Life on the Road: Our Traveling Home

It seems many of you are interested in what our temporary digs look like, so I figured I’d indulge you. Plus, many other campers we’ve met along the way have asked us how we like towing a light trailer, so in case you’re looking at purchasing a rig of your own (or renting one for your own Great American Road Trip), I’ll give you the pluses and minuses that we’ve experienced using a travel trailer thus far.

The Equipment

We’re driving SVV’s father’s 2000 Chevy Silverado truck, which he has kept in tip-top shape over the years and which has proven quite reliable. It has a nice, roomy cab, which we use for ample storage (good thing as we brought a lot of clothes!). We bought a portable Sirius-XM device (around $70, plus $10 a month for service), as I already have a subscription back home, so we don’t have to miss a single episode of The Howard Stern Show. Unfortunately, Howard only broadcasts fresh content four hours a day, and many days we’ve been in the car from breakfast until dinner. Thankfully, my mom gave me a fancy new 160GB iPod for my birthday and sent us DVDs filled with 7,000 songs(!) from her personal library so we don’t murder each other during the remaining time of those nine-hour driving days.


The trailer is a 19-foot Bantam Trail-Lite (a 2005 model, I believe) that SVV’s parents purchased two years ago and which has barely been broken in. We are very super grateful to them both for letting us use it, putting their own summer travel plans on hold so we could live out our dream trip, getting it all spiffied up for us (including new tires!), and also tending to all our mail and bills back home while we live the nomadic lifestyle (in true San Francisco fashion, there have been lots of parking tickets Ken has contested for us already).

The Trailer Pros

  • The key word here is “lite.” A lighter vehicle means less weight means less gas burned, and also more accessibility and speed. We’ve gotten as little as eight miles per gallon (ouch!) with just the small trailer; I can’t imagine pulling a much heavier set-up—we’d go broke!
  • We’re much smaller than most rigs, so we can maneuver into back-in sites easily (which are often cheaper than pull-throughs). This also means we frequently get the quiet, tucked-away, money spots away from all the big (and sometimes loud) motorhomes.
  • Pit stops. The nice thing about towing your home with you is that bathroom breaks are easy—no holding it for 25 miles until the next rest stop. Because we’re relatively small, we just pull over on the shoulder of the first exit we see. Not sure it would be so simple if we were steering a bigger model!
  • It’s easy to clean. With the bad weather we’ve had, we’ve tracked in a lot of dirt and slush. But a small living space means a quick sweeping and a swipe of the counter tops and you’re spick and span!

The Trailer Cons

  • The water tank is tiny. If we’re not at a campground where we’re hooked up to water, we usually run out on the second day (and that’s using it conservatively and only taking a two-minute shower here and there). This means going off the grid in more primitive sites for longer periods of time isn’t an option unless you forgo showers and/or bring extra water jugs, but if you prefer fully-equipped RV campgrounds where you’re always hooked up to water, then it’s not an issue at all.
  • The size. While this is a pro in terms of speed and cost, the Trail-Lite is well-suited for the two of us and one wee pup and not much more if you’re traveling long-term. (We’re already almost tripping over each other as it is!) While it says it sleeps six, I’d like to see a family cram that many people into it for more than a weekend trip. If you’re just a couple, it’s perfect, but if you have kids, you might want to consider other trailer/RV options.
  • The pop-out. Let it be known, I love our cozy, little pop-out bed—there are actually two, an oversized queen at one end, a full at the other—but every time we get to a campsite, unhook, put the legs down, and get the power and water hooked up, then we also have to get the bed all ready and made up. This is only a 10-minute endeavor, tops—and one we’ve gotten down pat that includes letting down the head of the trailer, propping the canvas up with a series of poles, and snapping and roping it in place (much like setting up a tent)—but on the many nights it’s been pouring (and yes, there have been many), this equates to more time spent outside in the rain upon arrival than we’d prefer. Whereas with a big RV, your sleeping quarters are already set to go when you arrive. (Oh, and the cold! It’s been 30 degrees or lower many nights, so on the second day, we had to stop at TJ Maxx and invest in a third comforter to keep warm.)
  • Storage. Good thing we have the truck cab, as that’s where most of our clothes are kept. With as wonky as the weather has been this year all over the U.S., we brought clothes for every season (and, as it turns out, we’ve needed them all), and there aren’t exactly drawers and closets in which to store them (just various nooks and crannies here and there).

