As states begin lifting COVID-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home restrictions, and popular travel destinations like beaches and state parks start to open up, many eager Americans are turning to recreational vehicles as a way to safely travel while social distancing. By opting to get around by RV, vacationers can bypass tourist-filled locations like airports and hotels.
Popular peer-to-peer rental companies, such as RVshare and Outdoorsy, reported dramatic increases in bookings since early April. And in a recent survey of its users, RVshare found that 93% of respondents are looking to avoid crowds when planning their next trip.
If you're thinking about taking an RV vacation this summer, consider these expert tips before renting.
Understand the Different Types of RVs
Before setting off on your RV adventure, it's important to know what types of RVs are available. Most will fall into one of two categories: towable RVs and motorized RVs that you can drive.
Travel trailers, a type of towable RV, can come in a range of sizes, but they typically accommodate groups of three to six people and often come with features like kitchenettes and bathrooms. Fifth wheels are usually bigger and are often equipped with multiple slide-outs -- or add-ons that extend the side walls of the RV to create more space -- making them ideal for larger groups.
There are also several types of motorized RVs, including Class A motor homes, the largest and most luxurious kind of motor home that is great for those who want plenty of space and amenities like lounges and separate bedrooms. Class C motor homes are smaller and often more affordable than Class A motor homes while offering many of the same amenities.
Decide Which RV Will Suit Your Needs
Once you know the different types of RVs, you have to decide which one will best suit your needs. Some aspects to consider include storage space, sleeping arrangements and kitchen appliances. Jon Gray, CEO of RVshare, also recommends having a plan before you rent.
"What are you going to do? Are you going a thousand miles, so it's a premium to be able to go a long way during one day? Or are you prioritizing having space within the RV, and you're not really all that excited about driving it? Those would lend you to different things," Gray says.
Also, while you might be tempted to seek out the largest RV possible, that may not be the best idea. Not only are larger RVs costlier, but they can also be more difficult to maneuver, especially for first-time RV renters. Bryanna Royal, who lives in an RV full time with her husband and four children and writes about it on her blog, Crazy Family Adventure, always recommends starting small.
"Smaller [RVs are] a whole lot easier to pull into a grocery store parking lot, make a random stop at a farm stand or turn around if you make a wrong turn," Royal says. She also adds that staying at campsites and parks is easier with smaller RVs. "When you call and say, 'we are looking for a site for a 23- to 30-foot rig,' there are normally a lot of options. With a larger RV, it can be harder to find spots," she says.
Find a Reputable Company to Rent From
After choosing the right RV for you, you need to know where to rent from. You can decide to go with traditional rental companies, such as Cruise America and El Monte RV. Or, you can rent directly from RV owners through a peer-to-peer company like RVshare or Outdoorsy, which Royal describes as "the Airbnb of RVs." These companies often have a wider selection of options than traditional rental companies.
For example, RVshare offers more than 100,000 RVs on its platform, according to Gray. "Most of the rental companies ... already rent through RVshare, so you can see their inventory right up against peer-to-peer inventory and pick what is best for your situation," Gray adds.
Consider Additional Costs and Fees
RV travel can often be less expensive than traveling by plane or staying in a pricey hotel or vacation rental, but it's still important to be aware of all costs and fees to ensure that you stay within your budget.
RV rental prices can vary widely, but on average, rentals can cost about $900 for a little less than a week, according to Gray. Depending on the size of the RV, you can usually expect to pay between $50 and $275 per night. There are other fees you'll need to keep in mind as well, such as cancellation fees and mileage fees.
"In many cases, RVs give you a certain amount of miles and a certain amount of generator time, and if you use more than that, they'll charge you, kind of similar to a rental car," Gray explains. These fees can range from 25 cents to 75 cents per additional mile.
RVs are also known for having poor gas mileage, so make sure to factor in the cost of gas into your budget.
Book Rentals and Campgrounds in Advance
Similar to what you'd do when booking a hotel room or flight, the sooner you reserve your RV, the more money you'll save. This is especially true during peak travel seasons like summer, which Gray calls "the core booking season for RVing." Not only will this ensure that you will have an RV for your intended travel dates, but it will also likely save you some money, since prices tend to go up the closer you get to your departure date.
