How I went from a backpacker to an RV camper

As my family and I traversed the rows of recreational vehicles at the recent Chicago Boat, Sports, & RV Show, I began wondering, “What has happened to me?!” It’s a question that’s been running through my head since then, as The Working Dad and I scour the internet for used and/or affordable RVs. “How did I go from being an independent, backpacker-type traveler to being an RV camper? I don’t even know who I am!”

Camping on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Camping on Mt. Kilimanjaro

I’m all for camping. I mean, I love it. And normally when I talk about camping, I mean tent camping. Back when I was a cool hiker and backpacker, working in Yellowstone National Park and frolicking in the mountains of Montana, I was known to curl my lip and sneer at the electricity-sucking, loud-motor-running RVs at the campgrounds. I would curse up and down if I were to ever get stuck behind a slow-moving camper trying to make its way up and around the climbing, snaking roads of the American West.

And now, guess what? I’m voluntarily trading in my half-dome backpacking tent for a 4,000-pound, pop-up RV camper.

pop-up camper

Pop-up camper similar to ours | Credit

What has happened to me?

I’ll tell you: I’m all about comfort in my old age. The last few times The Working Dad and I were tent camping, we both slept poorly and woke in the mornings riddled with aches and pains. RVs have beds, with real mattresses! We’ve yet to take our daughter tent camping but I cannot even imagine having to crawl out of the tent in the middle of the night to walk to the campground restroom because my cranky toddler has to pee. RVs have bathrooms with toilets AND showers! But most of all, my little family and I really do love to travel and we want to see as much of the USA and Canada as possible. We have always been budget travelers but having a veritable home-on-wheels will allow us to save on airfare, hotels, and food. We can cook our own meals! Yes, we’ll need more time to drive to our destinations, but luckily The Working Dad and I are blessed with generous vacation time.

And what about the cost of the RV and then gas for these trips? I know that’s what some of you are thinking. Our answers: We’re not looking for a brand new camper, or one of those million-dollar, rock-star tour bus behemoths. Instead, we’ve been shopping around for a used pop-up in relatively good shape (everything we’ve looked at is well under $10,000). The typical pop-up camper features enough space for our family (including a grandparent or three) and is light enough for our standard SUV. We wouldn’t need to also buy a monster truck to haul it. As for the price of gas… campsites, even with electric hook-ups, are half the price of standard hotel rooms. The money we’d spend on hotels will be re-allotted for gas expenses. It’s a fair trade-off for us because, as we see it, traveling with children and having the comforts of home while on the road is invaluable.

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24 Responses to How I went from a backpacker to an RV camper

  1. Kieu ~ GQ trippin January 23, 2013 at 3:03 am #

    I’m with you on the comfort. I never understood the whole tent thing. I never get a good nights sleep. LOL. What a cute little camper!
    Kieu ~ GQ trippin recently posted…I’m 30!!My Profile

    • Francesca January 23, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

      Thanks for having my back, Q! The camper pictured belongs to friends of ours. They let us use it any time we like, but now we want one of our own!

  2. The World Wanderer January 24, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    I actually have just fallen in love with tent camping, but I hardly got a good night sleep my whole time in Africa. I’m all for the camper! You have room in there for me? 😉
    The World Wanderer recently posted…Feeling Tiny at the Colossi of Memnon.My Profile

    • Francesca February 6, 2013 at 5:46 am #

      Of course there’s room for you, Erin!

  3. D.J. - The World of Deej January 25, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    Yeah…pretty sure I’d never survive in a tent, so don’t feel bad:)
    D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted…The Airbus A380 on Approach to Miami – Pic of the WeekMy Profile

    • Francesca February 10, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

      Thanks to your & everyone else’s support, I’m not feeling so badly anymore 😉

  4. thelazytravelers January 25, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    hmm, we think we can get behind the idea of this travel-via-RV idea. proper beds AND plenty of room for clothes. we like.
    thelazytravelers recently posted…laws to travel by- #32My Profile

    • Francesca February 10, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

      ….and a proper beer fridge.

