Airlines are removing middle seats and requiring passengers to wear masks. Hotels are working with the likes of the Mayo Clinic to boost their health practices. It’s anybody’s guess when our favorite restaurants will reopen their dining rooms. But in this age of COVID-19, one segment of the travel industry might be poised for a strong rebound: the RV vacation.
Travel by RV is the one escape in which you can avoid airplanes, bypass interactions with people at hotels and, if you purchase or rent a vehicle with a kitchen, forget worrying about closed restaurants.
“When you rent an RV, you buy the groceries and you do most of the cooking. You control the experience,” says James Ashurst, executive vice president of the RV Industry Association in Reston, Virginia.
“It gives you the comforts of a home or hotel but gives you space to breathe and properly socially distance,” says Donna Wittwer, of Paradise Valley, Arizona, who has taken two RV trips with friends and family, the most recent with her husband and daughter to San Diego last October. “I’m definitely itching to do another trip after being in lockdown."
Where and how to rent an RV
If an RV (recreational vehicle) getaway sounds appealing, you will find numerous companies that rent these cruisers, from conventional RV dealerships to rental firms specializing in them. Among them are Cruise America, based in Mesa, Arizona, which both rents and sells RVs in 128 locations in the U.S. and Canada; and Outdoorsy, which rents privately owned RVs in 11 countries, including the U.S. and Canada.
Companies try to make the process as uncomplicated as possible, with most delivering your vehicle to the location of your choice. “We make it as easy to rent an RV as it is to rent a car,” says Michael Smalley, Cruise America’s executive vice president.
And one need not take a long road trip with an RV rental. You can rent for as little as a two- to three-night minimum.
Plenty of vehicle options
The vast array of RVs to rent range from customized minivans tricked out with beds and small refrigerators to towable trailers and massive motor homes with living room areas and fancy entertainment centers. Towable trailers are the most popular, says Ashurst, but many renters prefer the small camper vans and so-called Class C campers, the over-the-cab style often seen on the highway.
Mike McNaughton of RVezy (only in Canada) recommends first-timers try a Class C model. “They’re very easy to drive, about 24 to 28 feet long, and very spacious.” Wittwer agrees, saying the 27-foot Class C RV she and her family rented “drove just like a moving truck, so it was very easy.”
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Stressing that RVs drive much like an SUV or van, Smalley says Cruise America doesn’t need to offer driving lessons. However, at Outdoorsy, RV owners will take renters out for a test drive and will let them get behind the wheel if they wish to practice, says company founder Jen Young.
Given that most RVs are not difficult to drive, industry officials say a standard drivers’ license suffices for renting all but the largest ones.
Need help deciding on the best rental option for you? Log on to the Go Rving website, where you can take a test that asks whether you want to take a bike and your laptop or a six-piece luggage set, and whether you like dining out or eating food on a stick. After you answer the questions, you’re matched with the best RV for your travel style.
The coronavirus pandemic forced Kenneth and Michele Wittels of Tahoe City, California, to cancel a British Columbia ski trip they had planned for mid-March. Instead, they rented an RV with everything they needed and stayed closer to home. “We found a brand-new 2020, 21-foot RV with only 4,000 miles on it that met all of our requirements for our inaugural trip,” including a shower and kitchen, and enough space for their dog so they wouldn’t have to leave him behind and pay for a kennel.
Where to escape
When RVers hit the road as more states lift their shelter-in-place orders, they’ll likely want to avoid crowds. “Practicing social distancing and enjoying Mother Nature is much easier in an RV than it is at a hotel. You can find a range of locations, from completely barren to more of a traditional campground with showers, playgrounds and other amenities,” says Young.
For their five-day escape, the Wittels explored California’s remote Northern Coast, riding along the Eel River and driving the Redwood Highway south of Eureka. They stopped to listen to the waves and watch sunsets with wine in hand.
Go Rving’s site lists other scenic byways suitable for social distancing, including the Selma to Montgomery March Byway, a 43-mile stretch in Alabama that follows Martin Luther King Jr.’s march in 1965, and routes through the Colorado Rockies and Michigan’s Copper Country Trail.
Also consider exploring the smaller, less-visited national parks. According to farandwide.com, California’s Lassen Peak National Park gets only 500,000 visitors a year; Big Bend National Park in Texas, about 400,000; and Congaree National Park in South Carolina, just 160,000.
Young recommends several beach areas near Houston, including Galveston State Park and, for a little more quiet, Matagorda Bay and Surfside Beach. When Hawaii reopens again, and if you’re comfortable with flying, she says Kauai and Maui are also great spots for RVers, with ample beachfront camping and parking.
What you’ll pay
An RV trip can be affordable, but not necessarily cheaper than a hotel. “All in all, it’s about the same amount of money to rent an RV as it would be to fly, rent a car, have a hotel and pay for meals. But you can’t have the same experience in a hotel as you have in an RV. With an RV, you’re right there, wherever that may be,” says Wittwer says.
Indeed, the rental costs can add up. Daily rates vary greatly, typically ranging from less than $100 a day for a smaller vehicle to $200 for a spacious motor home. Additional fees can include generator time, cleaning and mileage, which can be as high as 45 cents a mile. There’s also insurance and, of course, gas and food. You can find free parking spots in many places, but some campgrounds charge $20 to $50 per night.
Even if you do spend as much as you would on a hotel getaway in a specific locale, an RV escape offers this advantage. “If you’re in an RV and you don’t feel like you’re in the right place, you can just drive to the next spot,” says Smalley.