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Plan a Road Trip

When my son, Diego, was 6 months old, his father and I flew with him to Mexico for a beach vacation. He was a dream: well-behaved, undemanding, and--let's face it--mostly asleep. As we were getting off our return flight home, rested and patting ourselves on the back, a flight attendant deadpanned, "You won't be able to do that for long."

Alas, she was right. Flying with a 3-year-old holds no charm.

Which is why I had a brainstorm this past summer: RVing. As other modes of travel have fallen prey to the recession, RVing has held its own. It's easy to see why: It's like taking a rolling staycation. Not only can you bring all your favorite things, but you can also keep costs down by sleeping under your own roof and preparing your own food. So, what's RVing like? We ended up loving the experience. We'd do it again--with a few tweaks, of course. Read on for our hard-won tips.

Getting Ready to Roll
I tracked down an RV at the Linden, NJ, offices of EI Monte RV, one of the largest motor-home rental companies in the country. (Cruise America RV is the other; you can find dealers near you at GoRVing.com/locator.) It had room enough for four adults and two kids, so my husband, Rob, and I decided to invite (and split costs with) our friends chuck and Jessica, who have a 3-year-old son, Eli. Our destination would be one we city slickers probably wouldn't have visited any other way: Rocky Gap State Park, in far west Maryland, which had received raves on Rv parkreviews.com and Tripadvisor.com.

An RV is more complicated to operate than a car, as became clear when EI Monte made us watch a half-hour training film. It covered such things as our 27-foot vehicle's wide turn radius, using the generator for electricity, and how to dump the black water we'd produce when we used the toilet, kitchen sink, and shower. Then a rental agent walked us through the RV, showing us how to use the air conditioning and, to Diego's delight, the "pop-out," which, with a push of a button, moves a section of wall out a few feet to create more room inside while you're parked.

Something else we checked out: whether the configuration of the RVs we were considering would safely accommodate Diego's and Eli's car seats. The use of car seats (and seat belts, for that matter) in RVs is not federally regulated, believe it or not. Laws vary, sometimes dramatically, from state to state. Some require the use of car seats (and that all RVs be equipped with seating that accommodates them), while others require only that some seat belts be available. Some RVs have seats and seat belts that will work with car seats, but in positions that aren't safe-- namely, facing sideways instead of forward or placed behind a table or some other fixture that could cause injury in the event of a crash.

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