The RV Experience for Beginners and Beyond

More Americans will be vacationing in RVs this year than last year, according to industry reports and surveys. Rentals of recreational vehicles are more than a third higher than last year, say the two largest RV rental agencies in the U.S., Cruise America and El Monte RV.

Campground reservations are running 12% to 15% higher than last year, the National Assn. of RV Parks and Campgrounds reported recently, and many of the reservations are being made by first-time RVers. According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Assn., 75% of RV owners polled recently plan to travel more this summer than last, and the average trip is expected to be 3,751 miles, 800 miles more than last year.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and their effect on airline travel have influenced many Americans' summer travel plans. Families who already own RVs are drawn to the money-saving aspects and convenience of vacations on wheels--despite increases in gasoline prices--and travelers who have not tried RVing are attracted to the flexibility and control it offers.

Novice RVers should rent rather than buy an RV for their first experience and allow at least a week to get used to it.

RVs come in two basic types: towable ones, pulled by a car or truck, and motorized units, which are self-contained and have an engine. Most rentals today are mini-motor home or motor home units, but trailers are sometimes available to drivers who supply their own tow connections.

The least expensive towable RVs to buy are folding camping trailers (priced from $3,600), which can sleep four comfortably and, in most cases, can be pulled behind the family car and unfolded at the campsite. Some have toilet facilities.

Truck campers, which slide onto the bed of a pickup, have living and sleeping units that can accommodate up to six people; prices start at about $4,500. These are popular with outdoorsmen and sportsmen because they can leave the camper at the campground and set out in the truck. Truck campers can also tow a second vehicle, such as a boat, or motorcycles on a trailer.

The mini-motor home can resemble a van, with convertible multiuse furnishings--such as seats or dinettes that unfold into beds--or can be truck style, with a bed installed over the cab and additional beds that fold out from a sofa or dinette in the living area. A van conversion may not have bath facilities, but a mini-motor home always has a toilet, sink and shower.

A full-size motor home usually has a queen-size bed, a full bathroom and an additional sleeping area converted from a sofa or dinette.

Motor home prices begin at about $45,000; vans styled for living and sleeping start at $35,000. Van conversions, custom interiors created to order, usually begin at about $28,500.

A motorized RV allows passengers to move between the driving area and the living area without stepping outside. A towable requires passengers to leave the vehicle to enter the trailer. A folding camping trailer is not accessible on the road while it is folded for towing.

Self-contained RVs do not need external hookups every night; the propane-fueled stove, refrigerator and heater operate wherever the unit is parked.

Holding tanks keep a supply of fresh water and can store the water from the sinks and toilet for two or three days before it's necessary to dump them. Commercial campgrounds usually offer a facility for sewage dumping at most campsites; parks and forest campgrounds usually provide one central site instead.

Although no special license is required to operate an RV, some drivers may wish to arrange additional instruction.

Campground directories list commercial and public campgrounds in national and state parks, as well as those provided by the U.S. Forest Service and Corps of Engineers.

When shopping for an RV, visit dealers in the area and attend local RV shows advertised in newspapers and on TV.


Go RVing: A coalition of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Assn., Recreation Vehicle Dealers Assn., National Assn. of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) and leading state RV and campground associations. Go RVing has travel tips and lists of nearby RV dealers and campgrounds; (888) GO-RVING (467-8464),

Camping World: A retailer for RV supplies; P.O. Box 90017, Bowling Green, KY 42102; (800) 626-3636, fax (270) 796-8991,

Lists of RV parks and campgrounds: National Assn. of RV Parks & Campgrounds, a trade association representing the commercial RV park and campground industry in the U.S.; 113 Park Ave., Falls Church, VA 22046; (703) 241-8801, fax (703) 241-1004,

Kampgrounds of America Inc.: Campground directory; P.O. Box 30558, Billings, MT 59114; (406) 248-7444, fax (406) 248-7414,

Buying or renting RVs: National RV Dealers Assn., 3930 University Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030; (703) 591-7130, fax (703) 591-0734,; and Recreation Vehicle Rental Assn., 3930 University Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030; (703) 591-7130, fax (703) 591-0734,

Recreation Vehicle Industry Assn.: RV manufacturers, shows and clubs; 1896 Preston White Drive, Dept. M, Reston, VA 20191; (703) 620-6003, (703) 620-5071, Attn. GoRVing,

Dealers, campgrounds, rental units, parts: RVUSA, 1111 S.W. 17th St., Ocala, FL 34474; (800) 297-8872, (800) 709-3240, (352) 732-4332, fax (352) 622-6479,

Driving lessons: RV School, P.O. Box 470, Applegate, CA 95703; (530) 878-0111, fax (530) 878-4460, Three Southern California locations.

How-to videos:, 2852 Willamette Ave., No. 241, Eugene, OR 97405; (866) RVTVNOW (788-8669), fax (541) 484-4681,

Trailer Life: Magazine for RVers; P.O. Box 8500, Ventura, CA 93001; (800) 825-6861, fax (805) 667-4341,


Adventure Rentals: 1200 W. Mission Blvd., Ontario 91762; (909) 983-2567, fax (909) 983-0970,

Altman's Winnebago: 22020 Recreation Road, Carson 90745; (310) 518-6182, fax (310) 513-0500,

Cruise America: 2233 E. 223rd St., Carson 90810; (800) 327-7799 or (310) 522-3870, fax (310) 522-3885,

El Monte RV: 12818 Firestone Blvd., Santa Fe Springs 90670; (800) 367-3687 or (562) 404-9300, fax (562) 921-8008,

Moturis Inc.: 400 W. Compton Blvd., Gardena 90248; (877) 668-8747, fax (310) 767-5980,

Road Bear RV: 28404 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills 91301; (866) 491-9852 or (818) 865-2925, fax (818) 991-2744,


National Reservation Recreation Service: A joint program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers; P.O. Box 140, Ballston Spa, NY 12020; (877) 444-6777,

Woodall's Campground Directory: Woodall Publications Corp., 2575 Vista Del Mar Drive, Ventura, CA 93001; (800) 323-9076, fax (805) 667-4468,


Slater and Basch are the authors of "Frommer's Exploring America by RV, 2nd Edition," now in bookstores, and "RV Vacations for Dummies," being published this fall by Hungry Minds Inc.