If You’ve Ever Had an RV Trip Gone Wrong, You’ll Relate to This Hilarious Story

My family’s first RV trip was also our last.

In the summer of 1989, at the age of 10, I broke my elbow in my hometown of Peterborough, Ontario, during a rousing game of street broomball. It was Neil’s fault. He was my 11-year-old, olive-skinned Adonis neighbour who took me out at the ankles with a sneaky cross-check. The worst part about it, other than my elbow surgery and failed relationship with Neil, was the subsequent cancellation of our 14-day family trip to the Maritimes.

Dad, eternal optimist and champion of whimsy, came up with a Plan B: renting an RV. I was ecstatic. So were my sisters: 11-year-old Kate and seven-year-old Kerry. Mom, who was not consulted, was not. For her, the prospect of spending a few weeks inside a 12-metre chunk of metal with her beloved offspring sounded less like a holiday and more like spiritual penance.

Our rented RV was the motorhome equivalent of the tree from A Charlie Brown Christmas. In other words, she was the last one on the lot. We loaded our belongings into our new ramshackle abode on wheels and set off on an eastern Ontario adventure.

First stop, the booming metropolis of…Gananoque? It was all so novel. We played cards at the kitchen table—which doubled as a fold-down bed—while my parents navigated the 401. Safety be damned!

On the way, we visited Fort Henry and reluctantly abandoned the beast in a parking lot to enjoy an hour-long boat cruise through the Thousand Islands. Back aboard our moveable home, we made meals and showered, and read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by candlelight. It was an idyllic picture of a 1980s family vacation, until…

“Mom, is there supposed to be this much water on the floor?”

On the fifth day of our trip, we learned about “grey water.” A grey water tank holds refuse from the shower or sink—water with bits of old food and dirt in it. As neophyte campers, we had no idea that not disposing of this water regularly leads to it backing up and flooding your entire living space. Somewhere around Perth, we checked into a campground. While my sisters and I tried to stow our belongings on high ground in the RV, my parents were sloshing through water, trying to pump the tank and not get divorced at the same time.

Despite our soggy state, the next day we forged onward to our nation’s capital. We arrived in Ottawa just as the sun was setting, and Dad wanted to drive us by Parliament Hill to see her lit up in all her glory. As we drove past, oohing and aahing, something else went wrong. Every time Dad took his foot off the gas, the RV’s head and taillights would go out. We had to keep the speedometer at 20 kilometres per hour just to keep the lights on—like a mash-up of National Lampoon’s Vacation and Speed. After countless loops around the eternal flame, we took a sharp right and coasted into a parking lot a few blocks away, where our damp and dark home on wheels sputtered to a stop.

The next day, our MP, who was a family friend, introduced us to Brian Mulroney. We may have smelled a little bit musty, but we still got to have lunch in the MP’s cafeteria. I told Mr. Mulroney that I hoped to one day be the first female prime minister. I can’t remember how he responded, but I like to think I can still count on his vote.

It wasn’t a luxurious vacation, but it was certainly a memorable one—and our last on wheels.

Next, find out what it’s like living in an RV full-time.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada