There is undoubtedly a sense of romance to the American road trip. Hiring a cheap RV, campervan motorhome in the USA and hitting the open highways and byways is something of a rite of passage and on the bucket lists of millions. Well, Motorhome Republic can make that dream come true.
You may have your sights on New Orleans and Miami in the south for your campervan roadtrip, or perhaps Los Angeles and San Francisco out west. But what about Montana and North Dakota up top, while New York and Boston also take you towards Canada. An RV Rental Las Vegas is also a great choice! It’s certainly not an easy decision!
United in a State of awe
Imagine taking refuge in a remote spot in the middle of nowhere, with nothing for miles and the sun your only friend. Waking at dawn and breathing in the freshest of air, excitement and anticipation ahead of you. Welcome to your USA RV road trip. Perhaps the Pacific Coast Highway of California or the Cape Cod route in Massachusetts is what you’re looking for? Or the Red Rock Country of Arizona? Whatever direction you choose, America is a nation built for an RV or campervan hire holiday. Being one of the largest states in America, a California RV Rental gives you the ability to explore a number of scenic areas. Let your hair down and discover one of the greatest cities on earth Los Angeles, or take an adventure and experience the spectacular natural scenery of Yosemite National Park. With favourable weather and so much to offer, California is a great option for your US roadtrip experience.
RV rental made easy
There is such a vast array of RV, motorhome & campervan hire options, it’s difficult to know where to start. Here are some handy guidelines for your RV rental:
Class A Motorhome/RV: The bigger choice, a lot of Americans spend extended periods in their Class A integrated motorhome. This is a prime example of RV luxury and, sometimes high cost.
Class B Motorhome/RV: More semi-integrated, these versions are smaller. Class B is a term mainly used in North America and relates to a raised roof, with a van chassis. Generally self-contained with showers and a toilet.
Class C Motorhome/RV: More of a van/truck chassis, often with slide-outs to create more space. Great value for money.
Road rules of America
It’s important to remember that each state often has its own set of laws, so always look out for variations. You drive on the right-hand side of the road and the traffic light sequence is red, green, yellow, then back to red again. Hitch-hiking or picking them up is illegal in certain states, while you can often take a right at a red stop light, unless signage indicates otherwise. Four-way stop signs are also a minefield. The first person to stop has right of way, but not everyone plays fair. Just be patient and don’t speed. It’s also worth investing in a GPS or navigation system. Check with Motorhome Republic if this is part of the hire package – you don’t want to get lost in America.
You’ve picked the right motorhome team
There are so many options for RV rental in the USA, with hundreds of sites and brands. Fortunately Motorhome Republic can take away that hassle, providing you with a selection of companies in America, from the smaller, more locally-based offerings to the international names you already know. The choice is entirely up to you, so don’t delay and get booking.
A guide to driving a motorhome in the USA
A road trip across the United States of America is on every traveller’s wishlist. This vast and diverse country is home to an array of interesting things to do and see, and the best way to get around is without a doubt a self-drive holiday. Renting a motorhome gives you flexibility, freedom and the chance to explore at your own pace.
Before you hit the road, it’s important to wrap your head around what it’s like to drive in the USA. We have compiled a handy guide to help you prepare for this exciting journey. From road rules to travel planning tips, we’ve got you covered.
USA Road Rules
While exact road rules vary from state to state (each state has its own official laws), most of them overlap. We can’t cover every state in detail in this guide, but we can provide you with of a good overview of what to expect across the country. If you’d like to do further research, you can find more information on the Advanced Drivers of America website.
Please note that distances and speeds are all measured in miles in the USA rather than kilometres as they are measured elsewhere.
The type of licence you are required to carry will depend on which state(s) you are driving through. Some states allow you to present your foreign licence only, while others require that you also present an ‘International Driving Permit’. You will definitely need this permit if your licence is not written in the English language. Be sure to research each state’s requirements before you leave. If in doubt, get an International Driving Permit just in case.
The speed limits differ from state to state. The fastest limit in the USA is 85 miles per hour, but this limit is only found in some parts of Texas. Throughout the rest of the country, the top speed limit is usually either 80 miles per hour (on the interstates or in western states), or 70 miles per hour (in eastern states). The fastest limit in Hawaii is 60 miles per hour. Urban and smaller roads have lower limits. No matter which state you are driving in, it’s illegal to exceed the speed limit, so be sure to pay close attention to the speed limit signs.
Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal in the United States. In most places, the limit is 0.8%. That said, in some states the limit is lower. The only way to be completely certain that you are safe to get behind the wheel is to avoid consuming any alcohol before you drive your RV rental.
Federal law requires all vehicles to be equipped with seatbelts, but the rules surrounding seat belt usage are slightly different in each state. In some states, it is a secondary offense to travel without a seatbelt, while in others, it is a primary offense. In addition, some states require all passengers to wear a seatbelt, while other states only require passengers in the front seat to do so. New Hampshire is the only major exception – in this state, neither front-seat passengers nor adult drivers are required to wear seatbelts. Rules may also differ depending on your age, although all states have separate laws for children which require them to be adequately and safely restrained. We highly recommend you wear a seatbelt at all times the vehicle is moving, no matter which state you are in – however, if you would like some clarification around the laws, it’s best to ask your motorhome rental company when you pick up your vehicle.
Restrictions apply to driving while using a cellphone, although again, these vary from state to state (some see this as a secondary offense, some a primary offense). To be safe, we recommend pulling over in your US motorhome hire to answer or make any calls, or using a hands-free system.
If you are used to driving on the left side of the road, then remember to take extra care in the USA; here, everyone drives on the right.
The centre of the road is marked by yellow lines to separate traffic going in opposite directions. For traffic going in the same direction on multi-lane roads, each lane is marked by broken white lines. Where there are solid white lines (rather than broken), changing lanes is discouraged but not prohibited. Where there are double white lines, changing lanes is strictly prohibited. A similar system is in place for the yellow centre lines. You can overtake by crossing the centre line briefly if the lines are broken. If there is both a broken and a solid yellow line, you can only overtake if the broken yellow line is on your side. If there are two lines and they are both solid, no vehicles are permitted to cross the centre line for overtaking.
The give way rules at intersections will depend on which state you are driving your US RV rental in, and what type of intersection you are approaching. Below is a general guide to give you an idea of what to expect.
In most states, ‘priority-to-the-right’ rules apply at uncontrolled intersections, whereby vehicles give precedence to any others approaching from the right. When a road terminates (known as a ‘T intersection’), all vehicles looking to leave that road by turning left or right must give way to straight-through traffic.
Unless you’re from Canada or South Africa, you’re probably unfamiliar with all-way stops (also known as four-way stops). As the name suggests, these are intersections with multiple entry points. At these intersections, all approaching traffic must come to a stop. Once this has happened, the vehicles may leave in the order they arrived. If all vehicles appeared to arrive at the same time, then ‘priority-to-the-right’ rules apply. These intersections are clearly marked by hexagonal STOP signs or ALL WAY signs, as well as signs which state the number of entry points.
The USA follows the universal colour code for traffic lights (also known as stop lights). Green means go, red means stop and yellow means you must try to come to a stop if safe. Following the same code, arrows show whether you can or cannot turn. At most red lights, right turns are permitted once you have given way to pedestrians and other vehicles – provided, of course, that there is no signage prohibiting this maneuver (look out for ‘NO RIGHT ON RED TURN’ signs).
There are not many roundabouts (also known as traffic circles) in the USA. If you do come across one, you must give way to circulating traffic (approaching from the left) before joining.
The colour of indicator lights (signals) in the USA are either red or amber, depending on the vehicle.
The Highway System
In the USA, the network of main roads, highways and interstates is referred to as the ‘NHS’ – or the National Highway System.
Spanning a total length of more than 77,000 kilometres (nearly 50,000 miles), the USA’s interstate system is nearly as complex as its official name: ‘the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways’. Marked by red and blue shields, these highways are easily recognisable.
The roads that make up the interstate are known as ‘freeways’, and they usually have the highest speed limits within the state. The interstates are accessed via on- and off-ramps, and tolls apply to some sections.
The network follows a numbering system. As a general rule, highways which run east to west start with the letter ‘I’ followed by even numbers. Those that run from north to south have odd numbers after the ‘I’. The interstates with an even number are ordered from south to north sequentially, while aAll interstates with an odd number are ordered from west to east.
This can be a bit confusing when freeways are long, twisting and appear to be going in different directions! Try to remember that the direction is determined by the ‘overall direction’ of the entire freeway, and you should be able to figure it out.
