I was born in a country where the idea of going out in the woods in the dark is the stuff of nightmares. Hostage-takings, disappeared bodies, painful trauma are what my parents associated the idea with. So I never spent a night outdoor in the woods til my 20s, when some friends invited me to a “barn” party in Wilno, a tiny village a couple of hours east of Ottawa. It was on private property and the barn lodging, which backed onto a green space near Algonquin Provincial Park, was beautiful in that wind-swept, rocky, rugged north-central Ontario kind of way. I have only been beneath a tent twice — once in Newfoundland, where I couldn’t figure out how to close the zipper of the canvas and was frigid and awake most of the night, waiting for the warm sun to rise over the Atlantic, and once in Algonquin park, where I drank beers, tried and failed to like marijuana, and sang songs by Blue Rodeo, the Tragically Hip and Stompin’ Tom til almost dawn. That was fun, but it was a mostly sleepless night with residual effects: morning aches and impish salutations of “How you feeling?” A rhetorical question — no one felt anything but rough when we finally stood up.
I contend I could have that same experience on any Saturday night in any small Canadian town, with the same people, but in a home or rented lodge with better comfort for my bones.
So CanaDream had a challenge when I took the wheel of one of its RVs — something I never imagined driving. As I have grown older, I have become someone who thinks roughing it is a stay in a three-star-or-lower hotel. The idea of camping, or campgrounds, had drifted even farther down a ranking of pursuits I was keen to try. I was dubious about RVs and their promise of comfort.
But facing down your preconceptions and pushing beyond your boundaries make for good travel writing — if not good soul-nurturing. With the RV craze rattling through North America during the pandemic, now was the time to take on the road — and my doubts.
My wife and I packed up so much stuff neighbours wondered if we were moving out. Into our trunk went golf clubs, three suitcases — one with books and toys for 3-year-old Gabriel —, boxes of food, including white truffle oil that I envisioned soaking into a gourmet meal I hoped to make on the RV’s stove.
We loaded into the CanaDream Midi Motorhome B model — which is more intimidating looking from the outside than the in — and secured Gabriel’s car seat to a spot on the semicircular lounge around the vehicle’s dinette table. While I carefully inspected the RV to make sure I was prepared for any difficulties, something fascinating was happening to our youngest passenger. As I ran through a mental checklist to calm my nerves, Gabriel’s imagination was clearly on tilt. He began to whoop and clap as he looked around the RV, disbelieving there was a bed, a full kitchen and stove, a fridge and freezer, and a wide window he could gaze through.
From his first explosive giggle I knew I would be RVing again.
At that point it was up to me to make sure we had as smooth a trip as possible. The driving was much as I expected it. Behind the wheel it felt like handling a U-haul — though with lots more creature comforts. One thing that took me a long time to get accustomed to was the overhang from the bunk. It was reflecting clouds and forming shadows that was unusual to my eyesight, but it also heightened my attention and focus.
The first stop was Fort Camping in McMillan Park, an easy 15-minute walk into Fort Langley. It is one of British Columbia’s most popular campgrounds — for reasons that are quickly apparent. RVs park at designated spots with their dedicated hookups for electrical current and city water. WiFi is free and there was no latency issue, even for Zoom calls. The grounds are well-kept and there is a play area for kids.
Best of all is the chance to easily explore Fort Langley, the site where British Columbia‘s significance as a Pan-Pacific trading power expanded. The town features contemporary and historical attractions, with the focal point being Fort Langley National Historic Site, a Parks Canada attraction that reimagines life during the early days of colonial settlement. A short walk from the fort are boutique shops, and excellent options for casual and fine dining. The town restricts big-box and franchise stores, so the businesses are often locally owned and family-operated, providing a unique visitor experience. During the pandemic, it has thrived, with several establishments seeing brisk business, and hotels and campgrounds booking up as British Columbians opt for travel close to home.
Erinn Krebda, executive director of Tourism Langley, says the RV crowd has helped to stem the economic downturn for her area. It’s a phenomenon that has helped several domestic destinations in the past 16 months. With international travel restricted because of public-health orders and with the desire to get away high, motor homes felt like a perfect option for many. Tired of being stuck at home, but wary of populated hotels and resorts, Canadians have become intrigued by the opportunity to travel in self-contained vehicles that can take them into the country’s wealth of national and provincial parks.
Go RVing Canada, a not-for-profit association that promotes the RV lifestyle, and the Canadian Recreational Vehicle Association (CRVA), reported “a substantial increase in website traffic” in 2020. Go RVing says there was “a 40% spike in traffic to our interactive Trip Planner, an online tool that maps out your road trip route by filtering in campgrounds and key points of interest”. Website visitation to those itinerary pages jumped by 82% between May and June 2020. In 2019, there were about 8.1 million RV trips taken in Canada (from both RV owners and renters) and though the 2020 numbers aren’t yet available evidence suggests the domestic market may have made up for the loss of international travellers.
Prior to the pandemic, CanaDream would thrive because of the overseas market. Klaus Gretzmacher, the company’s vice-president of tourism, said up to 85% of clients in 2019 were from out of the country. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit that activity “ended abruptly, completely. From one day to another, we lost all of that, and it wasn’t only in Canada but everywhere RVs operate.”
Gretzmacher says the company began marketing to Canadians and saw an immediate uptick.
