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.
The engineers, designers and marketing folks at Winnebago have put an awful lot of time and attention into making their products (like our Travato Roxanne) a great way to travel. We call it recreational flexibility. In a Class B camper like ours, you pull up, plug in (sometimes) and you’re set. If you want to explore a nearby town, all you need is 21 feet of parking space.
But we’ve also recently learned that recreational flexibility also includes the freedom not to travel.
We were scheduled for a camping weekend with some friends at Jellystone Park in Pennsylvania, about two hours from home. But then the heavens opened and dumped a pretty amazing amount of rain on the area where we live. It just didn’t seem like fun to work a full day, then drive through hours of rush-hour traffic in darkness while it was pouring. We also didn’t want to pull up to an unfamiliar campsite during a storm, try to sleep with the rain pounding our metal roof or wonder if our house and dog were going to be okay.
So, we texted our friends, called the campground, stayed home Friday night — the house and dog were fine despite receiving nearly 11 inches of rain in a day — and headed out for the trip first thing Saturday morning.
How did having a small RV make it easier to stay home? Simple. It makes heading out for a trip almost effortless. We simply grab our cold stuff from the fridge, our snacks from the kitchen, our backpacks with our clothes, and hit the road. It used to take us hours to prepare for a camping trip when we were car camping with a tent. The mile-long packing list. The trying to jam everyone and everything into the vehicle. The hoping our cold stuff wouldn’t spoil in a cooler with ice. And the inevitably irritable late departure, followed by all the unpacking and setting up when we’d arrive.
All of that effort would hit us with the sunk cost fallacy on a short trip. We’d be tempted to tough it out on the Friday night because of all the planning and packing, and that would mean a night in the tent during a rainstorm. Or, even worse, we’d be tempted to bag the whole operation because going up and back, with all the setup and take-down, wouldn’t be worth it for a 30-hour trip.
Not so for last weekend. We woke up early with a calm dog and a dry house, hit the road and met up with our friends before lunchtime. It had apparently rained buckets in Pennsylvania too, and they had a tin roof on their cabin with some noisy neighbors. I was grateful for having had a good night’s rest. They offered to give us some time to settle in, which was nice. But after backing into our campsite, I literally had to unfold three chairs and plug in the electric before we were free to enjoy the rest of the trip. And sandwiches.
What followed was a fun weekend for the grownups and the kids, even though it was a bit shorter than we’d planned. We had mini-golf, a hay ride and even hit the water park for a couple hours on the way out.
Grateful for a private place to change clothes in the RV and our own bathroom to hang up our wet suits, we ambled back onto the country roads to head for home. Coming home in Roxanne is a treat. We just unload the dishes, the leftovers and the laundry. What’s left in the van is ready for the next adventure, whether it’s weeks or a weekend, across the country or around the corner.
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!