how easy is it to go RVing?

We are thinking of spending a couple in California travelling around as a family of 5. Rather than use motels etc it seems easier to hire a winnebago. Having never done this before I was wondering about the practicalities.

I presume the kids are in the back as we drive around. Do they have to be belted in or are they free to lounge on the beds, walk around etc? Is is comfortable for them over long distances?

How easy it to find RV parks in main cities such as San Fransisco etc?

If it is getting late can I just pull over on a country road (assuming it is safe to do so) and park up for the night? Walmart at a pinch?

Whats an average all up charge for a nights parking and facilities at a RV park. Do I generally have to book ahead or just take pot luck?

Any time your driving the motorhome all passengers should be seated and belted. By law every seat meant to be used while the RV is in motion must have seat belts. Have you ever driven a motorhome before? If not rent a smaller one, not a giant luxury model (aka Class A). A Class C is the kind with the bunk over the driver’s section and automobile style doors. Always book ahead at campgrounds. If you want to stay overnight in a store parking lot as managment. Walmart is usually okay. WCS you get a knock at your door in the middle of the night.

For me the idea of having everything self contained as in an RV has always had some appeal. We could even bring our cats along! (They wouldn’t like it, but…anyway.) What doesn’t appeal to me about the prospect is that it isn’t well suited for trips to major cities. If you have to park at a Walmart 25 miles away from the Embarcadero…if there are any even that close…it’s not like being in San Francisco at all. Technically of course, it wouldn’t be anyway, but you get the idea.

Besides, you do NOT want to try driving one of those things around in San Francisco proper.

I have some friends who own RVs and they just love going RVing as they say. WalMart, according to them, welcomes RVers to use their parking lots at night according to my friends. I think the philosophy behind it is that the people will go shopping for groceries, etc. so they get the business while the Rvers get a place to stop and hook up for the night. As I understand it, from my friends, there are RV hookups available at most Walmarts. Bear in mind this is all second hand info from them, as I have no experience with this, nor do I desire to have any experience with RVing. My idea of roughing it being a hotel without room the service, the horror! :eek:

They tell me that places like KOA prefer reservations. Otherwise there’s no guarantee you could get a spot with the requisite hookup stuff.

Good luck and have fun if this is what you want to do.

My folks do this. For the past several summers they have packed up and gone “workamping.” An RV camp will hire them to work 20-30 a week at the park, and in exchange, they get free hookup and free site space. They get spending money and enough time off during the week to go sightseeing. They’ve been to Colorado, Alaska, Wyoming, New Hampshire, and now they’re in Virginia.

My dad has his dream RV, a diesel pusher with two slide-outs (cue Tim Allen grunting.) The thing you must remember about RVs is that they are godawful on gas (I think my dad was pleased when he was averaging 9 mpg) and they are slow to get moving. It’s like driving a big ol’ bus.

Most RV parks have what they call “hook-ups,” which is where you can connect to the park electricity and the sewer without having to run off a generator or keep all your waste in the storage tanks.

I would start off slow, maybe rent one for a three-day weekend until you get the hang of things. Things are tight in RVs, and everything has a place and everything must go in its place.

My wife took the kids on a trip around the country in an RV about 15 years ago. It is good for long distances - sure you should be belted, but the kids can still go to the bathroom without you stopping. She usually could get space in RV parks without a reservation (this was before practical cell phones) and they did stay in parking lots every so often. (Never a WalMart.) Lots of state parks have RV areas, but without hookups.

I went with them from San Diego to Yosemite to San Jose.

If you want to go to San Francisco, or some other big city, see if you can find a park near public transportation. You don’t want to drive one in San Francisco!

I believe they are a bit expensive to rent, not counting gas prices. It’s not at all clear that a rental car and reasonable motels are going to be a lot more expensive. Yeah, you can save on food, but cooking makes it less of a vacation, doesn’t it?

My parents have been doing the RV extensively for a good number of years. They take 3 to 6 month trips at times. I’ve done short trips with them and in other RVs. When I was growing up we also did extensive travel in a camper.

