This past summer, my husband and our four children hopped in a borrowed 31 foot RV and we set out on a 16 day adventure across the country. Now, neither my husband or I had been on a trip like this before, in fact we hadn’t even driven anything larger than a minivan before. We did a few “test runs” with the RV a few weekends before the Big Day and we felt pretty confident about working the generator, letting out the awning, dumping the shitter and we even cooked a frozen pizza in the oven in the middle of a primitive campground so we were sure we could handle just about anything. We had our route mapped out, our campsites reserved, our National Park Pass purchased, our bikes strapped to the bike rack, six new pairs of hiking boots, and John Denver on CD. We were ready to roll out.
Here’s 6 things I learned driving 3000 miles cross country with my husband and 4 children in an RV:
- My family is fun like 85% of the time. With 6 people in an RV day in and day out for 16 days, it’s a fact that someone is grouchy or tired or yelling or frustrated or an idiot at some point each day, but overall, my peeps are hilarious and witty and smart and we laughed A LOT. The kids played a lot of games ,we watched movies that made us all laugh and we cracked a million jokes about everything we saw along the way. Some moments were a little tense, when my husband took the “back way” to Mount Rushmore promising it was just past every freaking turn, only to find out that it was just a bit farther than it looked on the map. So instead of seeing the stone Presidents in the afternoon as planned, we saw them in the dead of night. But on the day we rafted down the Colorado River and everyone is on their A-game, you think to yourself, “Man, I have some cool kids and my husband really is a fun guy!” and then you all jump in the river and float alongside your raft.
- You can co-exist in a RV for 2 weeks with your spouse and your 4 children without actually killing anyone dead. You definitely think about it from time to time and your consider how long it would take you to drive back to Moab if you “accidently” left the one acting like a punk in a visitor center of Arches, but overall those thoughts are fleeting, and they only come after a particularly long hike when the whining hasn’t stopped for an hour or when the two oldest children are laying diagonal across the top bunk and screaming at the other to move over or when your spouse is being a Nazi about when your kids can actually eat the trail mix. After awhile it just felt normal to be within an arm’s length distance from each other at all times. I cooked meals in a kitchen the size of a postage stamp, could hand my daughter a roll of toilet paper in the bathroom 2 feet away, all while chatting with my son and husband out the screen door while they built a fire and did manly things, yelling at my teenage daughter lounged on the bunk above my head to get off her phone and help her 5 year old sister clean up her shells, rocks, sticks, fur, bones, and outdoor treasures collected on that afternoon’s hike, off the very dinette that we were all going to eat on in 15 minutes.
- If you unplug from the daily grind for 2 weeks, it makes you a better person and a better parent. Two weeks with no work, no email, no bill paying, no responsibilities back home, is kind of glorious. I was present in a way that I’m not always at home because there are appointments, and school and lessons and the dog, and Walking Dead, and life. I played Scrabble with my kids while the miles rolled by and totally kicked their butts, we sang songs as we tromped around Devil’s Tower, we scared the crap out of each other as we looked out for bears, we held hands as we hiked to Delicate Arch in Utah at sunset and then hiked back in total darkness with nothing but headlamps. We had handstand contests in the pool and I kicked their butts again, we mini golfed in 100 degree weather, we experienced the Northern Lights and we stood side by side at the top of the Badlands and took silly pictures. We dressed up as pioneers in South Dakota and we rocked out with Blues Traveler at Red Rocks for the 4th of July. We were all in for all those days and I think my husband and I were basically rockstars to our kids for awhile.
- My family… we’re people people. I made a new BFF in the laundry room at Dinosaur National Monument. My husband made friends with the fishermen at Yellowstone Lake who told us about the bear that almost came out of the woods to eat us. (This may not be exactly what happened, but we like this version best.) A lovely couple camped next to us where our RV was towed after the brakes went out in the Grand Tetons brought us dinner so we wouldn’t have to feed our kids at midnight. This sweet gesture may or may not have because they heard my string of crazy, ranting, sobbing profanities as we were towed in. My kids played with every kid they met along the way and my youngest daughter even had a play date with a girl she met in the KOA pool. Who has play dates in an RV on vacation in Moab, Utah? Uh, we do. We tried to guess where families were from by their accents and by their languages that they spoke. The bottom line is that people are cool. Relationships are necessary. And it makes life way more meaningful if you get to know the people living life right alongside you.
- Traveling our beautiful country is a must. My husband and I had never seen any of these states, the landscapes, the parks, or the sites, so we were quite awestruck by the beauty of everything we experienced. It made me ridiculously proud to show my kids these places. Our ongoing dialogue to them was “Do you know that I have had to wait 37 years to see these things for the first time? You get to see if when you’re 12, 10, 8 and 5! That’s cool, man!” Each state, each park was so different and we found ourselves thinking that this was our favorite, oh wait…nope this is our favorite. Disney World looks like a blast, and I plan to take my kids at some point, but a 7 mile bear hunt through forest and meadows and stick forests and waterfalls is pretty damn incredible too. Plus, seeing a bison and a moose walk by your car door is probably the equivalent to riding the Flying Dumbo ride.
- Not everything works out the way you think, but that usually means something more radical is coming. Many of our oops moments had much to do our map reading skills, or lack thereof. Our bonehead prediction of driving across the entire state of Wyoming to get to our Yellowstone by dinnertime was slightly miscalculated by the tedious and white knuckled drive out of the Big Horn Mountains where we forgot to downshift and blew off our front hubcaps. Our kids had gone to bed that night while we still driving and we promised they would wake up in Yellowstone to have breakfast with bears and if they went right to sleep like good kids, a wolf. After being too exhausted to keep driving, we stopped in the middle of the night and slept in a parking lot in Cody. Our son was the first to wake up, throwing back the curtains, clearly expecting trees and wildlife and a wolf, yelled, “What the heck? We’re at Walmart?” But we drove into the beautiful park at dawn instead and saw our first moose just inside the gate. We would have missed all that gloriousness if we had read the map right.
Safe travels, The Seitz Family