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Not Flying This Summer? Many Americans Are Hitting The Road — In RVs

Russell Lewis/NPR
Amy Holditch settles in behind the wheel of the RV she rented for her 10-day family trip from Madison, Ala. to Cape Cod, Mass.

Amy Holditch isn't the kind of woman to let fear dictate her life.

"No, she's not," says her mom, 73-year-old Sandra Gillis. "She pretty much gets her mind on something, then it's probably going to happen."

So when the coronavirus cancelled her family trip to Hawaii, she didn't postpone the trip with her mom and 12-year-old son for another year.

"I just kind of jumped off the cliff and did it."

She found a recreational vehicle, or RV, to rent even though she had never driven anything larger than an SUV — not even a van or U-Haul. And she set about mapping a route from Madison, Ala. to Cape Cod, Mass.

The summer vacation, an annual rite for so many, is not an easy thing to give up, even during a pandemic.

Families long-accustomed to getting out of their houses each summer yearn to get away, but not if it means being exposed to the coronavirus in an airplane, restaurant, or even the elevator in a hotel. Cruises are definitely out, but cruising the highway in what is essentially a land boat?

[caption id="attachment_160864" align="aligncenter" width="743"]

It's 32 feet long and 8 feet wide, but classified as a Class C vehicle, which means no special training or driver's license is required to drive it. Russell Lewis/NPR[/caption]

There will be a lot of new RV drivers pulling-in to campgrounds this summer. The peer-to-peer renting web site RVshare says it is seeing three times the amount of bookings this summer compared to last summer. CEO Jon Gray says people wanting to avoid shared spaces are giving it a go.

"People can bring the bathroom with them. They can bring their kitchen with them. And that premium of control that has always existed in RV travel is even more of a premium this year."

Plus, with gas prices down, it's more affordable than it's been in years. Gray says the cost of renting an RV runs from around $50 a night for a popup camper to $1,000 a night, depending on size and level of luxury. But he says for most, he says the cost averages $1,000 a week.

A skin care specialist who sets her own hours, she's conquering more and more things on her own since she and her husband separated a couple years ago.

"And so there was a little bit of uncertainty, of doing it myself, but I've always been able to do it myself before," Holditch says. "For the most part. And, you know, I struggle sometimes. But, I think I can do it. I feel confident in my driving skills. I'm a good driver."

Though, she admits, she is a bit nervous about driving the 32-foot house on wheels on the New Jersey Turnpike.

The first hurdle to overcome is learning everything she needs to know about how the RV works, which she does before setting off on the journey.

[caption id="attachment_160865" align="aligncenter" width="743"]

Amy Holditch receives a two-hour tour of the RV, with instructions for how to operate everything inside and out. From left: Sandra Gillis, Duncan Holditch, and Amy Holditch. Russell Lewis/NPR[/caption]

First, there's all the indoor stuff: how the benches turn into beds, when to hook up to electricity, when to use the generator, how to turn on the generator. Not to mention all the outside stuff, like power and water hookup, and the all-important sewage dumping protocol.

It's a lot to remember, and it takes the RV owner two hours to show her everything. Duncan and her mom have maxed out by this point and it's up to Holditch to remember how to use the blocks and pads to level the vehicle when they park in the campgrounds at night.

For anyone interested in renting an RV, there is one additional level of difficulty this summer: making sure the place you're going is actually open.

"It's even more important that you're doing your research," says Jeanette Casellano, a spokesperson for the American Automobile Association.

"You want to plan your trip from point A to point B, not just to know how you're going to get there, but where and when you're going to make stops. You want to know that when you get off at the next exit, things are open."

It's also important to know if you're travelling to any state that will require you to quarantine once you get there.

"Do as much research as you possibly can, so that you can enjoy your trip and relieve any anxiety you have before you get there," Casellano says.

If things go well, the thousands of people trying out the RV life this summer, might decide to stretch it out into the fall. With more people working from home, and schools deciding to offer virtual learning for students, life on the road could become regular life.
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