Every year, our family likes to get outdoors and take advantage of the Minnesota summers. Some years are different than others. This summer was one such year.
Disclosure: We received a weekend rental of a Jayco Redhawk 31 from Hilltop Camper and RV in order to share our opinion about renting and using an RV, but this isn’t a sponsored post.
Our family is a camping family. This still kind of shocks me because I’m not exactly a camping mama, but I have always wanted my kids to experience the joys–and trials–of camping.
And when I say trials, I mean trials. We have been through a lot of trials–mostly in the form of rain. We have experienced so much rain that we may have ruined one of our daughters’ love of camping forever. And another friend’s daughter is more afraid of rain than of thunder.
We are tent campers. Anne’s family uses a small camper, and Joy’s family goes camping with their VW van/camper. But none of us are gigantic-sized RV campers. My family is a tent camping family mostly for the fact that it’s the most cost effective mode of camping. Even if you add up the ever-increasing amount of supplies it takes for us to camp as a family of six, tent camping is still the most budget-friendly way of camping.
However, because of the insane number of times we have been miserable due to rain (and/or cold weather–though the cold isn’t bad if it’s dry), we have seriously considered a camper on more than one occasion. In fact, during this most recent adventure, we pulled out our phones and started planning when and how we would buy one.
Staying dry was above all my favorite part of this experience. Case in point:
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.
This spring, we were contacted by Ryan Cunningham of Beyond the Tent, a website run by a local dad whose mission is to “get families, singles, anyone and everyone outdoors and enjoying the world of camping!” He and Hilltop Camper and RV were working together to spread this mission and that included working with FFTC. We were pumped to be contacted and my husband was super excited to try it out.
I reached out and said, “We have a family of six and we need a camper that can comfortably fit that many.”
That was not a problem. They fit us with a Jayco Redhawk XL31 that is designed for up to eight inhabitants.
It was an experience to say the least. We loved it so much for all the amenities. The bathroom, air conditioning, and storage were fantastic. But the fact we were off the ground and dry topped it all.
The toughest part for us was knowing how to pack an RV with our supplies. You wouldn’t think it was that difficult, but honestly, we had no idea.
We were blown away by the enormity of the amount of storage space with all the closets, cupboards and outside compartments. For our typical tent camping, we store things in plastic bins and our cooking box. That system wasn’t going to work nicely in the camper. So there was some adjustment to be sure.
The Benefits of Renting an RV
Until this summer, I wasn’t even sure you could rent a camper. I thought it sounded like something incredibly fun to do, but I didn’t know if renting an RV actually existed. Let me assure you that it does, and it’s really an exciting way to do a family vacation. In fact, think it as AirBnB on wheels. Just google “renting an RV” in whatever state you want, and you will find it’s everywhere. I checked in Utah and Minnesota, and you have options in those states. So more than likely, you have options everywhere.
Renting an RV makes it possible for everyone to go camping in a camper without the financial investment. An RV is a tiny house on wheels, so essentially you are renting a mobile cabin and not owning one.
Renting an RV relieves you of the burden of maintaining it. When you are using it, you need to take care of it, but once you return it, it’s no longer your concern.
Renting an RV is a cost-effective way to take a vacation with a big family. And with the self-contained amenities from home, you save not only with the cost of lodging but also with the cost of eating out. Make all your own meals and the camper’s rental fees will be a wash in the end.
Tips for Renting an RV
For those of you who have ever considered even ever so briefly the idea of camping in an RV, let me give you some tips. Especially for those of you who are seasoned tent campers like us.
- Ask lots of questions at the rental office when you first reserve your unit and when you pick up your unit. Make sure you know where the instruction book is, and if you get desperate, you can always download the owner’s manual onto your phone. However, the rental agreement will have most of your answers, but don’t be afraid to ask questions. It will actually make the renting company feel more at ease because you are engaging with them about their units. Some questions to consider.
- How far can I take the unit?
- Who can drive it?
- What time does it need to be returned and is there a late fee?
- What happens if there is an accident?
- How can I make sure my auto insurance will cover this? Or do you offer some kind of coverage?
- Are there fees and what do they cover?
- How do you use this hose, that propane tank, the TV, the range, etc?
- Take your time when you pick it up. Don’t be in a hurry. You will need to sign papers, and look for damage. And learn how to use the unit. Doug from Hilltop was amazing at walking us through all the basics and then some. At times, we were really lost, but we knew the instruction binder would have all the answers we needed and that we would remember what he said when we read those directions.
