Courtesy: Tim Johnson,

The Year of the RV

With cross-border and international travel a dicey prospect (or outright impossible), getting behind the wheel of an RV fulfills two essential elements of a pandemic vacation—the wonder of the open road, and the safety to physically distance, as much as you like. Renting a Class C RV—what we would typically think of as a motorhome—will typically cost $1500-$2500 per week. A Class B RV—or a “camper van”— has a lot less room and runs $1000-$1500 per week. And you can buy a basic unit for as little as $10,000. (Check out this incredible camper trailer makeover!)

“People need to recreate—and here you have all the comforts of home, the unit is sanitized, and it’s your own little hub,” notes Chris Mahony, president of Go RVing Canada, a not-for-profit organization made up of dealers, manufacturers and campgrounds across Canada, mandated with promoting the RV lifestyle. Industry stats show that rentals are seeing a massive increase in domestic demand: sales are up, nationally, some 30 per cent—and as much as 300 per cent in places like Southern Ontario.

Start Slow

While most RVs are driver-friendly, Juan Serje, who works for booking site, says people shouldn’t expect it to handle like their own vehicle. “Break with time, mind your turns, always have someone help you with reverse, watch out for low overhead clearance,” he advises. And before you set out for your destination, get a good lesson from the owner or dealer, taking the RV for a spin in a safe, low-stress place, paying special attention to the heaviness of the vehicle and testing out the brakes, visibility, speed and other key elements.

Plan More

“Don’t fly by the seat of your pants,” says Mahony. Canada has more than 4,000 campgrounds, some operating at full capacity, others, not (it all depends on local regulations, and how much people can space out). Plan as far out as possible—some of the most iconic spots (like Banff National Park, which booked up in three days once it reopened) book out as much as a year in advance. If you can be flexible, travel midweek, or off-season. And if you’re turned away because you haven’t pre-booked and the place is full, the campground can usually refer you to another place, nearby, with availability. You can also consult online resources provided by groups like Parks Canada and Ontario Parks, to search for unoccupied sites. (Check out 50 of the most gorgeous parks across Canada.)

Be sure to also find an RV with the perfect floor plan for your family—Serje notes that Class C vehicles are the most popular with families of four or five—as well as details like plug-ins for electronics. Most rental companies will have staff on hand who can answer any questions you may have and help you choose the right model for your needs.

Drive Less

When planning your route, be conservative—many people make the mistake of being too ambitious with their distances. “Keep in mind that getting from A to B to C is ging to take longer than you think,” says Mahony. “You’re not going 120 on the highway. RVs are built to go the speed limit, but not necessarily above it.” You might want to consider spending a couple of nights in one campground or RV resort, which often have beaches and pools and other ways to enjoy the outdoors. Limiting your mileage is also another key way to save cash, requiring fewer fill-ups along the way.

Take the Scenic Route

With road trips’ rise in popularity during the pandemic, highways and campgrounds are certain to be busy, so finding under-the-radar destinations will be important. First, make sure you’re allowed to go to your chosen destination—each province and territory has its own rules on visitors. The Atlantic Bubble is only allowing non-essential travel within the Maritimes and Newfoundland. And in the Yukon, if you’re not a resident of British Columbia, the North West Territories or Nunavut, you must self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival.

When your planning is done, hit the road. Serje loves Forillon National Park, a place with plunging cliffs and beaches and Canada’s tallest lighthouse on the tip of Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula, as well as the prairie west, noting that there are “millions” of places to visit in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Mahony has a few favourite routes, including the Alaska Highway in Northern British Columbia. Begin at Mile 0 at Dawson Creek, a great jumping off point, with a number of RV-ready campgrounds, as well as hiking trails in a UNESCO GeoPark, waterfalls and off-beat art galleries. Then head out into the great, vast expanses of the north, through rugged mountains and river valleys, which give a whole new definition to “physical distancing.”

And, he says, don’t overlook the regions north of Quebec City, including Charlevoix and the Saguenay, where you can trace the mighty St. Lawrence River, so wide it’s like an inland sea, on provincial highway 138, and then take the 178 to the steep-sided fjord of the Saguenay River . “Here, you’ve got wine-tasting, fishing, fromageries, whale-watching,” he says, “and so many campgrounds.”