Our Home Away From Home By: Rebecca and Sean Karlin from www.campfireshenanigans.com
Right before our 3rd child Alexis was born, we decided to buy a travel trailer. At the time we were living in Illinois and decided what a great way to see the country. We could take our house with us and not have to worry about airports, rental cars, eating out all the time, and dealing with expensive hotels with our growing family. (We had rented a class c motor home 8 months prior and stayed at a KOA near Starved Rock State Park and loved the experience.) Shortly after purchasing our travel trailer, we relocated to Arizona and are seeing a different part of the country.
What We Have Learned About Campsites
Make sure that there are activities for kids. In between sightseeing, it is fun for them to take advantage of some of the kid friendly activities that the campground offers like, hayrides, ice cream socials and fossil and rock finding expeditions. Some campgrounds have a stream where you can go fishing.
- Try and stay away from ones where people live there permanently. It is nice to stay at a place with other tourists and can share a similar experiences and RV travel tips with them.
- Double check what the amenities are. It is great having a pool and a spa for the kids to go swimming.
- Check out any restrictions for renting a site. Some examples are age restrictions (55 and up), are campfires allowed? Or does the site require to use jack pads and sewer hose supports.
- It is a good idea to purchase a Good Sam membership, Passport America membership, or KOA Value card and use them as a guide for checking out RV parks and enjoy the savings they can offer you.
Tips (Trials and Errors)
- Make sure that you know how to work your RV. At first, we did not know how to disconnect the RV from our tow vehicle (to our defense, it was never brought up in our orientation from the dealer.) It took us several hours to figure out how to successfully back our rig into a storage space and unhitch from the suv. We also did not realize the hot water tank was winterized and would not produce hot water on our first camping trip. The cold showers were not very enjoyable. It cost us a wasted service call to figure this out.
- Have several rainy day activities for the kids. We love playing board games with them, Clue is one of our favorites, but we also have an rv travel game, cards, puzzles, toys for the younger one, a Wii system, DVD player and DIRECTV to try and keep everyone entertained.
- Try to have a meal ready when you get to the campsite (kids get hungry during setup time and don’t want to wait a long time for food.)
- Be Organized (this is still a work in process for us)
- Be careful of extreme temperatures. Coming from a cold climate we learned about things freezing and the need to winterize. What we didn’t realize was that the excessive heat in the Phoenix summers can cause damage. We had a gallon bottle of water and a large container of pepper spray that could not take the heat and leaked everywhere. Lessoned learned, use caution cleaning this up, as it can be quite painful to those that wear contact lenses.
- Give the kids a job and let them help. Our eleven-year-old son Simon loves to help with the set up and is in charge of the toaster for breakfast the next day. Our oldest daughter, Shara (the moody almost 13 year old) pretends to not like camping but we think she secretly does but will never admit it. She is in charge of watching our youngest who would love to help but isn’t quite big enough yet.
Fun With Cooking
We don’t have very much counter or refrigerator space so we bought a Keurig. We use it not only for coffee and tea, but kid friendly beverages like lemonade, hot chocolate, and hot apple cider. One of our favorite things to do while camping is to use our BBQ grill (some places will provide one. We even stayed at one that had a grate you could put on the campfire) We always have our two oldest help with the meal plans. We need to be a bit creative since we have a small refrigerator. We also let the kids help prepare the food. We sometimes will use the stove and microwave only when we can’t get the grill to light fast enough. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Breakfast burritos: you can either scramble the eggs on the grill or stovetop. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and let it melt. put bacon (we use turkey bacon) on the grill until crispy. Wrap tortilla (corn or flour) in foil and place onto grill to warm. Assemble with a little salsa and peppers of your choosing.
- English muffin pizzas: This is a favorite meal for the kids. Take plain or whole wheat English muffin, spread some pizza sauce on and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Cover with your favorite toppings (we like olives, green peppers, pineapple, and mushrooms) Have the kids make their own to their likings. Grill until cheese is melted, careful not to burn them.
- Shis kabobs: have the kids help with the assembly. We always make an assembly line, alternate with beef (or chicken), pineapple, cherry tomato, mushroom, green pepper, and pearl onion. Grill until meat is thoroughly cooked.
- At places where campfires are allowed, we use a roasting stick or fork and roast hotdogs. The kids love this and will have a competition to see who can roast the best hotdog.
