Lessons Learned: Clothes & Eating

This is the 5th entry in a ‘Lessons Learned’ series attempting to summarize our experience of living on the road for a year in a 5th wheel trailer as a family of four.



There’s a joke among full-time traveling families:

Q: “How do you know when you’re a fulltime (traveling) family?”
A: “When you have photos of yourself by every national landmark, monument and park and you’re wearing the same thing in all of them.”

RV’s don’t have unlimited space so choosing a wardrobe is a puzzle.  Since we didn’t have the budget to go to Cabellas and buy everything new we tried to start out with what we had and adjust as we went on.  Here’s what else we learned along the way:

Clothing Lessons Learned

  • Just because people “go South for the winter” doesn’t mean it doesn’t get cold down there. We ended up buying winter coats in Raliegh, NC
  • Spending more on coats with guarantees makes sense for active families with teens.
  • Avoid white as much as possible.  Between the lifestyle and the changing quality of the water at laundromats our whites have not stayed white.  The other benefit to minimizing your whites is you’ll have fewer separate loads to deal with.
  • Think and pack in layers.
  • Temps get colder as elevation increases - pack layers if daytripping to higher elevations.
  • Use sweats for pajamas so they can be worn in public in a pinch.
  • We needed full-brim hats when we got to the west.  Columbia versions that are sufficing for now, but they aren’t perfect (brims too floppy in the wind, fit for MsBoyink not great, etc).  At some point I hope to get Tilley hats instead.

In addition to (and somewhat as a result of) those lessons learned MsBoyink and I are now moving to a “personal uniform” approach to our wardrobes with multiples of pants and t-shirts in the same color and then just some different top layers - but with everything coordinating. 

Our goals are to spend less time worrying about finding a matching outfit and to make shopping for new easier by just replacing the common item and working within a very specific color scheme. I’ve since posted about my personal uniform approach.


Eating presented a learning curve in shopping, preparation, and consumption. 

For shopping - when you are constantly on the move you rarely shop at the same store twice. We ended up shopping at Walmarts mainly to have consistency. 

For food preparation the trailer had a fully-equipped kitchen until part way through when the oven died. We made do with the microwave, crock pot, electric griddle, electric skillet, and a propane camp stove carried in the truck. 

For consuming - the mechanics of eating inside the trailer proved trickier than expected. We had removed the trailer dinette in favor of some freestanding chairs assuming we’d just eat outside at picnic tables.  But we experienced poor weather, parks without tables, and pesky insects that kept us inside eating off cutting boards as trays. 

Lessons Learned

  • When shopping at a new store go to customer service and get a rewards card application.  You get the discount immediately and prices could be ridiculous otherwise.
  • There is an iPhone app to store and track the discount cards - sometimes the stores could just scan my iPhone screen instead of the card.
  • Some stores are part of larger networks and if they were the cards we had already signed up for would work.
  • Pre-cooked sausage links are regional.
  • While Walmart is evil in many ways the mostly standard layout is a respite in a lifestyle of constant change
  • We left too late in the season to find farmers markets.
  • We got tired of sandwiches and wraps while out sightseeing - so carrying a small propane stove in the truck gave us a way to have hot meals and coffee while away from the trailer.
  • The Starbucks “Via” instant coffees are pretty decent - much better than the Folgers/Maxwell House singles.
  • Adding Ramen noodles and chicken breast to a pack of frozen veggies makes a pretty good stir-fry
  • Having a crock pot supper waiting at the trailer after a long day of being out sightseeing is really, really nice
  • The occasional splurge on a meal out to taste the local flavors is well worth it
  • You don’t have to eat around a table
  • You can pull out a drawer and place a cutting board on top if it for a quick place to eat (or use a laptop).
  • The more you eat while sitting on the main trailer furniture the more you can expect it to suffer from food stains.
  • Living as a family in RV provided plenty of “family time” - so we didn’t sweat meals not eaten simultaneously.

