With my position at the college - July and August off - I am probably one of the few people who can make full use of a camping trailer, and ours does indeed get a lot of use. We camp both 'for campings sake' (meaning woodsy) as well as use our unit as an apartment on wheels when touring.
Migrating from a tent to an "apartment on wheels" ...
We've been camping for some time and have migrated from tent (it seemed to rain every time we went out), to hardtop trailer (it also seemed to rain every time, which was more survivable in a trailer than a tent, but now we loathed hot and humid weather), to travel trailer (with no need to pack-up in the rain, and an air conditioner on the roof... of course since we got it we now got better weather while camping). Our first big travel trailer was a 21-foot Trail-Cruiser: this was a great little unit which weighed only 3500lb when lightly loaded and so we could pull it with our minivan. While it _could_ be towed with our minivan it was certainly hard on the vehicle and big hills were particularly painful to climb. As well, we made the mistake of buying a Ford and so every time we tried to climb a hill the "check engine" light came on, rectified by a $75 visit to the garage (a buddy of mine who also owned a Ford suggested I put electrical tape over the light as it was a cheaper solution than multiple visits to the dealer). When the minivan died (my _last_ Ford, my VERY VERY _last_ Ford, which blew head-gaskets at 70000 km) we bought a pickup which we knew would tow a trailer properly. Our little Dodge Dakota pickup was built for towing with a 4.7l engine, 5 speed automatic, all-wheel drive, extra cooling package, and a 3.92 gear ratio. Towing a 3500lb trailer was very easy behind that truck and you almost forgot it was there (the truck is rated at about 6500lb towing capacity - twice what we were pulling).
Now, having a pickup (which can pull far more weight than we had), we bought a larger trailer (vicious circle, eh?). The reality is, when my mom tagged-along with us to Disneyworld in Florida in 2003 the 21-foot trailer was quite crowded and if we intended to take her along again, a larger unit would be nice. We migrated to a very comfortable 30-foot Trail-Lite with a pop-out (this was a very luxurious unit featuring ducted air, stained-glass on the cabinet doors, and a completely enclosed underbelly with heated holding tanks). That unit weighed less than 5000lb (under 6000lb when fully loaded with all our camping 'stuff') and we towed it everywhere. In 2008, we had a lucky-to-be-alive accident on the I-4 in Florida on our way to Disney in which that 4 year old Trail-Lite rolled-over on a busy highway at rush-hour and was demolished. We were all badly shaken (ending-up backwards on a busy highway facing oncoming traffic at 65 MPH will do that) but everyone survived and miraculously no-one else was involved in the accident. Even the truck survived with minor bruises (that little Dakota is built like a tank) although the force of the accident twisted the frame to the point where it was required to replace it (yes, they physically transplanted the entire truck onto a new frame).
We certainly weren't ready to give-up camping and so our new unit is a 2008 29-foot Trail-Sport ultralight. Weighing 4118 pounds unloaded, it is quite similar to our 30-foot Trail-Lite with a similar pop-out but this unit features more bunks (four in the back) and a load of outside storage (The Floor Plan can be seen here). Like our previous unit, the unit is cavernous inside with the pop-out extended and has a full queen bed in front. While the new unit isn't quite as luxurious as the previous unit (lacking ducted air and a fully-enclosed underbelly) it has a lot going for it including being lighter, having a place for my mom to sleep instead of the sofa, and a huge amount of outdoor storage - something lacking on most trailers we've ever seen. The unit has a second door on the rear which opens into an area under the top bunk on the passenger side of the trailer: the original purpose was to allow one to carry stuff like bikes, tents, etc, to be unloaded first and allow the bunk to be used by unfolding it into the open space behind the door. Within an hour of owning the unit we had modified it by removing the fourth bunk (the original configuration was a 'bunk house' with four bunks in the rear) and walling-off that area so the trailer now has three bunks (for two kids and one for grandma) and a huge outside storage area we affectionately call the 'shed'. This area, about 3 feet by 6 feet by 4 feet high, features shelves on one side and solves a huge problem with almost every trailer we've owned or seen: lack of outdoor storage space usually requiring gear like lawn chairs, etc, to be stored inside while travelling. We no longer have to clean chairs and tables before packing them and propane stoves and appliances stay outdoors preventing the leaching of that wonderful mercaptan odour into the unit.
