First Timer’s Guide to RV Travel

Road Trips are not a thing of the past. In fact, it’s becoming trendy again. You’ve seen the show “Tiny House,” right?  We’re all looking for a way to be comfortable when we travel whether it’s buying a pop up and toting it behind the Jeep or buying an old school bus/van and doing a complete rehaul on the interior to make it feel more like a home on wheels.

Your next best option is renting an RV.

Here are 7 things you should know before taking your first RV trip (because I know you want to travel! and why not take a road trip?):

RV Arches
Arrived at Arches National Park

1. Cost

Obviously, this will be the most important factor when renting your first RV. Consideration for your budget is at top of the priority list when planning; take time to do research on the various RV companies before selecting one. (also see #2,3,5 & 7) Each Size RV will vary in price, along with your planned travel destination(s). Some will come with package deals including “X” amount of miles, insurances, kits, etc. You’ll want to see if there are additional costs incurred outside of the rental fee. Read all the fine print before signing the agreement.

Along with all the documents for the rental process, it might be a good plan to estimate gas costs. {How much gas will your RV tank hold? Do you know the Miles Per Gallon (MPG) it gets?} You can simply take an average gas price and multiply it by your tank =cost per tank. Then estimate how many times you’ll have to fill up based on how many miles you will be driving {this is as easy as plugging in Destination A to Destination B in Google Maps} by dividing your milage (MPG).

Example: RV tank holds 50 gallons, MPG is 875. Average gas price is $2.85

$2.85 X 50 gallons= $142.50 (Full Tank)

Destination A to Destination B is 4,500 miles ÷ 875 MPG= 5.14 (Times you’ll need to fill up)

Cost for gas=$732.45 ( ($142.50 X 5.14)

Food may also be a concern of yours as you travel, consider if you plan to eat at restaurants, cook by campfire or pack snacks. This all adds up quickly. {Think of it like going to Target, you’re not sure how you spent that much money… but it happened}

Like any other vehicle your RV need maintenance (even during your trip). Your RV is equipped with water, gas and a toilet on board… these things will need to be emptied and/or refilled along the way. You can do it yourself (if you want, will save you some money) or you can often pay for someone at your campsite to do it (will save your fresh manicure and maybe your dignity, but hey someone has to do it!)

2. Destination(s)

Where do you plan to travel with your RV? Most companies will ask you this first, so be prepared to have an answer to this question. Whether you plan to just go to Yellowstone or hit up every park in the country; the point is, they need to know how many miles you intend to put on the vehicle.

Like I stated above, costs can range depending on your destination(s).

Another important factor to consider is if this trip will be a Round Trip or a One Way adventure. Chances are you may take a RT adventure; but incase you plan for a One-Way, you will need to find out if there are any additional fees since the RV will be dropped off in a different location. Some companies won’t allow for One-Way. {As for our trip, we took a One-Way which did cost extra (+$600)}

Mileage can often be included in your rental pricing up to “X” amount of miles, again you will need to estimate how many you plan to travel. If you go over your included miles then expect to tack on fees.

During your planning phase seek to find stops that have campsites or hook ups (also see #6). Planning around these stops can be vital, specifically if you need to empty out the RV. {just remember what we discussed from #1}

RV White Sands
Party of 4 at White Sands

3. Size of RV and Travel Party

While RV’s come in many different sizes, Larger isn’t always better. Take into account how many people are traveling but don’t try to shove 5 people in an RV that only sleeps 3. You want to be comfortable not cramped. Many parks will not allow RV’s to enter the park if they exceed 25′-30‘, remember this! If you’re RV sleeps 5, chances are you will be able to enter the park. Anything larger, you will need to leave it at the campsite or RV park that often are not within walking distance to the entrance of the park you are going to.

Bigger RV’s are more expensive and require more maintenance. It’s your decision on which size you get, but consider all other factors when choosing. On the other hand, the more people traveling with you will divide the costs further. So in the case you have 9 people and you choose a 50′ RV cost of the RV, gas, food, maintenance, etc will be divided 9 ways. You could come out with a great deal…

4. Season

Traveling in an RV is often a great choice since they can handle different weather better than your regular car; though they can’t handle everything. When deciding on your destination(s), you need to consider the time of year you plan to travel.

