by Lee Foster
“You meet the friendliest people among RV enthusiasts,” said Cal Loomis, as he and wife Jean enjoyed a cup of coffee beside their rig, under the pinyon pine trees at Grand Canyon National Park ‘s Trailer Village . “If you look around this trailer park, you’ll see the wide range of people RV travel attracts. RV people are easy to meet, compared to patrons of a motel or hotel, where anyone greeting you is immediately suspect.”
Next to the Loomises, the family of Harold and Crystal Jenson, with four-year-old daughter Jeanna, mounted their bicycles.
“We enjoy bike riding when we get to a campground or trailer park,” said Crystal Jenson. “When we return to our RV, which Jeanna thinks of as a large dollhouse, she’ll pretend to cook while I make dinner.”
Across from the Loomises, John and Mary Reid could not help but smile as they overheard the conversation.
“We started out years ago with a folding tent camper, taking our kids and even the family dog,” noted John Reid. “Now the kids are gone and its just the two of us. We like to travel more comfortably now, but we want to return to all the wild and rustic places. For this our RV is perfect.”
These three family groups, gathered at the south rim of the Grand Canyon , are among the seven million American households with some kind of RV. The size of this slice of American travel is large, involving about one household in 12. Both the kinds of RVs available and the places where people take their RVs have changed in recent years.
“Cal and I have enjoyed six different types of RVs in the last 28 years,” said Jean Loomis. “They included folding camping trailers, motorhomes, and trailers. It all depends on your needs, preferences, and budget, which change as life proceeds.”
TYPES OF RVs
Terms describing RVs sometimes puzzle a layman. The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association divides RVs into various towable and motorized types: van conversions, travel trailers, motor homes, folding camping trailers, and truck campers.
Van conversions, the most popular current type of RV, combine maneuverable and economical size with careful outfitting for outdoor activity. Almost half of the RVs sold in a a given year are van conversions.
Travel trailers, units towed to the campsite/trailer park and then detached, were the second most popular type of unit sold last year. The popularity of travel trailers in past years makes them a third of all RVs on the road today.
Motor homes, including mini-motorhomes, are the luxurious segment of the business, with self-contained units ranging from 20-35 feet. Motorhomes allow passengers to move freely throughout the unit, even while driving. A popular new style in RVs is the “compact motorhome”, some with diesel engines that may get more than 20 miles per gallon.
Folding camping trailers are the relatively economical way in which many young families get into RV life. The characteristic pattern, shared by both the Loomises and the Reids, is that they “graduated” from a folding camping trailer to a larger RV.
Truck campers are the final category. The truck camper rests on the bed of a pickup truck and can be removed, leaving the truck free for other activities between trips.
All categories of RVs vary considerably in price, depending on whether the buyer seeks a basic or option-laden model.
Just as the types of RVs vary, so also do the places where RVers go with their rigs.
“We like a range of destinations,” said Cal Loomis. “For one week we may stay at a luxurious RV resort. The next week we may choose a rustic National Forest campground, such as Bonito camp outside Flagstaff .”
The Reids, who were spending a month traveling the west, also savored the prospect of different destinations.
“What I like about our RV is that I always know what bed I’m sleeping in,” said Mary Reid. “In motel travel you have to adjust each night to a new bed. I always sleep well in my RV. Regardless of the destination, I know what my ‘room’ will be like. And I know what my ‘restaurant’ will be like, which I appreciate, because John and I favor a low salt diet with little fried food. In our RV, at whatever destination, we can eat what we wish.”
The Jensons, with their child, like water-oriented destinations.
“We choose lake destinations near our home in California ,” said Harold Jensen. “Jeanna loves the water, and many good RV destinations put you close to it.”
The Reids echoed his comment when they described their years of RV travel with kids.
“No motel or hotel can compete with an RV in putting you close to so many good water destinations for kids,” said Mary Reid. “Our kids loved RVing.”
The western states are, in many ways, the most favored RV region in the country. National Parks and National Forests are numerous in the west. Lakes, reservoirs, dams, rivers and the ocean shoreline offer many camping/RV destinations. The sometimes sandy, blowing winds of the desert make an enclosed RV space welcome.
Some RVers also select a stay in the city.
“Sometimes we like the change of pace that a city trailer park will offer,” said Mary Reid. “There’s a great RV park right in downtown San Francisco . With our RV we can enjoy the best of both worlds.”
One trend in RVing is the sophisticated RV resort, such as Outdoor Resorts in Palm Springs, where facilities include all resort amenities, even a private golf course. The difference is that patrons of RV resorts provide the “housing”, their RV.
