By Nancy McLaughlin
Our family is accustomed to flying to on vacation; however, this year we were looking for other options and decided to try RV travel for the first time.
I’m guessing we’re not alone! 🙂
An RV felt like a good way to be self-contained, social distance and avoid hotels and airports, while allowing us to travel with a kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms.
At first, we considered tent camping but decided we’d rather do something a bit more luxurious. Instead, we opted for a Cruise America RV rental for our first RVing experience. I’m going to share with you what it was like and all the things we learned!
RV Rental Costs
I thought RV travel with Cruise America might be out of our budget, but it turned out to be quite affordable.
The average American family of four spends around $4,500 (when you combine airfare, hotels, food and activities) while on a week-long vacation, which comes to about $640 a day.
A “standard” size Cruise America RV rental varies according to dates and seasons, but usually ranges from about $50 to $300 per night, which much more affordable than $640 per day!
RV rental prices do fluctuate based on season, location and availability much the same as airlines. In general, though, the earlier you book, the lower the price.
You can check out the Cruise America Rental Deals page for current pricing.
Our RV Travel Tips for First Timers
Driving an RV might seem intimidating at first, but we found Cruise America‘s well-maintained vehicles to be simple to use.
Their website has an orientation video for learning the ins and outs of the RV’s features ahead of time, and they also have a handy 24/7 traveler’s assistance line should you have any questions while on the road. We had an excellent customer service experience at our local Cruise America location in Thornton, Colorado.
If you are new to camping in an RV, as we were, here are my top tips to make it a smooth experience for you and your family.
1. Pick the Right RV Size for Your Family
Do you want a bathroom and refrigerator? Will you do most of your cooking on a campfire, or would you like to use the stove inside the RV?
Our family of three (two adults and one teenager) choose to rent the popular 25-foot “standard size” RV for our three-night camping staycation where we live in Colorado. They also offer one-way rentals between their 120 locations across the United States and Canada if you want to fly one direction and drive back, etc.
Each of the four styles of Cruise America’s RVs has air conditioning, a bathroom with shower and a kitchen with a refrigerator, microwave and stove top.
My 6-foot-tall teenage son had plenty of space in the queen over-cab bed. My 6-foot-tall husband and I slept in the smaller floor level queen, and he found it was a bit tight for him.
The dinette also converts into a small bed if you need.
The “large” size RV adds 5 feet in length, sleeps up to seven people and comes with a larger, floor-level queen bed. In addition to the full-size queen over-cab bed, the dinette converts into a double bed and also provides an extra sofa bed.
2. Consider Your Campsite
Your next consideration should be the types of campsites you’ll be using. For example, do you need “full hookups”? Just electricity? Or nothing?
“Full hookups” refers to electricity, water and sewer services. We wanted to spend a few nights at a remote site with hiking nearby and found that some campsites only offered electric hookups.
For us, electricity was the only essential we needed for lights, the water heater and the refrigerator. Our RV came with a full 40-gallon freshwater tank. We were traveling for three nights, took three short showers, washed dishes every meal and did not run out of water.
We didn’t even fill up the gray or sewage water tanks, so we didn’t need to use the dump station.
If you don’t drain your sewage water tank at a campsite dump station (which is free to use), Cruise America charges a reasonable $50 dump fee. I know none of us were looking forward to that experience, so the cost was well worth it to us to skip it!
You also have the option to take these self-contained RVs and go off-grid or “boondocking,” which is camping with no water, electric or sewer hookup. Keep in mind, there is a fee to use the generator when you’re not plugged into electrical hook-ups at the campsite.
3. Allow for Plenty of Time
We picked up our rental from Cruise America the day before our trip, so we could take it home, make up the beds with our own sheets (though you can also rent their sheets for a fee), pack the drawers with our clothing and stock the refrigerator with food. There was so much storage that we even had extra space!
This also gave us time to familiarize ourselves with how the water system, electricity and stove worked.
We also didn’t want to rush down the mountain to return the RV by 11 a.m. on our last day, so we extended the rental by one extra day. We brought it home to unpack and clean, which allowed us to have a leisurely last day at the campsite. My teenage son enjoyed having the camper to himself that night (with WiFi!) in front of our house.
4. Reserve Your Camping Spot Well in Advance
After planning our travel dates, I realized most campsites, especially in Colorado, fill up six months in advance, so it’s good to have some flexibility.
I couldn’t find three consecutive nights at any campsite, unfortunately. But here’s a tip: If you have trouble finding a site, consider booking several single nights in the same campground as we did, just at different “sites.”
Unlike a tent, it’s easy to pick up and drive an RV to a new site!
We spent our first night on Carter Lake, an hour north of Denver, in Loveland, Colorado, which was crowded even on a Tuesday night.
For the last two nights, I was able to reserve two different sites, both at Golden Gate Canyon State Park, just an hour west of Denver, which was densely wooded and had far more distance between sites.
Check out CampSitePhotos.com for reviews and photos of specific site numbers at campsites.
The 4-mile Raccoon Trail hike started within walking distance of our site at Golden Gate Canyon State Park. There was some elevation gain on the moderate hike, and it leads to a beautiful overlook called “Panorama Point”. You can bring dogs on this trail, but you need to keep them on a leash.
Other Things to Know Before You Go
- The Cruise America rental times start at 1 p.m., and the return time is between 9 and 11 a.m.
- Cruise America provides you with Supplemental Liability Insurance (SLI) up to $1,000,000 for U.S. rentals.
- The RV is wider and taller than you think!
- Some mountain roads do not allow campers.
- You can bring your pet.
- Turn on the water heater to warm up the water before your shower!
- Bring lots of drinking water. You should not drink the water from the RV.
- Be sure to latch refrigerator tight before driving, or your food will fall out on your first turn as ours did!
- Have fun!
What do you think? Will be you renting an RV in the next year for a close to home getaway?
Note: Cruise America provided us with a complimentary RV rental in exchange for a review, but all opinions are our own.
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