The joys of RV life: recreational vehicles open up new horizons

The joys of RV life: recreational vehicles open up new horizons – Statistical Data Included

Robert Meyers

Whether planning an ambitious journey along the Alaska Highway or a getaway to the nearest lake resort, more travelers are discovering the flexibility, convenience, security, and even luxury of seeing the U.S.A. in their RV–a vacation lodge on wheels. Senior citizens with time to roam in their motorhome and busy families using a foldout camper on weekend breaks are becoming an increasingly visible part of the scenery on America’s roadways.

If it seems that you noticed more recreational vehicles than ever on your last visit to a national park or theme park, it’s because one in 12 U.S. vehicle-owning households now owns an RV, according to a recent University of Michigan study. That’s nearly seven million households, an increase of 7.8 percent over the past four years. Aging baby boomers are driving the gain.

Moderate gas prices and low interest rates are fueling RV sales, and in the post-September 11 climate, many Americans are seeking greater control of their trips. The trend toward domestic destinations also pumps up the RV market.

David Humphreys, president of Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), says, “Consumers are choosing RV travel not only because of fears of flying and desires to avoid airport hassles. More importantly, they want to slow down and enjoy time with their families, take charge of their own travel schedules, and experience .the freedom of traveling the country and escaping stress in the great outdoors.”

Indicators of the boom in RV travel include increased orders for 2002 models, a 30-40 percent surge in RV rentals, and increased attendance at RV shows around the country.

Many folks who have never pitched a tent like the idea of traveling in the comfort of an RV and staying at campgrounds. Some RV resorts are almost fancy. In Mesa and Gold Canyon, Arizona, Cal-Am Properties’ four resorts (for those 55 and older) offer amenities ranging from swimming pools and 18hole miniature golf courses to state-of-the-art fitness and computer centers. Weekly social calendars list more than 100 activities, from dinner dances to sports tournaments.

Motorhome interiors also can be quite upscale. Many of these “rolling condos” feature color-coordinated draperies, upholstering, and carpeting, along with kitchen appliances like ranges, microwaves, and refrigerators. A deluxe “home away from home” will have a living/dining area, bathroom with shower, queen bed, television, and plenty of closet and cupboard space. Some units even have storage beneath the floor.

As with new automobiles, RVs are increasingly energy-efficient. Every part of the RV from engine to door handles has been “put on a diet” so that the final product is lean. Tubular framework is in use; fiberglass has replaced wood; aluminum has replaced steel; water heaters, air conditioners, and furnaces are lighter. Lower, sleeker front-end designs to overcome wind drag reflect the new emphasis on aerodynamic styling.

Sunline’s Solaris Lite travel trailers measure 20 to 25 feet and can be towed by SUVs and some minivans. (The full-size Solaris model measures 26 to 30 feet.) Sunline, based in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country of Lancaster County, touts the stylish and sporty Advancer Lite as its “luxury lightweight” towable unit, which comes with upgraded conveniences such as double-door refrigerators, oak counters and tabletops, and four-speaker stereo system with CD player. The floorplans in many Sunline vehicles can be adapted to accommodate those with special needs.

Also popular with first-time RV buyers are mini-motorhomes like the Chinook Concourse, which has undergone many design modifications since its debut in 1971 as the first one-piece fiberglass motorhome. Easy to handle and loaded with amenities, the Concourse is dubbed the “Sports Car of Motorhomes.” In fact, the 21-foot Class C motorhome set the world speed record for motorhomes in 1998, reaching 99.776 m.p.h, in an event sanctioned by the Southern California Racing Association. In 2000, Chinook, a division of Trail Wagons Inc. of Yakima, Washington, introduced its roomy, 24-foot Destiny.

Although the initial financial outlay for a recreational vehicle definitely puts it in the “major purchase” category, there is real economy in traveling in an RV. In a cost comparison study by PKF Consulting, RV camping vacations were found to cost up to 42 percent less than driving the family car, staying in hotels, and eating in restaurants.

Nearly half of all RV owners finance the purchase of their vehicle with monthly payments tailored by the dealer, local bank, or other lender. Loans for both new and used large RVs extend up to 15 to 18 years. The average down payment is 9 percent. For most RV buyers, the interest on their loan is tax-deductible as second home mortgage interest.

Depending on the type of RV you choose, the cost can be less than a compact car or more than a three-bedroom house. Towables, designed to be towed by a car, van, or pickup truck, are less expensive than motorized units.

Motorized vehicles encompass the following categories:

Class A motorhome–Built on a specially designed motor vehicle chassis, the conventional motorhome (21 to 40 feet) is the largest and most luxurious type. It has kitchen, dining, bathroom, and sleeping (for up to 10 people) facilities conveniently accessible to the driver’s area from inside. The living unit generally includes electricity, heating, air conditioning, water, and propane gas.

