Are you nuts? You are brave souls. Why? How? And again, WHY?!?
You’d think we were planning a solo mission to Mars using our Radio Flyer.
Instead, the incredulous disbelief our friends and family shared was about our two-week trip to the Northeast that included all seven of us living and traveling in an RV. For 14 days. Did I mention there are seven of us?
Now that we’re back and all in one piece (physically, at least. Emotionally, we’re shattered. :), I present to you the glorious recap with some tips for your next family vacation.
Firstly, we would not have been able to afford this trip if we hadn’t mastered the Spirit Air hack (more on that below) and had the generous offer from my dad to borrow his RV (which happens to be his HOUSE) for two weeks (aaaand, had my husband not sold his childhood baseball/basketball card collection which included his beloved Michael Jordan rookie.:)
Day 1: Travel via Spirit Air from Atlanta to Atlantic City, N.J.
Days 2 – 4: Live it up on the Jersey Shore
Day 5: Travel via RV from NJ to Wells, Maine
Days 5 – 6: Check out Wells Beach and all things Ogunquit, Maine
Day 7: Travel via RV from Wells to Lake Sebago in Casco, Maine
Days 7 – 10: Live the “camper” life at Point Sebago
Day 11: Travel via RV from Casco back to the Jersey Shore
Days 12 – 13: More Jersey Shore awesomeness
Day 14: Travel via Spirit Air back to Atlanta
We take MARTA to the airport. First tears of the trip: Maddox gets wedged in the turnstile doors at the MARTA station. Those suckers close quickly when you’re trying to get five kids through. He ends up fine aside from some permanent emotional scarring.
At the airport, we gate check one bag and some car seats and then breeze through security.
PRO-TIP: when you travel with 5 kids and one is in a stroller and you’re geared up like mountain sherpas, the heavens open before you. People gawk and steer clear and security directs you to the short line. Next time you fly, borrow some kids. It’s worth it for the fast track.
Spirit Air round-trip to Atlantic City for $50? Yep. [Find the “how-to-hack-Spirit” deets near the end of the post.]
On the plane, I hold/balance/cuddle/talk to/answer one million questions from Bellamy. Everyone else enjoyed the flight mostly due to the snack bags, gum and reading material packed in their backpacks.
PRO-TIP – Kids carry their own backpacks with clothes, books, snack bag and water bottle. Prep them with a pre-game speech about pulling your own weight, finding joy in journey, showing toughness and maybe a little “Pain does not exist in this airport, does it?”
Upon landing, we get picked up from the airport in what is to be our our home for the next two weeks. I think people were expecting someone much more famous to be getting picked up in such a monstrosity. Sorry, folks. Just us. Keep it moving.
June 16 -18:
We park the big rig at the marina where my dad keeps his boat and live the Jersey life for a few days. This means:
- Hanging out on a boat: I can’t quite figure out why it is that even just sitting on a docked boat is fun. But it is. Crazy fun.
- Catching crabs: The kids love catching crabs hanging off the dock. This is literally hours of (quiet!) entertainment for these city slickers.
- Pirate Adventures: pirate names, face paint, costumes and a family boat ride to search for hidden treasure = big fun for everyone. The kids are thoroughly entertained the entire time, shooting water cannons at an enemy pirate, hoisting a treasure aboard, drinking kid-version grog and chanting pirate-y things. It is both fun and funny, and my kids haven’t stopped talking about it. Neither has my dad.
- Pork roll for breakfast: I had no idea Jersey had a “thing,” but apparently my life is now complete. 🙂
- Boardwalk: What’s a trip to the Jersey Shore without a trip to the Boardwalk, right? My kids had never been on carnival rides before so Jenkinson’s Boardwalk in Point Pleasant is forever sealed in their memory banks, and they’re hooked. Sunshine, ocean breezes and adult beverages interspersed make for a top notch day.
We celebrate Father’s Day by having Josh drive a 40’ RV seven hours into Maine. And he’s genuinely stoked to do it. After my dad gives him a very brief crash course (poor word choice?) on how to drive it, we’re off.
PRO-TIP – When you drive an RV, the tolls are equivalent to your first-born child. We sure will miss Isaiah. I’m only just barely kidding. Multiply your normal car tolls by one million because we take up so much more of the road and that’s what we paid. $87 to get from New Jersey to Maine.
