Greetings from Michigan, where we're cozily spending this holiday night in a stranger's driveway (with permission of course.)

In earlier posts, I've explored how having a small RV has allowed us the flexibility to take weekend trips close to home and to make last-minute plans. The holiday travel piece is a whole different ball of wax. Lindy and I have been heading back to the Midwest almost every year for the last 16, and we've done it every conceivable way before we were parents and after. Driving and flying. With the dog and without. Last year's trip involved staying in one home and four different hotels over the course of about 10 days. Imagine stuffing a small car to the gills with clothing, food, gifts and kid stuff, and unpacking and repacking that car at each destination. That's exactly what we were trying to avoid by bringing the RV this time.

(Roxanne, of course, has already been through Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois several times this year.)

We've long since abandoned the notion of driving from the DC area to the Midwest in a single shot. It's a long day behind the wheel, so we prefer to break it up over two days coming and two days going. We were also looking forward to a little more flexibility with our overnights, as we had fewer days to work with this year. So we tried something new. From our house to my mom's is roughly 11 hours. We left after XY finished school last Wednesday, so I mapped out overnight stops 3, 4, 5 and 6 hours from our house. Depending on traffic and how I felt as the primary driver, we'd simply decide how far to go and then stop.

We settled on the 5-hour version, which ended up being more like 6 hours after rush-hour traffic and a couple of stops. It was the Portage Service Plaza on the Ohio Turnpike, and it was a great place to spend the night. Many of the Ohio Turnpike plazas have dedicated RV parking with electric hookups, a dump station and a water pump. Showers and coin-operated laundry are inside the plaza building. We didn't need any of these things this time, only a secure and somewhat quiet place to park for the night. We were the only RV in the place, though I understand they get crowded during warm weather. I put my $20 into the machine on site, printed the receipt and put it on the dashboard, and we were good to go. The fridge and the coach heater both run on propane, so we fired up the thermostat, folded down the beds and simply retired. I can't remember ever traveling someplace and going from the road (or the rail or the air) into my bed so quickly. The heat and our warm sleeping bags had us toasty on a 35-degree night.

Red Winnebago Travato in parking lot with snow covering the surrounding ground.Roxanne at Portage Plaza

A toasty night turned into a chilly morning, as we somehow didn't bother to fill up the propane before we left town, and it ran out while we were sleeping! No propane meant no hot water on the stove, and there would have to be coffee before we got back on the road. I figured I'd fire up the generator and heat some water in the microwave instead, but I tried to do this unsuccessfully a few times before remembering we needed to get gas. Drove over to the pump, got gas, back to the RV parking, heated water, had coffee and breakfast, we freshened up inside the plaza and hit the road. We covered the second half of the drive with no trouble.

I had planned for us to stay one night in a hotel near my mom's house, and had called the hotel to ask if we could park there overnight before our stay. They said yes. But before we left home, I decided to make it a two-night hotel stay instead. We figured the use of a pool and a treadmill, plus a big hot breakfast and a large bed was worth the price of admission. But we've been making good use of Roxanne for sleeping quarters over the rest of the trip.

There is no way to travel subtly in a bright red Winnebago. People give us a thumbs up as they're passing us on the highway. I had a nice chat with my mom's next-door neighbor about it when we were parked in the driveway. And we've never, ever gone searching around for our ride in a parking lot. The thing makes a statement.

I'm pretty sure our ecological footprint is bigger than last winter's. We've gone from six hotel nights down to two, which saves electricity and all the water and soap needed to wash linens for the three of us. But we're using a lot more gas than we did even during our summer travels, as the average mileage has gone down with the heat cranked up. And we're generating more trash than usual, as we've turned to disposable tableware because we can't wash dishes in a winterized RV. The guy who evangelizes tap water for a living had to buy 2 gallons of the bottled stuff to take along.

There's that conflict again, between the minimalist impulse and the travel bug. On the one hand, travel in a small RV makes you acutely aware of how little you actually need to get by. Every square inch of space, every drop of fuel and water makes a difference. On the other hand, for those who don't live on the road full time, an RV is an extravagance. Plenty of people own second homes, second cars or some kind of time share. These are things for those who have much, not those who have little. So I'm acutely aware that we've got a giant red monument to consumerism on our hands.

But the number of ways we've been able to use the RV seems to be multiplying.

Orange flag flying from the top of an RV.Roxanne's first funeral

At a family funeral a few weeks earlier, Roxanne was Penny's hideaway during a 6-hour visitation and our bedroom during a couple of overnight stays in the driveway. It was also my temporary mobile office for a couple hours when I needed to get some work done. I have a feeling it will come in handy when we have between four and seven guests coming to stay during the inauguration.

Winnebago Travato parked along the side of a residential street.Roxanne in Monroe

Computer among other things on the dinette of the Winnebago Travato.Mobile office

This has been a challenging year, to say the least. In our families, in our friends' families, in the entertainment community, there's been an extraordinary amount of death this year. At the same time, this was the year of exploring the country in Roxanne. The experiences we've had, the lessons we've learned, the people we've met along the way have been incredible. So I have to remain hopeful for the adventures that lie ahead in 2017.

In the meantime, we're headed back home Wednesday. I've got a couple of overnight spots scoped out. Will it be another Ohio travel plaza? Or a Wal-Mart outside of Pittsburgh? Stay tuned...


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