I love the outdoors, and as an outdoor family travel writer I endeavor to take myself and my family all over the country as often as I can to experience our beautiful nature and wildlife.
There’s no better way to do that than by camping, but as a busy working mom I also want to enjoy my vacation. I don’t want to work harder than I work at home, and I personally do not enjoy the idea of packing up my entire house just to relocate to a tent for a few days. As one of my mom friends said to me when I mentioned it to her, why would you want to go on vacation and work harder than you do at home but with cold water?
Addressing this family travel conundrum, this is the first in a series of articles about camping for moms who don’t like to camp.
Here’s how it happened. My son had asked my husband and I if we could go camping so I decided that renting an RV would be the perfect compromise. The RV ticked many boxes because, in fairness, I know my kid wants to camp but I also know he currently dislikes spiders and bugs.
This was a trial expedition for us all and we now plan to try out campers, yurts and cabins. But for this first trip in an RV we’d have a roof over our heads, proper beds and a good shot of enjoying the ‘not sleeping at home’ thrill of life in a top-of-the-range touring vehicle.
With zero desire to own one we discovered Mighway, which has become known as the Airbnb of RV rentals. Through its RV sharing platform, you can rent from owners and I also like the idea that Mighway offers the renter an added layer of protection just like Airbnb. It made me feel more comfortable that we were renting from someone who actually knows, owns and uses the vehicle as opposed to renting from a larger corporation.
When I asked Mighway for guidance as a newcomer to the RV world they happily pointed me in the direction of Chill RV, which only rents fully serviced Mercedes RV’s and it turned out to be a perfect fit for us.
Our RV was a palace and I’m glad because this was a long weekend where unusually for Southern California, it did not stop raining. I’ve been traveling long enough to know that weather curveballs are standard and you have to be prepared with a bucket of plan B’s when you’ve got a family. But we had warm beds, a roof, heat and running water and that meant mom was happy despite the storms.
Our RV-acation took us from Los Angeles to Oceanside and San Diego. We decided to keep the drive fairly near to home just in case our kid suddenly announced that he hated camping. Next time, we’ll definitely journey further afield. We also got to bring our dog Bingo, which made it much more fun for our family. Thank you to Chill RV for allowing your RV’s to be pet friendly.
Meeting our RV
The owner of our rental Nika showed up to our house to drop off the RV in person. I love a personal touch and this service was spectacular and exactly what we needed as first-timers.
She gave us a tour of everything, and we felt very equipped when we drove off. Getting acclimated with the vehicle takes about an hour. My husband is great with vehicles and super handy, but this independent owner made me feel relaxed because she had her “hands off” process flawlessly organized.
Firmly ensconced in the modern world, she handed us an iPad fully loaded with the vehicles manual, a whole bunch of how-to videos, and general how-to tips (many with photos), which we used ten minutes into our trip.
Nika has driven in our RV on numerous vacations and knows the vehicle so well that the second we had a question, she was on the phone with an answer.
Also, in a touch that made us smile, every button on our vehicle was lovingly labeled. We really appreciated her attention to detail. A labeler is an enabler!
The pros of renting an RV
A huge bonus is that we wound up driving a super posh, completely outfitted Mercedes Model V 2016 RV. The retail price on the vehicle is $116,000, but we were able to rent it for $310 per night.
Despite its size it was easy to drive, and it even came with a coffee maker. Everything was included in our rental–it was stocked with towels, dishes and pots, and we even found a drawer full of Christmas lights and lanterns for use. There were no extra charges, the price was the price and we thought that was wonderful. With larger companies you usually get an empty vehicle; every added piece comes with an additional charge.
Other facilities included a dual sink, a two range stove, large refrigerator, love seat which pulled out into a bed, back sleeping quarters (which was a queen bed) and a bedroom TV, dining table, shower, GPS and sleeping nook above the drivers seats. You can easily sleep four or five people. There is also an outside shower that we didn’t use.
I loved the ease of transition from house to RV. As a mom, the thought of pulling together everything for a camping trip made my head explode. It’s like moving house for three days–but not this time.
The only cons are that if a private owner has a problem with the vehicle and has to take it out of service, it can screw up your long-anticipated vacation plans.
But we had everything we needed and because we took our Eagle Rock packing cubes instead of bulky suitcases, we managed to keep everything packed away neatly claiming three cubby holes each.
