With the new year upon us, we’ve been thinking a lot about the year ahead. And while others might be planning epic destinations and routes, looking forward for us is a lot more of a deep emotional exercise. Since moving into our RV last March, we keep going back to the same question: “Are we making the most of this amazing lifestyle?” While the answer is “no” more often than we’d like to admit, we’ve realized a few important habits we can work on to be able to have a more positive experience (mainly from looking at what other happy RVers are doing).
1. Focus on the good.
My Omi (grandma) gave me this important advice when I was a little girl and her words always come to mind when I’m struggling to be positive. Although this sounds simple, I know this is easier said than done. Whether you are going on a short, long, or unending RV trip, it is unlikely that you will miss every bump in the road. And even if no mechanical issues occur, you don’t have any dump station disasters, and your campsite is out of a dream, you will still likely have some kind of unexpected challenge during your trip.
But it really is true that what you set your mind on becomes your reality. If you let your thoughts settle on all the negative parts of your trip, you will remember it as a bad experience. But, even if things aren’t going as you hoped, looking toward the positive things can completely change your perspective.
There are entire rows of books about this at your local bookstore, if you want more in-depth tips for being a positive person. But, taking time every hour or so to look around and pick out all the good things about your situation, is a good place to start.
A gorgeous spot we found after one of our worst weeks. A great reminder that there is more good than bad.
2. Let go of the desire to control things.
If God really does laugh at our plans, there is a comedy sitcom running all day in heaven about the life of RVers. There is nothing wrong with wanting to plan ahead – especially if you are taking some sacred vacation time to go RVing. But, being able to adapt when your plans are forced to change is a great skill to master.
Since Buddy and I are full-time RVers, we have tested out what it looks like to plan every day of our travels and just completely wing it. There is something freeing about not being locked into plans. But, having a special trip or activity to look forward to is also really exciting. So, we’ve decided to do a mix of both.
You’ll have to find out what works best for you. Just remember that flexibility is key. If your plans fall through, take a breath and reroute. And make sure to practice habit #1 on this list, as your GPS recalculates!
3. Do your research.
Even if you decide to be completely spontaneous on your travels, a quick Google search can go a long way. Reading reviews on a campground you plan to visit to make sure it will suit your needs can help prevent issues – which makes focusing on the good way easier!
Having the necessary knowledge of your RV is also critical for a successful trip. Knowing how to work all the basic components and what not to do can save you from many headaches. This is especially important when it comes to maintenance. Don’t neglect your rolling home!
Having a plan for emergencies is also a good idea. Do you know what number to call if you have a question or problem with your RV? What about roadside assistance specific to RVs, in case you need to get towed somewhere? Hopefully, you will never need it. But, knowing what to do just in case is always a good plan.
How unlevel is too unlevel? Make sure you know, especially before boondocking or you can really mess things up.
4. Stop comparing yourself to others.
This one is probably one of the best habits to start cultivating and one we struggle with daily due to our ever-connected world. For example, Instagram can be a great place to get inspiration for places to visit, connect with other travelers, and share your favorite photos. But, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of comparing your life or vacation to others as you scroll through your feed.
If you find yourself thinking things like, “I wish this park was that pretty”, “Why doesn’t my family look that happy?”, or “My photos never get THAT many likes!”, stop looking at it immediately! It is unfair and unhelpful to compare your life, vacation, family and photos to a well-edited, unrealistic view of what someone else carefully chose to share.
Live your best life, focus on all the good around you (I promise there is a ton) and don’t let social media tell you whether your trip was awesome or not. Share your photos with pride because they represent amazing memories that are 100% unique to you and your family. And, if social media becomes a negative thing for you, consider limiting your time on it. We have really enjoyed cutting it out of our life as much as possible!
So, will you join us in making 2018 your best year of RVing yet? Please share any other tips you have to make life on the road roll along smoothly!
Deciding to buy an RV can be a very exciting moment, but trying to choose between all the many options can be extremely overwhelming. Luckily, you aren’t the first person to be in this dilemma. Throughout the years, our helpful WinnebagoLife contributors have shared many insights into how they chose their rig. In this article, we’ve compiled their best suggestions to help you decide which RV will work best for your lifestyle.
For more tips on choosing the right RV and a tour of some of Winnebago’s options, check out these videos from Winnebago’s Facebook Live event that took place Nov. 27 – 29.
Drivable or Towable?
Deciding whether or not you want to tow your RV is often one of the first decisions to make. Travel trailers and fifth-wheels can be more affordable, ideal for short-term travel, and often more spacious than Class B and C motorhomes. However, it is important to make sure you pick the RV that will work best for you, your family, and your travel plans.
1. Cost. which includes upfront price, maintenance, and depreciation. It is also important to add in the cost of a vehicle that is capable of towing a travel trailer or fifth wheel, if yours will not.
2. Maneuverability. While most motorhome owners feel like there wasn’t too much of a learning curve for driving – especially in Class B and C rigs, getting used to towing a trailer or fifth wheel can be a challenge. However, learning to tow just takes some practice and patience – which may be a small task compared to the savings.
3. Space. This varies greatly depending on which models you are looking at. A Class A motorhome will likely have the most space. However, a travel trailer is probably roomier than a Class B van. Deciding how much living and storage space you need is key.
Travel Trailer vs. Class C Motorhome: After having both a travel trailer as well as a Class C motorhome for full-time travel, Brittany & Jordan Griggs say that their top considerations were cost, frequency of use, accessibility and space. Read their article for more insights and reasoning for choosing a Winnebago View.
Class B Van vs. Compact Towable: Damon and Ashley Bungard spent time in both a Travato and Micro Minnie trailer and found pros and cons of each. Read their thorough review for help assessing these two options.
What size motorhome?
If you’ve decided on a motorhome, the next step is to narrow down which class of motorhome is right for you. While many people may think that the Class Bs and Cs are reserved for single people or couples, many families make them work as well – it just depends on personal preference.
1. How will you use it? Some motorhomes are easier to go adventuring with than others. If you want to take your RV to epic places, the Class B vans are known to be the most mobile when it comes to driving in cities and off-road. (Watch Russ Garfin test out the Travato’s mobility here and see the amazing places the 4×4 Revel can go in this video.)
2. Who will you take with you? If you are bringing kids and pets or occasional guests, you may want more space for everyone to sleep, hang out and store their things. If you don’t need much room, maybe a smaller space can help you keep life simple.
3. How often will you use it? Having a small space to live in on a weekend adventure may be completely different than deciding to live full-time in a smaller motorhome. However, some people thrive on that challenge!
Class B vs. Class C: The Holcombe family thought their View was the only RV for them, until they tried out the new Revel 4×4 van. Read about their first experience in the Revel and why they love it.
Class C vs. Class A: The Royals – an adventurous family of 6 – decided to downsize from a Class A to a 23-foot View because it made it easier to find campgrounds at national parks, drive, get gas, and stay organized (because they couldn’t bring as much stuff). Read more about why they chose a Class C for full-time travel.
The Herzogs have had multiple different RVs. And while the 25-ft Via made for a great couples adventure mobile, the added space and features of the Adventurer made them feel like “road royalty” once they were a foursome. They share their experiences in this article.
