Dream vs. Reality: What It's Really Like to Vacation in an RV

Young couple traveling with their motor home standing by the sea with arms raised


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Young couple traveling with their motor home standing by the sea with arms raised

The Wheel Deal

The popularity of RVing has exploded in the past few years as people have sought a better way to vacation. But is RVing really that grand? Well, as a full-timer myself, I think so. However, the dream is far from reality, and many new RVers are shocked when the glamour fades. Here’s what it’s really like to vacation in an RV. 


Related: Little-Known Facts About RVs

Caravan car travels on the highway.

Dream: A Relaxed and Comfortable Way to Travel the Country

Most new RVers look forward to taking in the sights as they cruise down the open road. What better way to see the country than drive? You might also look forward to a cushy ride in those plush RV seats.  

Related: The 50 Most Scenic Drives in America

Man driving RV in the rain

Reality: White Knuckle Driving

While driving isn’t always horrible, there are many things that can quickly disrupt your RV road trip dreams. Wind, traffic, rain, or bumpy roads are a surefire way to put a damper on your travel plans. You’re bound to encounter one (or many) of these on nearly every road trip. It’s best to be prepared. 


Related: Rookie Mistakes First-Time RV Drivers Make

Prepare food in camper van kitchen on the road

Dream: Spacious Campsites Surrounded by Nature

One of the reasons people choose to RV is to get out and enjoy nature. RVers often envision spacious, wooded sites with birds twittering and mountains looming on the horizon. You might find such a space now and then, but more often than not, the reality is much different. 


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RV caravans camping at the caravan park on the lake with mountains on the horizon. Camping vacation travel concept
Daria Nipot/istockphoto

Reality: Your Neighbor’s Sewer Drain Right Outside Your Front Door

In reality, RV parks are in it to make a profit. Too often, this means they cram as many sites as possible into the space. That means you’ll walk out of your RV, not to stunning views, but to your neighbor’s sewer hose. In some parks, it may even be impossible to fully extend large slides since the sites are so close together. 


Related: The Best Hidden Gem Destinations, According to RV Experts

Family on RV Road Trip

Dream: A Quick Drive to a Beautiful Destination

When you pop a destination into Google Maps, it will tell you just how long it will take for you to arrive. You might be thinking, “Wow. These places are closer than I thought.” And so you start out on your journey to enjoy a long weekend or even a week off. But wait, you haven’t arrived yet? 

tourist with motorhome at Monument Valley

Reality: The Drive Takes Many Hours Longer Than Projected

Using Google Maps to determine how long it will take to get to your destination is a huge RV error. The speed limits may be 70 or even 80 mph in places. However, you’ll be going closer to 55-60 mph the entire way, leading to a rude awakening. Your trip will almost always take much longer than planned.  

Family vacation travel RV, holiday trip in motorhome, Caravan car Vacation. Beautiful Nature Norway natural landscape.

Dream: Every Night Will Be Spent Camping in Beautiful Destinations

Everyone wants to RV to enjoy the beautiful destinations. After all, the world is overflowing with places to go. “Before we set off on our first RV adventure, we assumed every campsite we stayed at would be ripped straight from the cover of National Geographic,” says Eddie Kingswell of the Vanabond Tales

Monaco Motor Home.

Reality: You’ll Spend More Time Camping in Parking Lots Than You Expect

Planning an epic RV vacation is a lot more work than it seems. “For every night spent camping on a stunning headland or in remote wilderness, we would spend 10 in rest-stops, gas stations, and supermarket parking lots,” says Kingswell. If you plan to RV, be prepared to become well-acquainted with Walmart parking lots. 


Related: How to Find Places to Boondock or Free Park in Your RV

Happy family on a camping trip relaxing in the autumn forest. Camper trailer. Fall season outdoors trip
Svetlana Glazkova/istockphoto

Dream: You Can Bring Everything You Might Need on Each Trip

You can definitely bring along more on an RV road trip than you could when traveling by car or plane. You may envision having space for all your gear, toys and games for the kids, camping chairs, a full kitchen, and more. 

