Blythe is a vivacious woman in her 70s who spends part of the year traveling solo in her van and the rest of the year living in a fifth wheel in the desert. While not currently a full-time traveler, she’s nomadic and moves with the seasons. She’s spent time on the road since she was a kid with a truck driver for a dad and has crisscrossed the United States countless times in the last 30+ years.
I met Blythe at the 2017 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous and found her to be a sweet and caring person. I’ve been able to visit with her more once we found ourselves spending winters in the same area. At the end of November 2018, I sat down with Blythe on a warm desert day and talked with her about her rig, fear (and the lack of it), and her advice to older women who are considering solo travel in a van.
Rubber Tramp Artist: I know that now you’re not a full-time traveler, but you are nomadic, and you travel with the seasons. What months do you do most of your traveling?
Blythe: In the perfect situation, it would be during the summer, but…it depends on when I’m going to the VA for appointments, when I go to see my daughter in one part of the states , and then I go on the other side [of the country] to the other daughters. It just depends on a lot of stuff, but primarily I try to do it around late spring and late summer.
RTA: Do you go pretty much the same route every year to do your visiting?
Blythe: Pretty much because I’ve been doing it for a really, really long time, but not from here so long. This is the third year [from] here.
RTA: If you go to the same places every year, how do you keep your travels from getting boring? Do you stop in different places? Are [do you have a mindset of] “I just want to get from Point A to Point B without a lot of stopping”?
Blythe: It depends on what’s going on [and] why I’m going. I stop and see my sisters in Montana . I stop along the way. I stay overnight here and there. Primarily when I go up I go the same way because it’s quick. I stop…and stay at a little lake…I stop a lot actually, when I think about it…
It used to be that I just drove a lot but I always varied everything. I traveled for 20 years back and forth from Seattle to Florida because I had one kid in Florida and two kids in Seattle. I would go to my mom’s in Montana, then I’d drop down and go to Albuquerque to see my brother…I had land in [southern] New Mexico , and I’d stop there for a week or two and relax and then I’d head to Florida. I did that for 20 years, and I did it sometimes twice a year…Otherwise, I never would have seen my grandchildren or my children…I just enjoyed myself and went back and forth.
RTA: So you started traveling often as a way to be in contact with your grandkids?
Blythe: Yeah…I traveled before that because my dad was a truck driver and he used to make me drive with him. I started out real young.
RTA: Tell me about your rig. What do you travel in?
Blythe: A Ford van. It’s one that was built specially for traveling.
It had a bed in the back that was horrible. I took that out. One of my friends and her husband and son and grandson, it took them three hours to get it out because [the bolts were] so rusted in. They finally got it out. Then I built another bed in there. Just recently I built another bed.
RTA: Do you have a kitchen in the van?
Blythe: I don’t really have a kitchen. I have [space] where I can cook if I need to, and I can cook outside of course. But [the van] is pretty big. It’s a lot bigger than the last van I had. The last van I had was a minivan. This one [her current van] is a lot more comfortable and has a lot more room.
RTA: It looks like [your van has] a bit of a high top. Can you stand up in it?
Blythe: I can because I’ve been shrinking so much. All I have to do is tilt my head a little bit, and I can stand up, which is wonderful, the only good thing about being old I can think of!
RTA: What are three things you love about your van?
Blythe: It’s a nice old van, and it’s faster than the last one I had. Before that I had a Chinook motor home. It was a ’76 and… the size of a Toyota pickup. So [the current van] is a lot bigger than that one.
I really like Fords. They’re my favorite kind.
It’s really sturdy, and it’s been flipping around for a while. I’ve had it almost four years.
RTA: What year is it?
Blythe: It’s an ’89…It only cost me $1000. One of my friends got it in trade for horses. She called me and said, “I got a van for you!” [Laughs]
RTA: What are three things you’d like to change about the van?
Blythe: [Long pause] Not too much of anything, actually. I’m pretty satisfied with it. I want to keep it going for another ten years. I’ve been doing a lot of maintenance work on it. In the last month I’ve had all kinds of different things done to it. I’ve got one more thing to go and then it will be pretty well set for quite a while.
It’s got a really good motor. That’s one of the reasons I like Fords…because their motors last a long time…If there was anything [I wanted to change], I’d just change it. I get attached to my vehicles.
The minivan I had for ten years. I kept saying “This is the last trip. This is the last trip,” and it kinda just gave up finally after all those last trips.
RTA: Why do you prefer to travel in your van instead of flying or taking a train or going on the bus?
Blythe: The van will go places that the train and bus don’t go. I couldn’t stop to see a lot of people. Pretty soon I’m going to start flying though because I am getting older. It’s not as much fun to drive anymore. I think if you drive your whole life and you drive a lot you get sort of tired of the whole thing.
I’m thinking about flying to Montana and then flying over to Washington and then down to Eugene where my girlfriend lives or else taking a train down there is always fun.
