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On the Road, but Just Like Home

Category: Travel and Leisure
Source: AAA World Magazine
Publish Date: Thursday, April 17, 2008
Summary: I've always been slightly envious of people in recreational vehicles. To see families heading out on the highway, everything they need tucked away in some nook or cranny of their vehicle, ready to live life by the mile.

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On the Road, but Just Like Home
(Crying kids, clutter and all)
By Christina Breda Antoniades

I'VE ALWAYS BEEN SLIGHTLY ENVIOUS OF PEOPLE in recreational vehicles. To see families heading out on the highway, everything they need tucked away in some nook or cranny of their vehicle, ready to live life by the mile. Or settled in at a campground, lounging beside a roaring fire and then slipping indoors for the night, cozy, comfy and dry. It seems like an especially good compromise for me, married as I am to a noncamper and responsible for the comfort and security of three small children.

So when my husband, Spiro, and I start planning a summer trip from Baltimore, Maryland, to Lake Erie, I propose renting a recreational vehicle. "Think about it," I say in my best saleswoman voice. "It's like camping, but with beds, and a roof, and a bathroom." For good measure, I mention the case of having all our kiddie-accoutrements at hand, no small matter considering the suitcase-sized diaper hag I usually lug around.

Spiro, most likely relieved that I haven't suggested something truly appalling like sleeping in a tent, says he'll try it. I get right to work, booking from Cruise America a 30-fooot RV that sleeps up to seven and has four beds, a stove, refrigerator, sink and microwave /convection oven, plus a bathroom and shower. Perfect, I think. Home away from home.

But as departure day nears, I am plagued with the usual worries of a mother about to spend seven days in a confined place with small children. I pack a posse of My Little Ponies, an army of action figures and enough DVDs for a weeklong movie marathon. But in such tight quarters, will they be enough?

Hitting the Highway

Before I know it, its time to go. We load up Vasili, 5, Maggie, 3, and Eleni, 18 months, and head to our local RV pickup site. I'm expecting the Cruise America logo and a fleet of gleaming RVs, but instead wesee only a Rent-A-Wreck sign and a single lonely motor home, with I -800-RV4RENT emblazoned across the side.

"Is this it?" I ask Spiro, who responds with a raised eyebrow and a grim, "you-booked-it" smile.

Inside the office, our fears fade as we go through a speedy and professional check-in process. As required, we sit through a viewing of the "how to use your RV" video tape (which I am too anxious and excited to absorb). With that done, it's time to check out our vehicle. The RV is clean and well-maintained, with cabinets inside and exterior compartments that we cram with lawn chairs, a tent, cooler and other essentials.

As we stow our luggage, the kids pile in. "Are we going to live here?" asks Vasili, who breaks in the queen bed with a hearty jumping session. Maggie climbs into a storage cabinet and shuts the door, while Eleni crawls under the table, no doubt in search of stray Cheerios.

We buckle them in, and Spiro takes the wheel, white-knuckled at first but soon relaxing. "It's like driving a U-Haul," he says, smiling. (I have driven a U-Haul, so I don't find this at all reassuring.)

The trip takes nine hours, but in the first 60 minutes, we've dispensed with the obligatory -spill two large fountain sodas left on the table - several "Dora versus Spider-man" DVD disputes and countless "stop whining" requests by me. When we stop, Vasili discovers the RV's bathroom, a novelty that won't wear off for days. Even Maggie, a potty training holdout, wants to give it a go, so to speak.

On the road, Spiro and I are ridiculously conscious of the RV's exterior ad, which we find just a touch National Lampoon-ish. Stopping for ice cream, I am momentarily mortified as another driver rolls down her window and motions for my attention. "Did you rent that?" she asks. I nod and am relieved when she tells me she's thinking of doing the same. "What did she want?" Spiro asks when I climb into the cab. "To be just like you," I tell him, patting his hand.

Miles of Togetherness

We finally arrive at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio, at 11 p.m. We don't have a full hookup site, and although the RV has its own water and sewage tanks, we're so frightened of emptying them that we decide to use the campground's restrooms whenever possible.

Vasili claims the over-cab bunk as his spaceship, gleefully climbs the ladder and, after a few minutes of thrashing and battle sound effects, goes to bed. I have no bed rails, so I use suitcases to barricade Maggie and Eleni on the double bed. Exhausted, we all fall asleep to the quiet hum of the air conditioner.