These days it’s not unusual to find a washer/dryer, satellite dish, back-up camera, or a hot tub. Increasingly popular is the slideout; at the touch of button, the slideout moves a portion of the RV’s exterior outward as much as 3 1/2 feet to enlarge the living, dining, sleeping, or kitchen area. Price range: $50,000 to $500,000; average cost $117,500.

Type B motorhome–Commonly known as the van camper, this type is a full-size cargo van to which the RV manufacturer has added a raised roof (for head room) and sleeping, kitchen, and bathroom facilities. The Type B is the most economical and maneuverable of the motorized RVs. Price range: $35,000 to $65,000; average cost $56,520.

Type C motorhome–A compact version of the conventional motorhome, the mini-motorhome (20 to 28 feet) is built on a van frame with an attached cab section. It usually provides a sleeping bunk atop the cab in addition to a bedroom in the back. When not in use, this overhead compartment can be used for storage. Some models come with slide-outs. Price range: $45,000 to $75,000; average cost $56,770.

Van conversions–These are typically manufactured by an automaker, then modified for added comfort by a company specializing in customized vehicles. They seat seven to 12, sleep up to four, and are popular for towing travel trailers and folding camping trailers. Price range: $22,000 to $48,000; average cost $32,795.

Types of towables include:

Travel trailer–Ranging from 12 to 35 feet in length, it sleeps up to eight people and is towed by means of a bumper or frame hitch. The unit can be detached at your destination, freeing up the towing vehicle for short trips and running errands. Lightweight trailers (less than 26 feet) can be towed by most six-cylinder family cars, and some even offer a slideout. Price range: $8,000 to $63,000 (without tow vehicle); average cost $14,700 (less for a lightweight).

Fifth-wheel travel trailer–This unit can be equipped the same as the conventional travel trailer but is constructed with a raised forward section that allows a bi-level floor plan, with the “master bedroom” over the truck bed. The trailer (21 to 40 feet) is designed to be towed by a pickup truck equipped with a fifth-wheel hitch located in the truck bed. Price range: $12,800 to $97,000 (without tow vehicle); average cost $23,790.

Folding camping trailer–Sleeping up to eight people, the fold-down unit is mounted on wheels and connected with collapsible sidewalls. Once at the campground, it becomes a free-standing unit, so the family is free to take off in the car. Screened windows and the feeling of sleeping under canvas appeal to the traditional camper. Even small cars can tow a fold-out, and the low price appeals to first-time RVers. Amenities include stoves, refrigerators and showers; some models even have slideouts. Price range: $3,600 to $11,600 (without tow vehicle); average cost $5,230.

Truck camper–Designed to be loaded onto or affixed to the bed or chassis of a truck, the truck camper is popular for backroad journeys and accessing remote locales. With the boom in pickup sales, adding a camper is an easy, economical way to get into RVing. The truck camper sleeps up to six and may include such options as toilets, showers, kitchen facilities, air-conditioners, and pop-up roofs. Price range: $4,500 to $21,900 (without tow vehicle); average cost $13,380.

For those who want to sample the RV lifestyle before committing themselves to buying a unit, renting an RV is a good way to “test drive” the concept. More than 400 national rental and local RV outlets offer late year models.

For more on RV travel, contact Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (TravelAmerica Magazine), P.O. Box 2999, Reston, VA 20195-0999; (888) Go RVing; or


Membership camping Certainly has its advantages. When you buy into a private membership campground, you are able to spend your free time enjoying the amenities as often as you choose according to the terms of your purchase.

In 1972, an innovative concept emerged that added even more value by linking together a network enabling campground members to have access to the others as they traveled. It is this idea that shaped the first nationwide, reciprocal-use network–Coast to Coast Resorts.

As Coast to Coast membership grew, it became eligible for a group discount benefit package that now includes emergency road service, low-cost RV/auto/homeowners insurance, RV and boat financing, special banking for “people 0n the go,” discount telephone calling cards, a special Coast to Coast Visa credit card, health insurance, motorhome and car rentals, Coast to Coast travel magazine, and the annual Great North American RV Rally. Members can also participate in discounted dining, hotel stays, cruise and vacation packages, and access to a worldwide network of condominiums.

Thirty years after its founding, Coast to Coast Resorts is the oldest and largest membership camping and recreation system in the world, boasting a network of nearly 1,000 private campgrounds all over North America and nearly 200,000 members at three membership levels.

In order to join, you must first purchase a membership or ownership at one of the private affiliate resorts in the Coast to Coast network. Owning an RV is optional; many of the resorts offer cabins, park models, trailers, and other accommodations for rent. To learn more about Coast to Coast Resorts, call (800) 368-5721 or visit

COPYRIGHT 2002 World Publishing, Co. (Illinois)

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group