Like a lot of families, Todd and Cooper Koch were at a loss for how to entertain their 12-year-olds during the pandemic when they were not being homeschooled. The adopted kids were getting a bit stir crazy, and everyone was eager to get out of the house, hit the road, and see the country.
Since flying was out of the question (and expensive for a family of four anyway) they hit upon the idea of taking an RV trip, settling on a Winnebago that fit their needs perfectly.
Before long, they were hooked, having traveled throughout the heartland, seeing monuments, national parks, and even a personal fave, Dollywood.
We caught up with Cooper, a busy Dallas PR exec, to talk about the family and its travels.
Tell us about your family.
My husband Todd and I have been together since 1999 and got married in the gorgeous San Francisco City Hall in 2014.
Claire & Mason are both 12, but not twins. Born in Southern California, we adopted them both as newborns, three months apart.
How did you get into RV travel?
We never really considered ourselves “RV People” until the pandemic hit and we had to cancel a month-long stay in Paris, France. Around that same time, a long-time friend of mine and his husband bought a Class A motorcoach and set off on a cross-country tour, which sparked interest in our minds. About a month later, we were the proud owners of a Winnebago motorcoach and set off on a winding, three-week tour up to Mount Rushmore and back. On that first trip, I drove most of the time while Todd was on conference calls in the back.
The motorcoach was a “bunkhouse model,” which means they have built-in bunk beds, similar to what you might see on a tour bus or overnight trains. It makes it so much easier to keep things orderly since there’s no folding out sofas and having to put them away each day. Plus, they have curtains to give the kids some privacy when they want to get away from their dads or “annoying” siblings.
By the end of summer, we’d traveled for more than five weeks across 19 states.
We have since sold our Winnebago and purchased a larger Monaco “diesel pusher” for this summer’s adventures, which includes white water rafting in the Nathala Valley of Tennessee, sight-seeing in Nashville, visiting Dollywood, and exploring Asheville, North Carolina.
Diesel pushers have larger engines, which makes navigating mountain passes easier (especially while towing a Jeep behind). We also liked the higher-end features, like granite countertops, tile floors, and king-sized beds.
We’ve talked about spending at least a month wandering up to Provincetown for Family Week. Also, we’d love to see the Pacific Northwest, with stops at Yellowstone and other national parks along the way.
What are the advantages of RV family travel with kids?
It’s wonderful to only have to pack/unpack once, even if you’re visiting multiple places and enjoying lots of different activities. And no more rushing through crowded airports.
If you’re in an RV, you can choose the intensity of travel days based on how you feel. Some days, we take our time wandering from one place to another, with lots of stops along the way. Other days, we just want to get there.
Additionally, most parks, particularly public state and national parks, are located at the center of plenty of active things to do as a family.
Tip: If your child is in the 4th grade, your family can get a free pass to visit America’s national parks. Not only is it a fun program, but it can also save you money. (We saved over $100 in entry fees last summer.)
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What are some of your favorite trips?
Two destinations stand out as things I would have probably never seen in my life otherwise, but I can’t imagine not having been there.
The first is Mount Rushmore. What a gorgeous place to visit. It’s impossible to not be in awe of the monument itself, as well as the natural beauty surrounding it.
The other is the Great Sand Dunes National Park in central Colorado. It’s home to the largest dune in North America. Stop just before the entrance to rent specially made sleds to ride down the dunes. It was so much fun.
How would you instruct a first-timer, traveling with a friend or family, about the keys to a memorable trip?
Pace yourself! You don’t need to see everything or drive thousands of miles on your first trip. It’s much more enjoyable if you stay in place 2-3 nights rather than hitting the road each day. You and everyone else in your family will be much more relaxed, happier, and having more fun.
Tip: Whenever possible, choose a state or national park over a privately operated one. They’re usually closer to whatever you’re in the area to see and typically have more room to spread out.
How do you find and hang out with other queer people?
Gaydar! I’m only half-joking. It’s not really that different from day-to-day life. When you see other gays, you typically know it.
RV folks are so friendly. We’ve never had a negative experience, even during last year’s heated political season.
Best RV meal?
Our family’s fan-favorite is campfire skillet nachos. It’s layers of chips, cheese, tomato sauce, and chicken, baked in a cast-iron skillet on the grill. (Also, super easy to make!)
Best RV things to keep kids entertained?
We love to listen to podcasts while en route. Dolly Parton’s America has been the family favorite so far. National Public Radio’s How I Made That is another one that’s both informative and entertaining. The kids like it because they’d previously never really thought about how people create companies and products.
When we’re stopped somewhere for a few nights, we’ll typically stream our favorite shows and movies on the exterior entertainment system. It’s probably not every day that our RV neighbors see a family watching RuPaul’s Drag Race or The Birdcage while cooking out!
I try to keep us off of interstate highways as much as possible so that we can better see rural America. One of the best parts is stumbling across quirky “Biggest…”, “First…” and “Home of…” monuments and attractions. For example, the oldest town in Colorado is an adorable, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town from the Spanish settlement days called San Luis.
It boasts a totally unexpected, oversized, ornate church looming over it from the hilltop.
Cooper Smith is a (gay) husband, dad, adoption advocate, Texan, founder of two businesses, wannabe comedian/Martha Stewart, and generally, a mess who drinks and cusses too much.
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