Just because we haven’t been able to vacation like we used to doesn’t mean people stayed home. For a safe, socially distanced vacation, many travelers turned to luxury RV rentals to hit the road. In spring 2020 RV rentals were up over 1000% and the trend shows no signs of slowing down.
While the thought of hitting the open road in your own self-contained luxury RV may sound like the perfect solution for a safe trip, there are challenges to motoring, sleeping and eating in a three-ton vehicle.
I talked to two couples who took RV trips recently to learn about the highs, lows and challenges of renting an RV for the first time.
Full disclosure: Both couples are friends of ours, and coincidentally, both toured through Western North Carolina on their vacations.
Irenee May & Judy Kane: Our RV Was Like a Little Moving Cabin
Irenee May and his wife, Judy Kane, live in Greenwich, Connecticut. In the fall of 2020, they drove to Greensboro, North Carolina, and rented an RV for 10 days.
They visited us at Lake James for a few days where we had rented a farmhouse to stay with a rotating slate of guests. They were able to hook the RV on a level spot on the property and enjoy exploring the area of us.
I caught up with them by Zoom to hear about the rest of their journey and how the experience was for them. They shared their favorite campsite, what surprised them and what they would do differently next time.
Why did you want to take an RV trip?
“An RV trip was on our bucket list and the pandemic made it an appropriate time to try it,” Irenee said. “Being in an RV is something we thought would be exciting and we could check out different places on the East Coast. We wanted to hike in the mountains and going whitewater rafting.
“We want to do a trip out west to the Grand Canyon and other national parks, so this was kind of a test drive to see an RV would work for us.”
What type of luxury RV did you rent and what instructions did you receive?
“We rented a 25-foot RV from Cruise America,” Irenee said. “We are both relatively mechanical and we received good instruction. They took time to make sure we were comfortable and knew how to operate the equipment.
“We also watched a YouTube video prior to picking up the RV so we felt pretty familiar with what we would be dealing with.
“I found driving it surprisingly easy, like driving a medium-size pickup truck moving van. If you’ve ever driven something larger than a van then you know about using the side-view mirrors, because there is no other rearview mirror. They emphasized that you never back up by yourself. Get your partner behind you, put them in view, and follow their instructions.”[Editor’s note: If you’d like to stay in an RV but not drive one, there is a solution. There’s a company called Outdoorsy that allows you to rent an RV directly from an owner, like Airbnb for campers. According to one of the co-founders, Jen Young, “Sixty percent of Outdoorsy owners offer delivery for those who want to get outdoors on a trip, but don’t want to actually drive an RV. Owners will deliver the RV to your campsite and get everything set up for your arrival.”]
Judy shared this tip. “Our RV was big enough to sleep five and with just two of us, we were happy to have the extra space and didn’t have to organize as much. If you can afford it and it works with your plans, get a larger RV.”
How did you book your campsites?
“We had reservations at two campsites, one online, the other by phone,” Judy said. “Some places you had to have reservations and others you didn’t.”
They stayed in Hot Springs, at Lake James and a KOA outside Statesville, North Carolina.
What was it like eating and sleeping in the RV?
“The bed was surprisingly comfortable,” Irenee said. “And we enjoyed being in the RV for meals. Everything worked well. We were happy too, to have a purchased a little Coleman stove as it allowed us to cook and grill outside, we could enjoy the outdoors more.”
“It was just like a little moving cabin,” Judy said. “We felt completely self-sufficient.”
What was the most surprising thing about renting an RV?
“I was surprised how well thought-out the design of the equipment was,” Irenee said. “We could get power from the gas engine, generator, propane tank or plug-in.
“It’s astonishing the range of things people had for their RVs. Some had huge TVs and bars set up on the exterior of their RVs for extended evenings of watching football. I was also surprised how many people travel with dogs.
“The dumping of water was less intimidating than I thought it would be and not as gross. It was surprisingly easy. And we didn’t have to stop for gas as much as I thought we would as the gas tanks are large, designed to go 350-400 miles on one tank.
“We were also surprised by the kindness and camaraderie of the other campers. It may be because they are primarily southerners, but we found them helpful and engaging.
“Sometimes parking could be confusing. Sometime we weren’t sure if we were parking the right direction or which picnic table was ours. It can also be noisy, depending on your neighbors, louder than a hotel. But it’s all part of the adventure.”
What were the highlights of your trip?
“We loved our campsite in Hot Springs, North Carolina,” Judy said. “We were right on the water and close to hiking trails.”
What was the most challenging part of your RV rental?
“Figuring out mobility from our campsite was the biggest challenge,” Judy said. “You need to have a good idea where you are going and what you are going to do when you get there, how you are going to get around and get to the sites and activities that you plan.
“There were places we went that the camper was not able to go. For example, at our friends’ place we wanted to park by their dock at Lake James, but the RV wouldn’t make it down the short, steep hill. There were roads getting to parts of the Appalachian Trail that we would not have been able to get to in the camper. So we figured a way to take our car.
“But it changed the dynamic of the trip, as Irenee and I were never in the RV together when we were on the road for the longer trips between campsites.
“Road quality and access will be a big decision we’ll have to make for our next trip out west as it will not be as easy to bring along our own car.”
