In the days leading up to leaving for this RV trip, I reminisced quite a lot on my first RV experience, which was an eight-month trip we took in 2017. (Yes, I had NEVER towed an RV when we left on an eight-month RV trip! I have always been an “all in” sort of woman!) The things I got right, the things I got wrong, and the adventure it was – and still is today. Despite the fact that we’ve spent months – nearly two years worth of time – on the road, every adventure is completely different.
Eight months in an RV?
I had planned for years to take my family to Australia and New Zealand in 2017, when I had an 8-month sabbatical from teaching at my University. However, in 2016, when I started planning the trip, our then 20-year-old dog, Cowboy, was still healthy. This unexpected blessing that made traveling to Australia and New Zealand impossible. But, to me, staying in Pennsylvania was also impossible; I have always had a wanderer’s blood in my veins, so we WOULD travel, but where and how (with a 20-year-old dog) were not obvious to me.
While talking to a close friend about my undefined sabbatical travel plans, he asked me, “Why don’t you rent an RV and take your dog with you?”. It was like the clouds parted, and I heard the angels sing “AAHHH.” However, there really isn’t a market for renting an RV for more than a week or two, and certainly not for eight months. So, if we were going to take an RV trip during my sabbatical, the only option was to purchase an RV.
Purchasing my first travel trailer
In September 2016, we went to the Hershey RV show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. After more than eight hours of climbing in and out of RVs, we found the smallest trailer that I thought my daughter and I wouldn’t kill each other in. That evening, I purchased a 19-foot Forest River Wildwood travel trailer for about $13,000. (And hyperventilated all the way home!)
Once I had the weight and length specifications for the travel trailer, it was time to purchase a tow vehicle. Another friend helped me find a 2003 Toyota 4Runner with a V8 engine that could tow the travel trailer we cleverly named the “Minnie Mansion”. (My daughter, seven at the time, was fond of all things Disney, so the name made the trailer fun for her.)
Picking up the Minnie Mansion
In late December, I picked up the trailer at Camping World in Harrisburg. During that visit, the service department first installed my Equalizer Hitch system. (The hitch system has to be set to the specific tow vehicle because the camper should be level when towing.) The hitch system installed, the service technician walked me through how to hitch (and unhitch) the camper to my truck (which includes seven steps – I took notes). Then, he walked me through how to connect and disconnect the electric, water, sewer, and cable TV (I took more notes). After about an hour, he shook my hand and pointed me toward the exit (I was still taking notes).
I was towing the Minnie Mansion – completely white-knuckled – to a local campground where I could park it while I loaded it for our first RV trip.
Getting the Minnie Mansion ready to go
I had found a campground about ten minutes from my house that was open year-round – rare in central PA! The camper was winterized, so I was only hooking up to the electric. Plugging in the camper meant I could turn on lights, the refrigerator, and (with propane) the heater. I probably made 30-40 trips back and forth between the house and Minnie Mansion to load it.
It was quite a project! I went through the clothes first. We would be traveling through multiple seasons, and my daughter was seven then. If we weren’t bringing her clothes with us, they went to Goodwill because she would definitely NOT be the same size when we returned! For me, I packed multiple seasons but still left a surprising amount of clothes behind. (At this point, I was forced to realize that I owned too much stuff!)
Deciding What To Pack
I loaded school stuff, work stuff (I was on sabbatical and “needed” bins of papers to write my papers), fun stuff, craft stuff, games, DVDs, a DVD player, books and more books, sheets, towels, pots, pans, plates, cups, cooking utensils, and silverware.
Then came paper towels, tissues, special RV toilet paper (yes, that is a thing!), shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, and other bathroom necessities.
Next were outside things: hoses, water regulators, cables, cords, chargers, camp chairs, a portable grill, fire starters, and a collapsible outside table.
Last was the kitchen: food, condiments, snacks, dog food, dog treats… We either packed or donated pretty much everything in my refrigerator, and kitchen cabinets. Eight months is a long time to leave food in the house!
At this point, the Minnie Mansion was full.
The camper was small and (I can clearly see in hindsight) had way too much stuff in it!
But that was how we started out on our first RV trip.
Let the RV trip begin!
We were scheduled to leave on January 2, 2017. On December 31, 2016, the local weatherman clearly said that central Pennsylvania would have a “wintry mix” until January 5th. When you have only towed a camper once before, waiting a few days to let a storm pass seemed wise.
After two such wintry mix delays, on January 12, 2017, with the help of another friend who had towed horse trailers many times, we hitched-up the Minnie Mansion, put my seven-year-old daughter and 20-year-old dog in the truck. A quick prayer and we put the 4-Runner in gear to leave on Epic Road Trip 2017.
Towing-out that day was one of the scariest things I’ve ever inflicted on myself.
But over the following eight-months, I experienced a new level of self-reliance and reliance on God.
My family made amazing memories and learned a new closeness that I don’t think we could have achieved without the lessons learned in the Minnie Mansion after we towed-out for Epic Road Trip 2017.