Field Notes from Our First RV Trip

Illustration by Pete Ryan
Illustration by Pete Ryan

My wife has periodically brought up the idea of vacationing in an RV. Advantages over camping: You can watch TV, and you don’t have to find the bathroom in the dark. Advantages over a hotel: You can bring more stuff, and you don’t have to eat meals out.

A recent promotion by El Monte RV Rentals for $9 a night caught my eye but entailed a plane ride to Chicago and driving the vehicle back to California. For our first RV experience, visits to nearby national parks seemed more appropriate. El Monte RV has a location at motorhome mecca Newport Dunes. All vehicles come with a kitchen and bathroom and range from $75 to $200 per night plus mileage. CruiseAmerica in Costa Mesa is another local option.

Class-A RVs resemble buses. Class-C vehicles have a sleeping space over the cab. Determine how many people are traveling, then ask lots of questions. And keep asking: There’s a learning curve and it’s steep. Watch the instructional video—twice.

Among other Central Coast stops, our itinerary included visits to Pinnacles and the Channel Islands. Sites at Pinnacles Campground are $36 per night. No RVs on the Channel Islands, so we stayed at Ventura Beach RV Resort for $120 per night.

There are downsides: water and waste tanks to fill and empty, street parking isn’t easy, and there’s a heap of do’s and don’ts—like don’t back up without somebody getting out to guide you. Yes, our trip had its ups and downs, but now we’re considering that $9-a-night, Chicago-to-California voyage.

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