We recently made our first visit back home to Colorado after transitioning to full-time RVers. We had been on the road in our fifth wheel for 3 months, but knew very early on in the journey that we loved RV life. In fact, it was a no-brainer for us to take the leap into the lifestyle. We knew that traveling full-time while still having the comforts of home, and our 2 dogs, would be a dream for us. What we didn’t expect were the surprising benefits that come along with full-time RVing.
The funny thing is, we weren’t even aware of these benefits until we spent the past three weeks away from our RV while staying with family. We fully anticipated missing our life on the road, but were surprised that some of the things we miss the most, have nothing to do with traveling and exploring our beautiful country (although, we of course miss that too). We’ve fallen even more in love with our RV life now that we’ve had time to truly reflect on how it has impacted us.
After only 3 months, we are fully committed to sustaining our life on the road for as long as possible and here are five reasons why.
1. The social community we’ve gained.
One of our biggest concerns when we chose RV life was that we would get lonely. We both come from big families and are social people. However, we’ve been blown away by the RV community both through social media and right inside the campgrounds and RV parks we’ve visited. We’ve enjoyed several campfire chats with people from all over the world, double-dates with other RV couples, and many friendly neighbors who are always willing to lend a helping hand.
However, the community that has really surprised us lies in the digital world. Yes, we know this sounds crazy, but it’s true. We receive so much support, RVing tips, and inspiration through Facebook and Instagram. Whether it’s in a Facebook group or through Instagram comments and photos, we’ve connected with so many awesome people. The best part is that these people share the same mindset as us, which is important when you’ve chosen to live an “alternative lifestyle.” Having a community of people who truly understand why we chose the lifestyle and all that it entails, is extremely valuable.
2. Our ambition, creativity, and motivation have flourished.
For a long time, RVing full-time was just a dream of ours. Something we thought we would do “someday.” Once we finally took the steps necessary to achieve this dream, it made us feel so much more ambitious to explore other dreams. It’s amazing how once you get past your fears and uncertainties to achieve one dream, you feel fearless and confident to chase other dreams.
We are so determined to sustain RV life that we’ve developed an entrepreneurial spirit inside of us. Working from the RV surrounded by beauty gets our creative juices flowing and because we have more time to ourselves, we are much more productive. Dan is much more efficient in his full-time job too. He’s determined to stay focused and finish his work so he can have plenty of time to explore later. Since being back in our hometown and out of the RV for a bit, we’ve noticed a dramatic difference in this area. We are itching to get back on the road and back in our rhythm.
3. Our overall mental health and well-being has greatly improved.
Think about a time you were on vacation watching the sunset from the beach, or enjoying a peaceful hike to an incredible overlook. Did you feel relaxed? Did you feel like you had escaped away from the daily challenges that typically stress you out? Did you feel more alive? Now, imagine feeling this way on a daily or weekly basis, rather than a few times a year. Imagine being able to feel all those wonderful things by simply stepping outside your home and walking right into it.
While you can’t escape life and there will always be challenges to face, the simplicity of the RV lifestyle combined with being closer to nature, makes your troubles seem smaller and much more manageable. Or maybe it’s that your perspective on life changes. Or the fact that you have less household and yard work duties, no commute and no negative office environment, less junk and more once-in-a-lifetime experiences. RV life has brought us so much authentic happiness and peace.
4. We’ve strengthened our marriage.
We’ve always found that traveling brings us closer together. We weren’t sure if that would still be the case if we were traveling full-time. We also worried that we would actually get sick of each other being confined to a much smaller space. It’s been the opposite for us.
Being just the two of us, outside of our comfort zone, away from distractions has been the best thing for us. The happiness and contentment that RVing has brought us has allowed us to be the best versions of ourselves. This allows us to be a better, more supportive, compassionate, and overall loving partner to one another.
We love the memories we are making together and the time we share disconnected from technology and connected to nature instead. Being in new environments and having to learn new things, has allowed us to grow tremendously as individuals and as a couple. RV life has also brought us new challenges that have required us to rely on each other in different ways.