- Bring cleaning supplies and a regular-sized broom. The camper needs to be clean when you return it. The easiest way to keep it clean is to take time every day to wipe it down, sweep it out, and tidy up. And it’s so much easier to do that if you use some regular-sized cleaning supplies. We used our tent broom. Our tent broom does not have a handle which made sweeping the RV floor pretty uncomfortable.
- Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to clean before returning it. Do not return it the last day of your vacation. Come home a day before the unit is due to be returned. That will give you the time to clean it and look through all the cupboards, drawers, shelves, and closets. Even though we were gone for just a weekend, it still took two of us an hour to clean it. Inside and out!
- Pick a place where you can park it and leave it. Our family went to Kamp Dels because we wanted to try something different than we have ever done before. We also knew that we needed a place where we could set the camper and be done and not think of driving it anywhere. Lots of RV owners tow a car behind them so that they too can park it and forget it. Even the smaller RVs are pretty big. You are driving around a house, and while it’s convenient, it’s not always easy. So pick a place you can go where you can stay put.
- Try to find a pull-through campsite if you don’t want to back into a site. As we approached the campground, my husband murmured aloud, “I hope that our site is a pull through.” I didn’t tell him that I was pretty sure it wasn’t. Driving a vehicle that big is a lot of work and he still had work to do. I didn’t need to discourage him in any way. When you make your reservation with the campground, ask about pull through sites. That way you don’t need to back into your space. However, I will say that the pull through sites tend to generally be in the center of the campground without a scenic view. If a good view is important to you, then you can disregard this suggestion.
- Bring food already semi-prepared. While you do have a kitchen with running water and electricity, counter space is at a minimum. Camping is not the time to cook seven-course meals, unless you bring your food semi-ready. We brown hamburger, mix our salad greens, cook our chicken, chop our onions, and do as much prep work as we can before we go tent-camping. The same is pretty much true for RV camping. If you are spending all your time making meals, you won’t have a chance to enjoy time with your family. And while the RV kitchen is amazingly fantastic, I don’t think you will want to spend your whole vacation inside while your family is playing outside.
- Bring games to play, books to read, and toys. Even in the short weekend we were gone, I made sure our kids grabbed some books, and I packed some games. At the last minute, Chris grabbed his cribbage board and we had the privilege of teaching our oldest son how to play cribbage. Poor guy, all he wanted was to not get skunked. And he did great, but he was two points shy of passing the skunk-line. Even though we had games and books, I should have encouraged them to bring a few toys to play with too.
- Bring sleeping bags, sheets, and throw blankets. We brought along a sleeping bag for each member of the family to use. But when it came time to make our bed, there was something about a bare mattress that didn’t sit well with me. I was glad that I grabbed some sheets and our camping blankets to use. It was super easy to open the sleeping bags to use as our barrier like a bottom sheet. Then, I gave everyone a sheet and/or a blanket. That way, we didn’t get too hot by crawling into our sleeping bags, but we had something to cover us if we got too chilly with the air conditioner running. The girls, who were in the twin bunk beds, used their sleeping bags like normal, but those of us who were on a double mattresses spread out a little more.
- Don’t freak out when the water from the tap is warm when it’s supposed to be cold. The first couple of tries in filling our water bottles were interesting. I wouldn’t say we panicked, but it was weird to turn on the cold water and experience lukewarm water. Later, after the sun set and we got cold water faster, I realized it was because the RV was hooked up to a hose. Like a garden hose laying out in the lawn, the water inside the tube heats up under the sun. Nothing is wrong with the sink or the RV. You just need to give it a bit before the cold water is available.
- Take advantage of everything renting an RV has to offer. From the bathroom to the beds, the air conditioner to the sinks with running water, it’s fun. Don’t feel guilty that you are doing something wrong by enjoying it. (I’m really saying this to my fellow tent campers because sometimes we feel like we need to preserve the ‘true’ way of camping.)
Adjusting to Camping in an RV
Like I mentioned above, we are usually tent campers. That’s not to say we rough it. Oh, no. Not at all. When we camp, we build an entire fortress with our supplies. We set up three shelters: one tent for mom and dad, one tent for the kids, and one canopy for cooking/eating over the picnic table. We invested in cots for everyone to get us up off the ground. And we have an awesome camping box full of our kitchen supplies. Chris grew up with this portable-type kitchen and it’s super nifty. We love it. And I realized after our #weekendrvadventure, how much I really do love it.
