My RV Vacation Trip from Indiana to Utah
We recently just took our very first RV Trip from Indiana to Utah. This trip was a sponsored event from the ME!Network. We all were getting free RV’s to use. The reason for this trip was to prove a “proof of concept” that you can rent an RV for cheaper than you can if you were to fly for vacation. Hmmm… Let’s see how this story plays out. What do you think?
We were told the estimated gas for this trip would be $700 and we were responsible for the airfare travel to and from the start place in Chicago and the end place in Utah. Normally, when traveling by RV you would rent an RV closer to We were up for this adventure. My husband was stoked and my kids were pretty excited too! I’ve done lots of camping so I basically thought of it as a big camping trip with luxury quarters to sleep in.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect and this was something that was a bit out of my comfort zone too. My husband has always wanted to travel the US in an RV so we opted in for this vacation. I thought giving you my story about our first trip would definitely be an eye opener and things you should think about before you leave on your trip.
Pick up the RV
First step is to have a RV vacation travel plan. This is one of the most important things you need to do to start your trip right. Having a plan could potentially save you lots of money. I took a trip from Indiana to Utah with a bunch of other bloggers as an Epic RV Blogger tour but it was not exactly what I expected it to be. We had 16 families who attended this travel event. You can see all of the RV Tour attendees and coordinator here. This was a seven day trip with multiple stops and activities planned along the way. If you followed us on Instagram or Facebook, you’ve probably already saw all of our photos.
Our trip started on April 3oth, 2014 and went for a full 8 days! We headed out a day early before this adventure to check out Chicago. We ended up staying at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place for one night. We couldn’t fly in the same day because there were no flights that would get us there before our meet up time the next day. We did have a blast as we visited downtown Chicago. Be sure to read the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place Chicago article here for all the details.
On the 3oth, we all met up at the Chicago airport to be bused to our RV pick up location. The trip started off a bit rocky because the buses were late picking us up. This is probably our very first lesson on this trip. Travel Tip: Always allow for extra time for traffic in an unknown area.
We headed to Middlebury because we all had to pick up our RV’s and grab the orientation on how to use them. I think most of us had never driven an RV before. As you can imagine, we were quit nervous about the unknown part. As we all arrived, it was already starting to get dark. Time was ticking and trying to get 16 families coordinated with RV’s was a bit frustrating. We were told there would be an obstacle course for us to practice on before we headed off on the roads in this beast of a vehicle. As we arrived not only was there no course but we were all handed our temporary RV license plates and a few zip ties to put on ourselves! I think I may have freaked out a bit at this point because I was totally expecting for someone to teach me (or my husband) how to drive this bad boy! To make matters worse, we barely had enough gas in the RV to make it to the gas station to fill up the first time. Oh boy. This trip was in definite need of better planning!
This is exactly why I say to start with a good plan before you even hit the road. I wished I was a bit more diligent to have my own plan but I relied on another company to do this. Travel Tip: Have your plan and check it twice! Don’t count on someone else’s travel plan either.
Luckily my husband is an easy going guy that is not afraid to figure it out. He hoped in the drivers seat and headed down the road! Bless his heart! He had to put up with me and my worrying!
We started to Middlebury, Indiana at the Middlebury KOA located at 52867 State Rte 13, Middlebury, IN 46540. You can read my full Middlebury Indiana KOA Review here and see all the amazing photos of this beautiful place. The staff went above and beyond to make us feel welcomed and they even helped us get set up with our RV’s. I think they could see or even sense the terror and frustrations from us.