Aside from creating the storage area we made a host of small changes to the unit including adding rail-and-stile doors for various spaces. With a thin LCD TV mounted on the wall, the old cabinet area originally designated for the TV was fitted with a door making a large cabinet for food (can't have too much storage space in a trailer). Under the main bed two doors allowed that large area to house a drawer for pots and pans as well as a large slide-out bucket for laundry. A door was fitted allowing the area under a dinette seat to be used for shoes. Another shortcoming of this unit (and all of our previous travel trailers - this is a 'feature' of the RVision product line) was lack of drawers ... I think these guys expect you to hang underwear in a wardrobe :). We added five slide-out plastic buckets for use as drawers, building these into the new area behind the retrofitted shed. Other little touches included addition of shelves and plastic and wood 'lips' on all shelves to keep items from sliding out (especially useful for eliminating the frustration upon opening a door for the first-time after parking it). A phase-controller was built allowing the blower on the air conditioner to be cycled to a much lower speed at night to keep air circulating without the noise of the original blower (the controller cycles the PSC blower motor to a low speed without stalling until the compressor kicks-in at which point the fan speed rises preventing the evaporator coil from freezing-up). Finally, I welded a tank carrier which attaches to the rear bumper to carry the "poop tank", used to empty the holding tanks without moving the entire unit, on the outside of the unit. It's little personalizations like this which make this unit very livable and truly 'ours'.
I often get asked about towability. With the right hitch - a weight distributing hitch which includes twin spring bars and twin sway controls (I have one on either side of my hitch) we can tow just about anywhere. Ultralight 30-foot trailers weigh less than 6000lbs fully loaded, so the little Dakota truck tows easily. Sure, the mountains of Virginia cause a fuss (even without the trailer those hills are nasty - everyone with a gas engine seems to have problems with those hills and a diesel is likely the only achiever there) and on some long hills we're crawling up at 50 km/h (30mph) along with the trucks in the far right lane, but normal highways with normal grades aren't a problem at all. And if you're wondering, yes, the gas mileage is pitiful at about 12mpg towing (but not much better at 14mpg without a trailer behind!). As my dad used to say 'Passes everything but a gas station' :).
In 2013, we upgraded the aging Dakota to a new Toyota Tundra. A 4-by-4 with a 5.7 litre engine and a six-speed automatic, the larger truck pulls the trailer effortlessly (it has a tow rating of about 10,000 pounds so the trailer poses no problem for it). It performed very nicely on the hills in Virginia and those nasty long hills can now be managed at 70 km/h (45mph) easily (I could go up to 55mph but I'd rather not push it). No matter where I've towed with it, I've never seen the transmission temperature gauge budge! The gas mileage is no better than the Dakota when towing (although it is without a trailer behind) but the truck is more powerful and the tow is a lot easier.
Our kind of camping ...
We do two kinds of camping, "camping for camping's sake" and "touring" in which the unit serves as a hotel room (but one in which we don't have to unpack every time we move). If we're camping for camping's sake - just to enjoy the outdoors - we usually camp amidst trees in nice shaded sites foregoing full services for nature (you know, places with lots of trees, chipmunks, and campfires). 'Roughing it' usually means just hydro (and before you say anything about 30 Amp service being far from 'roughing it', remember that we started with a tent :).
Some of our favourite places include campgrounds around the finger lakes in New York state. There are nice parks in Ontario, too, but they seem to book-up months in advance with few vacancies available (the system seems ripe with abuse and I keep hoping the parks people will correct this), especially since we cannot take 'any' site with a 29-foot trailer. Some of our favourite camping spots offer a little piece of nature: Peace, quiet, and chipmunks ... all you could want while camping! Often, the kids find little critters to feed like these friendly little chipmunks at Lakeside - they were so friendly on one trip they were climbing on us to eat peanuts from our hands! Of course camping is about a host of things including being in and around nature (I particularly like walking out to a well-treed area), sharing meals with the family (we set up a dining tent and all of us, including my in-laws, come over to enjoy meals together), and just living it slower (sometimes taking hours to make dinner and wondering where the day went). It's hard at home to justify waking-up at 9 and finishing breakfast at 10:30 but this seems to be the norm for us when camping.
Finishing breakfast at 10:30 ... indeed! While "real camping", elaborate breakfasts seem to be the norm: French toast, pancakes, and, pictured here, omelettes. Making meals seems to be a bit more "entertainment" than you'd usually associate with food.
The omelette here was a bit of an experiment - an attempt to make one as good as the best I'd ever had, which was at the Crystal Palace in Disney.
