Taking the Kids: RVing
"A hotel isn't the same," added Zach Dubey, 15. "We get to be outside more," cooking together, riding their bikes, sitting around a fire. Here, we rent a fire pit for $20 for our stay, plus wood."
But don't think you will save a lot of money, except perhaps on food. "It's not (a lot) cheaper than staying in hotels," says Trine Dam. "It's just a lot easier with the kids. And we are a lot closer to nature."
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This isn't for everyone, though. There's the challenge of hooking and unhooking from electricity and water, figuring out the right hose to dump the grey water.
Shellie-Bailey-Shah, creator of KidTripster.com, an online family travel resource, has been RVing with family for more than a decade and offers advice to newbies like us. Certainly there is a learning curve -- we learned that the hard way when we couldn't figure out how to turn on the heat the first night and it was below freezing.
It's important to ask a lot of questions if you are renting (good sites for rentals are www.outdoorsy.com and www.RVShare.com). Like any vacation rental, there doesn't seem to be a standard. Are there enough sheets, blankets and towels? Pots, pans and cooking utensils? The right equipment for hooking up to water, electricity and dumping grey water? Do the sides of the RV pop out to add more living space?
I'm glad we brought our LL Bean base camp chairs and wish we'd brought our Keen closed-toe sandals for camp shoes. You'll want reusable water bottles -- put stickers on them where you go -- and insulated mugs for coffee and tea. I wish I'd brought a soft-sided cooler as there was no room for the one we brought. Audio books are a great bet (you can download from your library or sites like www.audible.com), providing entertainment the entire family can share.
And the larger the vehicle, the more it will take practice to maneuver, particularly in crowded campgrounds and national parks.
The first few times, opt for a shorter trip, Bailey-Shah, suggests, "to make sure this is something your family will like." She adds that RVing with young kids can be tough, as can any road trip. "I think 5 to 13 is the sweet spot," she said, adding that families should take advantage of the national parks' Junior Ranger programs aimed at those age groups. "That's not to say you can't RV with teens," said Bailey-Shah, "but travel over all gets more challenging as they have other obligations."
Another tip from Bailey-Shah: pre-prepare dishes like pasta sauce or chili, as space will be limited for ingredients and to cook. RV kitchens are very small -- we only had a mini-fridge and no oven, though we did have a microwave -- and you can't count on every campground having grills.
Still, she believes, not only will you save a few bucks but "it's the best way to see the country."
"We only have a couple more years before they are gone to college," added Paul Dubey, who recently upgraded to a larger vehicle. "We want to make the most of it."