Talk about the RV trip of a lifetime: In 2017, 63-year-old Rod and 45-year-old Amy Burkert spent the entire year traveling with their dogs to top attractions in the lower 48 states. From Maine’s Acadia National Park to California’s Carmel Beach, the Burkerts visited some of America’s most extraordinary destinations.
Embracing the RV lifestyle
The Burkerts sold their house in 2010 and took off fulltime in their RV. “We love this lifestyle,” says Amy Burkett, cofounder of GoPetFriendly.com, a website that helps people locate pet-friendly destinations, vets, supply stores and resources around the country. To share that lifestyle with others, the husband-and-wife team wrote a book, The Ultimate Pet Friendly Road Trip, which documents their cross-country trek with their pets: Ty, a 14-year-old deaf Shar-Pei, and Buster, a 12-year-old German Shepherd. “We couldn’t tell people how easy it is to travel if we didn’t do it,” Burkert explains. “It felt overwhelming and wild, but we just hit the road for an unforgettable experience.”
The Burkerts aren’t alone. More than 25 million people will vacation in an RV this year in the U.S. Plus, a whopping 92% of RV owners said they expected to use their RVs as much or more as they did last year, according to an RV Industry Association (RVIA) survey. People report that they use their RVs to get outdoors and enjoy nature (65%), take mini-vacations (64%) and spend more time with family (50%). In addition, 9 million households in the U.S. own an RV, with 1 million of them living in their traveling homes fulltime. Plus, one of the best parts of RVing is getting social, both with the people you’re traveling with and the new friends you meet along the way.¹
Transport and hotel all in one
“Why go through the hassle—and expense—of booking a flight, hotel, rental car, and even restaurant reservations when you can combine all of this by driving and staying in an RV?” says Randy “Boomer” Berman, PR and communications representative at Chicago-headquartered Encore RV Resorts and Thousand Trails Campgrounds. “You save money by having your transportation and hotel all in one. RV resort and campground stays are typically less expensive than traditional hotel stays, plus guests can enjoy using a wide range of amenities while still having the comforts of their home on wheels.”
The road to identifying your perfect RV
Experts recommend that if you’ve never traveled in an RV, it makes sense to rent before you buy. Outdoorsy connects RV owners with people looking to rent RVs, like an AirBnB of RV and motorhome rentals. When you rent, you’ll want to look for several things: First, always expect to pay a damage deposit on the RV. Then based on the type of travel experience you want to have, consider the model, size and luxury level of your RV, and whether you want additional amenities such as kitchen kits, bedding or emergency kits. You may also want to estimate whether you’ll need additional mileage beyond what’s included in your base package. It may be cheaper to rent an RV by the week than by the day.
Rent first, buy later
If you’ve had a good experience renting an RV and want to buy, you’ll need to decide whether you want to live in an RV full-time or part-time, or simply have it for vacations. Do you want a tow-behind or motorized RV and how big should it be? Do you have a place to store it, and what are those costs? In addition, you’ll want to factor in maintenance and operating costs, gas, insurance and site rental, such as a retirement community or a campground. If you're worried about money matters, know that most lenders will finance RVs for up to 20 years with interest rates similar to a home mortgage. On average, RV owners take out a $45,000 loan. Prices for RVs come in a wide range, according to RVIA: While there are affordable models under $10,000, Class C and Class B motorhomes retail anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000; a Class A motorhome can retail for more than $500,000. You’ll also need insurance, plus a place to store it. If keeping it on your property isn’t an option, unheated indoor storage facilities charge $50 to $125 per month, while heated facilities run between $100 and $450 per month.²
Top Tips for Getting Ready
When you’re getting ready for your RV trip, whether it’s your first or 21st, make sure that you and your RV are in good shape. First, book a physical with your healthcare provider before you embark on a long road trip, and be sure to check your teeth, vision and your hearing.
Berman recommends these tips for owner so get their RV ready:
Check your tires (don’t forget your spare). Make sure they’re in good condition, so inspect the depth, tread and sidewalls for wear and tear. Plus, inflate your tires to the recommended PSI. Expert tip: You should still bring along everything you need to change a flat, including a jack, chock and tire iron, along with cones to place around your RV to alert other drivers.
Don’t neglect your brakes and bearings. Make an appointment with a certified mechanic to make sure your RV’s brakes and wheel bearings are in tip-top shape.
