Dreaming of taking the family out camping in an RV? This may - or may not - be a good idea, depending on what you need and prefer. Having researched this in-depth, we're going to share with you here all of the pros and cons of a family RV vacation so you can make an informed decision.
If you're just looking for some quick answer, this is what the list of pros and cons looks like -
Pros of RV Family Vacation
- Kids sleep in the same bed every night
- The entire family shares the same space
- Saving money on hotels
- A sense of freedom
- A unique experience - regardless of where you're going
Cons of RV Family Vacation
- Slow driving
- Can get crowded
- No maid services
- Difficult to get into cities (and other driving limitations)
- Camping needs to be planned in advance
Keep reading to fully understand what these pros and cons mean for you and your family and see how you can negate the disadvantages and go on a perfect RV trip.
What an RV vacation means
RV stands for "Recreational Vehicle". These are also known as campers. In other words, this is a vehicle that was designed for recreation so it should be the perfect solution for a family vacation, right?
Well, not always.
For many people, yes, RV family holiday is a fantastic experience. In fact, once they get a taste of traveling and camping in a motorhome or travel trailer, many families never go back to hotels. It's not just fun - it can be addictive!
For others, an RV holiday can be a nightmare. For various reasons which we'll go into in a minute, they hate RVing and can't wait for the holiday-from-hell to end so they can return the RV without ever giving this lifestyle a second chance.
So, with that in mind, we'll try to describe an RV family holiday in as neutral terms as possible.
A typical Camper vacation looks like this
This type of vacation can be long or short. Some people head out to their favorite lake or campground for the weekend. Others take to the road for months on end before coming back home. Then there are those who become full-time RV'ers and adopt this as a lifestyle.
Generally speaking, an RV trip consists of driving the RV in its entirety from one destination to another and then camping in the RV overnight.
Usually, the RV is camped in a campground with connections to city water, electricity and sewage. This is known as "hook-ups". The hook-ups allow you to operate the RV as a home, enjoying fresh water for your showers, your own bathroom, and a fully operational kitchen.
Most people avoid driving every day so they spend several days staying in the same spot and exploring. Once they've had enough, they unhook the RV from the campsite and drive to the next destination.
It is possible to camp outside of a campground. This is called dry camping or boondocking. To do that, you're relying on your RV's tanks for water and its batteries for electricity. Naturally, dry camping is limited in time so you would need to dump the black tank and fill up on water every few days.
Motorhome vs. travel trailer or 5th wheel
If you're unfamiliar with RVs, you can take a few minutes later on to read our post about the various types of RV's out there. For the purpose of this post, just be aware of the two types of RV which can affect your mode of vacationing.
- Motorhomes are complete units with the vehicle and living quarters combined. These are the RVs that look like huge buses or trucks with homes on them. No towing - a single unit that moves along when you drive.
- Travel trailers and 5th wheels are towable RVs. You connect them to a tow vehicle such as a truck or an SUV and pull them along from one place to another.
What this means for your RV trip
Motorhomes are generally easier to camp with because you don't have to hitch and unhitch a trailer. As long as the ground is level, there's not a lot of balancing to do either.
With trailers, on the other hand, every time you reach a campground to stay there for more than a night, you'll want to unhitch the tow vehicle. That also means dealing with extending the jacks to stabilize the RV.
Depending on your vacation style, the towing option may have its benefits. Once you unhitch, you can use the tow vehicle to travel around and do your sightseeing. With a motorhome, however, you'll have to move an entire "house" along just to get to the store.
Motorhome owners typically tow a small car behind so they can use that when the RV is parked. You can't do that with a rental RV though. Which brings me to the next point.
Owning an RV vs. Renting one
Not everyone wants to own an RV. Many families choose to rent one instead so they can go on a road trip once or twice a year. Renting is a very different experience from owning your own RV though.
If you're still considering whether or not to take your first RV trip, you'll probably be renting a rig. Make sure you read this post first -
The Beginner's Guide for RV Rental in the US
RV Family Vacation - The Pros
Let's begin on a positive note with all the awesome things that an RV holiday offers.
#1 Kids sleep in the same bed every night
One of the things that bothers parents the most about long road trips is the need to switch from one motel room to another on a daily (or almost daily) basis. An RV solves this problem altogether.