We rarely watch TV or turn on a radio while camping preferring quiet recreation like playing cards - which reminds me of a funny thing where, while playing cards, a chipmunk climbed on my father-in-law and appeared to be helping him with his game. I could make a smart-a#%ed comment about needing a chipmunk to help him with his cards since the 'little guy' appears to be whispering something to him in this photo like "don't play the ten !".
And if one thing really defines 'camping' for me, it's a campfire when it gets dark. It's a lot of fun, whether catching-up with a large group of people or just kicking-back quietly with a few of us. It's the kind of thing you just can't do most places ... and when camping, you're free of computers, and phones, and radios! That's important, too: if you want to ruin a camping trip just bring the cellphone, blare the radio, and surf the web. Really, "they" can wait for you to get back!
A typical camping trip for us ... Watkin's Glen in the finger lakes of NY. Although we live in Canada, our proximity to the US border means that, in many cases, US parks are closer than some of the nice Ontario parks (most of which are "up north"). We've been to Watkin's Glen a few times now - the place boasts 19 waterfalls within a 30-minute walk! Some waterfalls are larger and in the open while some, like these in the Cathedral area (so-called since the trees arch over the ravine) are darker and quiet with smaller falls that drop into a quiet pool of water below. It is an amazing walk in which we stop periodically just to admire the scenery. During the fall, vivid colours of the changing leaves highlight the route!
While in the area, we also visited the Corning Museum of Glass which is a 30-minute ride away. The museum features live demonstrations of glassblowing as well as an immense collection of glass objects from vases and flowers to chandeliers and stained-glass windows. During the summer, the road-show demonstration trailer is often parked behind the museum and offers different hot-glass show as well. Other displays outline the technology of glass from early glassmaking techniques (ever seen those old glass windows with large bubbles and wonder how they were made ?) to the technology of high-temperature glass-ceramics.
Aside from camping for camping's sake, we also use the trailer as a vehicle to tour the countryside. In this case, the camper acts as a hotel room on wheels and we usually try to camp in fully-serviced campgrounds. Hotelling-it is OK for a vacation where you'll be staying for a week in one place, but when you're moving every three or four days to a new location the packing/unpacking thing gets tiring ... with a trailer all "our stuff" is already there and ready when we park. Our trailer has taken us to a bunch of places as a 'vehicle' for touring including:
Peterborough and Kingston|
With my youngest daughter attending Queen's University, we make frequent trips through southern Ontario. In 2014, on our way to drop her off, we stopped in Peterborough for a few days to tour the lift locks and jungle cat world. After touring the visitor's center (which includes an interesting film on the Trent-Severn waterway), we took a boat tour which included a trip through a wooden lock as well as the famous lift locks.
In 2011 we visited Rochester, NY. While in a quiet little campground near lake Ontario, I spotted this woodpecker. It was kind of hard to miss: the bird was tearing chunks of wood over 2 inches (5cm) in length off the tree! I thought someone climbed the tree with an axe!
Dover and Dayton OH
In the summer of 2010 we took a camping trip to Ohio. Our first stop was in the heart of Amish country - local Amish folk even came into our campground selling vegetables. We toured Warther's carvings in Dover which displays the carvings of Ernest Warther. This man must have been _made_ of patience as his carvings show extreme detail. Take a look at a detail shot of the Baldwin engine carving shown here ... every bolt, valve, and connecting rod is reproduced in incredible detail! While in the area we also toured the Harry London chocolate factory (everyone like chocolate, right?), and an interesting old mansion (the Reeves Victorian home, also in Dover).
We've taken two separate trips to Scranton, Pennsylvania, to see a host of atttactions including the Lackawanna coal mine tour (where guests are carted 300 feet below the earth's surface to a once operating mine), Steamtown (a National Park devoted entirely to the preservation of Steam-powered locomotives: a must if you're a railroad buff), and the Electric City Trolley Museum, pictured here.
Kingston and Ottawa ON
In 2008 we went to Kingston and the Ottawa area (again). Near Kingston we took a boat to visit Boldt castle in the thousand islands. The castle was a fascinating place and it took us over three hours to cover it all including the boathouse. The castle was never completed by the original builder (Boldt) but the thousand-islands bridge authority has done a great job of completing it (it is currently only half finished but is still quite magnificent). While in Kingston I also found the Military Communications and Electronics museum particularly interesting, visiting it twice. That unique museum presents the history of communications as applied to the military and features displays covering early telephone technology used in the trenches of WW1 to spy radios of WW2 and encryption systems used during the cold war. We also toured Fort Henry, unfortunately it poured the day we were there and our tour was cut short.
