Secrets of Super Cool Parents (Dylan Drake, The Camper Clan)

Today marks the first post in a new Cute Potato series that highlights creative, adventurous parents. MP recently had the opportunity to speak with Dylan Drake—mother, designer and organizational guru behind the Camper Clan—about her family’s decision to journey 6,200 miles across America by electric bike to break the Guinness World Record (4,176 miles)!

During husband Tomas Corjito’s daily rides, Dylan follows behind in their van with daughter Eva, age 4, and son Coco, age 2. Her day requires some serious planning: dealing with weather, mapping out routes, finding economical places to stay, and above all, entertaining the kids!

While traveling across country is a challenge, the family has prior road trip experience. In June 2013, they set off on a yearlong journey across the Americas from Tomas’ native Argentina to Dylan’s home state of Montana. The incredible experience fueled Dylan and Tomas’ desire to take on a bigger challenge, and share it with the world.

Their World Record adventure started in Missoula, Montana—the family’s hometown—in August 2014. If all goes as planned, the trip will end in Key West Florida in January 2015. Dylan and Tomas hope the trip will help promote sustainable transportation and encourage travel with young children.

MP chatted with Dylan after the family’s short visit to Maine about the ups and downs of life on the road.

MP: Before we start, I have to ask, what was your impression of Maine?
DD: I’ve never been to Maine, but I’ve always wanted to visit. We spent Halloween in Old Orchard Beach.

Coco on the beach in Old Orchard.

Coco on the beach in Old Orchard.

MP: What drew you to Old Orchard Beach?
DD: Tomas and I checked hotel costs in the Portland area, but we found the best rate in Old Orchard. We also wanted to be near the coast to see the Atlantic Ocean! We stayed at The Grand Beach Inn.

Tomas and Eva having fun on the beach.

Tomas and Eva having fun on the beach.

MP: What did you do with the kids while you were there?
DD: The Grand Beach Inn staff was incredibly friendly, and they recommended we take Eva and Coco to the Community Halloween party at the fire department. The party was great—there was a magic show, a bouncy house, and so much candy!

Coco and Eva before the Old Orchard Beach Halloween party.

Coco and Eva before the Old Orchard Beach Halloween party.

MP: I have to know, where did you eat?
DD: We tried Hoss & Mary’s fried lobster rolls, which were delicious. Eating a whole bunch of lobster on a sandwich – I never knew it was so great!

Tomas prepares to take a break after a long day of cycling.

Tomas prepares to take a break after a long day of cycling.

Dylan prepares to try her first lobster roll.

Dylan gets ready to try her first lobster roll.

MP: Your plan was to travel to Bar Harbor, but snowy weather got in your way.
DD: Yes, we had to re-route our trip to Boston instead.

MP: What made you decide to experience this adventure with your kids?
DD: In the past, Tomas had a corporate job and traveled a lot. He would see Eva and Coco for an hour at night, when the kids were tired and grumpy. We decided to change the way we did things, because what we really wanted was to spend time together as a family. Tomas and I also have a lot of travel-related dreams, and a love for electric bicycles and cycling in general. So we decided on a trip that incorporates our three favorite things (family, travel, and biking) with the hope of breaking the world record.

MP: How does the trip compare to your travels across the Americas?
DD: Our last trip was slower. We could really take our time. During this excursion, we are moving every day, so Tomas can get ahead of the weather and cover miles. It’s not as enjoyable in that sense because with kids you need to take time to stop and explore. However, we’re experiencing places we’ve never seen in the United States. As much as we want to travel the world, there is so much to see right here in our country.

MP: Preparing for any trip with kids can be a challenge. How did you plan what to bring on this trip?
DD: Our 2013 trip helped us get ready for this adventure. Honestly, the more you bring, the harder it’s going to be. You really don’t need that much stuff. The kids play with anything. Really, they rather play with sticks and pinecones than with their toys. And everyone only needs 3-4 changes of clothes, as long as there is access to washer/dryer, which can be found at most campgrounds and motels.