Longer vs. Shorter: Heath and Alyssa Padgett love Class A RVs and felt that upgrading to a 33-ft Brave gave them the additional room they needed to live, work and travel in their RV – they even have friends and family come visit without any issues! Read why they love their Brave.
Other Important Considerations
Once you’ve narrowed down which type of RV is best for you, it is time to get to the really fun part. Choosing which floorplan suits your needs best and which features are most valuable to you.
Layout: Depending on how many people and pets you are traveling with, certain floorplans might automatically be out. If you have kids, a bunkhouse floorplan might work best for your family, like it did for the Toste foursome in their Vista. However, the loft setup in some of the Class C models seems to be well-loved by kids as well.
Yet, many single travelers, couples and small families rave about the perfect size of Class B vans. Read why the Heymann threesome loves their van and why Damon Bungard thinks the Travato is the perfect adventure-mobile for him and his wife.
Features: When it comes to features, they can range from seemingly small upgrades that make a noticeable difference (like a Truma water heater) to aesthetically pleasing upgrades that just make you feel a bit more fancy (like in Winnebago’s new Horizon).
Quality: As our GoLife Editor, Don Cohen, will happily tell you, making sure you are buying a quality RV is one of the most important assessments you will make – from the chassis to the finishes Read his complete assessment of his Navion.
Have more questions on choosing the best RV for you? Check out these videos from Winnebago’s Facebook Live event that took place Nov. 27 – 29.
When we roll up in our brand-new Winnebago View sporting a hard-to-miss Mercedes emblem on the front, non-RVers always ask us the same question: “How can you afford that?” While it is tempting to let them assume we are Lotto winners or the makers of a popular app, the truth is much more surprising to them – we just make payments.
Making a $100k+ purchase can be daunting. When we first started looking at RVs, we struggled to come to terms with the total price of a motorhome and were frustrated that there weren’t any quality options with a sticker price that didn’t give us anxiety. So, we decided to stop paying attention to it. Instead of comparing motorhomes based on MSRP, we changed our focus to monthly payments. And since an RV can be financed for up to 20 years, that number was much lower than we had anticipated.
Deciding what we could afford based on what we would pay each month was a lot easier to swallow, and much more realistic. This is the primary reason we decided to buy new. The difference we would pay per month to have a new RV with a warranty seemed well worth it. Plus, living in an RV would actually save us money!
How can an RV save you money?
Deciding to live in an RV full-time was not just about the exciting adventure for us, it was a way to minimize our bills. Before our purchase, we were paying $1,500 for a one-bedroom apartment outside Denver, not including utilities. So, when we realized an RV payment for a brand-new Winnebago would be less than half that, it wasn’t very hard to pull the trigger.
Since our View fits in most parking lots, we were also able to sell both cars – unburdening ourselves from a car payment, car insurance and upkeep on two cars. And by traveling full-time in our RV, we also save a ton on travel expenses (plane tickets, hotel rooms, etc.) because we are constantly visiting new places in our home and don’t feel the need to escape anymore.
The savings will be different for everyone, but luckily RV life is very flexible. Making conscious decisions on how much fuel you are using, where you are camping and how often you cook in your rolling home can all have a huge impact on your budget.
Plus, you can write off the interest of a motorhome on taxes every year because it is seen as a second home!
Getting approved for financing
However, deciding you can afford an RV based on monthly payments won’t matter if you can’t get financed. Good credit, a decent debt-to-income ratio and a 10% down payment are usually necessary to get financed as a full-timer. However, loan-to-value ratio of the motorhome also effects the down payment, so this may increase or decrease what you will be expected to put down.
Find out if you will have any trouble getting financed before you begin your search. And, with most things, there are always some unconventional alternatives – like this co-buying loophole Heath & Alyssa Padgett used to buy their RV.
Getting in the green
Another common concern is depreciation. Although RVs are seen as rolling homes, they depreciate similar to a car. This can be frustrating when making such a large purchase, but the way we got around it was committing to a certain amount of time in our RV. Before we began our search, we decided that whether we liked it or not (and we REALLY like it), we’d live in our RV for at least two years. After that, we could trade it in for something different or sell it without taking a large loss.
For more detail on this, Don Cohen explains how to look at buying a motorhome from a business analysis perspective, in this helpful article.
But at the end of the day, we honestly aren’t too worried about if our RV is holding its value or if it is a smart investment in the traditional sense. It has brought us more value than we could ever pay for and was the best financial decision we’ve ever made, because it was an investment in us – our marriage, our freedom, our happiness.
Getting to Newfoundland is not a simple task – it is time-consuming, expensive and probably completely out of your way. But, it may be the best trip you ever take in your RV and will certainly provide you with dozens of great stories to tell by the campfire. We visited for a month, and the only thing we regret is not staying longer. So, what makes “The Rock” so special?
Epic Views & Outdoor Adventures
Newfoundland has some of the most beautiful, interesting and dramatic landscapes we’ve ever seen. Gros Morne National Park alone offers mountains, fjords, fishing towns, sandy beaches, marshes and even a barren area where you can walk on the Earth’s mantle. You could easily spend a month hiking and exploring this area of the island without getting bored.
In addition to some insanely gorgeous and challenging hiking trails, Newfoundland also has plenty of opportunities for kayaking, many great biking trails, lots of boat tours and – our personal favorite – ATVing (the preferred mode of transport for many locals).
Our Top Picks:
ATV tour in Robinsons. This really set the stage for an amazing vacation. Paul and Ruth of Pirate’s Haven ATV-Friendly RV Park, Chalets & Adventures treated us to an unforgettable day of adrenaline-pumping fun, gorgeous views and delicious local food. Plus, they were super fun to hang out with and had a great RV park where we could safely leave our home during our adventures.
Watching the waves near Point Riche Lighthouse in Port au Choix. This was such a simple thing to do, but it was our favorite moment from our trip. Just stunning, relaxing and restorative for our souls. We highly recommend spending a few hours there.
Hiking in Gros Morne National Park. There are dozens of great trails, but Green Gardens was a favorite because it was the most unique. It starts in the barren Tablelands area then moves into the lush, rolling forested landscape, before ending at a wooden staircase that leads down a cliff to a stunning beach. Totally worth the sore legs!
Searching for Icebergs in Twillingate. Although this area is a bit touristy and can get crazy when a big iceberg is sighted and everyone is trying to get a glimpse, iceberg hunting is a must in Newfoundland! We had a blast, even when we drove around with no luck. It was a highlight of our trip.
Sea Kayaking in Terra Nova National Park. There is something overwhelming and wonderful about getting out into the middle of a large body of water and admiring the views from that unique position. Being in the middle of the fjord in Terra Nova, with jellyfish under us and birds flying over us, was truly remarkable. There are kayak rentals across from the visitor center and they also offer guided tours or, if you aren’t into paddling, they have some amazing boat tours as well!
Seeing St. John’s from above at Signal Hill. Honestly, we didn’t spend much time in St. John’s. After weeks of no traffic, minimal restaurant options and lots of boondocking, being in a big city with tons of people, too many food options and expensive camping overwhelmed us a bit. However, we are really glad we made it to Signal Hill. Seeing the colorful houses and bustling city streets from above was gorgeous, and from the other side of the hill we saw vast ocean views. Just get there super early, so you can have room to park your rig.
