by Tony Pritchett
After becoming a family of five, I found myself dreaming of an adventure. It would somehow start by me striking it rich between February and April of any given year. Then, being a diligent and considerate employee, I would work on a transition plan with my employer that would take me to approximately the Friday before Memorial Day, approximately. After celebrating Memorial Day weekend at the lake, my family and I would set out on a legendary road trip in an RV that would take us to every amazing place in the United States over a two month period. We would be back by the end of July just in time for the kids to go back to school. Oh yeah, and all of this would happen before my oldest became bored with me as her dad and she would still be excited about something as cool as living in a 200 square foot room split between five people for 60 days.
Oh well, you gotta dream, right?
Then enters COVID-19 and a new reality happened – endless summers! After a few months, I realized the pandemic wasn’t going to kick off a zombie apocalypse and the stock market and real estate values weren’t going to zero. I decided to quit waiting around for my dream adventure and took matters into my own hands. My oldest is 9 now and she still thinks I’m cool, but I knew I was running out of summers. I also had no real plan to strike it rich any more since I gave up playing the lottery. So I bought an RV and decided to set out on the great American road trip adventure.
Or something like that. Everything responsible we do now is virtual. But we do still have responsibilities. I have to work and 2 of my three kids are in school (4th and 1st grade). But I decided if we were going to try this RV thing, there was no time like 2020 to give it a go. It isn’t exactly a vacation, and we decided to break our travels into 2 week stints instead of 2 months straight. But we still consider it an adventure.
Figuring out how to live, work, play, and learn in an RV became a reality for us. For those that are considering a family RV adventure as well, I put together a short list of important considerations, problems we faced, and how we solved them during our first 2-week stint of traveling.
Problem #1 – Internet
There are a lot of considerations when it comes to internet service on the road. I’ll cut to the chase. A good solution isn’t going to be cheap. However, we have had no impediments to fulfilling our responsibilities (work and school) with our solution, but I did not say, “no problems.”
We decided on four internet connections for our trip. First, most often used, and very reliable, is Nomad internet . I highly recommend Nomad internet as your main Internet Service Provider on the road. We went with the SIM Only (bring your own device) option, which is only available with AT&T service. This cost us about $130 per month. We chose this plan simply because if you choose a plan where they provide the device, it is actually a rental. You must return the device if you cancel your plan. If I were not an anti-lease-if-I-can-help-it kind of guy we would have gone with one of their Verizon plans because I like Verizon the best. Nomad offers plans from T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint.
Second, we have Wi-Fi at the campground. These are usually accessible, but not very fast. You will feel as though you are on dial up. A few times, when the kids were in class and I was working, the Nomad internet went out. We resolved the issue by shutting it down and restarting. In the heat of the moment, my wife switched them over to the campground internet and they were able to use it for the time being. The campground Wi-Fi backup is free, though for us, it did not function as our primary solution.
Third, we have our cell phone hotspots. I don’t think we used this at all on our first 2-week stint on the road, but have it as our backup plan if options one and two are both down. It is our solution for short periods, as I have never had success keeping a cell phone hotspot alive for more than a couple of hours. This backup is included in our cell phone plan. Not all cell plans are created equal though so check yours out and practice using a hotspot before hitting the road.
Lastly, we tow my GMC truck behind the RV, which has a hotspot as well. My plan costs $25 for unlimited data. I think they are even less expensive now if you sign up today. Because I have had this plan for a couple years (prior to the adventure), I know it is an exceptionally reliable internet connection. I have had scenarios that require me to spend hours sitting in my truck working and using this hotspot. On our road trip, we have not used it as our primary source either for various reasons. First, to be effective, the truck must be running, which would annoy the campers nearby. Second, you have to sit in the truck for it to work well. In a pinch, we would absolutely be able to use it. But I don’t think I would get much work done with all three of us in a 25 square foot truck cab. At times, if I need true quiet time for a conference call with work, I will drive my truck somewhere and use the hotspot.
If you don’t want to do exactly what we did, for some weird reason, check out technomadia: https://www.technomadia.com. Chris and Cherie live on the road full time and have a ton of resources specific to this topic.
Problem #2 – Type of RV to Buy
There is literally an endless variety of RVs to consider. The most common considerations are 1) travel trailer 2) 5th wheel 3) smaller but drivable motorhome (Class B or C) and 4) larger but drivable motorhome (Class A).
Travel trailers and 5th wheels are both towed behind your truck, but travel trailers hook up to a normal bumper or below-the-bumper-style trailer hitch. 5th wheels have a goose neck attachment that hooks up to a hitch installed in the bed of your truck. There can be some overlap when it comes to size and amenities, but typically 5th wheels are larger and have more options. Class B motorhomes are really large vans converted into something that you can sleep in, while class Cs are built on a truck or van chassis, but look like an RV and are therefore usually bigger than a Class B. These can be more economically built and therefore cheaper. Class A are the largest and can be nicer than a custom home, but also don’t have to be, if you are shopping on a budget (like us).
