Camping as leisure is often passed down through generations. Memories of childhood trips inspire new parents to envision their own family trips – just like TK McKamy and his wife Marielle when they envisioned a trip to Big Sur to show their kids the magic of coastal Redwoods.
We caught up with TK after his trip to chat about his inspiration, motivation, takeaways, and thoughts on their mobile base camp for the trip, the Coleman Lantern LT 17R.
TK McKamy is a film director known for his work on American music videos. He planned this trip with his wife, Marielle, and their two kids, Mavi (4 years) and Knox (four months).
We wanted to learn more about TK and whether camping was new to him or part of his life growing up.
You mentioned growing up trailer camping almost every weekend. Can you talk more about how that instilled a passion to share the outdoors in this way with your family?
Growing up, camping trips brought my family together. My family is very product-based: drive forward, everything is a task and an action. There’s no static stillness. I’m trying to mix those two worlds together where we have the drive and the adventure of that mindset that my folks gave me, and my wife brings in this stillness of reminding us that the simple things in life are the most fulfilling.
But despite growing up camping, I stepped away from RVing for about 15 years. I’ve tried to rent one or go on a trip with friends every year or two. I’ve also worked in the country music industry and done trips on tour buses, but we’re honestly looking to return to the RV lifestyle.
My biggest takeaways from camping as a child are probably capability and confidence. It became ingrained in me as a child. It’s not something I just dove into. It’s something I was raised up in. It gave me an awareness of myself and my environment.
At least the way we did it: we learned knots, we learned how to build a fire without any sort of firestarter. So now I can do those things on our camping trips with our daughter. These things generate self-confidence and provide opportunities for their capabilities to grow.
A good camping trip can be meticulously planned. It can also grow organically from a simple fascination to visit a new place. We wanted to know what drove TK and his family to plan this trip and learn more about their intentions.
What inspired you to plan this trip?
I think the motivation for many families like ours is to cut out of the digital realm and get into an analog life where you are focused on the simple things in life and nature. At some point, this line came into my head:
The times I feel most content have no forward movement at all.
That principle is exactly what I aspire to give my family: an opportunity where Dad and Mom aren’t moving any balls forward. I work in a career where every moment is an opportunity to move your ball forward regarding scripts or development or getting another picture funded. You’re constantly in another place, mentally.
For my family, camping brings everything together into a sort of tribal, simplistic survival space. It’s your essentials and being out in nature. Those things, for me, are really what motivates us to get in a travel trailer, to see the parks, and to experience those simple things.
Had you visited Big Sur before?
We chose Big Sur because we’re based near Gatlinburg, Tennessee and didn’t just want to go down the street to camp somewhere we’re already familiar with. We’ve been there and done that, and I love that environment, but we were seeking something for my kids, my wife, and myself to experience something different.
This was my fourth trip to Big Sur. If you’ve never been, there’s something really interesting about the spirit in that air. It’s really magical. It could be a bright sunny day, and somehow it still feels like a campfire at night. I don’t know what it is. That energy when you’re sitting around a campfire, it extends throughout the course of the day. There’s something strange about the energy there.
I’m from the South, and even though I lived in California for 10+ years, there’s something still wildly amazing to me, as a Southern kid, to look at the Redwoods and know that some are more than 500 years old…it’s humbling and makes you feel a bit minuscule while somehow making you feel completely connected to nature at the same time.
The Coleman Lantern LT 17R
Travel Trailer Specs
- Length: 21’5”
- Dry Weight: 2,970 pounds
- Sleeping Capacity: Up to 3
The McKamy family shared their camping experience in the Coleman Lantern LT 17R, a lightweight travel trailer that’s “the perfect, turn-key first trailer, especially for small families or couples,” according to TK.
Why this trip with this RV?
This trailer was great for Big Sur and I wouldn’t take a huge RV along Highway 1 because many campgrounds have size restrictions of 30 feet or less. The twisty, windy roads would be tough to navigate with a larger RV. Having more agility was really beneficial and I thought it would be tougher to back into our campsite than it was.
What first caught your eye about the Coleman Lantern 17R?
It’s a great option for first-time RV owners because the systems are simple and easy to use. There’s no concern about retracting the slide-out at the wrong time, causing damage, or troubleshooting a complex control system. It seemed nearly analog and that was a bit of a relief for us with everything else we had going on with the kids. It was easy for me to figure everything out the whole thing in less than an hour. With really young kids, we did struggle a bit with the lack of storage, but it’s a very efficient design, and there aren’t many things that can go wrong with it.
What was your favorite feature of the Coleman Lantern 17R by the end of the trip?
I really loved the electric fireplace. Not having to worry about the heater. Nights dropped into the mid-40s, and we turned on the fire at night, and it was wonderful heat inside that space.
What made the Coleman Lantern 17R a good fit (or not) for this adventure?
The beds were great. I would recommend mattress toppers, but we picked those up and they made our nights super comfortable. One thing that was a bit comical, at least in hindsight, was that I hit my head nine times on those awning arms. So I spent some time sitting there thinking about how I’d redesign that feature because I nearly knocked myself out twice. But I had a camper as a kid that had the same thing, and I remember now hitting my head on it too. So it was a funny sort of total recall for me.
I will say, though, that it was great when I wasn’t hitting my head on it. When I had campers in the late 90s, awnings weren’t automatic, and this one was so efficient. I was very pleased by how easily it worked.
