World from behind the wheel

More and more people are hitting the road with a touch of home in tow using RVs

More and more people are hitting the road with a touch of home in tow using RVs

March 08, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

A trip to southern Florida in the dead of winter will dispel any doubts about the popularity of recreational vehicles that combine transportation and temporary living quarters. You'll see the massive motor homes lumbering down U.S. 1 toward their next electric and water hookup spot at countless RV-friendly campgrounds, and parked amidst the palms with contented travelers picnicking under fold-out canopies.

Or watch the happy faces of RV owners at such crowded sporting events as NASCAR races. They'll be the ones smiling because they didn't pay high lodging rates at overcrowded hotels, and napping in their motor homes after the race while other fans sit in exit traffic.

"I haven't seen a hotel since '73, and I'm not going to," said Washington County Commissioner John Munson. He and his wife, Audrey, have been RV enthusiasts for more than 30 years. The couple travels primarily to Tri-State area campgrounds and NASCAR racing events up and down the East Coast - their RV boasts a No. 24 Jeff Gordon license plate border - but the Munsons also have motored their rolling home to RV rallies in Wyoming, Michigan and Georgia.


A bad hotel experience in Florida prompted the Munsons to buy their first RV - a 21-foot Coachman travel trailer - in 1973. Since then, "We've worked our way up," Audrey Munson said. She and her husband have owned nine RVs, including a second pull-behind, three "fifth-wheel" RVs, two gas motor homes and two diesel motor homes.

Growing ranks of RVs

The annual retail value of RV shipments is an estimated $12 billion, with average prices ranging from about $6,500 for folding camping trailers to more than $135,000 for the largest motor homes, according to information from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association at on the Web.

The Munsons have seen a definite increase in the number of RVs on the road since they began their RV travels in 1973, they said.

The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association estimates that nearly 7 million RVs are now traveling U.S. roads or parked in the nation's driveways - or at nearly one in 12 vehicle-owning households in the United States. RV ownership increased by almost 8 percent from 1998 to 2001, and is expected to reach the 8 million mark by 2010, the organization states.

More RVs are owned by individuals ages 35 to 54 than any other age group. There are as many as 30 million RV enthusiasts - including renters - nationwide, according to the RVIA.

The two main categories of RVs are motor homes and towables, including folding camping trailers, conventional travel trailers and fifth-wheel travel trailers towed behind vehicles.

The Munsons bought their newest - and plushest - motor home in 2002. The 40-foot, 26,000-pound Newmar Dutch Star "is a house on wheels," Audrey Munson said. "It has all the amenities you need."

And many you just want - leather bucket seats, Corian countertops, satellite TV capabilities on two TV sets, a surround-sound stereo system, convection/microwave oven, gas stove, ceramic tile floors and walls that slide out to widen the living space at the touch of a button. The Dutch Star "sleeps four and all you can get on the floor," John Munson said.

The motor home also features a refrigerator, gas furnace, two heat pumps, a 7.5-kilowatt diesel generator, a rearview camera monitor mounted in the dashboard, and heated and remote-controlled sideview mirrors. The RV can hold 105 gallons of water on board, and has an unbelievable amount of interior and exterior storage space. John Munson compared the cargo storage to that of a Greyhound bus.

"This'll probably be the last one for a long, long time," he said. "I've got everything I need. I don't need any more."

Munson said the Dutch Star retails at nearly $200,000, but that he didn't pay that much for his RV.

A family thing

Pam Clemmer grew up with recreational vehicles. While in third grade, she and her family flew to California to pick up their new motor home from the factory. The drive back across the country was a trip Clemmer will never forget - one of the many positive RV experiences that prompted Pam and her husband, Andy, to invest in an RV for their own family.

The Clemmers, of Hagerstown, own a 31-foot Coachman motor home.

"It is such a family-oriented thing. It's a great family experience," Pam Clemmer said.

RV travel is especially handy when traveling with youngsters, she said. The Clemmers enjoy taking their RV to campgrounds in the Tri-State area. The family in January trekked to Disney World in Florida with their three young children - Jake, 7, Jeremiah, 5, and Josh, 2. The kids spent their time on the road playing board and video games, watching movies on the VCR, sleeping and eating without ever having to leave the comfort of their motorized home. And they didn't have to stay in a hotel.

"It's incredible," Pam Clemmer said. "You have all your own stuff, and you know it's clean."

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