So, You Think You Want To Try “The RV Thing”, Huh?
A Brief Introduction to RVing for Those Thinking About Taking the Plunge
By Warren Petkovsek
Well, the very fact that you have picked up this article and started reading it means that you, your better half or both of you are thinking about getting started RVing in some kind of travel trailer or maybe even a motor home. Maybe you are really interested and your spouse needs some convincing or maybe it’s the other way around. If you’re lucky, both of you really have the bug and can’t wait to get started. It’s really so much easier that way. In this article I’ll talk about why many of us got started in the RV lifestyle in the first place, how you can get started RVing or at least try it out and some of your options for taking the plunge into a fun and exciting lifestyle.
There are many reasons why people get started RV camping. Some are contractors or construction workers that have to work some distance from home and they find an RV is the perfect accommodation while they are working out of town. Some are students that find an RV a more acceptable and less expensive accommodation than a dormitory room. Some use a camper as hunting or fishing camps while others just like an RV for the reason they were invented in the first place – recreation.
My story goes the way of the hunting camp. Sometime in the mid 1980s my family joined an east Texas hunting club along with my father-in-law, Lloyd Cormier, and other family members. The campground was a primitive place to park whatever you had for sleeping quarters. I started out pitching a tent, covering it with a tarp and wishing it well for the duration of hunting season. This was really alright with me, but Lloyd didn’t care much for the tent thing. An avid outdoorsman, handyman, horseman and rodeo cowboy all his life he resolved to convert his two horse trailer to a temporary hunting camp that could be easily switched back to hauling one or two horses when needed. He had a fresh water tank and bunk bed. There was also a varmint proof outdoor chuck box complete with a Coleman stove. Light was provided by a Coleman lantern. It was really a sight to behold and my one regret is that I don’t have any pictures of “The Cajun Hilton”. Everyone in the hunting club was amazed by this rig and they spent most of their time in camp visiting with Lloyd at the “Hilton”. My mother-in-law had an entirely different opinion of Lloyd’s beloved improvised RV and, to make a long story unbearable, the horse trailer had to go in favor of some kind of more standard accommodations.
Some people choose the RV lifestyle while others have it thrust upon them. My mother-in-law’s opinion of “The Cajun Hilton” mandated we get a used travel trailer of some kind. The lucky candidate was a 1974 model Terry travel trailer. It was only 18 feet long, had only one axle and, amazingly, could sleep six adults (if you were really good friends) and was completely self contained.
That old trailer became more than a hunting camp for all of us. The three families used it extensively for family vacations. After a few years my wife’s parents upgraded to a 1988 model 22 foot Nomad trailer. This was also great, but the hassle of reserving the family RV, loading and later unloading our stuff, cleaning up the rig for the next family to use it and hauling it back 25 miles to the in-law’s house made quick little weekend trips to the lake too inconvenient so we bought our own trailer, a 1993 model 24 foot Terry 24-C that we purchased brand new. We liked the rig so much that we kept it for 13 years and would still have it if we hadn’t caught the bug for a 5th wheel. Now that we are retired we have owned a couple of 5th wheels and we like them a lot. By the time we invested so much money and years in RV camping, it’s a pretty safe bet that we really enjoy it and will continue RVing as long as we are able, but is this RV thing right for you? Let’s explore this question a little more.
When we bought our first trailer I got a little good natured ribbing from my friends at work. One of them said that he could take his wife and kids on several nice vacations every year staying in hotels and eating out while I, on the other hand, had to pay for the trailer, the truck to pull it, camping fees, extra fuel, maintenance and repairs. We also have to cook, wash dishes, make beds and clean up after ourselves. He also added that it was costing me more than it was costing him. I had to tell him, “You know what? You’re absolutely right.” I couldn’t argue with his logic, but folks like that just don’t understand “the RV thing”. You just can’t put a price on waking up, opening your trailer door, looking at the Guadalupe River just 20 feet away and hearing the water running over the rocks.
Here’s a little example of how our trailer came in handy. Our son attended Texas A&M University for 4 1/2 years. During that time we would go up to College Station several times each year for home football games and other functions. Naturally, we would stay in our trailer in a nice little Good Sam Park in Bryan, Texas. We stayed there so much during the A&M years that they always gave us the same campsite. I joked that I was going to apply for the mineral rights to site 94. If you were to go up to Aggieland or any other college town for a home football game the hotel rooms will run you $100.00 - $150.00 per night with a two night minimum if you can even get a hotel room. I know people that have had to stay as far away as Navasota or even Conroe and don’t even think about getting into a restaurant for meals. On the other hand, our little Good Sam Park cost us a whopping $20.00 a night and we had full hook-ups including cable TV. When our son and daughter-in-law got engaged up there we had an engagement party at that campground. There were four trailers in our party and the manager was nice enough to let us use their pavilion. We put on a big Bar-B-Q for the kids and about 60 of their friends and everyone had a great time. Try that in a hotel. At least you wouldn’t have to wash dishes.