Jellystone Park KOA in Austin, Minnesota
The next day we headed out to Austin, Minnesota Jellystone park KOA. First stop was a Walmart that was close because we needed all the food for our trip and camping supplies. We spent $300 just getting everything we needed such as lanterns, sleeping bags, food etc…
I googled the drive time from Middlebury to Austin, MN and it was supposed to be 7 hours and 38 minutes. Because of the drive time being only 7 1/2 hours there was a dinner planned at Jellystone for that evening. I can tell you that nobody made the dinner that night. It had to be cancelled. We all didn’t arrive there until between 8pm ish and some didn’t arrive until almost 2 to 3 am the next morning! There was no set route given to each of us to travel with. We all headed out with our own GPS systems, plug in the address and took off. Some GPS systems took them the long way and some took a direct way. Either way was bad though because the roads from Indiana through Chicago and up to Austin, MN were horrible! It was raining off and on and the wind was absolutely horrible. My husband, who was driving the whole way, had major pain in his arms and shoulders from holding the wheel of this RV just trying to drive on these terrible roads and strong winds. This part was not fun at all. If I had this to do over again, I don’t think I would travel more than 4 or 5 hours in a day. My kids were troopers too. They had their electronics and drawing tablets and didn’t complain one bit. I can imagine some of the other people who had younger ones may not have been so lucky though.
As soon as we arrived to Jellystone park in Austin, MN we found a place to park our RV. It was so late that no staff members were even there to help us. We set up camp and hit the showers. We did build a big campfire for the unexpected dinner we had to make on our own though. We had hotdogs on a stick, potato salad and s’mores. Honestly, we were too tired to care what we ate. We just wanted to sit down and not in the RV!
Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota
We had to meet early the next morning (even though we all got in really late) to discuss the travel plans for the next day. We had plans to head to the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN. (Be sure to check out my full article on the Mall of America here. It’s an amazing place to visit!!!) The coordinators of this trip were the ME!Network. We were told that we all need to follow the same route because obviously the day before did not go as well as they had hoped for. I immediately expressed concern because there is NO WAY you can get 16 RV’s to follow in order during turns, stop signs, stop lights, potty breaks etc… There’s just no way. They didn’t see it like this. They thought it was better if we all followed. Ok… we will give it a try. We all headed off the same time and the first exit off the highway was a disaster! I immediately called the leader and they told me they thought someone was passing them. They started going so fast that we all lost them. I didn’t even Google the directions before we left because we all promised to follow the leader. I quickly jumped on my cell phone maps and typed in the address to go my own way. I lost everyone. (Can I say “I told you so” now?! lol) My GPS is plugged to take to quickest route and it took me straight to the highway. Thank goodness. It was a pleasant drive and no stress with having to follow someone else. We were traveling solo and I was okay with that. The coordinators didn’t give us the meeting place because they said we would all just follow one another. After arriving we were smart enough to know that there’s a special parking place for RV’s and we would connect with everyone else at some point. Turns out we were one of the 1st few to arrive.
After spending a fun filled day at the Mall of America the plan was to back to Jellystone KOA in Austin, MN. After really looking at the map and seeing the plan, we quickly realized that this was backtracking 1 hour and 40 minutes in the opposite direction from where our final destination was going to be. Who wants to backtrack 1 and 40 minutes while paying the cost of full for a huge RV? Not me! Apparently not many others either. Luckily, there were a few of us in the group that thought the same thing. We were not about to waste time and money going along with this plan because it just didn’t make sense. After some research, one of our friends told us of a KOA that was a lot closer and only charged us about $38 for the night. WAHOO! I traveled with some amazing bloggers! Smart ones too! Most of us, I didn’t really count, stayed at this closer place. It was going to be way cheaper than paying the gas and the time to back track.
Minneapolis Soutwest KOA in Minnesota
We arrived at our newly planned, closer location called the Minneapolis Southwest KOA. It’s a small KOA with super friendly people. They even stayed open late for us too! They had some damage from the winter but it was a beautiful place to stay. The showers were super clean too. Heck, we didn’t care. We got there when it was still light outside. That was pretty important to us because we quickly learned that setting up the RV in the dark is no fun. Besides, we really, really wanted to just sit by the fire and hang out with friends! We did this and it was an awesome decision! We really enjoyed our stay this night! Besides, Miller time was calling! It was a chance to throw back a beer or two and enjoy the scenery. This was something we had yet to experience this whole trip. Travel TIP: Leave plenty of time between travel destinations to take time out because road traveling can get stressful and do what’s best for you and your family. After all, it’s a vacation, right?!