In 2007 we went to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. A fascinating place, the museum features displays covering not only the industrial period at the turn of the century but older (1700s) and newer (up to the 1970s) technology as well - technologies from the steam engine to the production line. Another page on this site outlines the Newcomen engine housed there, the oldest engine of it's type in existence. The museum is indoors and features displays on aviation, steam engines, agriculture, trains, and of course automobiles. It takes an entire day to cover. The museum has certainly changed over the past few years: I had been there on three previous occasions - as a kid we had taken daytrips there - and it was certainly nice on this occasion to be able to see the place in a more leisurely manner. Changes were made over the years from traditional glass-case displays of memorabilia to themed displays showing the development of specific technologies - for example a neat display centered around the development of aircraft and, of course, an amazing display outlining the progression of the automobile.
For more information go to the Henry Ford Museum / Greenfield Village web site.
On the way back from South Carolina in 2006 we stopped at Williamsburg, Virginia, for a few days. Even if you're not into American colonial history, Colonial Williamsburg was an awesome place to visit with knowledgeable interpreters at every building. It really gave you a feeling for life in the last part of the 18th century' (which seems a lot harsher than one might want to have thought). The time-frame of the colony is 1776, just before the American revolution when the US was still a British colony. We had a three-day ticket, of which it takes at least two days to cover the place. Be sure to see the movie at the guest center which gives a good introduction to the colony and, for those of us not versed well in US history, a summary on the events leading to the revolution. I especially enjoyed touring the Governor's residence, a house where we were shown what 'typical' life was really like for an upper-middle class family (including how meals were cooked in a kitchen with no screens on the windows), and the apothecary.
Eastern Canada (NB, NS, PEI)
In 2006 we took a three-week tour of Canada's East coast which included New Brunswick (St. John and Fundy), Nova Scotia (including Halifax and the Citadel fortress), and PEI. There were a surprising amount of things to do out there from museums to 'the tourist thing' and we were busy every day. Our tour began at King's Landing in NB, an 1800's heritage village featuring interpreters at all buildings explaining what life was like in the "good old days" (King's landing is a lot like Upper Canada Villaga, another place we've visited in the past and loved). From there we went across Confederation bridge to Cavendish, PEI, also known as 'Anne Land' after the famous Green Gables saga. PEI is a small, and quaint, province and we toured the west end of the island as well as Charlottetown. Charlottetown, capital of the small province, is home to the Founders' Hall exhibit in which we are taken back in time to the conference of 1864 where Canada was really born. The presentation was well worth it and I learned a lot about Canadian history that I _should_ have already known :). While in the city we toured the beaconsfield mansion where the interpreter explained interesting tidbits about life a hundred years ago, things like how you'd feed visitors fine luncheon meats like bologna and never feed them cheap stuff like lobster ("the bug of the sea", after all)!
Morrisburg and Ottawa ON
On one of our trips to Ottawa in 2004 to visit relatives (we've taken a few trips to that area) we took a side-trip to Morrisburg, the home of Upper Canada Village (we often do this on trips, visiting interesting places on the way). The village shows life in Upper Canada in 1860 and features three mills (one steam powered, another water-powered woolen mill), a blacksmith shop, a general store (pictured to the left, with costumed interpreters), and a host of buildings giving visitors an excellent idea of what life was like long ago. We even took a ride in a horse-drawn scow (which the kids loved). We stayed at a nearby park so that after a long day of touring we could relax. Of course Ottawa itself, our final destination, has a host of attractions as well and we were given an absolutely amazing private tour of the mint by a relative of my mother-in-law's where we were allowed right inside the mint and the vaults holding the raw precious metals (we were allowed to handle a good bit of gold - of course we had to pass through a very sensitive metal detector on the way out so taking home a sample was forbidden :). That tour was a 'once in a lifetime' experience and one I shall never forget.
Columbia SC, Orlando FL
My brother lived in South Carolina for fifteen years and so we've made many trips down south, some with the trailer where we camped-out in his front lawn. On the trip down (too long to do comfortably in one day with the trailer), we often stayed in West Virginia camping in the mountains there near a beautiful, cold, mountain lake. In South Carolina, we'd do all sorts of things including the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia where the kids are seen on a bronze turtle sculpture in 2003. Note the Icee's they have, too .... another one of those things the kids looked-forward to when we travelled down South (along with Chick-Fil-A, which we don't have up north, Cracker Barrel, and most recently 'Cheerwine' - a soft drink found only in the Carolinas). When in Rome ...