5. Our RV has truly become our home.
Prior to our full-time RV lifestyle, we had sold our first house and were looking for a new one. So, our “wish list” changed dramatically when we went from shopping for a 1,500-square-foot renovated downtown bungalow to a 30-foot fifth wheel. We just assumed that having a “real home” was a sacrifice we’d have to make in order to enjoy the freedom and experiences of RVing.
We couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, in many ways, this has been one of our favorite homes that we’ve lived in. All those cliché sayings, “home is wherever I’m with you”, “home is where the heart is”, “home is where we park it”, are actually true! Our definition of home has completely changed and no longer has anything to do with the size, items inside, or location. Home, in our opinion, is just a place where you can feel safe, loved, and comfortable to be yourself and experience relaxation and happiness. An RV, therefore, is the perfect home for us!
We are so grateful for the time we’ve had to spend with our loved ones and reflect on our transition to full-time RV living. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to pack up and bring your home anywhere. We look forward to always being home, while still being in our home, for holidays and special events. But for now, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover and a lot of livin’ to do!
Read more about Lindsay & Dan McKenzie on their blog, Follow Your Detour.
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.
Camping season is upon us! So, here’s a little explanation of how I see the three different types of camping trips.
Since swearing off tent camping and making our way into the RV world last year, we’ve had some pretty good ordinary trips and some amazing ones. There was a girls-only journey, a dad-and-daughter camping trip, and I even had a solo trek to Baltimore for a race in December that wasn’t really a camping trip.
Experience has taught me that these trips break down into three different kinds.
1. Camping on the way to a different destination.
We’ve done this one plenty of times, most recently at Green Acres in Ohio. You need a place to park and sleep, at a minimum. You might also need a place to plug in and run your appliances or your air conditioner, for your kid to run around and play, or for a nice hot shower before you get on the road in the morning. Places like these range from free to $50 a night.
For free places to stay, try Wal-Mart, Cracker Barrel or Cabela’s. Ask the manager first. You’ll have a paved, level spot without much worry about security. Recognize that you’re squatting with permission, so no awnings, camping chairs or tailgating. You’ll probably also need your sun shades because the parking lots are brightly lit. Ear plugs wouldn’t hurt either — and you may want to ask when the trash gets picked up, so you won’t be trying to sleep at the same time.
The Ohio Turnpike has RV overnight parking at many of its service plazas. These are barebones, not much more than a parking space with an electric hookup. There is a dump station, and showers inside the plaza are free. Camping costs $20, cash only, no reservations accepted. This is a good choice if you’re tired and just want to rest. Our stop last winter was surprisingly quiet for being so close to the highway.
State parks are a safe, comfortable and generally inexpensive place to camp for a night. Some are surprisingly close to the interstate. Mosquito Lake, where Lindy and XY have stayed twice, is one of these. It’s got activities and trails and a centralized shower building, all for $26 a night. Note that different state parks have different rules regarding pets. Also, every state park I’ve visited has a dump station instead of water and sewer hookups at individual sites. You’ll need to allow for time to do this on the way out if you need.
2. Camping that’s attached to a destination.
The second type of camping is also incidental to a place you’re going, but it’s right there. This is what we do when an attraction or a family event offers a chance to stay right on site.
Festivals are the biggest and most obvious examples of destination camping. We haven’t actually done one of these yet. The Winnebago Grand National Rally in Iowa is probably the world’s largest such gathering. People take RVs to the Electric Forest Festival in Michigan too. And Punkin Chunkin in Delaware offers RV camping — though we stayed off-site at a nearby state park because it was less expensive and had hookups.
We went to Dutch Wonderland in Pennsylvania the first two summers we lived in Maryland, staying in a hotel across the street each time. Last year, we stayed in Roxanne in the campground next to the park – twice. We also had a trip to Jellystone and one to Lake Fairfax, both campgrounds mixed together with water parks and other activities for kids. And there were two driveway stays with relatives last year, once in Indiana and the other in Michigan.
