Many travelers abandoned the weekend road trip last summer because of high fuel costs, but gas is more affordable today and families are eager to stretch their dollars in a recession. Enter the recreational vehicle.
Renting an RV isn’t necessarily the cheapest form of travel, but if you’re hitting the road with family, there can be savings. Instead of renting multiple hotel rooms, there’s enough space to put up everyone, or a tent can be pitched just outside. Plus, you can cook your meals in the RV, substantially reducing your eating-out costs. Taking an RV also means plenty of opportunities to forge family memories.
“In this economy, the camping industry does pretty well. It’s affordable,” said Linda Profaizer, president of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. “We’re not going to be setting any records but compared to other sectors of the hospitality industry, we’re doing well.”
Count President Barack Obama as a proponent of the RV road trip. “As soon as this convention is over, we are loading up our kids in an RV,” said then-Sen. Obama, after giving his famous keynote address during the 2004 Democratic National Convention. “We are traveling around to county fairs, eating ice cream and taking our girls to the swimming pool.”
Traveling by RV has its advantages. There’s no need to worry about the airport security lines or trying to stuff your belongings into one suitcase. Driving an RV lets you take your home with you. Plus, you can park in the middle of a state park’s lush forest, next to the soothing waves of a beach, under a star-filled sky in the middle of the desert — even in an expansive Wal-Mart parking lot. (See more on Wal-Mart’s overnight parking policy: www.freecampgrounds.com/noparking.html)
But first a quick primer: RVs, whether you decide to rent or buy, are classified as either tow-able or motor homes. Most people rent Class C motor homes with amenities such as stovetops, bathrooms, bedrooms and even Internet access. Renting an RV for a week can cost $500 to $1,500, Profaizer said, depending on the model and size you pick. Buying an RV will set you back anywhere from $48,000 to well over $500,000.
For Will and Denise Simons, self-described outdoor fanatics from Newark, N.J., the RV route was a compromise.
When they met nearly 10 years ago, one of their first dates was to take a road trip together for a weekend. The problem? He wanted to drive his Volkswagen Jetta to upstate New York and plop down a tent. She said no way.
“I love the outdoors, hiking, even fishing,” said Denise Simmons, 38. “But when I have to sleep, I want to be comfortable.”
That camping date never happened but a few years after getting married, the couple decided to rent an RV. On that first RV trip, Denise enjoyed sleeping in a bed with her own comforter while Will enjoyed being able to step outside right into the heart of Smokey Mountains country.
Driving an RV is similar to driving a car, said Will, 39, though he said it took a few hours to get a handle on how to maneuver a bigger vehicle. He likes traveling in their 13-foot-high RV because it’s comfortable, and the couple can stop wherever they want.
“It works well for us,” Will Simons said. “We both love road trips and the RV allows me to get close to the outdoors and my wife can join me.”
Chuck Woodbury, the editor of RVtravel.com, believes more Americans will follow the Simons on the RV-traveling road.
Last year, the recession together with high gas prices meant lackluster sales at his RV travel bookstore, Woodbury said. But sales jumped significantly in the last two to three months. “When that happens, people are actually getting ready to go out and look around” for RVs, Woodbury said.
The image of grandma and grandpa trekking across the country in an RV is no longer the case, said Woodbury, adding that he’s known many younger people who decide to vacation on the road.
“It’s an incredible way to travel.”