One of American literature’s most beloved tales of RV travel is John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley: In Search of America.
In this 1960 travelogue, the Nobel Prize-winning author and his poodle, Charley, take a road trip in a truck camper around the United States that included a stop in Niagara Falls.
In one chapter, he describes neighbors looking over his RV: “I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation – a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from here…nearly every American hungers to move.”
Those same desires still fuel travel dreams today and account for the fact that nearly eight million American households have a recreational vehicle.
“It’s affordable, comfortable and relaxing, offering a laid-back lifestyle that brings you closer to nature,” said Art Zucker of East Aurora.
“There’s no structure,” Zucker continued. “You are on your own clock, waking up with the birds chirping, feeling the sunshine on your face and enjoying the quiet solitude away from the hustle and bustle of the city.”
Zucker, a retired General Motors executive, has been RVing for about 40 years, towing a 27-foot Star Craft hybrid camper to parks all over the United States and Canada.
Zucker prefers the seclusion of public parks to private campgrounds because “the state sites are quieter and farther apart, giving you the feeling of being the only one in the world with this scenic view.” Of course, it all depends what you want.
“The privately owned RV parks can get pretty upscale with spas, video game parlors, swimming pools and mini-golf courses,” he added.
Jim Gibbons of West Seneca enjoys the family aspect of RV travel. He has been towing a 20-foot trailer for five years and uses the camping experience to teach his two sons about fishing, canoeing and conservation.
“We follow the rules of the parks, keep the camp sites clean and practice recycling,” Gibbons said. “I’m also showing my 12-year-old son how to get our trailer ready for a trip and how to set it up once we get to a camp site.”
“The secret to success with both chores is to have good checklists,” he added. “We put our lists together from online RV websites and from tips from other campers.” He says preparation and a positive attitude are the key to enjoying RV travel.
So is breathing room. Having enough space in a camper for the family dog, a TV, DVD player and games “goes a long way with your kids on a rainy night.”
Other creature comforts like an indoor bathroom, a hot shower and sink can make a big difference.
“And having a stove and refrigerator allows us to plan and cook healthy and economical meals,” Gibbons added.
Try renting first
“RVs run the gamut from folding camping trailers and truck campers to travel trailers and large motorhomes,” said Jim T. Miller, a writer for SavvySenior.org.
“Cost, too, will range from as little as $4,000 for pop-up campers all the way up to $1.5 million for luxurious motorhomes,” Miller continued.
Miller thinks the best way to ease into RV travel is to rent first. It can also help you determine which type of RV best suits your needs.
“Rental costs will vary greatly depending on what you choose, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $30 up to $300 per day,” said Miller.
Just like buying a home, the more you spend on an RV, the better the gadgets and furnishings. During a visit to a local RV show, several modern “glamping” (glamorous camping) accessories dazzled.
One $65,000 trailer sported a stone fireplace, convection oven, kitchen island with sink countertop, dual-door refrigerator, dishwasher, washer/dryer, central vacuum system, walk-in closet, sit-down shower and hand-stitched leather couches.
Another $49,000 “glamper” included several slide-out room expanders, a wine cooler, china cabinet, backup camera, solar-charging unit, satellite dish and remote-control hydraulic leveling jacks.
A $45,000 unit sported an attached, screened-in back porch with a Weber grill, wet bar and large-screen HD TV.
These motorized mansions are outfitted better than many family homes. In fact, some couples sell their sticks-and-bricks digs and live year-round in their homes on wheels.
These “escapees” or “snowbirds” follow the sun south to RV villages, returning north when the weather gets too hot.
Some things to consider when buying an RV include the cost of gasoline, additional auto insurance coverage and how big a vehicle you need to tow a 4,000-pound trailer.
Will you need to carry touring bicycles or tow a “dinghy” (a more fuel-efficient car) for sightseeing once you park your trailer?
Look into a GPS or Smartphone app that has an RV-specific route planner. These navigation tools will alert you to overhead clearance heights and which bridges and tunnels allow trailers with propane tanks.
Also consider how big a parking site your camper will need, whether the site has a dump station for waste water and RV campground fees.
Primitive sites, like those often found in state or national parks, may not have electric or water hookups and can cost from $3 to $10 per day.
Less rustic sites with city water and an electric outlet usually charge a daily rate of $10 to $30. A full hookup site with water, electric and sewage typically ranges from $15 to $50 daily.
Park pass bargains
A 12-month “America the Beautiful” Pass costs $80 and covers entrance fees to more than 2,000 national parks and federal recreation areas. The pass admits four adults in one vehicle. Children under 16 are free.
A national park Senior Pass may be the country’s best bargain, providing lifetime access to more than 2,000 recreation sites for just $10. The pass can be purchased at any national park office by U.S. citizens 62 years or older.
With 59 national parks offering thousands of campsites in some very scenic places, these passes are a very good idea. To find parks and campgrounds or to make a site reservation, check out Recreation.gov.
New York sells an annual “Empire Passport” for $65, which provides access to 180 state parks and 55 Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) forest preserves. A handy guide at Campadk.com provides more than 21,780 campsite photos, covering 23 DEC campgrounds in Adirondack Park, the 1000 Islands and the Finger Lakes regions.
Free RV parking
Another way to save money is to look for places that allow “boondocking” or free RV parking without water or electric hookups.
Parking at a Walmart is another option. Many — but not all — stores welcome RV travelers. Permission is extended by individual store managers, based on availability of parking spaces and local laws. For guidance, see Walmartlocator.com/rv-parking-at-walmart.
There are also RV clubs that provide member discounts on park fees, campground directories, travel guides, gasoline and propane. For RV club details, check Goodsamclub.com, Roadtripamerica.com and Passportamerica.com.
Just like Steinbeck’s wanderlust to find America, most RV travelers offer a paean to freedom, flexibility and familiarity.
They talk about keeping their own schedules, making unplanned stops or early departures, taking time to explore and knowing at the end of the day they can relax in the luxury and comfort of their home on wheels.
More RV Resources
There are about 500 RV rental outlets around the country. The National RV Dealers Association offers a list of rental dealers on its website, Rvda.org.
To learn more about RV options, check out Gorving.com, a resource created by the RV travel industry. Locally, Colton RV has an extensive inventory and a comprehensive, user-friendly website for browsing and learning. The dealership also sponsors regular community events where you can see the RVs in person.
There are more than 1,600 state parks and 13,000 privately owned RV parks in the U.S. For a list of sites, check out Gocampinginamerica.com, Koa.com, Trailerlifedirectory.com and USCAmpgrounds.info.
An entertaining source for troubleshooting tips is Pamela “Pippi” Peterson. The blogger enjoys a nomadic lifestyle with her dog, Andiamo, in her Bounder motorhome.