THE YEAR OF THE RV
Suddenly, the terminally unhip recreational vehicle is the coolest thing in the world, and a great vacation idea right now
RV rentals are through the roof. The Lord moves in mysterious ways…
But how do you drive these modern day prairie schooners? How do you find the spectacular hidden locations to bring your RV?
We have the answers.
When Mohammad-Salah Tag El Din fell in love with his wife Rahma Yahyaoui, he bought her an original 1970 Westfalia RV (see above). With the power of that old-fashioned red camper, the couple have gone on great adventures, like the rustic scenery of Quebec’s Gaspésie. In September, they hope to check out the Western wilderness of Alberta. The couple have also used their RV to feed hundreds of those in need in Montreal (both prior and during the pandemic).
If you ever are in Alberta, planting your RV for the night at the Jasper National Park offers fantastic views of the cosmos (with Northern lights as a cherry on top). Driving through Gaspésie offers mountains that fuse with a vast ocean on the horizon, and whale watching.
“There is something beautiful about parking anywhere and considering it your home for the day and having the beach as your backyard for the night,” says Yahyaoui. “You feel a lot more connected to nature.”
RVs offer freedom. “The charm of the Westfalia is more rare, a simplicity you won’t find anymore,” says Tag El Din. With a newborn baby in the house, the family put the Westfalia up for rent while stuck at home this summer. To their surprise, it was quickly booked until mid- September.
“Think back to major events like 9/11, we saw very, very strong local travel coming out of that. A lot of people are veering towards local travel. Talk to any RV dealer, sales are through the roof,” said Michael McNaught, a founder of RVezy, the largest RV rental marketplace in Canada.
The US is dominated by RVshare. The two platforms are examples of a new era of websites described as Airbnb for RVs.
Maddi Bourgerie, a spokesperson for RVshare, said they have experienced a 1600% increase in bookings. “This summer has been unprecedented with the amount of bookings we’ve received because people are looking for unique ways to travel post pandemic,” she said.
Renting from dealers who build RVs can be quite expensive, so these peer-to-peer systems have created a new dawn. They offer wide ranges of prices, verification processes, and mediate payment. Thousands of people feature their RVs on these platforms. Travelers can filter, compare, and choose different options that suit them.
Part of the commission that RVezy and RVshare make from rentals is for insurance coverage. With tons of rental sites available online, it’s important you determine whether or not you’ll indeed have insurance. When exploring certain platforms, you should also be aware of scams, or RVs being misrepresented.
You won’t need a special license to pilot a recreational vehicle. While it can sound daunting to operate the vehicular version of an elephant, the controls are essentially the same as a regular car. The key is taking it slow and habituating yourself. The main hassle is getting used to the size when you first take off. Luckily, most rental services will give you a little training session.
“Definitely with the RV you have to drive a little slower,” said RVshare’s Bourgerie, adding that an RV might feel like a U-Haul. McNaught recommended being cautious by driving at appropriate speeds, taking wide turns, and being aware of length and a big rear end. He also suggested using two people to park. It may be easier if one person hops out and guides the other maneuvering behind the wheel.
Choosing an RV
According to Smithsonian magazine, the RV was created in 1904 when one was hand-built atop an automobile. More than a century later, so many permutations of these mobile beasts exist today.
The RV industry splits up into three classes.
Class A are the largest RVs on the market. These mammoths are motor homes that typically have expandable sections. McNaught described them in passing as, “huge things.”
These can host more than six people and are self-sufficient little ships. Bourgerie likens Class A titans to the giant buses that rock stars use on tour. They will be costlier to rent and consume more gas.
If the thought of a Class A camper stresses you out, an incredibly fun option that some owners provide is driving to a location for you. Without lifting a finger, you show up to your remote post at the Grand Canyon with an already set-up camp base.
This is an option for all classes of RVs (and for anyone without a driver’s license), but might be best with a Class A.