We chug along paying tolls and paying very close attention to bridge heights because, well, if you don’t…you’re stuck. Literally. So, the ride was going fairly smoothly until it became so unsmooth that the very large television mounted above the windshield FELL ONTO MY LAP. Yep. Driving a down the road and all of a sudden a 32” television falls on your lap and busts the screen. Nothing like distraction-free driving on your maiden voyage. And, yes kids, the movie is over.
Minor hiccup. We now take note of some fellow motorists honking and waving at us. Assuming we were maybe taking up more than just our own lane (you know, because we are HUGE), I dismiss the folks as rude and unsympathetic. However, a few more miles down the road proved that those folks were, in fact, trying to save us from becoming a convertible RV.
Pro-tip – Pay attention to signs when you drive the RV. Signs about bridges, truck routes, lane shifts – all of dire importance. We learned the importance just a wee bit late when we saw “LOW BRIDGE AHEAD / 10’ 6.’’
Fortunately, there is one exit before the bridge and we have no choice but to get our 13’6’’ RV off the parkway. But, this puts us smack dab in the middle of a NYC neighborhood. THIS is getting interesting.
After about 30 minutes of snaking our way through neighborhood streets and me jogging ahead of the RV to scout the route before we proceed, we find our way back to an interstate and the rest of the trip to Wells is uneventful. If you’re from New Rochelle and you are reading this, y’all are just the nicest. Thank you for moving your parked cars and not being too attached to that one very low tree limb.
We settle into our camp site in Maine, plug in power, hook up the water, let out the sides and pop open a beer. Ahhhhh.
Out to dinner for some Maine seafood and quickly hurry back because the Cavs play in game 7 of the NBA Finals, and OHMYGOSHTHISCOULDBETHEYEAR. Unfortunately, the television incident creates a bit of a problem for watching the game, and Josh ends up watching pretty much the whole game on my phone and then nearly gets us kicked out of our campsite with his post-game victory lap. Fortunately, he demonstrates enough restraint to not break into the pool, but it has to be the most memorable Father’s Day yet. #believeland
A 40-foot RV does not do well on the quaint narrow, winding Maine streets so once we post up at the RV park, we’ve got to find other means to get around town. Fortunately, super sweet full-time RVer neighbor, Nancy, offers to load us into her small SUV and not only drive us to the beach but also to pick us up whenever we wanted. RV people are really friendly.
Pro-tip – It turns out that a windy 10:00 am visit to the Maine Coast in mid-June will not be a “build sand castles in the sun” visit. FREEZING. And the kids let us know about it. Several times.
Later in the afternoon, we luck out with the best and most crazy taxi lady ever taking us to the quaint beach town of Ogunquit. Diane gives us all kinds of behind-the-scenes stories and a little extra tour before dropping us off at Perkins Cove, which is a lovely cove where you can watch lobster boats come in and out. When speaking of things in Maine, you increase the use of “quaint,” “lovely” and “darling.” I can’t help it.
The kids learned a lot from Diane.
Without kids, I could have meandered through little shops and had coffee and cocktails all day long. With kids, we herd them through the darling little village area, buy some delicious candies and start a one-mile trek along the Marginal Way. Amazing views!
We finish the day on Ogunquit Beach chasing waves and then eating lobster because you can’t NOT eat lobster in Maine.
June 21 – 24:
We stow all the things that can become projectile items while driving and hit the road for Point Sebago Resort, a campground about 60 minutes inland from Wells.
We lead the Maine camp life for four days, and it’s glorious.
Because we booked during their opening week (Mainers are in school through mid-June), we received a great coupon book for free ice cream, free mini-golf, free sunset cruise, etc. and we put those coupons to use. Isaiah is still talking about the free breakfast buffet. But, there were also a ton of free included activities. The kids went to day camp for 3 hours each day, we went on hay rides, we saw a really great live theater show, we went to sing-a-longs and saw live music.
We also confirmed/cemented Bellamy’s complete phobia of mascots when we arranged for Chippy to come to our site for Maddox’s birthday and Bellamy screamed in horror and high tailed it inside the RV. I’m not sure she’s ever getting over that one.
It’s now been 10 days with seven people in the RV. Draw your own conclusions.
