Road trip camping with a large family

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So here the question how would do a long camping road trip with a big family.

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EbS-P

Minister of Fire
Jan 19, 2019
6,172
SE North Carolina
We are on vacation and planning next years trip. We have five kids and a 2011 Honda Odyssey that was just paid off with lifetime warranty for anything not rubbery. We pulled a small pop up tent trailer one summer with 3 kids. Got a big tent and camped with four for a 4 night trip(but didn’t cook at the camp site cold breakfasts grocery store lunch and ate out dinners.)

Now that there 7 of us we want to keep camping. And want to plan a road trip to the south west in the next few years. Thinking a 3 week trip 3000+ miles. Cooking the quantities of food to feed our family is a chore. A spaghetti dinner now is 2# of pasta 2# of meatballs and big loaf of bread and huge salad and our youngest is 4 months old.

As a kid our family of 4 would drive 4-6000 miles in 3-6 weeks pulling a pop up camper. I’m convinced that we cannot pull a camper that would fit us all with our mini van.

So here the question how would do a long camping road trip with a big family? Would love hear your thoughts.

Evan
 
It depends; road trip is easier with one large vehicle. But going some place and staying there is better with a smaller vehicle and trailer. Gives more mobility while at the destination imo.
 
It depends; road trip is easier with one large vehicle. But going some place and staying there is better with a smaller vehicle and trailer. Gives more mobility while at the destination imo.
Unless I go bus sized I have not been anywhere that a full size van wouldn’t fit. We visited lots of places where tent camping was the norm. A small trailer could always fit into the site. Small Trailers are only complicated in big city’s trying to find parking.

As an off the shelf option this looks kinda like what I’m looking for. The addaroom tent may be a custom build to fit my family.

https://intech.com/rv/models/flyer/pursue/
 
I’m convinced that we cannot pull a camper that would fit us all with our mini van.
Me too...Honda Odysseys aren't known for their transmission durabilty, especially towing...and doubly so with a van full of people and stuff. Not picking on them, I own 2. And its good you have the warranty, but somehow they seem to weasel out of paying for half (or more) of things...and when you are thousands of miles from home its as much about getting home on time as anything...especially with supply chain problems (sorry Mr Smith, we can't get a rebuild kit for 6 weeks!)
 
Me too...Honda Odysseys aren't known for their transmission durabilty, especially towing...and doubly so with a van full of people and stuff. Not picking on them, I own 2. And its good you have the warranty, but somehow they seem to weasel out of paying for half (or more) of things...and when you are thousands of miles from home its as much about getting home on time as anything...especially with supply chain problems (sorry Mr Smith, we can't get a rebuild kit for 6 weeks!)
It’s got 118 k on it now. Got the rings replaced on 3 or 4 cylinders at 75k for free. Waiting for the transmission to show only sign of trouble. I’ve replaced one axle and the front struts twice roll bar links, shock and mounts. It’s not been a trouble free purchase. Going in for oil pump seal soon. With the warranty the dealer is pretty proactive in replacing anything that’s covered. I really disliked the 5 speed where 4 and 5 are over drive. And no way to select 2nd gear when towing. Looked at a transmission cooler. I have an OBD Bluetooth scanner that I can monitor transmission on. It’s probably better not to look;)
My issue with it is the GCVWR of I think 6000#. Loaded full of people and stuff and pulling anything you need to pay attention to it. Breaks while better than the previous generation are not great when fully loaded. I’ve never pulled a trailer with breaks but I would consider adding them to anything I tow a lot.

We smoked a transmission on one of our vacations as a kid. Happened near Talladega. Limped AWD for Aerostar back down to the nearest shop and they said “hmm we’ve never seen one of those before”. It was close to a week to it repaired.

At least there are lots of 3.5 Hondas with that 5 speed around. If it was the 6 I’d be a bit more concerned.
 
I've got 4 kids, total of 6 bodies. We frequently roadtrip and geocache/earthcache. We cram into one hotel room, nice and easy. Bring some food in a Yeti or two.
 
I've got 4 kids, total of 6 bodies. We frequently roadtrip and geocache/earthcache. We cram into one hotel room, nice and easy. Bring some food in a Yeti or two.
How long (days and miles)is your average trip?
 
