Becoming Weekend Warriors

Thanks To An RV
Raoul Martinez driving and RV with snow capped mountains in view.

Before our first RV trip, I wouldn’t have considered my family the “outdoorsy” type. Our vacations typically included a long plane ride and a short hotel stay (WiFi was always a must). Truthfully, the trips felt very similar to our home life. But that all changed when we discovered RV camping. Camping was a complete departure from suburbia—something that simultaneously intimidated and excited us. My job during the week as a news anchor can be long, scheduled and demanding. Yet heading out on a weekend camping trip felt nothing like that. It felt like an incredible opportunity to explore and just be.

Our first experience RVing came through some close family friends. They owned an RV and often invited my family and me to come out and visit whenever they camped nearby. After hours of hiking, kayaking and campfire chats, I found myself heading home for the night feeling like something was missing; like my family was missing out on some core camping experience. The idea of taking an RV trip seemed overwhelming—what would we pack, where would we park and could I even drive one? But I still couldn’t shake the intrigue.

I wasn’t able to dwell on my doubts long. Our friends were headed to Big Sur, California, for a week-long RV trip and asked us to come along. They even offered to caravan the 10-hour drive and find us a campsite right next door to their own. Big Sur had always been a bucket list vacation spot for our family. Pair that with the promise of having seasoned RVers with us every step of the way and it was all the encouragement we needed to rent our own RV for the trip.

I was intimidated to drive anything like the rig our friends’ owned—38 feet seemed like a lot to maneuver, especially on the narrow curves of Pacific Coast Highway. But at the same time, I still wanted to make sure we had enough room for our whole family (new puppy included). Ultimately, we decided on a 28-foot Thor Motor Coach Four Winds Class C and it was absolutely perfect. It felt like I was driving a large truck, not an RV. Plus the sleeping space above the cabin was great for both storage and sleeping.

That first time behind the wheel was surprisingly easy, and there was a sense of security in driving such a big vehicle. The pace of our travels also really allowed us to relax and take it all in. My wife sat shotgun in a chair that was more like a LazyBoy recliner than a cramped airline seat. Our two kids played games and napped in the back. And all the while, our windows were filled with panoramic ocean views and soaring coastal bluffs. I came to realize that driving an RV is part of the vacation.

One thing we learned during our first RV trip—and continued to learn on all subsequent camping trips after—is that there are so many different types of camping experiences. Our first campsite in Big Sur was tucked amongst gigantic redwood trees. The sound of wind blowing through the leaves made us feel like we were completely isolated. We loved it. But the pendulum swings both ways. You can find campsites with panoramic coastal views, mere steps from the sand. Or you can find campsites that are five minutes away from major shopping centers and downtown nightlife. 

The Big Sur trip also showed us how comfortable RV travel and camping can be. Our campsite had full hook-ups, so we were easily able to connect to both water and power. Those two things made our RV feel more like home. It gave us the freedom to flush the toilet, take (brief) showers and run our power outlets when needed.

Once parked and plugged in, all there was for us to do was just enjoy nature. We ate dinner outside. We enjoyed s’mores with friends around the campfire. We biked local trails in the morning and explored surrounding streams at sunset. My wife and I joke that camping is a bit of a “working vacation.” You have to cook most, if not all, meals. You have to pack and unpack the RV. And you have to deal with dirt—on your feet, on your clothes and inside the RV. But the time outdoors, without devices and without complaints, makes it all worth it. Tucking into our cozy RV at night brought us closer as a family, both figuratively and literally. And this is exactly what I realized I was missing—the pure intimacy of doing everything together.

Our first RV trip was a vacation with friends that we casually embarked on. But that one time was all we needed to do it again and again. On our latest camping trip, we even went so far as to leave the security of traveling with experts behind and headed off on our own. I’ve also gotten much more comfortable behind the wheel and have transitioned our family from a Class C to a slightly larger Thor Motor Coach Windsport Class A. 

So, take it from me, someone who never thought they’d rent an RV, let alone continue to rent one multiple weekends every year—even if you don’t think of yourself as a camper or an outdoorsy person, you may be surprised. I know I was.

Over the past few years, we’ve picked up a few tips for both renting an RV and taking an RV on a camping trip.

  1. Ask Lots of Questions. When we rented our very first RV, we were lucky to have a very thorough walk-through of the entire rig and how it operated. Ask for the rental provider to actually show you how everything works, including towing, hitching, power sources, hoses, water tanks, and generators. Also see if the rental provider has a 24-hour hotline or maintenance number you can call should something stop working or an unexpected question come up.

  2. Bring Your Own Supplies. Our family usually avoids paying for additional rental packages that include linen and kitchen supplies. Not only does this save money, but we like to bring our own supplies so we can tailor it to our family’s exact needs and organize things the way we like. While this may mean some extra work on your part, we’ve found it’s better in the long run. It’s not always easy to track down an extra duvet or pillow while you’re off the grid.

  3. Buy Firewood At Your Campsite. Firewood can get heavy, especially if you plan to use a lot of it. To help reduce the weight in your RV while traveling, opt for buying firewood at your campsite or final destination. Another big reason you should always buy local firewood is for the surrounding trees. Firewood can actually house invasive insects and diseases. So if you bring firewood from home, you may actually be carrying foreign pathogens that the surrounding trees are not immune to.

  4. Pack a Tent. Even when we camp with our RV, it’s still fun to bring a tent. Having a tent is great for when your kids want to “sleep under the stars” or even provide a confined place to play and house toys.

Raoul Martinez travels in a Thor Motor Coach Class C and Class A.

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