“We had to make a huge adjustment and make a new approach to how we find customers,” Gretzmacher noted. “With only domestic travel permissible for most of the last two years, we’re seeing people who have never been in an RV, or have wanted to try but have never had the chance to go exploring. Now they’re taking the time to go to that little lake in the back country they’ve always wanted to visit. In hindsight, marketing to Canadians was very, very positive and we opened a completely new domestic market.”
The industry is also seeing growth in younger demographics. GO RVing says 67% of RVers in Canada are now under the age of 55. Citing a 2020 report on family value cost analysis, the association says “RV vacations are on average 37% less expensive than vacations that involve driving and staying in a hotel, and 57% less expensive than flying and staying in a hotel.”
And the queen-size bed in the CanaDream RV is as comfortable as those in many hotels. The single mattresses above the driver’s seat are similar to a hotel cot. The blankets provided are warm and there is in-cabin heating that will keep you cozy in freezing temperatures and also air conditioning for those summer heat waves that are more intense and frequent.
The campgrounds are noisy, though. Many in British Columbia are built near to train tracks and that will disturb your sleep, as will the early-morning bird calls. Those disturbances are hand-in-hand with camping, as is the fire you make and marshmallows that roast over it and the stars you gaze up at and contemplate and the romanticized memories you carry with you — which is why the activity is so deeply woven into the Canadian identity.
While I found there was stress and work involved with operating the RV, I remind myself that there is stress and work making your way through the tube stations of London or navigating a waterway in a kayak on a windy day. The RV was out of my comfort zone but I succeeded at it and came away committed to doing it again. My family adored the experience more than many others and that’s the best reason to make a journey that seemed so foreign to me a familiar part of our life.
Tips for First-Time RV Trips
1. It’s About Time: Many accidents and annoying inconveniences happen because someone is in a hurry. I could see where RV trips could go awry if the driver was rushed to meet a deadline. So, take your time. Plan your activities far enough apart that you won’t be racing for a start time. Also, take your time before you drive off. Check the interior and exterior of the vehicle, adjust the side mirrors and other apparatus until you feel confident.
2. Be Attentive: CanaDream provides guests with a tutorial video on how to drive their vehicle. View it as if you were in a classroom, take notes, visualize possible scenarios where you may need to act fast, and re-watch anything that may be unclear to you.
3. Close the Windows When Driving: I made the mistake of leaving a couple of windows open in the bunk area above the driving cockpit. The wind on the highway affected the vehicle, making the steering less steady and adding unnecessary stress.
4. Have a Spotter When Reversing: RVs have a couple of blind spots that your side mirrors may not help you with. Have one of your passengers or a staff or guest at the campground help you back into your parking space. New models have back-up cameras but you may still want a spotter for tight spaces.
5. Remember that CanaDream Has Probably Thought of Everything: When I hooked up the hose at the campground to the nozzle to access the city’s water supply, I didn’t realize how hard it would be to unhook the device. After seeing me struggle, my wife told me there was a wrench in the RV’s bathroom, which was all I needed to do the trick.
6. Pack for Fun: Golf clubs, sports gear, BBQ treats, bicycles, picnic baskets, and marshmallows and chocolate for s’mores will all fit in the RV. There’s storage all over the vehicle. Unlike most road trips, where trunk space is limiting, bring it all when you RV — you just might use some of it!
7. Cooking Tips: That storage space applies to items you might want to bring from your kitchen cabinet. Olive oil, pasta, canned foods — all are worth packing for snacks and meals. The propane-powered stove heats up fast and cooks quickly. Be aware that the smoke alarm is positioned near to it, so even if you open all windows and doors it is likely to go off.
8. Draining the Sewer: Dealing with sewage waste is the most unappealing part of RVing. It is made simple with the CanaDream RVs. The vehicles have large sewage hoses connected to the toilet. All campgrounds have spots where RVs can empty their sewage, some of those spots may be within your designated parking spot. You position the end of the hose over the correct opening, pull a lever on the RV and the sewage tank empties. A couple of additional flushes clear the line. Not a difficult process.
9. Inside the Cabin: The vehicle has slideouts that are an incredible plus. The slideout in the rear expands the length to 28 feet (from 24) and width to about 27 feet (from 23). That extra width allows for wardrobe doors in the bedroom to open and extra space between the dinette and stove to appear. One thing that doesn’t change is the interior height. It is seven feet but the shower height, after you step over the ledge and into, is tighter. If I were an inch or two taller than 5-foot-9 my head would have touched the overhead sun roof. There is a remarkable amount of high-tech in the cabin to let you know when water or electrical power is low. It’s all handy and helpful as you make your way through your trip.
MORE ABOUT CANADREAM RENTALS
Cost: Based on a search of CanaDream’s website, a nightly rental cost in August starts at $315 for a Midi Motorhome vehicle booked in Vancouver, with a minimum of three nights required. The charge includes 100 kilometres (approximately 65 miles) per night. Check with CanaDream for the ideal vehicle for you and to learn about fall savings that could apply to your booking.
Editor’s Note: CanaDream provided author Adrian Brijbassi with use of one of its motor homes for three days and Destination BC and Tourism Langley contributed to covering some other costs of the trip. Neither CanaDream, Destination BC nor Tourism Langley reviewed the article before it was published.