RV Camping Redefines Roughing It

When Terri called me and asked if I’d like to go RV camping, of course I didn’t hesitate. Who wouldn’t want the chance to spend time outdoors without setting up tents, lying on the ground, eating out of a rank cooler, and searching for, um, facilities? Not to mention the opportunity to drive a big, honking motorhome like the trucker I always wanted to be. The added bonus of staying in not one, but two campgrounds in Virginia and Maryland had me headed out the door before I was even packed.

RV camping
Not sure what to pack for camping? Just take the whole house with you!

I met Terri and another friend, Michele, in Weston, VA, at the headquarters of Go RVing, where our glorious ride—the Minnie Winnie—was waiting.

Terri: Wow. That’s really big. Like there’s nothing “mini” about it.

Vanessa: It is kind of intimidating.

Michele:  Thank god I’m not driving.

Vanessa:  Hold on to those prayers. You might need them.

RV camping
This whole area expands to make even more room. Wish my own house did that!

We were greeted by Kevin, who took us on a walk-through of the 33-foot-long RV, showing us how things worked. We were pleasantly surprised by the fact that there were four beds—two of which converted from the seating areas in the living room—and that we had a shower and flushable toilet; items that I crave every time I go camping. Then he pressed a button, and the room started to expand—literally. Turns out that once you’re parked, you can make the RV even wider, providing even more room for those inside. Another button unfurls an outdoor awning, adding even more living space.

Terri: I think there’s more room in this RV than in my New York apartment.

Vanessa:  And you can’t expand the walls there.

Terri:  Not without a sledgehammer.

Michele:  Don’t ask how she knows.

Kevin then took us outside to explain how to hook up the electricity and the hoses at the dump station, where we adulted and refrained from making any references to Cousin Eddie in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. And then we were on our own.

RV camping
Michele was a natural at RVing. Doesn’t she look right at home?

Terri: Who wants to drive first?

Vanessa and Michele:  (dead silence)

Terri:  Seriously? Vanessa, you never let me drive. You’re never that nice.

Vanessa:  I’ve decided to become a kinder and gentler person. Starting now.

Terri:  So that I can wreck first.

Vanessa:  Don’t be silly. I have total faith! I’ll just follow along in the car, so I can watch how great you’re doing.

RV camping
Who knew that Terri would become the world’s best RV driver? I’m still in shock.

Turns out, Terri was pretty darn good in the Minnie Winnie, and quickly got the hang of it. We practiced for awhile in the office park before deciding to hit the road, where we immediately made the wrong turn. And just as quickly learned how to back up our moving house, which requires about the same skills as landing a fighter jet on a aircraft carrier docked out at sea. No problem.

Having mastered that task, Terri then hit a traffic circle, which only resulted in a little bit of hyperventilation. It seems EVERYTHING is magnified when you’re driving a massive vehicle.

Endless Caverns, Here We Come!

Our first RV camping destination was Endless Caverns in New Market, Virginia, where we planned to stay three nights. We first stopped at Cracker Barrel, which has a huge parking lot for huge vehicles—you quickly learn to look for these things.  We enjoyed lunch and the Cracker Barrel store, where we took lots of camping-themed photos to set the mood. We reached the campground later that afternoon, with no mishaps and only a little sticker shock at what it takes to fill up a vehicle that big.

After checking in, we were guided to our lovely, shaded spot, where Terri had to back the RV in without hitting anything. I assure you that it sounds easier than it looks. Then we had to hook up the electricity and the hoses.

RV camping
It’s just as glamorous as it looks.

Terri: Time to hook up the shitter!

Vanessa: You’ve been waiting all day to say that, haven’t you?

Terri: It’s strange the things I look forward to.

Unfortunately, the hose didn’t fit. It wasn’t until about a half-hour later that we figured out that we were using the extension hose, and not the regular hose, which has different turny parts. In our defense, they both looked pretty much the same. And honestly, you really don’t want to spend a lot of quality time examining hoses that are used for things that you’d rather not examine.

Our night was spent catching up with each other and visiting with Terri’s parents, who stopped by while on their own road trip. Having spent several years driving across the country in their own RV, we thought they’d be helpful with set up. They weren’t. For them, this was clearly a spectator sport.

RV camping
Now that’s a fire! Cause you know it’s not camping without s’mores.

Next we attempted to light a fire to make dinner. All I’m going to say here is that you should probably never expect New York City girls to save you in the wilderness. Chances are you’ll starve before they get a flame going. Put your money on the western PA girls on the next episode of Survivor.

RV camping
This is roughing it outdoors? Sign me up!