The same applies if you're planning to stay on a campground overnight. Spots can be limited, especially in summer, so be sure to secure your spot several months in advance.
Choose Your Destination Wisely
One of the great things about an RV vacation is the freedom to go wherever you choose, but there are some places that are better suited for RV travel than others. Outdoor locations like lakes and state and national parks are some of the most popular destinations for an RV vacation. These destinations usually offer a variety of activities, as well as campgrounds on-site or nearby.
On the other hand, you might want to avoid taking an RV to a big city. According to Royal, "The hardest places to explore with RV travel are big cities, usually because there aren't any RV parks that are close to the city. So, you have to park a ways out and then drive into the city to explore."
Do Your Research Before Selecting a Campground
Not all campgrounds offer the same amenities, so it's important to know what you're looking for before booking. Public campgrounds, such as those found in state parks, are often free or low cost and are a great way to immerse yourself in nature, but they can lack features like electricity and water hookups.
Private campgrounds, on the other hand, can be pricey, but they might be a better option if you're looking for comfort and extra amenities, such as Wi-Fi access, swimming pools and hookups to water, power and sewer.
Additionally, if traveling with children, Royal suggests checking to see whether a campsite is kid-friendly, including whether it offers playgrounds, fields where children can play and activities for youngsters. However, Royal cautions that you should be on the lookout for extra fees for kids.
"There are campgrounds that have what we call a 'kid tax,'" she says, "meaning that you have to pay extra per night for each kid that you have, sometimes as much as $5 per each kid! This is usually a sign to us that it isn't a super family-friendly campground."
Plan Out Your Route
After deciding on a destination, it's time to plan out your route, and there are a few things you'll want to consider. Do you want to take a longer, more scenic route with plenty of interesting pit stops, or do you want to take the quickest route possible? Will you have to drive through tolls, cities and congested areas? Does your intended route include potential RV obstacles, such as narrow roads or low bridges and tunnels?
Websites like RV Trip Wizard and mobile apps like Roadtrippers, RV LIFE and CoPilot GPS can help make your route planning process easier by showing you RV-friendly routes, campground reviews, interesting pit stops and other useful information.
Practice Driving and Parking
While RVs don't require a special driver's license, driving and parking an RV is a little different than driving and parking an average car since RVs are taller and heavier. RVs tend to make wider turns and require more braking time than a car, so make sure to practice turning, backing up, slowing down, braking and parking at your rental location or in an empty parking lot before setting out on your trip.
Bring the Essentials
Packing for an RV vacation requires a little more thought than packing for a traditional hotel stay. Aside from the usual clothes and toiletries, there are also some extra items that you might need to bring, such as bedsheets, pillows, towels, dishes and utensils. Some RV owners will provide these for you, so check with them first. You can also save money by bringing snacks and food to cook rather than eating out.
Additionally, you'll want to pack some activities to keep you and your family entertained. Royal suggests using electronics like iPads or audiobooks to keep young ones engaged while traveling long distances.
For those who want to limit the use of electronics, she says, "Buy small gifts for kids at the dollar store or discount bin at Target and wrap them. Then every hour, have your kids open one of the gifts."
Be Prepared to Empty Your Own Waste
Having to empty your vehicle's wastewater tank can be one of the messiest aspects of RV travel. Most RV parks and campgrounds have their own dump stations, but some don't, so check before arriving.
When you're ready to dump your waste, position the dump valve as close to the drain as possible and wear gloves during the entire process to make it as sanitary as possible. If you're not comfortable doing this yourself, check to see if your campground offers its own dump services, but be prepared to pay a fee. Forgoing tanks and using public restrooms and campground showers is another option if you don't want to worry about dumping your own wastewater.
Purchase RV Insurance
It is required by law in most states to at least have liability insurance for your rental if you are driving a motor home. Towable RVs are usually covered by your regular auto insurance policy. Some companies like RVshare provide standard insurance and roadside assistance at no additional cost, while others allow you to purchase insurance for a fee.
Standard RV insurance typically covers damage caused by collisions, weather and theft. You can also check with your auto or homeowners insurance provider to see if it offers coverage for RV rentals.
Whether you're planning to explore your own state or venture across the country, an RV vacation can be a fun, safe way to travel this summer. Just remember to do your research before you rent and plan and budget ahead of time to ensure you have a stress-free trip.
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