Unforgettable Wildlife Sightings
Moose are abundant on the island – as the road signs will constantly remind you. However, you are much more likely to see a whale than a moose (unless you go driving around at night, which we strongly advise against). There are also many puffin colonies where you can get an up-close look at the clowns of the sea. And if you are lucky, you can even spot a caribou in certain areas.
But you know what you won’t see? Snakes! A few garter snakes have been spotted in recent years, but for the most part, snakes are non-existent and there are no venomous ones. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t on high alert on trails. So, feel free to run through the tall grass, spinning and singing like Julie Andrews – I sure did!
Best Bets for Wildlife:
Moose: As I mentioned, these guys are a bit elusive. But, we had the best luck while hiking early in the morning. Just take some precautions if you spot one and keep your distance – they can be dangerous.
Caribou: We were told they could be spotted up on the Northern Peninsula (a few hours from Gros Morne). And we lucked out by seeing a family at the Point Riche Lighthouse in Port au Choix.
Puffins: About mid-May through mid-September at the latest is puffin nesting season. There is a famed Puffin viewing site in Elliston where you can watch these silly birds as they nest on a nearby island. But, we had the best luck near the Bonavista Lighthouse, because they were flying overhead to fish. And if you want to get extra close, take a tour! There are tons of options, but our favorite was Molly Bawn Whale & Puffin Tour (south of St. John’s) because of the small tour size and knowledgeable guide. The tour takes you into the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve to see the largest colony in North America!
Whales: Just bring your binoculars and scan the ocean! If you are there between May and September, you will likely see a ton. We had the best luck in Saint Vincent’s on the Avalon Peninsula. The whales come up right next to the beach to feed on capelin and it is one of the most amazing things we’ve ever seen. But, if you want to get even closer, this is another time where a tour may be beneficial. Again, we liked Molly Bawn for this, but we also enjoyed our tour with Happy Adventures out of Terra Nova.
You can also see seals, otters, fox and tons of bird species. Apparently polar bears come in on icebergs on a rare occasion – according to the locals at least!
Beautiful Boondocking & Campground Sites
While the Eastern Coast of the U.S. is lacking in epic, easy-to-find boondocking spots, the same is not true of its neighbor to the north. Newfoundland has dozens of great places to just pull off on the side of the road, and you may even get to look for icebergs or see the northern lights while you are there! But, if you like to have hookups while you travel, there are some great affordable campgrounds as well.
Our Favorite Spots:
- Pirate’s Haven ATV-friendly RV Park in Robinsons
- Berry Hill Campground in Gros Morne National Park
- King’s Point RV Park in King’s Point
- Boondocking in Twillingate next to the ocean
- Newman Sound Campground in Terra Nova National Park
- Celtic Rendezvous by the Sea RV Park in Tors Cove
- Boondocking next to the Point Riche Lighthouse in Port au Choix
Rich Culture & Amazing People
If you enjoy history, you are going to need to plan some extra time in Newfoundland to stop at some of the museums, UNESCO World Heritage sites and cultural centers. The culture has ties to Viking, Irish, British, Aboriginal, Pirate and, of course, Canadian heritage.
You can see where archeologists dug up the remains of Viking past in L’Anse Meadows or see a current dig in Ferryland, learn how important seals were to the Aboriginals in Port au Choix, and see the past through local art in places like the small town of Botwood in Central Newfoundland.
But our favorite way to learn about the history of Newfoundland was through the locals. They are passionate about their past and embrace the many different types of people that make up their history. It really is quite beautiful to listen to them talk about their home.
And, although people in Atlantic Canada are all generally nice, the Newfies put the rest to shame. During our visit, we had dozens of heart-felt conversations, received many helpful tips and even became the adopted children of a couple who let us crash in their driveway.
While we boondocked at their house, we got to take part in the 60th birthday party of our host – with about 20 of their closest friends. I got chills as we listened to them sing traditional songs around the fire until the early morning hours. And my eyes filled with tears when it was time to give our goodbye hugs.
The people in Newfoundland are just THAT special. If you love them like we do, you can even make your feelings official by becoming honorary Newfies like we did! During a “Screech-In” process, we made fools of ourselves at a local bar to get our certificates – we even kissed a cod! But it was all in good fun.
When we hopped the ferry back to the mainland we were filled with so much overwhelming gratefulness for our experience. And we’ve missed that magical place and its people every day since.
Yes, you have to cross the border into Canada, drive across two provinces, and take a 7-hour ferry that will run you at least CAD$500 round-trip to get to Newfoundland. But if you enjoy nature, peaceful moments and long chats with interesting people, it is arguably one of the most wonderfully unforgettable places you will ever go in you RV. And, getting there is a pretty amazing adventure too (Cabot Trail anyone?).
Check out this page for more stories and tips from our adventures in Newfoundland.
I watch as the ocean breeze blows through her long fluffy hair and the sun shines on her face. Her little nose wiggles to smell the salty air and her eyes widen when she spots a seagull soaring by. I smile as our majestic furbaby soaks in the unique joys of being an RV cat. But, this life isn’t without its struggles – especially for her. She is still adjusting. And most days, we get at least one look of disgust for disturbing her peaceful existence.
Sugar – our ironically named, moody princess – thinks we are idiots for wanting to move her home to a new location every day or so. And when it is time to drive, she sulks off into her cat cave under the bed where she can glare at us from safety. Sugar has never pretended to be a brave adventure cat, and she certainly isn’t going to try now. She hides when things get noisy or shaky, and probably always will.
A Few Extra Considerations
Deciding to travel with our high-maintenance feline has created a decent amount of stress. When we first got our Winnebago, we spent the entire first day blocking off all the small holes she would try to hide in (under the fridge, under the glove compartment, etc.) And now that we are on the road, her comfort and safety informs all of our decision making.
We can’t leave the RV for long if it is hot outside since the cat stays inside it. So, we try to only visit places with mild weather. And we have had to end a few great boondocking sprees for her to have a/c when the weather takes an unexpected turn. However, it is always worth it for the peace of mind.
The Worst of It
Although she does hate driving days, Sugar usually forgives us fairly quickly and often struts out right away when the engine turns off. But, there are two unforgiveable sins in this rolling home: running out of her wet food, and forcefully removing her from her safe space.
Sometimes we end up in the middle-of-nowhere and that is usually when we realize she is on her last can of wet food. Granted, she always has plenty of dry food – but that isn’t her main concern. Running out of her nightly treat leads to screams of anger until the problem is resolved. And since our picky brat only likes one specific flavor, it is quite the wild goose chase to track it down in remote places. Often, we go out of our way to find a store that stocks it. (Is it becoming clear who wears the pants in this family?)
Another situation we have come to loathe is having to remove her from the RV during service visits. Of course, she knows scary things are happening. So, when it is time to take her out of her hiding spot, she has had plenty of time to channel her inner-demon and we are met with hissing, snarling, scratching and biting. It is often an all-out war to get her in the carrier. But once in there, she calms down, looks around as we walk and takes a nap like nothing happened. Meanwhile, we are sweaty, fur-covered, and have blank, defeated looks on our faces. These days always end with lots and lots of wine.