  5. Leah January 28, 2013 at 8:22 am #

    I’m so not either of these, but I love that you are. I can vicariously camp through you without actually doing it. 😉
    Leah recently posted…My Four Must-Dos Prior to International TravelMy Profile

    • Francesca February 10, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

      Welcome aboard, Leah. Enjoy the ride! 🙂

  6. Pola (@jettingaround) January 29, 2013 at 2:37 am #

    When I saw you last, you mentioned your love for national parks. Now I know why! 🙂

    This posts brought back memories of me, Mr. JA and my parents driving around Europe and camping. In our case, that meant both a small RV and a tent – the best of both worlds. Now I would probably opt for something comfier than a tent, and my back is why.

    Happy RV-ing! Don’t feel bad. 🙂
    Pola (@jettingaround) recently posted…Photo of the Week: Golden Gate Bridge & Crissy FieldMy Profile

    • Francesca February 10, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

      Exactly, Pola: one of the reasons I’m leaning more towards the RV idea of camping is so we can drive to places like our National Parks where campsites are more affordable than hotel rooms. Then we’d be able to stay longer.

  7. Raul (@ilivetotravel in Twitter) January 29, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    I am tenting it for the first time in my upcoming trip to Kilimanjaro – not necessarily thrilled but Kili is worth it. I take issue with you saying your “old age”. Where does that leave me??? 🙂
    Raul (@ilivetotravel in Twitter) recently posted…Photo Essay: Bucharest, RomaniaMy Profile

    • Francesca February 10, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

      I still can’t believe your first tent-camping experience is going to be on Kilimanjaro……..

  8. Tawny of Captain and Clark February 4, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    Don’t you worry. I’ve slowly made the transition too. I am leaning more on the side of comfort these days and I’m not even mad about it!
    Tawny of Captain and Clark recently posted…Experiencing Life in an Indian Slum.My Profile

    • Francesca February 10, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

      I’m glad you all are so understanding!

  9. Craig Zabransky February 6, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    good for you, there is a growing GLamping (glamorous camping) industry these days too … I am not afraid to admit I am a fan.

    stay adventurous y stay a little luxurious too, Craig
    Craig Zabransky recently posted…Sunset Sunday – A Stop for a Holiday In(n) MazatlanMy Profile

    • Francesca February 10, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

      I gotta admit, Craig, I’m warming up a bit more to the idea of glamping, too. Best of both worlds, if you ask me: nature and luxury. I’m all for it!

  10. Mary {The World Is A Book} February 11, 2013 at 1:41 am #

    I’ve always admired people who can do the whole camping thing but like the idea of an RV camper. My husband has always wanted to go cross country in an RV. We love the National Parks and how cool that you worked at Yellowstone at one time. Good luck with your travels.
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted…Five Fun and Free Things to do in Tampa with KidsMy Profile

    • Francesca February 28, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

      Thanks, Mary! Working in Yellowstone tops the list of best experiences of my life. That’s why I love National Parks, too, and I think driving park to park in an RV is the way to go!

  11. Yuna April 15, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    I definitely agree. It’s a fair trade-off if you can find a really good travel trailer or camper that is not too expensive, rather than spend most of the money on hotels everytime the entire family goes on a trip. These days, we can find used RVs and travel trailers that are in great shape, some even in like-new condition, for 30 to 50% less than retail. These awesome deals can usually be found among owners facing RV foreclosure, or from RV and travel trailer auctions.

    • Francesca April 17, 2013 at 11:30 am #

      Excellent. Thanks for the info and for stopping by, Yuna!

  12. Anne B May 16, 2017 at 1:41 pm #

    I was a reluctant RV convert (“try it and if we don’t like it, we can just sell the RV”), but now love it. State parks are great – most have electric and water, at least around here – and they’re much cheaper than a hotel. Many of them run under $30 a night. Plus we can bring our cat with us!

    We’re now also planning our second trip to Yellowstone in the RV. We love national parks, too – so far Gulf Islands NS, Wind Cave NP, Yellowstone NP and Grand Teton NP.

  13. Amy June 20, 2017 at 8:36 pm #

    We went tent camping exactly twice right before we had kids. When we started camping with them, the girls were potty training and Jacob was sleeping in a pack n play…no way was I potty training in a tent. We’ve never looked back. We are taking our camper to MN for a week this summer to camp on Lake Superior. We don’t rough it, that’s for sure?

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