To me, family camping always meant roughing it: tents, sleeping bags, and — because I was in charge — lousy food. My wife, Rachelle, never understood the thrill and stayed home. When my now 16-year-old son, Jordan, and I started going on multiday backpacking treks with no bathrooms, my 14-year-old daughter, Marissa, opted out too. In short, "family" camping was anything but. I needed to find a new way for us to spend time together outdoors.
"We should try an RV," Rachelle suggested several times. It seemed like heresy at first. But then I considered our family history of road trips: Rachelle's father was a Greyhound bus driver, and she spent summers as a kid "ridin' the dog" on trips across the West. Now we take our minivan from the Northeast to the Northern Plains every summer to visit family. What's a recreational vehicle but a minivan on steroids, or a Greyhound with a nicer bathroom? So we added a leg to our vacation that took us to Devils Tower, Wyoming, Mount Rushmore, and the Black Hills of South Dakota. Here's what we learned during a week indulging our wanderlust in a 31-foot RV — complete with beds, sinks, air-conditioning, a flushing toilet, shower, gas range, and even a flat-screen TV.