Young Woman Cleaning her RV

Reality: RV Storage Is Seriously Lacking

The reality is, RV storage leaves a lot to be desired. Even RVs with lots of cabinets have an abundance of unusable space. You’ll need to be a master organizer to make things work. Bins, storage containers, clothes organizers, and more will be your best friends if you want to fit everything. Even still, you’ll probably have to leave some things behind.  

POV from camper van, young woman comes back to her vehicle after a morning yoga session at sunrise by the beach. Van life concept

Dream: Life on the Road Is Easy

Social media makes RV travel look like the most glamorous way to live or travel. You might envision doing yoga every morning and snapping pics in national parks in the afternoon. What else could you want?

Two Friends Fixing Roof Window Inside of Camper Trailer

Reality: Life on the Road Is Different and Has Its Own Challenges

Kingswell says the picture-perfect image of “RV life” is just a dream. “Dealing with mechanical issues is twice as stressful when your vehicle is also your place to stay.” Not to mention you have to find campsites, cell service, and even water, sometimes on a daily basis. Oh, and don’t forget being stuck in a confined space for days on end. 

Couple Sitting Next to Campfire with Camper Van

Dream: Relaxing by a Fire and Listening to the Crickets Chirp Each Night

When you imagine an RV vacation, you probably imagine spending relaxing nights by a crackling fire. When I started traveling by RV, I imagined I would spend way more time outside than I did at home. 

Group of young diverse friends holding the bottle drinking talking and enjoying a picnic in the park in the evening playing music having fun on the camping area by the nature.

Reality: Drunk Neighbors Swearing While Their Dog Yaps Nearby

Remember the small RV sites we talked about earlier? This proximity means your drunk and noisy neighbors and their barking dog drown out the peaceful sound of your fire. Best of all? They will probably be up until at least 2 a.m., getting louder and louder by the minute. Hopefully, you brought your earplugs. 

Young Asian man staying in the blanket reading magazine book in camper van with mountain scenery through the window. Road trip in summer of South Island, New Zealand.

Dream: Trip Planning Will Be Easier With More Time to Relax

Some travelers think of RVing as a less stressful way to travel. Kimberly Button of Couch Potato Camping says she envisioned more time to sit and enjoy nature, play games, read books, and so on. 

Women and little boy  cooking burger on grill in forest

Reality: Planning, Setting up Camp, and Tearing Down Take a Long Time

Unless you stay somewhere for a few weeks at a time, there is a ton of added stress for RVing. If you stay somewhere for only a few days, all the time you had planned for relaxation will quickly get sucked up. The setup, teardown, constant cooking and cleaning, and driving time will take much longer than you probably expect. 

Young woman sleeping inside a motor home

Dream: Sleeping Better in Your Own Bed

Nothing beats sleeping in your own bed, especially at the end of a long vacation. When you RV, you get to bring your own bed along. It is certainly more comfortable than sleeping on the ground or even in a hotel bed. However, there are some drawbacks you may not have thought of. 

Night in RV Camper Van

Reality: Noise or Wind Keeping You up All Night

Wind is terrifying while you’re driving an RV, but it can also be a nuisance when you’re trying to sleep. “The constant movement of the RV on windy nights and the sounds of wind whipping by keep me awake pretty much all night. I realistically know the RV isn't going to blow over, but sometimes it feels like it might,” says Carrie Fay of Making Money and Traveling. The noisy neighbors, nearby highway traffic, or my personal favorite, trains, also leave a lot to be desired when you’re trying to get some shuteye.  

New Fiat Camper vans

Dream: A New RV Means a Problem-Free RV

If you want to avoid the hassle of breaking down or having to do maintenance on your RV interior or exterior, a new RV might seem like the way to go. After all, new things don’t usually break. Unfortunately, this is not the case with RVs. 

