Recreational vehicles sit somewhere between hotels and tents.
The upside: RV life is autonomous—your quarters travel with you—and allows for spontaneous stops. But then again, RVs need loads of gas and can be tricky to park. In any case, they represent a truly unique mode of transport that’s tailor-made for road tripping.
Here’s your guide to getting started from travel writer Jeannie Ralston:
> How to Rent an RV
Most major cities in the U.S. have a local RV rental firm or a national company such as Cruise America or Road Bear RV. Choices fall generally into two tiers: bigger Class A motor homes (up to 40 feet long), which have diesel engines and look like rock-star buses, and (our choice) smaller motor homes built on automotive frames.
Our 26-footer was relatively easy to maneuver, had enough perks—refrigerator, shower, DVD player—and cost less than a Class A. We found rates running from $180 a day for our rental (which included 850 free miles a week) to $399 and up per day for a Class A motor home.
> Things to Know
Not all automobile insurers cover rented RVs; ours didn’t, so we paid $17 a day for coverage. Also, RVs gulp down gas. Our Freelander should have gotten 8 to 10 miles per gallon, but our mountainous route had us averaging 7 mpg.
On the upside, our RV came with dishes, pots, and cutlery (some companies charge extra for them), which we supplemented with our own special knives and cooking utensils. Bed linens and towels for four of us cost $30.
> Where to Hook Up
Recreational vehicles take up a lot of space and have special needs. They might seem high maintenance, but RVs are pretty easy to deal with if you pick the right places to pull off for the night.
Yellowstone National Park has more than 10 campgrounds that can accommodate RVs; Glacier National Park has six with hookup facilities. Note: Not all national parks in the U.S. can accommodate large RVs, so make sure to call ahead.
> Total Costs
The grand sum for our two-week rental—daily fee, insurance, extra mileage, cleaning, and taxes—was $3,650, or about $260 a day for four people. Gas was an additional $1,262.
This insider’s guide appeared alongside a feature penned by Jeannie Ralston entitled “Parks and Recreation.” Both pieces originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Traveler magazine.