This RV Lifestyle

By Loren Eyrich, editor/publisher
Two-Lane Roads quarterly
The address of my corporate office changes daily!  My office, you see, is a 30-foot fifth-wheel trailer I call the COW (Condo On Wheels).  As much as half of every year (four times a year, and for about four to eight weeks at a time), the COW moves, from campground to campground. It is my home, and publishing office.
My RV is ten years old, but it has most of the conveniences of home - a queen bed, air conditioning, furnace, toilet, range, hot water, shower, refrigerator/freezer, 110v generator, microwave, TV, VCR, satellite TV, plus a Pentium computer with desktop publishing software on board. 
And did I mention the view from my window?  
Recently, my "Corporate Office on Wheels" sat at Fort Wilderness Resort Campground, inside Walt Disney World.  Every imaginable convenience was at my fingertips; full hookups - electric, water, sewer, and cable TV - plus swimming pool, beach, nightly movies and campfire programs, restaurants, and of course, free shuttle buses to all the Disney attractions.
The next night, home was a primitive campsite in Ocala National Forest.  The only facilities at my campsite were a picnic table and fire ring.  Without electric hookups, I can still operate the computer, with power provided by an inverter, a handy gizmo which magically transforms 12v DC to 110v AC.  But why would I want to, when I can sit outside at the picnic table, and listen to the crickets, and the crackling campfire?

COW 2 on a two-lane road in Virginia

In my six years of mobile publishing, I've camped in every type of facility imaginable.  From casino parking lots in Mississippi, to the beaches of Padre Island, on the Gulf coast of Texas, to state and county parks, to a Boy Scout campground in Iowa, to Corps of Engineers campgrounds, and luxury resorts.  Many of these campsites are free, or a very nominal charge.  The most I've ever paid was $43 in downtown Key West. 

Yes, that's for one night; and that same fee was cheerfully paid by some European visitors for pitching a tent!  Folks happily pay it, because it's an easy walk to Duvall Street and Mallory Dock.  And 1/3 the cost of a hotel room in the same town.

Is the RV lifestyle for you?
About 2/3 of Two-Lane Roads subscribers presently own a recreational vehicle (RV).  And many of them are "full-time" RVers - that is, they are retired, they sold their house, and live year round in a RV - a travel trailer or motorhome.   

But I suspect that many folks who read this website might be thinking about renting or buying their first recreational vehicle.  May I suggest a subscription to Two-Lane Roads?  I am not sponsored by any RV manufacturer, dealer, or club.  I have no obligation to tell you the RV lifestyle is always perfect for everybody.  I'll tell you the good things, and I'll tell you the not so pleasant experiences!  

For example, myth number 1:  Traveling by recreational vehicle is the least expensive way to go.  After all, I can simply pull off the road and sleep anywhere, so my family won't pay for motels. We can cook our own meals, so we won't need to eat in restaurants.  Don't believe it.  Traveling by RV is seldom the least expensive way to travel, unless you very rarely move your rig.   "Rarely move it?   What in the world are you talking about, Loren?"  

Actually, thousands of retired RVers are willing to do just that - to stay in one place for weeks or months at a time, driving very little.   Since they seldom move the RV, they spend very little in fuel.  These folks sold their home; many even made a nice capital gain over the years.  With the proceeds, they buy an RV, and invest the balance so they have a monthly income from the investments.  Without the house, they no longer have that huge real estate tax bill, no homeowner's insurance, or utility bills.  Many also do some "campground hosting" in exchange for a free campsite.  They plan to see all of America - in due time.  Hey, they have the rest of their lives to do it!  Their RV is also their only home, and they might move it 2 or 3 times a year, following the sun.   Summer in the mountains, winter in the Sunbelt.  They still own a car or truck, which either pulls  a travel trailer, or is towed behind a motorhome.   But it is quite possible that they are spending less money than they would if they drove the car only, and then rented housing in each place where they stay.     

But what if you want to see America, and you want to keep moving?  What if you are not of retirement age, but you would like your kids to experience the RV lifestyle?  If your family is willing to pull a small folding tent trailer behind your small family sedan or minivan, your fuel economy will still be reasonable. 

Once you graduate into a larger trailer, you'll need a big car or truck to pull it - or you choose a motorhome.  Either way, you'll be lucky to get 8-10 mpg.  Maybe 12-15 with a diesel.  If you drive long distances you will spend more money each day on fuel than you would on a motel.  Add the interest and depreciation factor on a vehicle which is only used a few times a year, and your costs skyrocket.  When it comes time to replace tires, brakes, and anything else that wears out (and it will), it will cost far more than the same item on a passenger car or van. 

Don't count on sleeping free every night.  It won't happen every night.  Not even close.  Yes, there are free campgrounds, but how often will you find one where you want to be?  In most states it's illegal to camp overnight in rest areas.  (And noisy and risky in any state!)  Pay a few bucks for some peace of mind.  In most campgrounds, you get nice public toilets and showers, a picnic table and maybe a campfire ring.  It's worth every dime you spend!

Not the cheapest - only the best!

I know that it costs me more to travel in an RV than it would to drive a small car, and stay in motels every night.  I travel by RV not because it is the cheapest way to go, but because it is the most pleasant way to travel!  Anytime I need a cold drink, or I need the toilet, or I feel the need to take a nap, I have all those facilities with me.  I sleep in my own bed every night.  Instead of traffic noise, I am lulled to sleep by a choir of frogs!  I stay in a mixture of private campgrounds and public parks; sometimes in a big metropolitan area, but much more often in faraway places.  Either way, the campground usually has the feel of the great outdoors.  Compare this with a concrete parking lot and multi-level motel building.  Crime, while not exempt from campgrounds, is very seldom a problem in a campground.  Drive through any campground, public or private, and the first thing that you will notice is that many folks leave hundreds of dollars worth of camping and picnicking gear outside all day long, even when they leave the campground for an all-day adventure.  When they return, their fellow campers have not looted their belongings!