After discovering the joys of RVing, Keith and Tia Sims want to be a resource for others.
By John Johnston
It often happens this way: Children go camping with family and friends, and the experience instills in them a love of nature hikes, cookouts, campfires, stargazing, and so much more. When those kids become adults, they want to continue camping, but amid more creature comforts. So, they consider buying a motorhome.
That’s pretty typical. But Keith and Tia Sims, F452083, are not your typical RV family. They say so in bold letters on their website, SoulfulRVFamily.com.
“I knew no one who camped,” Tia said of her childhood in New Jersey. “It wasn’t even discussed.” Keith, also a New Jersey native, said his exposure to camping was limited to one week at a Boy Scout camp. “And that wasn’t a great experience.”
And, yet, here they are, enjoying their third motorhome, a 2015 43-foot Newmar Dutch Star in which they and their three youngest children traveled more than 10,000 miles last year. RVing, Keith said, has been “one of the greatest things we’ve done for our marriage and for our family.”
Tia, 42, gets credit for convincing Keith that they should buy an RV. In part, she was just being practical. The family lives in the Atlanta area; Keith, 49, works part of the year in Miami. Rather than live in a hotel or pay for an apartment, he can stay in his own motorhome.
“She started dragging me to RV shows,” Keith said. “It took her a couple of years to convince me that this is something we should do, and that we would enjoy. One of my biggest concerns was I am a large man, and these motorhomes aren’t very big.”
This is a good time to mention that Keith was a 6-foot-3, 318-pound NFL offensive lineman who played 11 seasons for the Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins. He was elected to the Pro Bowl three times and was named one of the top 50 players in Dolphins history.
These days, he has slimmed down to about 255 pounds. Still, he needs space, and his family’s Type A motorhome provides it. It’s his home-away-from-home during the football season when he’s doing pregame and postgame radio and television shows as a member of the Dolphins broadcast team.
Tia also envisioned other benefits of motorhome ownership. “One, I wanted to spend more time with my family in a way that got us off of our electronics — our cell phones, our devices,” she said. “Secondly, I wanted to see the country. I couldn’t stand traveling by airplane. I couldn’t stand being in hotels.”
Even though their motorhome is unavailable for family use during the football season, there’s still plenty of travel opportunities because of the decision to homeschool their three youngest children. KJ is 7; Jayson will be 6 in August; and Justin is 4. The family also includes Eddie, Tia’s adopted adult son; and Cairo and Storm, a daughter and son from Keith’s first marriage, both of whom are in college.
When the Sims family first hit the road about four years ago, something struck them about the campgrounds they stayed in. “We didn’t see anyone like ourselves,” Tia said. “We started to question: Where are the other minorities?”
If there were any questions about how the Simses would be received, that has been answered. “We’ve been to over 50 or 60 campgrounds,” Keith said, “and there’s only been one single campground, one single incident, where we didn’t feel comfortable. We stayed one night and left in the morning. Other than that, what people say about the RV community and the lifestyle, we have found to be completely true.”
It’s welcoming, sometimes in unexpected ways. One example: While staying at a Jellystone Park in Luray, Virginia, the family wanted to visit Luray Caverns, but they had no towed vehicle or other means of transportation. When a campground worker heard of their plight, he gave them the keys to his car.
Okay, so it probably didn’t hurt that the worker recognized Keith as a former Washington Redskins player. Regardless, the Simses have been heartened by their RVing experiences, and they want “to encourage more minorities to get out and enjoy this country and the RV lifestyle,” Keith said.
“We don’t know all the answers, and we’re discovering new things along the way,” he said. “But we are happy to be a resource, whether it’s a minority family or not.”
They invite people to connect with them via social media — through the Soulful RV Family website (www.soulfulrvfamily.com), Instagram (soulfulrvfamily), Facebook and Pinterest pages, and Twitter (@soulfulrvfamily). In fact, Keith and Tia are starting to make plans to meet some of their online acquaintances — of any race — via a Soulful RV Family Reunion rally sometime in 2017.
They especially want to encourage parents with young children to take advantage of what they believe is a primary benefit of RVing: educational opportunities. The Sims kids, for example, boned up on Mount Rushmore before visiting the famous South Dakota sculpture last summer.
“My belief . . . is when you experience everything firsthand, not just reading about it, it really cements that experience and knowledge in your head,” Tia said.
That’s true for all ages. Tia’s mother sometimes travels with the family. “She learns things and says, ‘Oh my gosh, I never knew that; I never knew this was here.’ I’m seeing the light go on in my kids and in my mom and in me,” Tia said, chuckling.
In fact, Tia’s mother has embraced RVing to the point that she bought her own motorhome, a Newmar Canyon Star.
As for Tia, you’re as likely to see her behind the wheel of their motorhome as Keith. “She gets cheers when we go into campgrounds and she’s driving this 43-foot rig with our (Chevy) Suburban in tow,” he said. “Jaws drop and the women are applauding.”
At some point, Tia said, she and Keith may decide to spend a year traveling the country and roadschooling their children. This summer, they’re getting at least a taste of what that might be like. Before Memorial Day, they embarked on a road trip they expect will stretch more than 80 days.
As always, they’re striking a balance between learning and fun, with stops at important sites in African-American history, as well as children’s museums, science museums, and national parks, including Acadia in Maine.
Camping, obviously, is no longer a foreign concept.
“I feel like our lives are that much richer,” Tia said. “I enjoy spending time with my family in a way that I never thought I would. Things I always said I wouldn’t do, I’ve tried. So I’ve grown as a person as well.”
In the coming months, we will profile FMCA members with interesting backgrounds, hobbies, occupations, and volunteer experiences, and we’ll highlight some of their on-the-road adventures. If you know members whose stories beg to be told — and yes, you can nominate yourself — let us know and we’ll consider featuring them. Tell us a little about them and send contact information (email address and/or phone number) to email@example.com. Or write to us at Family Motor Coach Association, 8291 Clough Pike, Cincinnati, OH 45244.