- S’mores: S’mores are always a classic camping dessert. There is nothing better than a roasted marshmallow and a square of Hershey chocolate on a graham cracker. The kids have fun roasting marshmallows. A fun alternative to s’mores is a roasted marshmallow strawberry. You take a strawberry and dip it into marshmallow fluff and toast over the campfire.
- After a hard day of camping, when the kids finally go to bed make some sangria for the adults to enjoy.
Why we chose our Kodiak Express 255BHSL travel trailer
We chose this model because we wanted a bathtub, sleeping for 8 (incase family or friends join us), it was in our price range, and it was light enough to be towed with our full size suv. The floor plan is great because it gives our almost 13 year old her own corner with the bunk beds, our 11 year old utilizes the fold down dinette and we used a pack and play for the baby who is no longer a baby and will hopefully sleep on the pull out sofa bed but most likely we will find her in our bed. It is a great entry-level design for our family.
We have the kids help in planning the activities
- We stayed at the Tucson / Lazy Days KOA – it is limited on activities for kids. There is a good mix of people who stay there. Some of the spaces have a grassy area and citrus trees. It has a great pool and restaurant. We have stayed there twice, once in the summer and once in the winter. It is centrally located to great activities in the Tucson area. Due to the heat in the Arizona summers, some of the local sights have shortened hours or are even closed during the week. Make sure to check local listings before you head out. We took the kids during our first stay over father’s day weekend to a place called Eegees who serves several varieties of frozen fruit drinks. Truly a delight on a hot summer day. The restaurant onsite at the campground was super kid friendly and even made a special order of pancakes for our daughter. We had such a good time there that we both decided that we wanted to go back again during winter break when things in the area would be open. Sean’s mom tagged along with us but she opted to stay at a near by hotel. We sat down with pamphlets that we had collected during our previous trip and mapped out what we were going to do. The kids really enjoyed the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum. There is a lot of walking so make sure you are wearing a pair of comfortable shoes. They have a restaurant and snack shop, but we decided to eat somewhere else. Tucson has things for everyone. We were trying to decide between Old Tucson and Tombstone and Tombstone got the vote. We all enjoyed the reenactment of the gunfight at the OK Corral and had lunch at one of the old saloons. The kids were excited to take the old fashioned newspapers of the events to school to share with their friends. (When we got back home we decided to rewatch the Wyatt Earp and Tombstone movies.) We do recommend watching them beforehand though. We did want to go fishing but since it was raining we decided to go to the Pima Air and Space Museum instead. They have quite a collection of old airplanes on display. We decided to walk at our own pace instead of taking the tram. We had ice cream at the snack shop (Simon had a candy bar, since he is not a fan of ice cream.) We were there over New Year’s Eve and the restaurant at the campground had a special New Year’s menu and party for their guests. It was a fun time and we didn’t have to figure out here to go or spend a lot of money.
- Lake Powell: This was our first real road trip. We stayed at the Wahweap RV Resort and Marina in Page Arizona. The campground is part of the National Park so we had to pay an additional fee to enter. It offered a gorgeous view overlooking Lake Powell. We were excited because there are numerous campgrounds where there is a restriction on campfires, but they had a fire pit at each campsite. As a privilege to their guests we were allowed to use the swimming pool facilities at their hotel. We enjoyed their pizzeria for lunch. Our son Simon helped us plan this trip as part of a Cub Scout requirement. We decided to go to the beach one of the days. It was a long walk from the parking lot so; make sure to take everything you need. We took a tour of the Glen Canyon Dam. (We were fortunate enough to have our own private tour.) We also visited the Powell Museum in Page and learned about the local history (the kids enjoyed trying to grind corn.) We also took a day trip to Monument Valley, all we can say is “wow.” Just be careful in the summer because Utah is an hour ahead. In Page they have a huge Walmart, which was great for us to buy beach supplies and firewood without having to pay resort prices. The campground has a souvenir shop but some items tend to be on the expensive side but that is to be expected when there are busloads of people rolling in. The area also offers great hiking trails and a boat tour. Unfortunately this time the boat tour was a little too expensive for us. Maybe we will try it next time. There were many people who have their houseboats on the lake. Our recommendation is to make your reservations early. This is a place that we want to go back to so we can take advantage of all of the wonderful things to see and it is only 4 1/2 hours from home.