On the Road Again

5 Things to Consider If You’re Taking an RV out on the Road

Know the answers to these burning questions before burning rubber.

By Catherine Wendlandt Published in the Fall issue of Houstonia Magazine

You’ve been eyeing the cherry-red RV long enough, but before you plunk your money down and become truly invested in the Land Yacht life, here are some things to think over first. 

Should I rent or should I buy?

“It depends on how many times you'll use it throughout the year,” says Cara Boggs, renting coordinator at Amazing RVs in Houston. For the novice RVer, starting out with a rental RV might be a good option.

According to Boggs, RVs that you hitch onto your car can cost about $100 to $150 a night to rent, and a motorhome can cost around $200 to $250. So if you’re going on a weekend excursion, that’s probably around what you might pay for a hotel room.

However, if you’re planning a two-month cross-country trek, that price is going to spike up. At that point, Boggs suggests it might be worthwhile to purchase. Entry-level travel trailers can cost $12,000 to $20,000, while fifth wheels start at $25,000. If you’re wanting to really commit, the average starter motorhomes can cost $60,000 to $80,000. (On the upside, whether you rent or buy, gas prices have been remarkably low this year, so your fuel costs will likely be downright reasonable, compared to what they would have been this time last year.) 

Okay, so which RV should I buy?

While there are many types of RVs and campers on the market, three of the most popular options are travel trailers, fifth wheels, and motorhomes. Travel trailers are some of the most basic types of recreational vehicles, and they come in a plethora of sizes. They are also fairly easy to hitch onto the back of a variety of vehicles—although an SUV or truck would be best, Boggs advises. Fifth wheels also come in a wide variety of sizes and are not too difficult to use, but they hitch onto a special hitch in the bed of a truck, so if you don’t have a pickup, the fifth wheeler may not be for you.

For beginners, Boggs says these two types of RVs are good to start out with. She notes that this is especially true since both types allow for more flexibility, and you don’t have to take them everyplace you go during your trips. “You can unhitch and just take your vehicle to the store,” Boggs says.

Motorhomes are more drivable, since you don’t have to tow anything, and they typically come with more amenities, like a built-in generator. Test out driving one first, though, and make sure you feel comfortable piloting one of these larger vehicles. But the main thing is to consider your lifestyle and needs when deciding what vehicle will be right for you.

Do I need a commercial license to drive my RV?

Image: Alexander Vidal 

It depends on the size of your vehicle. In Texas you don’t need a commercial driver’s license CDL, but you are required to get a Class A or Class B license if your vehicle weighs more than 26,000 pounds. So Class A motorhomes (the huge ones you’ve seen tooling down the highway) would fall under this category, and some Class B motorhomes—which are more like camper vans—might require a special license as well. But the average Class C RV motorhome has a truck-like base, so you can use your normal license, Boggs says.

Should I stay long-term or short-term?

That depends on your plans. If you intend to make it a lengthy vacation, a long-term stay in one location allows you to explore an area more and get to know your neighbors. Plus, the longer you stay at a campground, the cheaper your stay will be. While long-term prices may not be advertised online, they are often discounted. You also might have to pay utilities, like electricity and sewage, separately.

If you’re just passing through, though, those fees are worked into the short-term nightly price. At the end of the day, if you’re looking for a place that is more road trip–friendly, you may want to opt for the RV parks that are better situated to cater to pure tourists. 

What if I’m on the road, and can’t find campground?

“Walmart camping is a big deal,” says Boggs, although she warns you should always ask permission before you camp overnight in the superstore’s parking lot. Your best bet would be to find a highway rest stop, as many allow RVs to stay overnight. However, this is on a state-by-state basis, so double-check beforehand—in Texas you can’t stay more than 24 hours, and you can’t pitch a tent.

If you want to be a little risky, you can also go “boondocking,” where you park your RV on a remote side road in the middle of nowhere and just wing it for a night. It’s not exactly something anyone would advise, but if you ever get in a pinch, it can be an option.

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