A Beginner’s Guide to RV Caravans
An RV caravan is a group of travelers moving together from one destination to the next. These tours can be professionally organized by a caravanning company, or informal – a large group of friends traveling together from place to place.
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Where Can Travelers Go on a Caravan Tour?
The locations are endless when planning a caravan in your RV. The most common countries for this type of RV travel are the US, Canada and Mexico because of the ease of movement from one to another. While North America is the most popular area to caravan, scheduling with a travel company opens up a world of possibilities.
Other areas to visit include: Australia, Central America, South Africa, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, The United Kingdom, and Ireland. With international travel, caravan companies take care of the planning, including routes, fuel stops, and places to camp. Typically with overseas travel, a motorhome is provided for each person or couple in the group once arriving in the initial country.
Who Guides the Caravan?
The leader of the group is referred to as the Wagon Master, while the last RV in line is called the Tail Gunner. The Wagon Master and Tail Gunner can be informal names for the first and last RV in a casual caravan among friends, but these roles have specific responsibilities on a professionally scheduled tour.
When booking a caravan through a travel company, rest assured the Wagon Master and Tail Gunner will be trained tour guides for the specific location, and will handle the details of the tour. The Wagon Master will have mapped out specific routes to take and where fuel and rest stops are along the way.
Arrangements for campground reservations for the group will be scheduled in advance in grounds with appropriate accommodations, as well as planned attractions to visit. The Tail Gunner will follow behind to aid in motorhome breakdowns or other emergencies.
Typically the Tail Gunner is a trained and experienced RV mechanic, and if a repair is not possible, will arrange to tow the motorhome for service. Together the Wagon Master and Tail Gunner will facilitate tours at scheduled sites, and will provide participants with appropriate materials such as maps and a daily agenda.
What are the Benefits of a Caravan?
The stress of planning an RV trip to a new city or country can become overwhelming. With a caravan company, they take care of all the details, leaving nothing but packing left to the participants.
Reservations are made in advance in quality grounds leaving little room for disappointment over low quality accommodations. Concerns over fuel locations, safety, and worry over breaking down are small because of the planning that goes into the trip prior to leaving and the security in numbers mindset.
Social interaction is a bonus on caravan trips, with activities being scheduled with the group in mind as well as social hours in the evening to interact with other caravanners. The design of a caravan gives participants instant travel companionship.
What are the Downsides to Going on a Caravan Tour?
Some of the same things that make a caravan a positive travel experience, can be negative points for some travelers. When scheduling a caravan through a travel company, plan on being on the trip for nearly a month or more. This amount of time may be overwhelming for a first trip of this nature. On occasion there are itineraries closer to 12 days which may be best for first timers.
If group activity and lifestyle is not what comes to mind when thinking of RV travel, caravans may not be the way to go. Many people from different backgrounds who have never met before are put in the situation to travel and interact with each other – exciting for some, maybe not for others.
The price of caravan tours can range from around $1,500 to more than $15,000 for international trips, with different amenities supplied by each travel company. Typically airfare is not included when traveling overseas, adding to the cost of the trip.
RV Caravan Destinations
Whether traveling with a caravan company or a casual group of RVs, choosing a destination is the first step to having a successful vacation.
- Continental United States: While exotic travel is now widely available, joining a caravan in the lower 48 states can still be a great adventure. A number of the above travel companies offer unique tours of US regions, or travel the country with a group of friends in a casual caravan. Areas of interest include: the Great Lakes, a fall color tour, the Kentucky Derby, Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Napa Valley, the old South, NASCAR events, East coast states, and more.
- Alaska: A caravan of Alaska is an ultimate adventure. Birding and animal lovers will enjoy the sight of wildlife in their natural environment.
- Canada: A tour of Canada offers unique experiences such as visiting the Canadian Maritimes and seeing whales, polar bear and moose in a natural setting.
- Mexico: Baja and Copper Canyon are popular destinations in Mexico for caravan tours. Highlights of Mexican travel include the warm weather, Caribbean Sea, and the experience of new food and language.