Unless I go bus sized I have not been anywhere that a full size van wouldn’t fit. We visited lots of places where tent camping was the norm. A small trailer could always fit into the site. Small Trailers are only complicated in big city’s trying to find parking.

As an off the shelf option this looks kinda like what I’m looking for. The addaroom tent may be a custom build to fit my family.

https://intech.com/rv/models/flyer/pursue/
Not sure there is a misunderstanding; I meant that if you go drive every day, one large vehicle is best imo, fitting everyone. But if you drive to a place to camp nd stay there, a smaller vehicle and a trailer are best because then you can leave the trailer at the campground and go to town with a smaller vehicle .

So if the focus is on driving most days I'd choose different than if the focus is on getting someplace and staying at that "base" while making day trips around the area
 
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Full size van. Put all yer stuff in the arse end and pile in. Drop the hammer. It's how we did it for many years. Both E/W coasts (multiple trips) and Florida and Ontario. We did Florida and Ontario yearly. If you get burned out on camping (you will) grab an occasional room, My 2 cents worth!

BTW if you need an early 70's Coleman green canvas tent that uses 25 odd sized poles to erect it's yours for free;) A bit musty.

Edit: If you would be interested in the van I can go down to the junkyard and see if the boys could pull the welder and torch back out. Guess they would have to put the doors back on as well;lol
 
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Get a Ford Transit or Mercedes Sprinter, a tall one that you can stand in. Not much luggage space behind the rear seats, but if you get a 15 passenger you can take some seats out and have lots of room. My sister and her husband have one to travel in (6 children), and looks like it would work nice. We have 5 children, my son is over 6’ tall, and we travel in a Suburban. It’d be nice to have something with bit more room.
 
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I’m in agreement the 15 passenger van is the best solution. Probably will be the Ford with the eco boost so if we want to pull a small bunkhouse we could. It’s also the most expensive.

To date I have not seen any crash test ratings of full-size vans. That irks me quite a bit. Rollover risk for a mid roof van vs the regular or high is something to consider. I would like to see the stability control tested. The crash with the Texas college golf team in Driving a Transit got me looking harder into the safety ratings. Did not find much. Not sure a head on crash at an impact speed in excess of 130mph would be survivable in any vehicle. Minivans have the fewest deaths per miles.
 
I have been thinking about this since I read it Wednesday morning.

1. Kudo's to you for taking your kids travelling. Travel is fatal to prejudice.

2. Given the number of bodies, airfare to say DFW and then rent a RV with a toilet in it might be cost prohibitive.

3. If I was going to do that, the vehicle would have a toilet in the passenger side rear corner. Period.

I spent about ten years as a contractor, I have pretty well worn my own ruts in I-40 between Chapel Hill and Barstow, CA. 600 miles (in a 2004 GTO, alone) is a long day, travelling at velocities where I have about a 50-50 shot at talking myself out of a ticket but very low risk of getting arrested. RDU to LAX is about 35 hours of windshield time in that scenario - but you got to depart Barstow at 0300 to get across LA on the last morning, or it is going to be 40 hours of windshield time.

There was recently a military family up here we got along with really well. They had I think 9 kids. Maybe ten. Good folks, the kind of parents I want raising ten future voters. When they would road trip they would drive two hours, stop ten minutes so everyone could pee, etc etc and change drivers every 6-8 hours. And they would just drive to wherever they were going non stop. Once they got there, the first day was a a down day so everyone could sleep in a bed.

What about taking a greyhound bus or Amtrak to Amarillo and then renting an RV?
 
We like camping too, we just got back yesterday from a 14 day trip up north, went to Yellowknife, drove the Liard Highway back down to the Alaska Highway (400+ km of gravel) and up the Alaska highway 300 km then back home, 3500km total. For us it's easy though, we just have a 30lb dog and a 8 month old baby.

I do agree that a camper to fit all of you is way too heavy for a Honda Odyssey. My 35ft fifth wheel would easily sleep 7, 2 in the front bed, 4 separate single bunks for kids, and either make down the couch or kitchen table for a bed for the 7th, but it's also 11,000lbs and although its classed at half-ton towable gives my 1 ton a work out pulling it.

