Camp in Style in a Recreational Vehicle

By Chuck Woodbury
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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. It makes sense. The baby boomers hit 40 years ago and a slab of uneven, rocky soil isn't as forgiving as it once was. 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. Motorhomes, the most expensive RVs, sell from $25,000 to $250,000, with most between $35,000 and $80,000. Low-priced units are usually not as well constructed as the high-priced models, although it may not be apparent from outward appearances. The over $80,000 units are favored by full-timers, mostly retired couples who live in their rigs much or all of the year. Less expensive motorhomes, $20,000 to $50,000, are best suited for part-time RVers. These units may not have wet bars, trash compactors or built-in televisions, but they're ideal for weekend camping trips and summer vacations.

Among the least expensive motorhomes are those built on the chassis of small trucks. The advantage of these micro-minis, besides price tags often under $25,000, is their gas mileage, typically around 15 miles per gallon. The disadvantage is that space is often limited, and the units may be underpowered.

Truck and van campers are more compact than motorhomes, but offer many of the same features at a lower price. Travel trailers, tent trailers, and fifth wheelers (trailers with a raised forward section) have no engines and are therefore less expensive to purchase than motorhomes. They may, however, require a special tow vehicle, which can be costly if a would-be RVer doesn't already own one.

A good idea for many first-time RVers, or buyers on a budget, is to start with a used unit. Second-hand trailers are often available for less than $10,000; used motorhomes sell from $10,000 and up. But be careful when buying a previously owned rig: get a lemon and you'll likely spend a wad getting it into shape.

For those who have never camped in a recreational vehicle but are thinking of buying one, it's wise to rent one first to see if they're suited to the RV lifestyle. Renting is a good idea, too, for those with less than a few weeks a year to camp. Motorhomes rent for about $350 to $750 a week depending on location, model of rig and time of year. Trailers are considerably cheaper. To find a local rental dealer, consult your telephone directory under "Recreational Vehicles c Renting and Leasing".

Before buying your first recreational vehicle, learn all you can about the different types on the market. Talk to people who own RVs and ask them what they like and dislike about their rigs. Be sure, too, to attend RV shows that are held periodically in large cities. These shows are a great place for would-be RVers who are convinced they want a rig, but still need help deciding which type of vehicle best suits their needs and budget. For most RVers, a recreational vehicle is the second biggest purchase of a lifetime next to a home. And, like buying a home, it pays to shop around carefully before making a choice.

Chuck Woodbury is the editor and publisher of Out West, America's on-the-road newspaper. Woodbury travels the West by motorhome, writing about the people and places he encounters along the way. A one-year subscription to the quarterly newspaper is $11.95 from 408 Broad Street, Suite 11, Nevada City, CA 95959.E-mail:

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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