Thursday, April 28, 2011

RV, or not RV? That is the Question!

Hi Jamie,

Hope you are well.

My husband and i are from the UK and we are planning a road trip in the US starting in July this year for 4 months. We have set out a provisional route, starting off in Rapid City South Dakota. Our plan is the then follow on the yellowstone park and going up to vancouver, going down the west coast working our way over to florida and up to maine. We plan to cover all starts, bar Kansas, Oklahoma, north Dakota, Iowa, nebraska, minnesota, wisconsin.

My question really is how is the best way to go about doing this. With a route planned we are trying to decide is we should hire a car, or rent an RV. My concerns with an RV is that we have to take everything everywhere, even if we go out for dinner. As America is not like the UK where things can be within walking distance. My concerns with driving is that we are staying in hotels/motels all the time. Whereas an RV we can cook food. Also there is the issue of one way rentals.

If you have any advice that could help it would be greatly appreciated.




Hi Louise --

Many thanks for your message, and I hope you have a great trip. That is one Grand Tour you have ahead of you!

If it were my trip, I would opt to hire a car over an RV -- RVs make a lot of sense for larger groups, or families with small kids, but I find them to be quite isolating and cumbersome. Also, RV campgrounds, even in the national parks, tend to all look alike, whereas with a car (and especially if you are willing to hike a couple hundred yards from the parking lot) you can really "get away from it all".

And to expand your cooking options, once you're in the US you could easily buy a little butane camp-stove and some cooking gear -- ideal for making a quick cup of tea, or a light lunch in some pretty picnic spot. I find I cook much healthier food than I can buy in a restaurant.

And if you feel robust you can buy a tent, too; this is actually the best way to explore the US, especially for a couple -- we call it "car camping", and if you like the Great Outdoors it is a fabulous way to see the country. You could also opt to balance the occasional wilderness camping nights with a stay at a nice motel or national park lodge -- with its log ceilings and rustic charm, Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone is one of the my favorite places in the planet!

Or, you could look into renting or buying a trailer / camper, which you could sleep in and cook in without the bulk and gas mileage issues of a full size RV. There are some very cool tarilers out tehre -- maybe after the trip you could ship it home and become a full-time "traveller"...


Alternatively, you could go the RV route for a first few weeks in the more "outdoorsy" areas (Yellowstone, Canadian Rockies?, Oregon coast, Yosemite??), then swap to a car for your cross-country and East Coast segments. I can't really imagine that it would be much to drive a big RV around the narrow, busy streets of the older cities of eastern US (like Charleston SC, or Savannah GA, or Boston or New York)

Though the US public transit is pretty limited compared to those in Europe or the UK, there are also some great train journeys you might want to add to your already complicated plans -- the Coast Starlight train down the California coast, for example, lets you see places you can't get to by car.

Finally, wherever you go, if you want to be within walking distance of your dinner spot, rather than have to drive all the time, one other option you might want to look into is the "Historic Hotels of America" , some 200 wonderfully-preserved older hotels that have banded together to challenge the anodyne chain hotel companies. Here's their URL:

There are such a lot of possibilities when you contemplate a trip like yours, I feel I should end here or I can waffle on for another many pages. If you wanted to write back to me once you start sketching out an itinerary, I'll be happy to try to give you some more specific suggestions, but I also wanted to say I hope you get a chance to check out my 900-page book of Road Trip USA routes -- the book has a lot of info and ideas (and pictures) in addition to the materials I have put "up" on the website.

Four months is a very long time -- I am envious, to say the least, and wish you all the best, embarking on this great adventure.

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen
Road Trip USA


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