One thing that is becoming very common is rental RV's, with the current price of new campers its almost not worth owning one anymore. I believe there are rental motorhomes that fit 7-8 people, might be the best option, everyone has a bed, you have a fridge, stove, bathroom, shower and storage for everything. Makes it easy for quick overnight stops with almost no setup/takedown time, and you can save money on eating out, we usually just pull over at a pull out to make lunch or supper. My understanding is these units are under $150/day to rent, which is well below the cost of owning mine for a 2 week yearly trip.

Otherwise a 15 passenger van might be best, unless you wanted to go with a large SUV like a Chevy Suburban. If you wanted a hard-shell camper to sleep 7 you're looking in the 27+ft range, and a weight of 7000# or more.

PS. I haven't voted in your poll, because I believe a Rental Motorhome is the simplest option.
 
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Just got back home from a not camping vacation. Long day 18 hours down i95 900 miles. It’s a “normal” Drive for us. Bedding the beasts down for the night in a hotel is way worse than the last 5 hours of the drive.

It’s official the newest addition(almost 5 min at old) is a ROAD WARRIOR. gotta break ‘em in young. While I wasn’t considering the rental. I think that would be a fun vacation but probably a one off. We found the best places are often the ones the big RVs can quite (or shouldn’t) make it too.

i95 sucks…… divers were more considerate today than most other trips. I will reread posts when the road stopper has worn off.
 
Got some sleep unpacked from or vacation. We did a really good job of pack only what we needed. We knew we had a lake cottage for 5 nights then to the in-laws for the remainder of the two weeks we’re were gone. We had a system of color coordinated zippered mesh bags that we packed clothes into for everyone. Only 4 colors now there are 7 of us so the system kinda broke down.

I didn’t count but I’m pretty sure that I unpacked close to 25 pairs of shoes. We were careful what we packed. Not one item went unused. We left many things home that we could have used but didn’t really miss. My wife has CP so having the right shoes for the occasion/activity is really important. She packed 5. All the kids got a pair is sandals or crocks and shoes for hiking. Same for me. We needed to buy water shoes. Zebra mussels are DANGEROUS! +6 pairs. Couple more snuck in as I didn’t approve of the hiking choices and didn’t want to argue. Camping is managing 25 pairs of shoes. 7 sleeping bags. I want a pillow so 7 pillows. Hiking sticks. Kids get by with a single wife and I doubles. That’s 5 pairs! Bikes… not even going there maybe someday. Life jackets if doing any boating. Inflatable standup paddle board is in our future. Hopefully I can get by with just one for a while.

My experience camping will be dependent on how we manage stuff. How easy stuff is to get when needed, how easy it is to put away. Campers solve this but at a cost I’m not ready for. I’ll end up with a full size van at some point, and a road trip in the rented RV sounds great, but I just need to get out and practice camping. Figure out what works and what doesn’t. Like what size of cooler/fridge do we need. Are we tough enough to camp without AC. (To be honest I didn’t know people did that untill I moved down south. But after this week in Maine I’m no happy working that hard to vacation to sleep in temps that are 90 degrees. ). Everyone has needs and limits and I rather not find those at the beginning of the second week of a 4 week trip.

A cargo trailer it is. In the end I will see how it goes and what works and doesn’t. is a single night at a location even possible after a 400 mile day. It would take 6 of those to get to the Grand Canyon! A mega road trip is different than a single base camp

If it goes well I could see buying a custom built trailer.

Edit….
Something like this but smaller single axel.
 
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Choices, choices. I like the minimalist camping. As in being able to put everything I need on a bicycle. It's less comfortable in the conventional meaning of the word, but opens one up to the outside world more. And that is comforting to me. Yes, hot, sweaty, but more in nature.

I went from the Alsace to the Atlantic Pyrenees on my bicycle in three weeks. Tent, back rest, one pan propane stove. Get up at daylight, eat baguette, pack, cycle, buy brie+baguette at a village, have lunch next to a sunflower field (or grapes or lavender), find some grocery store and buy dinner, and at 4 pm, find camp ground, put up the tent, shower (wash the clothes you wore), cook, eat, roll over at 8.30 pm. No light.

Best vacation (with the wife) ever.

Though no kids back then...

In the US we camp for a few days, hike during the days, and then move on. Still very basic.