About walking around while the RV is moving. Don’t do it much. Getting a can of soda or going to the bathroom* is ok but otherwise stay seated/belted.

If you are going somewhere RV-unfriendly, you can rent a car-tote and pull a car behind you. Most car totes are pretty easy to use, the one big issue being that you really can’t backup with the car tote on the RV. At least no one I know can backup more than a short distance with the car tote attached, you jack-knife too easily. Make sure you know where you are going ahead of time as turning around can be a real pain. Trailers are a bit different and are easier to back up with.

Most RV parks these days require reservations. They can be really packed. Check ahead to make sure you can get a spot. You can always park in a Wal-Mart lot. Not the best view but Wal-Marts can be handy for an overnight place to park if you just need a spot. I do not believe any Wal-Marts have hookups, but I could be wrong. AFAIK most don’t.

I am not up on prices for RV parks but I think the range goes from like $30 a night and up.

Packing and organizing stuff is really important. The RVs have weight limits and things need to be packed so that the weight is pretty evenly spread.

If you are going to spend most of your time in S.F an RV probably isn’t the best choice. If, on the other hand, you are going to spend some time going to other places it might work.


We’ve thought about doing this, but have been turned off by the cost. Here in Canada, a smallish motorhome will cost you $1200-1500 per week to rent during the high season, not including gas. Add in another $150-$200 per week for hookups and parking, and if you travel 1000 miles, another $400 in gas.

That’s $3000 or more for a two-week vacation, just for traveling and accomodation. In comparison, nice hotels in Alberta are maybe $110 per night, and if we pack up the small SUV, we’ll spend $200 in gas, for a total travel and accomodation cost of $1700, or about half of the RV cost. And when we get where we are going, we have a nice small vehicle to tool around in.

I think the equation changes a lot depending on circumstances, though. If you’re a big family that would need two or three rooms at a hotel, or of you rent in the off-season to drive someplace warm, or if RV-ing itself is a big part of the attraction. Those same RVs can be had in the dead of winter for more like $600/week, and a lot of Canadians rent them and head down to Arizona for a couple of months (they probably get even better deals if they take them for that long). Now you’re looking at maybe $4,000 plus gas to get out of the winter climate for two full months, which starts to look a lot better. At least comparable to air fair for two, plus renting a condo, plus renting a car while you’re there.

my parents sold their house and now live in their motorhome. the thing looks like something rockstars would pop out of. its huge and powerful as hell.

and as was mentioned 9mpg is pretty damn good out of one of them things.

My friends’ parents have an RV. They used to go down to Florida every winter from Ontario, Canada, but this year the cost of fuel is so much higher that it’s cheaper to pay rent on a storage site in Florida and park the RV there, and just drive their car up, than it is to pay fuel for the RV’s return trip to Ontario.

It is driving a big ol’ bus. Many bus namufacturers, the same ones that make Greyhound-type highway coaches, sell bus shells (engine, frame, controls, walls, wheels) to custom luxury coachbuilders (roughly-speaking, the rock-star market). I’ve seen an ad for a German RV that had an actual garage in the rear of the bus, where a Smart car could be stored. It was underneath the master bedroom. :slight_smile:

My dad and almost-stepmother have an RV – big sucker, too. I never could understand their appeal… but:

The Wal-Mart thing is true. They used to camp out in the Wal-Mart in Hermosillo, Mexico all the time, so I asked them. Just by sheer coincidence that’s where we Americans would meet from our disparate locations in the city to convoy to one of the beach resort towns.

Having driven back from Mexico to Michigan, an RV would have been awesome, especially in some of the remoter areas where there were not a lot of hotels (like the entire state of Wyoming). Plus having dog-friendliness built-in.

The real question is, is such occassional use enough of a justification to purchase one of these behemouths? I live in Michigan and can’t even justify a simple boat, let alone even a small RV. YMMV.

Thanks for the helpful replies. Looking at the overall cost of rental, gas, park fees, and the problem of driving around big towns and parking in a RV I am starting to go off the idea. I guess it would be more useful say in the midwest with lots of room and few hills.