We looked at travel trailers, 5th wheels, class Cs and class As, and ultimately decided on a class A for the simple reason of bed configuration. We couldn’t find a more perfect bed setup than what we ended up buying. We have a queen bedroom in the back, 1 set of bunkbeds in the middle for our two boys, and a bed that drops down over the driver’s seat for our daughter. Every other configuration we looked at to sleep 3 kids, each in their own bed, included some form of a bed in our main living space, which we didn’t want. The other deciding factor for me was not to have to tow a large trailer behind my truck. This would be more nerve racking than towing a small truck behind my RV. I’ll drive or tow anything, but I’m always a little on edge when doing so with 3 kids in the back kicking my seat, crying, complaining, or wanting me to play “I-Spy.”
If you want a more detailed analysis, Chris and Cherie of Technomadia also have a wealth of information from their experiences. If you are considering a larger drivable motorhome, remember three things that I didn’t fully appreciate in the beginning: 1) Every state has different laws around who can be up and about in the back of a moving motorhome, but most require children to be buckled up. Cruise America was helpful for us because it gives general ideas regarding seat belt laws, but be sure to research each state specifically for official laws. 2) Similarly, every state has different limits on how long a rig can be to legally drive on their highways. For the most part, this isn’t a problem if you are not towing, but if you have a 45′ long bus and a 30′ long trailer you want to tow, you will be pushing the limits in most states. RVia.org was helpful for me to browse and get a general idea of maximum allowable RV lengths, which varies by state. 3) If you want true flexibility with where you can reserve a camping spot, choose an RV that is 35′ or less. Ours measures just under 35′ long which was another driver of our decision (this combined with the bed layout made it a no-brainer for us). We want to explore as many national and state parks as we can, some of which limit access to those over 35′ long.
Problem #3 – Learning on the Road
Once we felt good about an internet solution and we had the perfect (for us) RV picked out, we had to decide whether we really wanted to do this. Our main consideration was whether or not this would be good for our kids. Actually, let me rephrase that, it was whether this would be good or bad for our kids. For us, this adventure would mean we had to keep our two oldest children in virtual school when they both enjoy the socialization of traditional school. On top of that, we were going to take them out of their comfortable workspaces and stick them in a small, unfamiliar, possibly distracting, RV where we expected them to learn effectively.
We decided to talk the idea through with many people, before pulling the trigger. Some had experienced it for themselves in some form or fashion and others never had. Without exception, the ones who had experienced it for themselves said it was one of the best experiences of their lives. And without exception, the ones who had not experienced it for themselves said they regretted not being able to do it with their young families. In the end, we settled on the fact that this would be a great experience for our kids.
Even with that much positive feedback, the decision for us had to revolve around the kids. We were still stuck with the question, “Will this be an overall positive or negative experience when it comes to education and development for our kids?” We ultimately decided that there is more to education and development than scholarly endeavors. Children, especially in the 3 to 9-year age range, which is where our kids fall, are constantly learning, regardless of what is presented to them. Rather than expecting them to learn everything in a textbook, we decided they could learn so much more from experiences. We have discovered a whole new enjoyment from “tricking” them into a lesson. While they think these experiences are purely fun, they are actually interacting with the world and learning.
Learning happens when you least expect it and the benefits of doing so outdoors is supported by research. Educational Leadership published an article, “Research Matters/Outside and Inspired,” explaining that outdoor learning promotes happier, healthier, and more attentive children. Here are a few examples of educational experiences we had on our first trip. We went to Orlando to start the trip at one of the theme parks. Though it didn’t include one minute where everyone smiled, the kids still argue with me and tell me they had a good time. After the day at Disney, we spent an afternoon hunting for lizards which led to a lesson on the different species of lizards that live in Orlando. We took a trip to Gatorland where we interacted with alligators, crocodiles, and even parakeets. They got schooled in tetherball, (by yours truly) a game they had never seen or heard of. After Orlando, we went to Tarpon Springs, FL for the weekend. This was mostly a long overdue trip to visit my aunt and uncle, but while we were there we were lucky enough to see a school of dolphins swim by our campsite several times which led to a conversation about the difference between mammals and fish, and how fish breathe through gills. And at our last stop in Key Largo, a retiree taught the kids about many different species of fish in the ocean and caused them to fall in love with fishing. We also snorkeled around a Spanish shipwreck, near the only living coral reef in North America. This was also surrounded by even more lizards including iguanas. These adventures led to more conversations and even more Google searches so that we could all become more educated!
The first two weeks on the road was a resounding success. The kids got their book smarts with no problem- thanks to Nomad internet. I was able to get in a solid 8-9 hours of work during the day. And we were still able to enjoy each other and learn from our surroundings. We start our second adventure this weekend and I have no doubt it will be even better than the first.