Jean Rollins & Ed Boatner: Luxury RV Rentals are an Adventure
Our friends and former neighbors, Jean Rollins and Ed Boatner live in Atlanta and went on a one-week RV trip through North Carolina in the fall of 2020. After they picked up their RV at a local rental agency, I went over to take a tour and was surprised how spacious it was. When they returned from their one-week trip I asked for the full story.
We sat on their back porch, sipping wine, while they recounted their RV adventure, which included purchasing fuzzy slippers at Wal-Mart, a campsite by a gun range and the one thing they would take along on their next trip.
Why did you want to take an RV trip?
“We had talked about taking a cross-country road trip in an RV but wanted to test one out on a shorter trip to see if we liked it,” Ed said.
What type of luxury RV did you rent and what instruction did you receive?
They rented a Mercedes Forester, a 24-feet RV with slide out. “We didn’t have a lot of instruction on driving it other than watching a 15-minute video when we went to pick it up,” Jean said.
How did you book your campsites?
“We went on Google and researched campsites,” Jean said. “We started with reservations and made some modifications along the way. Our most beautiful site was Mountain Stream RV Park in Marion, North Carolina. The worst was one in Asheville that was at the intersection of two interstates by a gun range.”
While a lot of people stay several nights in one place, Jean and Ed stayed in a different place every night. “Several places have facilities like a pool or horseback riding, and you can stay in one place several days and enjoy those.”
Jean also discovered there are websites where you can rent a place on private property. “There are people with big farms, vineyards or ranches who rent out a spot or let you stay for free after you join for a small annual fee. If you do that I suggest you buy some of the wine or produce.”
Jean and Ed used the website Harvest Hosts and found a place on a ranch outside of Cherokee, North Carolina. “Just be aware that these places may not have access to full hookups or a place to dump your gray water,” she said.[Note: For $99 a year Harvest Hosts offers access to more than 1,800 locations, including farms, breweries and wineries. Another site to consider for finding RV campsites is Hipcamp.]
Was it hard to get the RV set up? What was the interior like?
“It was not hard to set up,” Ed said. “It took about half an hour. Although one thing they did not mention is that there’s a circuit breaker when you plug in the electrical service that’s usually in the off position. We thought everything was running fine, but we were actually on battery power and then the heat when out in the middle of the night. Make sure you turn on the circuit breaker.”
“It was a lot easier than I thought it would be,” Jean said. “I thought I’d have to get jacks and level it out every time. We did have to level it with plastic blocks a few times. Those came with the rental.”
They both agreed you don’t have to be too mechanical to rent an RV and they had the phone number of the rental agency in case they ran into problems.
They took a generator but never used it. They dumped grey water using a hose in the sink almost every day and black water through a sewer hose from the toilet once. “You can stop at RV places and they will flush it out for a fee,” Jean said.
They ate almost all of their meals in the RV, which had an oven and a microwave. “Jean made some dishes and froze them to take with us and we also stopped at Whole Foods and Fresh Market,” Ed said. “One night we cooked steaks outside.”
Their RV slept six but they felt comfortable with the amount of living space with just two of them.
What were some highlights of the trip?
“I loved the adventure of it, doing something you’ve never done before,” said Ed. “It was really nice to go hiking, then come home and have a meal in the comfort of your own RV.”
Jean like that the people at the campsites are friendly. “They will offer you a glass of wine and sometimes a meal. We met one man, Charles, who invited us to join him for barbecue. His RV had a washer, dryer and dishwasher. He had driven to Alaska and back in it. We had a singalong with other campers.
“You get outside your own social circle and can relax and have fun,” she said. “We met people from all social strata, including one family that was driving their Airstream across the country but also had a house in Lake Tahoe and a catamaran in the Virgin Islands.”
What were the biggest challenges?
They agreed the biggest challenge was the driving their luxury RV rental as neither was experienced with driving an RV. “The hardest part for her was when I was driving, and the hardest part for me was when she was driving,” Ed said.
“I felt okay driving on the interstate,” Jean said. “I just got in the right lane and went slow although it was a new experience to drive something that large. But when we got to curvy, hilly roads I didn’t feel that comfortable driving it. There was also a lot of road noise so we couldn’t listen to the podcasts we had downloaded.
“The biggest thing we didn’t think about was that our trip was after the time change so it got dark really early. We lounged in the camper and binge-watched ‘The Crown.’ I also discovered that even if the campsite has cable TV, it doesn’t necessarily have many channels. For example, none of the KOA sites had CNN.”
What would you change about your next trip?
“I’d want to take along a car on our next trip,” Jean said. “Whenever we wanted to go somewhere it was an hour-long process to put everything away. I’d rather park the RV at the campsite and then be able to explore in a car.”
Do you have more tips to share for luxury RV rentals?
“Take some slippers if it’s chilly out,” Jean said. “The floors are cold so you may want to bring some throw rugs. We stopped at a Walmart in Waynesville, the largest Walmart I’ve ever seen, and I bought some Mama Bear slippers to keep my feet warm. And you can always park your RV in a Walmart parking lot for the night.”
Ed’s tip: “Relax and don’t sweat the small stuff.”
“Everyone should do it once,” Jean said. “Don’t let lack of experience stop you from doing it. My most rugged trip prior to this one was glamping where someone else cooked our meals. I am not a camper but would tell anyone to try this.”