We bought an RV, a brand new Motorhome, with very little planning, and just a couple weeks later we embarked on a 5 month cross-country adventure with two toddlers and two dogs. Many friends thought we were crazy… some even bet against us, perhaps for good reason. I mean, who does that? Who decides within a 10 minute conversation that the best way to spend an extended sabbatical with their family will be in a mobile 200 square foot space, then researches and chooses their new temporary home within 10 days, and then takes off with a loose plan (at best) to travel for a vague time frame of between 3-6 months? With kids? And dogs? Yeah, it’s possible those that bet against us had a point.
Except here’s the thing: we did it right. Not ALL of it perhaps… we had rough days, bad moments, and occasional regrets… but looking back, we did way more right than wrong. Maybe a list of “things not to do” would be amusing and helpful to some of you, but today I’m feeling optimistic, and nostalgic, so I want to share with you the good stuff – the things I would do the same if I had it all to do over again.
- We followed our instincts. We didn’t teeter from one idea to another and then back again, and thus lose precious time – we hit on an idea that felt right and just did it! I can’t claim that I never had doubts – that’s not what I’m saying – of course doing something like this gave me pause a few times. There’s a huge financial component, concerns over whether it would be right for the kids, sadness of leaving friends and family behind (even temporarily), and I wondered a few time whether such an undertaking would improve or effectively end my marriage! Yes, there were good reasons for butterflies in my belly and a couple sleepless nights. But I never once felt deep down that it was the wrong thing to do – quite the contrary…though my mind whispered doubts, my soul was focused on getting going.
- We chose the right sales center to purchase from. For us, buying was more cost effective than renting, and we shopped around quite a bit at the dealerships near us and on sites like RVTrader. We decided for what we were doing, having a full warranty would give us peace of mind so we bought new. We figured out quickly that it was more important to find a dealer we wanted to work with and knew they could find us whatever model we ended up choosing. When we found our way to National Indoor RV Center in Lilburn, GA and chatted with Tony about the models they had in stock, we left there knowing we had found our local spot for purchasing and servicing. Tony and the rest of the staff at NIRVC were respectful and helpful during the process of negotiating and ordering the specific unit we eventually purchased, but more importantly, they became our mentors and friends during the process of figuring out what the hell we were doing. Have I mentioned we had never owned an RV before? There’s a lot to learn – not necessarily difficult, but a lot to get used to and understand. They walked us through everything before we took possession, and more importantly, were available to us 24/7 while on the road. We literally were assigned a service tech, given his cell number and told to call about anything – be it trivial or big. And man, did we use that number! He reminded us of silly things we had forgotten, gave us advice about what tow bar and braking system to purchase, researched where we should get stuff on the road, and helped us troubleshoot a few snags we ran into. We nearly always ran into trouble on a weekend, but even late on a Sunday night, Justin would respond immediately and step up to help. The entire NIRVC team was really there for us and we continue to be very grateful for their support.
- We upgraded to the 2016 model and installed a washer/dryer. I cannot stress this enough: if you are traveling in an RV with children, and having a W/D is an option, you want it. I promise it will be worth the cost. In fact, I’d venture to say that even if you are not traveling with kids, you want the W/D. Though many RV parks have washing services, why would you want to spend your precious time away from exploring or relaxing outside, to sit in a laundry room popping quite a few coins into a machine? Why would you want to worry when your kids play the way they should play and roll around in the dirt and mud because some part of your brain is thinking, “shit, now I have to rearrange the schedule to make time for a wash.” No. No, you don’t want to do that. You want to smile as they giggle in the dirt knowing you are giving them the gift of a true childhood, and not care if they are filthy. With a W/D on board, you can throw in a wash as you go to bed and wake up with it clean and dry (the european style models both wash and dry in one), or as you leave for a hike and come back to fresh, clean clothes to change into.
- We opted for a full size, residential fridge and stocked up on food! Most RVs still have a dual powered mini fridge, but there’s a growing demand for a full size fridge as the number of full-timers increase. I was sold the first time I saw one, as I both love to cook, and insist on feeding my family a whole-foods diet (which requires way more space for fresh food). The downside, however, is they are only powered by electric, and so you lose the flexibility of the propane option. This is important if you want plan to spend several days away from a traditional power source. We understood the trade off and determined we would benefit most from having the luxury of space. I also stocked the hell out of that thing and learned that my superpower may just be an ability to get twice the amount of food into a space than expected. In that first week or so on the road, without a Toad, it was great to not have to think about where we would maneuver to get food. We were able to focus on getting comfortable and to conveniently eat the healthy options we wanted.
