What Happens When a Family Emergency Comes Up While Traveling?

Making the most of an unfortunate situation.

Lindsay & Dan McKenzie Lindsay & Dan McKenzie  |  11.03.2017

We had just arrived in Maine after driving over 2,200 miles in two weeks and we were so excited to chase the fall leaves down the east coast. As we were following directions to the RV park in Bar Harbor, that we had made a month reservation at, we received the call.

It seemed like time had stopped. We pulled over to take it all in. Dan’s mother called to share that she had just been diagnosed with the dreaded c word…cancer.

Our small, quick taste of fall in Bar Harbor, Maine.

All our excitement turned into what seemed like a million different emotions. First, we were in shock and total sadness. During the next week as we received more details about the diagnosis, we would go back and forth between feeling hopeful to fearful. We also felt disappointment and anger. We knew we were going to need to return home and that crushed us, too. That led to feeling selfish and guilty for even caring about our travel plans being ruined at a time like this.

We made the long trek back home to Colorado Springs that following week. The moment we walked in the door and hugged Dan’s mom, we knew we had made the right decision. We will never regret the decision to come home and be by her side. In fact, we realized how fortunate we are to have the ability to be here during this time.

Full-time RVing has allowed us to create a flexible lifestyle. We knew we wanted a lifestyle that made full-time travel and working from the road possible. But, we didn’t know the other benefits that would also come along. We realized that the ability to be there for family at any time and however long we need to be, topped that list of full-time RV life benefits. If we were still living and working in Raleigh, NC, like we were last year, it would not have been possible for us to be home when our family needs us the most.

Our nephews were sure happy to see us!

We know we aren’t the only ones who face family matters while on the road. The decision to return home is not easy. While we now know it was the right choice, it felt like we were giving up our life. But, we’ve found ways to make returning home for a family emergency not only manageable, but enjoyable.

Here are some tips, in case you’re ever faced with a similar situation:

Be Prepared.

Nobody likes to think about or plan for unfortunate situations that may arise, but it’s absolutely necessary. Just because you’ve chosen the freedom of a home on wheels, doesn’t mean you are free from life’s unexpected turns. Have a plan for yourself and/or your family. What if the emergency is very sudden and you need to be home quickly? Will you fly home? Where will you leave your RV? What about your pets? It’s important to think through these things.

Another way couples need to be prepared is ensuring that both people know how to fully operate and tow the RV. If something happened that required one person to fly home in a rush, the other person needs to be able to handle the RV. You might choose to store the RV or drive it home, to allow for an extended stay and the ability to bring your pets. Either way, you can’t risk getting into a situation where your options of getting home are limited due to one person’s inability to operate the RV.

Don’t stay with family.

You may or may not have a family member with a house that has ample parking space for your rig. Either way, we suggest not parking your RV there or in storage and crashing in the guest bedroom of your relatives. This may be difficult for your family to understand, but do it anyway. Your RV, despite other’s perspectives, is your home. Why should you have to move out of your home? You purposely chose the lifestyle to always be home, yet also to never be home, as complicated as that sounds.

We made this mistake our first visit “home” after hitting the road full-time. We quickly realized that next time we returned, we would stay at the nearest RV park instead of storing our RV and staying with family. Although it depends on how long your stay is, we felt as though we moved out of our RV then moved back in. It was not convenient having belongings in multiple places and going back and forth to storage for items we left in the RV.

Staying with family makes it feel as though your life in the RV is not sustainable. It also appears that way to your family members, who may already have varying opinions of your lifestyle. We’ve also found that staying in your RV instead of with family also prevents the feelings that your life’s “on hold” while you’re home for family matters. You can keep your usual routines, which helps tremendously while going through a difficult time.

Continue to find adventure.

One of the reasons nearly everybody chooses to RV full-time is to travel and explore. Many people would agree that RVing has led them to develop a deeper love for adventure and the outdoors. So, just because you’ve had to temporarily take a break from the road to tend to your family, doesn’t mean you should give up the adventure too.

We both lived in Colorado for more than 30 years before we became full-time RVers. However, we’ve made it a point to still enjoy the beauty that our hometown has to offer, regardless of how many times we’ve seen it and taken it for granted. Almost every day, we are finding new hikes and activities, or enjoying old ones. This has helped us tremendously in dealing with the fact that we are going to be stationary for a bit.

As for Dan’s mom, she couldn’t be happier that we are able to be by her side. But what makes her even happier is that her situation hasn’t completely derailed our life. Although cancer impacts the entire family, we’ve been able to keep our life stable and that has been comforting for both us and the family. It’s one less thing for everyone to worry about. It is so important to try to keep doing the things in life that make you happy. That will always be Dan’s mother’s greatest wish for us.

We hope that these tips will help you if you are ever faced with unexpected and unfortunate family news that requires you to head home and/or postpone your travel plans. It’s never easy to face such circumstances, but it can be especially challenging when living and traveling full-time in an RV. However, the flexibility of RV life enables you to be wherever you need to be for however long. When it comes to being there for family, that is priceless!

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  1. Ed Donnelly Posted on 11.18.2017

    Your story sounds just like ours. We had just come down out of the mountains In eastern Arizona when the trans died. Coachnet towed us all the way to Tucson Dodges parking lot at no charge. There was no warranty left after 5 years and 62000 miles. It took two week’s and $9400 later before we were able to move on. Ours is a 2006 Navion. We had just accomplished the 60000 mile trans maintenance at the Dodge dealer in Cody Wyoming. Hope this is helpful to some one.

  2. Gary Posted on 11.18.2017

    Excellent article/advice. I think the biggest takeaway for me is that both of us need to be able to operate/drive the RV.

    We are not full timers, rather weekend campers. A few years ago, my son’s fiance broke her neck while camping with us at Glamis. She was airlifted out and flown 100+ miles to a Trauma Center, where her parents drove to meet her. Meanwhile, we broke camp, loaded the ATVs, and hit the road to meet them there. I now realize that if the injury had occurred to me, my wife has never actually loaded/hooked up the large enclosed trailer, nor has she ever driven the class A motorhome. That will be remedied.

    BTW, my son’s fiance made a full recovery, thank God. Our prayers are with your family as well.

  3. David Posted on 11.18.2017

    Although our emergency wasn’t as Lindsay’s and Dan’s, it was an emergency, none the less. We were driving our Winnebago View from the San Francisco Bay Area north along highway 101. We turned onto highway 199 toward Grants Pass, OR at Crescent City. I noticed a slight “chatter” in the transmission as we drove along remote and very beautiful highway. When we reached Grants Pass and stopped at the first signal, the RV wouldn’t go. After a short rest, we made it to a parking lot where we called for tow. The tow truck took about fifteen minutes to get there. We were towed thirty miles to Medford where there is a Mercedes dealership. It was Friday evening, and the dealership was closed, so we spent the night in their lot. In the morning, we were the first people at their door. The transmission was diagnosed; it needed a new one. The transmission would take a week to get there. We called a rental car company, which sent a car to pick us up. The M-B dealership let us plug our RV in to their electrics, and we drove home to Seattle. When the RV was fixed, the M-B dealer called, and said that someone would pick me up at the Medford Airport if I flew down. I did, and someone did pick me up. When I arrived at the dealership, my RV was parked under the portico and running with the air conditioner on (It was over one hundred degrees out.)
    What started out as an emergency really wasn’t. We had RV tow insurance through AAA. We had the ability to plan ahead and not panic. And we came across some very nice and caring people to help us out of the emergency.