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The Urban Approach: RVing in Big Cities

In those sales brochures, you see pictures of RVs meandering down country roads, nary a car in site. You can sense how relaxing it must be to drive along a road bordered by wheat fields and produce stands. What the brochures don’t show, of course, is a 42-foot rig in Los Angeles at rush hour during, say, Labor Day weekend—enough to cause any driver panic. Never fear, though. With a little preparation, you can safely navigate big cities. Here are some tips to help make the experience less stressful.

Map out your approach route ahead of time. The best way to do this is using an RV-specific navigation device, which will alert you to routes with obstacles such as bridges that are too low for your rig to clear. A good navigation device will also alert you to tunnels—such as the George Washington, Lincoln, and Holland in the New York area—through which you can’t travel with a propane tank.

Plan your parking.

If visiting a museum or other big city attraction, call ahead and check on parking. Make sure to let them know the height of your RV. Often someone will tell you, “Sure, we have a parking garage.” What they neglect to tell you, however, is that the garage roof is only 8 feet high. Also, look into parking in an outlying area and taking public transit into town.

Prep your rig.

Double-check that your mirrors are properly adjusted. Also, be sure that your windshield wiper fluid is full. There’s nothing worse than being stuck behind a truck in heavy traffic during a rainstorm, and having muddy water sprayed all over your windshield with no way to clean it!

Fuel up outside town.

Many inner city gas stations have only one entrance and exit, making it difficult for you to reach the fuel pump. Rural and suburban gas stations have much more room to maneuver.

Watch those signs.

It’s easy to concentrate on heavy city traffic and overlook “unfamiliar” signs. (While driving through Boston, for instance, I almost didn’t see a sign indicating I was about to enter a “Passenger Cars Only” lane, something we don’t have in my home state of Washington.)

Devise a driving strategy.

Some people like driving through big cities at rush hour as the slow, stop-and-go traffic is easier to cope with than fast-moving traffic and cars darting in and out. Also, many RV drivers prefer the middle lane as it’s nice not having to constantly adjust for merging traffic. And remember: driving in big cities isn’t always about freeways. You might find yourself on a side street with overhanging tree limbs or low overhead wires. Stay alert.

Brush up on your driving skills.

Find a place to practice making tight turns. Set up cones at the far end of a mall parking lot early in the morning. Don’t get discouraged; remember that hitting an orange cone is much better than hitting an orange car, and practice will make perfect. Are you still uncomfortable with the idea of driving in a big city? Consider enrolling in an RV driving school, perhaps through the Recreational Vehicle Association, which offers classes in 35 states.