Destination-attached camping in a small RV gives you the comforts of home right next to the attraction you’re visiting. It gives you the ability to retreat to a place of calm if you need, and to keep your own food cold and at the ready. It’s unquestionably cheaper than hotels too.
3. Camping that is the destination.
My first introduction to camping was in my 20s, and it was a destination trip. The parents of a good friend of mine from high school and their college friends had started it decades earlier. It was tents, camp chairs and firewood in the middle of Hoosier National Forest, with an outhouse over a hole in the ground. I went back for several years, even flying halfway across the country with Lindy one year when we no longer lived in the Midwest. That annual trip now spans three generations of campers, we haven’t gone in years, and you couldn’t get an RV within two miles of the campsite. But it was a formative experience.
The two of us, plus the late dog, then the three of us and sometimes the newer dog have been to loads of campgrounds in the area where we live. The breath-taking Assateague Island. The terrific Maryland state parks. We’ve gone on our own or joined a group. These car campgrounds aren’t as low-tech or remote as the Indiana version of camping. (I have seen more than one big-screen TV and at least one espresso maker out there through the years). But they do offer a chance to unplug, see the stars and spend time in the fresh air. Even though I’ve decided my 41-year-old self is retired from tents and Therm-a-Rest pads, I’ve gotten some of my best nights’ sleep and best naps while out camping.
Over the past few years, we’ve been fortunate to join another longstanding family camping trip that started with college friends – my in-laws’ annual outing to P.J. Hoffmaster State Park near Muskegon, Michigan. The facility is pretty standard state campground fare, though the nearly 300 sites are broken into much smaller loops to keep it from feeling enormous. Also, it’s along a Lake Michigan beach. It’s nice to have sand and waves with fresh water and less concern about sharks and the sea level rising.
And finally, Hoffmaster has the cleanest campground bathrooms I have ever seen. As in, they’re clean at the beginning of the weekend and they keep getting clean during the course of the trip. There’s also usually plenty of hot water. We use the bathroom in Roxanne for convenience, but confine the more time-consuming activities to the centralized campground facilities, so this is important.
My in-laws do an amazing job with the logistics for the whole group, as the family that lives closest to the campground. It starts with making reservations the moment they’re available and finding enough space for three extended families. Then there’s base camp on their site, with a pop-up trailer, picnic tents and tables gathered from all around. A grill, coolers, lanterns and all manner of things for eating on and eating with are the last bits to round out the setup. It’s everything you might need for a long weekend at a campground, except the wave of forgotten items that ripples through each one of our campsites and sends every one of us to the store multiple times during the trip.
I get a kick out of watching the different family dynamics, and talking to the kids as they turn into grown-ups. When you see people once a year and know them a bit but not terribly well, it feels a little like watching the latest installment of the “7-Up” series. Neat. And XY gets so much grown-up attention that she doesn’t even go looking for other kids to play with.
There’s always a lot of food. Cookies, snacks and the side dish that each person has been perfecting throughout the course of the year. We introduced the Beyond Burger to the bunch this time, with good success. And we ate a little spaghetti.*
*In my post about last year’s trip, I guess I might have made a little comment about an abundance of spaghetti. I’m not sure I said another word about it since. But in the land of campfire folklore, I had given my father-in-law no end of recurring grief on the subject for 12 entire months!
Mea culpa. I shouldn’t have said anything. After all, when you have a camp stove that uses a full-sized propane tank and a cooking pot the diameter of an oil drum, you can cook as many noodles as you want! And if 10 boxes of spaghetti for 18 people seems like a good idea, you can hand out gallon-sized Ziploc bags full of the leftovers afterwards. It’s a delicious problem to have.
I do feel compelled to point out that this year, after three boxes of spaghetti got dished out, there were no leftovers. The pot was empty. And the meal was delicious.
No seconds for pasta, but nobody went hungry. The last morning of the trip, there’s also a traditional stop at the Whippi Dip afterward for fries and frozen treats.
