Life in an RV

Trip Start Jun 25, 2010
Trip End Jul 25, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Pennsylvania
Monday, July 26, 2010

By far the most challenging aspect of our trip has been life in an RV, so I thought it deserved its own post.  You might be wondering what it is like to live and travel in one of these big tin cans with your entire family and some extended family and the family dog for an entire month.

First, let me tell you our reasoning for renting an RV in the first place:  convenience and cash.  We have a 27-foot long travel trailer that we use for normal, week-long vacations and we usually have our awesome dog-sitter come and stay with Rosie for the week.  However, a month was too long to leave the dog (and a little expensive for the sitter) and our travel trailer was too cozy for a month-long trek (even though we traded our Ford 150 for an Excursion with a 250 motor to pull it over the Rocky Mountains).  Our options were to buy a new, larger travel trailer that had slides to expand our living space, to drive a car and stay in hotels that were pet friendly (hard to come by) or to rent an RV.  

We didn’t want to go further in debt for a new trailer since the children are growing up and we’ll be starting with college bills in the next few years.  The hotel option really wasn’t viable because it would also mean eating out for all of our meals, adding to the expense for an entire month.  We originally thought it would be way too expensive to rent the RV, but Jeff had some connections and we found one at a reasonable price.

In theory, there are many conveniences to these things.  You can take your own food and cook all your own meals if you wish (although I personally wouldn’t consider that vacation, even though I love to cook).  That is a HUGE financial savings right there.  You have your own sheets and towels that you know only your family has used (maybe that falls under “germaphobic”).  You have a refrigerator and freezer, microwave, stove, TV, WiFi, your own shower with no daddy longlegs on the walls like at some campground showers (okay, there’s a bug-a-phobe statement).  There’s lots of room underneath the RVs in the “basement” area for all kinds of containers, coolers and kayaks…all our “stuff”.  There’s lots of room inside for books (important to a family of book-a-holics), DVDs, games, adequate space for a month’s worth of clothes and pantry space for food and snacks.  You can even take a shower and do your hair while you’re driving if the road is smooth enough – an important component to keeping the peace in our home, in my case. 

Campgrounds are WAY cheaper than hotel rooms, averaging around $30-$50 per night.  Some are great with laundry facilities, pools, fenced-in doggie play (and poo poo) areas, playgrounds, coffee and gift shops…some aren’t so nice, but that’s another story.

Most importantly, RVs have a potty.  For all the families out there, this is a really great thing.  If you are a faucet in the mornings like I am (isn’t age great?), it could save your marriage if your husband is like mine…focused on the goal and doesn’t like to stop for anything (unless his need for caffeine or nature calls him, that is) It is also great for those kids that NEVER have to go when you stop but ALWAYS have to go 20 minutes after you’re past the last rest stop.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?

In actuality, to survive a long trip in an RV, you have to be rather handy and have a magic tool bag, which, fortunately, my brother-in-law is and has.  From Day One, something went wrong with one or both RVs.  Jeff and Diane rented a newer, fancier RV but it still had problems…often.

At the beginning of the trip, on our way out of Pennsylvania, we heard this banging and flapping outside of my window.  It was quite shocking.  It turned out to be the awning that had come loose from the side of the RV.  We pulled over and Jeff happened to have some zip ties in his magic tool bag, so we were fixed and on our way. 

When you open the doors to these things, there are steps that magically appear like a royal red carpet so you can go in and out of the RV since it is up high, like a bus.  Ours was a little slow, and some in our party were a little impatient to wait until it was fully extracted to step on it.  I’m not sure if that had an effect, but somehow, the magic step decided that we weren’t royalty and it was going on vacation.  Our legs got a workout getting up and down with no step.  So, we had to figure out what was wrong and order the proper part and have it delivered to the next campground and install it.  Thank God for Jeff and his magic tool bag once more.

We discovered that the batteries weren’t charging properly when we had trouble getting the slides in and out.  The generator wouldn’t start because we needed the batteries to function properly to start it, and they weren’t charging.  Apparently, the hot water heater is involved with the batteries also because we had quite the problems with that and several cold showers.  Not a happy thing.

