Disclosure: I participated in the All American RV Blogger tour. This event was partially sponsored by Access RV, Austin Minnesota Jellystone Camp Resort, Bulu Box, Bus Bank, CVS/pharmacy, Eagle Creek, Insightly, KOA Campgrounds, Mall of America, Murphy USA, South Dakota Tourism and USA 5 Star. This campaign and tour was organized by Me Network. Bloggers on the tour were responsible for all expenses not covered by sponsors.
We woke up to a sunny day in Middlebury, Indiana. The KOA campground we stayed at has a lot of amenities to enjoy, including mini golf, bicycle and paddleboat rentals. They had a large swimming pool as well, though it wasn’t open for the season yet. Like many other KOAs, Middlebury also offers lodge and cabin rentals if you’re not traveling by RV or don’t wish to tent-camp.
The Middlebury KOA served us a continental breakfast of Amish-baked doughnuts and coffee. We received routing information from our PR team, as well as some travel gear, courtesy of sponsor Eagle Creek. The gear included a backpack with a padded laptop pouch, a tablet pouch (good gifts for bloggers!) a packing cube set, and a travel neck pillow.
We were also instructed to build grocery-shopping and lunch stops into our trips somewhere between here and Austin, Minnesota, our destination for the evening.
We were headed to the Austin, Minnesota Beaver Creek Jellystone Camp Resort. Our schedule had us departing Indiana at 9:30am and arriving in Austin by 7:00pm, where dinner would be served to the entire group and the kids would enjoy activities at the campground. When I looked at our routing for the day, we noticed that we were headed back through Chicagoland along I-90 aiming for gas stops at the Murphy USA locations in either Belvidere, Illinois or Rockford, Illinois. I realized that I was the only blogger on the tour who would be driving within four miles of her house along the way! Well, where would you stop for a “free” lunch? And “free” groceries?
We hit quite a bit of traffic getting through Chicago. Around 1:45pm, we pulled our RV into our driveway and had lunch at home. Cost: $0 out of pocket! I’d guess we ate about $5 worth of lunchmeat, deli cheeses and bread. We also took this opportunity to stock our RV’s refrigerator with groceries from our home fridge. Our boys thought it was very strange to return home less than 24 hours after we began our vacation. Indeed, it was a little surreal! Our daughter decided not to accompany us on this adventure due to school events, but taking the RV home allowed her and my mom a chance to tour it and see where we’d be living for the next week.
We packed the refrigerator and freezer with eggs, bacon, sausages, hot dogs, apple juice — and of course, a two-liter of my beloved Kosher Coca-Cola. I also took this opportunity to fill the RV’s fresh water tank with a hose (something I’d forgotten to do at the campground on this morning. It’s hard to flush the toilet or wash your hands while on the road if you don’t have fresh water..!)
We also ditched our dirty clothes from the previous day and each grabbed a clean outfit to replace them with in our suitcases. Less laundry to do!
After again saying goodbye to everyone, we made a quick 5-minute stop at the Walmart near our house too for hot dog buns. Our entire stop lasted about an hour, and then we were back on the highway. We were keeping in touch with the other bloggers via a Facebook group set up for our tour, and the question arose: Where should we stop for gas?
We decided to try to maximize our Murphy USA gas card by emptying more of our RV’s tank and drive to Rockford (further along the route) versus the closer Belvidere gas station. This turned out to be the wrong decision for us. Bloggers who went to the Belvidere station reported that it was very close to the highway and easy to get back onto once people had filled up. When we entered Rockford, so much of our route was under construction that we waited over an hour driving through the city at a slow crawl. We waited for trains, traffic, you name it. Everyone who went to the Belvidere station ultimately passed us along the route.
However, when we finally reached the Rockford Murphy USA, we filled up our tank again. Murphy USA has a neat gift card feature called TxtPay — it’s a virtual gift card that you can text to someone. They’re marketing it as beneficial for parents wanting to provide a gas budget for their college kids or anyone in a situation of wanting to pay for and share fuel with another person. Indeed, our “gift cards” were nothing more than codes we received via text! No card to lose, and both my husband and I had the number codes to use.
Another bonus: When you use TxtPay, you automatically receive your gas station’s lowest price within the last 24 hours or $.03 off the advertised per gallon price — whichever is lower.
$118.71 later, we were back on the highway headed toward Wisconsin, but it was now past 5pm. With nearly six more hours of driving to go, there was no way we’d arrive in Austin by 7:00pm for dinner. Our RV’s GPS also had a fuel mileage feature on it. After entering the initial number of miles driven, it calculated our miles per gallon:
Yes, we’d gotten a dismal 6.64 miles to the gallon thus far. The traffic in both Chicago and Rockford pretty much killed any chances at a decent MPG for this leg of the trip. (My goal was to get up to 9MPG!)
Via our Facebook group (and never while I was driving — this was the passenger’s job!) I learned that no one was on track to arrive in Austin in time for dinner. So, we were instructed to have dinner on the road. Ours consisted of hot dogs I made in the microwave while my husband drove, as well as crackers and popcorn. Not the best meal, but we really did not want to stop again and lose more time.
