“Don’t you think this family togetherness is going too far?” “Why would you want to spend a year in such close proximity to your husband and pre-teen daughter?” “You’ll drive each other crazy!” The skeptics were amazingly vocal in telling us why a 12 month road trip around the US in an RV was foolish and open to disaster. Instead of listening, we decide to follow the leads of other families who are known as “Full-Timing Families” and live in their RV’s, moving from place to place. Here’s what we learned by spending a year on the road, learning about our country and ourselves.
RV Road Trip for a Year
As a travel writer, I’m used to staying in luxury hotels with chocolate-covered strawberries waiting for me. (At the Quinaault Resort and Casino I actually had chocolate and gold leafed strawberries waiting for me in my room.) So instead of staying in a deluxe hotel room, my family and I found ourselves spending a year staying in a Fifth Wheel. Don’t know a Fifth Wheel from a toy hauler or Class C RV? Neither did we. We reeked of naivety when it came to RV’ing. Thankfully, the learning curve wasn’t as steep as we expected.
Varieties of RVs
For the uninitiated, recreational vehicles are classified as:
Class A: These are what most people envision when thinking of an RV. These bus type vehicles contain numerous flat screen TV’s and often full size refrigerators plus king-sized beds. Price tags in the mid $400’s are also the norm.
Class C: These RV’s are built over the frame of a van and retain the cab section. Your grandparents probably have a Class C.
5th Wheel: These units require a special hitch in the bed of your truck. It’s a level floor plan with a raised forward section, sort of like a trailer, but not really.
Toy Hauler: A Class A or Fifth Wheel that has a “garage” in the back to store motorcycles, bikes, snowmobiles, kayaks, ATV’s etc.
Trailer: What you probably vacationed in as a kid.
It Worked for Us
We soon found ourselves the owners of a 28’ Fifth Wheel. The price was right and layout just what we needed. My husband and I enjoyed a queen sized bed while Sondra had her own micro-mini-bedroom with bunk beds at the opposite end. (Actually all of 20 feet away from us.) With a shower, toilet, comfy sofa and dinette, we were ready to go. Many resources are available for parents thinking about giving their children an experience in travel and togetherness.
Instead of homeschooling, we “Roadschooled,” giving Sondra educational opportunities wherever we went. Thanksgiving? We ate at Plymouth Rock. Cultural lesson? Learning opportunities abound at the Appalachian History Museum. Sure, we spent a little time on basic spelling and math, but most of her education took place throughout the day. (As a side note, when she returned to public school as an eighth grader, she was ahead of the other students.)
Get Camping Experience Ahead of a Major Trip!
Without even a weekend camping trip under our belt, we headed off to the world of full time RV’ing. My husband was a school bus driver trainer, so driving our “rig” was simple. (Really cool, in-the-know people call their RV’s “rigs”.) We could easily get from place to place. Knowing what to do upon arrival at the campground was the time creative thinking began. “What’s the difference between gray water and black water?” my husband asked a fellow camper the first night at an RV park. The large sign posted the message “Empty Gray Water First!” Our introduction to RV camping began with a graphic description that grey water comes from the gray tank that held liquid waste. The black water comes from the black tank that held toilet waste in a not-so-liquid form. Important information to know. I strongly suggest you make a few short practice runs before heading out full time.
Family Togetherness is Possible (The Majority of Time!)
Within a few days, the mechanics of driving, setting up at the campground and hooking to cable TV seemed as easy as normal household chores. That’s when we discovered…we liked being together! Each evening, after spending the day within close proximity of each other, Sondra would cuddle with us in bed, reading or writing in her journal. It seemed the more we were together, the closer we felt. My husband Allan and I took long hand-holding walks in the morning while Sondra snoozed. Every few days found us in a new location with opportunities to explore; even if it just meant finding the closest Wal-Mart. We set our own schedules. Feel like a mid-afternoon nap? No problem. Want to ride bikes before breakfast? Get your helmet and head out.
This will sound like a sound-bite from Dr. Phil, but on our road trip we really did discover the joy of quality and quantity family time. I wish I could confess to dramatic arguments and a need to “have my own space”. Other than a few minutes of tension here and there, our trip contained few negative experiences. Part of that could be because we were away from the stress of getting to dance class on time, racing to buy supplies for a science project or spending the weekend raking leaves from the massive trees in our front yard.
Full time RV’ing works even with large families. The Kellogg family travel in an RV with…get ready…12 kids! Puts any minor inconveniences you might have in perspective when it comes to traveling with two or three kids!
Exploring the Big World of Travel
Having the luxury of time allowed us the chance to take part in a variety of cultural events such as:
Arriving in Sturgis, South Dakota during the largest rally of motorcycles in the world and meeting incredibly polite Harley Davis guys. (Did they really have to call me “Ma’am”?)
Racing to the store on October 31st in Peru,Indiana so we’d have candy as kids went rig to decorated rig in the RV campground, yelling “Trick or Treat!”
Visiting the corporate headquarters of Lands’ End in Dodgeville, Wisconsin and seeing their incredible swimming pool and employee fitness center.
Staying in a hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and unknowingly racking up a $143.00 bill for using the internet.
Visiting a small church in Nashua, New Hampshire where the majority of people attended because they got a free Thanksgiving turkey. We ended up eating our Thanksgiving dinner at Plymouth Rock.
Spending Christmas at a campground in Hershey, Pennsylvania where the air smelled like chocolate.
Using our hair dryer to unfreeze water pipes to our rig in Haskell, Tennessee. (Did I mention that only really cool people call their RV a “rig”?) We later learned really cool people spend January in Florida with their rigs.
Attending an all African American church in Chattanooga in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Driving through Amish country in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on a Sunday evening as families walked or drove their carts home from Sunday services.
Making a detour to the Grand Canyon for a nine day river rafting trip.
Home schooling Sondra by visiting museums, historic landmarks, birthplace of presidents, plantations, factories, festivals, monuments, and of course, Wall Drugs. How could a textbook ever compare to visiting Helen Keller’s birthplace and Graceland on the same day?
It’s been years since we returned to living in a house that remains in the same place day after day after monotonous day. Well actually we’ve kept our house with the big trees and rent it out when we go on long-term RV trips. Now when we head out though, we’re experts on the intricacies of black and gray RV waste tanks.