Connectivity

The trailer came with a small TV/DVD set and many of the campgrounds offer free cable. We’ve actually only plugged in the TV three times thus far—while I am a TVaholic, all of my favorite shows are on summer hiatus (plus, we’ve been catching up on Damages via DVD on my MacBook Pro)—but it’s been nice to get to see The Bachelorette (much to SVV’s dismay) and the final episodes of American Idol if I so desire (and I do, oh I do).

In terms of Internet, the only campgrounds where free Wi-Fi wasn’t included in our stay was at the primitive sites in the national parks. Everywhere else, we’ve had a pretty strong signal (aside from a campground or two that claimed they had Internet, but where the connection was slow or never quite worked for us). And since we each brought our own Mac laptop, there’s no fighting over computer time. Honestly, going into this trip I figured it was going to be a lot harder than usual trying to blog three or four times a week, but alas, America’s campgrounds are just as wired as America’s cities it seems (which is both a good and a bad thing).

Dining

The first thing my best friend Lemon asked when I called her from the road is: “What are you eating?” Truth be told, we eat pretty much the same we would in San Francisco. For breakfast, that’s usually yogurt, fruit and Special K; for lunch, either hummus and pita bread or salami and cheese sandwiches (SVV) and PBJs (me). There’s a good-sized fridge with a small freezer compartment and also a microwave (which can only be used when we’re at a site with electric), plus a stove with three burners and an oven. Some nights when we’ve felt like spending more time in the “kitchen,” we’ve feasted on ham hock and bean soup or maple-rubbed pork chops, red quinoa and roasted cauliflower, and other times we just settle for something simple like pasta. Still other times, we eat out. We’re not on such a frugal budget that we can’t hit the town for some bison burgers when the urge bites.

The Other Stuff

There’s a small bathroom with a stall shower, a sink and a toilet, but we tend to use the campground bathrooms 90 percent of the time to conserve water (and because they’re so nice and big and hot!). Honestly, aside from Girl Scout Camp (doesn’t count), I’m pretty sure I didn’t go camping for the first time in my life until I was 19 and working on a ranch in Arizona; I never thought I’d be the kind of girl to live in a trailer for a spell, let alone one who can unhitch a trailer and dump her own waste (ew would have been my response a month ago), but it’s been a lot easier—and more fun—to learn than I expected. Plus, it’s kind of nice having a routine once you arrive in each spot, and stellar teamwork means it takes us no time at all to get our home all ready to go.

Additional Camping Resources

  • My blog buddy Gaelyn leads a fascinating life as a park ranger (currently in the Grand Canyon) traveling by fifth wheel.
  • I immensely enjoyed following Kali and Christy’s year-long trip around the United States in their camper Mayhem (and took tips from them as they went).
  • We’ve chosen the majority of our campgrounds based on the reviews at RV Park Reviews, which is pretty much a Yelp for campers.
  • Amy at Go Pet Friendly is a wonderful source for traveling around the States with pets, a first for both SVV and me.

I’m going to write an overall recap at the end of our trip on expenses for major ticket items like camping, gas and park fees to help those of you planning a future trip know how to budget, but for now, I thought I’d do a wrap-up each week.

Week 1 Overview: May 15-21


Distance Driven: 1010 miles

States Visited: California, Nevada, Utah

Gas Used: 86.3 gallons, $329

Cheapest Gas: $3.66/gallon; Salt Lake City, Utah

Most Expensive Gas: $4.69/gallon; San Francisco, California

Best Gas Mileage: 10.3 miles/gallon

Worst Gas Mileage: 8.4 miles/gallon (ouch!)

Lodging/Campground Fees: $191

COMMENTS
  • June 5, 2011

    Ouch. And I thought three months in a studio apartment was bad!

    I think it’s fascinating to read about the logistics of your trip. Sure, it’s romantic to think about traveling the country with your husband, living like gypsies (minus the ugly-ass dresses,) but no one ever talks about how it all happens.

    • June 7, 2011
      Kristin

      Big OOPS on my part–that gas was supposed to read $329 for one week! Still, campgrounds fees plus gas costs are still lower than our per-day cost of living in San Francisco. We figured as long as we don’t exceed what we’d spend back home, then we’re good.

