Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Things I love - and hate - about RVing

When I stopped working full-time in my 60s, one of the first things on my bucket list – clichés about retirement notwithstanding – was to go out and purchase a motorhome. (Below is a picture of our rig: a gently used 31 foot Jayco Escapade.) Now, after more than two years and 20,000 miles of cris-crossing the country in it, I can share some of the pros and cons of having your home on your back.

First, let’s start with some of the things I love about RVing:

1. Wherever you go, there you are
Even though I’ve flown hundreds of thousands of air miles in my career, visiting places ranging from China to Curacao, my dirty little secret is that I hate traveling. Sleeping in hotel beds, eating in strange restaurants, and having no privacy for days or weeks on end has always been stressful for me. So first and foremost, an RV takes much of the “travel” out of travel.

To me, one of the greatest joys of RV travel is being somewhere far away and yet able to raid the refrigerator whenever I feel like it, set the temperature to whatever I want, and sleep every night in my own bed. Not to mention knowing that the nearest restroom is as close as my turn signal.

2. It’s the cheapest way to go
Travel by motorhome is, far and away, the cheapest way to travel. For years, when my wife and I would visit my family in Arizona, we’d often spend $4-6000 by the time you added in air fares, car rental, hotels at $200+ a night, and eating nearly every single meal out. Last year, by comparison, we spent three weeks going to Tucson by motorhome and the costs barely topped $2K.

Here’s how it breaks down. First of all, the cost of gas kills you. Motorhomes like mine get no more than 8 miles per gallon on a good day – after all, you are carting a residence around. But after that, everything else is dirt cheap. Food is the same as staying home, RV campgrounds are around $40/night and sometimes much less, and nearly everything you need comes with you. You can often spend a week somewhere in your RV for not much more than the cost of a single night at a major-city hotel.

3. It can be surprisingly convenient
Last summer I spent four days at a psychotherapy conference in Washington DC, where I presented a research paper and attended committee meetings. Instead of spending all that time in a stuffy and expensive DC hotel, I stayed at an RV park outside the Beltway and was “home” every night. So how did I get to the conference every day? A bus came right to the RV park every hour, 20 minutes later I was at a Metro station, and nine stops later I was at my conference – easy-peazy.

There are RV parks at major resorts like Disney, parks close to public transportation in major cities, and even upscale RV resorts that are a short Uber ride from anything you want. And as a huge baseball fan, I’ve made numerous trips to Philadelphia, where you can park your RV and tailgate right at the ballpark, and a clean and safe campsite is just over across the river.

That said, I’ll be the first to admit that RVing also has its drawbacks. Here are a few of the things I hate about RVing:

1. Repairs
Things go wrong with RVs. Often. If you were driving your entire home around constantly, things would break down for you too. I sometimes joke to my dealer’s service department – whom I’ve gotten to know quite well – that I’m slowly replacing the entire RV one piece at a time.

To be fair, I’ve yet to have a single problem with the vehicle itself (a Ford E-450 V10 Super Duty). But since we’ve owned this RV we’ve fixed the generator, the power converter, and the refrigerator. We’ve dealt with sticky electric steps, a leaking cab bunk, clogged faucets, a waterlogged counter top, and more. And upgraded the shocks, to the tune of $1000, so my wife doesn’t go flying every time we drive over a bump. But so far it’s still been like many good relationships: expensive but worth it.

2. Restrooms designed by idiots
For some reason I’ve never figured out, nearly every RV campground restroom has these tiny stalls with doors that only open *inward.* Look at the picture here. Eyeball the distances involved. Now tell me how you get *out* of these stalls without having to brush against *everything.* Blecch.

There are exceptions, thankfully. The KOA campground near Hilton Head, for example, actually has stalls with their own sinks and the BBC piped in. Very civilized. But also the exception and not the rule.

3. Wonky WiFi
Practically every campsite claims to have WiFi. With a strong emphasis on the word “claims.” Because almost universally, it doesn’t work. Whether all 200 people at the campsite are using it at the same time, or whatever else is going on, the result is still the same: it’s usually too pokey to even send an email.

Some campgrounds offer two levels of service: free WiFi that doesn’t work, and expensive paid WiFi that might. As for me? I usually just tether my cell phone and carry on.

4. You don’t fit everywhere
A full-size motorhome like mine takes up two car lengths. Driving it is not a big deal – it’s like driving a van (because technically you are driving a van), with slightly wider turns and more wind resistance. But parking it is often another matter entirely.

There are some places you simply can’t go in a motorhome. Many strip malls and gas stations, for starters. If there isn’t enough room to turn around a big vehicle, you risk being able to get in but not out. For example, ask me about the time I tried to go to a mall outside of DC, discovered its only parking was garages whose ceiling heights were too low for my rig, and to add insult to injury, the only way out was a too-tight turn that left me blocking heavy traffic with horns blaring. That was fun.

And then, sadly, there are a few entire cities that are not at all RV-friendly. Pittsburgh, where I used to live for many years, has NO place to park an RV downtown, save for a bus lot far from everything that costs $100 to park in (!). Some areas have under-height bridges or other restrictions: for example, you can't drive an RV through the Lincoln or Holland Tunnels in New York City. And as for most street parking or garages, fugheddaboutit. Eventually you learn to think like a truck driver and plan your route around things like interstates, truck stops, shopping malls and campsites.

Adding it all up

So in the end, is RVing worth it?

Think of it a little like owning a pet. You put up with bites, scratches, changing the litter pan, and medical problems, because being warm and furry covers a multitude of sins. It is precisely the same thing between me and our RV.

This is why I gladly hook up the sewer and the utilities every night, do dumpster duty, go outside in bad weather to fix things, or drive 400 miles a day to get us where we are going because I couldn’t possibly imagine being retired without an RV. And so far, I still love it.

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