Well, we made it safely to America and set out on our ultimate family vacation. I had been saving up, and bought something I wanted for a long time--a camper. Every quilter wants a camper, right? I can tell you from experience this is not something you want to do unless you know EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT OWNING A CAMPER BEFORE YOU SPEND THE MONEY!!! I'm not saying that buying a camper was the WORST decision ever, but it wasn't exactly like imagined either:)
I envisioned that we would all be laughing and roasting marshmallows, wearing flannel and fleece like in and Old Navy commercial (and in my imagination we were all in Technicolor), and setting out on a picturesque American adventure across beautiful landscapes, hiking through lush forests, and relaxing beside peaceful lakes. The reality was most of the time it involved our RV shoved in between other RVs on a tiny, unscenic campground, with all of us dodging the bugs and heat, shutting ourselves inside, fighting for space and griping because there was no internet. Truly postcard material:)
We traveled 2,000 miles in that camper, and lived in it for two months!!! And anyway, I just wanted to let you know what I learned from my experience so you won’t go into it being as naïve as I was.
So, while we were still in England I had the great idea to buy a camper when we got to the States. I thought it would be such an awesome way for us to bond as a family, but so far it's been one crazy problem after another--I feel like I'm in a National Lampoon movie. And yesterday, when my husband and I were arguing as he was walking out the door I found myself yelling "Until you decide to get a little happier, DON'T COME BACK TO THIS TRAILER!!!"
1) You need to be a camper if you want to buy a camper!
I have a confession: it's been a very, very long time since I went camping before this experience. I liked the idea of camping, and I jumped into this whole thing head-first, riding waves of optimistic expectations. But what I should’ve done is take my kids camping in a tent first. That would have saved me money, and actually it would have forced us to get out and do the hiking and cookouts, and everything else. Because if you’re not a camper to begin with, having an RV is a comfortable (well, sometimes) great excuse to not enjoy the outdoors. We did go outside a lot, and we did the cookouts, and played games, but everyone was quick to run back inside. I think an RV should be used for sleeping, and the rest of the time you should be experiencing nature. But when you have air-conditioning and TV, it is hard to get everyone motivated to go on a hike when it was blazing hot. Buying a camper may hinder your camping experience because you may fall into the stay-inside-and-wait-it-out trap.
2) Get ready to work!
We bought a 32 foot pull behind camper/trailer, and I can't tell you how much work it was!! Hitching it up, driving it around, getting it into the RV spot, unhitching, leveling the trailer, hooking up the sewer/water/electricity was ALOT OF WORK and takes a lot of time. This was my husband's #1 gripe about this whole process. It took at LEAST an hour from the point where we found a spot to get everything working and ready, but that was under ideal conditions. Just know that a pull-behind is more work than you might be willing to put into it. And that reminds me....
3) Let it sit
On our roadtrip, we stayed in most locations overnight or a couple of days, and that didn’t give us any time to set out and explore the area we were in. It seemed like most of the trip was driving, setting up, and tearing down camp. I think a camper would be much better for an extended weekend in one spot rather than constantly on the road.
4) Get a good hitch
Hitches are SO important. You might wonder why, but you want to make sure that when you're driving down the road the wind doesn't grab your trailer and flip your truck, the trailer, and everyone inside over in the vehicle. Anti-sway hitches are a MUST! If you decide to buy a pull-behind camper I would recommend buying the best hitch you can afford. We made an hour drive on a crappy cheap hitch and I was almost in tears because the trailer was fish-tailing uncontrollably, and every time an 18-wheeler passed us we almost went off the road. It was terrifying. Other options are to 1) Get a smaller camper 2) Get a Fifth Wheel--this is one of those campers that sit on the bed of the truck 3) Get a motorhome RV and just drive without the worry
5) Find RV Parks BEFORE you set out!
When we first hitched up the camper and were driving out on our extended road-trip, I thought we would simply find a State Park or RV park and all would be well. Not so. Parks fill up quickly, especially good ones or ones that are along major routes or highways. It was harder to find a campground than a hotel room. However, I found an app called “Allstays Camp and RV” that helped me find all the parks in the area where we planned on stopping. The app includes reviews of campgrounds, prices, website information and phone numbers. The app also tells you where the local Wal-Marts are in case you want to park at one overnight (check with Wal-mart first because not all of them allow this). The app became indispensable for me, but it was pricey for an app--around $9.00.
6) What to look for in RV park
We stayed at a couple of campgrounds that were amazing, a couple that were pretty good and a few that were pretty scary. When you’re searching for a campground look at the reviews!! Learn from other travelers’ experience and leave reviews for other travelers so they’ll know where to go and where to stay away from. Some other things you want to pay attention to are:
Try to find campgrounds with pull-through spots. Backing up a trailer is time-consuming and frustrating. We were so relieved when we found places that had parking spots we could pull right into and out-of. Many parks have them, but some parks only have a limited number, so reserve ahead of time.
