There’s something about a road trip that makes me extra reflective. Maybe it’s the extra time in the car, the long straight concrete roads, billboards, that warn of upcoming fried food, and the hum of the engine and tires on pavement. This almost monotonous cycle gives me a chance to think. Or, maybe it’s just the weight of the past year on my shoulders.
For almost a year we’ve been traveling on and off in the RV. Some might think we bought the RV because of the pandemic, but in reality we planned for the past few years to move home from Europe and travel the USA via RV. I thought I’d share what that travel has been like, what I’ve learned, and the ins and outs of RV life.
Here’s a quick recap:
2016-2019: Lived in Germany and traveled Europe
September 2019: Moved back to the USA and back into our home in Dallas, Texas
June 2020: After researching for a year and a half, purchased an RV
So far here are the RV trips we’ve taken:
1 month in mostly Wyoming and Montana with a short stop in Colorado
2 weeks in Arkansas
2 weeks in New England
2 weeks in west Texas and New Mexico
2 weeks in south west Texas
1 week in south Texas, Padre Island National Seashore.
While it might look like we’ve mostly stayed close to home, the journey to south west Texas, to Big Bend, was an 11 hour drive! Texas is such a huge state. I remember when we lived abroad (and still now) whenever we visited a new country I’d place it over a map of Texas just to see how massive Texas is comparatively. I’ve grown up here my whole life and there’s still such an incredible amount I’ve never seen, but I guess that’s nearly every where. When you live in a place you think you have all the time in the world to see it, and you forget how much beauty is in your backyard.
But my reason for writing this post is I wanted to reflect on what it’s really been like to travel via RV. Travel has been my full time job now for 5 years, but this kind of travel is very different. There is good and bad, like anything, but I’ve really come to enjoy this way of travel more than I would have imagined.
The idea of RV travel is a sense of freedom and escape. I’m often told that my lifestyle looks glamorous or people tell me they are envious. But in reality I think the main difference is working on the road. I’ve managed to make it so that I can work from wherever. And that’s taken some getting used to. This isn’t always a vacation. We have to make sure we have enough Wi-fi so we can still blog or share to social media.
So, in that escape from a typical 9-5 there is no escape. If that makes sense? I work lots of hours and on nights and weekends. But I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Michael and I’s general way of travel is a bit crazy. We were telling friends recently about jumping from trip to trip, barely time to do laundry in between. We hopped from a cruise in France, a road trip in The Netherlands, home for less than 24 hours to catch a plane to the Greek islands, another plane to Rome to host a week-long trip in Italy, then home for 2 days to then go on to the Azores. It’s absolutely fun, exciting, and a bit of a rush, but it’s also a lot of work.
RV travel is a bit more relaxed. We literally have our home with us. And we aren’t hopping from hotel to hotel every night. It takes us about an hour to get it out of storage (at my parents house) and hitched up. It then takes us a couple hours to load up the RV to prepare for our trip. Our RV has a stove, oven, microwave, and pretty good size refrigerator, so I stock it almost the same I do at home.
We learned pretty quickly to have doubles of everything– one set for the house and one for the RV because otherwise we are bound to forget. Other than groceries, packing up the RV is mostly packing up like a regular road trip. Most of the time we’re just bringing things we’d need on a road trip, depending on the destination: shoes, clothes, stuff for the dogs, and sometimes bikes.
Michael is a massive planner. But one thing I feel so fortunate about is his attention to detail, particularly when it comes to safety. He researches everything to death, and while sometimes that drives me crazy, it was particularly useful for making sure we prepared to embark on driving a big RV. We first bought our vehicle: a 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee with a diesel engine that allows us to tow. We spent over a year researching RVs (you can read about that in this post) but our Flagstaff Super Lite is definitely the best for our needs.
Then, Michael purchased top of the line safety gear. An anti-sway hitch for the trailer, towing mirrors, back up camera, etc. Since neither of us had ever towed anything before, having extra safety measures made me feel a lot better.
But once we’re on the road it really is a sense of security. I have everything I need, including a place to sleep. We can stay for as long or as short as we want in a destination.
When we took our trip to Arkansas the plan was to go up to Missouri, but we were enjoying our time so much in Arkansas that we decided to skip it and just spend our time in the mountains.
We also learned really quickly what we don’t like. Being on the road for a month was a lot. We also changed camping spots nearly every night. Now, we try and stay at a campsite two or three nights before moving on. There is some work involved in unhitching and leveling out the RV, so not having to do that every day is nice.
We also know that living in an RV 24/7 is not for us. Instagram’s depiction of #VanLife appears to be an idyllic scene of ocean front parking spots and coffee over looking the mountains. But the truth is that’s a lot of time in a confined space. I love that we can come home and have our full kitchen, bedroom, and separate offices. It’s the same as when we moved abroad. We knew right away we didn’t want to be nomadic. We wanted a home base. Everyone travels differently but there are some hardships to traveling and living out of a van full time and it’s not something I want to do.
We like being off-grid. While we will occasionally stay in RV parks and camp sites, we mostly prefer to stay in public land where we are off grid. Camping can be expensive. We stayed in a place in Wyoming that was over $100 a night – that’s as much as a hotel! Yes, you get power and water hook ups and a nice, flat spot to camp. But you’re paying for it and you’re surrounded by other people.
We found campgrounds would even be sold out this past year. With the pandemic the surge in RVers rose and people flocked to the outdoors. When we camp off-grid this mostly means we don’t have access to power – so no TV or microwave. But I can really do without those. The places we’ve stayed off-grid have been the most beautiful and offered a real feeling of escape.
I wrote a blog post on the best apps for RVers and this also covers how you can find free places to camp.
America is really beautiful. After living in Europe for 3 years I really came back to America doubting that I would find anything to live up to the 16th century palaces and crystal clear beaches. But America’s landscape is amazing and truly epic. Yellowstone was shocking and felt like another world, New England’s fall foliage is what dreams are made of, and the mountains throughout the USA are full of hidden gems and glorious beauty.
One thing that we learned quickly is we need to move a little slower. This is so counterintuitive to Michael and me. We are go-cationers. Most of our trips we bounce to a different hotel every night and try to crawl, as much into our trips as possible. I really do think we worry we won’t be able to see it all and it gives us a weird sense of urgency we can’t quite contain. This hasn’t changed all that much when it comes to RV travel – we still want to do it all, but we do it a little differently. We can’t just book a hotel that night wherever we’ll be. We have to plan ahead a bit and think about where to camp.
I think everyone should give RV travel a try. I was kind of skeptical about it at first. It seemed like it would be an awful lot of work to set up, tear down, and haul a trailer across the country. There is some of that. But there’s so many benefits. You truly can relax because you have everything you need. We get to bring our dogs on all our trips. You can truly get away from it all. And you get to see and do things you might not get to otherwise.
I’ve really loved this past year in the RV and I can’t wait to see where we go next.