By Jennifer Fontaine – Older generations fondly recall the squeaky station wagon, floor littered with snack wrappers and coloring books, trunk filled to the brim with luggage, and a constant stream of packing and unpacking as the family made its way from one hotel to the next. For this generation, a family RV vacation is a more relaxing way to create lifelong memories the whole clan will treasure for a lifetime, so why not ditch the hotel shuffle for a home on wheels?
A family RV vacation combines the best parts of road-tripping with the comforts of a home away from home atmosphere that’s guaranteed to put kids at ease and parents in discovery mode. According to a 2011 University of Michigan study commissioned by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, approximately 8.9 million households own an RV with top ownership recently shifting to the younger 35 to 54 age group.
RVing is not just for baby boomers, anymore. It’s a smart and exciting way for families to remain spontaneous on the road, while still maintaining a sense of comfort that kids crave. A family RV vacation allows the ability to be agile, independent, and to explore more, but as most parents realize early on, enjoyment of any event, be it a small family dinner or a two-week road trip, depends on advanced planning.
Tracks and Trails RV Adventure Vacations, headquartered in Grand Junction, Colorado, has taken the guesswork out of planning, working with clients to create a compelling, fully-tailored family RV vacation specific to your family’s needs, wants and desires. They handle it all, from assessing which RV best fits your family, to campground reservations and expert help with guided activities and route planning.
Whether you’re an RV first-timer or an expert boondocker, Tracks and Trails provides all the tools you need, including an entire Adventure Kit detailing your trip’s itinerary, route maps, and vouchers for campgrounds, outfitters, vehicle rental, and more. The kit also includes a destination folder brimming with highlights and helpful information about where you’re headed, and the top tips and tricks for getting the most out of your family RV vacation.
A family RV vacation is educational and inspirational, instilling in both kids and adults a sense of freedom and flexibility. Even the most headstrong teenagers and fit-prone 3- year-olds can find something to connect with, or disconnect from, with so much time spent outdoors in the wide open air.
Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Moe
The art of choosing the right RV for your family can make or break a family RV vacation. Look at all of your options and take into consideration important factors like interior space your family will need, and any additional storage or towing capacity.
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RVs are divided into 4 categories:
Towable RVs offer a wide range of configurations from a 19-foot folding camping trailer towed by a mid-sized car, to a 40-foot fifth wheel travel trailer hitched to a large pickup truck. When considering a towable RV make sure to verify your vehicle’s towing capacity, including additional weight of luggage, gear, and other personal belongings that will be stored in the trailer during transport. It is also important to remember with any towable RV, all passengers must ride in the cabin of the vehicle that is towing the trailer.
Built on specifically designed chassis, Class A Motorhomes can exceed 40 feet in length and offer extra wide living space along with numerous amenities including slide-out room expansion floorplans, reclining seats, and extra storage. A 75 to 200- gallon gas tank makes fuel one of the most expensive considerations when choosing this kind of RV, but its interior capacity affords the added benefit of sleeping up to 10 people in the largest models. Most Class A Motorhomes come equipped with air conditioning and heating units, and dramatically increased water storage.
Class B Motorhomes, also known as camper vans, are functional everyday vehicles capable of accommodating a small family of three to four people. More nimble and easy to maneuver, camper vans drive more like a family car making it easy to pack up camp and drive to the trailhead without worrying about parking a massive RV. Floor plans vary widely, but generally contain a living and dining space, sleeping space, and a very minimal bathroom.
Ranging in size from 21 to 35 feet in length and sleeping up to six people comfortably, Class C Motorhomes are the most popular of all the RV types for traveling families. A few RV companies may also offer bunk units, which sleep up to eight comfortably. Many Class C Motorhomes offer some of the same amenities of the Class A Motorhomes, including numerous slide-out room expansion floorplans, in a more compact and portable package.
Important Note: While most states do not require an additional driver’s licensing to operate RVs, be sure to check with your state’s (and any additional states you will be driving through) Department of Motor Vehicles. Some states require special non-commercial licenses structured after the Federal Class A, B, and CDL classifications.
To read more about how to choose the right RV rental for your family RV vacation and watch informative videos that break down each RV class by amenities and functionality, check out Tracks and Trails’ Choosing the Right RV.
Don’t Blow the Budget
Travelers generally fall into two categories, the planners and the wanderers. Whichever category you fit into, running out of money halfway through a trip is never fun. Even a simple, loosely-outlined budget can be a great benefit to keeping everyone’s spirits up and the bank account happy.
Once you have mapped a family RV vacation route, you can easily calculate your estimated fuel costs with this equation: Miles x Fuel Cost / MPG = cost in fuel. Most RV companies do not publish MPG information, so you’ll have to do some research on your own to find the approximate MPG for your RV. It is a safe to guess that your vehicle will get roughly 6-8 miles a gallon. Tracks and Trails can provide you with estimated mileage based on your trip, which can help you budget and estimate your fuel costs.