So, Why Do It?
We often ask ourselves why we put up with our crazy cat. She pretty much hates everyone and everything. We can’t even have people over without her hissing at them or – best case scenario – hiding until they leave. She even hisses at strangers when they walk too closely to the window or door (full disclosure: we think this is kind of hilarious). Our cat is a total mess and that has only been made more obvious in the RV.
But here’s the thing, for whatever reason, Sugar loves us. Really, she does. She snuggles with us in the mornings and at night, hops in our laps for a mid-day belly rub, and is always excited to see us when we get home from an adventure – whether a few minutes or all day. And despite her obvious personality defects, we love her too. When we brought home that feisty ball of fur eight years ago, something changed. She made us a family.
So, even though dragging her along on our crazy RV adventure adds some stress, leaving her behind just wasn’t an option. Although there are some bad days, there are far more happy moments together. We have snuggled the day away in bad weather, laughed at her failed attempts at catching bugs that get inside, and felt the immense happiness of watching our fickle cat enjoy a moment of pure bliss in a place she would have never experienced in a sticks-and-bricks home.
Without her, we’d just live in an RV. But, having her with us truly makes this rolling metal box a home.
Every time I get something out of our outdoor storage, I ask myself “Why do we still have those dang snowshoes?” About nine months ago, when we were taking inventory of our belongings in preparation for RV life, it seemed logical that we would still go on the occasional hike in snow. But now that they take up a quarter of prime storage space, it has become obnoxiously clear how unlikely we are to use them in the next year.
Over the course of two years, we went from a four-bedroom house to a two-bedroom apartment to a one-bedroom apartment to crashing in a spare room at Buddy’s sisters house to (finally!) our RV. And although we are still learning to redefine what we “need,” we have gotten pretty good at selling, donating and trashing things. So, whether you must downsize to move into an RV or just want to unclutter your space, here are our tips for minimizing your possessions:
1. Make a List
Really want to get motivated to downsize? Make a list of everything you own. No need to go into minute detail, or you may never finish (for example, “two boxes of Christmas decorations” is a sufficient description). Then once your initial feelings of nausea subside, choose what you want to sell, give away, trash, keep or decide on later. Just be sure to create realistic limits for yourself – especially if you are downsizing to fit into a smaller space. How many shoes do you really need?
Anything you plan to trash or donate, get rid of as soon as possible to start feeling a sense of accomplishment! This is an easy way to get started and it can be addicting once you get going.
2. Start Big
When you are looking around at all the things that need to go, it can be very overwhelming. It can also be frustrating to know you will likely be taking a loss on many items you hope to sell. For us, focusing on selling the biggest items first made downsizing a lot less stressful.
We had a few months to get rid of everything, but knew the time would go quickly (and it did). So, getting rid of the things that took up the most space and/or could make us the most money helped lessen our stress. Yes, it was weird living in an empty apartment for a few months. But it was such a relief to know we wouldn’t be rushing to clear things out at the last minute.
3. Learn the Art of Re-Homing
There are always those inevitable items that just no longer serve a purpose in your life, but are still hard to let go of – because you will take a big monetary loss or they have sentimental value. For us, giving these things away as gifts or donating them to a good cause felt much better than selling them to the highest bidder on Ebay. Everyone got a re-homed item for Christmas and we even gave away a few lingering things as “favors” at our going away party (which was a big hit).
I was also ecstatic to find a non-profit near our old apartment in Colorado that gave donations directly to families in need. A Precious Child in Broomfield, CO, actually has a little store that families can “shop” in for home goods and clothes. I found myself searching out more items I could give, instead of reluctantly bagging things up to donate. It made all the difference.
4. Make Regular Assessments
Even after you’ve completed your initial chunk of downsizing, take a look around every couple of months to make sure you haven’t let unneeded items creep back in. This is especially important in an RV because you have to stay under a certain weight!
We have been dropping a bag of donations off monthly – mostly clothes, but also books we’ve read, gear we rarely use, and gifts people give us. Yes, we get rid of gifts! And we don’t feel bad about it because we’ve told our friends and family that if they get us something we don’t need we won’t keep it. And we highly suggest nicely explaining this to your loved ones if you have any hope in keeping your minimalist goals. We ask them to buy items to donate to a good cause instead, which is hard to argue with – win, win!
We know first-hand how daunting minimizing your entire life can feel, but the hardest part is getting started. And, at least in our experience, it gets easier with each item you unburden yourself from. As every elementary-aged little girl will happily sing for you, just “let it go.”
As with many other new RVer challenges we’ve faced, I’m sure boondocking will soon be something we take on with confidence. However, for a girl who never went on camping trips growing up and watched too many scary movies, boondocking stirs up some mixed emotions in me.
On one hand, staying for free in a quiet, beautiful place is ideal. We can’t afford to pay $40 every night at RV parks and we never sleep well with cars whizzing around us at Walmart. As we’ve mentioned before, we love our Harvest Hosts membership for these reasons. But that isn’t always an option. So, we often end up dry camping on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service land, or the occasional random pull-off.
However, boondocking is a much more rugged way to camp. Truly getting away from it all can feel uncomfortable and we have struggled with that uncertainty at times. Here are a few of our common questions:
Should we be driving on this road?
I’ve noticed, especially with forest camping, that we rarely end up on a two-lane, smooth road. Usually it is 1.5-way at best, with low-hanging trees and enough bumps to scramble our eggs. The entire time I’m just praying another car doesn’t appear in front of us. How the heck will we let them by? I guess I’ll report back when it happens.
Are these coordinates wrong?
We haven’t worked up the nerve to just park along the side of the road, so we usually rely on the help of other RVers. Websites like Campendium.com and FreeCampsites.net have been a great resource for finding overnight options. However, the GPS coordinates aren’t always exact. There have been a few times that we end up driving around aimlessly until we find a “close enough” version of what we had set out for.
Is it really okay to park here?
Being new to boondocking, we always question if a ranger or police officer is going to come along and kick us out. We often don’t get completely settled in if this is a concern, in case we have to move. However, it is always nice when there is evidence of previous campers. A fire ring or tire marks always makes us feel a little more comfortable staying. And we’ve never been kicked out!
Will we get stuck?
We try to be cautious about this one and avoid parking in questionable spots. Sometimes Buddy will hop out and walk around the area to see how firm the ground is. Bigger RVs should be even more careful, especially if it has rained recently or is forecasted to. Making sure we are full on gas, liquid propane and water is also key – just in case we end up out there for more than just a night.
What if we need to call 911?
Every time we are out in the middle-of-nowhere, Buddy tells me that we are supposed to be able to call 911 with no signal. According to my research, this is kind of true – we can call, but there has to be some signal, from some provider in the area for it to go through. We haven’t had to test it yet, and hopefully never will. But we are really hoping for the best, since our bars disappear in most of the places we boondock. We also have walkie-talkies, so we can listen to the weather radio if we need to. And it is also helpful when my adventurous husband wants to go take night photos! “Please come back, I heard a noise. Over.”