MP: What’s your typical day like on the road?
DD: Right now we’re staying in motels and hotels, which we really don’t like. We prefer campgrounds for their open space, play areas and campfires, but most are closed this time of year. When we’re in a hotel, it’s boring for the kids. We try to get out as early as possible. Tomas starts out first. He bikes 70-80 miles a day carrying six very heavy back-up batteries on the kids’ seat. The kids and I find a park with a playground and we meet Tomas there for a picnic lunch. He eats, plays with Eva and Coco, and then takes off to our planned end of the day meeting place.

Tomas carries 6 heavy back up batteries on the child's seat of his bike.

Tomas carries 6 heavy back up batteries on the child’s seat of his bike.

MP: How do you manage family meals on the road?
DD: We have a hot plate that we bring with us. We try to eat out as little as possible. If we go out, it’s usually around lunchtime because of bad weather. Every now and then we end up at McDonald’s, which is not my preference. We try to keep our meals healthy. Thankfully, most grocery stores have nice soups and salads. For dinner, we try to do one-pot meals – pasta, rice, and lots of fruits and vegetables. We have a refrigerator in the van, which also helps.

MP: What is your best tip for traveling with young children?
DD: Take it slow. I’ve learned this tip from experience. One activity a day is best. You also want to leave room for changing plans and exploring. Sometimes, the activity you think is going to be fun for them, they may not like — maybe they want to sit and play in the sand instead. Don’t get frustrated. Let the kids lead the exploration. They’re learning to be independent, after all.

MP: What are some of your favorite things to do with Eva and Coco while traveling?
DD: We focus our sights on playgrounds, exploring, meeting other kids, talking with local people, and not going to the touristy spots. Honestly, if it were just my husband and I we would be going on big hikes and going to museums, but with kids you have to change your focus a bit.

MP: Family travel is so expensive. What are your tips for traveling frugally on the road?
DD: The van is a bit of a gas-guzzler, but it’s more fuel-efficient than an RV. Lodging is expensive. During summer road trips, we prefer staying at campgrounds for this reason. Most campgrounds have pools, playgrounds, and rec rooms, plus with a small van, you can stay for $20 a night and do your own cooking. A national park pass really helps, too.

We’ve been traveling a year and a half now, so we are on a really tight budget. We go to thrift stores when we need clothes. We’ve found brand names and things that are barely worn. In all cases, we try not to buy things brand new – Craigslist is great for that.

MP: What are some of your daily challenges?
DD: The kids fighting with each other is the hardest. Truly, on the road, you deal with all the same issues you deal with at home: disciplining, sharing, and learning how to cooperate. We’re in public a lot, so it’s hard sometimes. People don’t always understand when your kid is having a temper tantrum out in the open.

Work is another challenge. At night, after the kids go to bed, we’re blogging or doing photos until midnight or later. It’s a lot of work. We don’t have much downtime or friends and family to help. Traveling like this can be a lot of work, but we’re enjoy every minute of it.

MP: So when do you rest?
DD: Every now and then I’ll put the TV on for the kids. Or when we’re at the playground, and Coco and Eva are playing with other kids, it’s like I’m not even there! Local libraries have been a great resource for us, too—they’re warm and the activities are free!

MP: When you hit bad weather, like Sunday’s snow, do you have a Plan B ready?
DD: We always check the weather the day before we leave. We check the route, and get an early start if weather is coming later in the day. Tomas will ride in the rain, though.

MP: What do use as a source for your routes?
DD: There’s a great non-profit group called Adventure Cycling that mapped out the entire US for routes that connect roads with bike paths. Google Maps also helps – it shows how big the shoulders on the road are, so we can find a safe biking route.


MP: What do you look forward to most about returning home to Missoula?
DD: I’m looking forward to not having to pack every day! I can’t wait for the kids to have their own rooms, and for Tomas and I to have our own space as a couple again. There are definitely good things about having a stable life: spending time with friends, gardening, having better meals, and being a part of a community!

MP: What’s next for your family?
DD: Tomas and I would like to start a business of some kind. We’re also planning to do a documentary of our trip. We are both amateur photographers, so we are applying the things we learned with still photography to filming. Tomas and I are taking as much footage as possible during our journey. We hope we can put together an informative and inspiring documentary with the help of our partner, a seasoned director, in post-production.

Many thanks to Dylan for sharing her family’s story!  To learn more about the Camper Clan and their travels, visit www.camperclan.com or see their daily photos on Instagram.

Know a super cool mom or dad who is doing something really inspiring? Email us here.


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