When I was younger, I used to dwell more on the purity of the camping experience — no watches, no indoor plumbing, as little gear as possible. Now I’m just grateful for the change in environment and the chance to spend time outdoors with people I care about. In an era when even the tent campers are grateful for electric hookups so they can charge their cell phones, I don’t have any reservations about driving around with a fridge or a couple of comfy beds behind me either.
Wherever the road takes you this summer, I wish you the best of journeys!
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.
Renting out Roxanne, our Winnebago Travato, is more of a hobby than a business. We meet some interesting people, hear stories from the road, and bring in a little extra cash to cover our own travel and improvements to our sticks-and-bricks house. For the more entrepreneurial or handy set, rentals can be a full-time living. For us, it’s much more of a side hustle. So, we can be very choosy about who rents, and we are.
We started renting through Outdoorsy as a means of bringing in extra income and getting better use out of an asset that just sits in the driveway a lot of the time. We’ve also accepted the attention that comes along with being a young(ish) family driving a cherry-red Winnebago van. We’re forever giving tours at campgrounds and in parking lots, and we’re happy to. After all, we enjoyed our first RV rental trip so much that we bought our own not too long afterward. We’d love to see other families do the same.
Most of our rental experiences have been just great. We have seen photos of other people having fun on the road, and have learned some things about how our van works from renters. On the other end of the spectrum, we had a rental last year that resulted in some minor damage. I had the cost of getting this fixed, the loss of income from a rental I canceled while it was getting fixed, and a less-than-ideal rental experience for a couple who took it before I could get it fixed. This was on top of the stress during the rental itself.
I am not thrilled with the idea of another period of days with all-caps text messages, multiple phone calls, and general worry about my prized vacation-home-on-wheels, on top of working full-time and being a parent, spouse and homeowner. Outdoorsy has taken some of the bite out of situations like these by offering roadside assistance that includes 24-hour technical support. Additionally, I’ve gotten much better at asking questions and sharing information before I approve a rental.
To that end, here are my five best pieces of advice for a first-time renter. Following these would make us more likely to approve your rental, but will also give you better peace of mind and a more fulfilling vacation.
Before, during and after your rental, communicate with us. If you inquire about dates during a busy part of the year (typically summer), follow up quickly. By leaving a conversation hanging for days or even weeks, you make it more likely that we will award the dates to a competing request or simply cancel yours. Likewise, speak up early about who is traveling. I’ve turned down rentals with too many pets or too many people. First, because I want renters to be safe. I won’t rent to a party of more than four because there aren’t enough seatbelts. But even four can be a pinch if they’re all tall grownups and they’re bringing a dog (or two) along. I’m going to recommend a bigger rig in that case. But if I can’t reach you to confirm what you want before we’re even doing business together, I don’t have high hopes for communication during the rental.
Speaking of, I almost never get tired of hearing from renters when they’re on the road. (See rental horror story above for exception). You’re out there, enjoying yourself, being one with the present moment and hopefully not focusing too much on people who aren’t on your trip with you. But a picture or an update every so often is very comforting. If a problem comes up, even with the roadside assistance, I want to hear about it before you come back.
When you return, give us a full picture of what you liked and what you didn’t. We’ll stay in touch over the next couple of days regarding any extra charges for mileage, cleaning and dumping tanks. I’ll refund some or all of your security deposit and give you a rating on Outdoorsy. Keeping each other up to date throughout this process is key.
I’ve had some of my favorite communications after the rental ended. One renter was kind enough to buy my daughter a t-shirt during her trip. Another emailed me weeks later to say that she’d finally downloaded her photos and wondered if I’d like any of Roxanne in Canada and Maine. Of course, I would!
Driving an RV is a great way to go on vacation. In our book, it tops hotels or vacation rentals for cost and the convenience of having your own bed and kitchen close at hand. It tops sleeping in a tent because, well, it’s not a tent. It tops imposing on friends and family for a night or two. But it also puts more of a burden on the vacationer than any of these forms of travel. You’re managing your own water supply and disposing of your own waste. And you have your own miniature spaceship full of furniture, appliances and buttons to figure out.
