Wednesday, November 26, 2008

More RV Lifestyle

My grandparents bought an Airstream travel trailer in 1956. It would end up having a huge impact on my life. It was actually my grandmother’s idea. She saw one at a gas station one day and had my grandfather turn around and go back. The owner gave them a tour of the trailer and before long they had one parked in their driveway.
Not long after that my dad brought one home. I don’t think my mother was all that thrilled. It wasn’t like getting diamonds or pearls. It actually meant she would be busy every Friday for years loading the trailer for weekend camping and unloading every Sunday evening.
During my dad’s summer vacations we would travel all over the country like a bunch of gypsies. It was long before trailer parks were common or franchised. We would camp while traveling wherever they would let us plug in our electric cord. Gas stations, A&W root beer joints (my personal favorite), city and county parks in small towns across the U.S. and Canada.
In those days you could do things that would now have you arrested and thrown in jail. Each new trailer came with a narrow shovel for digging gopher holes. That was the polite way of describing the septic disposal method. Even in the state parks, digging a gopher hole was standard operating procedure. The septic dumps on trailers at the time were designed to be located on the shoulder side of the road. In rural areas my brother and I would pull the pin and my dad would drive down the shoulder. We made a wide berth to catch up with him. It was no different than the railroad passenger cars dumping on the tracks. Needless to say, people discovered, as RVing became very popular, that the practice was not acceptable and unsanitary and some would say, "The idea just plain stinks!"
We spent many summers exploring National Parks and Monuments. I learned to love nature, camping, hiking, backpacking, fishing and just plain traveling, meeting new people and exploring. I guess you would define it as wanderlust. I have been rambling ever since.
After graduating from high school I lived in my ’64 GMC suburban for several months traveling and backpacking through the Northwestern states and the Provinces of Canada. For graduation people gave me canned goods. I would make Rice Krispy treats in a metal bucket. That was a large part of what I lived on that summer. When I had extra money I would splurge and buy hamburger, cooking it on my engine block driving down the road.
After the Marines and marriage, wanderlust struck again. My wife Gaila and I bought a trailer and worked our way around the country for several years. We would stop and find work whenever we ran out of money, which introduced us to some of the most wonderful and interesting friends we have had throughout our lives—not to mention some of the craziest jobs.
After spending years parking long trailers in short spaces—such as small ferries in Alaska’s Inside Passage—we switched to a motorhome. Gaila loves to drive the motorhome and after spending five months searching for me as I hiked the Continental Divide from Mexico to Jasper, Alberta Canada, she has decided that me walking and her driving is an excellent way to travel. She says that if she sees me once a week—that’s plenty.
Traveling across the continent in a self-contained mobile unit of any kind is an adventure. I guarantee when you return you will have new friends and stories to tell. We have been stuck in spring snowstorms in the middle of New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, near hurricanes along the coast of Texas, broken down along 1,200 miles of the Alaskan Highway and changing flats in 110 degree Arizona heat. But to temper those rough times we have watched majestic sunsets across the plains, sunrises full of life in the Everglades, warm summer nights in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, spectacular fall colors through New England and sunny days along the rocky Oregon coast. We have seen Denali from the backcountry and life from many angles that would never have presented themselves to us had we not been there to seek them out. If you have a sense of adventure, traveling is one of the pure joys of life. Living in an RV allows you to feel right at home on the road. --Keep Smilin', Dick E. Bird

Monday, September 8, 2008

The RV Lifestyle on $4 a Gallon

When you read the WSJ article below, you have to take it with a grain of salt. Things are not always as they appear. Although the article makes a lot of good points, there is a huge difference in vacationing in your RV and living full-time in it. The couple in the story that gave up Alaska this year for Yellowstone/Teton were gone a month and put on a ton of miles in 30 days. Most full-timers do not rack up those kind of miles in that short of time span.
Compare taking your RV out for 6 months and putting on 6,000 miles to taking it out for 1 month and putting on 3,000. Compare that to what you would spend doing the trip by car and dealing with eating and sleeping expenses everyday.
At the price of gas I would not take my Class "C" motorhome across the country for a month trip, but I would not hesitate to take it across the country for a 6 month trip.
As for repairs, "stuff happens." Depending on the rig you have, a lot of things can go wrong. Some of the newer, high end, models have doorbells that play 37 songs and 100 miles of electrical wiring. Like owning a boat, they can be a deep, black hole, you throw money into. I have had an RV my whole life and I can’t say I have wasted a ton of money fixing them. I stay simple and efficient, learn to repair them myself, and maintain them regularly. No different than the home you own or your other vehicles.
The RV Lifestyle can actually be a much more relaxed way to live and cheaper overall. You just have to do your own math ahead of time and decide if this existence is for you.

