Picture yourself behind the wheel of a huge RV, barreling down the highway. Your companion is riding shotgun beside you. The kids are in the back, playing a game of cards at the table. This is your house on wheels, and everything you need is right there with you.
That’s where I found myself a few weeks ago, when my partner, Katie, and I embarked on the most classic of classic summer vacations: an RV road trip. We had always talked about getting a motor home someday, so we took a leap and rented one for the Fourth of July weekend, taking her son and daughter, Ryan, 13, Maddie, 11, and two of their friends up to Old Orchard Beach in Maine.
Neither of us had ever driven an RV before. (Cue the “National Lampoon’s Vacation” music here.)
As the day of our departure grew closer, Katie and I began to wonder what the hell we were thinking. The night before we picked up the RV, we watched two orientation videos that showed us how to fill up the 55-gallon gas tank, use the shower, empty the toilet, etc. I took special note of the travelers’ assistance hotline — an 800 number that we were supposed to call if we got a flat or the RV conked out on the road — and added it to the contacts on my phone, hoping never to use it.
Our concerns eased as soon as we picked up the RV from Cruise America (426 Middlesex Road, Tyngsborough, 800-671-8042, www.cruiseamerica.com). We had reserved the largest one available: a 30-foot model that could accommodate up to seven passengers.
Turns out, the RV was incredibly easy to drive. Actually, it was a lot of fun. The huge mirrors provided a clear view of both sides.
As soon we got it home and pulled into the driveway, the kids climbed aboard. All four of them — Ryan, Maddie, Ryan Kennedy, 13, and Kate Simpson, 11 — proceeded to sit in the RV for hours, playing cards contentedly while we loaded our food and supplies.
Bicycles, boogie boards, beach toys: check. Pots, pans, pillows: check. Toilet paper. Toaster. Towels. Check, check, check.
There were plenty of nooks and crannies, cabinets, and compartments in the motor home. It was amazing how much stuff we fit in there.
And then we set off.
The staff at Cruise America told us we could expect to get up to 10 miles per gallon in the RV. We stopped at a gas station and filled the tank. As I drove, I could picture my mother praying to a statue of St. Christopher, anxiously waiting to hear that we made it.
At one point, Katie opened the fridge to put something away. Splat! A dozen eggs landed on the floor. We picked up broken eggshells and mopped up the yolks, having learned our first lesson of RV living: Things move around when you’re on the road.
Otherwise, the ride went smoothly, and we arrived safely at our destination: Powder Horn Family Camping Resort (48 Cascade Road, Old Orchard Beach, Maine, 207-934-4733, www.mainecampgrounds.com). We registered at the office and backed our RV into campsite number 49. I opened one of the compartments on the side of the RV and took out the shoreline — essentially a giant black electrical cord — and plugged it into the outlet at our campsite. Then I took the water hose out from another compartment and attached it to the spigot underneath the outlet. Voila! We were now hooked up to the campground’s water and electricity.
Our Ryan, being the brave soul that he is, was the first to take a shower.
“The shower’s really cold,” he reported.
Oops. I had forgotten to turn on the water heater. With a flick of the right switch, it warmed up within minutes. Problem solved.
Powder Horn turned out to be a great place to stay. The 65-acre campground was well-staffed and its facilities were immaculate. As Katie and I strolled around, I couldn’t help but notice — and admire — the seemingly endless rows of luxury recreation vehicles, all with fancy hardware and shiny exteriors.
I looked at our modest vehicle, with the 1-800-RV-4-RENT logo emblazoned across it, and had my first pang of RV envy.
Every day, Katie used the three gas cooktop burners, microwave, and the toaster from home to cook all kinds of kid-friendly meals: waffles, omelets, scrambled eggs, bacon, grilled cheese sandwiches, pasta, and English muffin pizzas.
The kids played Frisbee beside the RV, rode their bikes, played miniature golf, and went swimming. Powder Horn offered plenty of organized activities too. One day the kids played in a co-ed basketball tournament. Another day they made tie-dyed T-shirts.
The downtown area of Old Orchard Beach is less than a mile from Powder Horn, and there was a trolley that ran every 20 minutes or so. One day the kids rode their bicycles downtown, and Katie and I trailed behind them on foot. Later, when it started raining, Katie and I called a pedicab to pedal us back to the camp. Our driver diligently transported us through the rain while the kids pedaled their bicycles beside us.
At night, the table and sofa in the RV converted into two beds for the boys. The girls slept in the alcove above the driver’s compartment. (I’m happy to report that no children fell out of that alcove.)
It was close quarters, but surprisingly comfortable.
On the ride home, I could hear the kids in the back chatting about whether they believed in heaven and debating the merits of Doritos versus fruit snacks, along with other weighty matters. We had all survived the vacation without a television in sight, and no one seemed to mind.
We made one pit stop, at Nubble Lighthouse in York, for some lunch and ice cream. I opened the fridge to get a snack. Splat! A tub of hummus landed upside down on the floor. Apparently I hadn’t learned my moving vehicle-moving foods lesson.
When we got home, we calculated the total cost of the RV rental, gasoline, and campsite to be $1,951.
Our RV road trip turned out to be both an adventure and a learning experience, and we deemed it a success. The kids had a great time. Now that we know our way around a motor home, we feel like old pros, and we’d be up for hitting the road again.