Possible man-eating woodland beast.
What was that sound and does it want to kill me?
Although Buddy will let out a nervous laugh on occasion, this one is 99% me. We’ve all seen at least one crazy animal attack video. And, who can forget the scary movie about the couple trapped in the woods being stalked. During the day I’m fine, but once it gets dark every noise puts me on edge. However, since this is how we plan to travel most of the time, I’ve tried my best to put my far-fetched ideas of evil forest lurkers and ravenous animals at rest. And once I do, the experience is pretty magical.
Despite my irrational fears, why do I feel so relaxed?
It is really easy to freak yourself out when you are alone in the woods or open desert somewhere. This is especially true for people like me with overly imaginative brains and really good hearing. But, at some point, I always find myself unexpectedly at ease. The wind in the trees doesn’t put me on edge anymore, and it actually feels quite nice when it blows through the open windows. I’ll see fireflies and wild animals. And although it isn’t completely quiet, the forest sounds act as a type of white noise that helps lull me off to dreamland. Plus, we usually end up near some beautiful places.
After a few danger-free nights, I realized that boondocking is one of my favorite things to do. And really, it is no more dangerous than parking anywhere else. You just have to get out of your own head and be prepared for a little more of an off-grid experience.
If you ask my mom, there is a lot to be afraid of as a full-time RVer. “Who is parked next to you at the campground? What if you get lost on a hike and no one knows where you are? What if you blow a tire on the highway? Is it safe to sleep in that area of town? What if there is a gas leak?”
I get it. Moms worry. But, although those questions have crossed my mind, I have a much bigger fear when it comes to full-time RVing. I’m afraid of wasting this opportunity.
Last fall, we went whitewater rafting over the tallest commercially-raftable waterfall in the continental U.S. I was ecstatic when we booked the trip and couldn’t wait to go to Washington to plummet over Husum Falls. However, as it neared, I got a little nervous. And, when I was sitting in the raft, getting splashed by the ice-cold water of the White Salmon River, I was terrified.
Before going over the 14-foot drop, the guide explained how not to drowned in case we flipped or one of us fell out. My inner voice was screaming: “Why are you doing this?” And, my fear must have showed on my face, because Buddy leaned over to ask if I was sick. But, I was too busy praying over and over that we wouldn’t die doing this ridiculous thing I signed us up for to even answer.
When we finally reached the tipping point and braced for the fall, I shut my eyes. I closed them as hard as I could until I realized we had resurfaced, and I had indeed lived. The rush was indescribable and it is still one of my favorite memories. But, I prevented myself from fully experiencing it. I let my fear of the unknown keep me from enjoying that amazing moment completely. I shut it out. And I still wonder what it looked like inside that massive waterfall.
But life as a full-time RVer is one big unknown. I can’t predict or control 99% of our life. And, although I’ve worried about what could go wrong, my biggest fear is not making the most of this amazing life we have created. I never want to look back and regret not fully experiencing it – the good, the bad and the scary.
Leaving My Comfort Zone
So, I’ve tried my best to go outside of my comfort zone – not knowing where we will end up most nights, sleeping in the middle-of-nowhere, going on the extra-challenging hikes, and chatting with people I wouldn’t normally.
Going exploring with no idea of where it will lead us is exciting, but for control-freaks like me, it is anxiety-inducing. However, the freedom to live without a plan is one of the greatest joys of this lifestyle. If I hold on to the habits that make me feel safe, I’ll never grow as a person. Surprisingly, the more we venture off with no destination in mind, the easier it becomes. And, believe me, starting to let go of my need to control everything is an amazing feeling!
Sleeping in Strange Places
Boondocking is another part of our RV life that I had to adjust to. There are RV parks and campgrounds everywhere, with hook-ups, amenities and maybe even a gate to keep you extra secure. But even if we had the budget to pay for camping every night, for us it takes away from the excitement. And we are doing this for the adventure – so, to the silent, lonely places we go.
Learning to Push Myself
The ability to get outside often was one of the main reasons we were drawn to RV life. And, although we love to go on outdoor adventures, I have a tendency to take the easy route. I was never very athletic before and have a hard time pushing myself when it comes to physical activities. As soon as my legs are sore, I want to quit. But doing so would mean missing out on some spectacular views. So, I push myself to go further, climb higher and silence the voice that tells me I can’t. We recently hiked Gros Morne Mountain in Newfoundland and it was the longest, hardest hike I’ve ever done. And although I was miserable for most of it, that feeling of accomplishment is hard to beat. You can’t know your strength until you’ve tested it!
Seeing Strangers as Friends
The most important decision I’ve made is to give up all pre-conceived notions of people. It is easy to be afraid of strangers (they even teach you to be as a kid)! There are some horrible individuals out there who are willing to hurt others to get what they want. But most people aren’t like that. And if you guard yourself against everyone you meet because they might be a bad person, you miss out on so much good.
On our first month on the road, we went on a bike ride in the middle-of-nowhere, New Mexico. On the way back, there was a big, dirty truck with a large, scary man standing in front of it, blocking the trail. I felt my entire body tense up as I became instantly terrified of him. Then a kid jumped out from the passenger seat. Turns out, he was taking his son out mudding on the back roads and got stuck. He told us all sorts of great places to bike nearby and was the nicest guy ever. I’m so thankful to have learned such an important lesson early on in our journey. And it has allowed me to have some of the best conversations in my life.
Moving Forward, Braver
Of course, it is important to use common sense. It is ridiculous to purposefully put yourself in a dangerous situation. And it never hurts to take precautions, like locking your door while you sleep. But most of us have unrealistic fears that keep us from fully enjoying some of the best experiences life has to offer. And those are the ones I’m fighting against.
Some days I really struggle, but the life I’m building and person I’m becoming is completely worth it. I want to embrace the fear and allow it to change me, to make me stronger and bring me to places I’d never imagine. I don’t want to play it safe and miss out on amazing experiences and people.
I want to keep my eyes wide open.
As much as you may try to be realistic, it is very easy to get your hopes up as a new RVer. When you are first handed the keys to your new (or new to you) home they feel a bit magical. You let your imagination run wild with ideas of how perfect this new lifestyle will be – all the places you’ll go, the adventures you’ll have. And, of course, your dreams don’t include breakdowns, bad weather, sickness or other common stresses. You are an RVer now! You are living the dream. All you need is your rig and an open road.
So, you set off on your journey assuming the happiness that surrounds you will guard you against the realities of life. You have read the owner’s manual as well as countless blog posts and are prepared to face anything that may come up with a smile. But, then things start going wrong, and you definitely aren’t smiling.
Sound familiar? We recently did a recap of our first three months as full-time RVers, and it did not look like we imagined. For some reason, we thought that our Winnebago would transform us into full-time versions of our vacation selves – carefree, eager for adventure and immune to anything distracting from our happiness. Not so much.
We’re yet to wake up in time for the sunrise, we haven’t done nearly as much hiking or biking as we planned, our goal of slow travel was lost a few hundred miles ago, and we have all had our share of meltdowns – even the cat!