-Keep Smilin', Dick E. Bird


At a fuel stop where drivers pay before pumping, Ted LeBaron recently surprised others in line when he asked the attendant for $300 worth of fuel. "The guy behind me just about came unglued," Mr. Le-Baron says.

At the time, the plumbing-company owner from Camarillo, Calif., was driving his 34-foot Winnebago motor home, which despite its size, he says, is more efficient, pound for pound, than a big SUV. Still, he concedes, he feels a bit conspicuous while filling up, though the reaction he usually gets is one of sympathy.

RVIA Drivers who feel they suffer by paying $100 to fill the tank of their sport-utility vehicle should try road-tripping in a motor home or other large recreational vehicle. Filling up one of these rolling manses can cost anywhere from $350 to nearly $500.

Most of the large "type A" motor homes run on diesel fuel, which can cost as much as $5 a gallon or more, depending on the region. They have tanks that hold up to 100 gallons, but the fuel goes quickly at seven to 10 miles per gallon. Travelers pulling large trailers with pickup trucks get similar fuel economy, as do smaller "type C" motor homes that often run on gasoline.
As a result, many RV owners are altering their travel plans. Some are simply leaving them home or driving to a campground and staying put, while others are cutting the number of destinations and side trips on their next long journey.

Roxanne Camron and her husband, Robert, had planned for years to take their recreational vehicle on a trip to Alaska, and this was to be the year. But the high price of diesel fuel for the large pickup truck they use to tow their RV made the Paso Robles, Calif., couple reconsider. Instead, they took a shorter, 2,600-mile multistate trip that included Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Yellowstone National Park. Even their shorter trip got squeezed, though, as the Camrons sought to further trim the fuel bill.

"We actually cut out Mount Rushmore," says Ms. Camron, a freelance editor. "Still, there were days when we'd spend a couple hundred dollars on fuel alone."

The surge in fuel prices is more alarming for the $14.5 billion RV industry -- which includes dozens of small manufacturers as well as a few big players, such as Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. and Thor Industries Inc. -- than it is for RV owners, since it appears to be scaring off potential new customers. Sales of the vehicles, which range from $5,000 popup camping trailers towed by a car to $400,000 hulking motor homes as large as a bus, have declined 14% this year to a projected 304,000 vehicles by year's end, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, a trade group in Reston, Va.

That's not much worse than the 11% drop in sales of cars and light trucks. But while most people will eventually need new cars, RVs are the kind of extravagance consumers tend to forgo when they feel financially pinched.

Winnebago Industries Inc., which makes RVs in a range of sizes and styles, recently reported a 73% decline in net income for its fiscal third quarter. The Forest City, Iowa, company, which some consider a barometer of consumer confidence, attributed the decrease in part to inventory reductions by dealers responding to falling demand. Deliveries of its large, high-profit type-A motor homes fell 53% in the quarter ended May 31, according to a recent earnings report, while its backlog of orders fell 68% for type-A vehicles and 51% for smaller type-C models compared with the year-earlier period.

To be sure, it's no surprise that sales of recreational vehicles are down. What's more surprising is that the downturn isn't worse, especially because RVs are squeezed between two sinking markets: autos and housing. Many people who bought RVs in the past decade, especially in the industry's post-Sept. 11, 2001, boom, financed the purchases with home-equity loans. Many prospective buyers can't get such loans in today's tight credit market.

One reason RVs are faring better than some might expect is because fuel economy isn't necessarily as much of a concern to buyers as comfort and convenience features. Travelers are likely to compare the cost of operating motor homes or large trailers not just to the cost of driving the car, but also the price of hotel rooms and restaurant meals. Compared with the cost of driving a car and staying in hotels for family vacation, using an RV saves between 27% and 61%, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association.

