Editor’s Note: Yup, I got to spend five days and five nights in a trailer on Loon Lake, Washington with my husband. This trailer hasn’t moved in almost three decades, so I didn’t deal with the driving part of RVing. Actually, it was more of a cabin-style experience. So I’ll be updating and reposting my cabin camping post too.
I adore the outdoors, but it’s become hard to spend 24/7 out in nature. With chronic pain, sleeping on the ground goes from uncomfortable to untenable. And so comfier camping options start to look more attractive than backpacking tents.
RVs have come a long way from their Airstream and VW Bus roots. Today, even tent trailers burst with indoor bathroom and kitchen facilities, heaters, and push-button pop-up/pop out capabilities. Camper-vans include king-sized beds in the back. And bus-sized super-RVs have everything and the kitchen sink–A/C, satellite TV, pop-out living rooms, automatic awnings…all the comforts of home or more.
So how do you choose the right RV for you?
Make a list of your needs and wants
As a traveler with pain and a bladder condition, my RV needs list look something like this:
- Comfortable bed that’s at least 6 and half feet long
I’ve gotta sleep at night or my pain flares. Also, I’ve got a tall husband and we both need comfy sleeping space.
Cold exacerbates my pain, and I can’t sleep if I’m freezing. And the best camping spots out in the forest often get cold at night.
- Indoor toilet
I have to get up to go to the bathroom at least once every night (and that’s when my IC’s not flaring). A long walk to a campground restroom totally disrupts my sleep.
- Enough space to store things like pillows, blankets, hot water bottles, and coolers comfortably, so that I’m not tripping over things at night.
My high wants for an RV are:
- Kitchen w/ stove, oven, and sink
- Indoor shower
- Electricity for blankets, reading lamps, and so forth
But that’s me. Make your own list, based on your health needs.
Size and driveability
RVs and trailers feel cramped inside–even the bigger ones. Passageways are narrow and “rooms”…well, there’s a reason I put quotation marks around the word. My husband and I can’t change clothes at the same time in the bedroom of an average-sized RV without whacking into one another. If you’ve got an anxiety disorder with any hints of claustrophobia, RVing may not be the right choice for you.
On the other hand, somebody’s got to be able to drive the thing. If I tried to drive one of those giant RVs, I’d be a quivering ball of stress and pain within an hour, because I’m not accustomed to piloting a Greyhound-bus sized vehicle.
Giant RVs can’t park just anywhere, either. When you pick out your rental or purchase, think about who’s going to drive, where you want to go (windy roads? high wind areas? ice/snow?), and how much luxury and space you really need.
If you’re considering a trailer, do you have a truck that can pull it, or will you need to rent (or buy) that too? Renting RVs ain’t cheap–expect to pay about the same per-night rate as you would for a moderate motel. ~$100 per night is what I’ve found for smaller RVs, and it goes up from there.
I lean towards the smallest possible RV or camper that’s got all my needs and a few of my wants, even though it’s a squeeze to stay in. You might feel differently, especially if you’ve got a partner who’s comfortable driving larger vehicles.
Set up and tear down
How much physical work and time does it take to set up your RV to camp in? Do you just push a couple of buttons, or do you have to lift, pull and crank? How hard is it to detatch a trailer or truck-bed cap from the towing vehicle?
Possibly more important, how much physical work do you need to do to pack the RV back up, reattach the trailer, and do everything needed to get the RV ready to go back home. You’ll be more tired at the end of the trip than at the beginning. Make sure you’ll be able to pack down without causing a pain flare.
Pick the right campsite
Before you leave home, know where you’re going. RV campgrounds and campgrounds with RV spots often require reservations (and sometimes fill up months in advance). Here are some things to think about when choosing your destination:
- Make sure you’ve got a spot your RV fits into. If you’re new to RVing, campsites go by RV length. The shorter your RV, the more sites you’ll have to choose from.
- What hookups (if any) does the site offer? Electricity? Water? Sewer/sanitation? If there’s no sewer hookup, does the campground have a dump station?
- Does your site have shade trees?
The Burning Man Effect
Just as an FYI, RV rentals triple in price for the weeks before and after Labor Day weekend. At least that’s true in the Western states. Why? Because they’re expecting you to take the RV to Burning Man and possibly to trash it. My advice–pick a different time of year to rent an RV.
All that said, a nice modern RV with push-button setup and easy sanitation clean-out can make camping with pain a viable and even comfortable vacation option.