Our family of 4 drove a Class C RV from Seattle to Miami
From Washington to Florida, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming to Savannah, Georgia, our family of four has traveled parks, cities, interstates, and back roads—all in 25-foot motorhome. While living in an RV full-time with kids, we’ve watched the sun rise from a pier in Jacksonville, Florida. We’ve stared at the setting sun from atop a cliff on the Oregon Coast outside of Coos Bay. Our RV has been our home, our campsite, and our main mode of transportation.
You see, an RV isn’t just about camping. A motorhome combines house, conveyance, cooking, and personal care, all in a full time vehicle. An RV transforms the outdoors into your front yard and can take you just about anywhere you want to go.
Building on our experience road tripping, pop-up camping, and traveling the world as a family of four, we have now RV’d across the entire United States in our very own first motorhome. Here’s our story of how we got our RV, what we got, why we got it, and some of our notable first trips.
What are the main types of drivable RV?
We’re not going to talk about travel trailers, fifth wheels, or other towable RVs. We’re just going to talk about what it’s been like for us to research, choose, buy, and travel in a drivable RV, or motorhome, as well as our experiences living in an RV full-time with kids.
There are about as many types of RVs as there are families. They pretty much boil down to 3 main types:
- Class A: Built on a bus chassis, with the iconic flat front, and can be the longest motorhome (e.g., my dad has a 43-foot class A)
- Class B: Van life! Class B RVs are built on a van chassis
- Class C: The “cabover” with the bit at the top that extends over the driving area gives the class C, built on a truck chassis, its timeless look
An RV is a great choice for families traveling with kids
For a kid, riding in an RV can mean sitting at a table and watching the world go by as your parents drive you from cool place to cool place. All the while, you can have snacks, drinks, and activities at the ready. Plus, the kids are buckled in, and those seat belts can give the adults some safety peace of mind.
Over the 6 months we spent full-time RVing around the USA from Washington’s San Juan Islands to Miami, Florida, our RV gave us home comforts plus the thrill of making it easier to have experiences as a family. We enjoyed breaks to stay with friends and family. But we also looked forward to getting back into our own little home on wheels.
A quick note about seat belts and car seats
If your family has infants, toddlers, or kids who ride in a car seat or booster seat, an RV can still be a good choice. However, RVs are notoriously tricky about car seats and seat belts beyond the cab.
When selecting an RV, you can check for seat belts. While required for the driver and passenger seats, seat belts are not necessarily legally required in the back seats. (It’s more complicated than we can get into here.)
Fortunately, more and more models include seat belts for each seat position. Seat belt laws require someone sitting there to wear the seat belt while the motorhome is in motion. Motorhomes increasingly include lap belts in non-cab seats, but don’t expect to find LATCH hooks or tethers. As long as there are seat belts, odds are you’ll be able to attach your child’s safety seat.
In our motorhome, there are two lap seat belts on each two-person bench seat. There’s also a lap seat belt on the side-facing chair behind the passenger seat. As you talk with sales folks, request photos of seat belts. You can check when you evaluate a potential motorhome in-person too. Having seat belts is crucial peace of mind and straight-up safety, especially when living in an RV full-time with kids. We can’t imagine driving cross-country, over 10,000 miles, without seat belts.
Our class C RV, its setup, and our first 10,000 miles
Our RV is a class C. If you want the specifics, it’s a 2018 Thor Majestic on a Ford E-350 chassis. Its first life was a rental for Cruise America (more on that in a bit).
We’ve named it “Cosmic Turtle,” because Connor and I are Discworld nerds. (Discworld is a series from the late Terry Pratchett. Each book is set on a flat, disc-shaped world that rests on the back of four elephants standing on the back of a giant cosmic turtle moving through space.)
We bought our RV in April 2023, from a Cruise America location in Everett, WA, just north of Seattle. At the time, our rig had about 127,000 miles on it. As I write this (while sitting at a picnic table at the Sun Outdoors RV Park in St. Augustine, Florida, btw), we just crossed the 137,000 mile mark.
That’s right: In the past 6 months, we’ve put over 10,000 miles on our little home on wheels, all while just about living full time in the RV, with occasional breaks for hotels, rentals, or stays with family and friends.
Here are a few more specifics for the RV curious:
Our manual says to change the oil every 7,500 miles. However, during its Cruise America tenure, they changed the oil every 6,000 miles. We’ve stuck to the 6,000-mile interval, and typically go to Valvoline since they’re nationwide, run regular coupon specials, and usually have tall enough bays.