Some interstates feature three digits; this means they are auxiliary highways, such as radial roads or spurs feeding into urban centres. The third number is placed in front of the main interstate number. For example, I-310 is an auxiliary of I-10.
As you travel along the freeways in your rv rental USA, you will see ‘mile markers’. This system begins at either the southern or western end. The numbers restart whenever the freeway crosses a southern or western state line.
Before interstate highways, there existed ‘US routes’. There are still a few routes in use throughout the country. Marked with black and white shields, these have their own numbering system (which is similar to that of the interstates). Each route is slightly different – some are freeways, some are tolls, and some are unique altogether. In situations where there are tolls, a toll-free option is always available nearby.
The NHS runs throughout the entire USA, but each state also has its own network, made up of ‘state highways’. Connecting towns and cities, these roads vary in quality, as the state highway markers vary in form. Some common markers include state flags, the shape of the state and circular shields.
It’s important to familiarise yourself with US road signs before heading out on your US campervan rental road trip. Below are some of the most common signs to look out for.
Most speed limit signs are white and square-shaped with black letters, although these differ slightly from state to state. Another group of signs uses the same design; the ‘regulation of movement’ signs. These signs convey instructions about certain maneuvers, such as ‘DO NOT PASS’ or ‘TRUCKS USE RIGHT LANE’.
Most regulatory signs are red, white and black, although their shape varies widely. Main signs, such as STOP signs or YIELD (give way) signs are consistent throughout the country, whereas others are different in each state. The STOP sign is hexagonal and the YIELD sign is triangular. Another national sign is the prohibited sign – a circle with a symbol and a red slash through the middle. The symbol indicates a maneuver, and the red slash indicates that the pictured maneuver is prohibited (for example, ‘no right turn’).
These white signs are shaped like a cross and read ‘RAILROAD CROSSING’ on the inside. In some states, these are yellow and circle-shaped with the letters ‘RR’ instead.
Most warning signs are shaped like diamonds and yellow and black in colour (unless they are orange, in which case they are road works signs). Their purpose is to alert road users about upcoming hazards or changes, such as turns and bends, adjoining roads, sections of winding road, traffic lights, emergency vehicles, railways, animals, children, merging lanes, pedestrians, divided highways or narrowing roads – just to name a few! These signs are also used to illustrate natural hazards; for example, high winds or icy conditions.
These are the signs to keep an eye on to avoid getting lost. They are green and white in colour and feature important navigational information, for example: upcoming exits and distance to nearby destinations. They also highlight popular tourist attractions within the vicinity, as well as airports, railway stations and toll roads. In a select few states, signs may be brown, or blue and white, instead of the common green and white.
Also known as turnpikes, toll roads are found in some states throughout the US. As expected, toll roads vary throughout the country. Some feature the option for electronic payment, using systems such as ‘E-ZPass’, and some do not. Your motorhome rental may be equipped with an electronic pass; ask your rental provider when you pick it up (this pass means you can pay the fee at a later date). One thing all toll roads have in common is the option to pay with cash. You can find out how much each toll road costs by using the toll calculator on ‘The Toll Roads’ website.
Avoiding toll roads is such a common occurrence in the US that it has its very own term – ‘shunpiking’. Providing you have the time to take the alternatives, this can save you money (unless you end up spending more on petrol!). What’s more, sometimes shunpiking can take you through interesting towns you wouldn’t have come across otherwise.
Finding a park in small towns or rural areas is usually a breeze; there are plenty of parking lots or roadside spots available for a few coins or free-of-charge. The only thing to be aware of is ‘snow streets’ during the winter months. In heavy snow, you must leave the kerbs clear in certain areas so the snow ploughs can get through.
In big cities, parking can be a little more difficult. While each city is very different, below are some general guidelines to keep in mind.
In some areas, the curbs are painted with lines of different colours, with each colour indicating the type of parking that is allowed or not allowed. Green means you are able to park, as long as you follow any posted time restrictions. Red means no stopping or parking whatsoever. Blue means you are able to park if you have a disability permit. White means the space is reserved as a passenger loading or unloading zone. Yellow means the space is an unloading zone for merchandise vehicles only.
