When Carl and JoAnn Valderama met at Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School in Alameda, California, back in 1995, they started out as “just friends.” But like so many great relationships, that solid foundation of friendship turned into dating. And today, they’re living their happily ever after with three incredible kids, Jonah (12), Malia (10), and Luke (6). Together, they’re One Happy Ohana (one happy family in Hawaiian).
Camping In A Pop-Up Tent
In a household of five with two working parents, life is busy. But that’s never stopped this ohana from hitting the road and spending time together. Carl grew up camping, and now that he has a family of his own, the activity has become a big part of their vacations. When the Valderama children were small, the family would pile into the car with a pop-up tent in tow, headed off to explore parks wherever they could pitch a tent. They take advantage of the Every Kid In A Park program, where fourth graders are granted a pass giving them access to any national park in the U.S for free. It’s a part of their family tradition now–they utilized the program for their oldest, Jonah, when he was in the fourth grade, and now they’re using it again for their daughter, Malia, whose love for the outdoors has blossomed in the process. Malia recently colored in a diagram of things she can’t imagine life without, and camping made the list. Her parents were elated. “Our biggest hope is that by exposing the kids to the outdoors that they continue the love of life and seek out new adventures with their own families one day,” Carl said.
In their early camping days, the Valderamas took regular road trips with another family who had a pop-up trailer. Every night at bedtime, their friends would climb into the comfy, temperature controlled, bug-free trailer, while each member of the Valderama family laid on blow up mats inside their tents. Although that version of camping was fun, they’d always dreamed of the luxuries of owning an RV. They just never thought it would happen until after retirement. “That would be the responsible thing to do,” they said. At least that’s what they thought at the time.
Carl and JoAnn both work in healthcare – Carl, as an EMT and JoAnn as a nurse. Back in August of 2016, both Carl and JoAnn dealt with major reality-check experiences on the job. As an EMT, it’s not unusual for Carl to be on the scene in some scary situations, but on one particular day, the tragedy of a lost child really hit him hard. In the same month, JoAnn’s unit also lost a young child. As parents of young children themselves, they were shaken. Suddenly, both Carl and JoAnn felt an urgency to live life to the fullest. “We’ll never be able to get these memories with our kids back or have a re-do,” Carl said. “We want them to look back on their time with us and say, our parents were cool.” The couple had an immediate urge to start being intentional about building memories with their kids. And the hunt for a “mansion on wheels” began.
Tent Camping To A Mansion On Wheels
Over the course of the next month, they researched and found exactly the right motorhome. It was a Tiffin Allegro RED. The only problem was, it was clear across the country in Pennsylvania. But Carl and JoAnn dove in head first. Carl remembers JoAnn’s words exactly, “Let’s just do it,” she said. They booked the one-way flights, found someone to watch the kids for three days, and off they went to get their “mansion on wheels”, as they refer to it today. Without having ever driven a motorhome before, Carl somehow made his way through Philadelphia rush hour traffic and then all the way across the country back to California in three days. Fortunately, he’s used to driving an ambulance, so the size of the coach didn’t take too much adjusting.
It’s nearly three years later, and their camping experience is a tad different than the old pop-up tent days. The Allegro RED they chose (lovingly named “Penny”) fits all five of their ohana (with bunk beds, of course). They’ve even hosted as many as 13 people for dinner. You read that right–13 people in one motorhome for dinner. But hey, it worked! When it’s a packed “house,” they love to utilize the covered outdoor space as much as possible.
Making Memories As A Family
In today’s world, most kids grow up with electronics in-hand at all times. It’s a hard norm to avoid for parents. Even riding in the car, the beauty of the great outdoors can start to fade into the backdrop when there’s a screen to watch instead. But the Valderamas have found that there can be a healthy mix of both.
Of course, they watch movies together, but once they arrive at a park, they unpack their bikes and hit the trails. At their favorite spot in northern California along the Russian River, the kids (and parents) have a place to splash around and play on the water for hours. With all that activity, there’s some well-deserved relaxing going on inside the coach at the end of the day. Sometimes that means a movie, but they also play games, put puzzles together, and just hang out. “We’ve learned to be physically close to each other,” said Carl. “It’s taught everybody patience. In this day and age, kids are hooked to electronics, You have to find things where you can get along for a few hours.” And when it’s time to pack up and drive home, the kids have roles and chores to help get the RV ready for the road. “It’s taught them responsibility,” JoAnn said.
They try to take one big trip a year for a few weeks at a time and then escape for long weekend trips as frequently as possible. In the summer of 2017, they caravanned with two other families from California to Utah and over to one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon. As you might imagine, the Grand Canyon was epic and breath-taking. But the main reason it was such a memorable trip was because of the time they spent together and sharing those memories with friends. As for their hopes of instilling a love of the outdoors in their children? It seems to be working. Each of their kids has each expressed that, one day, they too want to own a motorhome so they can travel with their families. This summer, the Valderamas are finishing off their list of parks in Utah, a couple in Sedona, Arizona, and one more in California.
A Motorhome Community
Since purchasing their Allegro RED, Carl and JoAnn have enjoyed the comradery of the Tiffin community and the Tiffin Allegro Club. They noticed that other owners were raving about the rallies, so after some digging, they found the Hemet Rally was being hosted nearby, and they decided to check it out for themselves. The seminars and sneak peeks of new merchandise and coaches were great, but it was the culture they found there that turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Everyone wanted to talk about travel adventures and enjoy the company of other motorhome enthusiasts. Before they knew it, Carl and JoAnn had become fast friends with a couple all the way from Georgia. “If we hadn’t been at that rally, we probably never would have been able to get to know them,” JoAnn said. “When we were there, we felt like we were with our people.” There’s just something about those Tiffin owners...
Whether they’re driving three hours or 15, with every new destination, the Valderama family loves meeting new people and creating priceless memories. Life in a motorhome means something different for everyone. For this ohana, it’s not just about the destinations–it’s the experience of traveling together that’s made them closer as a family. Carl and JoAnn are able to watch the awe on their children’s faces as they experience totally foreign landscapes and scenery for the very first time. “You only get one chance at life,” Carl said. “Get out there and make memories with your family. Have fun.”