When you first drive an RV, the mileage can take some getting used to. Our Subaru Outback reliably got between 25–30 mpg. My dad’s class A motorhome gets 7. Our Class C averages 8-9 mpg. At the same time, the rig has a 55-gallon gas tank. We typically go about 450–500 miles between fill-ups.
Speaking of fill-ups, the amount we spend on fuel for a 55-gallon tank took some getting used to. However, we balance out that higher overall gas cost by remembering that we are also transporting our accommodation. The costs still work out in our favor compared to regularly staying in hotels or rentals.
Driving an RV has made us appreciative of highway workers. Driving a car, we never really noticed how trees by the road get trimmed so they don’t hang too low. Now, we notice all the time.
Technically, our RV has a 12-foot height clearance. However, it’s really only about 10.7 feet tall, so we can squeak by anything with at least a clearance of 11 feet. We’ve only needed to check our height clearance once, in northern Idaho, and even then we were just able to sneak underneath a low railroad bridge.
Our RV is 25 feet long. Or, if you put two parking spaces back to back, we take up about one and a half parking spaces. This is pretty short for an RV, but it also means we can drive and park just about anywhere. Our shorter length also means we don’t have to worry about fitting into campsites, whereas a longer rig can have fewer options, such as in many federal, National Park, or National Forest campgrounds.
Along with ample cabinet space inside, our Cosmic Turtle has a larger lockable storage bay underneath the living space, accessed by a long hatch on the passenger side and a shorter hatch on the rear. The storage area is about the same size as our bed. Our storage area is one main area, and a sort of smaller sub-area. Here’s how we use them while living in an RV full-time with kids.
Our garage, or main storage area, holds:
- 2 rolling carryon size suitcases (we use these when we’re flying or staying in a hotel, and when in storage they also hold our backpacks)
- Leveling boards
- First aid kit
- Gloves: A pair of nitrile gloves (for things like moving splinter-prone leveling boards) and rubber gloves, which I wear when he dumps our black water (sewage) and gray water holding tanks
- A red kickball, otherwise known as a kid magnet. Less than 5 minutes after Aster got this out of our current campsite, another kid started playing with her, and the two of them dashed off to the nearby campground playground (after clearing it with their respective parents first, of course).
- A storage bin, which holds things like our laser tag set and a colder-weather comforter for my and Jodie’s bed
- 4 folding camp chairs
- A screenhouse
- A rollup slatted wooden table
- A rollup “welcome mat” we put down by the main door for shoes, cleaning off feet, and setting up our entry
- Our kayak gear: 2 tandem inflatable kayaks, 4 paddles, 4 PFDs, and a folding rolling cart
- Septic-safe toilet paper stash
- The solar panel for charging our Jackery 300 Portable Power Station
Just behind the rear passenger tires, a lift-up hatch conceals a smaller sub-storage area, which we call the basement. This holds:
- Drinking water hose (along with the filter and pressure regulator that we keep on it)
- Misc tools, such as a rubber mallet and safety goggles)
- Folding saw
Food, drinks, activities… and our own toilet
We love that our RV has everything we need, and it’s all accessible whenever we want it:
- A snack basket behind the passenger seat makes it easy to sort out between-meal hunger
- Across from the table, a long cabinet holds school books, art supplies, journals, a Bluetooth speaker, the children’s tablets, and pretty much anything else we need for schoolwork and family activities
- Our fridge has a bottle of cold water, fresh veggies, and other foods ready to go
- On travel days, we keep our on-board water tank at least one-third full, so we have plenty of fresh water for drinking, making ice, washing hands, and flushing the toilet
- The two-burner propane stove means that we don’t need to buy drinks or food, and can instead make hot coffee, tea, cocoa, or cider easily whenever we stop
- Simple lunches are easy to put together, since we have a counter, cutting boards, plates, bowls, and silverware, all right on hand, not to mention cooking utensils and, when plugged into power or running a generator, a microwave
And let’s not forget that when taking a road trip, stops for snacks and the toilet can slow things down. While we sometimes make a stop so we can get out, we love that we stop when we want to, not when we need to. Having our own on-board toilet helps plenty with that too.
Dumping tanks, or, mastering the stinky slinky
I want to take a moment and acknowledge something: If you haven’t had to deal with emptying RV tanks before, it can sound daunting. Years ago, when Jodie and I first discussed campers, RVs, and motorhomes, I was pretty hesitant about dealing with RV tanks. Or, in other words, I couldn’t shake some pretty terrible images about out-of-control hoses spraying terrible stuff everywhere.
Since then, I have learned that emptying tanks is not a big deal. Over the past 6 months, I’ve gotten it down pretty well (except for one mishap in Washington State, but thankfully I caught it quickly and only had a small bit of terrible stuff to clean up).
