Before we dive into detailing the RV Experience, there is an elephant in the room.
“We’re going to do a trip in an RV.”
And so it went before we left for California. Somehow, I think Brits are more accustomed to the brand name – Winnebago – as the catch-all term for large motorhomes. I knew the term (it stands -not that helpfully- for Recreational Vehicle) primarily from the 2006 Robin Williams film of the same name, that my daughters used to love.
Is it well-equipped?
We booked ours through Cruise America. Interestingly, they seem to be priced more on availability than size, so we ended up with a large one (30 foot, to be precise), which for our dates was actually the cheapest. For two people, it really was overkill, but it was great to be able to spread out, enjoy a full-size bed, lounge area, shower and toilet without having to rearrange any furniture each night.
We ordered personal packs, which cover bedding and towels and a vehicle pack which comes with all the kitchenware that you’ll need. If you’re arriving from abroad, they’re pretty much essential.
On top of this, the RV comes with a heater/AC unit, a generator, hot water heater, fridge/freezer, plus the usual gear to hook-up when you’re onsite. In the end, we only stayed on campsites, but you could be self-sufficient every other night with what’s on board.
What was it like to drive?
The main thing to say that whilst going forward (which let’s face it, is most of the time), once you got used to the width of the thing, it wasn’t too bad. I have always contended that it’s much easier to drive on the right with a left-hand-drive vehicle – particularly with an automatic, which this is.
Reversing is another thing all together. It had parking sensors, but really it’s essential to have someone looking out for you whenever you’re going backwards.
It has a 6.8L V10 engine. We got less than 10mpg on our trip, but that’s hardly surprising. All part of the RV EXperience!
What kind of licence do you need to drive an RV?
I drove on a full UK car driving licence. No special licence is needed.
How much does it cost to rent?
We paid US$50 per night plus pre-bought 1,200 miles for US$400. There are a few add-ons like the personal packs and vehicle pack, plus use of the generator, but, in effect, we paid about US$100 per night for our trip. This was at the end of September, which is obviously no longer peak season.
Campsites are plentiful and well-equipped – from the more basic, but charming State Parks, to privately-owned sites with loads of facilities. We paid between US$20 and US$70 per night.
Would we recommend it?
There is no doubt that it has been a tremendous way to see California. We had some wonderful nights in primitive campsites, cooking dinner on a campfire, with an amazing view of the Milky Way above us. We woke up to stunning sunrises, that we watched with fleeces on, cradling hot cups of tea. These are moments that would have been hard to recreate any other way.
But I’ll admit, as the sole driver, at times I did feel the pressure. There were occasions when I wished we were doing the trip in a smart car, staying at hotels. Driving up 10,000 feet of elevation into Yosemite around hairpin bends, or having to find two consecutive free parking meters in San Luis Obispo were challenging moments – only to be countered later in the day by stopping at a remote beauty spot, preparing some lunch and drinking in the view.
What advice would we give?
- Factor in (a lot of) fuel and campsites.
- Buy a cheap US phone and a data plan. Ideally download offline maps when you’re on wifi. They will be a lifesaver. But I’d recommend a paper map too.
- Invest early in some rubber gloves for the sewage dump process.
- Talk to people! We had lovely conversations with a family over smores, a couple in their 70s who live in an RV and follow the sun, a waitress in a Mexican restaurant – the list goes on. There are always great stories.
- Most importantly, as with any roadtrip, prepare to be flexible. If you fancy an extra day somewhere, do it! Slavishly following a pre-planned route is going to make you miserable.
In the interest of disclosure, we received a small discount on our RV from Cruise America on the promise of writing about the vehicle. We always write fair reviews – the good and the bad. For more on our disclosure policy, read here.