Indeed, the price of fuel may be just one of many factors that drive some owners away from what RVers call "the lifestyle."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

One of my favorite Canadian destinations would be the Canadian Rockies. There is so much to take in you should give yourself plenty of travel time. It offers nature at its finest. It can be wet and it can be cold but you will experience warm and sunny days as well, and sunny or overcast the scenery is magnificent.

The Full-Time Question:

I get questions all the time about full-time living in an RV on the road. Gaila and I did just that for about 10 years before our daughter was born. It was a wonderful life-style. The majority of people living that life-style are retired but many more people each year are discovering the economics of living and traveling cheaply.

Many full-timers 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. Without a house, they no longer have that huge real estate tax bill, no homeowner's insurance, or utility bills. Deciding how you plan to schedule your traveling can help you figure out your best vehicle choice. You can figure on approximately 8-10 mpg whether you pull a trailer or drive a motorhome. The difference comes when you stop to work or explore. If you put a lot of miles on the vehicle you pull a trailer with you are still getting poor mileage because its power plant is designed to pull a lot of weight. When not pulling a trailer you may bump up to 15-18 mpg. If you spend a lot of time stationary or do a lot of exploring when stopped in an area, you will do better living in a motorhome and towing a small vehicle that gets exceptional mileage in the 30+ range.

With todays fuel costs you will end up with a much more economic bottom line annually, even considering you have two engines to maintain.The rig you decide on has a lot to do with personal preference. I have to say I was a trailer guy for years. My family had an Airstream since I was seven years old, I worked for an Airstream dealer in high school and Gaila and I traveled for 10 years in a travel trailer.

For the past eight years we have owned a 27-foot class C Jayco motorhome. We are never going back to a trailer. We love to travel in the motorhome. We dingy tow a Saturn SL2. I don't even know it's behind me. If someone stole it I wouldn't know until I needed it.

Another thing to consider would be where you enjoy camping. We prefer national forest campgrounds. Most sites will accommodate up to a 30 foot rig. Longer rigs will shorten your list of remote campsites.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Habitat For Humanity RV Style

Dear Dick:
There is another RV Lifestyle—it is the RV CARE-A-VANNERS of Habitat for Humanity. It was started in the late 1980's by Jack & Lois Walters and consists of RVer's who travel about the U.S & Canada to assist affiliates in their home building endeavors. We've been a part of the group since 1991 and loving every minute (well, nearly every). Perhaps you've heard of us, Michiganders are a large part of the CARE-A-VANNERS.
—Sincerly, Ann DiLorenzo, NYP.S. Most of us are always on the lookout for birds and other wildlife.

Hi Ann,
Thanks for the letter. I have not heard of the CARE-A-VANNERS. I have now read several interesting articles on them and find it fascinating. What a great way to travel, meet new friends and help deserving people with a leg up. Ain't life grand?—Keep Smilin', Dick E. Bird

RV Travel with a Purpose… RV Care-A-Vanners

RV travel just got better! Habitat for Humanity International's RV Care-A-Vanner program offers anyone who travels in a recreational vehicle the opportunity to make a difference—and have fun while doing it—by helping build houses with families in need.

The RV Care-A-Vanner program welcomes people of all ages and from all walks of life who are ready to pick up a hammer and help change lives. No Experience Necessary. Every RV Care-A-Vanner building project is a unique and rewarding experience. Previous RV Care-A-Vanner teams have participated in house construction, roofing, interior and finish work, renovations and disaster relief. Those who prefer to be non-builders volunteer in the affiliate office or as "go fors" around the build site. There are ample opportunities to learn and plenty of meaningful work for everyone—no experience necessary.