Take an average Class C motorhome like this Jayco Redhawk, for example. It's not a particularly large model yet it offers a master bedroom for the parents as well as a fixed cab-over bed for two young children. You could use the dinette or couch as extra beds during the night too but for a family of four, that won't be necessary.
#2 The entire family shares the same space
In an RV, you really get to spend time together.
Of course, to some extent, that's true of every vacation. In fact, it's one of the reasons to go on a family holiday - of any kind. However, RVs provide you with more "family space" than a hotel room would.
An RV usually offers a full-size kitchen you can use, as well as a dinette and a living area with comfy couches and a TV set. That means more room for board games and other family activities. To get the same kind of space in a hotel, you'd have to take a suite.
#3 Saving money on hotels
Speaking of hotels. Many people choose to travel in an RV so they can save money on hotels. In our opinion, that actually works only when you have a big family which would require two hotel rooms. For four people or less, an RV probably isn't a good way to save money on hotel fees.
#4 A sense of freedom
In a way, going on vacation always provides a sense of freedom. We argue that thise sense of freedom is even greater with an RV. Just knowing that you could - if you wanted to - go down an unknown sideroad and spend the night in the woods, by some creek that no one has ever heard of - the thought itself is somewhat liberating.
Read more: Great RV destinations in the West
Or check out this video -
#5 A unique experience - regardless of where you're going
It really doesn't matter if you're heading out to the mountains or the beach. RV life will provide you with a change no matter where you're going.
Just being in a different environment, having to deal with operating an RV together and spending all that quality family time in the same space - those things on their own will be creating memories. An RV vacation is bound to be special and memorable.
RV Family Holiday - The Cons
RVs are far from being perfect. There are drawbacks to RV life and to RV vacations as well and you need to be aware of them.
#1 RVs are harder to drive so you can cover less distance per day
Whether driving a motorhome or towing a travel trailer or 5th wheel, you'll be going slow.
For one thing, RVs are limited in the speed they're allowed to go. Driving an RV means you need you to follow the speed limit for commercial trucks. That would be anything from 55 to 65 mph on the highway depending on the state you're driving through.
For another, you just need to be careful. You're driving a huge vehicle so both accelerating and braking are going to take longer. That's just physics. You need to take care to keep a safe following distance. Taking slower vehicles over will have to be done with great care and most of the time you'll find yourself stuck in the trucks lane.
Read more: Driving A Motorhome (9 Things You Need To Know Before Getting Behind The Wheel)
#2 RVs can get crowded
One of the pros was that the entire family gets to stay together, remember?
Well, for some families that's not necessarily an advantage. If you're traveling with teenagers, they may actually appreciate having their own space in the evening.
#3 There are no maid services
Staying in a hotel may have its drawbacks but it certainly is nice to come back to your hotel room in the afternoon and find that someone else has so neatly made your beds for you, stocked up the bathroom and hoovered the floor.
You don't get that in an RV.
What's more, living in such a crowded space and traveling all the time means you have to keep everything super tidy. You can't just drive on with dishes in the sink. Everything needs to be cleaned up and put in place before you can go anywhere.
We have some tips to help you with that, though: 15 Rv Organization Tips That Will Make Your Life Easier
#4 RVs have limited access
By that, we mean that RVs - being the large and heavy vehicles that they are - have their limitations as to where you can actually go with them.
The most obvious one is with going into a city. While it's possible and legal to drive an RV in most urban areas, it can be very inconvenient. We can't even begin to imagine taking a towable travel trailer or 5th wheel down the narrow streets of some large cities. Or even just up and down the streets of San Francisco during rush hour.
But not for the faint of heart.
Which is why most people who go on RV vacations prefer to avoid that. What RVers usually do is leave the RV in a campground near the big city and use public transportation to get into the city. Many campgrounds near big cities offer shuttles to help their guests do that.
Limited Access in National Parks
You can absolutely visit almost any national park with your RV however you may find that some roads are off-limits for your rig.
Oftentimes the limitation is based on total vehicle length, so a smaller Class B motorhome may be able to use the road but a 30ft long Class C won't be able to.