There was one more RVing benefit for us. My mother-in-law, Abby, always loved camping and any other outdoor related activity. Her bags stayed packed and she was always ready in case an invitation was issued. My father-in-law, Lloyd, passed away in 2001. He was quite ill for his last few years and Abby was right there by his side taking care of him. After Lloyd was gone my wife and I knew that Abby had missed out on a lot of camping and we resolved to take her camping with us as long as she was able. We lost count of the trips we took with her and the friends she made along the way. That is the real beauty of RV camping and there is no way to put a price on that kind of experience. Sadly, Abby passed away on April 18, 2006, but we were able to take her with us to Pensacola Naval Air Station where our son and daughter-in-law were stationed. We did this less than a month before she died and seeing her grandkids that last time was just one more priceless RV experience.
Enough about me; what about you? What got you interested in RVing in the first place? What kind of activities do you like? Where do you like to go? All of these factors play a part in determining what kind of RV you will purchase. I can sit here and think of at least six couples that got the RV bug while camping with us as our guests. Dear friends of ours have worn out four used pop-up campers while raising their kids. They are now enjoying their retirement in a nice 5th wheel. There are many decisions to make before your purchase. Will you buy some kind of trailer or a motorhome? I’ve never owned or used a motorhome so I’m nor really qualified to judge the pros and cons regarding them. Personally, I like the floor plans of the 5th wheels and trailers better than that of the motor homes, but that’s just my opinion, of course, and it doesn’t amount to much. To each his own.
If you go the trailer route there are several choices to make. On the smaller end of the scale there are the pop-up campers. These are amazingly large when opened and some of the newer models even have slide-outs. The advantage of pop-ups or folding tent trailers is that they are very easily towed by most properly equipped family cars, vans and SUVs. I have some dear friends that started out in a pop-up and moved up to a 26 foot travel trailer. They have enjoyed their trailer for many years, but as they get closer to retirement they are seriously considering selling it and getting another pop-up. Their reason for downsizing is they really used to love camping in Canada in their old pop-up and they want to enjoy that experience again. I can’t say that I blame them considering the distance they will be traveling.
After pop-ups we are left with conventional travel trailers and 5th wheels. The big difference between the two is that a standard trailer is hitched to a trailer ball on a receiver hitch (not the rear bumper) and a 5th wheel is hooked to a hitch that is installed in the bed of a pick-up truck almost directly over the rear axle. The choice between the two comes down to your preference and what you want to use for a tow vehicle. It’s really hard to beat the 5th wheel for towing. It just plain pulls great. I’ll get into more details on this subject in a later article. Oh don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with conventional travel trailers at all. Remember – I owned one for 13 years. A traditional travel trailer may be your best choice if you have a large family and need the seating capacity of a large SUV such as a Suburban. They also are nice if you want to carry canoes, kayaks or bicycles on a roof rack.
So which type of RV is for you? The best way to decide is to do your homework on the subject. As I mentioned before, we were fortunate enough to have the use of two family travel trailers before we purchased our own. This gave us good insight into what we wanted as well as what we didn’t want. You could gain the same insight by attending one of the several RV shows held each year throughout the country. Attending these shows is a great way to help you make up your mind, but be careful – they also sell RVs at the show and they advertise “special RV show sale prices” during the event. I have seen first hand that these special show prices are usually not as low as the price you can get directly from your local dealer.
Another way to do your homework is to talk to people while they are camping in their rig. RV people are generally very friendly folks as well as gracious hosts and they will be delighted to show you their rolling home. Ask them the tough questions like, “If you were starting over again, what would you do differently?” That’s another advantage of the RV lifestyle; everyone at a campground is your friend. They all like to visit and make you feel at home. Try striking up a conversation with a stranger in a hotel and they will look at you like you are some kind of a pervert. You could also take a nice Sunday drive to the nearest state park or campground just to talk to folks and do your research, but be careful – the RV bug bites hard and you could easily become infatuated with this peaceful and enjoyable lifestyle. There’s one more thing about RVing as well as fishing, hunting, hiking, boating or any other type of outdoor fun – if you do it with your kids, they will someday also do it with their kids. How valuable is that?
Well, that’s about it for now. If you are still reading you must be at least somewhat interested in RVing. If that is the case then I strongly suggest that you contact a reputable RV dealer. The staff there will answer your questions and get your new RV experience started off in the right direction.