Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Even with the price of fuel, a very popular retirement option is to fly away south in the winter to escape the cold and gloom of northern climates. Many folks do this in their RV’s which allows them the freedom to sample different areas. It’s as simple as hooking up and heading on down the road when you feel you have explored a region to your heart’s content. In fact, for some, the call of the open road is irresistible, and they just can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner! Others like to return to the same RV park year after year, and look forward to joyous reunions with friends who come back each winter from all over the U.S.

So, what is an RV (recreational vehicle)? If you can answer this question, then you are already out there having fun in the sun! For those who are not familiar with the various options, I will give you a little background information.

RV’s come in all sizes and shapes! That is a gross understatement, but important to realize. Here are a few of the most popular types of RV’s.

A motor home is a self-contained unit, with the engine included. These can be huge “diesel pushers” which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Rock stars travel in these things! They could have fireplaces, washers and dryers, and elegant furnishings. The really big ones are called “Class A” motor homes. Driving them is similar to a Greyhound bus. Smaller motor homes which sit on a regular pickup truck chassis are called “Class C”. They usually run on regular gas, and drive like an oversized pickup. Motor homes usually have generators, so you can “dry camp” (without having to hook up to electricity) for several days at a time, and have all the comforts of home (TV, hair dryer, microwave). The disadvantage is if you want to run down to the corner store for a quart of milk, you need another vehicle unless you want to drive your rig. So often you see these units towing another car.

Then there is a 5th Wheel. This is a unit that is towed by a pickup truck, with part of the RV extending over the bed of the truck. Many retirees like the way these units tow and find them easy to park and maneuver. The bedroom and bathroom are usually in the front of the rig in the part that extends over the back of the pickup, so you have to walk up a couple of steps to get there and sometimes “crawl to your bed” in the smaller units. Again, these can be large and magnificently appointed, or smaller and more affordable. You must have a pickup to tow them, but the advantage is that you can unhook the unit and now you have a regular vehicle to drive around.

Another more traditional type of RV is the travel trailer. Remember the Airstream? They still make them, and they are very luxurious! These can be towed with a regular full-sized SUV (with a large enough engine and towing package), or a pickup. These also come in all sizes, even tiny ones that can be towed with a regular car! The advantage of the trailer over the 5th Wheel (in my opinion) is that they are all on one level, and you don’t have to climb up steps to get to your bathroom and bedroom. They are also more aerodynamic than the big 5th Wheels which can loom over the top of your pickup and be rather scary to drive if there are severe crosswinds. As with a 5th Wheel, you have the advantage of being able to unhook and drive your car for shopping or exploring. Again, these come in all sizes and price ranges.

For camping (vs. actually living in your rig), there is the cab-over camper which sits in the bed of your pickup. These are not readily detached from the pickup, but they have the advantage of being compact and easy to drive. As with all RV’s, there are many price ranges and styles.

One feature of all the above RV’s that makes a huge difference in how you can enjoy your space is the slideout. Some of the big 5th Wheels and motor homes have up to three of these room extensions. But even small trailers and cab-over campers are now being made with at least one slideout. It’s really amazing how a little extra room can make such a difference.

There are many decisions to be made, but hopefully this gives you some vocabulary to begin your search. You can read many articles on-line about RV'ing in retirement, and I would encourage a lot of shopping and talking to RV owners, in addition to RV sales people, before you even consider buying one. As with any vehicle, there is a huge depreciation factor the moment you drive it off the lot if you buy a new RV and then decide to trade. Once you know what you want, you can buy used RV’s for significant savings, especially in this down economy.

Enjoy the freedom of the open road, and saying goodbye to winter!

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