Let me start off by saying this trip was NOT a vacation, it was an adventure. If I’m being completely honest, I was a tad apprehensive about taking a road trip on an RV, almost 12 hours and 800 miles away from home with our 4 and 7 year olds, especially during such a crazy time in our world right now. However, if there was ever a time to do it, that time is NOW! Thanks to this worldwide pandemic, resources are limited, numerous vacations cancelled and although the idea of stopping at a gas station to use the restrooms has always given me the heebie jeebies, this time it’s on a whole other level. Which is why the RV was the perfect vessel to get us from point A to point B on our summer road trip. We decided to embark on our maiden voyage to Gatlinberg, Tennessee, home of The Great Smoky Mountains.
My husband has told me a bunch of stories about when he was a child, how he and his family took a road trip of epic proportions there and how truly memorable it was. Years later, he wanted to relive those memories with his family and I thought why not?
So, after a little bit of coaxing and realizing that it was this sort of vacay for our annual Forth of July trip or bust for the summer of 2020, I obliged. This city girl took the entire week prior to pack up our entire house, cleared out the non-perishable shelve from the local Whole Foods and decided to dive in head first (pun intended…more on that later!) There are a ton of do’s and don’t’s, pros and cons if you will about the trip, but overall it was definitely a trip of a lifetime, worth remembering. So much so, because our children are really at an age, where they can participate, have fun and even remember bits and pieces for years to come!
So, let’s start with the pre-work. We rented an RV from Cruise America, I’m an intense research buff, but because we literally decided to take this trip in the spur of the moment (we were actually supposed to go on a cruise, which is a whole other topic of conversation) and because the entire world had the exact same idea as us, it seemed as though it was slim pickings, but ended up being perfect for the setting and campgrounds we were staying on.
We rented a 25 footer, no pullout and although not the most glamorous of its kind, that’s not what our trip was about. (If you’re looking to do a road trip where there aren’t any mountains, then a motorcoach is your best bet). Our RV had everything we needed for our so-called “glamping” experience and was a few steps up from traditional camping, if you will. It had a queen and full-size bed, bathroom, toilet, stove, fridge, microwave and all of the creature comforts you need, squeezed into a vehicle.
It took us up steep mountains and down long inclines, luckily without any crazy accidents and no one car sick. I didn’t drive it, but my husband said it handled like a champ and we both felt very safe in it. I prepared a few snacks ahead of time, because I knew stopping on the road to eat would just take more time, get expensive and because covid, plus that’s the whole fun of getting an RV, is to eat in it! I baked banana muffins, made a cabbage and bean salad and packed up some snacks for the kids: applesauces, crackers, chips, popcorn, cookies, fruit, nuts, jerky, waters (can never have enough!) You will literally need to pack up the entirety of your home to make sure you are comfortable. From pots and pans, to linens and towels and even a trash bin, you can view complete list here.
Our first stop was scheduled to be Hilton Head, South Carolina, we were supposed to arrive at 10 pm that night and little did we know the resort didnt allow check-ins past 5. Had we had to do it all over again, we would’ve rented the RV a day earlier to get everything packed in the way we wanted it, so that we could just wake up early the next day and head out on the road. Picking up the thing and then packing it up, much less unpacking it makes for an all day affair. So we pivoted and instead decided to do a stop in St. Augustine instead. We made the 4 hour trek, arrived at the time that we thought we were going to arrive in Hilton Head (ha!), because as a side note, you can just add 2 hours to time you think you will be anywhere in that behemoth of a truck! We got all settled in for the night. My hubby and I in the queen size bed and our littles in the full above the driving cabin (much to my dismay).