Gray and black tanks
Your typical trailer or motorhome typically has two waste tanks, and you’ll occasionally have to empty them. Here’s how it breaks down:
- Sewer tank, or black tank: Your RV’s toilet connects to this.
- Gray tank: All other drain lines connect to this. In our RV, water from our kitchen sink, bathroom sink, and shower drain to the gray tank.
RVs have little indicator panels with status lights that tell you how full your tanks are. The gray and black sensors can be really unreliable. We pretty much check ours, shrug, and simply make sure to dump our tanks every few days.
When we need to empty tanks, there’s a hatch, two pull-handles (one to open the black tank and another to open the gray tank), and a long flexible waste pipe, affectionately known as the stinky slinky. If a campsite doesn’t have a built-in sewer hookup, campgrounds typically have at least one dump station. You roll up, connect your waste hose, empty the black tank, flush the hose with the gray tank, rinse your waste hose (there’s pretty much always a water hose next to the dump station, with non-potable water), put everything away, and you’re good to go.
All this to say, if I could figure it out, you can too.
10 things we don’t like about our motorhome
Our rig is simple, but it’s got the right stuff. We’ve loved living in an RV full-time with kids and wandering our country with our own little home on wheels. Of course, there are some things we’re not thrilled with, but can work with:
- The console ventilation system only has fresh air, no option for recirculating air (so if you’re passing through the stink of skunk stench or fresh asphalt, you have to turn off the vent and air system completely to shut it out)
- No auto leveling (and leveling can simply suck sometimes)
- No awning… though this can also be a plus, as not having one makes setup and takedown easier
- Lack of privacy. We are 4 humans sharing one space. We work through challenges and disagreements, but sometimes we find it challenging for us adults to have time or conversations as a couple
- No oven, no baking! Sometimes we miss baking. Mmmm…. Cookies… who wants cookies?
- No electric hookup equals no AC or microwave (though typically this hasn’t been a problem); technically we could run our on-board generator, but we prefer not to
- During a heat wave, we may have to run the AC all night; we prefer to sleep with our windows open, but if it’s too hot, we have to keep them closed, and we never sleep as well with the windows closed and the AC going. It’s loud and doesn’t have a thermostat, so we actually get too chilly!
- Sometimes it’s hard to get around town and park, especially in denser East Coast cities
- Camping in nicer campgrounds and RV parks typically means camping farther from town, so there’s more driving if what we want to do is inside a city
- Less time in one place than we prefer: During our next RV travels, we may prioritize spending 5-14 days (14 nights is typically the max at most campgrounds) in one place, so there’s less moving around, plus we won’t have the same pressure of needing to get across the country
Our RV’s sleeping arrangements
The right setup, sleeping arrangements, and floor plan vary depending on the family. Our RV is essentially one long room, except for the enclosed bathroom. The overall floor plan includes a sleeping area in the cabover, a table and benches area that converts into a twin bed, and a double/full bed in the back of the RV. Here’s how our family uses those spaces:
Cabover: The kids
Our two kids are accustomed to sharing space and they get along well (about ninety percent of the time). Aster and Connor share the cabover. Each kid has two pillows. They also each have their own sleeping bag, and a couple of blankets so they can sleep as warm or cool as they prefer. At their feet end of the cabover, they each have a red tub that holds their clothes, and they each have wee net bags and such for other personal effects.
Convertible table/benches bed area
We don’t currently use this as a bed, so this space stays set up as a table with two bench seats. What will we do if the cabover arrangement stops working for the kids? We’ll help them figure things out.
A couple of options include one kid sleeping in the cabover, one kid sleeping on the converted table/bench bed (but still keeping their stuff in the cabover). Another option could be the kids agreeing to a rotation, where for a set number of nights one sleeps in the cabover, one sleeps on the converted bed, and then they switch. That said, the kids likely will surprise us with an idea that we hadn’t thought of, which will be all the meaningful given that, one, it likely will work very well and we’ll be impressed at their problem-solving, and two, it’ll work all the better given they came up with the idea themselves.
A double/full bed in the back of the RV is where we adults sleep. Above the bed, top-opening cabinets line two walls near the ceiling. We use those spaces for our clothes, accessories such as the family’s swimsuits, and our various tech.
Does our bed area have its own door? It does not. A retractable curtain separates the bed area from the rest of the RV. It’s not necessarily an ideal arrangement for privacy, but we manage all right. At the same time, we were able to save money by camping and not constantly needing hotels.
3-season camping, unlocked
Our popup camper enabled us to camp earlier in the spring and later into the fall than with a tent. RV camping has pushed out our season even more.
