The RV Life
Recreational vehicles are changing the ways Americans vacation
It's the opposite of chic, somewhat rustic and rough. Yet the fastest-growing means for vacationing in America is the recreational vehicle, and the people using them are the finest travelers our country has.
You meet them with increasing frequency. They can be your best friends who have just returned from a three-month trip through the national parks--in a shiny new motor home--and claim it's the best thing they've ever done. They are your neighbors who have bought a trailer they're going to use to "winter" in a luxury RV resort of Florida. They are images of yourself as you day-dream about getting away from it all, buying a recreational vehicle, and taking off to see the great outdoors, the sights of the Southwest, the scattered grandchildren across the land.
But how do you get started? Buying a recreational vehicle--an RV--is a major investment that can even exceed $40,000 and $50,000. Is it worth the outlay? Will you enjoy the lifestyle of the semi-nomad? Will you get restless and claustrophobic, or will you have the travel experience of a lifetime? A bit of analysis is in order:
The vehicles themselves
"RVs"--a generic term for a conveyance that combines transportation with living quarters--come in two varieties. They can be motorized (like motor homes or van conversions) or towable units (like travel trailers, truck campers, and folding camp trailers.)
The motor homes, most popular among retired Americans, are built on or as part of a self-propelled vehicle chassis, with kitchen, sleeping, bathroom, and dining facilities all easily accessible to the driver's cab from the inside. They range from 18 to 40 feet in length, can sleep from two to eight people, and cost from $22,000 for "compacts" to $60,000 for larger types, with luxury-status models going way up to $150,000 and more.
Conversions are cheaper (but smaller.) These are vans, originally manufactured by an auto maker, that have been modified for recreation purposes through the installation of side windows, carpeting, paneling, custom seats and sofas, and assorted accessories. They can sleep from two to four people, and sell for an average of $20,000.
Travel trailers are hard-sided units designed to be towed by an auto, van, or pickup truck, and can be unhitched from the tow vehicle. They sleep four to eight people, and provide such comforts as kitchen, toilet, sleeping, dining, and living facilities, electric and water systems, and modern appliances. Models range from $10,000 to $25,000, depending on size and features.
Truck campers are camping units that are loaded onto the bed or chassis of a pickup truck. Many have kitchen and bathroom facilities. They sleep two to six, and go for $4,000 to $10,000.
Folding camping trailers are units with collapsible sides that fold for lightweight towing by a motorized vehicle. Set up, they provide kitchen, dining, and sleeping facilities for four to eight people, and sell for between $1,500 and $12,000.
In an RV, you follow your own flexible time schedule, without fixed reservations anywhere, without depending on others (hotels, trains, planes.) You don't constantly pack and unpack; in fact, you carry no luggage. You cook when you like, eat out only when you wish, say good-bye to greasy spoons, and usually enjoy home-prepared food.
You can have your pets with you. You can visit friends or relatives anywhere in the country without imposing on them: your RV, parked in their driveway, becomes your own private guest cottage--as well as your summer beach house, your winter chalet.
You make friends easily upon arriving at a camping ground or RV resort. RV-ers are, in general, enthusiasts who love their lifestyle and like sharing it with new people. They are constantly attending rallies, caravans, campouts, meeting with other RV-ers to share common interests.
"It's difficult to be lonely in a campground," says one confirmed RV-er. "Our luxury RV resort in Florida ($15 a night) was constantly holding social events. Between dinners and galas, folk dances and exercise classes, meeting new people was not only simple--it was unavoidable."
And RV travel is economical. You can purchase fresh local produce on the road and cook your own meals. Your stay at campgrounds is usually nominal ($10 to $40 a night is typical.) And there's no one to tip. One study shows that an RV vacation costs about half the expense of a car/hotel vacation, one-third the cost of a bus/hotel or train/hotel holiday, and one-fourth the cost of an air/hotel vacation.
But RV travel is not for everyone--it may not be for you. A Philadelphia couple I know who recently spent four months traveling across country in a motor home issued the following caveats: "Be sure," they said, "you feel extremely comfortable with whomever you will be traveling with; you're going to spend long periods of time in close quarters. Be sure you're an expert driver and enjoy spending long periods on the road. Above all, don't take this kind of trip unless you're extremely flexible, elastic even, and able to cope with new situations, which happen all the time. Mechanical breakdowns are not uncommon and you have to be able to handle them without getting upset."