Author: Qi Liu
During the pandemic, like many families, my partner and I were confined at home with two out-of-school preschoolers. Camping became an easy choice of our ideal social distancing activity. After a 6-month wait, we took an iconic airstream travel trailer and embarked on a 33-day trip from Seattle to San Diego in May 2021. We then did another 35-day trip to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the EAA air show in 2022. Most recently, we wrapped up our first winter trip to Death Valley near Las Vegas for 15 days. I’m awed by the legendary RV lifestyle every single day. I hope my experience can spark some inspiration in you too.
Memories are priceless
I started camping and hiking with my kids ever since they were babies. It was one of the most challenging project types I have ever managed, counting in my professional life. Even though I have almost packed up the entire house, my babies (a.k.a. “stakeholders”) could still be grumpy about missing their naps or favorite snack, and that led to missing critical “deadlines”, overspending, or even early termination. With RV, we are living in our home on the wheel. Those beautiful parks and forests become more accessible and affordable to us.
On our trip to Death Valley, we lived on the empty Stovepipe Wells Campground inside the park for only $14 per night, whereas the hotels nearby cost over $400 during the holiday season. The kids took a morning hike to the Mosaic Canyon without waking up too early. When it got dark, they stepped outside the trailer and gazed at the densely packed stars for the first time in their lives.
Planning, and Expect the Unexpected
While RV-ing may be perceived as a form of glamping (glamorous camping), there is another “dark” side of the story which involves a lot of resource management, error handling, and difficult decision-making.
When living in an RV, you need to constantly plan your life around water, sewer, battery and propane usage. You may end up running late for your reserved campground and have to settle on a random Walmart parking lot (the old standby overnight parking option). All to say – situations are unpredictable and require flexibility.During our summer trip to the Crate of the Moon national monument, we had to boondock with no connections to water, electricity, or sewage unlike what you’d find in a developed campground. It was 90°+F outside till 7pm and only cooled down to 70°+F at night. We had to use air cooling and preserve electricity for 2 hours AC time. It was extremely difficult to fall asleep, but the scenic sunset hike made the trade-off worthwhile.
Another lesson I learned is that you can never plan enough. During our trip, we experienced a flat tire, our rear bumper falling off, and an avatory exhaust fan breaking. We could equate the cause of accidents to the Swiss cheese model. Although many layers of defense lie between the accidents, there are flaws in each layer. Once they align, the accident would inevitably happen (wiki). We could run behind schedule, miss a highway exit, forget to lock the bathroom door, or take a chance and pick a tight space at a gas station. We could also be negatively impacted by external events such as an unexpected thunderstorm, grumpy kids throwing tantrums, or late Amazon delivery for tools/parts. Proper risk assessment and management can provide a safety cushion when you need it the most, and can sometimes even save your life (especially for backcountry camping).
We Are Better Together
Once we started the RV life, it feels like we joined a new community full of like-minded people. People step out of their way to strike up a conversation in the campground or on the road. When we had difficulty backing in a narrow campsite or fixing the hookup, our “neighbors” usually dropped what they were doing to provide help. Along the way, the kids made friends who were on route to the same national parks. People shared their life stories with us, invited us for marshmallow roasting parties, and one person even showed us their 41 feet monster-size trailer with a full size kitchen. A bonus point for airstreamers was when another airstream passed by on the road, the driver would usually wave or salute with their light, expecting you to wave back.
I’d like to use the famous quote from the movie Nomadland to illustrate my sentiment for the RV community. “The thing I love the most about traveling life is that there's no final goodbye, we just say I will see you down the road."
Are you attempting the RV life or are you already a proud nomad? Share your experiences in the comments!