These signs are fairly universal throughout the country. ‘NO PARKING’ signs are usually red and white in colour. ‘NO STANDING’ signs are similar and mean you are allowed to stop for a few moments but not allowed to park.
In areas where you are allowed to park, check for green and white signs – these contain information about any rules you need to abide by. For example, there may be time restrictions in place or payment required.
The two most common options for paid parking are parking meters – self-operated machines on the side of the street which take small change – and paid parking lots, which tend to be inside private garages or buildings and usually accept a variety of payment methods, including cards.
Additional information about driving in the USA
Now that you have a better understanding about the US road rules, here are some other tips and tricks to keep you safe and comfortable on your journey.
In the case of an emergency, dial 911 – this is the number to call for urgent help regarding fires, crimes, car crashes or medical emergencies. You should be able to call this number from any phone, even if it is not connected to the US network. For more information, visit the 911.gov website.
The way the civil law system works in the US means vehicle insurance and liability insurance are compulsory. Your motorhome rental provider should sort out vehicle insurance (this will simply be added onto your rental charge), however it’s your responsibility to take out liability coverage. This may be covered by your motorhome rental provider, although this is not guaranteed, so it’s important to check. You may also be able to add liability insurance to your travel insurance policy.
In the US, vehicles travelling in both directions are legally required to stop and wait if yellow school buses are flashing their red lights. Buses flash these lights when school children are embarking or disembarking, to give them safe passage. The only exception is if you are travelling on a divided highway and you are on the opposite side of the road from the said bus – only then you may continue driving.
The US has strict laws surrounding open containers of alcohol in vehicles (i.e. bottles and cans). It is illegal to drive with any open containers, even bottles of spirits which have been re-capped, unless they are in the boot (trunk) and completely inaccessible by the driver as well as all passengers.
When travelling on multi-lane roads, you are allowed to overtake on the right and the left. Overtaking on the left is the preferred option, but keep an eye out for people overtaking on the right just in case. As you are travelling in a motorhome, it’s likely that many vehicles will try to overtake you, so this is something to be aware of at all times.
Information to help you plan your journey
See below for useful information and links to key websites, all of which will help you plan your trip before you hit the road.
Key travel information about each state can be found at the website 50states.com. This resource is hugely helpful in the planning stages of your journey and when you’re on the road.
The United States is a mammoth country and features some very, very long interstates and highways. You are going to want to make the most of rest stops! On freeways, keep an eye out for blue signs; these will let you know about services, food outlets and accommodation options at nearby exits. You may occasionally see company logos on these signs too; companies can pay to be featured.
On tolled highways, the rest stops are allowed to be commercialised, and therefore are very comprehensive. You’ll often find several food outlets, shops and free WiFi at each stop. On non-tolled highways, the rest stops are usually funded by the state government. The facilities here tend to be quite basic; think public toilets, parking and – if you’re lucky – vending machines and information kiosks.
The requirements around entering the US will depend on which country you are from. Citizens from several countries are eligible to apply for an ‘ESTA’ visa waiver, which allows them to enter the country for up to 90 days (ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorisation). ESTA-eligible countries include New Zealand, Australia, the UK, Chile and most of Western Europe. If your country is not on this list, you are required to apply for a nonimmigrant ‘B visa’ instead.
There are no controls between state borders, however as we outlined above, the road rules will likely be slightly different from one state to the next. Of course, if you are travelling to Mexico or Canada, then you will need to cross controlled, international borders. Please be aware that your rental company may not allow you to take your motorhome out of the country. Some companies will allow you to travel to Canada, but most prohibit travel into Mexico. Every motorhome rental company is different, so be sure to check your rental agreement. If you do decide to cross an international border, make sure you have the appropriate paperwork and visas ready.
If you’ll be on the road during winter, it’s important to plan ahead and prepare yourself for snow and harsh conditions. There are a few essential items you should travel with in the cold; a bag of kitty litter or sand to add traction to your wheels (in case you get stuck!), warm clothes and extra food. You should also consider renting a 4WD motorhome in the USA. Another thing to be aware of is possible engine freezing. It’s also important to regularly top up your fuel tank – don’t risk travelling near empty! For peace of mind, check out The Weather Network’s tips for winter driving before you hit the road.
We hope this guide for driving a motorhome in the USA has helped you in the planning stages! We wish you a safe and enjoyable road trip.