Corn Palace and Wall Drug in South Dakota
Next stop for us was Mount Rushmore!! This was going to be the best part of the trip because we had planned to be there a few days! All this driving was making us crazy. The drive time route was supposed to be 3 hours to Corn Palace (a place made entirely out of corn along the way) and from Corn Palace to Wall Drug as another 3 hours. We were scheduled to have an ice cream party for the whole group at Wall Drug at 2pm this day. From our previous days experience we knew the drive times would probably not get us there in time. We opted to skip the Corn Palace stop and head straight to Wall Drug. We really wanted to visit Wall Drug and we needed to get there in before they closed. At this point we could care less about an ice cream party. We ended up arriving about an hour before they closed. It was a great place to stop and grab a donut. Their donuts taste like cake! They don’t taste like a donut at all. I was able to grab a cookbook because some of the recipes were from the old days and I love these types of recipes.
Mount Rushmore KOA in South Dakota
We arrived at Mount Rushmore KOA which was only about 2 hours away from Wall Drug. Phew… finally time to relax and enjoy a break from a long road trip.
We were all scheduled to have dinner on our own at Mount Rushmore. So we all started our campfires and got to cooking. This was probably the first night that we all really got a chance to sit around a campfire and enjoy each others company. The kids went crazy as you would expect. They needed a chance to run around outside. We stayed at the Mount Rushmore KOA! Be sure to read my full Mount Rushmore KOA Review here for all the details and all the activities this campsite has to offer. It really is an amazing place!
We were all playing road trip bingo along the way. There were chances to win prices anywhere from an Amazon Gift Card to a 3 night stay in the Mt. Rushmore Executive Suites! There was also another change to win a $500 cash prize from Insightly. I’m a pretty positive person so I was able to put the travel stresses behind me and start having a ball on this trip! Besides, I was with my family and some amazing bloggers too! All of which are my friends! Wahoo! It was party time baby!
We all ate dinner and the raffle took place! Guess who won the 3 night stay in the Mt. Rushmore Executive Suites?!! ME!!! I was beyond excited! I was happy to be at the KOA to rest a bit but now I was over the top excited to stay in a suite! Head over here to see just how amazing these Mt. Rushmore KOA Executive Suites really are! Amazing right?!! I thought so too! If I ever get a chance to go back, I will definitely stay there again. This cabin was so big that we invited friends to stay in this cabin with us. It was way too beautiful to not have someone else enjoy it especially since it could fit all of us! We had beer, roasted marshmallows, played cards and had a blast! This cabin was definitely the highlight of my stay!
The next day we planned to visit the Mt. Rushmore National Memorial and the Crazy Horse Memorial. We ended up skipping the first tour but definitely made the Crazy Horse Memorial.
The next day we visited the Rushmore Cave. The kids remember the zipling ride and the gunslinger more than the cave I think. It was worth seeing for sure. If you have someone disabled or they have trouble walking, it’s quite a challenge to climb the stairs to get to the cave. I have no issues and it was a challenge for me. Just know this before you go. I was able to use the GoPro camera as I made my way down the Zipline. I will update the post with the edited video at a later date. I need to remove a few not-so-good words I said as I took the first drop! haha! Stay tuned!
The rest of our time was spent at the Mount Rushmore KOA as we enjoyed wine tasting, kids activities, s’mores parties, go carts and much more. I really enjoyed my stay at this place!
If you are in the area, I hear that Devil’s Tower National Monument was worth seeing too. It’s located on Wyoming 110, Devils Tower, WY 82714. It’s only 2 hours away.
Our family opted to do some more kid friendly activities while we were there. We stopped at the Cosmos Mystery Area and survived it! A friend of ours also suggested we stop and visit the Old MacDonald’s Farm in Rapid City, South Dakota. They have some of the cutest baby animals that you can pet and feed! We are huge animal lovers so this was a perfect stop for us.