We don’t plan to camp up in the far north of the country in the middle of a February snowstorm. We’re not interested in trying to winter camp—at least, not anywhere cold and snowy. But we appreciate that our RV keeps us cozy, even when the outside temperatures are chilly.
The motorhome’s insulation helps us regulate temperature. We also have storage for various clothing layers, so we can easily shed or add layers depending on the conditions.
Plus, our RV has a built-in propane heater. It works off the motorhome’s on-board propane tank, so we can fire up quick warmth whenever we need it. We don’t run it all day though. Usually we run the propane heater to take the chill off the morning or at night.
The Great Outdoors becomes our Great Backyard
From coast to coast, we have gotten to enjoy and experience some of America’s greatest public lands. Our motorhome allows us to camp pretty much anywhere we want. We can transform America’s Great Outdoors into our own Great Backyard.
We have watched wildlife, from bison in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, to Muscovy ducks in Charleston, South Carolina. Ever-changing nature and diverse landscapes have been right outside our front door: mountain lakes in Colorado, the Black Hills of South Dakota, hill-nestled river gorges in Kentucky.
Traveling in our RV as a family has helped us be closer to public lands. We can enjoy them more in-depth that we had even when we camped in our popup. State parks, national parks, and local parks and campgrounds have all shown us the natural delights that come simply by being willing to drive somewhere far away, hunker down, and be open to what the world’s going to bring.
We can explore in-town too, though sometimes it’s tricky
Many part-time and full-time RVers tow a vehicle. We don’t. Our RV is also our transportation. While we’ve enjoyed lots of time in nature, we’ve also spent a fair bit of our cross-country time in urban areas too, all behind the wheel of our RV.
First up, let’s have no illusion: Overall, it is easier to navigate American cities in a car than an RV, even a smaller one like our 25’ Class C. We’re pretty much driving a slightly long truck. In some places that’s been easy (such as Tri-Cities, WA, or Omaha, NE). Older, denser, narrower cities, such as on the East Coast, have been more challenging, especially when trying to find parking lots or garages big enough for our RV. Savannah, GA, and Charleston, SC, were tricky to navigate, but even then, we managed.
That said, while getting around cities has had its challenges, it’s doable, depending on the RV. My dad’s 43-foot Class A? He tows a vehicle so he can get around easily. Some folks like to have their rig set up at camp, and they don’t want to disconnect it from utilities to take it somewhere. We don’t mind, especially since we usually only connect to water and power (we connect to sewer only when we are dumping our RV’s gray and black tanks).
Smaller RVs can be fine for driving around town and using them as your vehicle to get into and around cities. Would I necessarily drive ours around even zanier cities, such as New York or Atlanta? I don’t know. In situations like that, we might rent a car for a day, or figure something out where we can leverage public transportation more.
Parking is usually the biggest challenge. We sometimes call the area’s visitor center or tourism board. Once we explain what we’re driving, we ask if they can advise on parking. These folks know the area. They want you to have good time. Often, staff can give a good suggestion on where to park or how to get into town.
Motorhome vs. towable trailer: What we considered and why we chose a drivable RV
When we started traveling full-time in 2022, we sold our popup camper and our two cars.
Coming back to the USA in 2023, we knew we’d only be in our home country for a few months. For us, getting a towable trailer would have meant also needing to buy a vehicle, likely a truck. We didn’t want to make two purchases, we just wanted to make one purchase. Plus, while we enjoyed our pop-up camper, we didn’t want to tow a trailer again. We wanted to be living in an RV full-time with kids, and a drivable motorhome made more sense for what we needed and wanted.
Our RV is 25’ long, which is about one and half car lengths. It’s narrow enough to fit in a parking space, and short enough to where we can park in two back-to-back parking spaces. We don’t have to worry about length limits at campgrounds. Plus, unless there’s signage specifically prohibiting RVs, we can handle tight turns, winding roads, most parking lots, and pretty much any campground (unless it’s designed to be tent only).
We wanted to drive, go, and not have to worry about where we went:
- Faster, easier setup. With our motorhome, we can quickly back into our space, connect to utilities, and get settled in… in less than ten minutes
- Backing up is so much easier than with a trailer!
- A motorhome has all-in-one convenience
- No additional stress and strain on vehicle: A drivable RV is doing exactly what it was designed to do: be a motorhome
- Simple: No slides, no TV, no awning; very few additional things that we have to worry about servicing or fixing
What mattered and didn’t matter to us when choosing the right RV for our family?
