This year, after spending 2020 at home like most everyone else, we traveled cross country and back in our RV for over four months. We visited new states and National Parks, and spent a wonderful six weeks in my hometown of Southold, NY, on the end of Long Island. We saw family and friends for the first time in two years and enjoyed what was, in retrospect, a pandemic honeymoon period of being vaccinated, maskless, and carefree in the early summer.
By the beginning of August, we were back in Reno for the start of school. Since that time, poor air quality from the devastating wildfires nearby in California have kept us inside.
The kids are happy being back to school in person, but we’ve already had two days cancelled because of the smoke, and Charlie had two days of distance learning because of a positive Covid case in his class.
I don’t want to minimize the comfortable position we’re in. We’re not in danger from the fires. We’re healthy and safe and can manage school schedule changes with flexible, remote jobs. Still, it’s hard to avoid a feeling of “deja vu all over again”, like we’ve been stuck at home since March 2020 and did not, in fact, spend a third of 2021 on the road. Thinking about our travels this summer has me reflecting on past cross country trips, and feeling profoundly grateful for all the places we’ve gotten to see together as a family.
When we started full time traveling in July 2016, we were brand new to RVing. While our ultimate goal was to drive cross country, we needed to figure out the basics first: how to operate the RV, how far Chris was comfortable driving in a day, how often the tanks needed to be emptied, how long it would take to set up and break down camp each time we stopped, and how to actually find places to stay.
By the time we reached the Oregon border from our starting point in Southern California, we fell in love with RVing. (Good thing, since we’d already sold our house.) We traveled up the West Coast and then back, before heading out to the Grand Canyon and Southern Arizona, including a walk across the border to visit the dentist in Mexico.
After wintering in the Coachella Valley and eastern San Diego county, we started out cross country in March 2017. I can remember my family wondering if we were really heading to New York, when we were still in Utah four weeks into our trip.
We finally arrived in Southold at the end of July and stayed for a few weeks. Our journey back west took us through Missouri and Nebraska; Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. In October 2017 we landed in Reno, Nevada, booked a month at an RV park, and decided to make the city our new home.
Even though we’re no longer full timing, we still make it a priority to spend time in Southold each summer. With the kids enrolled in school, our time was limited to travel across the country and back. In 2018, Chris drove solo with the dogs (trading in our RV for a new one along the way), while I flew with the kids after their last day of school, and we all traveled back to Reno together in the RV. In 2019, we left the RV behind, boarded the dogs, and flew to NY for a visit.
Our big plan for June 2020 was to celebrate my parents’ 50th anniversary at Lake Tahoe with family and friends. Needless to say, that got canceled. And even though the summer of 2020 saw a boom in RVing and camping, we ended up only taking one trip the whole year, through sparsely populated northern Nevada, where social distancing is a given.
We were determined to make it back to Southold in 2021. With the kids in full time distance learning we could leave in the spring, schooling from the road and taking our time to travel through new places.
There were still uncertainties. One of them was eliminated when Chris and I were able to get the J&J one shot vaccine a week before we planned to depart in early April. Another unknown was campground availability. There’s been a lot of media coverage about the pent up demand for RVing and camping, with campgrounds sold out at national parks and popular destinations.
In our experience of planning on the fly, we always managed to find a campground that got the job done of providing a safe spot with hookups to stay overnight. Even without booking far in advance, we’ve stayed in some really great places.
This year, however, we weren’t sure how many RV parks would be temporarily or permanently closed. And while connectivity has always been a concern with us working from the road, we now had to make sure the kids could access Zoom and online school programs.
For the first time, I made campground reservations in advance for the first three weeks of our trip. I read online reviews and called the parks to ask out about cell service and WiFi. We mapped out our itinerary to stay in place during the week for school and work, traveling and sightseeing on the weekends.
All that planning was thrown out the window before we even started. After driving the RV and Explorer down to Southern California for a routine tow package installation, our mechanic discovered a rear differential leak that required emergency work before we could safely set out.
The kids were staying with their grandparents in Big Bear Lake, an hour away. We were extremely fortunate to have friends offer their cabin close to Chris’ parents’ house for us to stay in, which we ended up needing for a week while we waited for parts and the RV work to get done.
We were back to traveling on the fly.