Buying a camper trailer is a big thing for many families, and it can open a whole world of fun. We bought an rv / camping trailer to move across the country and it was an adventure. Crazy actually, but great in the end.
Previously we’ve shared about making the decision to move to Florida and moving across the country, about the experience of driving 3000+ miles during COVID-19, and also about what brought us to all of this. Well, now we’re sharing the nitty gritty details of prepping for and completing a pandemic road trip with a new camper. Yep, this podcast episode is all about finding a camper, prepping our family (and cat) for a crazy trip, and safely making it from Washington to Florida during Coronavirus.
This was all a life experience to never forget, but there’s more to it than the drama. Keep on reading and listening, and you’ll hear how we found a camper, what troubles we had, and then how we actually made it across the country. Such an experience.
Be sure to check out our complete article all about the cross country relocation for more specifics about the drive!
What you'll find...
- Listen to our Buying a Camper Trailer Podcast Episode
- Preparing for a Pandemic Road Trip
- Pandemic Road Trip Driving Route
Listen to our Buying a Camper Trailer Podcast Episode
Preparing for a Pandemic Road Trip
Driving across the country during the height of the Coronavirus pandemic was not a normal road trip. Preparing for a pandemic road trip meant thinking out all kinds of situations and planning for a lot of uncertain territory. Since our cross country move was during the height of the pandemic, we were faced with closed hotels, restaurants not being open, and necessary services being limited all across the country.
As we tried to make a plan to move our family to Saint Augustine, Florida, we decided that the safest and most sure way to get across the country was to camp our way there. Leaving from Washington in April and having to go through the mountains, we couldn’t do a tent camping trip, so we immediately started looking for a camping trailer. Also, having a cat with us, a trailer was the only option to suit him.
Shopping for and Buying a Camper Trailer
We’d previously been very interested in getting a camper trailer for our family. We’d shopped around a lot in the past but never found the right one, and truthfully, couldn’t justify buying one. Well, with the need for a trailer for our pandemic road trip, we broadened our search and had success. Initially we looked on Craigslist and other classified to see what sort of used trailers were available, but we couldn’t find one that was in good enough condition AND in our price range.
Eventually we found a used trailer listed through Tacoma RV and we went to look at it. We drive a Subaru Ascent, so our towing capacity is up to 5000 lbs. We found a 2014 Northland 17′ camping trailer. This would be perfect for our family on our pandemic road trip and long after.
Note: it’s become increasingly difficult to find good campers and RVs for sale that aren’t crazy expensive. If you already have a camper, you can consider renting out your RV to others, like you might rent a space as an AirBNB. This is a great way to ensure your camper gets used often AND helps other families.
Since we aren’t big into cars or fixing up things, we weren’t completely sure what to look for as we inspected our potential camping trailer. Chris video called his dad, who’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met, and he told us what to look for. Ultimately, we found a few cracks and gasket issues, but upon purchasing the trailer, the dealer fixed them all.
When it was time to pick up the camping trailer, we went through a complete orientation and inspection with the dealer. They made things so easy and I left the dealership confident in our purchase and that I could safely drive it across the country. The only bummer is that to date we still haven’t gotten to install campervan solar panels for recharging the battery on the camper. Soon though…
Prepping a Vehicle to Tow a Camper Trailer
As I said, our Subaru Ascent is capable of towing up to 5000 pounds… but that’s only if there’s a towing hitch/package on it. As our moving day got closer and closer, we had to scramble to get a Subaru towing packing installed. It took a few calls, but we did find a dealer that had the parts and could get us in.
Once the tow package was installed, we were just about ready… but the dealer didn’t connect the electrical harness completely, missing the braking attachment. When it was time to pick up the camping trailer from the dealer, they ended up having to install a Prodigy remoting braking system. This was an extra, unplanned expense, but it was required to be able to drive. Argh.
The drive back to our house, being my first time ever driving a camping trailer, was rough. It was windy and controlling the camper on the road felt like a struggle. Once we were on our actual journey, after two days of driving, Chris finally got to drive us and he immediately understood why I was so stressed out and having such a difficult time.
The Subaru Ascent has corrective steering, meaning that it does micro-corrections as you drive to keep you in your lane. Well, when you’re towing a camper, it sways a bit, and the Subaru also has anti-sway technology… So, Chris turned off the corrective steering and from there out it was smooth sailing. To describe how it felt, basically I was fighting with a ghost for two days as the advanced steering system wanted to help me when I didn’t need it. So frustrating, but thank goodness we figured that out.
Packing the Camping Trailer for our Pandemic Road Trip
Since we hired movers to get the bulk of our stuff across the country (horrible experience; read about it here) we just had to worry about what we’d need for our drive across the country… and for life in Florida until our belonging were delivered. We packed clothes for both cold and hot weather, sleeping backs and air mattresses, and loaded up the camper with actual camping supplies for the pandemic road trip part of our new life. And we brought a small coffee pot.
Packing up the camper for life on the road meant shopping for non-perishables that were easy to prepare (mac and cheese, pasta dishes, frozen vegetables, tuna fish…) and basic necessities. We had minimal plates, cups, silverware, kitchen tools, and nothing that wasn’t immediately needed. We also packed a few key items for life once we arrived at our new home in Florida, such as folding chairs and table. In retrospect we could’ve packed more so life in Florida was easier initially, but oh well.