We drive back to NJ today and encounter more heavy tolls and a load of traffic as we inch our way through the Bronx. I can’t stop singing Jenny from the Block. Don’t judge.
Arrive at the marina around 8:30, sing happy birthday to Bells and go to bed. She got some hot pink sunglasses so she didn’t seem to mind that her entire third birthday was spent driving.
June 26 – 28:
These last three days are fun as we hit the boardwalk again, take the boat out and hang with family. But, we’re losing a bit of steam and are ready to be in our own space.
Today we pack up and head home. Spirit Air to MARTA to our van and to our home.
You best believe I skip and jump and leap through the spaciousness of my house – not touching a single other human being. Isaiah has vowed to stay in his room alone for five days straight. Everyone seems okay with this idea.
Until next time, Maine.
Now for the juicy travel tips! Overall, we used more than ten different modes of transportation – including tractor and a stranger’s car – on this trip, but the two big ones are obviously plane and RV. Useful tips below:
Flying footloose and fancy(practically)free on Spirit Air
On most airlines, the cost of flying seven people round trip anywhere is enough to put the breaks on a trip before it begins, but thanks to Spirit Air, not only could we make it happen, but we did it for $50 each. That’s right. Seven round trip plane tickets for $351. Here’s the scoop:
- Spirit offers a $9/fare club for a yearly fee. If you’re in the club, that means that you’ll save big bucks on most of their flights, some of which are actually only $9. But, we managed to save big even though we’re not $9 fare members. Here’s the trick – go to the airport and purchase the tickets at the counter instead of buying online. For whatever reason, they are considerably cheaper. We saved about $39 per ticket on an already ridiculously low round-trip price (these lower fares tend to be for Wednesday travel in our experience). So, instead of over $600 for all of us (still crazy cheap), we paid $351 for seven round-trip tickets.
- Know Spirit’s baggage sizes and abide by them. You are allowed one personal item per ticket, but the size restrictions are smaller than the general carry-on that you’re allowed on other airlines. If you get to the gate, and your personal item is too big, they’ll charge you for a carry-on, which is $100. This is where people get angry. The personal item size dimensions are: 12″x16″x14″ and while smaller than a typical carry-on, it’s not so small that you can’t make good use of it. Our kids each fly with their backpacks (L.L. Bean Original) usually pretty full and Josh and I flew with very full stowaway backpacks. In a previous flight, Josh flew with a bowling ball bag just to make sure it fit. As if we need more reasons for people to stare.
- Use Ziploc Space Bags to maximize space in that personal item. I put each kid’s clothes for the entire trip into a space saver bag and vacuum the air out. This allows the bag to fit into their backpacks, but keep in mind that it doesn’t make the clothes any less heavy. So, gauge what each child can reasonably carry before you vacuum seal a month’s worth of jeans and sweaters. Using those bags allows us room for books and snacks in the backpacks.
- If you are going to check a bag, purchase that checked bag online before your trip. It costs more at the gate. Also, weigh your bag at home. Anything over 40 lbs is subject to more fees.
- Print your boarding passes at home to save a $10 fee for each pass the ticketing agent prints for you.
- Pack snacks and drinks. Spirit’s entire in-flight menu costs money so if you anticipate getting hungry or thirsty, pack snacks in your personal item. Remember, though, that no liquids can come through security so I have my kids bring their own empty water bottles and we fill them up once we’re through security and walking to the gate.
- Gate check strollers and car seats. Spirit allows you to check your car seats (and booster seats) for free so don’t think twice about it.
There are lots of Spirit horror stories about extra fees and delays, but we went in very informed about where extra fees pop up and have been able to avoid those. And, we’ve been very fortunate to avoid delays as well. We’ve flown Spirit four times now and I have been amazed by how easy and cheap it’s been compared to he service I’ve previously gotten from more expensive airlines.
The RV scoop
I went into this trip only knowing what National Lampoon’s movies have taught me about RVs so there was much to learn. There are classes and axles and floor plans, and I should have figured that my dad has pretty much the most gigantic one you could get. I mean, it IS his HOUSE. So, our home on wheels for 14 days was roughly the size of a city bus, but Josh claims that driving it was “a breeze.” I don’t know. He was a great driver, but I was nervous that we were going to side-swipe someone or clip a bridge the whole time. You have to take every turn super wide and you pretty much just have to go slow. I don’t plan on driving one anytime soon, but Josh loved it and he made it look easy.
