- I road-tripped across the country for 14 days in an RV with my partner and two teenagers.
- Traveling in an RV wasn’t cheaper than flying, plus it took longer to get from one place to another.
- It was well worth the drive, and some of our best memories were made at spontaneous stops.
My family spent 14 days in an RV road-tripping in the Western US, and I’ll never forget it.
This trip was a long time in the making — the idea started percolating about 12 years ago with the goal of exploring the Grand Canyon and visiting family in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
In the end, it turned out to be the trip of a lifetime. Here are 10 things that surprised me about our adventure:
The RV wasn’t the money saver we thought it would be
We initially decided to do a road trip because we thought taking an RV and camping our way from North Carolina to the Grand Canyon would be a lot cheaper than flying, renting a car, and staying in hotels. We were wrong.
Renting an RV was a great experience, but not without costs.
You pay a nightly rate, just like you would a hotel. And by the time you add the extra charges for mileage, the cost of gas, and the fees charged by each campsite, you’re basically paying about the same as you would to fly.
We realized this two years before actually taking our trip, but still chose to stick with the RV. For us, this was all about seeing America, not saving money or cutting corners.
Getting from one place to another took even longer in an RV than I expected
We had endlessly looked up our route, embarking on our trip armed with what I thought was an accurate schedule.
But I hadn’t taken into consideration that safe RV travel means you aren’t zooming through the fast lane. It also takes longer to exit the interstate and park for random pit stops than in a car.
Add in unexpected traffic or road construction, and you’re lucky if you get anywhere by your scheduled time.
Because of this, our smartphones were a lifesaver
Considering those issues, our smartphones came in handy.
Apps estimated arrival times, provided detours for construction and traffic jams, and were extremely helpful for on-the-fly research.
We often had to use our phones to find restaurants and campsites, make reservations, and locate grocery stores to restock the fridge.
Having a bathroom and kitchen around at all times was even better than I imagined
You still have to stop for gas and to let the driver use the bathroom, but the beauty of an RV is that you can mostly forego pit stops.
The kitchen helped save money on meals, and snacks were within reach while driving. Plus breakfast at the campsite was a real time-saver when hitting the road early.
I was never more thankful for these conveniences than in the desert. Knowing your bathroom is with you is great when you’re driving for hours without a single sign of life.
Doing the ‘dirty work’ wasn’t as difficult as people may think
Movies would have you think you’re guaranteed to have poop gush out on you at least once during an RV trip, but hooking up the water and electricity and pumping out waste was all very user-friendly.
Just be sure to bring disposable gloves and pay close attention to your initial training.
Truck stops were more fun than gas stations
Truck stops are a great spot to get gas for an RV because of the wide lanes and ample room, but they also serve as a place to stock up on supplies like water and get a feel for the local atmosphere.
We also found that slushie flavors vary by region — coconut was always on tap in the Southwest — and Elvis Presley memorabilia seems popular no matter where you are in the US.
We all got along — at least for the most part
When the kids were cute little preschoolers, a family RV trip sounded fun.
When we actually started planning, the reality set in — we were about to spend weeks with four full-grown people in an RV, two of which are teenagers who constantly biker and eye roll.
Though the RV worked in our favor. The kids had space to spread out, a table to play games, and even the ability to take a secluded nap. Plus they had unlimited screen time, only interrupted by me yelling, “Look out the window at that!”
There’s something to be said for forced family time. The fun campsite dinners and sightseeing adventures far outweighed the inevitable squabbles.
The RV community was welcoming and helpful
The day we picked up our RV, a veritable comedy of errors had us still on the road at 6:00 pm, which I told our first campsite would be our check-in time.
At 5:45 pm, I got a call from the owner of the campground to make sure we were OK. That set the tone for our whole trip.
Even though we only stayed at most places for a night, operators and fellow campers welcomed us like family.
They happily shared tips and tricks for successful RV travel and stories of life on the road, from the couple who stayed a month at Graceland and knew when to line up for tickets to the family who had sold their home a year ago and had great advice on how to pack light with kids.
Don’t underestimate the value of spontaneity
We had pretty specific plans to get from North Carolina to the Grand Canyon, but we left Arizona only knowing that we wanted to make it home by Saturday.
The spontaneous adventures along the way really rounded out our trip and made it unique.
We drove through the Painted Desert and sat on a stack of petrified wood, pulled over in Winslow, Arizona, just to see a flatbed Ford, walked through the towering Aspens at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, and spent a morning at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
These were all experiences that weren’t on our radar before heading out West, so don’t be afraid to pull over to take in a billboard-advertised experience or two.
Driving the whole way was absolutely worth it
I tend to get bored in the car after just a few hours and have been susceptible to motion sickness my whole life. So in the days leading up to the trip, I had severe doubts.
After only a day and a half on the road, I worried that we’d get to the Grand Canyon and I wouldn’t be able to physically endure the drive home.
But the road trip was better than I ever imagined.
The RV gave me an up-close, personal appreciation of the vast beauty of the United States and an understanding of just how big and diverse it really is.