Here are some examples -
In the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, MT:
Vehicles, and vehicle combinations, longer than 21 feet (including bumpers) or wider than 8 feet (including mirrors), are prohibited between Avalanche Campground and the Rising Sun picnic area parking.
In Zion National Park, Utah, you'll encounter limitations when entering or exiting the park through the mountain tunnel:
If your vehicle is 11”4 (3.4m) tall or taller or 7’10” (2.4 m) wide or wider, including mirrors, awnings, and jacks, you will need a tunnel permit.
But even when you don't need a special permit, a long and wide RV is going to be difficult to drive along many park roads. Many RVers prefer to avoid that altogether rather than risk an accident or slow down traffic as they're battling against a particularly challenging turn in a narrow road.
#5 Camping needs to be planned in advance
Speaking of national parks, you have to plan ahead and make arrangements if you're looking to score a campsite in a national park, or in any other popular destination.
Dreaming of spontaneously hitting the road and spending a weekend in your RV in Yosemite National Park?
Campsites for such popular parks get taken up. Fast. As in months and months in advance, just as soon as registration opens up. The same is true of pretty much any campground in any national park in season - and sometimes off-season too. That "RV freedom" concept we mentioned earlier? It can be very theoretical in some areas.
And again, that's not just in national parks. If you want to go anywhere popular during the season, you'll have to either reserve a spot long in advance or pay through your nose. Often both. In most states - Alaska being almost the only exception - you can't just pull over anywhere you want to and dry-camp either. So arranging a campsite ahead of time can be crucial.
Renting an RV? Keep these in mind too
We've covered most of the pros and cons for an RV holiday so far, but there are two additional points that we'd like to discuss in more detail.
#1 Short RV vacations don't make sense when you rent
As mentioned above, the entire process of renting an RV is time-consuming.
Even experienced RV'ers will have to waste several hours just on getting the RV on the road. The process usually follows these steps -
- Watching an orientation movie about RV use
- An orientation tour of the RV
- A careful system-by-system demonstration and testing
- Loading the RV with your stuff and the kits you rented
- Getting more stuff for the RV at a local store
And then you can get on the road.
Assuming everything was indeed in working order. Two hours into your trip, you may find that the fridge isn't working, for example, it's back to the rental agency so they can fix your fridge, or just show you how to use it properly. Or maybe give you a different RV...
In short, plan on spending at least half a day on the entire process and another half a day on returning the RV. You'll have to clean it up prior to the return and fill up on gas. Then you need to unload all of your stuff and finally, you'll have to go over the RV with a rep again, as now they want to make sure nothing is broken. Finally, you're going to have to wait for someone in the RV station to give you a lift to the airport or to a nearby car rental agency.
That's another half a day when returning the RV.
If you're new to RVs and this is your first time driving a big rig then you should also factor in a few days of general "adjustments". An RV vacation probably makes sense only if it's at least 2 weeks long. That way you're going to get at least 7-10 days when you can actually enjoy your vacation.
#2 Motorhomes mean you don't have a car with you
We mentioned that before but it's worth doing so again.
If you're renting an RV, it's probably going to be a motorhome. And since you're renting it, you won't be able to tow a small car behind it, like RV owners often do.
Once you're parked in a campground, you're going to be without a motorized vehicle for all intents and purposes. There are ways to deal with that, you just need to take it into account. Things that you could do are -
- Stop for groceries on the way to camp.
- Find campgrounds with stores on the premises where you can get basic supplies.
- Prepare to rent a bicycle while camping so you can hop into town if you need to.
We're not saying not having a car is something that should stop you from taking an RV family holiday. That's why this isn't listed as a pro or a con - just something to be aware of and keep in mind.
The Bottom Line
So, should you go on a family vacation in an RV?
We definitely think it's something you should try. We think renting an RV at least once and giving it a go is a great idea.
Understand the limitations of renting an RV and then carefully plan your first RV vacation with them in mind. Take your time and go for at least one week, preferably more. That's the only way to get a really good sense of what RV life will feel like for your family.
And who knows, you may just fall in love with RVing! This has happened to many people and may just happen to you!
And before you go, take a minute to answer our poll too (you'll be rewarded by instant access to all answers!)