Inspect your RV’s electrical system. That includes outlets, appliances, batteries, cables, the air conditioner, and of course, your circuit breaker and fuses. Visit your RV dealer or a certified mechanic if you’re unsure how the system works, since there’s a risk of injury.
Don’t forget your lights. Double-check that your exterior lights work: headlights, high beams, indicator lights, marker lights and brake lights. If you’re towing your vehicle behind your RV, look to see that those are functioning as well.
Stock up on supplies. Should you break down, you’ll want to have an RV survival kit. That should include emergency food and water, an LED flare and flashlight, candles or lanterns, a solar or hand crank radio, a mobile phone charger, and water purification tablets, among other items.
Hit the road right when you plan
Here are eight compelling reasons to plan an RV trip, or two, or three.
Save cash (for lots of other fun stuff). “Vacationing in an RV allows you to enjoy a cost-effective adventure and provides a unique way to travel at your own pace while staying in your mobile hotel room in any one of the thousands of RV campgrounds across the country,” Berman says.
In fact, a new study conducted by CBRE Hotels Advisory Group discovered that RV vacations cost way less than other types of vacation travel, even when you include fuel prices and the cost of RV ownership. The study, commissioned by Go RVing and the RV Industry Association, cited cost savings of 21% to 64% for a four-person travel party and 8% to 53% for a two-person party, depending on factors like the types of RV and vacation.
Many people love the convenience of an RV vs. more expensive lodging. If you’re traveling with family members, booking two or more hotel rooms per night adds up quickly. The average cost for a full-service RV park can run you between $25 and $80 per night, depending on the location, space allotted and available hookups like water and electric.
Plus, since you’re traveling with your kitchen, you can save money on food, choosing to splurge on meals in only unique or memorable locations. “We eat in 95% of the time, and we choose healthier options because we cook a lot,” Burkert says. “Eating out becomes more of an experience.”
If you travel in an RV with your pets, you can also avoid the hotel pet fees or boarding fees, which easily amounts to $50 or more per day. “Compare that to a campground that runs between $25 to $45 a night for everything included,” Burkert says. “Plus, it’s usually more enjoyable for the pet to have open, outdoor space available.”
Enjoy the flexibility.
If you ask most die-hard RVers, they’ll say an RV trip is hands-down the most flexible vacation out there. You can stop wherever and whenever you want, and you can choose to shorten or extend your stay in any location. In addition, you can meet up with other RVers at tourist destinations and camps across the country.
“Really, the only thing you need to be flexible in your RV is a tank of gas,” Berman says. “From following the good weather or exploring historic sites to just wanting to park by a lake or hit every state, RVing lets you cater to your unique interests. Sudden urge to head West? Go for it!”
Not only are your destination choices nearly endless, Berman says, but RVing allows you the freedom of taking along the family pet and sleeping in your own bed – you’ll be as comfortable as you are in your own home.
Avoid typical travel inconveniences.
When you head out with your RV, you have constant access to a bed (yes, your own pillows and sheets), a kitchenette and a bathroom. Plus, vacationing in an RV lets you skip the luggage fees, long security lines and bad food at the airport, Berman says.
Since you don’t have the same kind of restrictions that you’d have on an airplane, train or bus, go ahead and pack board games, DVDs and even a barbecue for those roadside hotdog roasts.
Get up close and personal with Mother Nature.
RVing gives you the chance to enjoy some of the country’s most beautiful natural settings, from forests to mountains, lakes to beaches, with your loved ones. You can enjoy outdoor sports and activities like hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming and fishing. According to an article in the journal Health & Place, a study conducted at the University of Minnesota showed that seniors who spent lots of time outdoors near vegetation and water experienced feelings of renewal, restoration and spiritual connectedness, leading to enhanced physical, mental and social health.
Lots of seniors 62 years and older take advantage of the America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Senior Pass. For a one-time payment of $80, you score unlimited lifetime access to more than 2,000 recreation sites managed by six federal agencies, including the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The pass covers entrance and standard recreation fees, along with discounts on other amenities. Your traveling companions will also be able to enter the sites for free. Plus, access to a majority of National Park sites are free—just 118 of 417 National Park Service sites have an entrance fee.
California-based Yosemite National Park and Los Padres National Forest are two of the most popular destinations for RVers. You can you can camp at the park without electrical, water and sewer hookups, or you can stay in a nearby RV campground and catch a shuttle into the park.
