10 Lessons from Life in an RV

After flying to San Francisco on June 12 and then spending 17 days driving back across the country, my family and I are finally home from our amazing RV trip! While the trip was fantastic overall with lots of fun surprises, there were certainly a few lessons we learned along the way.

  1. Everything takes longer than you think it will. Turns out an RV just doesn’t travel as fast as a car. It takes longer to get up to speed, and uphills are brutal. Plus, anything over 65 mph just feels too fast in an RV, like you might just take off into the air at any minute. The speed limit in parts of Montana and South Dakota was 80 mph! We traveled at closer to 65, which means the Google Maps predictions of our arrival times were always off. As with all things in life, it's better to build in a little extra time for your planning.

  2. You really feel the bumps in the road. I’ve never noticed the state of a road so closely as when I was driving the RV. I also never noticed that the right lane (the one where the slower vehicles like RVs drive) seems to always be much rougher than the left lane. We felt every bump, pothole and crack and winced as our dishes clattered around in the sink.

  3. You better have everything tied down before you set off! If something is sitting on the counter, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be on the floor at the next big turn. And in an RV, everything feels like a big turn!

  4. It’s nice to have a bathroom onboard while you travel. Enough said.

  5. This country is large and beautiful, with a LOT of open spaces. You can easily drive 100 miles in Wyoming and South Dakota without seeing any sign of civilization. Seriously. When you finally do see a gas station, you had better stop!

  6. Montana really is “big sky country”. We could see multiple, distinct weather systems across the sky — a brewing storm in one corner, rain showers in another corner, and clear blue skies in the other direction.

  7. Spending time with your family is priceless. These years when the kids are still kids are fleeting. It was really nice just to spend time together on the road, playing cards, setting up camp, building fires and plotting our adventures.

  8. Be flexible! The one negative to our trip was that my husband picked up an infection in his knee somewhere along the way. That meant a few trips to urgent care to get antibiotics, and eventually a two-night stay in a hospital in Minneapolis to get IV antibiotic treatments. He's doing great now, but it definitely put a wrench into our plans. Thankfully we had already planned to visit friends in Minneapolis for one night. We just extended it by a few more days (thank you, Ian and Karla!). That gave us plenty of time to explore the city, which we thoroughly enjoyed. We toured Minneapolis by Uber, by foot, by scooter, and by bike. It also gave my daughter some extra time to see the campus of the University of Minnesota, which she really loved as well.

  9. Not all RVs are created equal. Our RV was a 25-foot rental from Cruise America. It was great, but also fairly basic. It had 3 beds, a table, stove, fridge, and a bathroom with a tiny shower. Nothing fancy at all. Some of the RVs we saw, especially those out west, were next level. They were far bigger than ours, with plenty of extras to make life on the road pretty luxurious — outdoor furniture, portable fences, and elaborate lights. As one young fellow camper (5-year old Andrew whom we met at Glacier National Park) told us "Our RV is more better than yours." He wasn't wrong.

  10. Don't take modern conveniences like electricity and running water for granted. At the end of our trip, we were all happy to be home and experience running (hot) water, a large fridge, a stove with more than two small burners, plenty of space for everyone, and our own beds.

It was certainly the trip of a lifetime. We hit 17 states in 17 days, and we came back with a new appreciation for the beauty of this country. The national parks are phenomenal; the scenery is amazing. We went zip-lining and whitewater rafting in Yellowstone on the same day that it snowed! Don’t worry, we wore full wet-suits for the whitewater rafting. We saw bears, bison, bighorn sheep, coyote, moose, prairie dogs, and more. We found possibly the one and only grocery store in central South Dakota. We visited the Corn Palace and spent a brief 30 minutes in Iowa, eating lunch in the RV beside a corn field. We experienced every weather condition you can think of: cold & windy, snow, hot & dry, hot & humid, rain, and even hail.

The memories, inside jokes, people we met along the way, funny stories, and unexpected challenges will all stay with us for a lifetime. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Well, okay, maybe give me a year or two to recover first...

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Alyssa Lum