When my partner invited me on a road trip in his 1987 Chevrolet RV from Quebec through the GaspÃ© in 2017, I didn’t know what to expect. I used to travel abroad, but not find a new place to park every night or pump out sewage. Still, I ended up joining her again a few weeks later for a loop around Newfoundland and then for a four month whirlwind adventure from Toronto to San Diego via the Deep South.
As the government advises against non-essential overseas travel due to the pandemic, many Canadians are considering embarking on their own RV adventures. âInterest in motorhome travel has grown dramatically over the past two months,â said Chris Mahony, President of Go RVing in Canada, an industry association that promotes the recreational vehicle lifestyle.
âThe motorhome is particularly attractive right now as all units are self-contained, allowing people to meet social distancing guidelines, which will likely remain in place for the foreseeable future,â Mahony added.
Whether you are renting or buying an RV, here is everything I would like someone to tell me before I go.
Choose your RV wisely
When COVID-19 restrictions began to loosen in Calgary, David Wald, his wife Meagan Shultz and their two children, aged nine and six, hopped into their SUV with their 1976 Aristocrat travel trailer and explored the ‘Alberta. They ventured to Waterton National Park, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump (a World Heritage Site) and Police Outpost Provincial Park with its epic views of the Rocky Mountains and trails that plunge beyond the border. the United States. âThe good thing is we didn’t have to quarantine when we got back,â Wald said.
Wald is the Managing Partner of Karma motorhomes, a Calgary and Vancouver-based travel agency that rents refurbished campers. He says trailers – whether pop-up, fifth-wheel, or the like – are the cheapest and most popular type of RVs and are great for families. They can be easily detached in your campsite if you want to go exploring. âI personally grew up in an old dilapidated tent trailer. The best moments of my life! “
Another popular option is a Class C motorhome with its separate cabin sleeper – that’s what my partner has and we love it. They offer more space for large groups or families, usually fit in a regular car seat, and often have a bathroom and kitchenette on board. Class B RVs are the adventure vehicles you often see on Instagram with the hashtag #vanlife. Some of these are vintage Volkswagen buses showing their age, while other motorhomes have been refitted for road trips. The final class of motorhomes is Class A, bus-type motorhomes with luxurious amenities like bathrooms and kitchens that can cost up to a million dollars.
If you are looking to buy, Wald recommends shopping around for a reputable dealer. âReally check them out for quality, service and just gut feeling,â he said. In addition to going to dealerships, you can find used vehicles through online classifieds sites like Kijiji, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace. If you are just trying this lifestyle or going on a one-off trip, you might want to rent. A classic option is to hire a rig from CanaDream, which has all types of vehicles. Alternatively, you can rent someone else’s motorhome with an Airbnb type company like based in Ottawa. RVezy.
Plan, but not too much
Toronto couple Siya Zarrabi and Kristen Sarah travel the world and share their experiences on Youtube and Instagram, like @Hopscotchtheglobe. But this year, they explore Canada in their 1976 Sovereign Airstream, “Luna”, and bring recent additions to the family – two-year-old Kai and the dog Atlas. âI’ve always loved Canada, but I never really appreciated the beauty of this country until I drove through it,â Zarrabi said.
The family set off on a two-week trip to Georgian Bay, but have only planned the first and last five days of the trip. âWe like to plan specific stops on our route and then leave a few days in between where we can just float and explore on our own,â Zarrabi said. “It leaves a bit of adventure mixed with plans.”
Especially since we are in a period of a pandemic, it is a good idea for anyone to bring jugs of water, hand sanitizer and wet wipes. Tools, an RV battery charger, and maybe a portable toilet if your gear doesn’t have a bathroom are also good to have.
An easy way to plan your trip is to add the places you want to visit on Google Maps. Google saves you up to ten stops, so for longer adventures apps like Roadtripers will allow you to map more stops.
Campsites are great, but wild camping can be better
Inspired by the RVers they saw on Instagram and YouTube, New Brunswickers Kayla Cruickshank and Emma McFayden turned an old bus into a house on wheels and embarked on a three-month adventure across the country. âI hope everyone has the chance to take a road trip to Canada at least once in their lifetime,â said Cruickshank. âThere are so many beautiful sites to see and each province is so diverse in landscapes and people. “
More often than not, the couple did not pay to stay at campsites, which offer amenities such as showers, toilets, laundry facilities, sewers to pump gray and black water tanks, and plug-ins for load a motorhome. Instead, they camped for free without, a term used to refer to camping without amenities. âA lot of our favorite stops were wilderness camping,â Cruickshank said.
The best wilderness camping spots are usually on Crown Land where you are allowed to park for up to 21 days, but check in advance for exceptions and permit requirements (for example, for national or provincial parks). You can also park for free in some Walmart and casino parking lots, tourist information centers, and even some farms or wineries. Contact the owner of the store, casino, or building in advance for written permission and the rules of the establishment, and be sure to check the legality of city bylaws – they may conflict with authorization from the store or property manager.
âWhen wild camping always make sure you feel comfortable,â Cruickshank said. “We generally preferred to stay in places with other vanlifers around. The safety of the numbers added a sense of security.” Cruickshank recommends an app called iOverlander, which lists free camping options with photos and reviews from other travelers on the road. âWe swear by it,â Cruickshank said. âTo date, I use [the app] even for short weekends with friends. “
Online workers, beware
Reggie Gray of Burlington, Ont., Has spent the past five years traveling the continent in his 1970 Citationette âFrannyâ travel trailer.
“I wasn’t one of those people who longed to be a ‘vanlifer’, in fact, I hated being outside,” said Gray, passing by. @ReggieFromTheRoad on Instagram.
But after five years on the road, Gray can’t imagine life any other way. “I forget what it is like to live in a place with a toilet that is not within walking distance or a bush outside my door.”
As more people are able to work from home, some may be tempted to work and travel in their campervans, but Gray, who works as a filmmaker, warned that beyond finding wi-fi in some cafes and libraries, getting good enough reception for the access point from a phone can be a challenge. âNever rely on the internet from the camp,â he joked. “It’s to check the weather, and even then it’s so slow it won’t be relevant until tomorrow.”
Gray has one final piece of advice for anyone considering hitting the road: âMy biggest piece of advice is still the same and it’s simple: go for it,â he said. “You are smart. Do it and find out the devil.”
Joel Balsam is a Montreal-based freelance journalist with articles in National Geographic, TIME, The Guardian, Lonely Planet and more.