“No matter where you are, you become acclimated to your surroundings,” Burkert says. “We’re constantly changing our environment, from the ocean to the mountains, to the forest to the desert. We experience Mother Nature more, and it’s right outside our door everywhere we are. We see beautiful sunsets every night.”
Enjoy family bonding time (and that includes your pets).
Living and traveling in their RV full time, the Burkert’s family bond has grown even stronger. “We’ve become more of a cohesive unit living in the RV,” Burkert says. “We do a lot more together, and we have so many memories. Seeing the Grand Canyon with our dogs was amazing.”
Many parks are pet-friendly, and furthermore, Burkert asserts that there are unlimited activities to do with your pets, including scenic train rides, canoeing, hiking, lake boat rides and even drive-in movie theaters. “The health benefits of pets are clear, since they keep you active and they share your love,” Burkert says. “You deserve to spend leisure time with your pets.”
And, no question, air travel with pets isn’t fun. Many airlines stow pet carriers with regular cargo, and your furry friends don’t have water access or bathroom breaks. And some international destinations, like Scandinavian countries, have restrictions or even quarantine pets visiting from abroad. In your RV, your pets travel in comfort and can get out to stretch their legs on their regular schedule.
In addition, if you’re traveling with other family members such as your children or grandchildren, there are lots of camping options (tents, cabins or your RV), along with the amenities you want: waterfront sites, swimming pools, free wi-fi and even mini golf, Berman says.
Choose camping — or glamping.
If you want to go off the beaten path, you can head to a true in-the-wilderness campsite for as low as $25 for two weeks. Of course, you’ll need to cover the costs of food and gas (and you’ll have to dump your own holding tanks). Campgrounds with more amenities can cost up to $80 per night, and you might score a discount for staying a longer stretch of time. “You can pitch a tent or camp in the lap of luxury,” says Burkert, who now owns a 37-foot-long RV, spanning a comfy 240 square feet. “You can choose your level of comfort, from a teardrop trailer with an outdoor kitchen and campground bathroom, to an RV with a powder room and fireplace.”
For an easy, convenient way to plan your trip and locate destinations where you’ll meet other like-minded people, visit CampUSA.com or download the CampUSA app. “There you can quickly search more than 1,200 of the top campgrounds nationwide, including Kampgrounds of America, Encore RV Resorts, Thousand Trails locations and so many more,” Berman says.
Meet lots of new friends.
As you stop at RV campgrounds and resorts along the way, you’ll meet like-minded people at socials, entertainment and game nights. “Maybe you wouldn’t anticipate making lasting friendships during your stay in a hotel, but people build new friends every day in RV campgrounds across the country,” Berman says. “There’s a noticeable camaraderie among RVers. You’ll find your campground neighbors giving you a wave as you pass and welcoming you as you get situated at your campsite. Fellow RVers are always willing to help and provide insights or share the best local fishing spot with their fellow travelers.”
Burkert thought RVing would be a lonely existence, but found that wasn’t the case. “We meet friends we might just see once and those we continue to see for a lifetime,” she says. “We’re all starting from a common place. You can meet tons of new people. But if you need a break, then head to a national park where you’re separated from other people by lots of trees.”
Take control of your smartphone.
While e-devices are a large part of most of our lives, taking a break from them can boost your emotional health. If your Facebook notifications ping out of control, and you check email 10 times a day, unplugging from cyberspace can offer you a much-needed break.
While Burkert acknowledges that being able to disconnect while RVing is great, technology offers her the best of both worlds. A wireless connection allows her to travel, run a business and stay in much-needed touch with family and friends. “A lot of seniors have trouble leaving their grandkids for a few weeks or months,” she says. “Using a video tool can keep you in touch virtually. You can even show them the sites you’re visiting. You can stay connected in the way that works best for you.”
Whether you love hiking in national forests or touring museums and historical sites, RV vacations facilitate learning in fun, hands-on ways. “This is your chance to see all those iconic places on your bucket list,” Burkert says. “If you’ve always wanted to drive down Route 66, now’s the time to do it.”
America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Senior Pass
Encore RV Resorts and Thousand Trails Campgrounds
Kampgrounds of America
National Park Service
RV Industry Association
¹ https://www.rvia.org/reports-trends Accessed August 19, 2019.
² https://www.mortgagecalculator.org/calcs/rv.php Accessed August 19, 2019.