So needless to say, we adjusted, but it wasn’t necessarily seamless.
Using the Toilet
My first hiccup came after I used the bathroom for the first time. When I was done using the toilet, I couldn’t figure out how to flush. The picture instructions were on the toilet lid, but they didn’t make sense to me. So I closed the lid and washed my hands.
What was I missing? I knew it flushed, but there was no handle. There wasn’t even a toilet back or a tank. How did this work?
“Hey! How do I flush the toilet!?” I yelled from behind the closed door. I knew that if I left the bathroom, I would completely forget my predicament and someone else would have to take care of me. Which isn’t always a bad thing. Except when you think you are a capable adult and should be able to flush a toilet, for goodness sake.
“There’s a foot pedal on the front,” Chris called back to me.
I looked down, and sure enough there was. And now the pictures on the toilet lid made so much more sense.
Toilet flushed. Crisis averted.
Bring Your Food
This camping trip, I shouldered the entire meal planning and prep responsibility. This isn’t a huge deal usually. We don’t deviate from our regular meals too often and the prep work can be kind of fun. However, when only one person makes the plan, only one person knows what we need to bring to be able to have actual meals. And when that one person doesn’t look at her list of refrigerator items one last time. Things get missed.
Like all the breakfast food.
We had no eggs and no yogurt.
Basically we had granola, but not enough granola for two full breakfasts for six people–two of whom are teenagers and two of whom are growing boys! Not to mention the two adults.
So there’s that.
We also had the same lunches both days which included things we don’t normally have at home. Like fun-size chips bags and lots of watermelon. Of course we had sandwiches and carrots, but the chips and abundant supply of watermelon made lunch fun even though it was the same both times.
We couldn’t figure out how to utilize the freezer until my husband saw a kid riding around on his bike with a bright blue freezie. On those hot days, freezies would be perfect.
And something you can’t bring with you if you are tenting it.
This is one thing that we collectively loved was the air conditioned sanctuary. It was nice to escape from the sun and the heat. However, if you aren’t careful, you could stay inside the RV for your whole camping experience. And that isn’t the reason to go camping.
Build a fire in the fire ring and make s’mores. Pack your hotdog sticks and pie irons to cook something over that fire: hot dogs, pudgy pies, dough boys. Roll out the awning and bring your camp chairs. Grab a book for storytime together. You will have plenty of space under the awning for your family. Bring a frisbee and/or soccer ball. And then, when you get too hot, grab some freezies from the freezer and some water from the sink and cool off.
Upkeep of the RV
The upkeep for an RV is very different from the upkeep of a tent. This is the biggest difference between RV camping and tent camping. With a tent, you need to pack it when it’s dry. If you have to tear down in the rain, you need to set it back up to dry when you get home. I used to think this was a terribly annoying task. With an RV, the one terribly annoying task isn’t actually annoying so much as disgusting. Absolutely disgusting. But necessary. Every couple of days or so, you will need to empty the black and gray tanks. The black tank is the holding tank for the toilet, and the gray tank is the holding tank for the sinks/shower.
When I say holding tank, I mean the storage of the human waste and used water. There is also fresh water tank for you to use when traveling. But we didn’t. We just hooked up to the city water when we got to our site.
Empty these tanks, black and gray, at either a dump station or in the sewer drain at your site if you have reserved a full hook-up. It’s important to keep an eye on their levels so that you don’t let the tanks get too full and create chaos!
Here’s a tip I found on Campanda Magazine.
A general rule of thumb is to wait until your tanks are about two-thirds full before emptying them. It creates a much better “flow” when dumping, making the process much more efficient.
It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. And if we can do it, then anyone can do it.
Is Renting An RV for everyone?
Because most of our friends know that we are huge tent campers, we were asked about our RV weekend often. I always giggle first when answering the question, “How was your RV weekend?” We drove through the Twin Cities in a house on wheels! But it was so much fun! If you have never tried an RV before, I recommend it. Even for those who are dead-set against camping in anything but a tent. Renting an RV makes it possible to try it out, experience it with the whole family, and learn how to do it! Then, you can ask yourself the question, “Is renting an RV something I would do again?”
For us, the answer is a resounding yes!
Looking for a fantastic camping site?
You can check out our guide to camping in the state parks near the Twin Cities. Click on the image below.
Or visit Beyond the Tent for 41 of the Best Place to go Camping in Minnesota.