Lessons Learned from My First Season of Solo RVing
First impressions of living in the Winnebago + Adventure Wagon full-time.

By: Abby Holcombe

When this article is published, I will have hit the six-month mark of solo full-time travel out of my Winnebago + Adventure Wagon. I started in Arkansas and have traveled over 10,000 miles, visited 19 U.S. states, and two Canadian provinces, and I competed in five freestyle kayaking competitions— including the World Championships. The last six months have been nothing short of fantastic.

For some context, my parents and I have traveled full-time in a Winnebago for the last nine years. While it was hard at times, it was spectacular getting to grow up experiencing so many different cultures, people, and environments as a family. 

Unlike a traditional family, we constantly had to compromise as we only had one vehicle. If one person had to be somewhere, it meant that the whole family had to tag along as well. Most of the time, this allowed all three of us to experience incredible places and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities together. But sometimes, it was frustrating when we all wanted to go to such contrasting places during the same period of time.

However, when I got my very own Winnebago, I was overwhelmed by the newfound freedom and opportunity to go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted to. I feel as though most kids my age experience this when they go off to college, but this felt particularly exciting because I had all of North America at my fingertips. Instead of my parents deciding for me, I finally got to plan the summer (and fall) of my dreams.

My First Taste of Solo RVing on a Road Trip to Canada

During the first stretch of my solo road trip in my beloved van, I spent all 15 hours dreaming of every possible scenario for my summer. When I really thought about it, my priorities were pretty straightforward: I wanted to paddle a lot to ensure I was ready for the World Championships, be surrounded by my favorite people, and challenge myself as a person, athlete, and traveler. The more I dreamt, my heart became set on a summer exploring and kayaking in Canada.

Abby after a long first day on the road.

I knew such a big trip would push me as a traveler, with the 25-hour solo international road trip and some of the biggest waves to train on in the world. Plus, all of my best friends would be training in Canada as well. It seemed like it checked all the boxes and I quickly found myself researching routes to Canada and ensuring my passport was up to date.

This was my longest solo road trip, and it was honestly one of the highlights of my summer. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard. But spending five days alone with my thoughts was such a beneficial time to reflect on where I’ve been and where I want to go, physically and emotionally. I sang until I lost my voice, I daydreamed of Tim Hortons, and I just kept driving … for what felt like eons.

This was Abby’s first time boondocking in her van all by herself. This is a free place to park overnight near Lincoln, NE, and was the perfect place to breakup long days driving.

I drove through long boring corn fields, big cities that I didn’t think I was brave enough to drive a van across, I boondocked all by myself for the first time, and most importantly, I learned that I’m more than capable of traveling solo, and more so, that I really enjoy it.

I stayed with friends in corn fields and in Walmart parking lots to break up the strenuous drive. I tend to use apps like iOverlander and AllStays to find free and safe places to stay. I like these apps because I can read reviews from other travelers and decide if it’s somewhere I feel comfortable staying by myself.

Abby’s van the morning after its first night spent in a Walmart parking lot!

Every night I’d plan out my route and make sure I had all of my stops and destinations ready to go before I started out. This allowed me to focus on the road instead of fumbling with my phone and maps while driving. The CarPlay feature of the Sprinter was so great and allowed me to view my navigation without distracting me.

Because I was traveling by myself, I would try to stop every few hours to reset and regroup before hitting the road again. Most of the time, these stops involved resupplying with caffeinated beverages and sugary snacks to help me stay alert and awake.

During my trip, I made a quick pit stop to explore Niagara Falls – somewhere I hadn’t seen since my first year on the road with my family in 2014. It felt like such a full circle moment, revisiting in my first year of solo full-time travel. 

I’ve crossed many borders throughout my life, especially into Canada, but this was my first time crossing by myself. I was a little timid but, after researching all the requirements, I felt much more at ease. I ended up entering in Sarnia, Ontario, and leaving in Niagara Falls, New York. Both were smooth and pleasant border-crossing experiences.

Abby throwing a freestyle kayak trick called the Airscrew on the world-class Garburator Wave on the Ottawa River.
Abby’s gear and kayak ready for a competition in Montreal. This event is special because you get to ride on the back of a jet-ski in your kayak to get back up to the wave for your next competition ride.

Putting My Summer Practice to the Test at the World Championships

I had a dreamy summer in Canada with good weather, friends, and world-class kayaking. It was everything I’d hoped for and then some. But it was over in a flash, and it was time to head south to Columbus, GA, for the World Championships. 

During the World Championships, freestyle kayakers gather from around the world for an intense week of competition to see who is the best of the best. This was my third World Championships but my first time competing as a senior (18 years of age or older) as well as my first time experiencing a home worlds in the USA.

Abby throwing a trick on a feature called Good Wave on the Chattahoochee River during the preliminary round of the World Championships.
The women of the USA Freestyle Kayak Team waiting for their turn in the wave.

My favorite part about competing in a World Championships is how much you grow as an athlete, but also as a person as part of the preparation and actuality of the event. The 2023 World Championships were no exception. Because it was my first time competing against the senior women, I didn’t know what to expect as far as how I’d rank amongst my paddling heroes.

From left to right, Chloe Spears (USA), Ottilie Robinson Shaw (GB), Sophie Gilfillan (CAN), Abby, and Leah Hough (IRL) at the Opening Ceremonies of the World Championships.

I gave each and every round I made it to my all, but I just couldn't quite get the tricks I trained so hard in Canada on and ended up finishing in 10th place. I was disappointed that I couldn't perform the competition ride I wanted, but I am proud of how much I grew as a person and athlete by continuing to push myself and accepting each challenge that arose in the lead into the event.

Lessons Learned During My First Solo RV Season

When I think back to my experience at the World Championships and the six months leading into it, I see so many similarities between a solo road trip and the World Championships. Both situations shed light on ALL of your weaknesses, emotionally and physically, and allow you the chance to grow tremendously IF you choose to see it. 

My biggest takeaway from both challenges is that with some research and preparation I am capable of anything, be that hard kayak tricks or driving solo in a big van across Toronto … TWICE! 

I might not have paddled my best or gotten the result I wanted, but throughout this entire journey, I kept showing up and challenging myself and was continually reminded that I am capable of so much more than I ever could have imagined. 

So, if you’re thinking about going on your first solo road trip, do your research and then go for it! You will learn so much about yourself along the way.


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User commented on November 17, 2023 8:53 PM
Way to go, Abby! What a first six months of adventure and learning! Can’t wait to see where your van and life take you next.