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My idea of camping is when a hotel surprises my kids with an adorable tent pitched inside the bedroom.
I hate bugs, being hot, sticky, staying in cramped quarters or sleeping on anything other than a mattress. I’ll happily go hiking, make some s’mores by the campfire or spend a day exploring nature, but when it comes time to sleep and shower, I’d like to do that in a house or hotel room with running water and air conditioning, thank you very much.
This year has taken many of us to places (mentally and physically) we’ve never been before and didn’t intend to go. Recently, 2020 took my kids and me — the self-professed non-camper — to our rented recreational vehicle (RV) in the middle of a busy campground. At one point, I was spending hundreds of dollars per night to shower in a communal campground washroom, wondering what life choices brought me to this point.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t love every single minute of our camping trip. In fact, there were some parts I outright hated. But I’d absolutely do it again. Here’s how and why I ended up in an RV in the middle of one of the busiest campgrounds in the country.
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Jumping on the RV bandwagon
Why in the world would someone who hates camping and who has plenty of points to book nice hotel rooms (like I did the night before going to the campground at the new JW Marriott Bonnet Creek) spend a pile of cash to stay in a rented RV? Good question.
Two of my very good friends bought RVs during the pandemic as a way to keep their families safe while still exploring and experiencing the country. When they both decided to park their RVs at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground at the same time. I knew my kids would have a blast playing with their kids. Plus, the idea of evening wine and movies around a campfire sounded pretty great for the adults, too.
I have no interest in owning an RV, but the idea of renting one was 100% born when two of my favorite families parked their campers together at one of my favorite destinations: Disney. Call it fate, call it destiny or just blame my friends for being a bad influence, but that’s how a non-camper started researching RV rentals online.
Related: What you need to know before you buy an RV
Renting my first RV
Never say never, but I won’t be driving an RV in this lifetime. I know my limits and I needed to rent an RV that would be delivered, hooked up and eventually hauled away after our trip.
I started my online search looking for RV rentals specific to the Disney World-area that offered full-service delivery and hookup. Luckily, thanks to the size and popularity of Disney’s Fort Wilderness, there are plenty of companies that specialize in exactly that.
Related: Tips for your renting your first RV
But ultimately, to increase the odds that we’d have an enjoyable experience, I decided I really wanted the nicest RV I could find and afford. The more it looked like a house, the better. And for that, I had the most luck with the website Outdoorsy. For those as unfamiliar with RV rentals as I was, Outdoorsy is a lot like Airbnb for RV rentals.
Many RV owners have their rigs listed as available on sites like Outdoorsy or RVShare when they won’t be using them. These range from very affordable, small campers from under $100 per night to expensive homes that just happen to have wheels.
You can guess which one I preferred.
In addition to the $375 per night I paid for the actual rental, Outdoorsy charged a mandatory protection and insurance fee and a service fee. That may sound like a waste, but I was actually grateful to be going through a platform with built-in support for my first rental rather than just flying by the seat of my pants. And since 2020 is wild, I also appreciated the cancellation policy for my rental: I could get a 100% refund (other than the service fee) until just five days out.
I don’t have any clue how to dump a black or gray water tank, but I do know insurance and support are important when you’re dealing with something as expensive and complex as a travel trailer. When booking with Outdoorsy, you made payments and communicated with the owner through the platform, which was both easy and secure. (Oh, and the rental coded as travel, so that was a nice 3x points earned on my Chase Sapphire Reserve® card. You could also use any annual credit card travel credits this way.)
Related: These are the best travel credit cards
Luxury living on wheels
It turns out that RV living can be downright luxurious, based on our three-night stay in a 2020 41-foot Class A Fleetwood Discovery that can accommodate 10 people. (Here’s the actual listing if you want to rent it.)
On this trip, I had just two kids with me, so that seemed like plenty of space — even though I don’t really trust that any RV could comfortably sleep 10 humans. Though seemingly every surface of this thing can be converted into sleeping space, the permanent beds included one king-sized bed and a set of bunks.
My more knowledgeable RV friends say this is a quarter-million-dollar setup, so thank goodness I was just renting. I will say it absolutely looked like a rockstar’s tour bus when we entered.
There were too many televisions to count, a washing machine, a dryer, shower, toilet, stovetop, sink and every other appliance you’d expect to find at a stationary vacation rental.
You could 100% live in this thing.
The owners added a lot of padding (and certainly some magic) to make the bed extremely comfortable — and all the linens, including towels, were included. (Just be aware that, as with any vacation rental, every RV is different and some rentals may be pretty bare bones.)
Related: How to make your home rental better for guests
Fear of the unknown
Ultimately, the owner and I weren’t able to meet in person, so I arrived at the fully hooked-up house on wheels at Fort Wilderness without much knowledge about the finer points of RV life — like how to operate an RV.
Because I was parked next to friends who were dealing with hoses and dumping their tanks every day or so, I was worried about the reality of having to do the same. So, I stopped using any nonessential water in the RV since the tank sensor wasn’t working properly. As a result, we hiked over to the campground’s comfort stations for showers, which wasn’t a bad plan anyway since water pressure and elbow room is always going to be better on dry land than in a house on wheels.
But I was also intimidated by the prospect of cooking for fear of dishes, and I really couldn’t get the televisions properly connected to my devices to play shows — and don’t get me started on my apprehension about the washing machine, which I attempted to use on the last night (with ample moral support) after one of my kids had an “incident” that necessitated laundry.
I’m sure most “campers” would have been more knowledgeable about and confident in the RV than I was, but I just wanted to make it out of there without breaking or dumping anything. Let’s be honest: Being told I’d know immediately if there were full tanks because things wouldn’t drain or would spit gray water back at me wasn’t exactly encouraging.
Related: How to rent an RV from $1 per day
Classic family fun
I didn’t take advantage of all the RV’s bells and whistles, and I certainly didn’t drive it. In reality, I tried to touch as little as possible while I was inside. Still, the trip was a blast. The basics worked, even at the hands of the most inexperienced novie in the entire campground. We slept well at night. There was running water when we needed it, the full-sized refridgerator kept our beverages cool and the air conditioner helped me keep my cool, even when I was outside my comfort zone.
But the best part of RV living wasn’t the RV — and never would be for me, even if I was somehow able to rent Beyoncé’s actual tour bus, which I might have.
Really, the point was being able to have a communal experience with friends: laughing when the clouds opened up as my friend, Ed Pizza, was in the middle of grilling chicken for 11 people and had to finish in the pouring rain by iPhone flashlight; six kids giggling as they went from one RV to the next in a temporary little utopia; loading the kids into a golf cart to see Halloween decorations at other campsites, as my kids tried to figure out how to make our own decorations using throwaway table clothes; drinking boxed wine with friends by the campfire while streaming the baseball playoffs on a laptop after the kids pretended to go to bed.
Sure, I’ll probably also remember the bites from sand flea that unknowingly accompanied that otherwise perfect evening.
Related: What it’s like at a reopened Disney World
And after three nights in an RV, I was ready to retreat back to a room with four walls and unlimited hot water that magically disappears into the sewer system, never to be seen again. But even as a non-camper who drastically prefers the conveniences and comforts of posh hotels to anything remotely approaching roughing it, I’d absolutely rent an RV again under similar circumstances.
Home rentals are great, and nice hotels can be amazing, but watching kids just be kids with three RVs parked next to each other is a travel memory I’m grateful to add to the list.
I’m very much a non-camper with almost no RV knowledge, and yet I had a lot of fun staying in a rented RV for a few nights. And if I can say that, almost anyone can.
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.