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RV-ing with a frum family

I was sitting at my desk at work one evening in June 2020 when my husband called me with an unexpected question. I was working as a nurse practitioner in the ICU during the height of covid, and a vacation was the last thing on my mind.

“If we were able to arrange an RV trip in 2 weeks, would you be able to take off? I found a great RV deal.” We’d been dreaming of doing an RV trip for years, but finding a way to make it affordable, and finding time when everyone in the family was off, had prevented us from doing so in the past.

I was lucky to be working for an incredibly supportive boss who realized that by giving her staff the time off they needed even in the middle of a pandemic, she was ultimately investing in better staff morale and productivity. And that is how I found myself, with 2 week’s notice, planning an RV trip for a frum family of 7.

Renting an RV can be really expensive. Larger RVs that will fit a frum family can cost upward of $2000 a week. However, sometimes the RV companies need to get their vehicles from one location to another, or from the factory to their main cities, and in these cases they will post flash deals where you can rent an RV for less than the cost of a rental car! Of course, this means you won’t have months to plan and you will be limited in terms of which cities to start and end in, but for a frum family trying to take an RV trip on a budget, this might be the only way to make it happen. Depending on the deal, you may also get a certain number of free daily miles and other packages. Keep in mind that these deals will usually be “one way” deals (but without the “one way” fee usually attached to such trips) and you will need to book flights for one direction of the trip. If you’ll be moving the RV from the factory to a distribution city, the RV will probably be absolutely new, in which case the kitchen will be unused! So your kitchen will be kosher without any intervention. Look for “new vehicle special”.

We had found a class C motorhome that could fit our family of 7 (2 adults, 3 older kids, 2 younger kids) that needed to be brought from Las Vegas to Los Angeles within a 1 month window. Since my parents live in Los Angeles, we figured this could be a great opportunity to combine a 2 week vacation out West with the then-mandated 14 day quarantine period after flying, and then visit my family at the end of our vacation/quarantine.

Although we’d traveled out West with our family in the past, having an RV definitely changed the logistical dynamics. You unpack once on the first day, and you can eliminate the pack/unpack process every time you change locations. The cooking and food options are completely changed. No more packing up a day's worth of food and snacks... you can have ice pops available immediately when you get to the parking lot after a hike, and you can have a hot lunch in middle of your travels. Making up some of the beds every night and morning can be a bit of a drag, but with just a big of practice and some nagging, it was not a major impediment at all.

When a frum family rents an RV in their home city, they have the benefit of being able to drive the RV to their home, kasher the kitchen and then stock it straight from their home stash and freezer. Since we were flying into Las Vegas to pick up our RV, we had to be creative. A few days before our trip, we went online to the Walmart Supercenter nearest our RV rental, and we made a huge “for pickup” order. We bought all the basics we needed to stock a home for a week; oil, condiments, dry goods, canned fruits and vegis, tuna, dishsoap and sponges, paper goods and foil, toiletries, plus all the fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy and eggs we’d need for a first week, as well as extras like ice cream. We added a portable outdoor grill and an inexpensive set of pots and pans to our order… it was cheaper to buy these from Walmart than to pay for extra luggage. This way, all we needed to bring from home were frozen meats/dairy, and a few utensils. We also could have stopped at the kosher stores in Las Vegas to purchase our kosher meat and dairy products, but we were in a hurry to get our trip started and did not want to make even one extra stop. One day into our trip, we had the excitement of toiveling our new pots and pans in a river!

Before renting an RV, make sure to watch videos from the company to learn special techniques you might need for driving, and most importantly, to learn how to “hook up” when you’re parked in a full-service RV site. You’ll learn how to hook up your electricity, your fresh water and waste tanks, so that you can be filled/emptied up for your next day of travel. It turns out not to be that difficult and I had one teenage son who took responsibility (together with my husband, of course) for hooking us up at every RV site!

One last thing to do before we go… we had to book RV sites. When you travel with an RV, there are a few different types of places you can stay overnight. Typically, you’d look into RV sites and campgrounds in the areas you’ll be traveling, and you should book an RV site in advance. If you are traveling in the summer or on holiday weekends, RV sites are likely to get booked up in advance, especially if you are visiting some really popular national parks! There are a range of amenities that you’ll find at different RV sites. While all will have hook-ups for your electric, water and waste needs, some sites have benches and firepits at each site, shower facilities, laundry facilities, playgrounds, stores and more. There is another option for parking your RV, which may be relevant for occasional nights here and there. Boondocking is when you park your RV in a location without any hookups or amenities. You can’t just boondock anywhere though, you’ll have to research about where you are allowed to stay overnight and where it would be safe to do so. Many Walmart parking lots allow RVs to boondock overnight. Boondocking will save you money, but can also be used if there are no available RV sites in your anticipated region or if you need the flexibility to be in a certain area. Bear in mind that you won't be able to refill your fresh water, eliminate your waste tank or recharge your electricity.

Although it's important to plan your route and destinations in advance, one of the benefits of traveling in an RV is the flexibility... You see something off the side of the road and want to check it out? Why not? Your bathroom, kitchen and bedrooms are all there along with you. Your toddler needs a nap? One adult stays with the sleeping kid in the RV while the others go hiking (Mommy doesn't mind some quiet time with a book...). It starts to rain while you're visiting a historical site? Not a problem, just go back to your RV, put up a pot of noodles, eat lunch and play cards until the rain abates and you continue your trip.

RV-ing is not a panacea. The kids fought. The toddler's sleeping schedule got messed up in a bad way. You have to do dishes on your vacation. But it was an incredible experience for our family, one we'd do again in a heartbeat. You can shower after a hike, and enjoy a tub of ice cream after a hot day. No need to desperately find a rest-stop because your bathroom is 5 feet away. Imagine calculating t'chum Shabbos to make sure you can walk to Mono Lake from your campsite, or stopping at the side of the road while the kids are asleep and staring at the blackest of skies. Visiting Butch Cassidy's home, just because you noticed it at the side of the road, and davening towards majestic vistas, because the world is your backyard. Driving through Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and California, all in the same "home". It may not be right for all frum families, but for us, it was perfect.

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