But it's important YOU (r family) are comfortable. So it's figuring out what the needs are for that. If no one complains that they needed something that was absent, then that's your ideal mode of operating .
 
Choices, choices. I like the minimalist camping. As in being able to put everything I need on a bicycle. It's less comfortable in the conventional meaning of the word, but opens one up to the outside world more. And that is comforting to me. Yes, hot, sweaty, but more in nature.

I went from the Alsace to the Atlantic Pyrenees on my bicycle in three weeks. Tent, back rest, one pan propane stove. Get up at daylight, eat baguette, pack, cycle, buy brie+baguette at a village, have lunch next to a sunflower field (or grapes or lavender), find some grocery store and buy dinner, and at 4 pm, find camp ground, put up the tent, shower (wash the clothes you wore), cook, eat, roll over at 8.30 pm. No light.

Best vacation (with the wife) ever.

Though no kids back then...

In the US we camp for a few days, hike during the days, and then move on. Still very basic.

But it's important YOU (r family) are comfortable. So it's figuring out what the needs are for that. If no one complains that they needed something that was absent, then that's your ideal mode of operating .
I have dreams of going that way. I watched all the cyclists start the Bike across Kansas” race/outings many times. Its just not a realistic trip for my family.

I think finding how little stuff you actually need for a 4 night trip 200-300 miles from home could be fun.

2200 miles from home after 3 weeks you need to still be having fun.

On a related note don’t think that I haven’t thought about cycle as a family https://www.precisiontandems.com/familypics.htm

My intention to get it light leave enough home to fit in a trailer small enough to be pulled by and EV with 150-200 miles range
 
We have two kids. And while I wouldn't go off grid for two weeks with them, we've camped, minimalist fashion, with them ever since the youngest one was 3 years old. Camp/hiking combo after 5 years old. Travel with a Ford focus sedan.
But the point is that we were content. People differ, and a vacation that does not make the participants say, "yeah, that was good and fun", is not a good thing.
 
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Just my opinion.

Personally I wouldn't tow anything over a small 4x8 trailer with a FWD vehicle. I'm not an engineer in that field but I have a hard time believing FWD vehicles are designed to tow, AND haul, AND stop ( the big one ) any considerable amount of weight. If you add the occupants of the vehicle, cargo up, I'd say there won't be much left to tow ( GCWR ) a trailer safely. If you are staying close to home, it will probably be okay but I wouldn't want to go very far.

I was next to some folks a few days at the gas station pulling a tandem axle U-Haul trailer with a little SUV and the rear fender wells were even with back tires. :eek: A few weeks ago I saw a Toyota Highlander pulling a pretty decent size camper on the highway, same thing. Not in a million years would you catch me in either vehicle. I put some blame on the folks renting and selling the trailers too but that's probably another conversation for another day.

If you want to safely pull the trailer and take your family on vacation I'd opt to either rent or buy a RWD van. They will handle the weight much better than your Odyssey will. A 1/2 ton would probably be okay as long as it has a towing package. If you do buy a van and plan on doing lots of towing with it, make sure it has transmission cooler on it. That's even an option on some 3/4 ton gas trucks.
 
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Good advice. I have also seen some scary rigs on the road.

I was thinking of a Chevy Suburban or Ford Expedition with the tow package and transmission cooler. If you are a crafty sort, then consider getting a good used horse trailer and converting it. Install bunk beds on both sides and add a small galley and a porta-potty.
 
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Just my opinion.

Personally I wouldn't tow anything over a small 4x8 trailer with a FWD vehicle. I'm not an engineer in that field but I have a hard time believing FWD vehicles are designed to tow AND haul AND stop ( the big one ) any considerable amount of weight. If you add the occupants of the vehicle, cargo up, I'd say there won't be much left to tow ( GCWR ) a trailer safely. If you are staying close to home, it will probably be okay but I wouldn't want to go very far.

I was next to some folks a few days at the gas station pulling a tandem axle U-Haul trailer with a little SUV and the rear fender wells were even with back tires. :eek: A few weeks ago I saw a Toyota Highlander pulling a pretty decent size camper on the highway, same thing. Not in a million years would you catch me in either vehicle. I put some blame on the folks renting and selling the trailers too but that's probably another conversation for another day.

