Terrific RV Road Trips and Tips

An RV trip is an experience your grandkids won’t forget. My younger grandson’s favorite thing is watching sunrise from the top bunk. My older grandson thinks it’s neat to wake up at dawn and already be at the lake to go fishing. He especially likes being able to take his dog along—so she doesn’t have to stay in a kennel.

John Wynne of Venice, Fla., says his grandkids love camping and roasting hot dogs around a campfire. Larry Hawley of Rockville, Md., says on their recent RV trip his granddaughter loved the swimming pool. “Some campgrounds are so full of extras that kids don’t want to leave,” he says. Connecting with family and nature is what RVing is all about.

There are so many advantages to an RV vacation that—once you take one—you’ll wonder why you never tried it before. In an RV, you can say goodbye to ticket lines, increased fares, delayed flights or inspected luggage at airports, and cramped quarters, stuffed trunks or cranky kids in your auto. Instead of waking to highway sounds, noisy maids, loud neighbors or checkout times in a motel, you can awake to bird calls, squirrel chatter, splashing waterfalls and incredible sunrises—in your own bed on your own time schedule.

Mike Manyak, sales manager of RV World of Nokomis, Fla., says, “Probably 30 percent to 40 percent of my customers say they plan to take their grandchildren in their RV at least part of the time.” Despite rising gas prices, it’s a fact that family RV vacations still cost less than travel by air, train, auto or cruise ship.

Some studies cite a savings of from 53 percent to 74 percent over vacations requiring airfare, rental car, motels and restaurant meals—depending on destination and vehicle size. Most importantly, you alone control schedules, meals and activities. With the extra space, you can take along favorite toys, games and sports equipment—even the family pet—and collect souvenirs from each spot, without stuffing a suitcase or straddling a bag in the backseat!

Where do I start? 

How do you begin planning an RV trip if you don’t own an RV and have never driven one? Researching “RVing” on the Web will produce countless articles and sites to get you started. Then, visit either an RV dealer or a rental company. (Most dealers specialize in either sales or rentals, as insurance rates often prohibit doing both.) Weekly rentals average about $1,000—depending on size and amenities—so if you plan to buy eventually, that amount might make a down payment on your own vehicle. You might also be able to deduct loan interest from your taxes, as some RVs qualify as a second home.

Class A, B, or C, trailered, or self-contained—which do you want? Dealers can show you each type and offer suggestions once they know your plans. Each type has advantages:

  • A “trailered” RV can be towed behind a car or truck (check your vehicle’s towing capability) and offers the flexibility of driving your own vehicle to local sites.
  • A “Class C” RV sits on a heavy-duty truck chassis and is the most economical to buy and operate.
  • A “Class B” RV is a recreational vehicle inside a regular passenger van, so it’s no wider than an SUV or van.
  • A “Class A” RV is the spacious, self-contained motor home seen on the interstate. While providing every possible luxury, these wider units—even though within legal limits—cannot fit on many residential streets. (The width limit in most states is 8 1/2 feet; while total length allowance—RV plus auto—is generally 60 feet.)

Today’s RVs come with almost every comfort of home. You can decide which amenities you want: central air and heat, fully equipped kitchen, bath and shower, bunks to king-sized beds, televisions, VCRs—you name it. You can even purchase “in-motion” satellite television—to lock into local satellite feeds while on the road.

Driving an RV is easy!

Driving an RV is not difficult—just different. The extra length requires additional turning space. The extra weight means the vehicle takes longer to accelerate, brake and stop than a standard-size auto. This is especially important to consider when entering or exiting a highway or stopping in traffic.

You cannot back up if towing a vehicle. You can back a self-contained RV, but carefully—because of limited visibility and extra length. (Many new units have side-view mirrors in front and back-up cameras behind—to allow visibility of 50 to 70 feet and to eliminate blind spots.) Manyak says most new owners feel comfortable behind the wheel, but he has a list of “driver trainers” who—for a fee—offer RV driving lessons. He points out that RV driving is extremely safe: only three percent of accident claims involve RVers.

