POW! Thirty minutes into my family's first RV-ing experience, and already we'd had a small scare. What was that noise? Did we run over road debris? Another car? In a 36-foot RV, you never know. But there was nothing to worry about. The noise wasn't something catastrophic-probably just nearby road construction.

About an hour later, an odd smell wafted to the front of the RV. Hypersensitive to every noise and odor as new RV drivers, we thought it might be a transmission or engine problem. Nope, it was just a microwave pizza. Piloting an RV like the Pace Arrow 36D Fleetwood we rented can be intimidating for those who've never driven anything larger than a full-size SUV, but with a little practice and lots of concentration, it absolutely is doable.

WHY GO RV-ING?
With six family members, I embarked on an RV trip from Los Angeles to Telluride, Colorado, to attend a family wedding. Renting an RV seemed the best way to experience the Colorado mountains, and more fun than a quick plane flight. We were seeking a sense of community and craved a closer look at the types of roadside treasures best seen from the giant windows of a recreational vehicle.

You're not likely to get schooled in a card game like gin rummy in a 15-passenger van. On no plane would I have been delighted by my father unexpectedly dancing to the Beatles' "Your Mother Should Know." An RV trip is an excellent opportunity to slow down and immerse yourself in the details. Before this trip, it had been a long time since any of us had reveled in the fascinating shape of a cloud. The giant windows of the RV make sightseeing easy, and when you're spending countless hours on the highway, you've got time to look at the sky or see Delta, Colorado, which calls itself the City of Murals.

Simply stepping into the captain's chair driver seat can be unnerving. Maneuvering out of a driveway onto a residential street without hitting a parked Lexus RX 350 SUV is a victory worth celebrating.

After driving from nearly sea level to a Colorado hotel at 9490 feet elevation and back again, we emerged converts to the RV-ing way of life as occasional renters. To help others who have wondered about RV-ing but don't know where to start, Truck Trend offers a few tips from one neophyte RV driver to another.

HAVE A GOOD CO-PILOT
The sandstone formations in Utah's Monument Valley are stunning, but the reality is that you'll drive through sections of road that are monotonous and-thankfully-free of gusting winds. During these parts of the journey a good co-pilot is essential. The co-pilot's job is to keep the music playing and the driver alert with interesting conversation. The co-pilot can also ease lane changes when glare keeps the driver from adequately seeing out of the sideview mirrors.

When you first operate a large RV, you'll be on guard as you attempt to keep the vehicle in one lane and sustain a decent speed. The loose and imprecise steering recalls those 1950s TV shows in which a character saws the steering wheel back and forth while the view out the back indicates a straight road. Driving an RV can feel the same way, especially in the beginning. Focus is required to drive smoothly enough that few passengers will complain, which leads us to another suggestion.

DON'T GET COCKY
When our foot wasn't pressing the gas pedal to the floor trying to climb a hill, our speed ranged from 55 to 80 mph. After some smooth cruising, it's easy to become cocky about your driving skills. Maybe your attention will wander, or you'll start to accelerate too quickly on a stretch of road with a 75-mph speed limit. This always seemed the moment when a strong gust of wind sent the top-heavy RV into the next lane or onto the shoulder-karma, maybe? Needless to say, our three drivers completed the trip with more respect for the challenges facing other RV owners and big-rig truck drivers.

On our way back to California from the Grand Canyon, we encountered an older couple from San Diego in a 40-foot RV heading toward that famous site. We were humbled once we noticed they were also towing a first-generation Saturn Vue SUV, effectively lengthening their RV to more than 50 feet. They lived in the RV for many months in 2009, reflecting its potential function as a movable second house.

With seven people onboard, we didn't sleep overnight in our RV, but most of us had no problem falling asleep on the full-length bed for a quick nap after a 3-5-hour driving shift.

TAKE IT EASY
Just because you think the RV can handle a simple right turn at 20 mph doesn't mean you should try it. In congested city and suburban areas, drive at a slower, yet still safe, speed. Other drivers can move around you. Besides, you'll probably want to avoid propelling an unsecured passenger from one side of the RV to the other.

HAVE ONLY ONE NAVIGATOR
Whether the navigator is the co-pilot or a passenger sitting farther back in the RV, it's important to establish one navigator to determine the location of the next rest stop or gas station. More than one navigator can lead to indecisive driving and, in a vehicle that calls as much attention to itself as an RV, that's the last thing you want.

WOULD WE DO IT AGAIN?
Six of seven said yes or maybe. One traveler noted that the only way she would consider another RV adventure is if it doesn't include a trip as harrowing as that stretch of road leading into the mountainous Telluride, Colorado.

What's it like driving an RV at night on a narrow, winding road in the rain? The driver at the time said, "When we get there, we can build a house with all the bricks I'm @#&!$ing." The rider who said "no" found RV-ing a worthwhile one-time experience, but that the issues with parking and low-lying trees, for example, were too much of a hassle. Although we now feel more comfortable with a 36-foot RV, a smaller vehicle might suit us better next time.

ONE LAST TIP
If at all possible, relax and take it slow. Our sojourn at the Grand Canyon was markedly shortened by the looming knowledge that we had to be at work in Southern California early the next morning. Whether you try a full-size RV and sleep in it every night or rent a smaller RV for a cross-country trip, RV-ing could be the travel option you never knew you had.

Where To Rent
Searching for the perfect rental RV can be overwhelming, but if you know where to look, you can save lots of money. A few Web sites connect RV owners directly to prospective renters, cutting the dealer from the process and potentially saving you thousands of dollars-if you find a trustworthy owner. With this method, we negotiated a great deal renting an RV in good condition. For some, a dealer premium is worth it. A dealer will have newer models that are more likely to be maintained in pristine mechanical condition.

  • sharemycoach.com
  • 1rvrentals.com
  • privatemotorhomerental.com

    Our 36-foot RV rental cost $1000 for seven days (negotiated from $1200) plus 25¢ for every mile after the first 100 each day (from a quoted 32¢). A comparable RV from a major RV rental company-before paying for mileage-would cost more than $2200 in our area. Call your insurance provider for a coverage price; ours cost $165. Don't forget gas: about $1000 for our journey. Various other charges include a cleaning fee (our RV was clean enough that this was waived) plus charges if you return the RV without a full tank of fuel or propane.

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