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MAKING THE MOST OF THE TRIP

RV rental rates vary widely, depending on the company and time of year. The high season for most of the country is summer, while Florida's high season is winter. High season rates average $125 to $200 a day, $50 less in low season. Multiple-night packages are almost always more cost-effective.

You'll undoubtedly find hidden charges: daily rental insurance, (usually optional, around $12 a day; as with rental car insurance, check your own policy before buying theirs; you may be covered); additional mileage charges (29 cents a mile at Cruise America, for example); vehicle provisioning kits (household items, towels, etc., if you don't want to bring your own); security deposits, taxes, refilling of propane tanks, etc.

The average RV will get only 10 to 11 miles per gallon, and you pay for the gas. Campsites range from free (some state and national park facilities, for instance) to $40 for the new, fancy RV resorts with all amenities (such as luxury places with the words "golf club" tacked on); most KOA and Good Sam Parks run $15 to $18 with "full hookups" -- water, electricity and sewer; again, prices will probably be higher in summer. Many don't accept reservations; during high season, it's best to arrive early and call ahead.

The Recreation Vehicle Rental Association has a directory listing more than 270 rental companies. The guide is available for $10 by calling (800) 972-1074, Ext. 3, or writing to 2023 Lucas Drive, Dallas, Texas 75219.

Cruise America is the largest network for rentals: call (800) 327-7799, or write to Cruise America, 11 W. Hampton Ave., Mesa, Ariz. 85210; www.cruiseamerica.com.

Hints: A one-way cross-country rental trip is cost-prohibitive for most people; drop-off charges can run $750 or more. You may be able to cut costs significantly by playing the role of a transporter -- moving a vehicle from west to east in the fall (as we did) or east to west in the spring.

Cruise America, for example, will give you 10 free days to transport a vehicle from one point to another. After that, you pay a per-diem rate.

Invest in a good campground directory. We found the annual Trailer Life Campground/RV Park & Services Directory ($19.95) extremely user-friendly (available from the Good Sam Club).

Members of KOA or the Good Sam Club get 10 percent discounts at participating accommodations. KOA's Value Kard is $10; contact KOA, P.O. Box 30558, Billings, Mont. 59114; (406) 248-7444; www.koakampgrounds.com. For Good Sam Parks memberships ($12 new members), contact P.O. Box 6885, Englewood, Colo. 80155; (800) 234-3450; www.tl.com

-- Jill Schensul

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