For instance, we chose to travel in March for our RV trip to Yellowstone and had to reschedule the trip due to road closures and weather.

The company you rent your RV from probably won’t tell you about road or weather conditions. It’s wise to call ahead. If you’re planning to visit National Parks, call a park ranger and ask them about the season you plan to travel (What is the climate like? Will there be any road closures? Are there alternative routes? etc).

It’s also important to remember that “season” can also mean limited spots available at parks and campsites. (see also #6)

5. Package(s)

Once you have decided to take an RV as your mode of transportation, you will need to consider this:

What do I need to bring?

The RV is basic, essentially its just a shell. When talking with the RV company, ask them about their packages. Some may be included. Some may be additional cost to you. Packages you’ll want to know about

  1. Personal Kit- towels, sheet, pillow, blanket/sleeping bag
  2. Provisional Kit- Pots/Pans, utensils, cooking utensils, cups, mugs, plates, cutting board, colander, broom
  3. Chairs/ seating
  4. etc. (see also #7)
personal kit
Personal Kit (Photo courtesy of Cruise America)

You may or may not want to use recycled item and that it 100% up to you. If you decided not to spend the extra cost on some of these things, you will need to figure out you other options (dining out, sleeping without blanket/pillow or at a hotel, showering options, etc).

As for us, we took into consideration pricing per kit. We had a total of 4 passengers, eat personal kit cost $50=$200. Instead, I spent $110 on 2 Alt. down blankets, 2 sheet sets and 2 free towels from Target (I used my Cartwheel app to redeem $10 on bedding, which basically paid for my 2 Towels) I also brought 2 “older” towels  and 1 pillow from home that I don’t need anymore to cut down on cost. We weren’t able to get the provisional kit ($100), but made a very fun trip to Walmart to find provisions that turned into a game of find the lowest price! ( I’ve attached our Walmart receipt so you can see what we got). Items not included on the ticket: Cups (took some from work), plates ( paper ones, bought at target), and a broom (from another trip to Walmart).

Inquire before your pick up date if your RV company will have either available at your pick up location.

provisional kit
Provisional Kit (Photo courtesy of Cruise America)

6. Camp sites and Hook ups

Do you know where you will stop? Do you know if the place you stop will have room for your RV?

Campsites and RV parks fill quickly! Calling ahead to make a reservation/claim a spot for the night is important. Here is where you will rest for the night and probably rid your RV of its waste (also see #1 & #2). Some sites will have connections for you at each site. Many camps will have public showers and restrooms available. It would be wise to use these as often as possible to limit the maintenance of the RV. {bring sandals for the shower!}

Check your route before leaving to know where the best stops will be. You may have to travel a couple miles out of the way, but you will be better off.

Some campsites may offer coin shower and laundry. Keep smaller bills handy.  {In my case, I ended up cashing $20 into quarters}.

Need to find a good spot to stop? Check out KOA’s located around the country. Most are within a few miles of park entrances. You can also download their App for on the go!

7. Insurance and Safety

Here is a little food for thought; does your insurance cover you for rental vehicles? Ask your insurance provider or your RV company if they offer any insurance during the rental period. If something happens to the vehicle while you are traveling, you will want to be covered!

You’re safety should also be at the top of your priority list, along with the safety of your passengers.  Pay attention to any details when they run you through the RV at pick up. Ask if there are tools on board to fix any thing (should something break).

We brought some duct tape and a basic tool kit just in case we had any issues along the way.

RV companies typically have hotlines numbers for emergencies and 24/7 customer service options. Be sure to plug that information into your phone OR have it written down in a safe spot in the RV.

That completes the First Timer’s Guide. If you have any questions send me email (I’d love to help you with your next RV trip) or for more information about my RV, head over to Cruise America.

Safe Travels!


RV Bugs
Lastly, a moment of silence for all the buggies that lost their lives during this trip.

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