[Traveling in the van] is just easier because of the weird places I go…I don’t like hotels or motels. I find them really yucky. You never know who was there before you!
RTA: Do your kids worry about you when you’re on the road?
Blythe: I think they kinda do but not really because I’ve been doing it for so long…It would be different if I’d just started. I think that’s a whole different ballgame, but if your mother’s been going across the United States for the last 40 years and driving and never having that much problems, and the problems I do have haven’t been so bad that I couldn’t get out of it…[The kids] get used to it.
I asked… my oldest daughter , and she said, “Oh, I know you run around with this angel on your shoulder, and I don’t think there’s anything that could get you.”
RTA: Where do you stay when you’re not traveling?
Blythe: At this RV park that we’re in right now. This is sort of new because I stay here most of the year.
I’m thinking about trying to find a place in Northern Arizona so that I can be there during the summer. I hate staying with my children more than a month at a time because I feel like I’m taking advantage of them, and I don’t like to do that. They say, “Oh, you’re not [taking advantage]. You’re not! We’re fine with it.“ They have their own lives. Why should they have their mother looking over their shoulder?
RTA: So, we’re in the desert and I’m thinking that your concern is that it gets too hot here.
Blythe: It gets pretty warm.
RTA: For about six months of the year…
Blythe: No, not six months.
RTA: Not for you because you like it really hot…
Blythe: I feel good when it’s warm. Probably four months out of the year [it’s really hot].
RTA: So maybe you’re thinking of transitioning to traveling less because maybe now you’ll be flying…
Blythe: Yeah. Yeah.
RTA: So you’d want a place to go sort of in those…I think they call them in…the travel industry the “shoulder” months when it’s still too hot to be in the desert.
RTA: How did you decide on this place in the desert as your home base?
Blythe: It offers a lot of stuff that most places don’t. I don’t have to move around [because she can leave her RV on her lot all year long]. I’ve got an RV that’s pretty good size.
There’s water [where she stays when not traveling] and there’s shower houses and all kinds of stuff to do and nice people and it’s just a good place. It’s a real good place.
RTA: Before you got this fifth wheel that you have now, were you living full-time in your van other than the times you were visiting [people]?
Blythe: At times. Like I said, it’s been a long time. The first van I had was given to me because this girl’s grandmother had died. Her name was Maggie; we named the van Maggie. It had a bed in the back and a refrigerator, and a stove, and it had a little closet…I drove that until it literally almost fell apart. I used to take my grandchildren all over the place…with it. I lived in that [van] quite a bit…over the years…
RTA: Before you moved into this fifth wheel, were you living full-time in the van?
Blythe: Yeah. Except for I lived up around Seattle…I was up there 18 months this last time…It’s very, very expensive up there…Without living somewhere that’s less expensive, I had to think about every penny I spent. Every penny! Literally. I got sick and tired of that. I just thought, well, I’ll find someplace else. Then I heard about this place.
RTA: What do you like about living and traveling solo?
Blythe: You don’t have to talk to somebody about where you’re gonna go, when you’re gonna go, where you gonna eat, why you’re gonna eat. All the stuff that you have when you have other people traveling with you in your van, which I can’t even imagine, except for my grandchildren, and they’re grown now so I don’t have to worry about that.
Traveling with other people in their own vans is a lot more fun, but you still have to worry about where you’re going to meet them or if they take off and you don’t know where they went. Like I had a situation where someone took off and I hadn’t even looked at the map because I didn’t think I needed to. Then we ended up not knowing where we were going. The other person I was traveling with didn’t bring a map and neither did I.
Blythe: It turned out to be a lot of fun, but still…You don’t have to worry about that when you’re on your own…You just figure it out on your own.
RTA: Is there anything that you don’t like about living and traveling solo?
Blythe: [Long pause] No. I have never had fear because I wasn’t brought up with fear when I was a kid. My dad always told us there was absolutely nothing we couldn’t do. He also told us that being girls, we had to react like men to fear instead of…reacting to fear with fear like women are taught to do. React to fear with anger. That does tend to help…
I’m very careful. I never, ever take any chances. If I feel like there’s something wrong, I just get up and turn on the motor and leave…If you have any inclinations that way, you should listen to them. I always told my kids that. I was in a place in Texas and I got really uncomfortable and I thought, Oh, I already paid for it and blah blah blah…Then I thought, If I was talking to my kids, I’d say “Get out of here,” so I just got in the front and left.
RTA: What advice would you give to other older women who are considering doing solo travel in vans?
Blythe: [Begin by] tak[ing] little trips because if you haven’t done it like I have my whole life, you need to get acclimated to it. Fear is often a lack of knowledge about what you’re doing so if you do it, then you get…really comfortable and it won’t be this big scary thing. [It becomes] something that’s fun and easy to do. It is very simple to live this way. You don’t have to have electricity. You can have solar lights that charge in your window…You can even just have [lights that use batteries]. It’s not a big deal. You just have to get used to it.
This interview was edited for clarity and length. Blythe approved this version of the interview before it was published.