Tauranga locals, Amy Board and Pat Johnston, take their three daughters Ellie (10), Celia (8) and Molly (4) on a year-long trip around America, the country of Pat’s birth.


  • Auck­land, New Zealand
  • LAX, Cal­i­for­nia
  • Red­woods, Cal­i­for­nia
  • Sebastopol, Cal­i­for­nia
  • Bode­ga Bay, Cal­i­for­nia
  • Grand Canyon, Ari­zona
  • Oma­ha, Nebraska
  • Bear Creek, Wyoming
  • Boise, Ida­ho
  • Mt Rainier, Wash­ing­ton
  • Fidal­go Island, Wash­ing­ton
  • Port Townsend, Wash­ing­ton
  • Makah Indi­an Reser­va­tion, Wash­ing­ton
  • Hoh Rain­forest, Wash­ing­ton
  • Quin­ault Rain­forest, Wash­ing­ton
  • Port­land, Ore­gon
  • Paci­fic City, Ore­gon
  • Tillam­ook forest, Ore­gon
  • Eugene, Ore­gon
  • Crater Lake, Ore­gon
  • Smith Rock, Ore­gon
  • Bend, Ore­gon
  • Sum­mer Lake, Ore­gon
  • Port­land, Ore­gon
  • Flo­rence, Ore­gon


  • Nevada City, Cal­i­for­nia
  • Yosemite, Cal­i­for­nia
  • Los Ange­les, Cal­i­for­nia
  • Anza bor­re­go, Cal­i­for­nia
  • Joshua Tree, Cal­i­for­nia
  • Phoenix, Ari­zona
  • Albu­querque, New Mex­i­co

Trav­el­ling around Amer­i­ca in a bus has always been a dream for us. I want­ed the free­dom of long-term trav­el and the expe­ri­ence of camp­ing alongside oth­er trav­el­ling fam­i­lies. My hus­band, Pat, was drawn to explor­ing nation­al parks and teach­ing the kids wilder­ness skills, as well as show­ing them that the coun­try of his birth has so much more to offer than the neg­a­tive clichés they often heard.

LAST YEAR WE RECEIVED AN INVITATION TO A FAMILY WEDDING IN AMERICA. It seemed a pret­ty big expense for just two weeks. We rea­soned that the chil­dren were the ide­al age for full-time trav­el and we had a fam­i­ly base (Pat’s par­ents) in the mid­dle of Amer­i­ca to launch from, so we decid­ed this was the ide­al time to trav­el for a year.

WE MOVED OUT OF OUR HOME ON OCEANBEACH ROAD IN THE MOUNT, gave away or sold most of our belong­ings, and bought five, one-way tick­ets to Los Ange­les. Pat’s uncle picked us up in his lux­u­ri­ous 33foot, class-A RV. He drove us the 2,500 km back to Pat’s home town in style, with us think­ing, “Don’t get used to this, kids!”

WHILE STAYING WITH PAT’S PARENTS IN OMAHA, WE QUICKLY BOUGHT A 1985 CONVERTED SHORT BUS FROM A SELFPROCLAIMED REDNECK. He had built it as a ‘bug-out bus’ for the impend­ing apoc­a­lypse and had installed a new Chevy hot rod engine, new tyres and brakes, and a ridicu­lous­ly pow­er­ful sound sys­tem; Pat was hap­py. There was also a flush­ing toi­let, small kitch­enet­te, water tank, and bunkbeds; I was hap­py. It was noth­ing like the uncle’s fan­cy RV mon­ster; the girls were crest­fal­l­en. We now had our new, tiny home. We named her Shel­by, installed solar pan­els, and hit the road.

