RECREATIONAL vehicle travel may not be chic, but it's gaining ground with Americans: It is the fastest-growing means of vacationing in the United States.
How do you get started? Buying a recreational vehicle can cost more than $50,000. Is it worth the outlay? Will you enjoy the lifestyle of the semi-nomad? Will you get restless and claustrophobic, or will you love it?
Many first-time RVers begin by renting a motor home, a good way to determine whether using one is compatible with your temperament and needs.
The first step is to look in your local telephone directory under Recreation Vehicles -- Renting and Leasing, where you may find listings for local dealerships that rent vehicles.
Or you can call one of the three major national companies: Cruise America (800) 327-7799, www.cruiseamerica.com; Bates International Motor Home Rental Network, (800) 732-2283, www.batesintl.com; or El Monte RV Center (888) 337-2214, www.elmonterv.com. It's also useful to visit the Web site of the Recreational Vehicle Rental Assn. at www.rvra.org, which lists RV rental companies in the U.S., including their prices and addresses.
Rental costs vary, depending on the type of vehicle, when you rent and the length of rental. You may be able to get a better price by regularly checking the Web sites of the major rental outfits, which periodically post specials. It is usually cheaper to rent from a private individual, but be aware of the risk you take if there's a breakdown. A private owner can usually do little for you; with a major company, repairs are handled on the spot or you are given a new vehicle and put back on the road within 24 hours.
The most important step is research and comparison shopping. Make sure you understand the terms of the agreement, take your vehicle out for a test spin and make a reservation as far in advance as possible.
Several Web sites make RVing easier and more enjoyable. Some to check:
* RV Trader Online, www.rvtraderonline.com, is for those thinking about purchasing an RV. Its classified ads offer motor homes for sale and contain an extensive listing of dealers that can be searched by ZIP Code as well as campground information. Resources for those in need of parts and accessories are also available.
* RV Home, www.rvhome.com, has a wealth of information about RVing. Although some of its topic links take you only to advertisements, others take you to a bulletin board, tips, campground reviews and extensive classifieds. There's also a listing of RV dealers indexed by state, links to RV-related newsgroups and information on RV shows and events nationwide.
* RV USA, www.rvusa.com, is among the best-organized and most useful RV sites. It includes cookbook links, forums that allow RVers to ask questions and exchange tips and information, areas for posting free classified ads and other valuable travel information, including campgrounds, places to eat, sights to see, grocery stores and events around the country.