I hadn’t been camping in over twenty years. I have pictures of the kids, filthy from head to toe, as proof that I did go camping at least once. But the experience was so traumatic—all that dirt and those bugs and stuff—that I swore the closest I would come to camping again would be going without room service at the Marriott.
But my son, who remembers our camping trips fondly—after all, he was only a kid and loved dirt and didn’t have to do any of the work—suggested we rent a couple of 30-foot RVs and take a long-weekend family road trip, a la the Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Vacation. Was he nuts? As much as I loved being with the family, I hesitated. Camping just isn’t how I roll any more.
Then my son took us to the RV place to see the model he’d been planning to rent.
Wow. I had only been in an RV once before in my life, when I was a kid. My father rented a teardrop trailer, which is about the size of a Smart Car but has two double beds—and that’s it. He and mom packed us three kids in the back seat of a 1957 Buick and took off for a two-week cross-country trip to see relatives. My memories include dividing the back seat into thirds with invisible “Do Not Cross” lines, fighting with my brother and sister from Nevada to Ohio, and glancing at the Grand Canyon, which looked like a big stupid hole to a 10-year-old kid like me.
The RV my son had his eye on was a palace compared to the teardrop. It slept six, and was outfitted like a small apartment with cable TV, microwave, shower, refrigerator and freezer, stove and double sink, and more closet space than my bedroom.
“I could be happy here,” I said, sinking into the navigator’s bucket seat. I decided we’d rent one too, remembering that if we didn’t, there would be two grandparents, four adult children and four grandchildren under the age of 6 in one RV.
With the promise from my son that RV parks had come a long way since the Route 66 side-of-the-road pull-overs, we signed the contracts for two 30-footers and began planning the trip. My son wanted the Grand Canyon, my husband preferred the Oregon coast, and so we settled for coastal California—Monterey, Pismo Beach and Felton in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
On departure day, we brought the giant condos-on-wheels home and began packing up. My husband packed everything from the espresso maker to the toaster—pots, pans, cooking utensils, plates, cups, paper towels—while I packed light—a handful of “Life is Good” T-shirts, some shorts, and my laptop, iPad, iPhone, iPod, and GPS.
It took us four hours to get out of the driveway.
Our first stop was the grocery store to load up the RV with enough snacks to fill the Grand Canyon. It took us another hour to buy groceries, use the bathroom, get and eat made-to-order sandwiches, and repack everything.
We were on the road at last.
Guiding those big boats on the freeway turned out to be relatively easy, but fitting them into their designated RV spaces was more like trying to fit a middle-aged body into a swimsuit.
First stop: a beautiful RV park in Monterey. While the kids played at the nearby playground, the guys set up camp, attaching hoses and hooking up stuff. Meanwhile the women picked up all the things that had fallen during the trip, then inspected the latrines to see if they were decent enough to use.
The next day we headed for Pismo Beach State Park and located our campsite. This one was “dry,” which is RV jargon for no TV, no water hookup, and if the generator dies, no electricity. Plus, the park charged 25 cents for two minutes of shower time, which is not enough time to even get wet. So who needs to shower every day anyway?
The following day we moved next door to an actual RV park that offered lots of amenities for less-than-rugged campers like us—miniature golf, game arcades, a cute shop, a BBQ restaurant, and a swimming pool. Bring it on!
With one night left, we headed to Felton, in the Santa Cruz Mountains. After losing one of the sewer hoses along the way, and finding the road to the park closed, we ended up in a serene redwood forest that made the whole trip worth it.
I really didn’t know if I could handle RVing. I like room service, freshly made beds, and nearby shopping. But the experience turned out to be more fun than I expected. Apparently I like trees and campfires and tiny, cozy beds. I like hanging out with my family and burning marshmallows together. And I really like taking a miniature home with me on vacation.
So if you see a ginormous Winnebago driving around or parked at Wal-Mart, stop by. We’ll show you our new home on wheels. Yeah, we bought one.
Penny Warner, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, is the author of more than 50 books, including party planning books and mysteries. Her new mystery series, featuring a party planner named Presley Parker, includes How to Survive a Killer Séance, published this month by Penguin. Her website is pennnywarner.com.