The next day, we toured the Endless Caverns, which (spoiler alert!) really aren’t endless, but are quite beautiful. The caves were a wonderful escape from the hot weather, as was the gorgeous pool at the campground, which we mostly had to ourselves since we were camping midweek. Insider tip—if you’re RVing without kids, this is the perfect time to visit the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Cruisin’ to Chesapeake Bay

After three days of complete relaxation, we had to get on the road to our next destination, Bayshore Campground in Rock Hall, MD. While we quickly figured out how to flush and disconnect the bathroom hose (a far cry from our struggle connecting it), we weren’t so sure about the electric. Luckily for us, a random guy walking through the campground decided to take pity on us and showed us what to do. You have to love a campground where a perfect stranger not only stops by to help but is willing to electrocute themselves on your behalf. And he gets bonus points for not making any jokes starting with “a brunette, a redhead and a blonde drive into a campground…”

RV camping
Survivor: The RV version. We look a little worse for wear. Maybe we should have used that fantastic indoor shower?

Unfortunately, our next drive did not go so smoothly. We hit a massive storm on the way to the beach, which made my white-knuckle driving even white-knucklier. (Yeah, it’s a word.) We stopped to get gas, and according to Terri, I almost took out the gas pump in a way-too-tight turn. I think she was probably exaggerating: No explosion, no proof.

After seeing the near gas-pump miss, Terri volunteered to drive the rest of the way, including over the Annapolis Bay Bridge, which terrifies me even when I’m not in a behemoth of a vehicle. Being my new, kinder and gentler self, I readily agreed, and she handled it like a champ. Of course, it didn’t hurt that for the first time that day, the sun came out and the flooded roads began to drain. Must be a reason I call her Little Mary Sunshine.

When we got to the campground, we pulled into a primo front row spot that overlooked the Chesapeake Bay. While registering, I mentioned that I was from Pittsburgh, and even before we could set up, people were coming by in their golf carts to say hi and to chat about other Pittsburghers they knew. Hyper-fast Internet has nothing on the communications network of an RV camp!

RV camping
Tell me you’re not jealous of this view. I won’t believe you.

The best part of this spot (other than the super friendly folks) was that we were in the perfect position to see stunning sunsets every night. We had two TVs in the RV, but we didn’t even bother to turn them on. Why watch television when you can see the most beautiful sights just by stepping outside?

RV camping
Relaxing on the deck, enjoying crisp cocktails while looking at this view. Nirvana!

We did drive into town one day just to wander, and to spend some time on the beach. We also dropped into a nearby outdoor bar to enjoy a cold beverage and to chat with the locals. There we learned about one of their biggest festivals–Pirates and Wenches Fantasy Weekend–which sounds like the perfect reason to come back in an RV and drop anchor.

After five days of our RV road trip, we sadly had to take back our Minnie Winnie and return to the real world, which unfortunately included driving it back through the beltway around Washington. So much for relaxation!

RV camping
We can give advice, because we’re now RV experts!

If You Go:

There are many things to take into account when RV camping, including rental costs, what you need to pack, and where you want to go. There are numerous campgrounds that accept RVs, with prices ranging from $25 to $80 or so a night, depending on when you want to stay. We’re big believers in weekday traveling if you can swing it; prices are usually lower, and you may end up with a whole pool to yourself!

The cost of the RV depends on a lot of factors, including the location, time of year, demand, size, amenities and more. A rough estimate is $80 to $200 per night, though again if you’re going to Coachella, plan to spend more. Check to see if the cost of insurance is included in the rental, or if that’s a separate fee you need to add into the budget.

Remember to also budget for gas! A vehicle this big only gets about 9 miles to the gallon, so depending on your destination, plan accordingly!

Ask about what’s included in the RV so you know what to pack. Our Minnie Winnie camp with outdoor chairs and a grill, as well as dishes, but we needed to bring our own linens, cleaning products, toiletries and more. And of course, food–but it turns out that you can live on s’mores and chardonnay if you want. Just sayin’.

Some extra thoughts:

  • Make sure the manual is in the RV. We referred to ours quite a bit; not for driving or hooking it up, but to figure out how to set up the beds. I’m still kind of upset that a fold-out mattress is smarter than me.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions at your campground. Everyone is super friendly and most love to share advice. And trust me; they’ve got stories galore.
  • Watch for low-hanging branches when pulling into parking lots or side roads. You have to look up as well as out and behind.
  • Remember that you are not driving a pick-up truck. It feels just like one, but you have to consider that the vehicle you’re driving has a 33-foot bed in the back. In case you have to pull up to a gas pump or something.

If you’re new to RV camping, we recommend visiting www.GoRVing.com to learn more about where to find rentals, where to go, and what to do. Happy camping!

On the Radio:

Now that you’ve heard my side of the RV adventure, listen in as Terri shares hers on the Travel Planner Radio Show. I wrote, she talked…imagine that!

RV Adventures, Part 1 & 2