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RV lets family hit the road with hotel perks

PHIL RABY, Special to Postmedia Network

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Summer road trips are a great way to see the country, but dining on the go and dragging your suitcases in and out of a new hotel each night can get pretty tiresome.

But what if you could take your hotel with you? Rental motorhomes are like a hotel on wheels where you can leave your clothes unpacked, check in anytime you want and enjoy a home-cooked meal every night if wanted.

Of course, there are drawbacks to taking your accommodations on the road, such as higher fuel costs and the unseemly question of what to do with all that human waste you've been collecting along the way.

But for some people, the idea of hitting the open highway in a recreational vehicle is the epitome of freedom from the regimented structure of a traditional holiday. At least that was the goal of our family as we boarded a motorhome on a five-day journey to the Saguenay region of Quebec.

Before we could jump in and set off on the highway though, we had to find the perfect rolling home to take on our journey. There are a lot of RV dealers offering rentals across Canada, but a quick search on the Go RVing Canada website found what we were looking for at OWASCO RV Centre in Whitby, Ont. We opted for a 8-metre Coachmen Freelander with all the comforts of home, including a queen-size bed in the back for the grown-ups and large bunk over the cab in the front for our daughter.

Our rental also came with an introductory lesson in RV operation, which included the aforementioned indelicate question of how to the empty wastewater tanks that fill up with your daily ablutions and bathroom breaks.

As well, there are a few things to learn about how to use the electric awning, the extendable parts that slide out once parked, the gas generator and the propane appliances. If you've ever camped in a trailer before, some of these operations will be familiar to you, but if not, there is a bit of a learning curve to negotiate before you hit the road.

Once you've dispensed with the instructions, it's time to turn the key and set out on your adventure. No special driver's licence is needed to drive most RVs, but it does take a bit of getting used to before you feel comfortable piloting such a long vehicle.

Our 12-year-old daughter was excited about being able to sit at a dining table instead of a cramped backseat, but all passengers are still required to wear seatbelts, which even the dinette area has. Our rental was also equipped with built-in GPS, so finding our waypoints was a lot easier than parking the RV at each stop.

Our first destination was a KOA just outside of Quebec City. It proved to be an easy set-up at our pull-through site, which required no awkward reversing. The spot came with both electrical and water hook-ups, so there was no need to worry about filling or emptying water or waste tanks.

The KOA itself was very family friendly with a pool, children's playground, free movies and even WiFi throughout the campsite (though the reception was spotty). In addition, the helpful office staff connected us with a shuttle bus service that took us to explore Quebec City the next day.

After a "home-cooked" meal and a good night's sleep, we hopped on the shuttle for the short ride into the city centre just above the historic district and Place Royale where Samuel de Champlain (Quebec's founder) built his first home in 1608.

The streets come alive in summer with street performers, public art and the sights, sounds and smells of people enjoying themselves and the local cuisine. We took our lunch in a centuries-old bistro that served traditional French Canadian cuisine, as well as ubiquitous tourist favourites such as poutine.

After a full day of exploring, we hopped back on the return shuttle and joined our fellow campers as they relaxed around their bonfires and took advantage of the campsite's amenities. Our dinner was cooked in the motorhome again, which was quickly becoming a real cost saver and a great way to enjoy our favourite meals without line-ups, over-priced drinks or overdosing on salty and fatty foods.

The next day saw us packing up early and heading east to the Saguenay region, but first, a pit stop at the impressive Montmorency Falls on the way out of town. Standing 84 metres high and 46 metres wide, the falls are the tallest in Quebec and 30 metres higher than Niagara Falls.

For the adventurous, a suspension bridge crosses the top of the falls, followed by a long, wooden stairway to the bottom. Be prepared to get wet from the spray if you decide to take the stairs, but if you do make the effort you can take a scenic cable car back up to the top.

Back on the road, we were in for a long, but scenic journey along Route 138 to the Saguenay region and our next stay at Camp du Fjord, a family run park and horse stables with full-service or unserviced sites.

We opted for an unserviced site with a breathtaking, bluff top view of the St. Lawrence River and had no regrets about trading off electricity and a water hook-up for the view. The surrounding countryside was beautiful as well, with pretty pastures and riding trails that meander into a nearby forest and a secluded waterfall.

After a good night's rest, we pulled up stakes and drove a little ways down the road to Baie-Sainte-Catherine, where tourists come from the world for whale watching excursions. Our daughter wasn't keen on a boat cruise so we searched for a land-based option to see the beluga whales that are known to live in the area.

We discovered we were just a short ferry ride and a drive away from Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay, one of Quebec's most awe-inspiring parks and home to a number of endangered beluga pods.

Getting to the belugas was a 4-km hike each way, but the effort was entirely worth it when we reached the end of the trail and saw the white backs and tails of the whales surfacing in the fjord.

We watched these gentle creatures for a long time before finally beginning the return trek back to our parked RV. The rest of the trip was a leisurely drive back to Ontario with only one stop at another campground just outside of Montreal that featured its own waterpark.

Overall, our motorhome holiday was a roaring success. Did we save a lot of money over hotels and eating out? Probably not once you add the rental costs and fuel, but the freedom to go where you want and take your own bedding and food along for the ride was a priceless luxury for us.

NEED TO KNOW

-- Baie-Sainte-Catherine in the Saguenay region is about 1,000 km from Toronto.

-- Motorhome rentals range from about $1,000-$2,000 per week depending on the model size and options.

For more family travel ideas, see Tripswithkids.ca


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