Summer travel presents challenges

Summer is travel time for families across America.  The weather is warmer, the kids are out of school, and camping/RVing is a fun way to create family memories.  But... there are also challenges to traveling in the summer.  I will get to those shortly, but first I want to catch up on what we were doing when we weren’t on the road.

It has been about four months since our last post.  We have been at our home base in Steamboat Springs, CO, most of that time, parked in our driveway and living out of our RV.  The original plan was to move back into our house when we got home, but find our RV so comfortable, with all the stuff we use every day right there, that we decided to continue to live in the RV.  We have water and electric readily available and use of the house for laundry and restrooms, so it was not at all inconvenient.   Our daughter and her family now live in the house full-time, making it possible for us to do this RV travel dream. It was all part of the plan.  We would have moved back into the guest room since we are only in Steamboat for a “short” time.  Living in the driveway gave both them and us some privacy, and allowed each of us to carry on our regular routines without getting in each other’s way.

My intention was not to stop writing our blog while we were home.  It just worked out that way.  Regular pre-RV routines kick in and we get very busy with day-to-day chores from our “before” life.  Cooking dinners, grocery shopping, doing laundry, vacuuming and mopping floors, outside yard work, running errands and cleaning the garage all take up time and time gets away.  Those aren’t things a blog reader wants to read about and those things become a large part of every day.  Nothing exciting to report.  Despite the fact that many people come to Steamboat Springs, intentionally, on vacation for all the fun things there are to do, sights to see, and restaurants to try, those things are routine to us and don’t seem noteworthy enough to share.  Maybe a post about how fabulous Steamboat Springs is should be in my future.

But… we weren’t in Steamboat for the whole summer continuously.  We took a month, mid-July to mid-August, to travel with our 15-year-0ld granddaughter, Mim, to northern California and Oregon for her summer vacation.  We figured it was our last opportunity to spend that much time with her all by ourselves and really get to know her (and her to know us).  Living in such close quarters for that amount of time, while seeing places and things she had never seen before, turned out to be a wonderful shared experience for all of us. Yes, there were times when we annoyed each other, but those times were all part of the experience. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  Hopefully Mim will have memories to last a lifetime and she will remember it fondly.  We will.

But, back to the premise of this blog post… the challenges of summer travel.  I will write other posts about what we saw and did, but that is for another time.

Don’t try to cram too much into the time allotted.  In the past, when two weeks was all the time we had for vacations, we would cram as much into those two weeks as we could. We mistakenly did the same thing this time, cramming too much into our month, thinking we had lots of time so we could see lots of things. Don’t get me wrong. We purposely chose to visit several national parks, enjoy the Oregon coast, and visit family, so we could share those things with Mim, but we could have created great memories with her and not done so much. There were a lot of long days in the car (truck) when all we did was drive. Mim slept most of the time.  Not much memory making there. We broke all our own rules about not driving more than 200 miles a day, arriving by 2:00 pm, and staying two days. That is the ideal way to travel when time is not an object. Often the days were closer to 300 miles (or longer), which can be exhausting for the driver when pulling a 30-foot travel trailer, especially if there is lots of wind and boring scenery.

Dogs complicate travel.  Our son, Casey, and his wife, Amanda, asked us to watch their little dog, a Pomeranian, for them while they were traveling in Europe. We agreed to take him with us, thinking he would be great company for Mim.  Little Bear (Bear, for short) was a delight and very well behaved.  Everywhere we went, people commented on how cute he was and it often started fun conversations with people we would never have met otherwise.  BUT…  we had to take Bear everywhere we went.  If it is hot outside, you can’t leave a dog in an RV unless you are able to run the air conditioning. Dogs have to be walked regularly and one must clean up after them.  Many places don’t allow dogs of any size, so we were restricted as to where we could go.  For dining, we had to find places with outdoor patios that would allow dogs. Museums were out. When visiting people, their pets may not be very happy about sharing space with other dogs, or the people might not be “pet” people, and don’t think your dog is as cute or well-behaved as you do.  You get the picture.  Dogs are great companions, and if I had one already, I would certainly take the dog along RVing, making any accommodations necessary for it.  But, having the choice, we won’t be getting a dog to travel with us.

Summer is a very busy travel time.  Everyone (well, not EVERYone) likes to travel in the summer.  Last summer, a year ago we took our first-ever summer vacation.  In the past we had only been able to travel in the spring or fall, since our jobs in a resort area of Colorado only allowed us to vacation when others didn’t.  It was wonderful traveling in the summer, having good weather, warm days and longer hours of daylight, and being able to be outside. With kids out of school, it is a wonderful time to share experiences and the only time families have time to travel.  BUT…  the roads are very busy, and traffic can be a challenge in an RV.  Spontaneous travel in an RV is much harder to do.  One cannot necessarily expect to just pull into a campground and find an empty space. Parking with an RV at many of the attractions can be very limited.  Better to get to an attraction early in the day before the crowds appear.

Attractions are very busy.  Expect to stand in lines at the most popular venues.  Prices may also be higher in the prime months of July and August.  You can’t blame the attractions for taking advantage of the crowds to make money when they can, but it seems unfair.

Reservations are (almost) required, especially if you are planning to camp in national or state parks (which are less expensive than commercial campgrounds).  It is much less difficult in the off-seasons.  And, speaking of national and state park campgrounds, big buses and RVs over 30 feet in length or with multiple slide-outs, may not fit into many of the older campgrounds.  Be sure to check on campsite lengths when making reservations.  We had to change our planned route along the Oregon coast because we were trying to make last minute reservations along the way, a day or two out.  The third week of August is, in many places, the last week of summer vacation for school children, and everywhere we tried was totally booked. We changed our route and headed east once we got to Newport, OR, which turned out to be a great choice, since we were able to visit Crater Lake (GORGEOUS!) and the cute town of Sisters, OR.

Weekends are the busiest, as one would expect, so we would try to be parked somewhere by Thursday for the weekend. Even then we couldn’t be guaranteed there would be space available for the entire weekend. With more and more people taking to RVs, and not many new campgrounds being built (or many of the federal and state campgrounds closing down due to budget restrictions), reservations will be mandatory, made months in advance, in the future.  If you don’t have flexibility in your schedule, pick your locations and make those reservation.

Temperatures can be pretty hot.  Depending on where you plan to vacation, heat can be a concern.  And,  if you choose to go to cooler places, other people have the same idea.  Lakes, the mountains, and the coasts are more crowded than other more land-locked places.  Air-conditioning can make the hotter places more bearable, especially at night, but one doesn’t want to spend vacation trapped inside to stay cool.  Off-season temps tend to be cooler.

For all these reasons, and because we can…   We have decided we are going to approach NEXT summer a little differently.  We plan to be workampers from mid-May to Labor Day, in Montana at a KOA campground west of Glacier Park between Whitefish and Kalispell.  We picked an area of the country we want to explore more thoroughly and should be cooler than many other places in the country.  It also gives us a chance to earn some extra travel money, cut some expenses, and meet some great people.  We’ll let you know how that works out.