  • June 5, 2011

    I kind of love everything about this (except for the massive rain storms and the freezing nights). Hopefully the weather is warming up for you a bit!

    xox

    • June 7, 2011
      Kristin

      We woke up to heavy snow falling on top of us in Yellowstone today, HA! We’ve just come to terms with the fact that we’ll be in wellies and puffy coats in all of our pictures from this trip. =)

  • June 5, 2011

    We had no idea until two days on the road that our ranks were tiny. And we were so excited about showering!! lol

  • June 5, 2011

    My favorite shot is the first wide angle one! Currently catching up on your other posts. What an adventure.

  • June 5, 2011
    McKenzie

    Your sleeping quarters look nice and cozy!

  • June 5, 2011
    Mister Sister

    Soooo I was under the impression that it was just a tiny trailer… that is MUCH bigger than I imagined! Looks kinda cozy for you three 🙂 What happens when you and Scott argue? You make him sleep outside?!

    • June 7, 2011
      Kristin

      So far, that hasn’t happened (much). But your graceful sister has sustained every possible injury from living in tight quarters–even slicing open her thumb on a piece of cauliflower! I’m not even kidding.

  • June 5, 2011

    So glad you posted pics of the trailer… I was very curious!

  • June 5, 2011

    Looks cozy! But those gas expenses are rough.

  • June 5, 2011
    Rachael

    Thanks for the pics, your trailer is kind of like Oprah and Gayle’s! Sucks about the gas mileage ($733 to go 1,000 miles?!?! Crazy!)

    As for entertainment, if you like Howard Stern, I highly recommend downloading the Keith and the Girl podcast. It has a very Howard Stern-ish vibe and is hilarious! Also great, they record 5 new shows a week (you can listen live via a computer or smart phone) and have their entire 1,000 plus show catalogue on iTunes (which you can download for free!). Their website is http://www.keithandthegirl.com . I’d also recommend checking out their past guests tab.

    • June 7, 2011
      Kristin

      Ahhh, thanks for catching my error! The $733 was for the first two weeks of gas…I added incorrectly: It was $329 for the first week. Still pricey, but we totaled our daily cost of living in San Francisco (rent plus bills), and despite high gas fees and expensive campgrounds, we’re still coming in just over half of what we spend back home. So there’s that at least!

      Thanks for the podcast recs! Howard was on vacation last week, so we’ve been looking for something else to download.

  • June 5, 2011

    It really is a cute little trailer. Not bad for 19 feet plus a bed. I like quick set up and break down when I’m traveling. Yet I’m really enjoying 36 feet with three slides. And my mileage runs 9-11mpg. Many people don’t seem to understand that’s it’s just a mini home, much easier to clean. But then what you get depends on your use, weekender, long vacation or full-time. I use RVparkreview a lot and have been very happy with the results. Even added a few reviews myself. Seems “free” WIFI is prevalent, except our NPs. But that’s OK, it keeps us out in our front yard. Glad you’re enjoying the journey so far. And thanks for the plug.

    • June 7, 2011
      Kristin

      36 feet sounds like a palace! I’ve also reviewed every place we’ve stayed on rvparkreviews.com–and luckily so far we haven’t stayed at a bad place (probably because we vetted them all in advance via that website!). And yes, I’m glad there are some places when Wi-Fi isn’t available–I enjoyed being offline during my time in Yellowstone. Forced me to stop and smell the roses…or rather, keep my eyes peeled for grizzlies.

  • June 5, 2011

    I love the trailer! I would travel all of North America in that beast. Love it!

  • June 6, 2011

    What a fabulous little “place” you have there!!! The bed looks mighty comfy for a trailer. When the Aussie and I drove through the Outback with a camper van I thought we did a pretty good job of making it our own, but seeing your pics, well ours was pretty pathetic haha. HAVE FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • June 7, 2011
      Kristin

      I’ve always been intrigued by those iconic Australia/New Zealand camper trips, though even as small as our set-up is here (in comparison to all the tried-and-true RVers we’ve met), I think I might be a little spoiled trying to do a similar trip in a van! Sounds like quite the adventure, though.

  • June 6, 2011

    Super cool, really love thr trailer!! When we go camping we sleep in our car, which is not even a bus but only a bigger car. I guess the size standards from the USA and here in Europe differ a bit 🙂 haha!
    Hope you are having a great time!!!
    xox

    • June 7, 2011
      Kristin

      Many of the parks in the American West won’t let you sleep in your car or in a tent because of the threat of grizzlies (or other wildlife). But yes, I don’t think I could travel for six weeks in the back of a car! Definitely more comfortable (and probably affordable as we have a kitchen and a bathroom) to travel by trailer.