If you want to safely pull the trailer and take your family on vacation I'd opt to either rent or buy a RWD van. They will handle the weight much better than your Odyssey will. A 1/2 ton would probably be okay as long as it has a towing package. If you do buy a van and plan on doing lots of towing with it, make sure it has transmission cooler on it. That's even an option on some 3/4 ton gas trucks.
The Oddesey is rated to tow 3500# if the trailer has breaks. I’ve never tried anything close. The pop up we pulled was probably 1300#. I purchased air bags that install in the coil springs once you remove the bump stop. Never got around to installing. It’s a heavy car 4500# empty. Add 600# of people and 250 of payload would be a non camping trip add 250 more pounds for camping. Leaves me 400 # below the GVWR of 6000.

I’m pretty sure manual gives reduces towing capacity based on number of occupants. I recall it being a substantial reduction. Based on the front axel weight rating they do not reccomed a weight distribution hitch. The compressed suspension increases camber to a point the insides wear fast. That my biggest issue with FWD. I don’t think the AWD vans and car based suvs tow better because they have AWD.

The best towing safety feature I think is the anti sway hitches after breaks of course.
 
If you are a crafty sort, then consider getting a good used horse trailer and converting it. Install bunk beds on both sides and add a small galley and a porta-potty.

That's actually a good idea, could use an enclosed trailer too.

Lots of guys around here use an enclosed for snowmobiling, fold up bunk beds mounted to the walls, and a makeshift kitchen at the front. Park the sleds outside for night and turn the trailer into a camper, complete with propane or diesel fired heater.

Another option would be an old school bus, preferably a short one. Convert it to camper, keep a few seats for the kids and make a kitchen, bathroom, and bunk beds in the back. I've seen these also made for snowmobile camps.
 
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Good advice. I have also seen some scary rigs on the road.

I was thinking of a Chevy Suburban or Ford Expedition with the tow package and transmission cooler. If you are a crafty sort, then consider getting a good used horse trailer and converting it. Install bunk beds on both sides and add a small galley and a porta-potty.
If I go big I want really big, mid roof full-size van. We had this discussion earlier this year about a full size SUV. Model X or Escalade. No regrets about the Tesla.
I didn’t know at the time we made the decision but just googled it.
Suburban 42cu ft behind 3rd row Odyssey 39 cu ft.
I find the full size suvs big but not when it comes to cargo.
It’s really hard to beat a mini van. At 80 mph loaded 95-105 degrees I can get 23-24 mpg. This is a 11 year old van that just clicked over 118k miles.
And if you you are a nerd and looked up death rates per 1 million miles drive. You would find the suburban is about 39 and the odyssey is 8.
https://www.iihs.org/ratings/driver-death-rates-by-make-and-model. The most recent data for a Yukon xl reports 0 deaths. No data on big vans. Take it all with a grain of salt.

I’m sure
I think the possibility exists that if we have a 15 passenger van we would not need a trailer for tent camping for weeks.

I think some customization of the current 4x8 trailer will happen this year. Storage racks. Pullout galley table with sink. If I load it with much of anything I want to add breaks to it.

The pop up we had had the snow mobile trailer tires. I want to avoid those. They needed repacked every 5-6000 miles and bearings replaced every 10-12k miles. Added bearing buddies and that helped but also made a mess. Not to mention if you are in the desert they are an uncommon size.

I’m not ready to be an RVer. I don’t get the TV on the outside facing compartment. (Shaking my head). Bus idea would be ok but I’d have to park it all year. And drive it everywhere. There is not better way to make miles than 80 mph down the interstate and I’m a bus just isn’t up for that.
 
The Oddesey is rated to tow 3500# if the trailer has breaks.
I've never towed a single axle trailer that has brakes on it. I've never seen a single axle trailer with brakes either. All of the trailers that I'm talking about are equipment or landscape trailers. A trailer with brakes takes a 7 pin plug and the vehicle should have a brake controller vs a 5 way trailer plug on a trailer without brakes. I've never seen a FWD vehicle equipped with a 7 way trailer plug. I've seen older half ton trucks and compact trucks that didn't have them either. Maybe they are making camping trailers with surge brakes ?
 
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