We also had to pack pet supplies. Buying a camper trailer meant having space for our pet. Driving across the country with a cat meant bringing everything he needed for everyday life IN the camper. We got him an enclosed litter box that lived in the camper bathtub, pet food feeders, a harness and leash for walks, and cat pheromone spray to try to keep him calm.
Pet Prep in the Camping Trailer
In addition to getting a new litter box and pet food containers, we also had to figure out how to cat-proof the camper. Just like the pandemic road trip was stressful to us humans, Bijoux, the cat was feeling it too. When we were on the road, he’d burrow into the blankets and be fine, but when we’d stop, he’d come out and explore.
Our camping trailer has a great screen door on it. The cat really wanted to claw it, not while we were driving, but when we’d stop for meals or sleeping. We had to act fast on our first night to protect our screens, on both the door and windows. Thank goodness we still had moving supplies. The solution: cover the screen door with bubble wrap and packing tape. Those textures are a nightmare for cats and really did keep our camper in great condition for our cross country move.
Pandemic Road Trip Driving Route
Since this was our first time driving across the country since buying a camper trailer, we weren’t sure what the best way to approach route planning would be. And THAT is why is pays to be friends with lots of awesome, smart people. After talking with a number of friends, it was clear that for our cross country driving route, we needed to go the path of least resistance… or least wind.
Our buddy Craig, of Y Travel Blog, was a wealth of information and experience when it comes to cross country RV travel, so we took his solid advice and planned a route through the south. We avoided the windiest states of Nebrasha and Oklahoma, and went for small elevation gains over longer stretches of road. This was perfect.
Our pandemic road trip route went as follows:
Seattle, WA -> Hood River, OR -> Twin Falls, ID -> Moab, UT -> Amarillo, TX – > Dallas, TX -> Mobile, AL -> Saint Augustine, FL (Google Maps link here!)
Favorite Sights on our Cross Country Road Trip
On our way out of the Pacific Northwest, we made a stop in the Dalles, Oregon to say goodbye to our best friends. We were excited to show them how excited we were about buying a camper trailer, but sad to say goodbye for the time being. This was along our planned route, so there were no delays or complications. As we drove past Multnomah Falls, the whole Columbia Gorge waterfall area was absolutely beautiful and overflowing. It was like a goodbye waterfall show.
From there we made it to Twin Falls, Idaho. We were able to secure a campsite at the KOA Journey in Twin Falls. Thank goodness, because we came to learn that almost all campgrounds across the USA were not accepting reservations unless you were a full-time camper or in transition for only one night. The next day we visited Shoshone Falls before continuing our drive. Wow! It was amazing, and so many rainbows!
From Twin Falls, we headed south through Utah. We’d hoped to visit a few National Parks, but they were all closed. The town of Moab (Arches NP) was dead, with just a few blinking neon signs to welcome us. We found a tiny campground where we paid by dropping money through a slot. We never even saw a person.
We then drove FOREVER through New Mexico. There was graffiti about wearing masks and social distancing, which was both scary and encouraging. Once out of New Mexico, we were in Texas.
We camped at the Amarillo, TX KOA and then stopped off at Cadillac Ranch, which is a really cool art installation. While we’d hoped to visit some of the best Texas State Parks along the way, we were only able to explore one, Copper Breaks and it was gorgeous. Then we stayed the night with friends (we love Kirsten of Kids Are a Trip!) in Dallas, had one more KOA stay in Gulf Shores, Alabama… And then we made it home. Really, we didn’t get to make many stops along the way because everything was closed, but we are ultimately okay with that.
Our biggest considerations as we drove and planned our stops was to be sure we could always find gas about every 100 miles. We really had terrible gas mileage pulling the camping trailer, so in consideration of safety, gas stations were our main goal. The stops we DID get to enjoy:
- Shoshone Falls, ID
- Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, CO
- Cadillac Ranch, TX
- Copper Breaks State Park, TX
That was it for our points of interest for the entire trip. Our pandemic road trip met our expectations for the number of closures, but we were really hopeful that it wouldn’t. Oh well, I guess we’ll just have to do the trip again someday…
Weirdest Pandemic Travel Experience on this Trip
When we were driving through Green River, Utah, we had to pull over to make dinner before it was too dark. We found an abandoned motel parking lot to cook it. We let the kids get out their scooters and we took the cat for a walk. Then we made dinner and sat down together in our camping trailer. After a few minutes, lights were flashing outside and we had two cop cars ready to question us. Our hearts were racing.
It turned out that the motel wasn’t abandoned but just completely vacant and the owners had called the police to report us for squatting. Good times. We packed up super fast and were on our way. It was a good lesson and definitely got our blood pumping.
Thanks for hanging out with us. It was fun to recall this weird experience. While we fully support buying a camper trailer, we DO NOT recommend doing a pandemic road trip for many reasons, the least of which is the limited experiences you’ll have. During the Coronavirus pandemic we have only traveled out of state for our relocation. We look forward to happier, healthier days and retracing this route with a lot more fun!
Enjoy the rest of our Season 2 podcasts, and as always, please let us know if you have any questions!
What do you want to hear about from us on our podcast? Please leave us a comment below or send us a note with your questions and what you’d like to hear. We are excited to share!