One year ago, after about 12 weeks of planning, we officially started our RV adventure. I had just given birth to little-dude and we were in the process of selling our home when we spent our first night in our new Coachman Catalina travel trailer. To say I was nervous/scared/skeptical is an understatement. I mean, who does this – travel in an RV with two small kids!?! What would people think?
Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the knowledge that something else is more important
Seeing how passionate Damon was for this adventure assured me that we were doing something right. Plus, we have always had an agreement that if something doesn’t work, change it!
After deciding to visit Vermont, we set about crafting the perfect route – trying to hit as many beaches as we could along the way . That quickly went out the window when a little storm called Hurricane Irma decided to follow that same route. Thinking fast, we changed our plans and left sooner rather than we had planned. By September, we were on our way to Tennessee.
In a way, we got some training under fire – we had our first big road trip while thousands of Floridians were also trying to get out of the state. What should’ve been a three hour drive to the border of Florid/Georgia, took nearly 10 hours! As you can imagine, we were thrilled to arrive at our campsite – which was full of other RVer’s escaping the storm.
We were up early the next day and headed to Atlanta – another drive that should’ve been just three hours that became seven. Two long days of driving with tow young kids and we were wiped. Thankfully, we had a large car where we could spread out and entertain the kids without having to stop to much.
Now, part of this craziness is neither Damon, nor I, had ever driven or hooked up a travel trailer. Fortunately, Damon watched a lot of YouTube videos on how to set up and credits video games for his mad driving skills (an awesome reason to video games). This, plus a certain amount of luck, and we managed to get up the east coast pretty quickly without any problems.
Our luck seemed to run out by the time we hit Kentucky, where we encountered several problems:
- Hazard, Kentucky: our first flat tire. We were lucky to breakdown next to a festival where the people were very friendly and happily helped us.
It’s amazing how helpful strangers can be when you are in trouble.
Virginia : Electrical problems. This time we weren’t so lucky. We arrived at our campground late only to find that we couldn’t move the slides or turn anything on. We spent the trip in a hotel room while we tried to get it fixed. We managed to get everything working, except the kitchen slide – which would take weeks to fix
Vermont: By the time we reached Vermont we managed to really break something – the break on our car. Somehow, we broke the break in half – something the mechanic had never seen and couldn’t figure out we did it. Turns out, that trying to break the trailer with car breaks isn’t a great idea.
We learned quickly that inexpensive travel trailers aren’t built for long road trips.
We also learned how much stuff we didn’t need. When we started, I had every cabinet crammed full of stuff. By the time reached Vermont, about half of was gone. I realized that we weren’t using most of it and we donated it.
It’s amazing to see how much stuff you have just because you think you need it.
By the middle of October, we’d reached Vermont and were ready to get back to the warmth. Now, we’d assumed that going south = warmth. Ya, not so much.
After making our way through New York, which wasn’t easy, we stopped at Niagara Falls. While we thought we’d end up in some tourist trap what we found was a beautiful waterfall. I’m glad we stopped to see it.
When we stopped in Mississippi where we had a beautiful site near a river. We made the mistake of leaving our windows open and came home to a trailer full of mosquitoes! I refused to stay and insisted we stay in a hotel while we figured out how to get rid of those pesky bugs. It took three bug zappers and two days to finally clear them all out.
This stop is also where we said goodbye to our two cats. While we loved them, they weren’t enjoying the constant travel. While we tried, nothing was making life easier for them. My parents met us in Mississippi and took them back to their home in Orlando, where they are enjoying a comfy life.
As we entered Texas, we stopped at a beautiful lakeside campsite that was the perfect opportunity to use our drone. What happened next was a true comedy of errors – we sent the drone up without a phone and it ended up getting stuck over the water. When we did attach the phone, it needed an update! It took some effort, but we managed to get the drone back just before the battery died.
Lesson learned – look before you fly
We decided to stop in San Antonio for Christmas. I didn’t want to travel too much during the holiday, which can be crazy. Plus San Antonio offered a lot of activities. It also gave us an amazing opportunity to finally get the trailer fixed.
We rented a house for a week while the repairs were being done and realized there was quite a bit that we missed about living in a house. This inspired Damon to start looking at alternatives to our travel trailer. We’re pretty picky and knew what we wanted in a new unit would be hard to find.
Then he showed me the floor plan of the Thor Challenger – a class A with a smaller kitchen but much better layout than our current travel trailer. Luckily, there was one not too far away that we could tour. As soon as I stepped inside I knew it was for us. It felt so comfortable compared to the travel trailer. Even the boys felt right at home.
We were ready to buy that day but this dealership wanted too much for it and wouldn’t negotiate. The seller even tried to pull the “well someone else is interested” tactic. Ya, nice try. A little research showed that a similar unit was four hours away and for $20,000 less! It didn’t have everything the first one had, but it was all stuff we could have installed for less than the $20,000. Merry Christmas to us.
Now how could we afford this after not working for six months? Just as we found this unit, our investment in Bitcoin went up significantly, allowing us to purchase this new unit without financing.
