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Learning to Love Mondays! Playing Across the USA the RV Way
Tired of mainstream travel? Want your own space? Want your own bed? Want your own kitchen? Want to take your “toys” with you? Most importantly, want your own freedom? If you answered yes to these questions, then traveling in a recreational vehicle (RV) may be the answer for you. Now, there are as many ways to do this as there are people doing it today! There are excellent resources available to help you – once you decide what you want to do and how you would like to travel. The options of the cars are endless and the camping locations have literally exploded over the past ten years. This brings me to our story…
My husband and I started “standing” part-time in the early 1990s, with very little prior experience. Our work was extraordinarily demanding and we just wanted to run – at least for the weekends. In the late 1990s, we began to seriously consider turning this into a full-time adventure. We sold our house in January 2000, retired in the spring, and on Memorial Day weekend left our home base of 30 years to see the country – in a 34″ Airstream Travel Trailer, with our new Irish Wolfhound puppy. Today we are in a 44′ motor coach and towing a Cruiser PT.
Over the past seventeen years, we’ve learned what works for us and what doesn’t. This will be different for everyone who chooses this lifestyle. Generally, I believe that there are several factors for success – being the best friend (if traveling with a spouse, partner, or friend), flexibility, being open to change and, for me, planning and organization. The first key to helping you maximize the fun of your “Freedom Rides,” no matter where your travels take you, is to recognize that, just as freedom isn’t free, neither is traveling by RV. No money tree available? We didn’t have one either. So some precautions for the first time RV adventurer –
First, I am not a financial planner! What I can tell you is this – if you think of this as an investment, with a return on your money, think again. In some cases, you can sell an RV and recover your initial investment and/or make money. However, in general, you really need to think of this decision as part of your household budget (and I thought of it as a way to stay out of the doctor’s office and build my “happy factor”.
When we started RVing seventeen years ago on weekends, we had some expenses at first but we spent less money on weekends than we would have if we stayed at home. We started with our Taurus wagon, a very small microwave, portable heater, simple food and melamine plates, paper products, a potty and a duffle bag and extra clothes. Therefore, our general expenses consisted of camping fees and fuel.
After about six months of traveling this way, we graduated to a conversion van with custom interior and bench seats made into a queen size bed. Our biggest expenses here were adding a custom curtain to close off the sleeping area and upgrading our camera equipment. No one wants to miss seeing raccoons trying to steal your dinner from the picnic table – do you? Then – our first giant leap – we rented a motor home for a week to see how we liked it. Now, my husband has never driven one, but he has driven big trucks and tractors. This was a big expense, even then (around $900). However, this was time and money very well spent. We did this one more time with close friends (in the middle of winter) and decided we were hooked.
The thought of having a baby puts butterflies in your stomach – try our next leap of confidence – our first big financial expense RV – a car that encloses bedroom, bath, kitchen and living area. In our case, we knew this needed to be a used car of some kind and that meant a cash purchase. After much research, we decided on a 1972 23′ Airstream Travel Trailer. Fact – when you buy a used car of any kind, you will spend money for safety and aesthetic reasons – know this in advance! Typically, you will have to replace the tires on the vehicle – not necessarily due to wear and tear but exposure to sun and ozone. You may need new tools – this brings a caveat: if one of you is not mechanically inclined, you will need to budget money for someone else to make repairs and you will have them. For the interior, you may need new bed sheets, a variety of plastic holders, cooking utensils and dishes. You may have things at home that you can contribute or you may be able to find some things at yard sales or discount stores. Your disposable income budget will dictate how you approach this. If you do not have space to park the vehicle on your property, you will probably have to pay for rental space for it. This means you can’t use it often, as you would have to get groceries, clothes, etc. loaded and drive to the storage location to get the RV, transfer everything to the RV, then start your trip.
After several years, you guessed it – we decided to find something a little bigger. So we traded in our 23′ Airstream Travel Trailer for a 25′ Airstream Travel Trailer. Since we could always park this behind our house, we didn’t have to pay for RV storage. However, the interior had a different configuration, so while some of our containers and equipment fit, some did not. Once again, we had to replace tires. We continued to use our RV on weekends and for several week trips each year, mostly visiting States and National Parks. We kept this car until the year before we retired. At that time, our weekends transformed our approach to Monday mornings. We felt relaxed and frankly, less attuned to the madness of the workplace around us.
We then determined that we would need more space eventually, so we sold our 25′ Airstream Travel Trailer and purchased a 34′ triple axle Airstream Travel Trailer and a 1-ton Ford Econoline Club Wagon to tow it Additional space and storage was a blessing. The downside was the increased difficulty of finding space for our larger RV in the larger State and National Parks. We also found that we needed an Internet connection more often, as we developed a business, so now we combine work and play. Most State and National Parks do not offer a way to connect to the Internet in your RV. We started spending more and more time in private RV Parks, increasing our amenities, but providing less nature. Did I mention there are always trade-offs, no matter which option you choose?
After two years, we started looking at motorhomes, because I wanted something smaller than a truck to drive. The result – a 1995 Safari motor home and the purchase of a new Chrysler PT Cruiser. No money trees here either! However, I found a washer-dryer combination for the first time – a real lifesaver. We are now hooked on 50-amp electrical service to power our air conditioners, washer-dryers, etc., so older RV Parks that typically only had 30-amp service were often ruled out. We did less ‘standing’ and more ‘living’ in our RV.
You guessed it – after a few years, I wanted more space and convenience. We sold the Safari and bought a 1992 44′ Newell motor coach, which we have owned for over 4 years now. It took time and experience to learn what would work best for us as full-timers, so just know that the first purchase you make may not be what you want in the future as your life changes. From weekend getaways to nature, to highway cruises that melt away miles as you travel from one side of the United States to the other with all the comforts of home, RVs offer lifestyle choices to satisfy many desires.
My desire is to create a spark that becomes a total flame – a passion – for you to experience the beauty and majesty of this incredible country we call home. The most important advice I can give you is to let your dreams be your guide – the only thing you need to do is simply start! Happy Trails!!!
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