My family’s been consumed by wanderlust, but finding the time and money to travel extensively is difficult. (And, of course, traveling safely during COVID is very complicated as well.) Enter the RV — a home on wheels! A vehicle that gives the flexibility to travel on our own time with our very own shower, toilet, kitchen and beds.
We had never been in an RV and wanted to experience this alternative travel option. Whether you stay nearby or explore a new part of the country, the RV life is an adventure that every family should try, at least once.
Finding a campground
Spring and summer are often the busiest times of the year for any type of camping. The most popular parks are booked months in advance, or sometimes begin to open up reservation spots in April of the same year.
Before we could rent a vehicle, we needed a place to park it. I was looking for something with full hookups (electricity, sewer and water services for the RV) and close to the beach, along with the option to use park showers and bathrooms (just in case). A tall order, but we found the perfect spot at Ocean City State Park.
The cost of the campsite was $35 a night.
Another option is boondocking. Offered by some national parks, boondocking lets you camp at a site, off the grid. It doesn’t offer the services and amenities that are found at an RV park or campground, but it’s a great option for experienced campers.
The rental and cost
After much research and getting advice from friends, we rented an RV in March, during the off-season. There are a plethora of rental companies around the Seattle area. (We used Northwest Adventure Rentals.)
Taking advantage of the off-season pricing, we rented the Sunseeker, a Class C, 30-foot RV equipped with sleeping space for six people. (Think smaller than a bus and larger than a trailer.) We’re a family of four, but we wanted the extra room.
We were required to rent for a minimum of three nights, which cost about the same as staying in a cabin on the Olympic Peninsula or a nicer hotel in Seattle. Each motor home from the company is deep-cleaned (with attention to COVID safety) after each use.
Some of the hidden costs include liability and insurance. Check with your own insurance company about coverage for a rental RV. We purchased the liability and RV insurance through our rental company, which made the process easy.
As with any rental company, there are the extras that you can pay for: the platinum RV service had us bringing back the vehicle, leaving the cleaning and draining responsibilities to the company. I’m not exactly sure how I would have been able to wash the RV on my driveway, anyway!
Loading up all the extras
After an extensive introduction to the motorhome, including tutorials on how to manage the sewage and fresh water systems, we packed in the car and headed out on our way. In general, I’m an over-packer. Though the rental company provided us with everything we needed (from pots and pans to sheets and linens), I needed to make sure we had extra towels, extra sheets, flashlights, a toolkit, bottled water, lots of air freshener and definitely extra toilet paper.
While packing in games, stuffed animals, our favorite snacks and books, we were amazed at all the RV storage! The vehicle was equipped with deep cabinets, plenty of drawers and a huge overhead bunk above the cab, so there was plenty of room to store all my extra supplies. Storage compartments are also located along the side of the RV. The locked compartments opened up to reveal deep spaces for sand toys, walking sticks, boots and beach chairs.
The noisy drive
My husband drove to the campsite, and I took the wheel on our way back. White-knuckled, taking it slow, we lurched ahead, carefully making wide turns, relying on our rear-view camera and side mirrors. We had never driven such a large vehicle before and it took time to get used to its vastness.
Our kids sat comfortably at the dinette with lap belts, reading their books and playing games with one another.
Pots and pans clanked around in the back. A suitcase rolled forward while other things shifted position. The trip to the campsite was very loud. We felt every bump in the road and the doors whistled. It was not the smoothest drive, but we adjusted and managed the three-hour journey to the Pacific coast.
Hooking up and settling in
Once we got to the site, we pulled up to our connection points and hooked up our electricity and water systems. Hooking up basically means plugging in a cord to the electric outlet and threading different hoses and pipes to the fresh water tap and sewage. We used the two slide-outs that expand the dining and formal bedroom areas, and extended the awning outside. My kids were in awe: “Wow! That makes it roomier! So cool!”
After settling in, we headed over to the beach to enjoy a very sunny, breezy day out. We came back to start a fire at the campsite pit, where we roasted hot dogs and treated ourselves to s’mores and scary stories.