In every western state there are first-class trailer parks offering full hookups (electricity, water, and sewer). Some destination trailer parks even provide cable TV and phone hookups.
Of the 16,000 campgrounds in the United States, about 5,000 are run by government entities, especially the state parks and the national parks and forests. The rest are private, with the Kampgrounds of America one of the large chains. KOA prints its own directory and has a Kamping Kabin feature at some camps. These log cabins, which accommodate four people, are for campers who don’t have an RV or don’t like to sleep in a tent. The cabins allow a family without basic camping gear to get into the camping-RV style.
Campgrounds and RV parks are listed in annual camping directories put out by Trailer Life, Woodall, and others, available at bookstores or RV stores. AAA also provides a camping book for its members.
One of the major clubs in RV camping is the Good Sam Club. Members get mail forwarding, routing services, and emergency repair assistance. Good Sam is short for Good Samaritan. Other RV camping clubs either encompass all RV travelers or include owners of particular brands of RVs.
After choosing an RV and heading for a destination, certain skills insure safe and pleasant travel. The bigger rigs require prudent driving, which takes some experience to acquire. Speeds should be kept at 50-55 and rigs should not be driven in windy situations.
“Remember to put out the pilot light in an RV propane system when you gas up at a filling station,” said Cal Loomis. “It’s another good safety precaution.”
Several basic systems that keep an RV operating demand some familiarization. The electrical systems for lights and air-conditioning use 110 volts at trailer park plug ins, but function on batteries or a generator otherwise. The refrigerator and hot water tank run on propane or electricity. The “black” water of the toilet holding tank is flushed first, before the “grey” water of the sinks and shower tank. Owners manuals cover nuances of these operations. When renting an RV, allow an hour for a thorough orientation to the vehicle. RV enthusiasts at campgrounds will also help you learn how to use your rig effectively.
“No one should feel intimidated by the skills needed to manage an RV,” said Cal Loomis. “Anyone can do it, but it takes some time and attention. You can’t expect to move into a new house and a new vehicle combined and anticipate knowing everything in the first few minutes.”
Once the basics are mastered, RV enthusiasts expound on the pleasures of RV travel. In every western com mu nity there are excited RVers who love to share tips. For example, in Newport Beach , CA , Ralph Helpbringer is an RV enthusiasts.
“We started back in the 1960s with the first RV units,” said Ralph. “I remember our first major trip. We planned to stay out three or four weeks. We liked it so mu ch we stayed out for six months.”
THE RV PLUSSES
The Helpbringers love to discover the United States. They have made many 3-4 month trips, sometimes with travel concepts, such as following the U.S. borders.
“Our approach is not particularly economy,” said Ralph. “Our approach is go where it is beautiful and go without a schedule. An RV can get you to some wonderful places. There is more foreignness, more diversity, and more beauty to discover right in the U.S. than most people imagine.”
Camaraderie runs strong among RVers, as the observations flowing from Helpbringer or that day at the Grand Canyon showed. RV fans are a fraternity of their own, like boaters.
“In an RV we don’t have to pack and unpack each day, as in motel-hotel travel,” said Mary Reid. “We can put full attention into enjoying the trip. We also have plenty of room to take all the sport and entertainment equipment we want. Besides our bikes, we take a TV and a VCR.”
“I like being far away from phones,” said Harold Jenson. “I’m so scheduled in my work that I really enjoy the freedom and minimal planning required for an RV trip.”
“With the RV we can go on vacations that follow the sun and the seasons,” said John Reid. “Once the vehicle is paid for, RV travel is relatively economical. The main cost is gas for big rigs, which get about 8 miles per gallon. Savings on hotel and restaurant costs quickly balance out the gas cost, when considering travel alternatives.”
“We find RV travel the most relaxing travel style,” said Cal Loomis. “If you are thinking of buying an RV, be sure to rent several models before, take them out for a weekend, and see how they suit your needs.”
The cost of renting depends on the type of vehicle, its size, and its furnishings. Arrange rentals from dealers or individuals in your com mu nity. Rentals from full-service companies range folding camping trailer to luxurious motorhomes, complete with housekeeping equipment. Details on rental offers of dealers, including one-way operations, are available from the Recreational Vehicle Dealer’s Association.
The most universal comment among RVers evaluating their travel style is that RVs have a positive effect on family life.
“RV travel has brought our family closer,” said Cal Loomis. “Our children and grandchildren enjoy participating in our RV trips or meeting us for an RV rendezvous.”
RV TRAVEL: FOR MORE INFORMATION:
The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association is at 1896 Preston White Dr., P.O. Box 2999, Reston, VA 20191; 703/620-6003; www.rvia.org. They are a helpful starting point for the RV enthusiast.