Before leaving the dealership, be sure you know how to check all systems—both in driving and in hooking up. If your dealer doesn’t provide one, make your own list of items to check each time. Remember, an RV is both a vehicle and a home—so you need to do more than just park in a designated spot if you want to hook up to electricity, water and sewer. (Manyak suggests clipping a clothespin to the wheel to remind you to lower the TV antenna when leaving the park.)

No one is allowed in an RV that is being towed. All passengers in a self-contained RV must use seat belts while traveling, so make sure the grandkids are buckled in—or in approved car seats—before you start the motor. As with most drivers, RVers should stop every two hours to give everyone a break. Interstate rest stops have ample RV parking and are usually located every 50 to 100 miles.

No additional license is necessary to drive most RVs in the U.S., but check with the dealership or rental company to be sure. Of course, when driving any vehicle, it is imperative that you be in good health and that you take time before setting out to practice driving the RV. Before vacationing with your grandchildren, it would be wise to take an RV trip yourself first—to practice driving and to anticipate future needs.

Terrific places to stay around every turn…

Remember, you planned this trip to show your grandkids the country, so travel leisurely and do just that. Campgrounds can be a vacation in themselves. With lakes, rivers, swimming pools, tennis courts, playgrounds, game rooms and hiking trails, they offer something for everyone. Plan to stop early enough in the afternoon to allow the kids to experience all the extras.

Reservations are recommended, but you can usually call from the road and find a space. Remember, however, that campgrounds near beaches, mountains or parks are often seasonally occupied and may have limited or no space available. You can find a wealth of information and discounts on campgrounds, attractions, restaurants and stores by joining a “camping club.” Many RV dealers offer memberships to various parks as incentives when you buy.

National park sites are in high demand, so check availability in advance. Many national parks and campgrounds near tourist attractions have a shuttle service—eliminating the need to trailer a car. Most national parks don’t offer RV hookups, but their campgrounds can usually accommodate RVs up to 35 feet. A plus in staying at park campgrounds is that you and the kids can spend the whole day at the park and then enjoy evening ranger-led programs and campfires.

Bonnie Hawley of Rockville, Md., offers several practical suggestions when planning a trip with the grandkids. “Pick the places to go with your grandkids so they know where they’re going and will look forward to it,” she says. She also suggests you “make a checklist of things to bring—including favorite foods, paper goods, cleaning products and rainy-day games.” Many campgrounds have a general store nearby, but it’s no fun running out of something after you’ve parked for the night.

When visiting cities, remember RVs might not fit down some streets or in parking spaces. Popular tourist destinations sometimes have visitors’ centers with parking available, but check ahead before going, or plan to stay in a nearby campground and trailer a car for short trips. Also check ahead if you plan to visit friends or relatives en route, as many communities and developments have bylaws prohibiting parking RVs.

As with any vacation, a little advance planning should prevent unforeseen problems and ensure a great time for everyone. You’ll know that you’ve provided an unforgettable experience when your grand-kids ask on the way home, “Where are we going next year?”

RV travel tips for your dog

Make sure your dog is safely on his leash before you open the RV door—dogs have a tendency to rush out, and the surroundings will be strange and may be dangerous.

Keep your dog’s health and shot records with you. You may have to prove that he’s had all his shots, including rabies, particularly if you travel to Canada.

Follow the rules of the campground—particularly regarding Poop Parks. And don’t be surprised if there’s an extra fee for bringing your dog into the campground.

Use D-rings. Hook one on his leash then hook the D-ring to your belt loop—and you’ll have both hands free. You can use the D-ring to tie up your dog when you go to the camp store or just want to spend some time outdoors—loop the leash around any post or tree and use the D-ring to secure it.

When you go outside without your pooch, make sure to leave the vents open—not the windows—and leave a dish of water behind.

Dogs won’t get out as much while you’re traveling as they do at home, so brush your dog outside to remove dander and loose fur.

Make a special place in the RV, like a dog carrier or a dog pad or bed to help him feel secure in strange surroundings.

Doggy tips from Paw Publishing, Inc. For a free checklist of “Dog Poisons and Other Items to Avoid,” contact Dr. Ailes at dogdoctor@pawpublishing.com.

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