Sleeping. Bring earplugs!
Cold nights are miserable when we camp outdoors, but sleeping in an RV is luxury. Having a heating system indoors makes everything very comfortable, along with cushy beds, fluffy pillows and fresh sheets.
After converting the dining table into a bed, the small couch into another bed and then the overhead bunk into yet another bed, there was plenty of room to snooze. “Whoa, does the kitchen turn into a bed too?” asked my older son.
If you can get over the hum of the heater, the collective snoring of your family members and the croaking of frogs and toads outside, then you are in for a good night’s rest. However, the rain pounding on the roof and the wind howling threw my sleep off. I felt like I was in a tin can and that the drops of rain were pellets hitting the RV from all around. My kids woke a few times through the night from the noise, but fell back to sleep immediately.
The chef’s kitchen
How can we go camping and not think of the food? Equipped with a gas stove, a large refrigerator, a freezer and a microwave (which also functions as an oven), we feasted on kid favorites like spaghetti, burritos, sandwiches and even a small roast with steamed veggies and mashed potatoes. We had plenty of snacks, tea and bottled water.
I washed and dried dishes by hand and prepared meals while my boys spent their time outside or playing with the few toys they had brought. We attempted to watch the TV that was in the RV, but there was spotty service and it couldn’t connect to any channels. We even tried to check in at school remotely, but the boys skipped the online meetings when we found that they had to balance on the ladder that led to the top bunk to connect.
“The bathroom is so small,” my youngest observed. It was cramped. Two people could fit if one were in the shower stall.
However small, it did its job. The toilets were flushable and all the waste went into a tank under the RV. We would drain it all into the park’s sewage system before we left. The showers worked very well, supplying good water pressure and hot water.
It’s definitely not a place where you want to relax for a long time, but the bathroom was acceptable and comfortable for the space. The benefits outweighed the size of the room, anyway. My kids didn’t have to trek outside to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. We didn’t have to scrounge around for coins to use the facilities, either. It was well-ventilated, and we turned on the fan and sprayed our freshener when we needed it.
Beating the rain
When we travel, we rarely spend time in our tents or hotel rooms, but because of the rain, we opted to stay in the RV one afternoon. Setting up the dinette for games of Uno, Snakes and Ladders, Mancala and Sleeping Queens, we gathered around the table for some family fun.
This is what I imagined an RV vacation would be — time spent with family around a tiny table, playing game after game, laughing and ribbing on one another. We did this for a few hours with breaks in between for snacks and audiobooks outdoors
After a while, things got a little stuffy. Breathing in stale air in a small space made us all feel claustrophobic. The solution was to open up all the vents and then step outside. We grabbed our coats and shoes and went out for some fresh air. Standing under the awning, we breathed in. The rain had stopped and we blew some bubbles. Another lovely, family-friendly activity.
Our vacation came to an end. We packed our bags and stored them away. We secured our wires and pipes and folded the tarp. We headed home, carefully pulling out of our spot and slowly driving away.
Once we brought the RV home, it seemed a lot bigger. Overtaking our tiny driveway, it took on a life of its own. We connected it to our outdoor power source so our boys could have dinner in there one last time. The following morning, we drove it back to the rental company and said our goodbyes. “Let’s give the Sunseeker our very own name — Ruby,” I suggested.
“The Road Venturer,” both kids said.
Our RV trip was a success, an invaluable experience. We learned so much about a motor home trip and whether it’s a good travel option for our family. There were some pitfalls that we faced along the way, but those will just make us better campers next time.
Who knows? Maybe we’ll get ourselves our own Ruby the Road Venturer someday. But for now, we’ve got our eyes set on another RV rental for an adventure over the summer.
Editor’s note: The pandemic put most travel on hold. With cases declining and people getting vaccinated, some families are eager for a change of scenery, so we’re sharing some of our favorite destinations and road trips. We recognize that the decision to travel or not is a personal one, and we encourage people to continue to take COVID precautions if they do go. Here’s guidance from the CDC. Be sure to check your destination’s website before you go in case of changes to local COVID restrictions.