Rarely have things gone like we expected and there have been more stressful moments than we could count. But, although it wasn’t the honeymoon-esque intro to RVing we hoped for, it was still pretty dang magical at times. We watched fireflies, explored new places, woke up to birds singing, spent quality time with new and old friends, gazed at jaw-dropping views, laughed at our mishaps, and most-importantly, got stronger as a team. It isn’t quite the relaxing escape from “real life” we dreamed of, but it is a life we are excited to be living and the challenges we face are much more rewarding.
After three whole months, we are far from pros at this. However, we do have some helpful suggestions for managing expectations and lessening stress when you are first hitting the road.
Be prepared for a few fixes.
When you buy a new home, the first weeks are spent writing down little things that the builder needs to come back and fix. This is a well-known situation with sticks-and-bricks homes, but for some reason with RVs, people are surprised when this happens. This is probably because cars should be ready to drive off the lot with no problems. However, you didn’t just buy a car.
All the components of the RV shake and move as you drive down the road. And, whether you are the first or fifth owner, something is bound to need fixing. We suggest spending the first couple of weeks testing out your RV while you are still near the dealership or a trusted mechanic. Luckily, nothing big needed work on our RV. But being able to get the couple of little things fixed (like a leaky faucet and a cabinet that didn’t stay closed) really helped ease our stress.
Allow for flexibility in your plan.
If you have a multi-month agenda with a strict timeline, you are bound to be disappointed. You never know when your RV, traffic, weather, or other unexpected drama can alter your plans. Leaving a little wiggle room is always smart. And, in our opinion, we’d rather have to crash at a Walmart than waste money on a non-refundable reservation we never got to use.
However, for those that need a plan, make sure you know what the cancellation rules and fees are at the campgrounds and RV parks you have booked. And it is also smart to give some time padding when planning your route to avoid major stress. We’d suggest 4-5 hours extra for long drive days.
Look for the silver lining.
This can be extremely difficult, especially when you let your hopes get way up there. But, if you can take a step back and look at the situation as an outsider, often you will see some meaning or positive outcome. Maybe that bad weather allowed you to meet a new friend? Perhaps that wrong turn brought you to an amazing view you would have never seen? Or maybe things didn’t go your way so that you could help someone in need?
Immediately after buying our RV, we helped one of our family members bury the love of her life. The loss was tragic and unexpected, and it was the most emotional, confusing experience Buddy and I have had in our ten years together. Although it wasn’t how we wanted to spend our first weeks, we knew we ended up nearby at that time for a reason.
Being able to just be there and help however we could was something we never would have been able to do – at least not for as long as we did – without our RV. Bad things are bound to happen. But sometimes there are hidden blessings. And other times, you have the opportunity to be a blessing to someone else.
Give yourself a break.
Every time I talk to my dad, he says “Don’t waste this awesome opportunity to live the life you want.” And I always have the same thought, “Oh no!!! We are totally wasting it! Quick, let’s go for a hike!”
I have made myself feel extremely guilty for the days spent inside vegetating due to stress or just plain laziness. There are people out there that have amazing motivation and energy, but that isn’t us (yet). When we get over-whelmed, we both shut down, eat bad food and nap a lot. It is a habit we are working on breaking, but not one that is going to disappear overnight.
But, when we look back at these initial months, we really haven’t done so badly. We hiked 31 miles, biked 38, and even got out on a canoe at one park – way more than we would have when we were working full-time jobs. Our travels have also allowed us to see beautiful new places and meet dozens of inspiring, passionate people that have made a lasting impression on how we see the world.
We may not be living out the perfect travel dream, but we are enjoying our new lifestyle and continue to be surprised by new reasons to think it is awesome.
Remember the real reason why you began.
Most people RV full-time to travel or experience new things. But what set you on this journey? Was it a job you hated, a life of materialism that didn’t satisfy you, or maybe it was to save money? For us, the main goal was for Buddy to be able to quit his soul-sucking job. Yes, the full-time travel, money savings, minimalism and excitement are all perks. But, if he was still working, none of that would matter.
Even though we are still striving toward building better habits to fit our new lifestyle and there have been some disappointments along the way, he doesn’t have to dial into a conference call tonight, or ever again. So, I’ll call that a win.
And if RVing hasn’t been all that you hoped for so far, give it time and look for those special moments you are probably not paying attention to. After all, you really are living the dream.
Sitting down to write this makes me want to turn the rig around and head back to Utah to continue exploring. But we know in doing so we would roast from the heat, so we will have to wait until we return in the next year or two to explore the hundreds of other spectacular places in Utah that are not on this list.
As some of you know, we are working to visit all 50 states in a fairly short time frame before slowing down and returning to places we have fallen in love with. So what made us spend two months in Utah? Back before we knew better, we thought Utah was a fly-over state, but the following places proved us wrong. As with most casual travelers, we hit Utah’s Big 5, but each of those locations led to even more incredible places and then some, which is what led us to our own Big 10 list.
There are thousands of articles about Moab and all that this quaint little town has to offer, and we echo all the sentiments of the writers before us. There are endless opportunities to get outside and explore this fascinating landscape, with three main parks to visit: Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse State Park.
But there is also an abundance of BLM and city land to explore free of charge. While the town and surrounding areas may seem like an outdoor enthusiast’s playground, there are plenty of opportunities for the faint-of-heart travelers to get out and experience breathtaking views.
Arches National Park – This spectacular park offers paved roads that wind throughout the different formations and plenty of trails to keep anyone busy for days. Don’t let the crowds deter you, the park is plenty big and the formations will make you forget that you have hundreds of other visitors near you. As with any park, early arrivals will allow you to take in the beauty without the crowds, but it will fill up quickly.
Canyonlands – This vast park offers amazing views that seem to go on forever. And as the name suggests, much of the park includes hiking trails that line the gorgeous canyons, but a few spectacular arches can be found as well. And as of now, the park allows night photography and light painting if you are so inclined. We were greeted by talented rock climbers scaling the walls and other hikers looking to capture frame-worthy photos.
Dead Horse State Park – While your National Parks pass will not cover this park’s admission fee, it is well worth the stop on your way into Canyonlands. And, if you are lucky enough to snag a campsite here, you will be surrounded by amazing desert views and dark skies for a great night’s sleep. The highlight of this park is the gooseneck turn in the river below. But don’t mistake this view for Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ, although it looks quite similar.
2. Goblin Valley
Our friends from Crazy Family Adventure told us about this not-to-miss, family-friendly park on the way to Capitol Reef and we are glad we took their advice. The park is filled with small hoodoos that you are allowed to climb on. Typically parks refrain from allowing people to climb on formations to prevent damage, but this park has two parts, one for tourists and one for research. You will feel like a kid again while visiting this park and playing on the hoodoos in the valley.
3. Capital Reef
An often-overlooked National Park, but one that offers a diverse landscape and plenty of hiking opportunities. The drive into the park starts with hills layered with red, green and tan hues until you are met with towering canyon walls for miles. The gem of the park is Cathedral Valley, which can be reached by 4×4 vehicles. But we chose the moderate hike to Cassidy’s Arch, so we didn’t have to camp out in a tent with the promise of snow overnight.
