Having recently completed an eight-day motor home trek through Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, I have some wisdom to share about this kind of vacation.
So as not to bury the lede, let me just say I have no idea if I would recommend this trip.
Actually, I would totally recommend it to kids. It is awesome when you have none of the responsibilities a trip like this requires, and only get the fun parts.
My younger brother and I went on an amazing three-week RV adventure with our dad and stepmom when we were 9 and 13 years old. When adult-me thinks about this trip, it’s all fond memories and incredible highlights. But there’s no way that was the case for the adults along this trip.
Because amazingly, besides the four of us in the RV, there were my uncle and aunt, their 3-year-old and their — you’re going to think I’m making this up — 2-week-old baby. As a kid, I didn’t realize how brave/crazy/unbelievable it was that my aunt agreed to this/that my dad agreed to this. (This is turning into a “choose your own adventure” story. “Who was crazier? The mom with the newborn or the dad who hates crying babies?”)
Anyway, the eight of us left Los Angeles and headed across the bottom of the country, with a goal of hitting most of the perimeter states of the U.S. Here are the highlights I remember: stopping at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and watching an explosion of bats; visiting family in Texas; rolling through the French Quarter of New Orleans (beignets and beads!); and visiting family in Florida, with a day devoted to Walt Disney World.
From there, we headed up the East Coast. We saw the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia; visited friends in New York City (I swear we drove our massive motor home down the streets of Manhattan); and cruised the Maid of the Mist under Niagara Falls.
Across the top of the country we visited family on their farm in Michigan; went to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons national parks; and ended up in Las Vegas (Circus Circus!) before heading back to Los Angeles.
I’m sure we saw many other things along the way, but this is what I remember.
What I don’t remember were the massive arguments and stress-induced outbursts that must have been regular events as the adults navigated challenges all over the country. Imagine a trip like this where you had no Internet to help with issues like where to park a motor home in Manhattan, kid-friendly tours, alternate routes when you hit Atlanta at rush hour, places to camp or park an RV overnight … were the adults drunk the whole time to keep from being annoyed by all this?
Looking back, I honestly remember only the fun.
So armed with these fond memories, my husband and I — along with my brother, our mom and our kids — planned a far less ambitious trip. We flew to Jackson, Wyo., where the eight of us rented a motor home.
Not driving from home, however, meant that as soon as we got the motor home, we had to go to the grocery store for everything! We hadn’t made a list of what we would make for meals — duh! — so my mom and I quickly declared at least one meal a day would be at a restaurant.
For two hours, all eight of us wandered a gigantic, unfamiliar grocery store in Jackson, trying to decide what we would want to eat. Our first night we had cheese and crackers (and beer!) for dinner to recover from our shopping trip.
When we headed for our campsite, we realized another major oversight. Turns out, when I reserved a campsite that was big enough for a motor home, I assumed it had motor home hookups. Rookie mistake. Not having hookups meant we were on edge about how much water we used in the sink, shower and toilet. Plus we felt kind of jerky when we roared our generator next to campers who were roughing it in tents.
We also quickly discovered that having a behemoth RV as your main mode of transportation is tricky, especially parking in a crowded national park. Some roads were actually off-limits to RVs, so we had to drive the longer, less-scenic route on occasion.
Indeed, there were plenty of other forehead-smacking moments, but you get the gist.
However, as we’d hoped, the kids had a total blast. Even though there were plenty of stressful and alcohol-craving moments for the adults, all four kids said they want to buy motor homes when they grow up and do this kind of trip with their kids. They especially loved “traveling by bed,” flopping on the queen-sized bed looking out the back window.
Thus, if you do a cost-benefit analysis on this kind of trip, you might have a hard time justifying the expense and the amount of effort it takes. But if you are looking to make lifelong great memories for your kids — and yourselves, because the hard parts have already faded for my husband and me — it’s totally worth it.
— Tanya Perez is a staff writer at The Enterprise. Her column publishes every other Wednesday. Reach her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @enterprisetanya