Across the desert and mountains of California (it’s a huge state), the RV warning light started coming on telling us it was overheating.  Great.  Just great.  It didn’t need water, it didn’t need antifreeze, old Betsy was just telling us she didn’t like going up hills and she didn’t like the heat.  Well, quite frankly, I agree with her.  I don’t like hills or heat either, as evidenced on some of our hikes in the parks much to the chagrin to the rest of my family.  After trying to figure out the problem unsuccessfully, we unhitched Sue’s car from the tow bar and just slowed down to let Betsy cool down when we could.  Oh, did I mention, with an RV, you have to tow a car so you don’t have to drive the big hippopotamus around the narrow, winding roads in the national parks with angry, impatient drivers lining up behind you?

Each day, we thought that surely, enough things had gone wrong with this thing that nothing else could go wrong.  But as soon as we thought that, something else would happen.  There is a drawer in the bedroom that has a broken latch and jiggles open during the driving (and believe me, EVERYTHING jiggles when you’re driving).  However, it happens to be behind the slide when it is closed so…out of sight, out of mind.  We had to remember to push it in before we push the button to open the slide to enlarge the bedroom.  Well, you guessed it.  We forgot one time and it got hooked on the slide.  We think that might have had something to do with the bed coming off its hinge.

The funniest thing that happened occurred when we were driving from Yosemite to Sequoia.  It is a relatively short drive in comparison to our other “Go” days and we were about 12 miles away from the campground when the refrigerator door fell off right onto Tim’s foot.  Yes, the refrigerator door.  We happened to be in Lemon Cove, CA.  Hmmm…I’ll let you think about that connection for a while.

Lots of little things happened such as the electric mirrors blowing a fuse; the windshield wipers were dry rotted, didn’t work well and scratched the windshield so we replaced them; the windshield leaked during a rainstorm; the toilet backed up twice.  That was a real issue for Chuck who doesn’t like the potential for messy hands or yukkiness of any magnitude.

Oh yes, the bathroom is very…tiny.  Tim calls it “the coffin”.  To make things worse, we have to keep the kitchen trash can in there with the door shut because Rosie is a golden retriever.  Do I need to say more?  She thinks her job is to retrieve.  Tissues, paper towels, any plastic wrappers that smell good…or bad...she’s right there to capitalize on any opportunity.  The bathroom door is a little backwards.  The lock works to lock you IN, rather than to keep anyone OUT.  Needless to say, we have all had humbling experiences being burst in upon or bursting in upon someone else.  It is common to hear, “Oh, I’m so sorry!”  Good thing we’re a tight-knit family, I guess.

By far, I think the worst problem was the air conditioning.  In the dash, it only worked on high to begin with but then it decided not to work at all…in the desert.  The air conditioning in the middle section of the RV was barely functioning, just giving out a little puff of mediocre coolish air.  The air conditioning in the back bedroom can’t work if the front is on, plus it has the engine under it, so it is like a sweltering sweat box back there while travelling.  When we’re at a campsite and plugged in, there’s no problem.  In fact, it’s like an icebox, especially in the back bedroom (that’s partially due to Chuck liking it frigid – no more comments about that).  However, when we’re driving, the air conditioning in the cabin relies upon the generator functioning properly, which, as I said before, has issues.  

Thank the Lord for Jeff and his magic tool bag (doesn’t that sound like a great TV show?).  He fixed the dashboard A/C so we didn’t die of dehydration on the ride home.  It still only works on high and my feet got frozen sometimes, but it was a much better situation on our ride home.  

Jeff had his own issues even though his RV was new and fancy and rented from a professional RV rental company.  His jacks wouldn’t go down to stabilize his RV at one point.  He couldn’t put out his slides unless the RV was stable and level with the jacks down.  He had to fix his altimeter which measures wind speed and he found that someone had substituted plastic spoons for the proper parts.  He also had to drive for three hours with his alarm going off because the RV in all its electronic wisdom thought his jacks were down while he was driving.  I’m sure he was looking forward to his Mudslide that evening!

Since this is basically a house on wheels, everything jiggles as you drive and I’m sure that makes it prone to breakage here and there.  You have to get used to it and learn how to make a sandwich and pour a drink while riding along.  It’s probably akin to making lunch while surfing, I think.  Not that I’m a surfer.

Overall, it has been a memorable experience.  This vacation has mostly been very fun and enjoyable and I don’t know that we could have afforded it otherwise.  However, the problems with the RVs did take time and pleasure away from the trip and caused Chuck and Jeff quite a bit of stress.  Keep that in mind if you’re ever planning a trip…there and back again.

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