As the trip came to an end there were a few announcements at the last dinner. They had to announce the Amazon gift card winners and the grand price winner for the $500 Cash prize from the Travel Bingo we played along the way. Guess who won the $500! ME. Again. Talk about LUCKY! I kinda felt bad about it though because I know we all spent way more on this trip than we had planned and I feel like I just got some of that unexpected expenses reimbursed to me.
Last stop in Utah
The next stop was scheduled in Utah. We all kept asking our coordinator were the last stop was before we even left. After all of us kept asking and asking we were finally told the trip ends here (in Mount Rushmore) even though we were scheduled to return the RV’s in Utah and fly home from Utah. We also learned that we were supposed to “squat” in a Cabela’s parking lot overnight after we were told in the beginning that this would be coordinated for us. The Cabela’s parking lot doesn’t have water or RV hookups. This would mean running your generator (which is timed on the rental for an extra charge) for a long time and where would you dump the waste when needed? It was still cold for us so this was not an option for most of us. But here’s the worst part, this Cabela’s that we were lead to was 40 miles past the airport from where we were supposed to leave. My husband was fed up at this point. We found a KOA within 10 minutes of the airport and made a reservation. We stayed the night and left in the morning.
We dropped of the RV at our required destination. Luckily our coordinator set up for all of our supplies to be shipped home because there was no way you can put all the camping stuff on the plan with you. Our stuff was put in bags and boxes and left in our RV so the rental place could mail it back to us. The trip was over. We headed back to the airport and flew home.
All in all we had a great time. We made the best out of the plans we had. We opted to chance a few plans to make it easier for us but we did learn a bit along the way.
As for the “proof of concept” on an RV Vacation. I can definitely tell you that I would rather spend money on airfare and not time on the road. Gas is expensive! I spent over $850 in gas and we were driving well below the speed limit because of the road conditions and weather.
On the other hand… I live in Austin, Texas and if I had plans to head to the coast I could totally see myself renting an RV and driving only 2 to 4 hours away. That would be a pretty cool trip!
You won’t find me doing a super long RV trip again. My limit is 2 to 4 hours or maybe 5 hours driving time tops!
Our boxes (I had 8 of them) that were shipped back to us finally arrived 3 weeks later. It’s a good thing I didn’t opt to ship any food home or else it would have been expired! I was grateful to have them shipped though.
Lessons Learned Along the Way:
Packing for an RV sucks. It’s just like packing for a camping trip.
Next time I will research more about the route. We were told we would be given a route in the RV in a pretty printed pamphlet. I wished I would have listed to my gut and pushed for it before hand. I did plan out the routes I knew on Google maps but I’ve learned to not trust those times.
Next time I do a sponsored event, I will get it in writing. There’s nothing worse than having a plan go sour and not having the expectation in writing.
I learned that RV companies will let you use RV’s for free if you deliver them to them when needed. Most RV rental companies purchase RV’s every year. They don’t want to have to pay for these RV’s to be delivered so it’s a great way to make use of the RV on your own vacation without having to pay to rent one. You will need to contact these companies directly at the 1st of the year when they make these purchases and start scheduling deliveries. If they are desperate, they will possibly entertain the idea of paying for your gas or possible compensation too! The downfall, you will have to take this trip before the peak time of summer. Most companies want you to have these RV’s delivered by March to May.
KOA Campsites are pretty amazing. They are not at all what I expected. They are all extremely friendly and welcoming! I’ve always seen the signs but never put a thought in to them at all. It was a pleasant surprise!
My husband can maneuver that RV like nothing I’ve ever seen before! Relationships grow stronger when you are put in odd situations and I am grateful for him during this trip! He’s my hero!
My final lesson, my kids will have fun no matter where we are! It was a great time to bond with family and friends! While there are some things I would have planned better, I’m glad I had this experience!