It’s the time of year when a busy family’s fancy turns to the summer vacation. If the idea of packing a suitcase and committing to an itinerary makes you weary enough to stay home, an RV vacation may be your solution: sleep in your own bed, cook your own food and pack without worrying about luggage restrictions. Here’s how to drive happily into the sunset.
Drop Everything and Go
Many families choose to holiday in an RV for the financial advantages, since the cost of plane tickets, hotel reservations and restaurant meals can quickly put a vacation out of reach. But there are more advantages than just cost savings: travelling in a portable hotel makes it easy to get up and go on a whim, without disrupting daily routines. Plus, the pleasures of washrooms and air conditioning cannot be overstated, especially if you have small children or pets.
RVs also allow you the flexibility to take eye-opening detours. Ashley Pharand, marketing specialist at AMA, took advantage of this on a recent trip Down Under. “I participated in a caravan tour in Australia, and when the locals would suggest we check out a site that wasn’t in our guidebooks, it made it easy to explore,” she says. “We discovered great waterfalls and other sites that we would never have otherwise come across.” Pharand adds that RV vacations also present social opportunities, since many campgrounds have common areas where children can play and adults can chat.
While RV travel offers great flexibility, be aware that it can be difficult to go completely schedule-free, particularly if you’re travelling during a busy period. “Reservations are a good idea,” Pharand says. “You can get into many campsites last-minute, but you don’t want to be disappointed if a choice destination is full.”
Embark on a Cultural Exchange
The culture is a varied one. Some RVers prefer to hit the road in motorhomes with all the amenities of a mini-mansion, while others prefer “boondocking,” or camping in an undeveloped area with rudimentary facilities.
Whatever your tastes, there’s likely a network of other RVers like you out there. And chances are, they’ll be heading to at least one cultural event this summer. Here are a few RV-friendly events to consider:
• Merritt Mountain Music Festival, Merritt, B.C. Music festivals are a common destination for RVers, and this is one of the most popular in western Canada, often drawing more than 150,000 attendees. July 7-10, 2011. mountainfest.com
• Big Valley Jamboree, Camrose, Alta. Concert-goers from across North America make a yearly pilgrimage to the 162-hectare mini-village that’s created each year for this country music festival. Camping stalls are available onsite. July 28-31. bigvalleyjamboree.com
• Banff Dragon Boat Festival, Banff National Park, Alta. Banff is a beautiful place to visit at any time of year, but if you attend during this festival, you’ll be able to see Chinese dragon boats in action on Lake Minnewanka. August 13-14, 2011.
• Jasper Heritage Rodeo, Jasper National Park, Alta. Once a year, this rodeo brings animals of the (slightly) more domestic variety to the wilderness of Jasper. Watch calf roping, street wrestling and bull riding, and enjoy the barbecues. August 17-20, 2011.
Prep for a Smooth Ride
The joy of an RV vacation lies in the luxury of travelling at your own pace. By taking a preventative approach, you’ll ensure your trip is leisurely by choice, rather than due to mechanical problems.
Randy Loyk, AMA technical services manager, explains that RVs “are subject to vibrations not normally found in a stationary unit, so they’re more susceptible to leaks. Tires and running gear are also some of our biggest issues, usually because the unit is overloaded, or it hasn’t had the running gear checked prior to heading out.”
If you’re carrying enough gear and sports equipment to outfit an army, you could be subjecting your unit to excess wear and tear. To prevent damage, look up the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of your trailer or motorhome and weigh in at a commercial weigh station. Be careful not to exceed the GVWR. This rating tells you how much you can safely haul without causing any issues with the vehicle’s wheels, braking or suspension system. Also make sure the weight is correctly distributed.
“Towables should have new seals and their bearings checked every couple of years, depending on mileage,” Loyk says. “Keep a log book so you can track how many kilometres you’re putting on.” Boat trailers should have their bearings and seals checked and repacked with grease at the start of every season, regardless of mileage, since constant submerging in water can result in water intrusion.
Other things you should check before you leave the driveway: the roof, windows, tires, axle springs (particularly on boat and house trailers), wheel bearings, batteries (for corrosion), lights, spare tires and propane systems – look for leaks using a soap-and-water solution, just as you would test a barbecue.
Protect Your Second Home
When it comes to insurance, you should know your coverage inside out – inside and outside of your RV, that is. Here’s why: while an RV can be covered by home and automobile insurance policies, there may be some gaps. An auto policy will generally provide the coverage you need when the RV is in use, while comprehensive alone will cover it when it’s parked. However, there are some exceptions.
“One thing people don’t realize is that you can insure an RV under an auto policy, and that covers it while it’s going down the road. If you have comprehensive insurance only – for example, in the off-season when the vehicle is parked – it covers the RV itself, but not contents or liability,” says Diane Lennie, manager of administration with AMA Insurance in Edmonton.
Think your homeowner’s insurance will take care of the vehicle’s contents when it’s parked? Think again. Homeowner’s insurance will cover some items in a parked RV, but not those located permanently outside of your principal residence. So your barbecue, dishes and Italian espresso machine won’t be covered if the RV is stolen or damaged.
That means you’ll want off-season coverage for theft, weather and liability, says Lennie. If that all sounds complicated, you may want to consider a year-round, RV-specific insurance policy. The RV package AMA offers, for example, includes the contents of the RV, as well as liability coverage and an extended warranty for appliances (usually one year past the manufacturer’s warranty). It also provides protection in the event the RV is damaged while you’re on vacation, even covering the cost of meals and accommodations in the event the RV must be repaired.
Go Back to School
It’s OK. You can admit it. The idea of driving an RV down a busy highway and backing it into a tight campsite sounds stressful.
Rick Lang, manager of novice operations at AMA Driver Education, says the biggest difference between driving a regular family vehicle and an RV is, of course, size.
“Size is one of the most important things, as it definitely affects vehicle handling: acceleration, braking, reversing and parking,” he says.
AMA’s RV Smart Driving Course was developed several years ago to help RV drivers develop safe driving techniques. For a half-day, an instructor works with a driver and his or her companion in their own RV.
“We normally take the couple who will be travelling together out and go over how their driving will differ in an RV as opposed to the family vehicle,” Lang says.
Lang cautions that even experienced RV handlers should drive with caution in the beginning of the season. Six months of driving a smaller vehicle may have dulled your memory of the acceleration and braking capacity of an RV. Before setting out on a trip, practise turning, stopping and backing up in an area away from busy traffic. “The main thing to remember is to drive at a speed appropriate for conditions and leave a good following distance between you and the vehicle in front,” says Lang.
There are also certain courtesies you should adopt on the road. If you have to pass a slower vehicle, be sure to allow extra distance and make your pass on level terrain with plenty of clearance. Pull over to let smaller, faster vehicles pass, and consider getting off the road by 3 p.m., when traffic tends to increase.
You’ll also need to heighten your hazard awareness. “Most people drive looking immediately in front of the vehicle,” Lang explains. “We would like them to develop visual lead skills and look 20 to 30 seconds down the road. If you have good visual lead skills, then your hazard awareness will become second nature: you’ll have extra time and space to slow down or make a lane change.”
When you get to your destination, don’t fear the parking spot. “When you’re going into that parking manoeuvre, try to remember that you’re there to have a fun time,” he says. Even easier? When you’re booking at a campground, ask for a pull-through site.