, then, our family vacations took an equally atypical route: my parents matched budget with opportunity and rented RVs, family vacations on-the-go.
Over the years, I have lived in ten RVs across eighteen states, two countries, and forty national parks. Far from the souped-up caravans which hunch haughtily over traffic, our functional campers featured oversized Mount Rushmore and 1-800-RV4RENT decals. The kitchen table turned into my bed; the National Park System became our driveway. I passed through more forests than John Muir himself, face pressed to the window. Meanwhile, our destination cities fascinated me in a different way, our 30-foot advertisement drawing stares outside art museums and cultural districts. What better way to discover creativity than San Francisco’s Mission District murals or the colorful spirit of Chihuly’s glass-blowing collaborative?
The RV itself was an equally creative space – small for six people – but its close quarters encouraged familial bonding and exploration far beyond its confines. The experience of fitting my entire life into one compartment felt transient but liberating, if just temporarily. At every destination I was first out the door, bursting onto scenery so vast and beautiful it humbled me in comparison. I felt invigorated to coexist with mountains, to scale a 12,000’ summit but “conquer” only mental barriers. Often I stood still and observed, drinking in my surroundings, then continued onwards as unobtrusively as a shadow. Landscapes registered words in my head, an internal dialogue shaping stories to ease the ascent. My souvenir? The satisfaction of saying for years after, “I’ve climbed a mountain. This too I can overcome.”
I prized the independence and autonomy these travels elicited. Yet I felt conflicted – much of the culture I witnessed throughout the country was anchored in community. Under the hot Colorado sun, it was the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings that remained resilient and remembered, not the lone ranger of the day. Similarly, Colonial Williamsburg was preserved to commemorate our nation’s first experiment in communal governance. Truly, while I romanticized the open road and starting anew, I discovered that persevering cultures survived through community. Each member’s responsibility utilized his or her skillset for a clear and collective purpose, just as I must do today as an ensemble actor.
Ultimately, while I am drawn to unconventionality and exploration, I find tradition and community continue to ground me. I am the product of every trail I’ve hiked, every battleground which compelled me, every unlikely tale I’ve heard en route. And every campground, where the RVs of a hundred fellow travelers briefly shared protection and warmth like a wagon train under a new and unknown sky.