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Travel restrictions due to COVID-19 have made 2020 the 'year of the RV,' says the president of Go RVing Canada.

Courtesy of manufacturer

It’s safe to say most of us won’t be jet-setting to far-away vacation destinations this summer, but don’t despair. There are alternatives for your next family getaway, including renting or buying an RV. It’s a great way to hit the open road and explore Canada’s own backyard.

“It’s going to be the year of the RV. It’s never been quite as popular as it is right now,” says Chris Mahony, president of Go RVing Canada, a non-for-profit industry association that promotes the RV lifestyle.

“It’s a combination of the fact that cross-border travel is gone, people are concerned about safety, and RVing gives you the freedom and flexibility to [vacation] in your own backyard,” he adds.

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There are financial benefits, too, Mahony says. Go RVing estimates that a family of four traveling in an RV can save between 65 and 70 per cent of costs compared with a traditional family vacation to the United States, when factoring in accommodation, flights and restaurant meals.

Similar figures likely apply north of the border. Approximately 2.1 million (or 14 per cent) of Canadian households currently own a RV, he adds.

Whether buying or renting, it can be overwhelming and intimidating to start. There are numerous RVs on the market, but the majority fall under two categories: towable (also known as travel trailers) and motorized. The difference between the two is what you might expect: Travel trailers require a vehicle to tow them, while motorized ones don’t. The latter is a self-contained unit with either a gas or diesel engine. Towable and motorized RVs come in many versions and a range of prices.

Towable options

Tent trailers are affordable and lightweight options.

Outdoorsy/Handout

Starting at $10,000, tent trailers are the cheapest RVs you can buy. They’re lightweight, come in many lengths (4.6 to 7 metres) and sleep up to eight people. Some are bare-bones, but you can add options such as hot water, air conditioning, washrooms and kitchen appliances. These trailers can be set up quickly and easily or stored away in a garage when not in use. They can also be towed by most six-cylinder vehicles, including a mid-sized car, SUV or truck – you just have to check your vehicle’s tow limits.

If you want something larger (6.4 to 12.2 metres), fifth-wheel trailers are the way to go. They’re towed by a pickup truck using a special fifth-wheel hitch attachment. They’re spacious with high ceilings and slide-outs that extend the RV wall with the touch of a button, to expand the living space. They can sleep up to eight people and have showers and kitchens. They’re also detachable, so you can leave your trailer at the park and take your vehicle to explore the local surroundings. Prices range from $35,000 to $160,000.

Motorized options

Class B motorhomes are also known as camper or conversion vans.

Courtesy of manufacturer

When it comes to motorized RVs, there are three types: Class A, Class B and Class C. The largest, Class A, are luxurious and high-end with all the comforts of home. Some can cost as much as $1-million. Many have multiple TVs, several bathrooms and bedrooms, high-end kitchens with real-wood cabinets, marble countertops, stainless steel appliances, and central heating and air conditioning. Class A motorhomes are built on a specially designed chassis that can range from 6.4 to 12.2 metres, so they require more skill and caution when driving. A small vehicle, boat or golf cart can be towed behind the RV, so you can take quick trips in your car while your motorhome is parked.

Class B vehicles, also known as camper or conversion vans, are similar to a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van. Ideal for up to four people, they’re easy to drive and park because they fit into a regular parking space. They’re good on fuel, too. Prices start at $70,000.

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The best-known motorized RV is the truck-like Class C.

Outdoorsy/Handout

The most iconic motorized RV is the Class C. With its truck-like profile, it sleeps up to eight with unique hideaway beds over the cab and kitchen tables that transform into sleeping accommodations with a few simple steps. They have kitchens, dining areas and bathrooms. Prices range from $60,000 to $200,000.

Do your research

Choosing the right RV to rent or buy depends on your family’s needs, says Mahony at Go RVing Canada. “Are you going out on the open road every single weekend? Are you going south of the border in winter? If so, a motorized [RV] might be handy.”

However, if you have an SUV or a pickup truck, you might want to consider a travel trailer, which offers more RV for less money. Roughly 70 per cent of buyers choose that option, Mahony says.

If you’re buying an RV, he advises you to figure out what you can afford, understand your family’s needs and work with a reputable dealer because you’ll have a continuing relationship with them for service, storage and maintenance. Make sure you understand the details of ownership – including warranty, maintenance, storage, insurance and usage – before you buy. The Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association of Canada is a good place to start to find a certified dealer, he says.

If you’re thinking of renting, he says to do your research and calculate the extra fees for campgrounds, fuel and insurance. Insurance may cost extra or be rolled into the rental price. Typically, an average 7.5-metre Class C vehicle, the most popular motorhome to rent, costs $1,500-$2,000 a week, he says, and comes fully equipped with dishes, glasses, pots, pans, towels and bedding. Travel trailers usually cost $500-$800 a week. Don’t forget to ask what the rental price includes and whether there are any mileage restrictions or additional charges, he advises. Most RV rentals require a standard class-G driver’s licence unless the vehicle has air brakes, and all drivers must be at least 21 years old.

Lastly, Mahoney says, take advantage of valuable online resources to map out your vacation route. The Parks Canada website is a good place to start. It could spur a new appreciation of the country we call home.

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