Road trip: If you rent a family an RV, they're going to buy one and go to SoCal

Laurie Toupin and her family rented an RV last year. Now, after going through RV withdrawals, they've purchased their own and are setting out for the West Coast. 

Tracie Cone/AP Photo/File
The view from Beetle Rock in Sequoia National Park, Calif., which has roads too narrow for the Toupin's new RV.

Never rent a recreational vehicle if you don’t want to buy one.

Last year, my husband planned a mystery day for the kids and I. After a scavenger hunt at several shops and restaurants, we followed the clues and ended at an RV rental store. The next day, we loaded it up and traveled from our home in New Hampshire to Pennsylvania for a family reunion, then on to Niagara Falls. 

After that trip, our three children never wanted to see our little popup again. They had been forever spoiled. In had my husband and I. I loved the freedom and independence of traveling with our home. (Turtles have it made!) We could go anywhere, anytime. 

So we bought an RV. The first time I sat behind the wheel, a long forgotten feeling of wanderlust resurfaced.

Almost immediately, I began planning (and preparing the kids) for a cross-country trip.  

I wanted this trip to be totally random and let the spirit move us as it would. But in order to ease the grandparents’ worry, the kids’ need for structure, and the logistics of arranging a time and place to meet my husband, some planning had to be done.  

The kids came up with their own method. A large United States map hangs in our kitchen. Using their Nerf guns with suction cup-tipped ammunition, they shot at the map and kept tallies of the states they hit. It was simple – we'd visit the states our sharpshooters hit the most. My husband and I decided to intervene when Hawaii and Alaska tied for first.

We decided to start off at the Peach family reunion in western Pennsylvania.

After that, each child was allowed to pick one (reasonable) destination. Being a Lego lover since Kindergarten, Maria, 11, wanted to visit Legoland near San Diego. Colie, 9, chose Hollywood – she acted in her first play this past fall. Jacob, 5, wanted to see any place with toys, so Disney. This all meant one place – southern California. Heck, if you are road tripping in America, one might as well drive all the way. 

Second step: how do we get there? There are four interstates that connect the east coast with the west:

I-90 travels 3,020.54 miles from Boston to Seattle.

I-80 travels 2,899.54 miles from Teaneck, N.J., to San Francisco.

I-40 travels 2,555.40 from Wilmington, N.C., to Barstow, Calif.

I-10 travels 2,460.34 miles from Jacksonville, Fla., to Los Angeles, Calif.  

The fifth major highway, I-70, crosses the central US, starting in Baltimore and ending in Cove Fort, Utah. 

After many wonderful suggestions from friends and family, we decide to follow I-70 to St. Louis, then veer south on I-40 through New Mexico and Arizona until, finally, into California.

We chose this route because of my son. The girls love to say that we “got Jacob from a Pizza shop in Phoenix.” Although only five, Jacob is proud of where he was adopted and wants to see it for himself.    

Using Google maps, we plotted a course that has us traveling no more than five hours per day.  

Next, we reserved a few campsites, which demanded some logistical aerobics.  

For example, our 28-foot, Class C RV is not allowed on certain roads in Sequoia National Park. The road system was built in 1946 when vehicles were much smaller.

One has to pay extra for a campsite with a tree and a tiny plot of artificial turf at the local Kampgrounds of America (KOA) in Las Vegas. At almost $90 per night, we will likely skip these luxuries.

And many campsites in Arizona and New Mexico are not accepting reservations because they had too dry of a spring.  

The kids can’t wait. Maria has been packed for months, Colie plans to wing it the day before, and Jacob is counting on Mommy for everything he needs, especially his “white blankie” and knights.  

Now, with just a few days to go, I go over our check list:   

Campground app – check

Trip Tik – check

Tire pressure (especially important when driving an RV in hot areas) – check

Extra water – check

Road games, books, movies for the kids – check, check, check 

We are as ready as we can be.  

Our tentative itinerary, from Brookline, N.H., to San Diego and back spans 7,109 miles. Without stopping, this will take us 111 hours and 4 minutes. With our planned stops, we will be gone six weeks.  

Here’s to learning about our wonderful country. Here’s to family vacations. Here’s to adventure. 

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