We rang in 2018 with our first official trip in our new RV – to a mechanic about 30 minutes away to have some of things added to the RV. To make life easier, we had a dish washer and a washer/dryer added. It took a week but it was worth it – we use both items several times a week.
We continued it’s our tradition of picking a destination and heading there – this time we picked Victoria, Canada, home of the Butchart Gardens.
The first several months of our trip was plagued with illness. It felt like every stop, someone was sick and I would, inevitably, get sick. Just as we got to the Grand Canyon, and it seemed like we were on the mend, my teeth started to hurt. I discovered that I had an infection in my back tooth and it needed to be removed.
This process took weeks and kept us in the Grand Canyon area for a while. Fortunately, it was February and not a popular time for the RV park, so they had plenty of room. But trust me, we were more than ready to leave. Especially after it starts snowing. Who knew it snowed at the Grand Canyon.
lesson learned: it can snow in the desert. Don’t assume it’ll be warm just because it’s in the Southern part of the country
Once we got the all clear, we hightailed it to California. We really wanted to stay on schedule for Victoria, in hopes of spending most of the summer in the Midwest, away from the heat of the South (ha!)
We seemed to find perfect weather in Los Angeles, where we lounged by the pool (to the delight of mini-man), visited Disneyland, and toured our old neighborhood in Glendale.
Literally, our next stop brought us back to snow. I was really excited to see the Sequoia National Forest and Redwood Forest, I just wish it was warmer. These drives up into the Pacific North West were stunning, but definitely not built for RVs. These drives almost always took longer than we anticipated.
We were pleasantly surprised with our stop in Oregon, when we discovered the Oregon Aquarium. This simple aquarium is filled with amazing exhibits that offer something we rarely see at any other aquarium – space. The boys had tons of room to see everything, even when it was busy. By far, our favorite aquarium and highly recommend visiting if you get the chance.
The majority of our trip up to Victoria involved taking the 101 highway. This is, what I’d call, a great driving road -the twists and turns take you through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. However, if your driving in an RV, it can also be one of the most stressful roads you can drive. The twists and turns slow you way down. So I have a love/hate relationship with the 101 – it’s beautiful but stressful.
By mid-may, we’d made it to Victoria. About five years prior, we’d visited Victoria on an Alaskan cruise but could only stay a couple of hours. Since the , I’d been eager to return and was thrilled when we arrived. Victoria is a beautiful place and we enjoyed seeing the Butchart Gardens and exploring the area.
While we stayed in Victoria, I noticed that history repeated itself a little bit for us. Five months after getting the Travel Trailer, we stayed in a house in San Antonio . Here, five months after getting the Class A, we stayed in a condo in Victoria. The first time we realized we wanted a new unit and bought the Class A. The second time reaffirmed our decision and that we loved our Class A.
Once we got back to the RV, we started planning our next stop leg and decided to make Chicago our next targeted stop. After studding our trusty map, I noticed that we could fill in a lot of states along the way.
I’ve heard that summer can be tough to get reservations for RV parks. But we found with some planning and staying away from popular areas, we could find plenty of places to stay. That included Mt. Rushmore!
Our stop in Salt Lake City pleasantly surprised me. I only knew the city to be the home of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. But what we found was a beautiful, friendly city with an amazing aquarium and fantastic thrift stores.
In our eagerness to collect states, we forgot one important thing -it was summer. Most of the cities were fine and gave us wonderful opportunities to enjoy taking the boys to nearby lakes (which we hadn’t done before). However, we were faced with 100+ degree heat. Unfortunately, our poor AC units couldn’t handle the heat and the RV became quite steamy. Our solution to tape space blankets to the outside of the RV worked fairly well. Paired with dips in the kids pool and trips to local attractions and we managed to survive the heat.
Our biggest surprise, to date, came when we came to Missouri. I wasn’t expecting too much and was amazed at how much we enjoyed the ‘Show Me State’. From boating at Table Rock Lake and not having to worry about gators to exploring St. Louis and loving the City Museum, we think we’ve found an awesome state.
After a quick stop in Indiana, we made it to our last stop in Chicago, where we boondocked for our longest stint ever – one full week. The advantage to this, was it forced us to get out everyday. We rode our bikes, went to the beach, and visited some wonderful local attractions.
We started our next leg heading back to the Midwest to get two more states before we headed to the east coast. We enjoyed seeing Wisconsin and the Mall of America in Minnesota. Our original plan had us going through Wisconsin to Canada and into New York. However, after extensive research, most of the stops in Canada didn’t offer much for the kids to do. So we altered out plans and headed into Canada through Michigan.
We ran into some snags thanks to the Labor Day Holiday, which made it difficult to find any place to stay. We finally found something in Cleveland, which means that we are starting our second year on the road with a six hour drive (yikes!).
After a year on the road we’ve visited 36 states, driven 13,000 miles and stayed at over 70 campgrounds. We’ve learned a lot, seen a lot, and created a lot of amazing memories. It hasn’t been easy, but I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Now onto our next leg!