Recreational Vehicles (RVs) are a popular way to travel in the USA. Many visitors feel that renting an RV (motorhome) is the best way to see “the great outdoors” and to stay in National and State parks.

However, RVs are not for everyone! Here are some things to consider when thinking about renting a motorhome.

 

COST

RV rental costs:

Motorhomes are not cheap!  The cost for a standard size RV in summer will be about $150 per night or even more. Prices are somewhat lower in spring and fall.

But the initial rental cost is just the beginning . . .

RVs do not come with “unlimited” mileage the way most rental cars do. There will be usually 50 or 100 miles per rental day that is either added separately to the cost of your rental unit or folded into the overall cost without you realizing it (the rental company calls these “free” miles). If you rent for 7 days, you’ll get 350-700 miles. Beyond that, some companies allow you to buy a ‘package’ with your estimated miles. If you exceed those estimated miles, you will be charged a hefty amount for driving more miles – as much as 35¢ per mile.

RVs do not come fully equipped. Unless you bring your own linens, sleeping bags and kitchenware from home you will have to rent kitchen and linen packages. These vary in price but expect to pay about $50 *per person* for linens and about $100 for your kitchen supplies, including plates, cups, cutlery and basic cooking equipment. Note you will be renting this equipment, not buying it.

If you plan on staying in rustic campgrounds such as some National parks and many state parks, you will not have hookups and you may need to use your generator. Most RV rental companies charge about $3 per hour for generator use. While this is not a “big ticket” item, if you have a motorhome for two weeks and use the generator two hours per day, that will add another $100 or so to the cost.

Camping costs:

You will have additional expenses for your overnight stays in campgrounds and RV parks. The prices vary widely depending upon the location, amenities offered, the time of year and even by some particular campsites. A superior campsite in a deluxe full service RV resort in a popular tourist area can run as high as $75 or even $100 per night, whereas a rustic camping space in a rural area may be as low as $25 per night. As a general guideline and cost estimate, allow about $30 - $45 per night for camping fees.   Where to Stay in Your RV

Fuel costs:

Although gasoline in the USA costs less than in many other countries, when you consider the poor MPG (miles per gallon) that an RV will get, the fuel costs can add up quickly.  Most standard / average size Class C motorhomes will get 8-10 MPG. No matter what the rental brochures tell you, you will not get over about 10 MPG. In hilly conditions or if you drive with a heavy foot, you may get less than 8 MPG.

Fuel prices in the USA vary a lot depending upon which state you are in, although gas prices will be higher in summer in all states.  As a general guide to figure your fuel costs, allow about $4 per gallon.

For an example, let’s take the popular route of Los Angeles -> Grand Canyon -> Bryce/Zion -> Las Vegas -> Yosemite and back to LA. That’s about 1,700 miles and you’ll be getting an average of about 8.5 MPG. The 1,700 miles will require 200 gallons of gas @ $4 per gallon, so that would add about $800 to the cost of your trip.

 

LIVABILITY

Space and Comfort:

RVs, while having most of the comforts of home, are small and compact inside.  Even larger motorhomes can seem “tight” when a whole family or several couples gather inside. In the summer, family members can sit outside, but if you are thinking of renting a motorhome in the off season, consider the fact that if it rains, everyone will most likely be stuck inside a small box with no room to move around.

Some motorhomes are available with “slide-outs” – literally an extra partial room that “slides out” at a touch of a button. Slide-outs add an appreciable amount of extra space and although not common in the rental pools can be well worth trying to reserve. If you rent an RV with one, be sure you understand completely how to safely operate a slide-out and be extremely careful when you are setting up so that the slide-out section does not hit anything as it moves!

There is little to no privacy inside a motorhome. Although there are separate “rooms” such as the toilet / shower room, the doors may not be solid and other people in the RV will be aware of all sounds … and, well, … smells.

RVs have both a furnace and air conditioning, however, neither can be used while driving. In very hot weather, the back part of a motorhome may get very warm going down the road. The front dash will have air conditioning, although this may need to be turned off if driving in the mountains or desert in hot weather.

Beware that compared to rental cars the average age and mileage of a rental RV is usually much higher and therefore the general cleanliness of the vehicle may not meet expectations of the condition of a rental vehicle.

 Weather:

The best time to rent an RV is in late spring, summer and early fall when the weather is pleasant. Camping in inclement weather is honestly not much fun!

RVs are not nearly as well insulated as a building. In very hot or very cold weather, a motorhome may not be as comfortable as a hotel room as it will tend to remain warmer in hot weather and cooler in cold weather. This may be a consideration if you plan to camp in very hot or very cold weather.

If you are thinking about renting a motorhome in a very cold climate, it may have already been “winterized”. This means that all water has been drained from the unit and replaced with a special anti-freeze solution. Some RV rental companies will “de-winterize” a rental unit (at a charge of about $50) and allow you to use the water system. Some only rent units as “winterized” and that means you cannot use *any* water onboard.

Day to day:

Having your own kitchen wherever you go can be a real boon. It is easy to prepare breakfast and also to stop and prepare a quick lunch along the road somewhere. Dinners are a little more complicated due to limited counter space and room.