Make sure to find a campground with full hook-ups. Because of poor planning we had to stay at a few places without water or sewer or both, and let me tell you, it’s hard having three kids and no water! Some places you’ll have to share water with a neighboring camper, and some places have a drive-thru sewer dump (gross right?), but to make your life easier just find a place where you can get all of that on your site.
Also, make sure the place you choose will support your electricity needs. RVs are either 30amp or 50amp. Ours is a 30, but in one nightmarish afternoon in the blazing heat of Texas we spent several hours trying to get the camper into a RV spot (when we first got it), only to learn that there was no outlet for 30amp. I thought my husband was going to go crazy!
You should also know that many RV parks have sites very close together—you could literally be a few feet away from the next RV. It’s very hard to feel like you’re getting the best possible camping experience when you have a wall of RVs lined up in your view, and your neighbor is staring at you through their blinds just inches away:) Try to find a place that offers some space and privacy between sites.
Other things you might want to consider are what you want to do when you reach your vacation destination. Do you want a RV resort with pools and planned activities, or are you just looking to sit by the lake and fish? Check out all the extras with these parks because some are great and have tons of things to do for families, and others are meant to be simply a place to park before moving on to your real destination.
7) Recognize the expenses
One argument I had when I was talking my husband into buying the RV was I thought we were going to save SO MUCH MONEY. Hahahaha, I laugh now. I had everything budgeted out beforehand: the cost of stocking the camper with food, bedding, lawn chairs, toiletries and supplies. But everything is ALWAYS more expensive than you planned, right? It didn’t help that all of our household goods were still in a boat somewhere traveling over the ocean so we couldn’t use anything from our own house, but even without that the RV became a money pit.
We needed to buy all kinds of hoses, cords, cables, special toilet paper, a water filter, a thing that helps when dumping the sewer, another thing that makes hitching up easier, leveling blocks, tablet things to put into your toilet so the paper dissolves, and the list goes on and on.
Not to mention the cost of RV parks. They range anywhere from $25-$120 a night, and we stayed at parks in all the price-ranges. I think around $50 is the price you’ll usually pay to find at a nice park that will meet most of your needs. Hotel rooms generally cost anywhere from $70-$120 and when you make the comparison you will save a few dollars compared to staying at hotel, but overall I didn’t think the savings were enough to justify it as a money-saver if you’re only using it for a few days a month.
And don't forget about the fuel costs. At $2-$3 a gallon, and only getting 6-7 miles per gallon, the fuel costs add up fast. It's almost criminal!
Another expense we didn’t think about was how and where we were going to park the RV when we weren’t using it. If you’re lucky enough to live in a neighborhood without a Homeowner’s Association then it’s easy, but if you don’t you have to spend an additional $60-$200 a month to store the thing!
And that reminds me…
8) Buy Used
New RVs are nice, comfortable, and updated, but it loses it’s value the second you sign that paperwork. We bought new because we thought this was going to be a lifetime investment in happiness, lol. We didn’t want to worry about ugly shag carpet or scary toilets or anything like that, but if I had to do it again I would have bought a used RV. They are EVERYWHERE, and they aren’t all old and ugly with shag carpet. There are lots of great newer ones and you really will save a ton of money if you don’t buy it off a dealer. And if you’re new to the RV life you could buy a used one to see how you like it, and upgrade later.
9) Skip the Krispy Kremes
I LOVE Krispy Kremes, and was very excited to be able to get them again after being deprived of them for so long. One night in Orlando we stopped at Wal-mart and they had those boxes of Krispy Kremes at the checkout--an easy, convenient breakfast for the morning, right!? WRONG! The next morning my husband ate some donuts, then I gave one to my son and he said “Mom, there’s ants on my donut”. There were tiny (the locals called them Sugar Ants I think) all over his donut, all inside the box of donuts, and making a trail all across the tiny countertop. My poor husband didn’t notice these tiny ants when he ate his, so we can only assume that his breakfast included more than just Krispy Kremes! We threw out the donuts, but the ants didn’t leave and we are STILL HAVING PROBLEMS WITH THEM! They were everywhere—we had to throw out ALL the food, buy all new food, and lock it up in air-tight containers (another expense!!), but the ants were even in the stove and microwave. We were all scared to eat anything inside the camper. A local Floridian camper gave us a spray called Home Defense that worked really well (I think you get it at Home Depot) and the ants won’t go anywhere it was sprayed, but I didn’t want to spray areas where my kids were eating with poisonous insecticide. So the problem is still not solved.
10) Combat showers—
Our water heater for our camper only holds 6 gallons of water—and that makes for a 1 minute shower in a cold location and a 5 minute shower in a hot location. I know it doesn’t seem like the location would matter, but somehow it does—we tested it, but not because we wanted to. I think it has something to do with the temperature of the water when it goes into the water heater, but anyway, that’s not the point. The point is, you will not be able to take a long comfortable shower in an RV. I had to put my shampoo in my hair THEN turn on the water and try to wash, shave, rinse, and condition before the hot water ran out. I never did make it.