When someone asks us about getting an RV, we suggest coming up with the things that matter most—along with things that don’t matter at all. Understanding those priorities for yourself goes a long way to helping you know what’s essential, optional, and not an issue for your decision. Here are some of the things that mattered and didn’t matter to us:
We really like the Class C classic cabover design, since it can be a sleeping area for both children. Should we get to where they need or prefer separate sleeping areas, the table and booths can become a sleeping area. One kid can sleep in the table area, and the other can sleep in the cabover. If or when we get to that stage, we might discuss at a rotation, such as each kid getting 5 nights in each area, then they rotate.
Balance of reliability and affordability
We preferred a Ford chassis for reliability over other makes. While we like the idea (not to mention the look and layout) of many of the models on a Mercedes chassis, these diesel rigs are typically more expensive to buy, fuel, repair, and maintain.
Plus, a Ford is a Ford is a Ford. The E-350 Super-Duty chassis that’s the foundation of our RV is something you can find on everything from delivery trucks to work rigs. These engines are made to be durable and serviceable, and form the backbone of many RV setups and commercial fleets throughout the country.
As long as we could get a sense of regular maintenance and overall good care of the vehicle, we weren’t worried about mileage. Many RVs have very low mileage… but that can mean they’re hardly broken in, and a bunch of problems could be waiting for you as the miles rack up.
When we learned that Cruise America refurbishes, services, and sells RVs that it’s retired from its rental fleet, we figured that we’d be getting an RV with higher mileage. And we did: When we bought our Cosmic Turtle, it had about 127,000 miles on the odometer. That also meant that it had already gone through lots of regular oil changes, maintenance intervals, and major servicing—not to mention the refurbishment where lots of components throughout the RV were checked, serviced, and replaced.
Knowing that gave us peace of mind that we were making a good decision. Plus, RVs on an E-350 can easily last over 200,000 miles—giving us plenty of runway to continue road-tripping around the country in our motorhome.
Best RV trips for families across the USA: Our experiences
From the San Juan Islands of Washington State to Disney World in Florida, we have had an amazing 6 months, full of places and people we love, and destinations we’re getting to know for the first time. Thanks to our RV, as a family we have now visited 23 states. We’ll be adding to that count more in 2024, but in the meantime, here are some of the RV trips we’ve taken with our kids during 2023:
San Juan Island, WA
The southwest corner of Washington State puts you at the heart of coastal beauty and family fun.
Whidbey Island, WA
Coos Bay, North Bend & Charleston, OR
Long Beach Peninsula, WA
The southwest corner of Washington State puts you at the heart of coastal beauty and family fun.
International Selkirk Loop, ID, BC & WA
- Yellowstone NP, Wyoming
- Black Hills, South Dakota (including Mt. Rushmore, Jewel Cave National Monument, Custer State Park, and Wind Cave NP
- Red River Gorge, Kentucky
- New River Gorge, West Virginia (including the kids’ first whitewater rafting trip!)
- Shenandoah NP, Virginia
- Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, Virginia
- Durham, North Carolina
- Congaree NP and Charleston, South Carolina
- Savannah, Georgia
- Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Walt Disney World, Cape Canaveral, and Miami, Florida
What are we going to do with our RV when we are out of the USA?
In Miami, Florida, we’ll be tidying up our RV and putting it in storage. From there, we’ll fly to Portugal. Our plans are to spend November 2023 through March 2024 in Portugal, Spain, Morocco, and probably Italy. It’ll be the first time our family goes to Europe and to Africa, though we’re still making some of our plans, and of course, that’s all subject to change.
When we get back to the USA in spring 2024, we’ll head to the RV, check it over, and get it ready to ride. After all, our sticker map of the country still has a lot of states to fill in.
With the ups and downs of traveling full-time in a small place, the four of us continue to be excited about our RV though, and the positives far outweigh the negatives. Aster sometimes prefers being somewhere longer, so we will accommodate that more, with longer stays in one place. At the same time, both kids love being at the table and watching the world go by, and they love that they can easily read, use their tablets, or make art, all while we drive.
During 2024 we plan to travel more states in the US Southeast as well as the Great Lakes… and then we’ll just have to see. We’ll continue to balance our RV time with the occasional hotel, vacation rental, or homestay with friends and family too
A family travel dream come true, one mile at a time
Having our RV and driving it from corner to corner of the USA has made a family dream come true. We have lived a slice of the RV lifestyle, driven across the entire USA from Washington State to Florida, and have spent six months making amazing memories. In part by living in an RV full-time with kids, we are now just shy of having visited half of America’s states as a family.
Traveling in our RV has helped us see friends and family more often, not to mention be with friends we haven’t seen in years. And when we come back to the USA after our travels in southern Europe and northern Africa, our RV will be waiting for us, ready to help us visit more states, have new experiences, and make more memories together as a family.