Most vehicles come with a tiny owner’s manual in the glove box. A Winnebago Travato comes with a robust accordion folder full of manuals for every little system that’s built into the coach. And if you’ve never operated an RV before, you are going to have a lot to learn, very quickly. My run-through takes about a half hour. Our last renters taped it on their phone so they could go back to it for reference. But long before pickup, and these days even before approval, I insist that first-time renters watch a video tour of a similar vehicle and read my blog post about how to dump the tanks.
One of this year’s renter couples took the research theme to the extreme and came up with an idea I absolutely love. They had planned an elaborate, long-distance trip for 10 days that would take them over the Canadian border and back, but wanted to get more comfortable in Roxanne first. So, they rented her for just one night a few weeks before their big trip, camping at Cherry Hill Park just 20 minutes away from here. They emerged with enough experience to make their summer adventure a success. This is an approach I’m thinking about requiring before all newbie long-distance trips.
Another thing I’ve learned to tease out before making a rental decision: As detailed a travel plan as possible. Serendipity travel is a neat concept, but it’s out of the question if you’re first-timers in someone else’s RV on a limited schedule. I’m going to want to know where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and where you plan on staying along the way. This will help me show you the features and controls most relevant to your trip. It will also give me peace of mind that you won’t call me to ask why the power outlets don’t work when you’re staying overnight in a Walmart parking lot. (I learned this the hard way myself the first time I did it — you need an electric hookup or the generator for them to work.)
The other part of a good travel plan: I can advise you based on what’s worked for the other renters and for us. We know how much driving is comfortable for a day and when it’s too much. We’ve learned a lot about staying in different environments for the night and even how to get around cities. I can offer you the benefit of this knowledge and ease your learning curve if you have a solid plan.
The utmost in research and planning will make your trip successful, but not 100-percent predictable. Road construction, bad weather and issues with the RV will come up. It’s all about how you react when they do. If perfection is your goal, or you’re seeking the kind of hands-off reliability and ease of use that comes with a luxury hotel or Airbnb rental, please do not rent my RV. You will be nervous and likely disappointed.
One of our recent renters had trouble opening the sliding side door from the outside. She was enthusiastic about her vacation and was looking to purchase an RV someday soon for retirement travel. She texted me about it from the road, I poked around the Travato Facebook group for a fix, but she and her co-pilot simply opened the door from the inside until they got home. It wasn’t about to ruin her trip. Knowing about the issue made for much less of a surprise when Lindy and I encountered it a couple weeks later on our own trip. (I was able to find some debris inside the door track and move it out of there. Problem solved.)
When your tiny house is on wheels, things are going to rattle and roll. One of our first renters had the refrigerator door come off in transit. What a scary experience! We’ve added a hinge modification and an earthquake strap, and we advise everyone not to put heavy things in the door.
Beeps, warning lights and even the occasional sewage spill will happen during your trip. (I’ve thankfully never had one of the latter, but still.) Be ready. Adapt. And you’ll be fine.
What an amazing experience it is to travel around the country by RV. With a small RV like ours, you have the flexibility of going into town for an errand or a meal without having to worry too much about how and where to park. You can sleep when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry and enjoy the company of a companion or two or three — human or otherwise.
None of these tips should take away from the joy of the journey. I’m not trying to throw cold water on anyone’s romanticized RV dreams. But a renter who communicates, researches, plans and adapts will have a better time of it than someone who dives in unprepared. Think of it like a scuba dive or a bungee jump. It can be the thrill of a lifetime, as long as you’re ready.
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!
When we decided to embark on a camping lifestyle, we were faced with several decisions regarding the type of vehicle that would work best for our family. Trailer or RV? Class A or Class C? How big? What floorplan? For context, we are a family of four with a very busy three year-old boy and a five year-old girl. My husband, who thoroughly researches any and every big purchase in our family, was more than happy to dive in and begin exploring our options.
We decided relatively quickly that a trailer wasn’t the best fit for us. We didn’t own a truck with which to pull a trailer, and weren’t particularly interested in trading in one of our current cars to buy one. This coupled with the fact that we both had history with RVs, pretty much cemented our decision. An RV it would be!
