7 Things I Wish I Knew Before RV’ing Solo with Kids Across the USA
I’ve now been on the road RV’ing full-time for 5 weeks with my homeschoolers. In whirlwind fashion, though slower than the genius calculated Ultimate Roadtrip, we’ve already hit 21 states and stayed at nearly two dozen campgrounds. We’ve stood before the Southernmost point in Key West, watched a foal stand for the first time among other wild horses at Cumberland Island National Park in Georgia, mountain biked at Mammoth Cave National Park, taken nature classes, sighted Elvis in Tennessee, hung out in off the beaten path bookstores, spent lots of time swimming, watched Wandertween train at the National Training Center, run lots of trails (including over an old landfill…ewwww), race, and consumed baked potatoes at one too many Cracker Barrels en route, among so many other amazing experiences and adventures.
When we began this 50 States RV Tour Adventure, I was a newbie. I had never RV’d in my life, except for spending one night in a relative’s travel trailer years ago. While I had some true backcountry camping and some urban tent camping experience, I was far from campground experienced and had for all practical purposes, other than Google and Youtube knowledge, ZERO knowledge of RV’ing.
Fast forward five weeks, I’ve learned A LOT! I’ve come a long way since that first night at Cherry Hill Campground in Maryland, when I had to ask the staff to help me figure out hook-ups! There are a few things, however, that I wish I had known before RV’ing Across the USA with Kids:
7 Things I wish I’d known Before RV’ing Around the USA with Kids:
1. Whatever you want to call it and whatever creature comforts you have brought with you, you are still camping! It took me about three weeks before I realized that RV’ing, Full-time Living on the Road, Glamping, camping without a tent, whatever label assigned, extended RV travel and full-time living is still camping–sorta, kinda, definitely camping. It may be posh, even rustic at times, simplified living, but it’s camping.
Campgrounds, RV Resorts, or RV Parks are reminders of this. Somehow I missed the memo. I obviously knew that I’d be RV’ing, but didn’t quite string it together that I’d be full-time camping. Picnic tables, nature, wilderness, bugs, creatures (snakes and squirrels) are sometimes part of the package. Even at urban RV parks, when parked on concrete or paved pads, with perfectly manicured lawns and pristine clubhouses/pool rooms, it’s camping!
Thankfully, camping rocks in my book, so I’m a very happy camper.
2. Expect RV problems. I had read that RV issues are inevitable and to expect them, but I didn’t realize that I should EXPECT them…really expect them. Though nothing major has yet happened to our rig, if I lose perspective, it can sometimes seem like nearly everyday there is a little something that needs fixing, un-jamming, re-tightening, cleaning, or adjusting. It’s not really everyday, but close to it.
Sure, we bought an older rig which was meticulously maintained, but I’ve heard over and over again since beginning our RV’ing to expect RV issues, brand new or old. When I brought my rig to Camping World to install a new microwave after an electrical surge (and yes, I bought a monster surge protector to guard against future shore power issues), the service manager said, “well, if that’s the only issue you’ve had so far, you’re doing better than most!”).
Thankfully, most of the little issues are easily resolved–my homeschoolers are developing pretty good RV troubleshooting skills, and my husband doesn’t mind a honey-please-help-me-do-’cause-I-can’t-figure-it-out list on the weekends when he flies in to meet us wherever we are parked!
3. It’s still the Real World. Though you’re living your RV dream and camping, not every campground neighbor is going to be happy to see you pull in with a rig loaded with kids. RV’ers will be RV’ers. Campers will be Campers. People will be people, regardless of where you happen to be parked. Not more than 2 minutes after pulling into my assigned RV space at our first RV park, an older fellow in the site next to me, approached me and lectured me that I was not to use the picnic table near my RV door because that was his. Nice reception, huh? Might have been warmer if he had prefaced the conversation with hello.
The bottom line is that while most people you’ll meet at RV parks/resorts/campgrounds are kind, friendly, and helpful, a campground doesn’t promise to be a zen paradise filled with people who are as happy or excited to be camping (with your kids) as you might be. Not all campers are happy campers, if you know what I mean. 🙂
4. You Don’t Need to Pack the Kitchen Sink. If you have ditched your sticks and bricks house to full-time RV, you will probably be loading your RV with lots of stuff, but regardless of your travel or lifestyle plan or duration, the LESS IS MORE rule can’t be emphasized enough. I’m accustomed to extremely light travel with kids. In fact, on multiple occasions over the years, flight attendants, security, taxi drivers, etc. have been surprised to see how light I travel with my four kids. Needless to say, outfitting the RV with the necessities of home was somewhat uncomfortable. From the start, it felt like I was packing too much. I tried to limit what I brought, but in hindsight, I think I could have done even better. Along the way, I’ve unloaded shoes at Goodwill and left goods in the take-me pile next to a campground dumpster.
You simply don’t need ALL THAT STUFF! Take half of what you think you’ll need. You’ll also acquire stuff and more stuff along the way!
5. Whatever Issues You or Your Kids Had Before You Left Will Likely Still Be There When You RV. After the novelty wears off, although realistically, when you move as frequently as we do, it doesn’t seem to wear off, you may still face pre-RV / challenges from home issues. For example, If your kids usually have meltdowns at home when they don’t have an afternoon nap, they probably still will have them when on the road. If you get cranky when you don’t get enough sleep at home, you will still likely get cranky when you don’t get a good sleep on the road. If your child dreads math assignments at home, she or he will probably not jump up and down when you pull out math work on the road. If your kids get grumpy with each other when they need alone time, they will almost definitely get grumpy with each other (at least once or dozens of times) when you’re RV’ing. RV’ing may be a grand adventure, and it will change you, hopefully for the better and in too many ways to count, but it’s not necessarily a panacea for everything. Well, maybe almost everything–and maybe I haven’t yet figured out the RV secret to ending occasional sibling bickering.
6. Look for Deals. There are tons of deal cards, camping discounts, and membership clubs that you can score before your adventure or along the way that can save you tons of money. We got a Thousand Trails membership, and memberships to Harvest Hosts, Fulltime Families, and Good Sam before leaving. We got a KOA membership on the way. You can find Groupon deals in major cities, too, for popular sightseeing tours and attractions. Our Good Sam membership saves us cash each time we fill up at the pump at Pilot stations. You can also use a rewards credit card to get more value on the road. We use our credit card that gives us airline miles for future flight rewards.
7. Embrace slow travel. If your navigator or GPS tells you it will take X hours to reach a destination, nearly double it. When going up big mountains, I’ve got to turn on the flashers, just like the bigger rigs do. RV’ing is SLOW TRAVEL. I thought having a bathroom on board would make travel faster, but I was wrong. I still have to stop the rig, each and every time, so the kids can safely walk to the bathroom. And, somehow, for every gas fill-up stop (and there are lots), those stops easily turn into at least 30 minute stops!
And the List Goes On…
As we continue to travel the USA, I know the list will only grow….
What I do know now that I didn’t know before I began this RV Tour is how amazing and wonderful RV travel could be. I imagined it would be cool and fun, but RV’ing is beyond cool and fun.
RV’ing is really living the life, especially when you homeschool!