I think that you don’t really want all those bells and whistles when you’re just getting into RVing. There are so many echelons you can start stacking on unnecessary complexities. When you’re first getting into it, a trailer like this is a great option that isn’t a super small teardrop or pop-up camper. It’s a great beginner’s camper.
So what part of Big Sur did the McKamy family visit? We asked how they planned their adventure and where they stayed:
We flew into San Jose, had a short hour-long car ride to Camping World of San Martin, picked up the trailer, and stayed at a hotel that night because we had traveled all day from Tennessee. The next morning, we set up the trailer and departed early to make the 2.5-3 hour drive into the heart of Big Sur.
I chose a campsite in Big Sur Campground with a river next to it, so we did a lot of river walks and hikes through the forests or to see views of the coastline. For us, it was a lot about getting there and getting settled because we were looking for that quality leisure time.
You could walk one mile from that campground to a restaurant or gas station. If you’re going to stay, I’d highly recommend site #10. It was magical. We stayed there three nights and packed out in one day back to San Jose.
Not many trailers come fully equipped with everything you need for your first RV trip. Here’s what the McKamy family packed to make their trip successful and enjoyable:
- Camping Lantern
- Camping Chairs
- Bedding and Blankets
- Picnic Tablecloth
- Pots, Plates, and Cutlery
- Camping Games
- Welcome Home Floor Mat
- Hanging Lights
- S’mores Kit
- Firewood and Firestarters
- Organic Bug Spray
- Big Sur Map and Guide Book
- Leveling Blocks
- Gloves for Waste Management
- Cutting Board
- Kid’s Paintings
- Vase for Fresh Flowers
The Art of Simplicity
Keeping things simple can allow you to really enjoy your camping trip. We asked TK how his family embraced the idea of simplicity and how that guided their adventure.
You mention “escaping to the analog” as one of the primary motivations for your RV trips. Can you tell us more about how you plan or structure your trips to create opportunities for a “digital detox?”
I think you just have to be flexible. That was our intention going out there, and my sweet wife was so patient with me because there’s a lot to manage when you have a four-year-old and a four-month-old. Our four-year-old needs constant stimulation, and meanwhile, our four-month-old requires constant care and then on top of that, it’s all the maintenance and care on the trailer, and then on top of that, we’re working to capture our adventure.
So it was a lot. But we really do desire to get off our technology and not be on social media, not be on cameras, not be on anything. So the intention is to give our kids our eyes and that intimacy. It sounds so silly, but it’s real. It’s that letting go of the digital world and focusing on anything analog while enrolling your kids through that process that’s really fascinating to me.
Reflection is a big part of improving upon your camping trips. So we asked TK about his favorite moments, unexpected events, and major takeaways from his family’s time in Big Sur:
What was your favorite part of the journey and why?
So, I started hiding these tiny rocks around the campsite that I found at a gas station. They were beautiful, tumbled gemstones and my daughter would find them now and then and feel like she discovered treasure. I think it blew her mind and that was one of my favorite parts of our trip: finding these little moments of simplistic nothingness that was just a magical connection with our kids.
Also, I remember developing friendships at campgrounds when I was a kid. We’d go for a walk, meet some kids, do some stuff, and then return to the trailer. So it was my four-year-old’s first experience with that. And then she develops these short friendships that a four-year-old will grieve losing, and it was a great teaching point for my wife and I because we hold friendships loosely because we’ve traveled a lot, people change, and we’re okay with that. So it was a great opportunity to explore this short-term friendship concept with our daughter because she cried 2-3 times when kids were leaving.
Campgrounds bring strangers with no previous connection together and create instant friendships for a few days. And it happened for us adults too, exchanging butter or wine as needed and just leaning into those connections.
Tell us about the most unexpected part of your adventure.
We went with the intentions of simplicity, cutting out, getting away from it all, and being together. I think with that intention, it was hard to fail. There were moments where I got frustrated, and my wife was keeping the energy high, my camera didn’t work for half a day, or things that made me grumpy, which forced me to step back and ponder:
You can perceive the world as an opportunity, or you can perceive it as a problem, and you’re right either way.
So for me, with trailer camping, it was important to admit that I’m going into an adventure leisure experience with my family and choosing to see the obstacles ahead as opportunities to overcome and not problems to identify. I’m constantly looking for problems to solve, but when you’re constantly looking for problems to solve, you’re constantly looking for negative things in your life, thus manifesting negative conversations constantly. And that principle is one of my biggest struggles in life, so I was trying not to bring that into this experience for my family.
What tips would you have for aspiring RVers looking to buy or rent for the first time?
My advice would be to book two more days than you think you need, take everything super slow, and have no time agenda. Our trip was 4 days, 3 nights, and I’d recommend stretching it to five nights for the purpose of getting settled a bit more and having more time for leisure.
I think where you get in trouble in trailer world is when you get in a rush. When you get in a rush, and someone in your camp has an expectation that this is going to happen at this time, dangers present themselves, breaks present themselves, and if you’re new, you’re making guesses that you may have to financially pay for later. So my advice would be to take it slow and have cushion time.
RV trips are perfect for taking a break from your normal pace of life, especially with kids. You don’t need to worry about hotel rooms and can get into nature easily while still enjoying some of the comforts of home.
Here are a few more resources you might be interested in:
- The Best Family Travel Trailers Under 4,500 Pounds
- Why a Used RV May Be a Good Option for Your Family
- How to Plan a Family RV Trip
What questions do you have about their adventure or their RV? Share in the comments below.