  • June 6, 2011

    I’m loving following along with the journey! Looks like Ella has no problem with the pop-out!

    • June 7, 2011
      Kristin

      Thanks, Erik! Ella has no problem with anything that allows her to sleep for stretches of 18 hours =)

  • June 6, 2011

    Wow, it actually looks super spacious in there! I’ve been uber curious about what your digs look like, so I’m glad you posted photos. 🙂 Et merci beaucoup pour le shout-out!

    • June 7, 2011
      Kristin

      Of course! I’m glad I found your site last fall when I was starting to get excited about our trip. It definitely fueled our anticipation!

  • June 6, 2011

    I’ve never really considered myself anywhere near “camper” status, but I have to admit, you’re making me want to saddle up and head out for my own adventure with The Husband and fur babes. 🙂

  • June 7, 2011

    What a wonderful trip of a lifetime! I love that you guys are enjoying the RV lifestyle and seeing the country together. It sounds like heaven!

  • June 7, 2011

    I love how many pillows you guys roll with! Chris and I are such pillow people, too.

    • June 7, 2011
      Kristin

      Right now, we have the two other beds where the eating area is folded down, as well, so it really is a pillow palace! I feel like we belong in Morocco, or somewhere similar where they sit on the floor encased by pillows.

  • June 7, 2011

    So glad you put this up because I have been wondering about this. Glad y’all are having a great time!

    • June 7, 2011
      Kristin

      It’s really quite the nice set-up. As much as we’ve been loving the trailer, I’d now be interested in renting a full-sized RV (or an actual bus, which is what Scott claims we’re buying once we retire) and see how spacious and luxurious it feels!

      • June 10, 2011
        SVV

        That would be a restored, late-80s rock band tour bus. Updated with modern accessories and thoroughly fumigated, disinfected and polished.

  • June 7, 2011

    You left SF at the wrong time because it’s now back to the lower $4. 😉 Very cool set-up though. I’d love to take a road trip like this with a trailer. Funny how before I met RV [the boyfriend], I’d never even considered traveling in this manner. It seemed to take too long to get anywhere, but at the same time, you end up seeing so much more.

    • June 7, 2011
      Kristin

      It’s still under $4 everywhere we’ve been so far–even Yellowstone! We haven’t paid above $3.90 since leaving California. Living in the Bay Area makes one so jaded when it comes to the cost of things–especially when you go to pretty much every other state in the US and realize how “cheap” everything else is!

      • June 7, 2011

        Yeah I know how that is! Except for food. I feel like I can find some pretty cheap eats in SF [plus cooking at home is cheap], and then when I travel, everything is more than that. I guess I’d rather spend more on food and drinks than transporting myself around. 😛

  • June 7, 2011

    I think your trailer is adorable. I could see myself living in one of those for a while. Not bad on the monthly expenses. If you factor in how much ground you are able to cover, it seems worth it to me.

  • June 8, 2011

    Coolio! This kind of camping can be a blast,eh? Now you will have to try it for a summer in Europe…ship it over is quite easy. 😉

    They call them caravans in Europe and it is probably the most popular budget option for Europeans. We’re in our motorhome in Barcelona now with “neighbors” from all around Europe…which is part of the fun…and only 17 euros a night for a fancy resort with 3 pools and every amenity.

    Sometimes we have been tempted by some of the pros of a trailer, but a motorhome is much easier for set up…just park and sleep, so that is handy and the mass transit in Europe is so fab that one doesn’t really need a car once parked.

    We’ve been touring Europe this way for five years and it allows us to have a vehicle/home/storage unit for 70 euros a month when not here ( stored inside in southern Spain when we are out globetrotting elsewhere) which means we will be summering here for many more years. 😉 Best way for families to slow travel Europe for sure. Off season rates for deluxe resorts can be as little as 7 euros a night and we don’t have to pack and unpack.

    Your posts are exciting me about our upcoming road trip in the USA!

    • June 10, 2011
      Kristin

      That’s amazing that you can store your vehicle for so cheap in Spain! I doubt you could find those kind of rates in the US. We’ve yet to find an RV park for less than $35 a night as it is! I’m excited to read about your own cross-country US trip! We are actually driving straight across country over 10 days, too, in August…once we’ve had a couple weeks to recuperate from our six-month Western adventures =)

  • June 9, 2011

    I’m loving this journey! So glad you guys are doing it!