Since I had never been inside an RV before and really didn’t know what to expect, I was super impressed by how much room popping out the sides created. (Day one…silly me). And, it has everything you need to live – unless, like me, you need actual space. Details, really.
While you’re driving, all of the sides are tucked in (there are probably technical terms for these things, but I have no idea) and passengers, although they should remain buckled whenever seated, can use the bathroom, make lunch, take a nap in the PRIVATE BEDROOM (I mean.) and probably even take a shower, but that would be one bumpy shower.
I am now convinced that there is no other way to travel with children. Our trip from Point Sebago back down to New Jersey was much longer than we anticipated due to driving an RV through the Bronx and such, but it was so much more bearable because the kids were comfortable. It was even better before the TV incident.
Once you get to your campsite, you literally just drive right onto it and start plugging in all sorts of stuff. Josh took care of all of the hook ups, which is really important because that’s where you get water and electricity and what takes care of all the bathroom stuff. So, you see, VERY important. Then, you extend your sides and watch your living space increase right before your eyes. It seems so big until you add five kids. Anyway, here are the amenities that impressed me:
- Room to easily sleep seven people (if a few of them are on the small-ish side): In addition to the queen-sized bed in the private bedroom, the dining table area turns into a bed that sleeps two small people, one of the couches folds out into a bed that easily sleeps two people and there is another couch that sleeps one small person.
- Kitchen: So, there’s no dishwasher, garbage disposal or stove, BUT there really is everything you need to make all of your meals pretty easily, which was key for keeping this trip affordable. Many seasoned “campers” stow a grill in the “basement,” which would definitely come in handy if you’re not at a site with access to grills. Otherwise, a decent sized fridge, freezer, stove top, microwave, sink and a Keurig easily got us through 14 days. Next time, I’ll bring a crock pot too.
- Porch: Once the sides are extended, you can extend the “porch,” which is an awning that extends about 12’ or so over the side of the RV. It’s great for adding some extra living space outside.
- Stowing: There are lots of storage compartments along the bottom of the RV that RVers call the “basement.” There is plenty of room for a grill, cases of bottled water, camping chairs, cleaning supplies, extra clothes, luggage, etc. I think it actually stores more than the crawl space under my house so it’s nice to know that you really can take a lot of extra stuff without sacrificing living space.
- Bring a bike: Because we didn’t tow a car, we were kind of committed to staying in one place while parked at the campsite. Hopping in the RV for a quick trip to get ice isn’t really an option. We brought my dad’s bike, which came in handy when we desperately needed to do some laundry and the facilities were farther away than we wanted to keep walking back and forth to.
So there you have it. The good, the bad and the crowded. What would we do differently?
- We’d definitely tow a car to make it easier to scoot about once the RV is parked.
- Map our routes BEFORE getting on the road. Plugging an address into your phone doesn’t work for RV’s because Siri could give a rat’s behind about your vehicle’s height and weight. Many RVers use designated “Truck Routes” maps which give you routes suitable for your size. There’s gotta be an app for this, but we weren’t able to find one.
- Assign responsibilities. Since we were on vacation and none of us knew what to expect, we didn’t go in with too many guidelines, but we were still all living, eating, sleeping and making a mess together in one place – not that much like home. A lot of the time, I felt like I was the only one working to keep any sort of order, which combined with my need for at least 12″ of personal space being grossly abused, made for an anxious mama. Next time, we will all contribute more equally (and probably hold at least one family meeting) so our family harmony can stay a little more intact.
- Pre-game the trip with an “expectations” talk. We learned that our normally rather self sufficient, problem solving kids lose their minds a bit when taken out of their natural habitat. They couldn’t seem to find ANYTHING and task like getting their own water or putting snack wrappers in the trash became impossible and required a great deal of whining. Heading into all vacations/trips from here on out, we will begin with a talk about how whining helps NO ONE and that we really can do hard things…like digging your pajamas out of a plastic bag and finding your shoes.
I don’t know WHY we couldn’t find anything…
Thanks for reading. Would love to hear more tips from any other folks who’ve done the whole RV thing! Also, if you’re interested in learning strategies to help you reduce stress and organize your mess, sign up for our newsletter and get our free guide.