A beachside location
We chose the Paradise by the Sea RV Park in Oceanside simply because it was near the beach. I had visions of us swimming in the ocean, sunbathing and barbecuing but we didn’t get to use the beach or get in the water as the weather was so bad. However, I was grateful for the RV community and it was fun to meet our neighbors and exchange tips with other campers.
The campground is very convenient. It is just steps from the beach adjacent to Buccaneer Park and Beach (Oceanside’s full-service beach includes a playground, basketball court, shaded picnic area, restrooms and a beach café). You can surf here, walk to the Oceanside Pier, fish from the Oceanside Harbor and also tour Encinitas, Solana Beach and nearby Camp Pendleton–if you want to go further afield.
I loved the beach access, immaculate huge bathrooms and pool area. I would definitely go back when we could guarantee sunshine.
My tip would be to make campground reservations far in advance, especially national parks. They fill up quickly as you aren’t the only one with this great idea.
Activities in San Diego
We had tickets to Sea World in San Diego and also the San Diego Zoo, which was a blessing given the fact that making sandcastles on the beach wasn’t an option. We drove the RV to both, and it was easy to pull up and move.
At Sea World it was pouring, and I felt like a fish but it was empty in comparison to most theme parks during the weekend. And so, we didn’t have to stand in line for anything which was wonderful. Not only did we have a great time, but it was also a good lesson to our son to soldier on. And we weren’t the only families soldiering–there were many trooper families determined to enjoy the experience. We wore ponchos, held umbrellas (my tip would be to always pack both) and we watched dolphins and Orcas in the rain. Then the sweetest thing happened. As we were walking around, we were randomly picked to play with a seal behind the scenes. Seeing a seal up close was a divine added surprise for our kid.
On our visit to San Diego Zoo, we kicked off our day by sticking to a theme of trying new vehicles by taking an open air bus ride all over the park. After that, we jumped on the zoo’s tram, which was super fun, and then walked everywhere. The zoo is huge so we covered a lot of ground to see as many exhibits as we could, but the lions, elephants, monkeys and gorillas were our favorites. Thankfully after another deluge, the sun came out which was lovely, and we enjoyed our brief blast of vitamin D.
Eating out in Oceanside
We planned to barbecue but because it was impossible we ended up enjoying a couple of really great Oceanside restaurants.
We walked to the Privateer, which serves coal fired pizza. When it’s cold and wet, you want to enjoy a family-sized feast. I loved that not only is the Privateer locally supported and independently owned (the owner’s son was our waiter), but they embrace families (the kid’s menu was inventive). The food was generous and tasty. We ordered a salad bowl and I kid you not it was probably the biggest most delicious Caesar salad I’d ever seen. We ordered their red/white pizza (tomato sauce, basil, cream, shaved Grand Padano) with sausage and mushroom. We finished it all and even had room to taste their signature fried olives (jumbo green olives, breaded and stuffed with fontina, topped with fresh thyme), meatballs and a flight of beer including its signature IPA (Privateer IPA). Luckily our RV was near, so we walked home full and happy.
On our second night we took an Uber to Masters Oceanside as it was a little further away housed in what used to be a drag car shop. We were lucky enough to meet Executive Chef Darrell Campbell, who personally delivered one of our dishes. This is a lively space with a popular happy hour, exciting cocktail menu and regular music nights. The food is fueled by love and creativity. We shared a large hummus board that came with carrot hummus, white bean hummus, Prager Brothers sourdough bread and cruditès. Then we sampled the spicy Pei mussels with chorizo, truffle Parmesan fries, Philly Cheesesteak egg rolls (shaved ribeye, caramelized onion, American cheese, spicy ketchup) as well as their amazing roasted pear salad with walnuts, pickled cranberry and honeycomb. Somehow, we also found room for their delicious baby-back ribs in a root beer BBQ sauce.
Would we do it again? Yes!
This was the perfect “camping without camping for moms who hate camping” experience you could get. I was so grateful to have had the experience of renting an RV and not owning it.
We worked together as a tightly knit family unit (along with the dog!). For kids, keeping clean and organized is essential in this situation and this is a great way to drive home that lesson.
It wasn’t what we planned because of the torrential Southern California storms and in a tent, and I would have cried but the RV became our comfortable hideaway. I’ll never forget spending Saturday night happy and warm, tucked into the RV’s king size bed with my husband, son and dog (who at one point all seemed to be snoring)! I was warm and dry, and my family was safe. What more could you ask for on a camping, non-camping, camping trip? As I joyfully returned the keys to the owner, I mentally scored this as a total win.
By Margot Black for PeterGreenberg.com