After I posted about hookups in WalMart parking lots (why does that make me want to snerk?), I emailed two of my friends who are into RVing and asked. They told me there are no hookups in the parking lots, at least they’ve never been to a WalMart where there were, so it seems I am mistaken about that. Sorry about that scm1001 and everybody else. scm1001, maybe you could consider renting an RV to go tooling around the countryside a bit. Like maybe to Oregon, Arizona or Nevada, places that may be a bit more rural, just to see if you like it.

Re the 9 MPG number; is this for gasoline or Diesel power?

Both. My dad knows I hate hearing about distance travelled and the mileage he’s getting, I want to know what they saw and where they went, the folks they ran into and the local cuisine they ate. He had a grand old time in New Hampshire. They were close enough to Amish country to get some of the goodies the Amish folk make. So of course, in his journal e-mails to us, in addition to where they went and what they saw, he always includes the distance travelled and the mileage. :stuck_out_tongue:

True, but I’ve seen camper shells hooked over pickup trucks that people use. But you’re talking about an all-in-one RV.

Why not rent one for a short weekend trip and see how it goes? That should be enough to tell if the family is going to enjoy it or not. If not, you haven’t wasted much money or time, and you’ll have some memories to share anyway.

  1. Class ‘A’ motorhomes (buses) are not generally set up to sleep families. They’re primarily designed for couples, or perhaps three people. You want a class ‘C’, as mentioned before.
  2. Rent something you’re comfortable with. They’re not difficult to drive, but you are not going to be cruising at 75 mph unless you like to live dangerously. For a family of five, you can get by with a 25 footer. Most rental places don’t rent out units with slides, because people do stupid things with them, like drive away with them still extended.
  3. When backing up always/always have someone behind you to be a guide.
  4. When entering gas stations, make sure you watch your overcab portion so you don’t smack into a canopy upright or other protrusion.
  5. With five people, you will need to dump your sewage tank often. Probably every 2-3 days. Ditto your gray water tank. Practice water conservation. Carry bottled water rather than drinking from the tap. You don’t know what someone else has put in there or from what source.
  6. You will likely be unable to change a flat tire on an RV. They’re too heavy and usually don’t even come with a jack. Check into temporary road insurance.
  7. Be VERY aware of how long it takes to stop one of these things. Anticipate every idiot on the road wanting to pull out in front of you or to cut you off, and keep your speed in cities as low as safely possible. When on two-lane highways, be courteous and pull out as often as is necessary to let people pass you. Generally, more than 4-5 cars behind you could result in a lynch mob.
  8. Lane changes can be nerve-wracking in towns. To the extent possible, plan your route to your destination and pick the appropriate lanes to get there so you don’t have to make any last minute changes. You’ve got a rather large blind spot working against you.
  9. Make a pre-flight departure list. Stabilizers raised? Doors secured? Power/water/sewer disconnected (if in an RV park)? Slide retracted? Pots/pans/other possible airborne objects secured? Headlights/taillights clean?

From a FAQ:
“In discussions with owners of gas coaches they say they get 5 - 10 MPG with most in the 5 - 6 MPG range. Diesel owners say they get between 9 and 14 MPG with most in the 10 - 11 MPG range. Bus conversion owners say between 7 and 11 MPG is standard, depending on the year and condition of the motor.” [1]

From a rental place:
“Our Class C Motor homes get about 7 - 9 miles per gallon. Our Class A Motor homes get about 6 - 9 miles per gallon. When running, the generator burns 4/10 of a gallon per hour.” [2]

Another rental place:
“As a general rule we tell people that the Class C units get around 10 miles per gallon on the freeway and 8 miles per gallon in the mountains. From there factor in weather, number of people and speed. The Class C units all have a 55 gallon gas tank so your range on a tank is around 450-500 miles. The Class A units will get around 8 miles per gallon on the freeway and 6 in the city and mountains. The gas tanks on the Class A units are 80 gallons.” [3]




Obtain a commercial driver’s license. The knowledge you will have acquired in the process of doing so will serve you well on the road in an RV. You will have more confidence and know how to handle the vehicle better.

That’s a really good idea. Are there any motorhomes that require the driver to have a commercial license?