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RVs offer comfy camping—but do your homework 

Frequent travelers Darren and Stephanie McCombs took their adventures on the road when the pandemic hit in 2020. Photo: Joe Imel
The McCombs currently travel in a Grand Design Imagine XLS. Photo: Joe Imel
A family roasts marshmallows at Lake Barkley State Resort Park. Photo: Kentucky State Parks

FOR THOSE WHO LOVE NATURE BUT DON’T ENJOY ROUGHING IT, RV camping is the perfect compromise. Kentucky is flush with campgrounds that accommodate all different types of campers, and sites are filling up faster than ever. 

Many people took the plunge and bought a recreational vehicle in 2021—sales rose by almost 40% last year, according to the RV Industry Association. 

Stephanie and Darren McCombs are among those who jumped on the RV bandwagon in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stephanie is the communications specialist at Big Rivers Electric in Henderson, though the couple live across the river in Indiana. They also are known as the “Landlocked Lovebirds,” the handle of the social media accounts where they document their travels. 

The pair began sharing their adventures in 2016 with their international travels. Their YouTube channel has more than 5,000 subscribers and they’ve visited more than 20 countries so far. 

When the pandemic brought their international trips to a halt, the McCombses decided to look at RVs for some closer travel opportunities. Their first RV was an 18-foot Forest River Pod, which they quickly realized wouldn’t fit their needs long-term. Darren advises potential buyers to take their time. 

“Don’t get in too big of a hurry when choosing a rig,” he says. “Go to dealerships and look around, get inside of them. Consumer Reports gives a lot of info about quality, safety and value.” 

They soon traded in their pod and got a larger trailer, a Grand Design Imagine XLS. Stephanie found Facebook community groups to be a useful resource for choosing an RV. 

“If you’re narrowing down a camper type, look for Facebook groups specific to that type of camper,” she says. “You’ll learn all about what people love about that camper, what they don’t love. You can ask specific questions and get honest answers.” 

The McCombses took their Grand Design all the way to Colorado and plan to visit Red River Gorge Geological Area in the spring. They have found the RV community to be welcoming and a great resource for newbies. 

“People at campgrounds are so friendly,” Stephanie says. “They’re always ready to help you back into your spot; they’ll invite you in to look around inside their camper.” 

The RV life has agreed with the McCombses so well that Stephanie says it’s practically contagious. Darren’s parents have bought an RV, and Stephanie’s parents also are considering one. 

Try before you buy 

Renting an RV is one option for new campers to try out a certain type of rig. It also appeals to a crowd who wants to camp without the investment of buying an RV. Large companies like Cruise America or Outdoorsy offer RV rentals, but there are some local options as well. 

David White and his wife, Shelly, own Lake Cumberland RV Rentals in Burnside. Out of their seven years in business, White says the past two have been busier than usual. Their customers are a mix of regulars and newcomers who want to test out RV vacations. 

White says a common mistake people make is buying a camper before considering how often they would really use it. 

“I say if you go camping six or more times a year, it’s probably worth buying a camper. Otherwise you are paying a lot of money for storage and maintenance without much use for the cost,” he says. 

The nine campers White rents are all delivered to campsites and set up for the customer. Other companies, like Visone RV in East Bernstadt, allow customers to drive their rental off the lot and handle their own set up and take down. 

Kenny Cox, a sales representative for Visone RV, says their rentals stay booked steadily during peak camping season. His advice for a newcomer to the RV world: Try before you buy. 

“Rent or borrow if possible to see what you think before you buy a camper,” Cox says. “It’s a large investment to make, so make sure it’s something you are going to be interested in for the long haul.” 

Have RV, will camp 

Once you have your rig ready, the Bluegrass State has a wide range of campgrounds to choose from. 

Good Sam, an RV membership service, lists more than 140 campgrounds throughout Kentucky in its online directory. Out of those, 31 are part of the Kentucky State Parks system. 

State parks saw their own boom in 2021. Nights of camping sold went up 9% between 2019 and 2021, according to Christy Combs, parks regional administrator. Combs believes camping provided a tried-and-true outlet for people seeking respite from daily life. 

“Our hiking trails have been utilized much more than usual. Campers had to do more on their own, but people still come out for fun and enjoyment. They can use the playgrounds, the pools, the beaches,” she says. 

Whether you want a primitive campsite with no frills or full hook-ups near amenities, the state parks have options. But Combs reminds campers to consider their needs before booking a site. 

“All campsites are not created equal,” she says. “Know what size you are comfortable with. Do you want to be near the bathhouse or the playground? Is your water hose and electrical cord long enough for that site?” 

Once you determine your ideal site, planning ahead is vital. Combs says holiday weekends sometimes sell out a year in advance. She advises to book six to 12 months ahead for popular camping times, and four to six months in advance for the rest of the year. 

The voice of experience 

My own family embarked on an RV adventure in July 2020. We packed two adults, three kids and a dog into a 38-foot travel trailer and started on a cross-country road trip that lasted a full year. I am often asked for tips on RVs and camping, and these are my top questions to ask yourself if you are considering an RV vacation: 

How much time do you plan on spending in your camper? If you are a serious outdoor person who just needs a place to sleep, you may just want a pop-up camper or a pod. If you want a full kitchen, separate sleeping quarters and a private bathroom, you need a bigger rig. 

What is your towing capacity? Be very clear about your towing vehicle’s specifications and what kind of hitch you need. You don’t want to damage your vehicle by overestimating its abilities. 

What types of amenities do you want in a campground? If your family likes activities like swimming and mini golf, there are campgrounds that fit that bill. If you prefer the solitude of nature, consider that when choosing your site. 

What kind of weather and terrain are you traveling in? Make sure your camper and equipment are suited for the climate or the camper may end up with a frozen underbelly or leaky roof. 

Are you ready to make friends? Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need extra eyes while backing in, or you need to borrow a level. Camping folk are typically generous and ready to lend a hand, so be ready to accept help and offer it in turn. 

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