    • June 9, 2011
      Kristin

      Funny, I pretty much sent you an email at the same time you wrote this! Trans-Atlantic ESP? =)

      • June 9, 2011

        That’s WEIRD! Maybe you’re tuning into my & RaeRae’s twin telepathy?

        • June 9, 2011
          Kristin

          I couldn’t think of any people with whom I’d rather share brainwaves! Are you, per chance, thinking BUTTERBEER at this very moment? Because I sure am =)

  • June 9, 2011

    Well I must say Ella looks right at home

  • June 10, 2011

    My husband has always wanted to do a trip like this and I am not only immensely enjoying your adventures, I am grateful to you for all the really good info!

  • June 10, 2011

    Forgot to mention that I have the same rice cooker – it’s a beauty!

    • June 10, 2011
      Kristin

      We’re obsessed with it! Scott’s sister gave it to us for our wedding, and I swear we have stir fry four nights a week in SF (and some rice dish or another every other night while on the road!).

    • June 11, 2011
      SVV

      But the “Mary had a little lamb” song it plays..? That is odd, no?

      • June 11, 2011
        Andi

        It’s always goodnfor laugh when guests hear it!

  • June 10, 2011

    It looks so cozy! I have no idea how you maneuver that thing though – I can’t park anything larger than my Toyota Corolla. I’d be terrified!

    • June 10, 2011
      Kristin

      The answer: my husband! Ha. I’ve only driven it a couple times on primarily straightaways. Taking the tight turns scares me!

  • June 12, 2011

    Loving catching up on your road trip. Did I ever tell you that I took a Lit class in college with books all in the theme of road trips? Here are some books we read that you may want to check out …

    -On the Road by Jack Kerouac (obviously)
    -America by Jean Baudrillard
    -Blue Highways: A Journey Into America by William Least Heat-Moon (probably my favorite all semester)
    -All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
    – Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zorah Neale Hurston (kind of a stretch on the road trip theme)

    We also watched Thelma & Louise, Fear & Loathing, and Easy Rider. These are all I remember – enjoy 🙂

    • June 12, 2011
      Kristin

      You did tell me about the class, but I didn’t have the required reading list! Will have to download some of those on my Kindle while we’re still road tripping. Thanks, M!

  • June 13, 2011

    Love it! The trailer actually looks really cozy. I keep telling the husband that I would like to do an RV road trip, but he thinks I’m insane due to the super low gas mileage. Maybe one day I will convince him 🙂 That’s great that you guys were able to bring the pup along! Glad to hear y’all are having a wonderful time.

  • June 14, 2011

    Wow! That’s amazing! I like your traveling car, it’s like a comfortable home, I love it. I’m considering purchasing one like this and starting my traveling life.

  • June 22, 2011

    It looks like you guys have a nice little set-up, though those gas mileage numbers are a bit alarming! So funny, Ella looks so comfy. Dogs are such troopers.

    Thanks so much for the mention! After Yellowstone I think you’re heading off to places we haven’t been yet – but if there is anything I can do to help, just say the word.

    Oddly enough, we’re in San Fran right now. Sorry we missed you! Though, we’ll be back in October – perhaps we’ll be able to meet in person then.

    • June 24, 2011
      Kristin

      I know, right? The mileage has me croaking, too–it’s about a third of what I get back home with my little Altima! That said, we’ve still saved SO much money even with campgrounds fees and high gas prices since we sublet our place–total cost of this trip has been a third of our monthly living expenses in San Francisco! (Kind of sickening when I tallied it up and realized how much we spend living in California.)

      I won’t be in San Francisco this fall, as we’re sailing with Semester at Sea from August through December, but I keep up with you guys through Twitter and your blog, so I’m waiting until our paths DO collide! Have fun in California!

      • June 24, 2011

        Hopefully we don’t actually collide! LOL I’m sure we’ll meet up eventually.

        Sailing for the fall sounds amazing – can’t wait to read about that. And yeah, we’ve found that even if you’re just traveling through California, it’s pretty expensive. Campground fees are higher – gas is definitely higher. But, when you compare it to rent and utilities, this is still an economical way to live.

        Hey – would you want to do a guest post on the GoPetFriendly blog about your pet friendly road trip?

  • July 7, 2015

    What a fantastic read! Certainly seem you were well prepared, it all looked so cosy
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