They do make tankless water heaters—they are about $600 and they heat the water as the water goes through the line. Sounds great, but they only work about 50% of the time, or for 50% of people. My brother has gone through two in the last year in his RV, and the reviews online are mixed and I was too afraid to spend $600 on something that was not guaranteed to work.
Is anyone else having a hard time falling to sleep? I thought since I'm awake this is a good time to tell a story. This week I got my #hellodarlingfabric and decided it was about time for me to finally make a Swoon quilt. I decided to go with #swoonsixteen, and started cutting, and I messed up on the very first fat quarter. I wasn't focused on what I was doing, cut it wrong, and ended up not having enough left to cut all the pieces. And then I did this 3 MORE TIMES people! Now I'm short on four different prints. This would've never happened if the fabric was readily available right?!? Do you ever do this? Doesn't this drive you insane? I need an emoji for pulling my hair out but instead I'll use this emoji of a person cutting their hair since it's the closest thing
11) Sewing in an RV—
If would’ve been just me and my husband I would have had a wonderful time sewing in the RV, but with the kids, all their stuff, and having to set up before I started, and put it all away immediately when I was done, it became a chore. I like to have my fabric and blocks laid out on the table or the floor so I can coordinate, arrange, and rearrange, but there just wasn’t enough room. My stuff was always in the way, and I couldn’t leave the sewing machine on the table for more than 5 minutes without someone deciding to eat again. I even bought a utility table for an outdoor sewing escape, but again, it was a chore, and the kids needed something or are bored every 6 seconds. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sewing in. But I do think it wouldn’t have been any problem if the kids were a little older, or it had just been me and my husband.
Disney’s Fort Wilderness: An RV Dream Destination
Until this summer, I had never taken my kids to any Disney Parks, and I have never been to any myself either, and I wanted to take them while they were still young, but old enough to remember. Fort Wilderness is Disney’s campground and prior to the vacation we scrimped and saved to be able to afford to go (I don’t know if anyone noticed, but I didn’t buy any fabric from Jan-Jun!!).
At Fort Wilderness, you can bring your RV, but they also have cabin rentals. The campground is huge, and they have a bus service to drive you around, or you can rent a golf cart for the day (for $60) and drive in style:) They have horseback riding, boat rides, canoeing, a couple of huge swimming pools with slides, two souvenir shops, and several restaurants (order the Chicken and Waffles!!!). The food is delicious but it isn’t cheap AT ALL! However, they do have a carry-out pizza place where you can feed the family for $15. Every night they have a free (yay!) outdoor movie and a Camp Fire sing-along with Chip N’ Dale. And if you have a few hundred dollars to spare you can have a BBQ with Mickey Mouse, or go to the theater and dinner show (I can’t remember the name of it). We didn’t go to those, but we heard great things about them.
At Fort Wilderness they have an evening light show on the Marina, and you can see the fireworks across the water at Magical Kingdom. To get to Magical Kingdom you can simply take the boat over. It’s amazing to me how Disney really does make everything magical. So if you decide to get a camper Fort Wilderness should definitely be on your to-do list.
HELLO DARLING - THE CONTINUING SAGA So, in the continuing story of my weird life, this morning I woke up in my camper still mad about my fabric problems. We are visiting my Grandma in Ohio, and she's always cold so they keep the house really warm. We decided to sleep in the camper (where it isn't so hot) but we don't have the water hooked up, so I needed to get into the house to get ready for the day, but everyone was still asleep so we were locked out. So after sitting outside for awhile, looking depraved and homeless, my daughter and I jumped into the car, (still wearing our pj's) and ran to the next town over to Village Quilts to take a look around. I was looking at the solids when I saw it--a light in the back room shining down on a beautiful fat eighth bundle of (can you believe it) Hello Darling fabric. Woo hoo!! My problems solved! It was Destiny!! We celebrated by driving through McDonalds where my credit card was picked up by the wind in the drive-thru line and I had to jump out of my car and run around looking for it like a maniac, still looking bedraggled but happy:)
Do you ever watch those family vacation movies where everything is going wrong and it’s all a disaster, but in the end everyone is closer and they all hug? Haha, that is almost like it was with us. We had some really miserable times. My husband and I were at odds almost constantly--everything was an argument. There were times when I was willing to run away into the woods and risk being eaten by a bear because he was driving me so crazy. But there were other times too. I got to have uninterrupted time with my kids--without internet, without worrying about work, or having to compete with their friends for quality time. And my oldest son actually didn’t roll his eyes at everything I said. We became buddies again, and I taught him about the cool music of the 90’s. And I think I impressed them all with my mad ping-pong skills. So overall, yes, we had a good time and we made lots of lifelong memories. I wouldn't take it back, but I'm not really sure I would want to do it again either;)
Anyway, I know this was a long post, and not really related to quilting, but I wanted to put this information out there in case any of you have fantasies of a buying an RV. And after you read this, and if you’re still interested in purchasing one then give me a call, because my RV is for sale : )