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How to plan your first RV trip
Simona Pilolla/Shutterstock

Planning a recreational vehicle (RV) trip is proof that traveling is more about the journey, not the destination. There’s something oddly nostalgic about rolling around in a van the size of an en-suite bathroom, harkening back to the days of wood paneling, built-in ashtrays and bright orange accents enhanced only by a Pink Floyd soundtrack. But depending on where you rent from, today’s RVs can have amenities that rival those of modern, upscale hotels.

With RVs available in every budget from luxury motorhomes to smaller trailers, it’s no wonder the industry is experiencing a resurgence. According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, contributing to its boom in the last decade is increased millennial participation, as reported by CNBC.

Here’s how to make sure your first RV trip goes off without a hitch.

Choose a crew

This is one of the more intimate types of trips, so you want to be extra picky about who you travel with. Think about it in terms of how you’d choose a roommate: On one hand, you want to be comfortable enough around them to express yourself freely, and on the other, you don’t want to sacrifice your closest friendship in case something goes awry. (Seriously, traveling with friends can make or break the relationship!).

“Deciding who to bring along on your trip depends on where you want to go or what kind of trip you want to go on. Some trips are perfect for the whole family, a romantic weekend away, an adventurous friends trip, or even a solo vacation with your dog,” said Megan Buemi, senior content marketing manager at RVShare, a peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace.

Decide on a destination

Unlike a flight that gets you from point A to point B, an RV gives you the luxury of driving at a glacial pace, stopping along the way to smell the proverbial (and literal) flowers. “While we do love having a plan, don’t be afraid to get a little lost along the way, [since] you may discover some pretty special places,” she said.

For a romantic trip for two, she recommended heading to Charleston, South Carolina for their Spanish moss-draped oaks or Aspen, Colorado to cozy up by a fire. For a thrill-seeking group of friends, she suggested Yosemite National Park for great hiking, and Tahoe, California for skiing and great nightlife. Solo travelers can delight in the glimmering beaches of San Diego, California or peaceful forests and red rock canyons in Sedona, Arizona.

Source: Aleksey Korchemkin/Shutterstock

Pick an RV

The RV you choose will largely depend on the number of people in your party, the desire for a full kitchen and/or bathroom, storage needs, your driving comfort level and whether or not the RV is pet-friendly, according to Buemi. Some good options for beginners include smaller Class C motorhomes or small class B camping vans.

Practice driving

Surprisingly, you don’t need a special license to drive an RV — what’s important is that you have a valid driver’s license, are over the age of 25 and that you’re comfortable operating (and parking!) a large vehicle that spans at least 28 feet behind you, she said.

No matter where you go, ensure your road trip isn’t the first time you’re getting behind the RV wheel. Go for a spin on a quiet street or in an empty parking lot.

Pack smart

Like flying, you don’t want to overpack. There’s a good chance your RV already comes with some of the essentials like linens, camping gear and cooking utensils, but check the original posting to be sure. You can also communicate directly with the renter or rental company about any special amenity needs. Buemi said that if the rental doesn’t come with anything, some great essentials to pack include:

· A first-aid kid with antiseptic solution

· Bandages

· Allergy and pain tablets

· Bug spray

· Sunscreen

· Reusable cutlery

· Plenty of water

· Food (both perishable and shelf-stable)

· Blankets and linens

· Cleaning supplies

· A flashlight

· Toiletries

· Clothing for multiple weather conditions

· Electronics (phones, cameras, etc.) and their chargers

Arrange permits beforehand

As much as you might be feeling all spontaneous and filled with wanderlust, you can’t just show up to a campground and RV park. You will need to purchase your space for the duration of your trip through a service like Reserve America.

“Campgrounds book up pretty quickly, so that should be taken into consideration, especially campgrounds at more popular destinations, like state or national parks,” said Buemi. (Consult RVShare’s guide to each of the 60 U.S. national parks, including camping locations, nearby entertainment and hiking trails).

Buemi noted that some Walmarts and other major chains allow you to park in their lots overnight, but check with the store manager ahead of time. For more budget-friendly RV parking options, explore FreeCampgrounds.com.

Marissa Miller
Personal finance and travel writer