“No one can tell you how to do it. The technique must be learned the way I learned it, by failures.”– John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley in Search of America
When we took our first international trip together I learned about Ryan’s custom for staying in the sparest, cheapest place he could find provided it still had a door that locked. I refused to stay in these places on the grounds that they were not four-star hotels. Ryan will sleep contentedly in a tent. My luggage tag reads, “I love not camping.”
To be in a relationship is to compromise. To travel, doubly so.
I have since learned the value of carrying a backpack and doing laundry in a hotel bathtub. Ryan has learned to spend a little more money than he’d like for the comfort of a private bathroom.
We chose the motor home for the first half of our big trip (the second half will be overseas) because it struck a good balance between our preferred travel methods and our budget. There is no good way to tell you what it’s like or how to do it “right.” You really do have to learn by failing. What’s shared here may be helpful to some, but we share it more to add some color to our narrative:
- You have a lot of options. You can live in a postage stamp, or you can go full Wisteria Lane on your massive fifth-wheel. Our 24-foot Fleetwood Quest is a great size for us. We don’t regret the decision to trailer our motorcycles, but we’re also pretty sure that a truck and a medium-sized camper would have been more convenient.
- More features = more failures. As the Buddha once said, “All things that are subject to arising are subject to passing away.” Stuff on your RV is going to break. Choose your features wisely, but if anyone tries to sell you a vehicle with valve extenders attached to the hubcaps you tell that person to go straight to hell.
- Onomatopoeia. You’re bringing your dishes and cookware with you in a moving vehicle. There will be a lot of clinking and clanging and pinging and ticking and swooshing.Bring some foam padding to reduce all that rage-inducing noise.
- Make checklists. You can’t just jump in an RV and take off like you can in a car. There are slide-outs to pull in, power cords to unplug, vents and windows to close, tables to put away, toothbrushes to secure, etc. Make one list for stopping and one for moving. We have a separate piece of paper in the cockpit to remind us whether the refrigerator is on or off (if the RV isn’t level, the fridge has to be turned off; once you’re done grocery shopping you have to remember to turn the fridge back on again).
- Know where you’re staying. There is a difference between an RV Park and an RV Campground. A campground is for vacationers. It exists on the steady thrum of people like R and me moving through them. An RV Park is for more permanent residents. There are white picket fences made of plastic and fake lawns and fewer teeth per capita than at a campground. I am making no criticisms of either type of facility. It’s just worth knowing what you’re getting into before you go. Calling ahead to see if there’s room is always a good practice, but in our experience not generally necessary. Either place will usually have a spot for at least a couple of nights.
Steinbeck named his camper Rocinante, which was the name of Don Quixote’s horse. A truer name for an RV has yet to be found, at least by me.
Traveling this way can be as stressful as it is convenient, yet we’ve been happy and mostly comfortable. We stock groceries for two or three days at a time, we have plenty of space for clothes (warm and cold weather), and more space still for books.
We avail ourselves of laundry facilities every week or so at various campgrounds, where we stay on our transition days in between national parks.
The laundry room is a great place to meet people, by the way. It’s rare these days that anyone will walk away from their laundry for fear of it being stolen, or worse, touched by a stranger. So there’s a small community that forms and dissolves in the span of an hour and a half. Most of our conversations so far have been pleasantries – where are you from, where have you been, where are you going – but it’s nice to hear a different voice than our own from time to time.
You can also take Steinbeck’s approach and just claim to be lost. Ryan asked a man in a hay field for directions and learned that the man is the proud owner of said hay field as well as a hundred head of cattle. As soon as the man heard we were from San Francisco Ryan got an earful about how us liberals don’t understand his way of life. He’s right about that. How could we? In his mind, we’re making it harder on him by implementing environmental regulations when he feels he’s already doing a good job of keeping the valley clean. “Doesn’t it look clean to you?” he said. “And you people on the coasts aren’t going to stop eating my steaks.”