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Five minutes into an instructional video for first-time RV drivers, panic starts to set in. COVID screen fatigue and my middle-aged brain have clearly wreaked havoc on my ability to absorb new information. Happily, in-province travel restrictions in Ontario have been lifted, so now watching and understanding this package of clips is the last requirement for my highly anticipated summer vacation: a 12-day RV experience from Toronto to Thunder Bay in early July. (The required video viewing is part of CanaDream’s rental agreement.) I focused as best I could on the video and then asked some travellers who are already initiated into the RV club for their advice on my freshman adventure behind the wheel.
Linda and Clark Miller have spent the last 20 years travelling around North America, including a memorable trip up Ontario’s Highway 11 a few years ago. Back then they didn’t worry about making reservations. This year, the RV veterans were shocked to discover how many campgrounds and RV parks were already sold out by March. “Canadians have embraced RVing,” says Linda. CanaDream’s Toronto Station manager Tim Gogol agrees that demand is up. The company has 3,000 reservations this summer, compared to an average of 2,000 in past seasons.
“Definitely make reservations,” adds Clark. “Worst case, you can always try boondocking – staying overnight in the parking lot of a big box store. Just remember to always ask the store manager. They rarely say no, but it is polite to ask.”
The route is also important to plan out ahead of time – and not just because of the destination. Andrew Penner took his four boys on a ski safari in an RV last winter along the Powder Highway in British Columbia’s Kootenay Rockies. He admits he was nervous driving such a large vehicle, but says within a day, he felt totally comfortable piloting a 28-foot Maxi-Motorhome through the twisting mountain highways. He did avoid busy streets and suggests it is wise to have your route mapped out, highlighting convenient places to pull in. “Also plan your meals,” he says. “Be properly equipped with the ingredients you need. Once you are parked and set up, you don’t want to have to take the RV out on a quick errand.”
Elaine Rystead and her husband cancelled their wedding celebration last summer due to COVID restrictions. They eloped and took an RV from Vancouver to Tofino on a mini honeymoon. Parked at the water’s edge with unfettered views, the RV gave them all the creature comforts they could want while letting them, “see nature from the inside out,” she says. Although driving the RV was much the same as a car, she did have some initial anxieties about using the interior control panel, which allows users to manage essentials like the lights, generator and propane use, the heating and cooling system and lets you know when to fill up the fresh-water tank or empty the “used” water. Rystead’s concerns were short-lived. “It’s really so simple. It’s like having a puppy. Check if it needs more water. Gas. Whatever. It was easy.”
Speaking of puppies, Katie and Steph Burlton took their Maltese-poodle mix, Theo, on a trip to the Okanagan in B.C.’s interior last summer. They found the RV parks extremely dog friendly. Self-professed non-campers, they loved the RV experience, which gave them the chance to enjoy all of the “good” camping experiences like swimming in lakes, campfires and quiet without sacrificing comfort. Their RV was equipped with camp chairs, kitchen equipment, fridge and freezer, bins and closets to store their clothes, and even a microwave. They advise to check what comes with your rental. They had almost everything included except for three minor yet useful items: garbage bags, scissors and bottled water. As two women travelling alone together, they appreciated the peace of mind that came with being able to lock the door at night.
The Millers also travel with a dog or two when they hit the road in their “second home.” “Dogs can’t wait to get out the door to see what’s next,” says Clark. “They, like us, love exploring but their agenda is based on smells.” They do caution to be considerate and mindful of your temporary neighbours who may not love your dog as much as you do. Most campgrounds and RV parks require dogs to be on an eight-to-10-foot lead at all times, but even if they don’t it’s a good practice to follow.
Of course RVing isn’t just great for dogs, it’s also a family friendly way to hit the road. Lola Augustine-Brown, a self-described five-star resort snob, fell in love with the RV experience when she took her three kids and their father around Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail for a week last summer. For her, this kind of travel was a perfect get-away for her kids. Her seven-year-old could jump on his bike while her five-year-old raced down to explore the beach. The RV offered enough space for her teenager to get some solo time and the evenings were for playing cards and board games. “It was so relaxing,” she says, “I didn’t even mind listening to my ex-husband snore all night.”