- We didn’t have a plan. Well that’s a stretch perhaps. We did have a loose plan to get out to the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada, but we didn’t do anything early on to box ourselves in. We kept everything open- where we were going, routes we would take, where we would stay when we got there, what we would do there, how long we would stay… My type A readers are panicking, aren’t you? The first week, this was stressful for me too; I am, after-all, a bit of a type A myself. But I soon recognized how freeing it was. When we didn’t like a place, we left. When we were tired, we stayed longer to have more down time. When other travelers told us about a not-to-be-missed place, we went there. Raj and I have always preferred to travel this way; when we took a 4 month international sabbatical in 2009, we had a similar style. But that was pre-kids. Since having children, I’ve become much more structured and rigid. Those of you on this path may relate- routine and schedules are paramount to having order. But travel is different and I’m so glad we found our rhythm and balance with this. We did keep to a daily routine with the kids because we felt it was important to offer them a sense of security, and having some form of rhythm for meal times, play times, bath times and bed times kept things predictable enough for them that they were more cooperative. But as for the “wheres and whats” of being on the road, we did what we wanted, when we wanted. I will offer a caveat to this, however. We knew that many people plan out every detail months in advance and pre pre-book places, so not doing so would occasionally leave us with less than optimal options, and we absolutely faced times when the places we stayed were far from our first choice, but for us, the freedom made up for it overall.
- We had 4 test runs before hitting the open road. All 4 were essential to figure out and get comfortable with different aspects of our trip. The first, we experienced in our own driveway! Seriously! My research on stocking the rig led us to this one and it was great advice. It’s way more convenient to be a few steps away from the things you discover you need than to be a drive away from buying them.None of us said it at the time, but that first run was a bit scary – we had just bought an RV and we weren’t even sure we’d like living/sleeping in it! Needless to say at this point, we liked it just fine! The dealership, NIRVC, hooked us up with the second one, at Stone Mountain State Park. The purpose of this one was to get the basics down (how hookups and levelers, etc. work) and a general feel for living and sleeping in an RV and RV park, and also to make sure everything was functioning properly in the unit. We did not have our new house on wheels fully stocked yet, but we had planned enough to be able to test out all the appliances for cooking, and figured out how to rig the bunk beds to make sure our young kids wouldn’t fall out in their sleep. We also spent a lot of time walking around and watching other campers! We learned and saw a lot that led us to buying a few gadgets that made our lives easier later. Our third run was more about the driving aspect, but also to make sure we had everything we needed from a practical standpoint. With a beach trip already planned with friends, we decided to drive everyone to the beach, with a one night stopover on the way there. This was also helpful to make sure we had everything we needed for when my parents would join us, as we’d be needing additional beds for a bit of our trip. It was great experiencing what it was like to have a “full house”and to work out a few more kinks. We had RV storage arranged for the week at the beach, and then we decided to experience a long haul drive home on the way back, 7.5 hours! Overall, it taught us that it was doable, but exhausting for the driver and difficult for toddlers to travel so long. It’s just different driving a huge rig than a regular vehicle but it helped keep our expectations in order for what we could handle on the road. Our last test run was again at Stone Mountain, but this time we were ready to go, and my parents joined us to say goodbye. Technically, it was the first day/night of our trip, and we were glad to only be 30 minutes from home when we realized there were a couple last minute items we wanted!
- We invested in safety features. Raj discussed these in a post, but essentially, before we left, we added some car seat anchors and a protection system to ensure that in the event of a blow out, we wouldn’t flip over. Sounds silly? It’s not. It happens more than we were comfortable risking when there was a solution. The car seat thing is more complicated. You see, for some bizarre reason, wearing a seatbelt isn’t even a legal requirement in an RV… and using a car seat most certainly is not either. However, we were uncomfortable with that idea, as the data clearly suggests that despite the flexibility in the law, seat belts and car seats are vital, even in RVs. Despite RVs being among the largest vehicles on the road, they are still just fiberglass. Plus, there were plenty of semi trucks on the road with us that were much bigger/heavier. We had more peace of mind knowing we had made a responsible choices to protect our family. Other than quick bathroom breaks, we were all strapped in when on the road. When we hydroplaned in Montana, it reinforced our decision.
- We Did It. Perhaps I’ll invoke Nike’s slogan here… “Just Do It”. We had such an amazing time and it literally changed our lives. Our family is closer, our memories are richer, and we set a foundation of exploration for our children that we are proud of. I look like a crazy lady grinning from ear to ear as I scan photos from our adventure for this post. I’m so filled with gratitude for our experience and the joy we continue to feel from it. I have ZERO reason to give you for why you shouldn’t do something like this. Doesn’t that say it all?