We also learned that four of the bloggers had decided to part from the original route and head toward Minnesota via Iowa instead of via Wisconsin. They noted that after we departed Minnesota, there would unfortunately not be any more Murphy USA locations on our route. In an effort to use as much of the gas card as possible, they took a longer route to visit more participating stations.
As the sun set, I had our kids change into pajamas, and they went to sleep in the master bed. Another great perk of RV travel — the kids can sleep comfortably on the road.
We arrived at the Beaver Trails Jellystone campground after 11:00pm. I believe the earliest group of bloggers arrived around 10:00pm. The Iowa-route bloggers checked in via Facebook and estimated they would arrive between 2:00 and 4:00am. Ouch.
It’s worth noting too that driving an RV is very different than driving a car. You simply cannot drive quickly. We never drove over 60MPH during our trip, and if it’s windy, you’ll quickly find yourself reducing your speed so your RV doesn’t sway and blow around on the road.
We were quickly realizing that the estimated drive times on our trip schedule were based on a best-case scenario where one could drive the maximum speed limit and never encounter traffic or construction. The PR team that set the tour up used Google Maps to plan the estimated drive times for the trip. However, some of the states on our route had 75 and 80MPH speed limits, but the fact that the RVs could not safely be driven at those speeds seemed to not have been taken into account when determining the times we were to arrive at various destinations. Even the PR team had had trouble reaching the destinations at the times noted in our schedule.
And, if you thought our 6.64 miles per gallon was bad, consider this: Every 5MPG per hour you drive an RV over the speed of 60mph can reduce your miles per gallon by 2MPG or more. We never drove over 60MPH. This isn’t to say that our drives weren’t fun — our family was having a great time together on the road! The kids were busy reading, playing cards, and just talking to us about everything under the sun.
We also had a highway bingo game that all of the bloggers were playing on social media throughout the drive. In our trip documents, each blogger received a bingo card, and in order to complete squares, you were required to Tweet or post various things on Instagram — such as “Share a photo of a red car, a yellow car and a blue car,” or “Share a picture of a state welcome sign.”
Bingo prizes were to be awarded once we reached our campground in South Dakota later in the trip, and prizes ranged from Amazon gift cards to 1 and 3-night stay in deluxe KOA cabins. The grand prize for blacking out the bingo card was $500, so of course everyone was trying to complete every square. One of my bingo squares said “Share a picture of a park ranger.” I hadn’t seen any yet on this trip, but being that we were staying at a Jellystone campground, this is the park ranger photo I Tweeted:
This marked my first attempt at highway bingo humor… but it certainly wasn’t the last. Tomorrow: The Mall of America!
With each day’s trip report, I’m going to provide an exact list of expenses — what it cost us, and what it would cost to do an identical trip without sponsorship. Obviously, there will be areas where you could tweak or adjust expenses to suit your family’s needs and budget, but I’m trying to be as thorough as possible in detailing all of the costs of this trip. For instances in which I do not know the exact costs of a particular item, I’m estimating what the cost would be.
|What it cost our family of four||What it would cost your family of four|
|Amish doughnut breakfast (approx. $2 per person): $0.00||Amish doughnut breakfast: $8.00|
|Eagle Creek Luggage: Eagle Creek Afar Backpack: $0.00 Eagle Creek Site-Seeing Tablet Courier: $.00 Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter travel cube set: $0.00 Eagle Creek 2-in-1 Travel Pillow: $0.00||Eagle Creek Luggage: Eagle Creek Afar Backpack: $110.00 Eagle Creek Site-Seeing Tablet Courier: $45.00 Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter travel cube set: $38.00 Eagle Creek 2-in-1 Travel Pillow: $24.00|
|Illinois Tollway: $1.90||Illinois Tollway: $1.90|
|Groceries from home (approximate value): $20.00||Groceries from home (approximate value): $20.00|
|Hot dog buns: $0.90||Hot dog buns: $0.90|
|Murphy USA gas: $118.71 Murphy USA TxtPay gas card remaining balance): +$256.29||Murphy USA gas: $118.71|
|One night stay at Beaver Creek Jellystone campground: $0.00||One night stay at Beaver Creek Jellystone campground: $53.00|
|Today’s total: $22.80||Today’s total: $419.51|
|Total to date: $135.83||Total to date: $3564.02|
Disclosure: I participated in the All American RV Blogger tour. This event was partially sponsored by Access RV, Austin Minnesota Jellystone Camp Resort, Bulu Box, Bus Bank, CVS/pharmacy, Eagle Creek, Insightly, KOA campgrounds, Mall of America, Murphy USA, South Dakota Tourism and USA 5 Star. This campaign and tour was organized by Me Network. Bloggers on the tour were responsible for all expenses not covered by sponsors. Hashtags: #EpicRVBloggerTour #drivingBusBank #grouptravel #LovinMurphyUSA #MOARocks #AustinJellystone #EagleCreekAdventure #BuluBox #MiddleburyKOA #CVSOnTheGo #CVSconvenience #travelsd #exploresd #getinsightly #MtRushmoreKOA #KOAadventure #sponsored