TEN YEARS AGO, PAT I HAD WITNESSED THE EXTRAORDINARY BEAUTY OF THE GLACIER NATIONAL PARK IN MONTANA. That was the kind of wilder­ness we want­ed our girls to expe­ri­ence, so we head­ed west and have been trav­el­ling through the Paci­fic North­west for the last three months, camp­ing and explor­ing the immense wilder­ness of Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton. We always go on hikes when we are stay­ing in nation­al parks and are often sur­prised at the sta­mi­na of the girls. In Crater Lake Nation­al Park, lit­tle Mol­ly walked 7 km with a 350 m ele­va­tion change and refused to be picked up once. Tor­ren­tial down­pours in the rain­forest or recent sight­ings of bears have yet to stop them from going out into the wild. We have found that the long stretch­es of time walk­ing out in nature lend them­selves to deep dis­cus­sions and we have been sur­prised by some of the top­ics that come up dur­ing the­se walks: Trump ver­sus Clin­ton, Amer­i­can his­to­ry, the Civil War and slav­ery, World War II, and the oil pipeline protests.

Celia for­ag­ing for native black­ber­ries for her por­ridge Tillam­ook Forest, Ore­gon.

TO KEEP UP WITH THEIR SCHOOLING, THE GIRLS DO OBSERVATIONAL DRAWINGS AND WRITE TRAVEL JOURNALS. Ellie and Celia each have large work­books that cov­er all sub­jects for their year lev­el: prop­er nouns, long divi­sion and so on. But the big­ger cur­ricu­lum they are fol­low­ing at the moment is the one I’m real­ly enjoy­ing help­ing them with. It involves walk­ing along South Beach in Ore­gon find­ing fos­sils, observ­ing ero­sion and the weath­er, iden­ti­fy­ing ani­mal foot­prints and semi-pre­cious gem­stones, and guess­ing how fresh bear poo is.

IT HAS BEEN HARD ADJUSTING TO THE SMALL SPACE IN THE BUS. Each area has mul­ti­ple uses; our din­ner table con­verts to our third bed, for exam­ple. Some­thing sim­ple like get­ting your swim­ming bag out is a three-step-process with two peo­ple in your way. And when it’s pour­ing with rain, the chaos is inten­si­fied. We like to set­tle at one spot for more than a few days, but we are restrict­ed by our hold­ing tanks. Sev­er­al times we would have liked to have stayed at cer­tain places longer, but have had to go into town to emp­ty our black water and fill up with fresh water, and end­ed up mov­ing onto the next spot. We also have had to change the way we nor­mal­ly hike and camp because of poten­tial­ly dan­ger­ous ani­mals, such as bears, cougars and rat­tlesnakes. We can’t let the kids run ahead on hikes like in New Zealand, and have to be very con­scious about stor­ing food and clean­ing up.

TO FUND OUR TRIP WE HAVE BEEN WORKING ONLINE OR STOPPING TO WORK WHEN NEEDED. We want­ed to keep our route very flex­i­ble, so if we met peo­ple we want­ed to trav­el with, we could change direc­tion at a moment’s notice. Some of the best moments on our trav­els have come about from chang­ing our plans, and mak­ing new friends with oth­er trav­el­ling fam­i­lies. After sur­viv­ing a typhoon in the Ore­gon High Desert, we went with two oth­er fam­i­lies to Sum­mer Lake Hot Springs. That night the tail end of the typhoon hit hard, so all the kids and ani­mals piled into our bus. We lit can­dles and played the ukulele, while very strong winds swept through camp. It’s been won­der­ful to savour what feels like old world moments: cook­ing on an open fire and eat­ing out­side every night, fish­ing and for­ag­ing for wild fruit and berries, and read­ing to the kids by can­dle­light.

Pat and Amy fireside camp­ing just out­side of Crater Lake Nation­al Park, Ore­gon.

AND NOW WE ARE HEADING SOUTH FOR WINTER, WE WILL STOP AND WORK FOR THE HOLIDAYS, then per­haps head for the East Coast and Canada next year. Ulti­mate­ly, we want to bring Shel­by back to New Zealand and con­tin­ue this adven­ture.


Amy writes trav­el let­ters from the road to her friends and fam­i­ly at her blog OCEANFAMILYROADTRIP.COM

Amy and Pat have start­ed a Patre­on page to fundraise to help get the bus back to New Zealand, and make videos of their trip. If you’d like to sup­port them, go to PATREON.COM (Ocean Fam­i­ly Road­trip)