Getting ready for a cross-country summer adventure

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Editor’s note: Herald reporter Jen Cowart is traveling across the country with her family over the next several weeks. This is the first installment in a series documenting the journey.

Way before taking this trip, we began thinking about the idea of taking a cross-country trip with our family: the two of us, three double-digit daughters, one crazy Shih Tzu and one noisy African Clawed Frog.

This isn’t something you just up and do one day without lots and lots of forethought and planning. As a family, we travel across the country every few years or so. We have family in California, so we were out there in 2004, 2007 and 2010, and we were ready to make the trip again in 2015. We also have family in Virginia, so when we’re not visiting California, we’re heading to the D.C. area.

Early in the winter of 2014, we started to consider the idea of traveling cross-country by car in order to see what we normally only fly over when we head to California, and including in the trip our usual Virginia visit as well. We contemplated taking almost the entire summer to see the country, with California as our mid-way stopping point. We both are lucky enough that our jobs allow for this type of trip. I can work from the road, and my husband can work remotely if need be, but he can also arrange his vacation days in the summertime. We mulled it over in our minds, talking about it a great deal between us to see if we thought we could make it work, and if so, exactly how we would make it work.

We were really hoping we could make it work. More importantly, our kids were really hoping we could make it work. A trip like this appealed to them greatly. They love hands-on learning opportunities and they love history, non-fiction and geography. This would be an epic trip for them and for us as well.

The usual trip to California is a costly one for us. We have a large family, and five plane tickets plus a minivan car rental, gas, hotels, food on the trip and excursions all add up, along with the at-home costs of boarding our dog or finding a sitter for her, and parking our car nearby to the airport for a week to 10 days time, which is why we can’t do it very often. However, it gave us a large budget to play with when considering our trip. We hoped to be able to use the same money we’d normally use for that trip, just in a different way, and we felt that if we played our cards right, we’d have an investment going forward that we could use for other travel opportunities beyond this one trip – something that we don’t normally have at the end of a typical vacation.

We wanted to buy a camper.

We started thinking about an RV camper years ago, and it was something we’d really been considering as an investment for our family. Because we have summers off and we live near the ocean, the mountains, lakes, and cities, our opportunities for the use of a camper were vast and varied. It could become our house in the mountains, by the shore or at the lake. A camper could be whatever we wanted it to be and we had the time in our schedules to make good use of it all summer long, into the fall and in the spring.

With this trip forming in our minds, we started talking small, as in a pop-up camper. I immediately nixed that idea for a trip of such long duration for a family our size, through the heat of the summer, but it was a consideration for a short time. We thought about a Class A type of camper, the big ones that you drive in, or even a Class B that you drive in, but we realized that unless we towed a car behind our Class A camper, we’d be driving that as our primary vehicle everywhere we went, even if it was just a run to the store to pick up something we forgot. That wouldn’t work for us. Size-wise, we needed something that we all could stand in, walk in, fit in and sleep in comfortably for the entire trip, including rainy days when we potentially could be stuck inside. Renting such a vehicle was incredibly expensive, but buying used was clearly the right option.

In the late fall of 2014 we started to consider a travel trailer style camper which had a bunk house in it, a master bedroom for us, a full kitchen and a full bath; something you towed behind your vehicle. The only thing we had to now think about was the fact that we’d need a vehicle capable of towing this type of camper, a vehicle that we could all fit in comfortably for many long days and hours of driving. Luckily, we were actually in the market for a new-to-us vehicle, since the car Don had been driving was a 1998, and his new job and short, but very rural, commute were really not suited for his small car. He needed a bigger, more rugged car that could handle the snow and rural area through which he was now driving. Coincidentally, the winter months of 2015 were some of the snowiest, messiest months ever on record, and there was no better time for us to be considering this type of SUV. We opted to get a used 2005 Chevy Suburban. It already had the tow package on it that we needed to hook up the towing equipment for a camper, and it had low mileage considering the type of vehicle it was and its age. With roomy third row seating, we could fit our whole family and the dog with plenty of leg room and not lose our trunk space, either; something that many of the smaller SUV vehicles couldn’t do for us. We got it after the first blizzard of 2015 and just in time for the second one. The timing could not have been better.

By February 2015 we had the vehicle, we’d decided on the travel trailer camper, and we’d set our budget for buying it, keeping in mind our budget for five plane tickets, a minivan rental and hotel rental for our trip. This would be cheaper. We started searching Craigslist. We had some specific criteria in mind, having camped in a rented travel trailer several years ago. We were hoping for a bunk house with three bunks in it, an open-up couch, and a queen bed for ourselves that was open and accessible on three sides. We also needed heat and air conditioning, but especially the air conditioning, as we’d be traveling during some of the hottest months of summer through some of the hottest parts of the country. We’d be leaving our dog in the trailer in her crate when we left campsites, and she couldn’t be without air conditioning, and neither could Mr. Flippers, the African Clawed Frog. We began searching the Internet. We’d pour through Craigslist at night, and look on other auto trading websites. Each time we thought we’d found one in our price range, we’d call and it would be gone. Triple bunks and island beds, as we learned they were called, were both hot commodities. Eventually though, we called on one and although it was gone, the gentleman on the phone said he had other campers and one did have a smaller bunk house with a layout he thought might work for us.

We arrived at the address in Rehoboth late in the afternoon on a rainy Good Friday, and started looking around. There were many RVs for sale, but one stood out to us. It had a double bunk in the bunk house, an open-up couch, a full kitchen and bath, an open floor plan layout, and the island queen bed in the master bedroom. The master could be separated by a pull-across partition if someone needed privacy, and the dinette could also fold down into an extra bed if necessary. It even had a slide, which expanded the interior space a little bit, something that wasn’t on our list, but we definitely appreciated being able to have. The trailer was extremely clean and in very good shape, considering its age, a 2001. It was clear that it had been well maintained. We made the move, telling the seller not to show the camper to anyone else, that it was ours.

We now had everything we needed to make this trip a reality. We’d gone from considering the trip as a possibility earlier in 2014, to having everything we needed falling into place during the winter of 2015 for us to make it happen for summer 2015.  We were set. Our trip was no longer a consideration or an idea, it was no longer a “maybe” or a “we hope to.” It was a definite.

We were going to take a five-week cross country adventure – two adults, three kids, a dog and a frog, just three months from the date we purchased our first-ever camper.

To see more stories about our trip preparations during the months leading up to our #crosscountryadventure2015, be sure to visit my blog: www.thewholebagofchips.com.

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joericher

Good luck folks! I love travel stories and look forward to hearing more about your adventure. As a tip, most Walmarts allow people to camp overnight in their parking lots for free, so if you don't make it to a campground you can always try the local Walmart!

Thursday, July 2, 2015