In the morning, as planned, my brother and his three girls arrive with their pop-up camper. We spend the next two days riding kiddie rides, walking the five minutes "home" to the RV for meals and then returning to the park for more thrills.

On day three, we're ready for our next stop, Kelley's Island State Park, but first we must empty the sewage tank and fill up on water. I know it's sexist, but I declare this a man's job and watch from inside the RV as Spiro tackles it. For comic effect, he pinches his nostrils with his thumb and forefinger and waves a hand in front of his face, but back in the driver's seat, he reports it was actually easy and odor-free.

Settling In
When we arrive at Kelley's Island, it's raining hard so the kids pile into the RV and engage in a rousing game of let's-lose-our-security deposit. Eleni scatters the contents of our toy totes, while Vasili and Maggie toss bedding from the overhead bunk onto the heads of unsuspecting cousins. As a distraction, I offer up a craft project, the tiny pieces of which I will find in the bed, in the seats and in my hair for the rest of-the trip. As the kids argue over glitter, Spiro offers to go for firewood. In the rain.

When the weather clears, we discover the camping loop we're on is neither near the lake nor woodsy, but it is highly social. Within hours the kids have befriended the neighbors and transformed the grass next to our site into a Star Wars battleground. We swim in the lake and at night whittle sticks into points perfect for marshmallows.

In spite of the giant Rent-Me sign on our vehicle, we're starting to feel like old hands at RVing. Vasili has stopped smacking his head on the ceiling every time he sits up in bed, I am an ace at bathing a slippery baby in the tiny shower, and Spiro can back out of our site without running over the picnic table, innocent foliage or me.

I'm so emboldened that on our last night I break out the tent for "real" camping. "We should stake it," Spiro says, instructions in hand. "I never bother with stakes," I reply, a declaration I fiercely regret at about 11 p.m., when the sound of thunder wakes me. Within minutes, we're in the midst of a storm that heaves the tent so much that water gushes in beneath the rain fly, soaking stuffed animals, sleeping bags and sleeping kids. Spiro has opted to sleep in the RV with Eleni—"so she can get a good night's sleep"—but the rest of the kids are with me, so my niece and I, drenched, shuttle them inside. We are met by Spiro who, warm and dry, asks what the fuss is about. There are children present so I resist the urge to club him with my flashlight.

The next day, we ferry across Lake Erie once more and head home. In the morning, the kids take one last romp through the RV. "Can't we keep it?" Vasili asks. Ha!. No, I tell him, as I sweep mashed Goldfish crackers and glitter from the linoleum. Still, mentally scrolling through images of the trip—my kids whooping with delight as they spot horses through the RV's big picture window, or happily splashing in Lake Erie, or sitting fireside, their S'more-smeared faces awash in the glow of the flames—I feel pretty certain that this won't be our last adventure in a home on wheels. Just don't tell Spiro.


Before you go...

Map your route. Nothing says "bawling in the back seat" more than travel delays. Web sites—like AAA.com—give you directions, as well as construction-delay warnings. You might also consider buying a GPS.

Pick your vehicle. Rentals range from Class A motor homes—the largest motorized RV—with kitchens, bathrooms and beds; to Class Cs, which are scaled-down, easier-to-drive versions; to travel trailers and folding (pop-up) campers. For information on RVs and rental outfits, visit GoRVing.comand the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (rvda.org) or cruiseamerica.com.

Pack smart. Many rental companies provide linens and kitchen supplies for an additional fee (good if you plan to fly in and then drive). Find out what will be onboard and pack accordingly.

Choose a campground. Campgrounds offer a variety of amenities, from WiFi to swimming pools to kid-friendly activities and more, says Linda Profaizer, president and C.E.O. of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC). For newcomers, "the easiest thing is to have a full hookup and a pull-through site," she says. Visit AAA.com/traveland search the TourBook for campgrounds.

Consider costs. Costs vary depending on the type of vehicle, season and location, although large motor home prices usually start at $125/night. (Insurance is included in the rental cost with Cruise America.) Campsite fees average $28/night, according to ARVC. Cruise America's RVs generally get between 7 and 13 m.p.g.

Be educated, not afraid. "Driving an RV is different, not difficult," says Phil Ingrassia, vice president of communications for the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association. When you plan your pickup, "give yourself time to familiarize yourself with the vehicle's systems and equipment," he says.



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