RV Service Worker Cleaning Camper Van Roof

Reality: New RVs Sometimes Need More Maintenance Than Used RVs

I’ve seen dozens of new RV owners complaining about all the problems. When you buy new, you’ll have to prepare to take a few shake-down trips. These trips let you see everything wrong with your RV so you can fix them. When you buy used, the previous owner likely took care of many of these issues. 

Traveling in Camper Van

Dream: Road Trips Every Weekend

Most new RV owners imagine frequent RV trips. Spending every weekend camping sounds like a pretty fantastic summer. With the convenience of being able to bring along a home on wheels, what’s to stop you?

Gasoline Pump

Reality: Gas Prices Keeping You Home

Gas prices can rise, and the higher they go, the more painful RVing gets. That’s because RVs are gas guzzlers. The added weight and loss of aerodynamics mean your fuel economy is absolutely horrible even if you tow a trailer. When the motorhome tank holds 75 gallons, the fill-up is downright painful. 


Related: 20 Ways to Save Money on Gas for Your RV

Happy friends communicating at picnic table by the camp trailer in summer day.

Dream: Saving Money on Travel

Some people think RVing will save them money on travel. You can avoid expensive hotel fees and eliminate the cost of airfare. If you are frugal and you have a small, inexpensive rig, this could be possible. For most people, though, the reality is much different. 

Portrait of senior married caucasian couple having rest on the deck chairs with food and wine just against their caravan home
Inside Creative House/istockphoto

Reality: RV Travel Is Expensive

Not only do you have to pay for gas, but there are many more added costs that make RVing expensive. Campground fees tend to cost $30-$50 per night on the low end. On the high end, these prices can stretch into the hundreds of dollars. Of course, there is also the monthly payment on the RV which you have to pay whether or not you use your RV. 


Dream: Ready to Hit the Road as Soon as You Buy Your RV

You’ve got a house on wheels. It has everything you need to hit the road. Bathroom, check. Kitchen, check. Bedroom, check. But wait, there’s more…? 

filling the water tank of a campervan

Reality: You Have to Spend Even More Money to Use Your New Rig

The list of things you need to buy to make your RV usable is quite long. If you’re thinking the sticker price of your RV means it is ready to roll, think again. You’ll need power cords, water hoses, sewer connections, organizational supplies, and more. 

Related: How to Live the RV Life for Cheap

Holidays in Poland - winter with camper in the Tatra Mountains

Dream: Being Close to All the Action

When you RV, you can go nearly anywhere you want. That means you can get close to all the action. You might picture staying right inside the national parks or watching sunsets from your beachside resort. This winter I imagined a stay in the Salt Lake Valley with skiing just minutes away.  

RV parked in a camper parking area. Concept of summer tourism with caravan. Best option for travel in times of coronavirus pandemic.
Pol Sole Salles/istockphoto

Reality: Finding RV Parking Is Impossible and the Good Parks Are Taken

If you plan on vacationing in your RV, you better have a tow vehicle. Because it is nearly impossible to find a place to park large RVs near any major attractions. You’ll also need to plan your trip out months (or even years) in advance. When my husband and I tried to get a site in Salt Lake City for this winter, the waitlist was hundreds of people long. Ouch! 

View from caravan inside on landscape in Spain

Dream: Enjoying Having Your Own Personal Bathroom

Most people don’t prefer using public restrooms. Who knows when they were last cleaned. Having an on-board bathroom in your RV can be a real lifesaver. It definitely makes things more pleasant on the day-to-day. 

Man Emptying RV Sewer at Dump Station After Camping

Reality: Dumping the Black Tank

Unfortunately, you have to pay a price for your privacy. You’ll have to dump the black tank (which is where everything from the toilet goes) at least weekly and more often if you bring a group of people along. It is not the worst task ever, but it wouldn’t really classify as a “dream vacation” activity either. Even worse, if you don’t properly treat your tanks, the stench coming from your bathroom can be enough to make you long for a public restroom. 


Related: RV Nightmares: From Annoying to Messy to Costly