Fast-forward to 3am and we get woken up by a big thud and crying. Luckily little miss wasn’t hurt, I on the other hand suffered a few bruises and a head scrape/bump, darting forward to try and catch her midsleep. Note to self: don’t freak out and leap youself forward in an attempt to catch someone in the pitch black. I can laugh now, but we’re lucky no one was seriously injured! Our daughter slept with me for the rest of the trip and the hubby got demoted to the top bunk with my son! Lol
We got up the next morning and instead of getting on the road, we spent the morning cleaning up the cabin, because the toilet foot pedal got stuck! Another note to self…always check the foot pedal for water flow and make sure it is in the upright position to avoid flooding!! Once setttled and already having gone through half our towel stock, shoutout to the maintence guy at the KOA who had some apparatus that sucked up the water, we teetered on throwing in the towel, heading back home and chocking it up to we just weren’t the camping folk. However, D’Andreas DON’T QUIT! That’s sort of the motto in our home, so we put our big boy and big girl panties on and head out on the road towards our next stop Asheville, TN.
The cutest little quaint town, that we will absolutely have to come back and visit sometime! Filled with little restaurants and shops and let’s not forget about the Biltmore, we parked in the parking lot and had a picnic in our RV, before headed to our final stop in Gatlinburg, TN. One quick tip: whenever you gas up, that’s the best time for everyone to take a quick potty and snack break, so that you’re not making double stops.
As luck would have it there was an accident on the route we were supposed to take to Adventurebound Camground. So, we took the alternate route which I wish had a disclaimer stating *This route is not for the faint of heart. You will encounter steep hills, twists, turns and no street lights, so enter at your own risk! Luckily, the kids were fast asleep, because it was like riding an RV roller coaster in the pitch black! I was praying to all things holy and luckily we made it to our camground safe and sound! Now if you thought that was fun, here’s where things get even more tricky and as I write this, I can’t help but chuckle at the fact of what rookies we truly are. There’s all this jargon, pull through, full hookup, 50/30 watts, etc. if you’re a newbie, you have NO idea what any of this means. Michael and I were just happy to have gotten a spot, when there were only two left on the campus with a gold cart to boot! Lucky for us, our RV lot was on the corner with the best views and privacy the campground had to offer.
The downside? It wasn’t a full hookup! So what exactly does that mean? Well, water and showers are limited, as are trips to the bathroom (let’s not relive that nightmare shall we?). Therefore, every time we left the campground, we had to dump at the designated dump site. Now your RV does come equipped with a motherboard that is supposed to tell you when levels are getting full and as luck would have it ours was on the fritz. We made it through all the way to day 6, and that’s when our gray water (sink/shower) filled up and our neighborhood maintenance guy had to come through and clear out the pump and our golf cart decided to die on us to boot! I said adventure didn’t I?! Lol
I have to say that Michael was quite the trooper releasing the tanks, because I would’ve found the nearest cabin to stay in! Aside from that we had the most amazing time out on that creek. The kids loved searching for sticks and rocks, we saw a beaver and just sat there by the fire listening to music and sipping local beer. If you’re looking for a good time and you’re ok with letting go of some of the usual comforts you can really have yourself a wonderful time and make some incredible memories. We roasted hot dogs, had smores and just breathing in that fresh mountain air. Yes, that’s a thing!
There is no shortage of activities to partake in, in the Great Smokies and luckily covid managed to narrow the scope. We went tubing down The Little River with The Smoky Mountain River Rat, took a UTV ride up and down rugged terrain, to the highest mountain top to see a $500 million view, complete with a shot of moonshine and a fresh blackberry snack along the way. We treked an 85 foot waterfall at Laurel Falls, snacked on some seriously amazing smoked wings and tried the best doughnuts in town. Plus, the kids had a blast looking for “trolls” and their footprints the entire time! 😍
We saw some friends who made a stop along their summer road trip, thanks for the Adventurebound recommendation, Jen! We spent a lot of time riding around on our golf cart and taking in the camp on the fourth, relaxing and swimming in what seemed like our own private creek and made memories to last us a lifetime. The kids discovered the ice cream man and we discovered what it really felt like to disconnect, often times because there was no wi-fi!
We did get to stop and catch up with some friends in Hilton Head for night and although we didn’t beach it, because the weather wouldn’t allow it, we got to use our bikes we towed and we wanted to stop in St. Augustine before heading home, overall the the trip was amazing!
I highly recommend it, but you just have to be prepared for the unkown and perhaps some prepwork beforehand. Allow yourself some time after the fact to reccoop and get ready for more than a dozen loads of laundry and memories to last you a lifetime! Ride on!