Class B RVs may look like vans and stick to basic amenities. “It really depends on the manufacturer,” said McNaught.
Bougerie said that most Class Bs do not have bathrooms; “It’s like a sprinter van…a minivan decked out to sleep in.”
These RVs may be nice to begin with for simple or impromptu journeys. Class B might also be the best to go off-road; many RVs cannot get deep in mud or sand. Bougerie says Class B might be easy for longer road trips.
Class C is the most popular for renters. They are self-sufficient like Class A, but more compact.
McNaught and Bougerie say that this is what most people are familiar with. Smaller ones which may be like driving a U-Haul. “Many of them have most of the same features,” says McNaught.
Typically with a small kitchen and bathroom, the Class C RV fits about four people comfortably.
The travel trailer is hitched to the back of a vehicle and carried along. There can be Class B travel trailers (perhaps used just for sleeping) or Class C (like the classic Airstream, which has more living space, for about $200 bucks a night).
Costs vary based on the owner, amenities, and how long you plan to travel. Certain owners may ask that you keep your mileage below a certain number or charge extra.
Different RV models require different amounts of diesel or regular fuel. When you plant an RV on a campground, there is usually an electric system to plug. However, you might have to rely on a generator. Some RVs cost extra for generator use.
On RVezy, a travel trailer can cost $80 to $120 per night. Their motor homes can be $180 to $250 a night.RVshare has an average nightly rate of $150 per night and about $1000 per week.
For social media, personal aesthetics, simplicity, or fantasy, some people prefer old-fashioned RVs (such as the 1970 Westaflia for $160 a night). Older cars do not necessarily cost more or less. If you want the vintage experience, there’s tons of flexibility for your wallet.
Recommendations and Helpful Apps
For the future, without COVID-19 restrictions, RVs are allowed across the U.S.-Canadian border. At the moment they are not unless you’re a citizen of whichever you’re trying to enter. If you wish to explore Mexico, research if you’ll need permits, additional documentation, or different insurance.
McNaught recommends thinking outside the box for RVs, like visiting metropolises and foregoing expensive hotels. It’s an age old rule not to drive an RV into the city, let alone look for parking, but you can set up a base on the outskirts. McNaught visited New York by camping nearby in New Jersey.
Imagine bringing an RV to a drive-in movie theatre. McNaught has done this with his family and even spent the night on the grounds. If you want nature, McNaught says there’s great canoeing and hiking opportunities at Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. “You really are in the middle of nowhere,” he says.
If you wish for a bizarre combination of French-Canadians at a Cuban themed pool-side RV camping, check out the Camping Havana Resort outside Montreal. A different concept than what you might normally see with RV parks. McNaught says it’s fun.
Ginnie Springs is a campground in Florida where you can swim and canoe, and there seems to be particularly wonderful opportunities to go diving. The enticing images of their underwater caverns infects you with the desire for a diving certification (something they require). “A hidden gem, it’s very much an up and coming place that RV travelers are going to,” said Bougerie.
You can also go off the grid with RVs. It was disappointing to find out that you might not be able head into very sandy or muddy areas, but there are still tons of areas available for a vagabond moment. The professional term is dry camping, but it’s more commonly known as boon docking. You can park without being at an official campground on certain public spots.
There are various apps you can use to find these boon dock posts. Bougerie recommends Campendium. If you’ve gotten lost with your RV or did not book a campsite, check it out! Another app that Bougerie suggests, Harvest Hosts, can connect you to landowners who can host you on their land. With a membership of $79, you can access their database of sites like golf courses, wineries, or museums. RV travelers are encouraged to buy what they need from their hosts. Harvest Host says: “This is their only compensation for allowing you to park overnight. You’ll enjoy buying local products and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you’re helping a small business grow and thrive.”
RV travel represents the kind of journey that does not require flight plans or timing. It is an opportunity to be unfettered in a vast landscape and have glorious adventures.