Prepping a meal on the truck

Prepping a meal on the truck

Tailgating in Philly

Tailgating in Philly

Poor pic of sampling at Cheesesteak in Philly

Poor pic of sampling at Cheesesteak in Philly

Storybird sampling spreads in Cooperstown, NY

Storybird sampling spreads in Cooperstown, NY

Storybird samples a fresh pretzel in Savannah, GA

Storybird samples a fresh pretzel in Savannah, GA

Eating outside with friends in the San Antonio TX area

Eating outside with friends in the San Antonio TX area

Huckleberry ice cream in Wallace, ID

Huckleberry ice cream in Wallace, ID

Other First-Year Lessons

How Have You Adapted?

How have you adapted your wardrobe and diet to living on the road or sea?

6 Comments Lessons Learned: Clothes & Eating

  1. Picture of Rick Rick November 20, 2011

    My favorite “lessons learned” post thus far. Thanks for sharing!

    Quick question… how did you find local flavors? Do you have any tips for finding more genuine eateries versus the tourist traps?

  2. Picture of Boyink Boyink November 20, 2011

    No real secrets there - we just tried to stay away from chains, find stuff that looked interesting, and took chances with what was close, or recommended by people in the campgrounds.

  3. Picture of Larry Larry November 21, 2011

    I remember, early on in your adventure, in a post that Crissa wrote, about getting the grocery store rewards cards.  I’m glad that it worked out as well as it did for you!!

    As for eating out, we only go to places that are local to the area or a chain that’s not in our home area.  We have tried some of the best food in some of the neatest places because of this.

    I like your ideas for clothes.  My wife and I can pack everything we need in a pretty small space in our camper for our long trips.  Course, we’ve only been gone for up to 3 weeks.  Just gotta use those laundramats.  I’ve looked at those Tilley hats too.  I have a similar knock off that I bought for much less.  Just couldn’t make myself spend the extra $$ for the Tilley - though sometimes I wish I would have.

  4. Picture of Melissa Binde Melissa Binde November 21, 2011

    Thanks so much, these kinds of summation posts are so useful to those of us not yet on the road but craving information (and trying to plan as best we can.)

    I never would’ve thought of the white shirt thing. Luckily I also like my colored ones!

  5. Picture of Jenn (GH) Jenn (GH) November 25, 2011

    I don’t think I could be more different (or ridiculous!!!) when it comes to wardrobe!!  Although I will say I’m with you on the whites.  I love clothing, particularly vintage clothing which isn’t the best fit for a nomadic lifestyle but I don’t care! I drastically cut down my wardrobe but it still didn’t stop me from bringing numerous dresses, pants, skirts, boots, heels, flats, sandals, workout clothes, hats, belts, swimsuits, coats, jeans, sweaters, tights, and even a pair of fish nets!!!  Ha ha!!!  It’s crazy I know!!! (And the “real” reason I wanted a 5th wheel but don’t tell anyone!) Tomorrow, I’m going to the Vintage Festival in Austin so I’m sure I’ll add to the mix!!!  Brent had to reinforce our closet bar!!  LOL!!  The boys on the other hand stick with jeans, t-shirts and sweaters.  Good thing we only have one girl in this family!

    Food hasn’t ended up begin as difficult as I thought it would be.  We eat pretty simply so almost everywhere has vegetables, fruit, and protein.  Maybe not the quality I’m used to from our co-ops but it hasn’t been as bad as I thought.  I’ve even managed to continue brewing kombucha and water kefir.  We have this awesome little coffee thing…it’s like a funnel shaped coffee mug that holds a metal filter.  Brent grinds coffee in a hand grinder and then pours the water through the cone thingy.  It tastes wonderful.  We also love our french press but it can get a little strong if you forget about it and that can be dangerous with my sensitivity to caffeine!  ;-)

  6. Picture of Cherie @ Technomadia Cherie @ Technomadia December 12, 2011

    When shopping at a new store go to customer service and get a rewards card application.  You get the discount immediately and prices could be ridiculous otherwise.

    In our 5 years on the road, we’ve not once needed to sign up for a grocery store card to get the discounted loyalty price.  When you get up to the counter, just tell the cashier that you’re passing through town, and they’ll scan their ‘store card’.  :)

    And worst comes to worst, they usually have the card/application at the counter and will scan you a blank one. No need to fill it out and send it in.

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