When we left for full time RV life, I really had no idea what to expect. It was a large exercise in operating on faith, trust, and the ability to figure things out on the fly. I know I had some concerns about how daily life would play out – I was mostly worried if we’d be able to find decent campgrounds (I worried we’d be stuck in trailer parks) and I was also incredibly concerned about things going wrong with Trudy. We had done so much research in the 6 months leading up to RV life, but you can do all the research you want, and none of it can prepare you for life on the road.
There are things about RV life that you expect to be difficult. Small spaces. Lack of storage. No laundry. Spotty internet. But what are some things that I’ve found difficult that I didn’t expect?
Ok, I’m sure it sounds ridiculous, but this is by far #1 on my unexpectedly difficult list. Getting gas in Trudy was an exercise in….well, I don’t even know. Frustration control? Trying not to kill your partner? Trying not to cry? I’m not exaggerating! Fitting a 38 foot motorhome in a regular gas station is a learned art.
We got much better at it over time, but the first 5 or so times when we had to fill up Trudy, we were cursing RV life. With a car, you don’t even think about the logistics of a gas station. Now we check the orientation of the pumps (if they are parallel to the main part of the gas station, that’s much better), if other people are at the pumps (other people can easily block your access and you have to wait 20 minutes while they smoke cigarettes and eat their breakfast), if there is anything in the way (some gas stations have a lot of concrete pillars), and if we can pull around the building to make an exit if needed. With the tow car on the back of Trudy, we cannot back up without disconnecting the car. This makes maneuvering in tight gas stations extremely difficult, and at first, we had to reluctantly disconnect and reconnect the Escape a few times just to fit in a gas station.
It took us hours and multiple tries to get gas in Trudy the first time. Even the second and third times weren’t much of an improvement. By now, we have about a 90% success rate at gas stations because we fully analyze them upon approach and don’t even bother unless we are sure we can get out without backing up. You go where you fit. This means no price-shopping for gas. If you see a station where you fit, you GO, and you try not to eyeball the cheaper gas station across the street.
Once you’re finally at the pump, it’s also a minor challenge to get gas! Most of the pumps shut off at $75. That’s nowhere near enough to fill Trudy. I used to go in and pre-pay for $150 or so, but now I no longer go in and just use my credit card twice at the pump. There’s an RV hack for you! Because getting gas is such a PITA, you always, always want to fill up the tank fully.
Getting medical care on the road has been hard. I could write a post just on this, but the short of the story is that all 3 of us are on different healthcare plans, but they are all HMO’s. This means they have a very small network of providers – all in the Pittsburgh metro area – where the insurance actually works. Otherwise, the insurance is pretty much useless. We are Pennsylvania residents, and on the US healthcare exchange, PA does not offer any PPO’s. A PPO would allow us to see providers in-network across the county, but would probably be extremely expensive, so I don’t think we could afford it even if it was an option.
So – our insurance only works in Pittsburgh. If we need to see a provider on the road, we have to pay the cash rate. It sucks. But what sucks more than having to pay cash (while paying for insurance that doesn’t do anything) is the lack of quality care in some of the small towns we’ve been in. Pediatricians won’t see Calla because she isn’t already a patient (her pediatrician is in Pittsburgh) so we are forced to use urgent cares. Although they are fine for adult issues, I’ve found that they are generally not very knowledgable when it comes to kids. I’ve paid $250 for a PA to see her for 5 minutes and have a completely wrong diagnosis.
The lack of good medical care on the road is one of the things that scares me the most. Thinking about any of us getting seriously sick or injured while on the road, and not being able to catch a flight back to Pittsburgh for treatment, is enough to make me question everything. It’s a big risk, and one I’m well aware of.
Not nearly as important as healthcare, but frustrating nonetheless, has been our difficulty with getting packages on the road. A lot of this has to do with the fact that we move around so often, and that Amazon Prime is no longer 2 days like it used to be. Is it just us, or do packages consistently take about 4 days to arrive? If we are in a major metro area, we have found Amazon Lockers to be really useful.
We don’t have an address to ship to. Most of the time we are at state or county parks – they never accept packages for their guests. Very rarely a private campground will (we hardly stay at these) but they will only accept UPS and FedEx. Anyone that orders from Amazon knows that you have no control over which shipment method they use, and they almost always us USPS anyway. So what we usually do is get a package sent general delivery to the local post office. You can do this by writing your address like this on the shipping address page of Amazon:
PO Box General Delivery
City, State ZIP
You use the “PO Box” to force Amazon to ship USPS, and it will end up at the post office behind the counter. You have to show ID to pick it up. And sometimes, the postal service workers are downright nasty about providing this service. Other times, they’ve been kind. It depends on the post office, and the number of packages. They get really annoyed if it’s more than one!
Check on USPS.com for the specific post office before you get a general delivery package sent there – not all of them provide that service. We try to be judicious with our use of general delivery and we only do it if we really need something.
I miss being able to get packages from places other than Amazon (Gap, Old Navy , Target – looking at you) but because there is no shipping date guarantee like there is with Amazon, we have no idea when they will get there, and we will probably have moved on by that point. It’s just not a risk we can take. The end result of this is that we have to buy a lot more things in-person, usually from stores we don’t want to patronize (WalMart, Camping World). Now you have more detail than you ever wanted on why getting packages on the road has been such a challenge!
Lack of Childcare
Lack of childcare was one of my concerns before we left for RV life. I knew it would be difficult, but I didn’t know just how difficult that would be. Having to be around your child 24/7 for months on end without a break is hard. Teething and whining are hard. Tim and I never get time alone, especially because we pretty much go to sleep when Calla does! We are all sleep deprived around here.
It was really hard to balance Tim working, me working, and not having childcare. Thankfully that situation has resolved itself a bit and some of the stress has been alleviated, but bottom line: it’s still hard.
I so miss my family and Tim’s family watching Calla. I know they loved it, I loved it, and it was really good for her, too. There’s that whole “mom guilt” thing going on. I wonder if we are wronging her by not having someone else watch her every once in awhile. But if she was in daycare I’d wonder if it was the right thing too! You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t, but at the end of the day, all any parent wants is what’s best for their child. As one of my friends jokingly reminded me, “No matter what we do or don’t do, they’re all going to go to therapy someday anyway!”
We miss childcare, but we know a day will come again when Calla has her grandparents and aunts and uncles watching her, with a babysitter thrown in for good measure. Until then, we will treasure all the time we get together.