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.
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).
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).
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