Illustration by Michael Witte

I like to believe that my mother invented the staycation. With a twist.

Read more of Barbara Rodriguez’s Travel Matters.

Rather than set aside her daily duties and make her home a headquarters for outings in and around her hometown, she’d hitch her “house” to the car and pull it 200 miles to a live oak-sheltered bluff in my backyard.

Upon arrival, she’d direct my dad to position their command post perfectly for both a sunrise and sunset view. Then, in a well-coordinated effort, they’d quickly level the floor, light the water heater, open the awnings, and all but shout, “Let the adventures begin!”

The small travel trailer was mom’s second (and best-loved) home, purchased as a family outpost on a deer lease in Brady. After my siblings and I grew up and scattered, mom and dad gave up the lease and hitched up the trailer for year-round excursions. They were remarkably brazen travelers, a good thing, as they had an uncanny knack for arriving at any location within minutes of a tornado, hurricane, blizzard, hailstorm, or other natural disaster. We used to joke that whenever the nightly news featured flashing arrows indicating evacuation routes from a besieged location, there would be one tiny blip heading into the area: my parents en route.

Those wild and woolly exploits slowed as my parents entered their seventies. They didn’t lose interest in travel, but they were torn between a desire to spend their days visiting their far-flung children but not wanting to burden us in any way.

That’s when my mom invented her version of the staycation. They’d load up the Airstream and head out—bringing along their own food, sleeping accommodations, bathroom, dining table, and porch chairs. Mom had figured out a way to come to visit and yet invite me to her place for breakfast, lunch, or dinner—sometimes all three in a single day. Other days she and dad would be invisible.

It was a brilliant solution to having quality time with me without disrupting my life. And it was a system that worked equally well for her when visiting my sister in Virginia, my brother in North Carolina, and meeting two brothers who lived near my parents in Fort Worth at campsites all over the state. The key to traveling happily with family is staking out private space. My parents brought theirs with them.

I was blessed to share many memorable days with my parents when I was living on about 6,000 acres outside of Blanco. The ranch house I’d rented with my beloved was … well, ramshackle is too generous a description. At the time, mom was not at all sure I was making good choices. Setting up her wheeled house—far nicer than mine—gave her a chance to visit me without physical or emotional discomfort.

On a staycation mom and dad could visit for weeks—and did—and no one got out of sorts. If we tired of one another or the conversation took a turn for the worse, one or the other of us could walk home—all of 50 feet away.

Mom had figured out a way to come to visit and yet invite me to her place for breakfast, lunch, or dinner—sometimes all three in a single day.

Best of all, we had all that room to roam. I was just beginning my writing career and my favorite days began with a Hill Country sunrise greeting me at my desk. About mid-morning I’d walk over to have coffee with mom, who managed to create miracles in her tiny galley kitchen. We’d sometimes share elevenses of muffins or French toast, and then take a long walk.

And here’s the bonus of a staycation, both the traditional sort and mom’s: You see your own backyard in a whole new light. I’d roamed the ranch for years, but with mom and dad at my side it became a new experience. Walking together in the spring we discovered the Texas Hill Country was favorable territory for morel mushrooms. One time my father taught me to distinguish the brisk rattle of the baby snake that I was about to step on. Mom taught me how to make a toothbrush out of a sweetgum branch and one Christmas they both gathered catclaws for us to gild and turn into a wreath. And they were boon companions for any outing to a fishing hole.

On the days I had to stay home and work, they amused themselves. In that way they broadened my world with their travels. Without them, I might never have discovered the pickled eggs sold from a jar in a nearby Johnson City saloon or that the Blanco Bowling Alley Café served a stellar hunter’s breakfast. Both became go-to stops on my circuit.

And here’s the final bit of magic about mom’s staycations. I’ve transplanted them into my travel memories. Sometimes to put myself to sleep, I ramble through past journeys and I feel mom and dad there, parked just out of sight, the coffee ready.

From the January 2015 issue
The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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