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5 Things for Planning Your First RV Vacation

In 2013 my husband I rented an RV (Recreational Vehicle) to drive from Pennslyvania to North Carolina. 4 years later, we rented another one to travel from Pennsylvania to South Dakota, using what we had learned from our first experience to help us in choosing which RV we rented the second time.

While we fully enjoyed our first RV experience, there were things we quickly learned that we would have liked to have known before deciding which one to rent. I’m going to share some of what we learned with you. Keep in mind that I am by no means an expert, but 2 years after our 2nd rental experience, we did purchase our own travel trailer (which is different from the motorhomes we rented, but I’ll get into that a little later).

When deciding on an RV to rent or purchase, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

  • How many family members do you have (or how many beds do you need)?
  • Do you want to “rough it” or do you want as many modern conveniences as you can get?
  • Is someone in your family comfortable driving a large vehicle?
  • How will you get around once you get to where you’re going?
  • How much storage space will you have?

Let’s start at the top:

How many family members do you have, or how many beds do you need?

The first time we rented a motorhome, we knew we needed space for the 5 members of our family, but really that only meant 4 beds. The motorhome we rented had a master bed in the back for my husband and me, a double bed above the driver for my daughter, and the couch and dining table converted into two full beds for our two sons. Not far into our trip I realized that even though it was relatively easy to convert the living area into a bedroom, it was still an inconvenience to have to do that every morning and every night.

For our second trip, we rented a larger motorhome, which still had the master bed in the back and the double bed above the driver, but instead of having to convert the living area every day, there was a set of bunk beds in the back for our sons. Their beds were smaller (both just singles), but the bottom bunk could be converted to another small seating area when we wanted to. For the most part, we just left them as bunk beds though because we had plenty of seating in the kitchen area.

Do you want to “rough it” or do you want as many modern conveniences as you can get?

Though far from tent camping, our first RV rental was pretty basic, with no real bells and whistles. It still had air conditioning, a shower, a refrigerator, and a microwave, but there was no TV. We had a major storm one evening, and we all sat crowded around a tiny portable DVD player watching a movie. Not really ideal for 5 people.

Now, you know the saying “go big or go home” right? Well, the second time we took that a bit literally. The second rental not only had a large flat-screen TV inside the RV but there was also one on the outside. It was found in one of the compartments on the side of the motorhome, and we watched it a few times while sitting around the campfire. There were also had cable hook-ups for when that was available at the campground.​ We brought decks of cards and other games, coloring books, journals, and books to read, but sometimes it’s nice to just pop some popcorn and watch a movie together.

Is someone in your family comfortable driving a large vehicle?

​Surprising to me, driving a 33′ motorhome does not need any special license, but that doesn’t mean that I would be comfortable driving it. I have a hard enough time feeling comfortable when driving my Nissan Rogue through construction zones with narrowed lanes, but driving a big RV, which is impacted by the wind a lot more, makes wider turns, and is much taller would make me nervous. It also means paying attention to the clearance signs I usually just ignore when going under a bridge or through a tunnel. Thankfully, my husband did not mind driving it at all, and in fact, seemed quite calm.

How will you get around once you get to where you’re going?

We did not tow a vehicle either time we rented the RVs, which meant that everywhere we went we had to drive the motorhome, which can be a problem when it comes to finding parking. It also means having to unhook everything at the campground – the water, sewer pipe, electricity, etc. My husband didn’t seem to mind too much (again, mostly he took care of these things), but it did lead us to get a travel trailer when we were ready to purchase our own.

So by now, you may be wondering what the difference is between an RV, motorhome, and travel trailer. An RV, or Recreational Vehicle, is an all-encompassing term for all campers, travel trailers, and motorhomes. Motorhomes are exactly what they sound like – homes with a motor, or an RV that you can drive. Towable RVs are called Travel Trailers (or Fifth Wheels).

Now we have a travel trailer, which is towed behind our truck, allowing us to detach the truck to drive around while leaving the travel trailer at the campsite, all hooked up to water, electricity, and the works.

How much storage space will you have?

​This was the one thing I worried about most. With 5 people traveling for 2 weeks, we were going to need quite a bit to keep us content. We’d need not only the basic things everyone needs when going on vacation, like clothes, bathing suits, and toiletries, but also household items, like plates, pots & pans, food, toys, and more.

There is a lot more storage space in an RV than I had thought. Keep in mind that everything needs to be secured while you are driving so it doesn’t roll around. The cabinets and closets close tightly, so you can pile things in there without the fear of the doors opening, allowing everything to tumble out while you are driving, though I have also read where people use tension rods and bungee cords to also help keep things where they belong.

In some instances, like in the travel trailer we own, the space under the beds and under the kitchen seating can also be utilized. I use this for things I don’t need to get to every day such as extras of things like toilet paper, paper towels, and blankets.

There can be a lot of storage underneath the RV, too, so the items that you don’t need all the time like lawn chairs, sports equipment, charcoal, etc., can be stored under there. Helpful tip: if you are taking a long trip, plan on going to a laundromat at least once, so you can pack half the amount of clothing you will need.

We hope this helps you when you go to rent or purchase your first RV. Are there other tips you have for first-time RVers? Share them with us below.

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