Preparing meals in an RV can save you time, money and spare you from taking fussy or tired children into restaurants. For a family with two or three children, the money saved from not eating in restaurants may be considerable! If you are on any special diet, it is easy to prepare special foods. Your RV will probably not include basic ingredients such as salt & pepper, so you will need to purchase that type of food as well as your regular groceries when you “stock” the motorhome at a grocery store.

If you are traveling with children, having a toilet with you can be extremely convenient!

Motorhomes have *very* small hot water heaters and they empty quickly. If you have a family that intends to shower in the RV, you will need to stagger everybody’s showers so the hot water tank can heat up again. Nearly all campgrounds and RV parks have washrooms with showers, although some rustic campgrounds charge a small fee. If you plan to camp in rustic campgrounds, be sure you have quarters with you for the showers. Inexpensive canvas or nylon bags are very handy to have with you to carry towels, shampoo and soap to the showers!

Rental motorhomes do not have TVs in them. If you are camping with children, you may want to supply books, games or “I-gadgets” for them once the sun goes down.

If you camp with no hookups, you will not have electricity for the microwave, hair dryer, or anything that normally plugs into AC electricity (a wall plug). To use these electrical appliances you will need to start the generator. The motorhome will have lights, however, as long as your batteries are charged. The water pump and furnace will both work without electrical hookups but both also put some drain on the batteries.

Setting up / breaking down camp:

Once you are set up in a campsite, hopefully you won’t need to move again, so you’ll need to think ahead to purchase groceries or other supplies you might need for the night.

If you plan to stay in RV parks or campgrounds with hookups, setting up and breaking down camp takes about 15-20 minutes extra each time. You will need to hook up the water, electricity and sewer. Rental RVs do not include leveling jacks, so you will need to position the motorhome in a level spot. This is simple in a paved RV park but may not be quite so simple in a rustic campground.

To break camp, you will need to unhook the water hose and drain it and unplug the electricity. Draining the tanks takes longer. You’ll drain the “black water” first (this is the sewer), then drain the “grey water” (this is the shower & sink water). Your rental company will provide a video and/or written instructions, but keep in mind this must be done usually no less than every other day.

If you stay in a rustic campground with no hookups, you must drive the motorhome to a “dump station” to empty the tanks. Most campgrounds have these near the entrance.

Your motorhome also has a “fresh water” tank – this is your water source if you are not hooked up to water in a campground. This tank will need to be filled periodically so you always have water onboard. If you have water hookups at your campsite, you can fill your tank there, otherwise you will need to locate a potable water fill location.

 

DRIVABILITY

Although RVs are not difficult to drive, they are not as “nimble” to drive as a car. They must be driven more slowly around curves and overall should be driven more slowly on open highways and freeways. A severe side wind (such as you might experience in the desert) will mean you need to slow down even more.

When driving near buildings or in a campground, watch for low trees or other overhangs. Never forget that the roof is several feet above your head!

Most RV rental companies have restrictions about driving in Death Valley, California in the summer. You cannot drive any RV “off road” anywhere. Motorhomes can be driven in snow, but only with great care and preferably only by drivers experienced with both snow and large vehicles. Ice is quite dangerous. RV rental companies will not allow chains on their vehicles.

If you plan to spend time in large cities, a motorhome is awkward to drive and awkward to park; you may required to park in a separate RV lot at some attractions, which may cost more. Some back roads will seem very narrow when driving an RV. When you park at grocery stores you’ll need to park out in the far reaches, and a motorhome simply may not fit in some small restaurant parking lots.

You must know how to use your mirrors when driving a motorhome. You do not have a “back window”! 

Not quite sure about driving a big motorhome?

If you are interested in trying RV camping but driving or towing is worry, then consider a delivered RV rental. Many independent RV rental companies will deliver and set up your RV rental for you. There are some websites that list RV Rentals by owner, delivered and set up at your destination, which allows you to drive your personal or rental car right to the campground and start camping. Some owners include camping gear, chairs, BBQ, linens, towels, etc.

This can be a solution for those wanting to spend part of their time in a hotel in the big city, and part of their time in the country roasting hot dogs on the open fire. It can also solve the problem of timid or inexperienced drivers who may be more comfortable driving their Prius than a Winnebago :-) 

To find delivered RV rentals you can do a search online: "RV rental delivered (city)". Or, you can visit RVPlusYou.com, RVshare.com, and ShareMyRV.com which are a few website options for RV rentals by owner. Simply ask the owner if they will deliver to your destination campground, which may include a delivery/set up fee.

 

OVERALL

RVs tend to work better when one is driving less and staying more.

RVing is a great way to see the countryside and to interact with people.  Folks staying in campgrounds and RV parks tend to interact more than those who “hide” themselves away in a hotel room. You can have wonderful times with your RV parked in the woods or alongside a lake, sitting around a warm campfire roasting marshmallows and enjoying family and friends.

However, if your plans call for a night here, a night there, with quickly covering many miles in-between, RVing may not be right for you. If you desire to spend time in large cities dining at exotic restaurants, staying in hotels will be more practical.

More information!  (Click on the blue hyperlink to read another TripAdvisor article.)

Types of RVs  

Where to Stay in your RV 

Does one have to stay in a Campground?

Daylight Hours during your trip