RV Care-A-Vanner builds normally involve eight to 20 RVing volunteers and last two weeks, with ten six- to seven-hour workdays. A typical day begins with devotions and includes morning, lunch and afternoon breaks. Volunteers bring sturdy work shoes and gloves, and their personal hand tools—tool belt, hammer, square, pencil, measuring tape. The affiliate provides everything else including power tools, ladders, building materials, instruction and supervision. A volunteer leader handles the organization and administration of the team.
Team members pay their own expenses, which may be tax deductible, and the host affiliate arranges for RV parking—usually free or at a nominal charge. Teams can expect at least minimal electric hookups, access to water and a dump station nearby. Hosting affiliates often also provide lunches and a welcome gathering. Due to safety and hygiene issues, pets are not permitted on the work site.Aside from the opportunity to use existing construction skills and learn new ones, RV Care-A-Vanner teams experience God's love in action firsthand. Lasting friendships develop as the group parks together, builds together, eats together and socializes. In addition, the team often has the opportunity to work alongside local volunteers and future homeowners —a truly unforgettable experience.

More Than Houses—Habitat for Humanity and the RV Care-A-Vanners are about much more than building houses. Many team members partner with Habitat affiliates around the country to promote awareness of poverty housing and homelessness by speaking to churches, civic groups and local media. Individual Care-A-Vanners often make financial contributions to the host affiliate and houses built by RV groups are sometimes funded through fund raising and donations from the members.Starting with just a handful of builds in 1988, the RV Care-A-Vanner program has grown to include over 140 builds per year in the United States and Canada. The RV coordinator also organizes at least one international RV trip each year during which an organized group travels to other countries, rents RVs and participates in a Habitat build or two while touring.The RV Care-A-Vanner program is designed for both individuals and organized groups. Each of the more than 5,000 Care-A-Vanners has the option of participating in as many or as few builds as desired; all you have to do is sign up. Even if you don't build for a year or two, you still remain on the mailing list and receive updates on building opportunities.

RV Care-A-VannersHabitat for Humanity International

121 Habitat Street

Americus, GA 31709-3498

Monday, August 25, 2008

RV Travel is Inexpensive Overall

Camping in a tent or sleeping on the hard ground isn’t everyone’s idea of a meaningful experience with nature. Nowadays, a camping trip often means roughing it in a recreational vehicle. Many campers today are looking for something a little more comfy.
A motorhome, travel trailer, or other RV is like a small cabin on wheels, usually complete with stove, oven, refrigerator, shower, toilet, beds, heater and 12-volt electrical power. Smaller units may not have bathrooms or hot water. Some rigs, though, have lounge areas, air conditioners, bathtubs, microwave ovens, built-in color televisions and generators for extra power.
When asked why they like the RV lifestyle, RVers cite the convenience of cooking their own meals, sleeping in their own bed, and taking a hot shower at anyplace, any time, even in a remote campground. They also mention that with an RV they are always packed and ready-to-go.
Compared to automobile travel, where motorists eat at restaurants and sleep in motels, vacationing in a RV is economical. Gasoline and campsites are the major expense. Food costs the same as at home because you cook your own meals. Overnight accommodations are reasonable, usually from about $5 to $25 a night. A surprising number of public campgrounds are still free.
There is, of course, an initial investment. You don’t have to buy a palace on wheels to enjoy the RV lifestyle. In fact, the more you spend the more gadgets you get—and the more gadgets you get the more maintenance problems you have. Do you really need a doorbell that plays a hundred different tunes? Do you need a step that automatically comes down when you open the door? Shop hard and buy used. That’s my advice. There are plenty of people who have purchased a rig and found out they didn’t like the RV lifestyle. Their loss can be your gain. You can even rent a rig for a few weeks and try before you buy.
Camping can still be inexpensive depending on how fancy you want to get. We love to camp in National Forest campgrounds which are usually under $10 per night. Many small communities have free city and county parks often with full hookups.
Seniors can obtain a Golden Age Passport, which is a lifetime admission and discount pass for citizens or permanent residents of the United States who are age 62 or older. The pass is valid at National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Corps of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and Tennessee Valley Authority sites with admission fees.
The Golden Age Passport also provides a 50% discount on federal use fees charged for facilities and services such as camping, swimming, parking, boat launching, and specialized interpretive services.
If you are just making time and want a safe place to park for the night, try Walmart. Most stores allow overnight parking and provide around the clock lot security.
You will make a lot of new friends living this lifestyle. Expand your horizons!

Sunday, August 17, 2008