- Central America: The ultimate in exotic travel, touring Central America offers an unforgettable look at Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.
- Overseas: Caravan companies offer extensive trips through Europe, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Traveling in a foreign country by RV with a company provides the security of having people who are familiar with the area and also the best of both worlds with restaurant and hotel stays often scheduled in the tour. Leaving the planning up to the travel company leaves nothing but the adventure to enjoy.
There’s a lot to be said for being free to travel and stop at any holiday park on a whim. No commitments. No deadlines for checking in. No regrets at having to leave that idyllic spot because there’s a site reserved at the next park along the highway.
However, there’s a downside to not planning ahead. The no-ties traveller is likely to find himself stuck with the last available site in the park – which will probably be the one crammed in between the recycling bins and the kids’ playground.
Booking ahead might take away a certain amount of spontaneity, but it can pay off handsomely when it comes to the site’s position and comfort. These six tips will help most RVers to find the best caravan site for their needs.
Check Out the Holiday Park Site Map Online
If possible, use the Internet to locate the holiday park’s site map. Do this several weeks or months in advance. Note the position of the following: the amenities, the playground, the camp kitchen and the games room or pool. Check also to see where the sun rises and sets, in case you want your awning or annexe facing a certain way – some RVers like to eat breakfast in the morning sun; others prefer the sun in the afternoon.
Use Google Earth to note the position of trees and (if the holiday park is on the coast) access to the beach. Finally, take note of the size and ease of access of various sites. A large caravan, motorhome or 5th wheeler may have more limited choices.
TIP: Typing ‘site map’ into Google when you reach the holiday park website often leads to the website’s site map… that is, a list of all the pages in the site. If this happens try using ‘park map’ instead, along with the name of the holiday park you’re investigating.
Satellite or TV Aerial?
More and more caravans and motorhomes are equipped with satellite receivers, which means that the dish needs line of sight to the satellite. Large trees can interfere with reception. Try to secure a site with a clear path to the satellite.
Ensuite Sites or Proximity to Amenities
Travellers with their own bathroom facilities usually don’t mind whether they are close to the amenities block or not, but it’s a different story for those in a small van with no bathroom. In this case an ensuite site might be nice, although these sites are usually more expensive.
Even though proximity to the park’s amenities is handy, sometimes it can backfire. RVers on a site immediately opposite an amenities block can find the constant opening and closing of the amenities door annoying, especially if a stream of visitors let the door slam shut behind them!
Children’s Playgrounds and/or Pool
Kids love to bounce on rubber mats and work off energy on the playground equipment, which is a boon for parents on the road. Being close to the playground or pool can make the whole stay a lot more fun. However, retirees who are seeing the country usually prefer a quieter site – well away from the playground! Viewing the site map ahead of time can be a real bonus: the traveller either gives an enthusiastic ‘yes!’ to a site near the playground, or an emphatic ‘no!’
Topography of the Caravan Site
Some sites slope to one side. Some have concrete slabs for the annexe; some are all grass. If possible, discuss this with the holiday park manager ahead of time. Ask for a large, flat site, and request a concrete slab if this is preferable. (Not everyone worries about having a firm concrete floor for the annexe; it is a lot easier to back into a site if there’s no need to back the caravan tightly against the side of the slab. However, if there’s a week of constant rain, a slab means less mud tracked into the van or motorhome.)
Ease of Access and Backing the RV
All regular caravanners know that part of the day’s entertainment is watching drivers attempting to back their vans on to their sites. In holiday parks, more people have come close to divorce over confusing hand signals than any other reason! Most drivers prefer a caravan site with easy access and plenty of space to reverse the van (and some will always opt for a drive-through site if possible).
By viewing the holiday park’s site map ahead of time, travellers can choose the perfect caravan site for their stay. Keep in mind that online research is only part of the story – fellow travellers are usually only too happy to recommend their favourite caravan parks and sites.