Movies about RV trips are usually hilarious comedies. The motorhomes are portrayed either as a run-down house on wheels causing mishaps in the most entertaining way, or as a sleek-looking vehicle used for an incredibly exciting and often unbelievable adventure.
What about RVs and road trips in real life? In my circle of friends and relatives, I never hear about anyone taking a road trip in an RV – which is why the people in my life are so shocked, and maybe even a little intrigued, when I tell them that I just came back from a three week road trip, in an RV, with my 24-year-old daughter and our three big rescue dogs.
In early June, my daughter Kimberly and I rented a 30-foot motorhome and set out on a road trip from Toronto to Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI. We left our life of abundance and sometimes mundane routine for a few weeks of adventure, minimalism and simplicity.
No one else in our family wanted to join us. My husband said he prefers hotel vacations; my oldest daughter said she has no interest in a road trip; my 30-year-old son said he would rather spend three weeks in prison.
A few plates, cutlery, a frying pan, a kettle, a coffee maker, a toaster oven, several dog beds, bedding, towels . . . That was the first packing list. We added a few more essentials (like disposable gloves and a corkscrew) and after everything was loaded in, we climbed into the driver area and hit the road.
It took the dogs about ten seconds to adjust to life in an RV. Brady planted himself in the driver area between the two seats – typical German Shepherd behaviour – he had to be there to make sure everything was fine; Lexy was perched on the bed looking out the back window; and Harley was sprawled out on the couch, not a worry in the world.
Yes, we had a couch. And a kitchen equipped with a fridge, freezer, microwave, double sink, and several cupboards. We had a shower and a toilet, and an outdoor shower which was amazing for cleaning the dogs after walking on muddy roads. We also had a queen size bed at the back of the motorhome, and a double bed over the driver area, accessible by ladder. We used that upper bed as a storage area, and Kimberly and I slept in the queen size bed, along with our three large, hairy dogs!
The most common question people ask me, when I tell them about this trip, is about what it was like driving a 30-foot motorhome. Yes, I was totally out of my comfort zone, and it does take some time to adjust to driving, because it is much longer and taller than a car or SUV. I had to get used to making wide turns, changing lanes, parking, driving in windy conditions, and remembering to check height restrictions for bridges and tunnels. But once I got used to it . . . piece of cake.
That’s the thing about getting out of our comfort zone – the thought of it is often far more frightening and overwhelming than just doing it!
Campgrounds have a lot in common. There’s an office which usually looks like an old general store or country house, filled with camping essentials for sale, like firewood, ice, milk, beer, canned food, white sliced bread, soft drinks, sweets, toilet paper, laundry soap . . . you get the picture. You check-in and grab a map with your site number circled. The extremely slow speed limit is clearly posted, and within seconds of driving to your designated site, you can’t help but feel the relaxed and comfortable culture of a campground community.
What we found in all the campgrounds was a mixture of seasonal RVs and overnighters in motorhomes and trailers. The seasonal RVs were easy to spot – they had a more permanent look with their decks, piles of firewood, potted flowers, landscaping, bicycles and welcome signs. Some of them had gazebos or fully enclosed structures they could use as dining rooms, paved areas for parking cars, colourful outdoor lighting . . . many had gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to make their seasonal home feel like a permanent home.
Hooking a motorhome up to electricity, water and sewage takes less than five minutes. Backing a 30-foot motorhome into a site and making sure the house on wheels is level – well, that could take a while. Especially when there’s no rear-view mirror and when I’m being directed into the site by my 24-year-old daughter who is pointing and laughing the entire time, while trying to decide whether or not the RV is actually level.
And just like that . . . our motorhome is set up. The air conditioning kicks on with powerful bursts of cold air, the kitchen and bathroom sinks and the shower all have fresh running water, the toilet is ready for use, the lights are on, and our clothesline is tied firmly to a tree.
And just like that . . . we are officially part of the community, even if it’s only for one night. People walk over to say hello. They are smiling, they’re friendly, they offer to help, and they’re curious about where we are from and where we are going. No pretenses. No showing off. No judging. Just genuine interest and kindness.
It took me a little longer to adjust to “life in the slow lane” than the dogs. It is difficult to go from constantly being on a schedule, checking my watch, rushing, racing, hurrying . . . to taking off my watch and truly going with the flow. But once I settled into this new “normal life” I began to question the whole idea of normal. Who decides what is normal? Our normal life during this road trip felt completely normal, yet it was totally abnormal – totally different for us.
In reality, there was nothing abnormal about the ninety-four year-old feisty woman who owns and still operates a large campground in Nova Scotia. There was nothing abnormal about showering in the shower house at a campground, even though we had a shower in our motorhome, . . . just because. There was nothing abnormal about pulling over in the middle of nowhere in order to dig up some gorgeous Lupines – purple and pink flowers growing along the side of the roads throughout eastern Canada. I pulled my shovel out of the storage area, dug up some of the flowers and their roots, and “planted” them in a big blue bucket from Walmart. For the remainder of our trip, that flower pot was placed outside our motorhome at every campground. It was my landscaping.