Where you park an RV for the night vastly alters your overnight stay budget, and with so many options to choose from, everyone from the luxury traveler to the most frugal adventurer can travel in an RV and remain within their means. For those on a tight budget, research dispersed camping in National Forests, and Bureau of Land Management sites, ranging from free to $40 per night. County parks tend to run fairly cheap too, averaging $15 to $20 per night. State parks, National parks, and private campground fees hover around $30 to $45 per night, and luxurious beachfront RV resorts can go as high as $100 for a one night stay.
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With ravenous young mouths to feed, allocating for food on a family RV vacation can get out of hand quickly, unless you do a bit of planning. Consider staying in and cooking (as you will most likely have a full kitchen in your RV), map out your road trip menu, and create a shopping list to keep you on track. Choose and plan for meals that can use items more than once, and plan on shopping in the larger towns and cities on your road trip. Allow for padding in the snack and coffee stop categories, and treat the family to a few nights out on the town. If you’re staying in, aim for a budget of $5 per meal per person, and $10 or more per meal per person when dining out.
Campground Set-up and Options
Not all RVs and campgrounds are created equal when it comes to water, electrical, and sewer hook ups, but there are a few important tips that will have you making campground connections like a pro. Your greatest advantage as an RV traveler is that you have already been inducted into the brotherhood of RVers, so rest assured that before you even put it into park, your RV neighbors will be offering their help.
Depending on the campground, you may have full, partial, or no hook up capabilities. Assess your site to identify where hook ups reside, then position the RV, assuring easy access to them. Also be sure there are no low-lying tree branches or bushes that may hinder processes like extending slideouts and awnings.
Once the RV is positioned fully apply the parking brake and chock (brace) wheels to safeguard the vehicle from sliding out of place. Many campsites are rutted, sloped, and gouged so remember that proper leveling of your RV aids in the operation of certain key RV functions like refrigeration and safe slide-out of room extensions.
The three common hook ups available at RV sites are electrical, potable water, and sewage connections making life on the road increasingly more comfortable. Standard RV site electrical outlets supply 30 and/or 50 amp wattage, so check the specific requirements for your RV. Once hooked up to the campground’s fresh water supply be sure to check your hose for any leaks. This water typically comes from a local well or municipality’s water supply making it safe for drinking.
When attaching the sewer hose to the campground’s sewer dump station or your site’s personal sewer connection, double check that its valve locking tabs are securely locked into place and there are no leaks. Generally campgrounds allow you to empty both grey (sink) and black (toilet) water into the sewer dump, but double-check this with staff before proceeding.
Use the US DOT Federal Highway Administration website to get up-to-date information on road conditions, closures, and construction throughout the United States, including Alaska, Hawai’i, and Puerto Rico. Richard Coon, President, Recreational Vehicle Industry Association also has some great advice, “Use an RV-specific route planner on a GPS. It’ll factor in overhead clearance and other restrictions, such as which roads, bridges, and tunnels won’t allow propane tanks through.”
Unlike our homes, RVs are not designed to run all of appliances at once, so keep them unplugged while not in use and save yourself the trouble of a blown fuse. Determine your RV’s allowable amps, most run on 30 or 50, then use this handy formula to convert watts to amps: Watts / Volts = Amps
Keep in mind that fully loaded RVs have slower acceleration and take much longer to come to a full stop. Follow the 20 percent rule by adjusting your follow length, merge and stop times by 20 percent more than your normal allowance.
Long distance driving can certainly take a toll on our concentration and ability to react quickly in a situation. Allow for frequent breaks to get out and stretch, and when that doesn’t help, stopping for the night is better than pushing exhaustion to make it to the next campground. Numerous big box retail stores allow overnight parking for weary travelers, just make sure to read the signs and park in a well-lit area.
Conduct a pre-drive check list and avoid that utterly embarrassing moment when you to realize your front steps are lying on the side of the freeway. We’ve created one for you here.
Let Tracks and Trails Plan Your Next Family RV Adventure
With 14 trip itineraries sprinkling the map from breathtaking mountain views of Banff, Canada to the spirit-full sights of Sedona, Arizona, and the Grand Canyon, Tracks and Trails expert Trip Consultants will perfectly plan your family RV vacation. With an added emphasis on your passions and interests – don’t be surprised if your rafting guide has packed your favorite sandwich, and careful attention to avoid your dislikes.
As with any family RV vacation, planning is key to a restful and entertaining trip, wherever your family is headed. If you are looking to enjoy an exciting family RV vacation, let Tracks and Trails handle the details and planning so you can have more time to enjoy quality time with your family.
Outdoor Families Magazine is committed to responsible advertising, and pledges to inform readers whenever content is written in exchange for products, ad space, or services. Tracks and Trails provided products and purchased ad space for the content of this article. ~ OFM editorial staff
Jennifer Fontaine is the founder of Outdoor Families Magazine, publisher of MommyHiker.com, a blog to encourage outdoor activities with children, and an activist filmmaker inspiring dynamic change in the world. She lives in Southern California with her family.