How Sweet It Is

Trip Planning

How Sweet It Is

When Natalie Campanella left the cold corridors of NYC life for sunny southern California in her early twenties, she knew that she wanted to live in a place in which she could “be outdoors” year round. In her mind she harbored the idea that someday, somehow, she would be in a place where she could explore the west coast from San Diego to Canada and beyond. She imagined the sweet life songwriters and poets wax about when extolling the virtues of southern California, a place where it never rains and the days are longer and the nights are stronger than moonshine, a place where dreamers go to live.

Natalie grew up in the Midwest in a camping family, the youngest of seven siblings. She took into adulthood vivid childhood memories of the rocky Canadian beaches of Newfoundland and of spelunking in the cold, dark caves of Kentucky with her six siblings and five cousins who joined her family each year on their camping pilgrimages. Long car rides in the family station wagon before seat belts and air conditioning. Rolling through the miles with the windows down and kids sprawled all over each other. Eight track cassettes with the Beatles Greatest Hits. Coleman lanterns and the parental warning to not touch it when lit! Mosquito bites dotted with calamine lotion and with an “x” dug into them with a fingernail. That and moms sympathy being the standard remedy of the day. Shorts and tees by day, and jeans and hoodies by night. Campfires, sing-a-longs, toasted marshmallows and lightning bugs in jars. Natalie stored all these memories and hoped to one day add to them.

Natalie (the middle hooded child!) with her siblings on a family camping trip in Fish Creek, Wisconsin

Post-college life has a way of getting really busy, really fast and Natalie’s life was no exception. Natalie’s move to the West Coast took her to Santa Monica where she continued pursuing the performing arts while working in the legal department of a large corporate real estate agency. In New York she had been a regular performer at the 1980s famed punk rock and improv venue, CBGB’s, in the East Village.  Her free time on the west coast was spent at an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico where she helped the founders raise not only money, but also the spirits of the 100 children who lived there. She was free to “be outside” all the time and ran the LA marathon with her Tijuana “kids” in mind. She raised enough money through sponsorships to contribute to the purchase of a used school bus to take the kids on outings off the orphanage grounds. She knew that exposure to nature has healing effects. She went to her bosses so often with charity projects and fundraising ideas that they eventually made her the manager of the nonprofit within the company. For the next 10 years, she raised funds through the company real estate offices and provided services and assistance to countless individuals and groups until the corporate office changed its structure in 2015 and the job was eliminated. For the first time since graduating from college, she was unemployed.

The RV dream was a little tarnished when Natalie and Dominic rescued their 1960s Shasta

For the practical Natalie, this would not have seemed like a good time to make her camping dream come true but with her school teacher husband Dominic, and their adopted daughter, the timing actually seemed perfect. Leaving corporate America had a way of crystalizing what was really important to them and redefining priorities.

It was all hands on deck to bring their trailer, “Georgie,” back to life

About a year before losing her job, Natalie, who had developed the dangerous habit of scanning the Craigslist ads in LA for vintage trailers, found one in her price range. It was a fixer upper but not a tear down. The 1960s Shasta was a barn find and had been first bought by someone who dolled it up, but did not make it road worthy. It needed new tires and wiring and safety updates before the fun of putting it together for family use. They found a local jack-of-all-trades who loved the project and helped them overcome a lot of the obstacles while rehabbing that trailer that were above their skill set.

The first family outing in the restored trailer included lots of good food!

Natalie loves design, and as a single woman had purchased and renovated a condominium.  She describes her design style as “minimalist modern bohemian.” She wanted the trailer to be simple with clean lines to evoke a feeling of ease. She says that the view from the large rear window is the picture. She didn’t want anything on the walls to compete with nature outside. She began to think of camping as a “lifestyle” choice, not just a weekend in the woods, but also a way of creating a space of serenity to retreat, even if it was just in her own driveway. The idea of owning an RV was about more than just going places affordably. It became about a decision to make time for each other and meet new friends and create a “stress free” zone.

Beach camping along the California coast is now a way of life for the Campanella family!

Each year Natalie and Dominic attend an annual camping trip on Mother’s Day weekend with all of their friends who adopted children from Ethiopia. Last year was the first year they got to take “Georgie,” named after Natalie’s dad, her camping mentor, on the trip. It was their first towing experience and sleepover in the trailer at an actual campground. They loved it! Their daughter is very engaged and eager to help get ready. She plans trips with them and will ask, “Did you make reservations yet?” They enjoy teaching her about maps and nature and camping tricks on their adventures and Natalie looks forward to camping with all of their friends on a mother/daughter camp out for ‘girls only’ one day. She also looks forward to camping with me, her real life sister, on the other side of this beautiful country. We have not camped together since childhood and spend many hours on the phone reminiscing and expressing gratitude for the childhoods we had while plotting a way to get both of our trailers in the same place.

Natalie’s dream of owning an RV that she could use at a moments notice took time and patience, but finally happened.

The Sweet Life – California style! 

In imagining her camping ideal, she redefined camping as she had known it as a child. To the adult Natalie camping was now a “lifestyle” version of what she had known as a child. She says, “I like the spin of camping being more than a place to sleep, but a place of comfort and order where I truly feel relaxed and at peace.”  When life is too busy for a weekend getaway the family gets up early on Sunday mornings and heads to the beach for “day camping.” Their daughter is so into the adventures that she “insists” on having the camper packed and hooked up before they go to bed on Saturday nights. She tells her mother she can’t sleep because she is too excited. It truly is the “sweet life” she dreamed about when she made the move west. It took decades to make it happen but it finally did! She is now living the dream she held in her heart for so long and giving her daughter a share in her memories as she tells her childhood camping stories around the campfire. They are also creating new ones to pass to the generations around campfires not yet lit.

The Bohemian dream!

California dreamin’ became a reality for these happy campers!

woman posing

Girl Camper

Janine Pettit

Janine Pettit is a lifelong lover of camping who took a 25 year sabbatical when she married a “resort” type guy! She discovered that camping was still in the cards for her when she stumbled onto an article about a women’s outdoor adventure group that travels around the country in RVs, meeting new friends, checking off bucket list adventures and doing things she had only dreamed of. Janine has become an Ambassador for the Girl Camping movement and encourages women to go places and do things in her blog and podcast.