In a television commercial about fulfilling dreams, a father says he promised his son that they would visit every national park in America, and we see them traveling with an Airstream trailer on an idyllic 30-year quest to satisfy that promise.
Those may be actors in the American Family Insurance commercial, but Don and Shelly Hafner are real people who plan to visit every one of the 59 national parks—not over 30 years, but in about 15 months.
The Hafners were watching television at their home in Kansas City, Missouri, when that inspiring commercial popped up on the screen, and they decided a national park tour would be a great opportunity for Shelly, an accomplished photographer, to follow her hobby by taking and selling national park pictures, and for both of them to see the country in a way they had never done before. And by traveling in an RV, they could take along their two little dogs, Bubba and Lilly Bella.
Shelly, a 55-year-old registered nurse, and Don, 57, a former teacher who works in financial services, have been to most states and done a lot of traveling abroad—to China, Japan, Italy, Croatia, Venezuela, the Caribbean and more. But until this adventure they had never toured the U.S.—or gone anywhere—in an RV. As Shelly put it: “My idea of camping was staying in a hotel without room service.”
Choosing a Rig
They started out by buying a 2003 Ford F-150 truck and a 24-foot Forest River Surveyor travel trailer. Shelly left a management job in nursing; they rented their house, and then divided their possessions into things to store, things to keep out for the trip and things to donate.
Deciding what to take in the RV was, of course, difficult, whether stocking the kitchen or selecting a wardrobe. As Don reported on their website (59nationalparks.com), they concluded that they could only bring half as many shoes as they would have liked. Don said that “when I told Shelly that I was only bringing four pairs of shoes, she said, ‘I hope you don’t expect me to live that way.’”
Shelly boxed up 45 pairs of shoes for storage and was left with eight for the trip. Another difficulty, she said, was trying to figure out what to take from a home kitchen that held “just about every gadget possible.”
Their first trip was a practice run to Branson, Missouri, which revealed some problems. They had put items in the bathtub and sinks without realizing that the RV dealer had winterized the trailer and left the faucets on. And so when they opened the water supply, the bathtub and sinks flooded with water and anti-freeze.
They had trouble getting the trailer level and had problems lighting the oven and turning on the hot water heater. But these were just part of the normal learning experiences of a couple new to RVing. Don was quickly able to post some “Lessons Learned” on their website, among them:
When you cook a meal inside your RV, disable the smoke detector unless you enjoy hearing the alarm. Remember to re-enable it.
If you are a light sleeper, think about using earplugs while sleeping on rainy nights. The sound of rain on your aluminum roof is pretty loud.
It’s hard to bring more tools than you need. Err on the side or bringing too many.
The Trip Begins
So, with lessons learned from the practice run, Don and Shelly arrived at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas on April 1 to begin their 59-park adventure. From there, it was off to the Florida Everglades, and then, well, who knows?
Don said they have outlined their whole itinerary but are not disclosing it. They want to surprise readers as they blog about the trip on their website. They intend to travel to about 40 national parks in their RV; they will need air travel to reach parks in Alaska, Hawaii, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands. And not only do they plan to visit every national park, they also hope to see many nearby national monuments and historic sites. They expect to end their tour on July 4, 2015.
The Hafners said this is a good time in their life to make such a trip. They are still young enough to fully enjoy travel and their two sons are grown, on their own and doing well. Sponsors are being enlisted to help pay for the national park tour and they hope to find other ways to earn money during their journey, such as selling notecards with Shelly’s national park pictures. You can follow their adventures at 59nationalparks.com.
The Hafners are representative of a lot of people who are not waiting for retirement to take extended RV trips or to become full-time RVers. In this month’s issue you can read a story by Arline Chandler about several couples who manage to earn enough money at seasonal jobs to keep themselves on the road. And if you have any thoughts of becoming a full-time RVer yourself, you can learn a lot by reading Rene Agredano’s column, “On the Road for Good,” in this magazine each month. In this month’s issue, Rene explores the tax implications of making your home on the road. As Rene demonstrates each month, there is much to consider before leaving a settled life for a rambling one, but there are many benefits, too.
Write to Mike Ward, editor at RV Life magazine, 18717 76th Avenue West, Suite B, Lynnwood, WA 98037 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Find First Glance online at rvlife.com.