Road Trip Tips for Newbies

By Breeda Miller

Last year we did something spontaneous and exciting, because… CoVid. Jim and I purchased a slightly used campervan. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever owned. Sort of a modern version of the old VW van with a pop-up top. Full disclosure, I have never been a fan of camping, in fact, I was an anti-camper. But this little four-wheeled CoVid bubble on wheels with its elegant design and creature comforts changed my mind entirely.

Our little home on wheels, “Clifford”.

We have taken a few trips, mostly for three or four days. Recently we decided to head south to find a bit of warmth and see some sights. We planned for five or six days and set our GPS for North Carolina with our first stop in Kentucky. We live in Michigan. We have the good fortune of having adult children who stay at our home and take care of our four-leggeds while we are gone.

Jim and Breeda out on a little hike.

So. I am now a “camper”. A newbie for sure but I have learned a few tips and felt compelled to share them with you.

Tip # 1. While on the road, try to avoid scary podcasts. On our way through the Appalachian Mountains, in the dead of winter, we listened to a variety of True Crime Podcasts. My husband is a fan. Tales of murder, dismemberment, buried bodies, and sociopaths. Great fun! The big one was called The Donut Shop Murders. So, we of course had to find small local donut shops on our route. It was late February and most campgrounds were pretty vacant. Quiet, but a little creepy. I drew the line at the Campsite Murders podcast. I have my limits.

Not crime scene, just a nice donut shop.

Tip #2. Take less than you think you’ll need. Unless you are traveling in remote locations without access to a convenience store (they have everything), leave it at home. Living for six days in a campervan without the ability to cook outside (it was below 30 degrees) meant it was pretty crowded. I like to cook on our flat top griddle outside, but juggling raw food, pans, bowls, beverages and not using the running water (frozen pipes are not good) made cooking a challenge.

A deserted campground. It was quiet but a little creepy.

Tip #3. Get comfy. The pull-out bed in our campervan is pretty cool. It converts from a bench (with seatbelts!) to a full-size bed pretty easily. It is not meant for old bones, however. We bought a thinnish foam mattress topper last year to help make it more comfortable and easy to roll up. It was not sufficient. We indulged in a 3-inch gel-filled foam mattress topper and this was our maiden voyage. When we left Michigan it was 4 degrees and due to the gel inside the mattress topper, it was frozen solid. Like a big flat 3 inch rock. Hard. Solid. We had a long drive and the heat in the van would soften the new mattress (we hoped). We arrived at our first overnight destination and the foam had defrosted, the heater was working and the down comforter did its job.
A warm and comfy bed.

Tip #4.
Make a general plan, don’t overschedule. We had just two goals for this trip. We wanted to see the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina and we wanted to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Atlanta. Anything else would be a game-day decision based on weather and how much energy we had after driving all day. In addition to fulfilling these two objectives, we went to wine tasting, saw a live Motown Concert in Atlanta with the Four Tops and the Temptations, and toured the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. We also sampled some Cincinnati chili (we had the five-way version noodles, chili, beans, cheese and onion). Cincinnati Chili is not good road food, ‘nuff said. The weather was pleasant and a 50-degree day in February felt like a heat wave. Layers are our friends.
Happiness is a Journey, not a destination sign

Tip #5.
Travel with a Gumby mindset. Be flexible. By the end of the trip, I decided I needed to have food that was quick and easy for our final dinner in the van. A quick trip to Publix landed us with a nice salad and two frozen entrees that would be ready in a few minutes in our little microwave. Done. Flexibility means lots of things. It means enjoying a movie on a DVD player inside the warm van instead of sitting around a crackling campfire because it is 22 degrees outside. I had hoped to tour the city of Asheville after our day at the Biltmore Estate, but we were just too tuckered out, so we didn’t. We decided to pace ourselves and not try to do everything, there will be more journeys.
Breeds Barn at the National Horse Park in Kentucky.

Road trips can be great adventures filled with fun experiences and opportunities to learn. They can also be stressful and overwhelming. It’s all about your mindset and your expectations. Keep your mind and your heart open and don’t try to do too much. Be agreeable whenever possible and get good sleep. And don’t listen to True Crime podcasts about Campsite Murders.

Happy Trails!

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