Normal is whatever you want it to be.
We mapped out our entire trip in advance, but we knew that our GPS system would redirect us whenever necessary. We made reservations at campgrounds, and while we always had a destination, we never had a time limit for getting there. If we saw something interesting and worth further exploring, we would pull over, leash up the dogs and go for a walk. When we saw banks along the water that looked appealing, we stopped and took the dogs for a swim.
No one can ever tell me that big dogs need a big house. Our dogs were as happy as could be in this tiny house on wheels. They just wanted to be with us, near us, and of course, our routine was essentially all about the dogs. It was simple. Every morning started with a quick walk on a grassy area where the dogs could do their business. Then back into the RV to feed the dogs and make coffee and breakfast. Another walk, much longer this time, where we explored the campground, and then we packed up and hit the road, on route to our next campsite.
Our routes were never chosen based on being the quickest and most direct, but instead were always chosen based on scenery and the opportunity to drive through small towns. Compared to highways where cars and big trucks are flying at rapid speed, passing each other and racing to get to their destination, we drove slowly. We savored each day. We were living in the moment.
The whole trip was about people, food, wine, scenery, nature, sunrises, sunsets . . . and the dogs. We were truly on an adventure that brought meaning to the expression “it’s not about the destination . . . it’s about the journey.”
We passed random antique shops and huge piles of old tires, dilapidated farm houses and old abandoned trailers, magnificent wild flowers in full bloom on the side of the road, and breathtaking scenery that seemed to be kept hidden and secretive in these quiet, rural areas. We felt privileged and special, as if we were the only ones to be discovering this magnificent countryside.
We always knew we were approaching a small town with the sudden appearance of speed limit signs requiring that we immediately slow down to an extremely slow speed.
Every small town seemed to have gigantic farms and farmhouses with meadows filled with cows, scarecrows randomly placed in fields, and dogs seemingly roaming around. In each town we saw the same places on “Main Street” – gas station, post office, bank, school, church, cemetery, veterinary clinic, general store, diner serving Chinese and Canadian food, pizza restaurant, and most importantly for us, an old, no longer used tennis court overgrown with weeds serving as a perfect off-leash, fenced area for our dogs.
Since these country back roads were so rarely used, our motorhome was often a source of intrigue to the local farmers and their families. Filling it up with gas at the gas station, which was also the general store, the post office, the bingo hall and the town’s diner, gave us an opportunity to chat with the locals. Inevitably people were entertained by the three dogs sitting in the drivers’ area while the tank was being filled. Occasionally we met someone who had been to Toronto, but most of the people we met admitted that they stay close to home looking after their farms and living a simple life in the town where they grew up and are now raising their own families.
We had a system for filling the tank. Once the motorhome was parked as close to the pump as possible (but not too close or the huge mirror would hit the pump) Kimberly would turn off the fridge which operated on propane, and then she would let me know that I could unlock the cover for the propane tank and turn off the propane. I would hold the nozzle as it was filling, while Kimberly cleaned the bugs off the front window with the sponge squeegee soaking in the dirty water. Once it was full and we had paid, I would turn the propane back on and she would turn on the fridge.
Large towns were perfect for walks. The dogs were welcome in the shops, and people often offered to get them bowls of fresh water. We loaded up on birdhouses, local art and small but interesting antiques; we collected colourful pebbles and sea shells. In one of these amazing towns, we were sitting with the dogs at a restaurant patio and our server brought out three plates filled with baked potatoes all cut up into bite size pieces sprinkled with bacon – one for each dog!
As we approached the last leg of the trip, I started to feel a bit anxious about how I was going to get back into that demanding schedule of being busy and rushing. It really made me realize that we live so much of our life in the fast lane, which prevents us from seeing the details of reality. It was a good reminder about slowing down and appreciating the moment instead of racing to get to the next destination.
Illness, tragedy and death provide us with these very same reminders, so it’s refreshing to have these lessons about what is really important in life while on a road trip with my daughter and our three big dogs.
And just like that . . . we are back home, fully immersed again in our usual life, as if we have never been gone.
I told this RV story, but I could have told fifty other stories just like it – stories of times throughout my life where I got the message, loud and clear, about how grateful I am that at age thirteen, when I was faced with horrific tragedy, that I made some really good choices about how to move forward in order to live a happy and meaningful life.
When you are faced with hard times in life, you have three choices: give in; give up or give it all you’ve got.
We always have choices and we make choices all the time.
If only everyone could take the opportunity to leave their daily life for a few weeks to reflect on what matters. But if a road trip isn’t possible, people should at the very least remember that life, every day, is a road trip.
And it is about the journey, and not the destination.
So fasten your seatbelts, go out there and make a difference, count your blessings and enjoy the ride.