A few weeks ago, our little family of six embarked on what we considered the adventure of a lifetime.
It all started with my husband dropping some not-so-subtle hints that we should take the kids on a trip “out west.” We live in Indiana and other than a few destination trips via plane—California, Nevada, Arizona—neither of us had been much farther west than the great state of Illinois. This fact, coupled with the fact that we have only a few summers left before the kids are either committed to sports, summer jobs, or they just don’t think traveling with Mom and Dad is cool anymore, helped us determine that now was the right time.
We had decided to go, to head west, but to where and for how long? Through some family friends, we learned about a fantastic government program called Every Kid in a Park which gives 4th graders access to all federal lands and waters for the current school year and the following summer for free. This pass includes everyone in the vehicle, so on average that amounts to $35 in savings per park.
What started out as a joke—How many national parks can we visit in two weeks?—soon turned into reality and the route for our adventure was born. We would follow the below itinerary:
- Mount Rushmore National Memorial
- Devils Tower National Monument
- Yellowstone National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Zion National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Arches National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
We had locked down the why, the when and the where, but now we had to decide the how. Initially, we considered driving our family minivan, but with 2 adults, 2 boys ages 12 and 10 and twin 7-year-old girls 7 years old, the thought of us tooling down the highway for several weeks sounded a little too similar to “National Lampoon’s Vacation” for comfort. The following scene comes to mind:
Clark Griswald: “Roy…can I call you Roy? Have you ever driven cross-country?”
Roy Walley: “Oh, hell yes. Drove the whole family to Florida. Worst two weeks I ever spent in my life. The smell from the back seat was terrible!”
Renting an RV was something we assumed would be too expensive and too complicated for our family, but once we started researching renting an RV through Outdoorsy, we quickly realized this was the route we wanted to go and never looked back.
Spoiler alert: I’m so glad we rented through Outdoorsy! Not only were the kids ecstatic when they heard we would be riding out west in an RV, but it really was the only way we could travel as far as we needed to in the time allotted—never mind the thousands of dollars we would be saving on hotel rooms.
We ended up renting a Class A Tiffon Allegro Red and couldn’t have been happier.
There are a few things you can keep in mind to help the rental process and your own adventure of a lifetime go smoother. Here are the lessons we learned from our first RV adventure.
Take into consideration which RV is the best fit for your trip.
With a family of six living in an RV for 2.5 weeks, we decided a Class A motorhome would be the best fit for our needs. We contacted several owners listed on Outdoorsy to check on the availability of their rigs. One owner, after hearing how far we planned to go and that we would be traveling through mountainous terrain, recommended a diesel pusher rather than his gas-powered motorhome. We were so impressed that he would forgo a rental on his own rig for what would travel best for our family.
Set aside time to research RVs online and in person.
Let’s be honest: the convenience of researching RVs on Outdoorsy from the comfort of your couch can be addictive. Even the kids spent hours scrolling through the RVs, clicking on each picture, and claiming beds before we even had one reserved. Reviewing the listings really helped us figure out which features were necessary versus which features were bonuses.
We also visited an RV dealer to walk through a few motorhomes. This aided in visualizing the size and scale and the kids certainly got a kick out of it too. If you’re able to, we strongly recommend taking one for a test drive. We were fortunate that the owner of the RV we rented let us drive it while he rode along. Driving a Class A for the first time was a little nerve-wracking, but having the owner there as a guide was definitely helpful.
Book your RV and campsites as soon as possible.
RVers are some serious vacationers. Case in point: campsites at national parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon book up more than 6 months out. To reserve a campsite, you’ll need to know the length of the RV, whether there are any slide-outs, and if you plan to bring along other vehicles.
We strongly recommend paying the extra money for a pull-through lot so you don’t have those embarrassing moments of having to back-in your massive RV while the rest of the campground watches—just hypothetically speaking, of course.
If you’re able to dry camp, we found a great site called Harvest Hosts where you pay a small membership fee for the year and can camp at various wineries, breweries, and farms for free. The hosts were so pleasant and treated us like family.
Consider if you will need to tow a vehicle.
We absolutely loved our Class A motorhome. The view from the panoramic windshield was stunning, but one thing to consider is its size and whether that will be a hindrance once you get to your destination. We found that especially in places with varying elevations, winding roads, and tight spaces, we were grateful to have our family car that we towed. We didn’t realize that only certain vehicles can be towed and extra equipment might be required. In short, make sure to plan ahead in case you need to order anything towing-related for your trip.
Follow the checklist and enlist helpers.
We had a wonderful RV owner who provided a detailed checklist for setting up and breaking down camp, as well as the features of the RV and problem areas to watch for. Make sure to follow the checklist and have someone else double-check your work to ensure a safe and smooth experience.