Utah’s first National Park is split up into two sections on the north and south ends. Kolob Canyon is on the north end of Zion and is by far less crowded than the rest of the park. The road takes you up into the canyon offering gorgeous views around every twist and turn. While the main portion of the park can be crowded, the bus and permit systems keep most hiking trails from becoming too congested even on busy days. If you are traveling to the park during the spring months, be sure to check the park’s website for trail closings due to snow melt, as many of the hikes are through the water.
5. St. George
For a break from National Parks, hiking and all things outdoors, a trip to St. George offers warm weather and city feel. This city has a small community vibe and all the amenities and golf courses you would want after being in the mountains and canyons for the time it takes you to visit the highlights of southern Utah.
6. Bryce Canyon
The towering needle-like hoodoos that make up Bryce Canyon National Park are a favorite for most every traveler we met who has been through the western part of the country. The drive into the park from the west gives you a taste for what is to come, but taking in the view of the valley is indescribable until you reach the top and park. The aptly named, Inspiration Point, offers 270-degree views of the park in all its glory.
7. Monument Valley
For most, this section of the state is most recognizable from a scene in Forest Gump and old western films, but it is amazing how the view changes as you encounter the formations up close. The Navajo Tribe allows visitors to drive through the formations on an incredibly bumpy road, but it is well worth seeing everything up close and from different angles. We would recommend taking a tour (for an even bumpier ride) to save your vehicle (and maybe your nerves).
8. Lake Powell
This expansive desert lake straddles Utah and Arizona and offers RV parking right on the beach at Lone Rock on the Utah side. There is a stark difference between the red rocks of the canyon to the unbelievably blue water. During the summer months, houseboats will fill the lake along with other water lovers looking to cool off from the heat radiating off the rock walls. The lake also provides the best means of transportation to view and explore Rainbow Bridge National Monument.
9. Dinosaur National Monument
After exploring much of the southern Utah regions, we escaped the heat and traveled north to Dinosaur National Monument to check out the excavated dinosaur bones and fossils. Both Utah and Colorado share this park, the bones and other exhibits can only be found on the Utah side. Along with the fossils and exhibits, the petroglyphs are also highlighted throughout the park.
10. Salt Lake City
While work has brought us to Salt Lake in the past, it was a place that we did not expect to love as much as we did. Even though we are not traveling with children, the city and surrounding suburbs host an abundance of family-friendly (and incredibly clean) parks with a number of free events to keep everyone busy year-round. The proximity to the mountains was a wonderful bonus as it gave gorgeous views out our windows and outdoor activities galore in less than an hour’s drive.
Both Salt Lake and nearby Park City have done a phenomenal job repurposing Olympic venues to give even more entertainment options for those in the area. While the area sits along the foothills and natural hot springs are scattered throughout, we found one that provided an experience of a lifetime. Homestead Crater is a hot spring located in a beehive/volcano shaped rock where you can jump in for a soak in the 90-degree water, or even complete your scuba diving certification. Of course, there is the Great Salt Lake itself which offers all sorts of activities year-round since the water doesn’t freeze.
Salt Flats – While the fields of salt can be seen miles before the Salt Flats begin to take shape, the Bonneville Salt Flats boast the best views of the white, crusted land that looks like a combination of a snow and ice storm. The salt gives a great contrast between the surrounding foothills and desert landscapes to create some of the most beautiful sunsets and even better photos. While some use the flats as an opportunity to race their vehicles, we were weary of how much weight they could support based on the ruts created along the drive in.
We hope you enjoy your journey through Utah as much as we did!
Ever since we first started our RV search, I’ve dreamed of having my favorite kid join us on adventures – which is the main reason we opted for a rig with additional seating and sleeping options. So, during our quick Florida visit to see family, we made sure to have our nephew over for a sleepover!
As soon as his parents told him we were coming to pick him up, his bag was packed and he was ready to go. I even got a “How much longer will you be?” email while we were on our way. (Yes, we email each other, it’s great!)
Since we only had time to go about an hour away, it wasn’t quite the epic adventure I hoped to share with him. But, in his opinion, it was still one of the coolest things he had done in a while. And this was only a test-run for longer trips we hope to take him on, after we get a little more experienced at full-timing.
Although we couldn’t find any awesome, fun parks due to it being Memorial Day Weekend, we still enjoyed wandering around the small park we ended up at. We walked out to the pond multiple times and during each excursion our hilarious nephew critiqued all the other rigs at the park. While others were too big or had bad paint jobs, he assured us that “THE VIEW” (as he emphatically referred to it), was perfect in every way. Can you see why we adore him? Such a charmer!
While inside the RV, he wanted to live in the loft – as expected. And aside from eating and drinking, we were happy to let him. We watched movies, drew pictures, played games and had a blast hanging out. He even showed us a helpful feature of our LED lights we hadn’t figured out yet – if you hold down the button, the blue light turns to a brighter, white reading light. (You’re welcome, fellow View owners!)
Our short visit filled my heart with so much joy and anticipation for stealing him on long weekends and school breaks in the future. However, this first overnight gave us some great insight on how to be better prepared next time and tips for others that want to have kids come visit in their RV.
Get parental approval on seating and sleeping arrangements.
Most RVs don’t have traditional passenger seats or shoulder straps for preferred installation of car seats. There are ways to make it work, but it is important that the child is safe and that their parents are okay with the situation. And even if the guardian gives the go-ahead, make sure that you are complying with the state laws in the areas you will be visiting.
It is also important to talk about where the kid will be sleeping. A loft with no guardrail can be dangerous for children that roll around in their sleep, so make sure you discuss this too. Luckily, our nephew has bunk beds and was a total pro at loft sleeping!
Establish the rules beforehand.
Know what rules the parents are expecting their child to follow and establish additional rules for your rig. Make sure your under-age guest can agree to them and be ready to stick to them. Our rules were: Leave the cat alone, no rough housing inside and, most importantly, no leaving the RV without us.
We had to remind our nephew of these a few times, but he is an extremely respectful kid and did great in the RV. He even wrote us a thank you note and offered to do the dishes all on his own!
Explain how everything works – and make it fun!
For most kids, getting to stay in an RV is a vacation in itself. Teach them how everything works and let them help if you think they can safely handle it. Our nephew was eager to help get us hooked up and Buddy was happy to explain how we plugged into electricity and connected to water. Since he was a good listener, we let him take the lead the next day!
And, as you should with any RV guest, make sure to explain the toilet! Most people can figure it out, but we’ve had some adults in there pressing buttons they shouldn’t be while looking for a way to flush it. Initially, we were going to get a composting toilet and I warned my nephew he would have to crank a lever after going #2. He thought that was gross and jokingly said, “You may as well collect leaves from outside to wipe with!” Needless to say, he was excited to find out we didn’t go that route!
Stock up at the grocery store.
We didn’t realize it until afterwards, but this was the first time we ever had our nephew overnight at our own place. I visit at least once a year; however, it is an entirely different experience when his parents aren’t there to help. I had never realized how much a growing boy could eat! I made him three separate dinners, plus snacks – and he is all muscle. I think it all just turns into pure energy.
