“Ahhh the romance of the open road…traveling with my family...all of us together in our little camper…” It all sounds good on paper, but there are many things to consider before you embark on your road trip if you’re considering taking an RV. For those of you seasoned RV travelers, my hat’s off to you. Once was enough to decide that it just wasn’t for me.
On our very first road trip to Washington and Oregon, we rented an RV. I admit, I was taken by the novelty and convenience of having everything you need—transportation, food, and shelter—all in one place. Once we hit the road, though, it felt cumbersome and claustrophobic.
The RV we rented was one size below the luxury tour bus model, so it was pretty darn big. It had a little kitchen, a small shower and separate toilet room and two “slide outs,” which at the press of a button extended the bedroom and the dining area by about 3 feet once parked at the campground.
At the RV rental office in Tacoma, Washington, we were shown how to operate and hook up everything, even the sewer line. My suggestion, if you go this route, is to bring a box of rubber gloves to handle the sewer hook up—it is nasty and it’s the last thing you want on your hands. I would also suggest you bring your own bedding (and don’t forget to check the mattress for bedbugs). Most RV renters will rent you pots and pans and cooking utensils, so it’s up to you if you rent of bring your own.
Everything was pretty fun for the first day or so. I have to admit, the kids really loved it. Something about all of us together in one little space really appealed to them. But the fun stopped as soon as I realized that the shower only held 6 gallons of water and you had to be a contortionist to get in it. So off we marched to the campsite showers, which became a daily adventure. A couple of places were really nice, but most were pretty dismal and full of dead bugs and spider webs.
Another thing to consider if you are going the RV route is maneuverability and parking. Any kind of decent sized RV is going to be tough to park in urban areas, much less make a u-turn or navigate winding mountain roads. I also didn’t realize you have to buckle up as you drive, just like in a car (naïve parenting to say the least). My two boys loved watching out the back window while sitting on the bed. As we took a turn with a fair amount of speed, I caught the 4 year old as he became airborne (luckily I had been standing nearby and caught him midair). After that scare, we strapped everyone in before we went anywhere.
Campgrounds are also something you have to secure way in advance, should you rent an RV. They fill up very quickly and you can get caught in a bind if you don’t plan ahead (there are no sewer hook-ups on the side of the road, nor is it safe for you and your family). Campgrounds can run the gamut of Four Seasons spectacular (sparkling clean with an ocean view) to downright dismal. There are books available that will rate the campgrounds and give you detailed information about the services and amenities offered. Sometimes, however, the actual campground may not live up to the rating.
We were lured to one campsite in Oregon by the attractive website and the good rating. Trout fishing ponds, new showers, and beautiful grounds awaited us in the beautiful Oregon National Forest—or so we thought. On our arrival, we were greeted by a chain-smoking toothless couple who broke the first 5 rules out of 10 on the rules sheet they handed us within the first 10 minutes of our arrival. The trout pond was a pit filled with dirty water and a few fish, and the facilities did look new, but the managers were obviously not maintaining them as they were dirty and full of bugs. My best advice if you decide to RV: do as much research as possible.
In general, folks at the RV parks were very helpful and kind, especially when we were having problems hooking up, getting our hibachi BBQ going, and even doing laundry. We never felt alone.
I am glad I tried the RV thing once, but it just wasn’t for me. That said, just because it wasn’t for me, doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. There’s a reason those campgrounds are booked up. I prefer a modest hotel and a change of scenery, even if it requires me lugging my bag in and out of the car on a daily basis. Also as a precautionary note, as a single mom myself, an RV may not be the safest option for solo parents. Take some time to think about what works for you. To recap, here are some Pro and Cons to think about if you are considering renting an RV:
-No risk of checking into a bad hotel room
-No need to keep packing and unpacking over and over again as you check in and check out of hotel rooms
-Ability to cook your own meals
-Claustrophobia—not enough change of scenery and RV’s can feel cramped even with push outs
-Parking and getting around can be a problem in more urban areas, especially if you are renting a large and more luxurious RV
-Campsites—there are the good, the bad, and the truly awful (you may ask yourself if you are still on planet earth)
-Be prepared to hook up your own sewer hoses and other connections required for an RV
-Not necessarily safe for a single mom