Over the next several months, our weekends began to include stops to local RV dealerships to look at virtually every model of coach on the market. We liked the space offered in a Class A, but thought that the quality and reputation of a Winnebago would put it out of our price range.
We came close to purchasing several other makes and models, but for one reason or another, they didn’t work out. They were too big, too small, or the finishes weren’t quite right. I realize I sound a bit like Goldilocks searching for the perfect bowl of porridge. But hey, it was a big purchase and we wanted it to be just right.
Then one day in December of 2015, we thought we had found it … the perfect RV for our family. My husband had been corresponding online with a dealer, seen photos, and started to negotiate price. This particular dealership was located about three hours from our house, but we had reached a point where we were nearly convinced that this was “the one”, so we were willing to make the trek to seal the deal.
Unfortunately, when we arrived, we found that the dealer had somewhat misrepresented the condition of the RV. There were a few unexplained (and unmentioned) dings, scratches, and leaks that should not have been present in what was being advertised as a brand new vehicle.
Needless to say, we didn’t pull the trigger and instead began the long drive home. To say my husband was disappointed would be an understatement. I was too, but it definitely hit him hard. So much so, that when we passed a sign on the freeway advertising one of those big fairground-style RV shows, I agreed to stop even though I really just wanted to get home.
As we began to explore rows and rows (and rows and rows and rows) of RVs, we had the opportunity to see a Vista. After our experiences earlier that day, the quality of this model really stood out. The layout was exactly what we had been looking for, and the extra features exceeded our expectations. After some discussion with the salesperson, we were also pleasantly surprised that we were able to make the numbers work within our budget. That day, Lola the Vista (yes, we named her Lola) joined our family, and today we couldn’t imagine our lives without her.
Ultimately, these were the reasons that we chose our Lola (hint…they had nothing to do with yellow ribbons in her hair):
The layout of the Vista worked really well for our family. We liked that there was both a sofa and dinette, and that the front seats swiveled around to become part of the living area. This has proven to be very comfortable for our family of four, and lends itself perfectly to movie nights and snuggles with our kiddos. It was also important to us that we could install our kids’ car seats to be forward-facing while driving. Having seatbelts in the dinette allowed for this and meant that we wouldn’t have rambunctious kids roaming free as we drove to our next destination.
2. Bunk beds
This was the ONLY thing that mattered to our kids. They thought the idea of bunk beds was the coolest and still exude unreasonably sweet levels of excitement every time they sleep in them. It is also great that they each have their own private space when they need a little quiet time, and that we have a “home” for all the toys and stuffed animals that seem to accompany us on our trips.
3. Jack-and-Jill bathroom
I had no idea how key this would be, but when it’s 6a.m. and the kids are still sound asleep, it is so wonderful to be able to sneak into the bathroom and back to bed without having to leave our bedroom. This feature has given us as much as an hour or two of extra sleep on occasion, which as our fellow parents know, is priceless.
In case you weren’t aware, kids come with stuff. A lot of stuff. There are car seats, bikes, toys, and stuffed animals they just can’t live without. This combined with camping chairs, grills, and other essentials, makes storage pretty important. While we are clearly not minimalists, the Vista has always had plenty of room for all of our creature comforts.
This is an all-encompassing category for all the wonderful things we never knew we needed. We love that we have a generator, automatic leveling jacks, a full-wall slide, an outdoor television and speakers. We have especially come to enjoy movie nights or listening to music under the stars!
We also appreciate that we were able to equip the Vista with a hitch to tow our Jeep Cherokee, which has given us even more freedom on the road. While these are all things that we would obviously survive without, we have come to really value the added comfort and convenience they add to our adventures.
Like many people, when we decided to buy an RV, we were a little overwhelmed with all the things we needed to consider. After all, this was a lifestyle choice we were making for our family and it was important that the RV we chose fit that lifestyle.
Now almost a year and a half into life with Lola, we can safely say that we made the right choice for where our family is today. As our kids grow, we may evolve into another model. But shhhh! Don’t tell my husband that or he will start researching now.