Before setting out on your adventure, I suggest a visit to the grocery store to get easy-to-make meals, cook-out supplies and snacks. This is another time you’ll want to check with the parents to make sure there aren’t any no-nos or allergies you should be aware of. But, otherwise, it is wise to just stock up.
Plan plenty of time to get the wiggles out.
If the RV is a-rockin’, there’s probably an 8-year-old inside with lots of pent up energy! The first thing we noticed about having a kid in our RV is that we felt every move he made. If he flailed his legs, we felt it. If he looked out the window, we felt it. If he skipped the last step of the ladder, we really felt it and our neighbors may have too!
But you can’t expect a young kid to sit still for too long! Make sure you have plans to go outside, play games and burn off some of that energy. Even if you are watching a movie, it may be good to take an intermission and do a few laps around the park, so the TV isn’t shaking mid-way through. Getting them to bring some favorite games and movies is a great idea as well – especially if you will be doing any driving.
Stay somewhere cool!
We made it work, but not having a pool, bike trails or attractions within walking distance was a bummer. The next day we went to a better park and wore ourselves out biking, but that first night was a bit of a struggle at times. And planning our next visit during better weather will also help. No one wants to sit outside when it is hot, muggy and a million bugs are trying to eat you alive.
This trip was a super-quick, barely planned visit. But, next time, we hope to have a few days with our nephew that are well-planned and jam-packed with activities. We usually like to wing it, but this is one of the few times we feel planning ahead is key!
But, for a semi-spontaneous, nowhere-exciting first sleepover, I think we did a good job. At one point, our nephew even told us he was going to get an RV when he grows up. While this is a huge compliment, our intentions aren’t to sway him to choose this awesome lifestyle as an adult. We are just excited to get to share our life with him, make some great memories and inspire him to think outside of the box. Most importantly, we want him to know he has a crazy support team out on the road routing for him!
Have you ever invited your niece, nephew or grandkid to stay in your RV? Please share any tips or funny stories you have!
We check lots of websites, are part of a few paid programs and have even stayed at some pretty fancy RV parks. But the most consistently enjoyable overnight stays have been through our Harvest Hosts membership.
This program allows us to stay at more than 550 businesses across the U.S. and Canada. It is great for people like us who aren’t planning very far ahead. We can just call up one of the many host locations at least 24 hours in advance and check if they have room for us. And we haven’t had someone say no yet!
Plus, at only $44 per year, this membership is extremely affordable. It is a great alternative to RV parks for people that have self-contained rigs capable of dry camping. Initially, we made this purchase for the savings. However, after only our first stay, we realized the value went far beyond not having to pay a nightly fee.
Beautiful Harvest Host location in South Carolina.
RV parks aren’t our top choice for camping. To us, they often feel cramped, don’t have great amenities, and are over-priced for what they do offer. But with Harvest Hosts, we usually end up in an open area with great views, a few steps from delicious wine. Plus, the camping is free! And on occasion, they will even have electric hookups as well.
Many of the locations are wineries, which you won’t hear me complain about. But for non-winos, there are also hundreds of other unique and beautiful options to choose from across the U.S. and Canada. The list of participating places includes museums, farms, breweries, distilleries, orchards and even wildlife viewing areas. And the list is always growing, so you never know what interesting options will be added.
Having fun with night photography all alone at a vineyard host site.
Supporting Local Businesses
As a Harvest Host member, you are encouraged to make a purchase from the host to thank them for their hospitality. Believe us, this part is almost too easy! Getting to support such passionate local businesses feels great. And it really isn’t a bad deal to buy some fresh produce, a souvenir, a museum ticket, or a bottle of wine that you will get to enjoy in addition to a free stay.
However, we do suggest having a budget in mind if you are choosing this option to save money on camping. After spending way too much on delicious wine we didn’t have room for, we now have a limit to what we buy. But, we always make a purchase to show our appreciation. And, of course, we are eager to get a taste of what they are offering!
Enjoying a bottle of delicious New Mexico wine, named after Billy the Kid.
The Hosts are Amazing
Our favorite thing about Harvest Hosts so far, is that it allows us to meet so many kind, passionate and interesting people. We had no idea we would end up spending hours talking to the owners and employees of wineries, breweries and other unique places.
From the moment we call, each host we have had the pleasure of working with has been extremely welcoming and more-than accommodating. They give us tips for places to visit nearby, make us special off-the-menu concoctions, and give us words of encouragement to keep following our dreams.
More than once, we have even been invited in for coffee the next morning. We always feel so spoiled by the time we hit the road and can’t wait to visit again – especially since we end up leaving with new friends!
Making friends with the resident pup at a Harvest Host location.
Great Refer-a-Friend Program
Once you start using your Harvest Hosts membership, you will likely be raving about it to your friends. Luckily, if they sign up and note that you referred them, you each get a free month. We love this perk and were excited to know our friend would get a free month for referring us. Some people end up having their entire year paid for through referrals. Although the yearly fee is very reasonable, it is hard to beat free!
They also have a refer-a-host perk. If you notify them of a business that would be a great host and they sign up, you will get a free month for that as well. And they also have a note on their website that the first person to help them secure a host in the Napa wine region will get a free year!
Aerial view of a Texas Winery we stayed at through Harvest Hosts.
Tips for Using Harvest Hosts
Once you sign up, you will have a login and password for the website. This will give you access to the host list and contact information. You can download a PDF list of all the current hosts or use the online search function.
Use the Map Search Feature
We love using the map to plan where we will go next. Since our schedule is very flexible, we just look at what options are available near our current location and use that information to decide which direction to drive. If we already have a destination in mind, we’ll use the route option to see what hosts we will pass on our way. And you can even save trips to refer to later. It is so much fun to read about all the unique businesses we will have the chance to visit.
Do a Quick Map Check
If you are like us and prefer the solitude of the country to the noise of the city, you may want to double check where you are going before locking in your decision. Although many of the host locations are in beautiful areas away from the hustle-and-bustle, some may be off main roads or in the center of town.
Sometimes that may be your best option, but if you are trying to decide between a few hosts, it can be helpful to compare their locations. We usually check for big towns, highways, prisons and train tracks – most of which we learned we didn’t like being close to by experience. Google Maps & Google Earth are great ways to see the surrounding area.
Our vineyard views at a beautiful winery in New Mexico.
Take a Screenshot
Once we decide on a host, we call them a day or two before to confirm that it is okay for us to stay the night. Since I am usually using my phone to look up the information, I then take a screenshot of the host page to make sure I have easy access to their phone number, address and any important notes. This has come in handy when we don’t have any internet in certain areas and need to put in the address on our GPS.
Obviously, writing this information down is also an option – just a tad bit more time consuming. Either way, we suggest having it available in case you need it and can’t get back online.
Follow the Rules
Before signing up, make sure to read over the Code of Conduct. For the most part, these rules are just common courtesy. If hosts are treated poorly or feel taken advantage of, they won’t want to have RVers visit any longer and that would be a shame.
But just because there are some rules involved, don’t feel like you can’t still have fun. In our experience, hosts are overjoyed to have guests, are extremely accommodating, and will often chat with you for hours if they have time. The majority seem to genuinely enjoy meeting new people and are a blast to hang out with!