On a roll: RVers show no signs of slowing down
The 36-footer is just waiting for the sign, which, in this case, will be Laura Pellegrino’s foot on the gas pedal.
“I’ve cleaned it out. I’m beginning to stock it, and now I am just itching to pull out and get out of here,” she says of her motor home docked at her Stamford house.
Pellegrino works full time, so she is largely a long-weekend or a week-at-a-time kind of vacation traveler. She is waiting for retirement to hit the open road for extended trips with her RV to the Midwest and beyond, to see such places as the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam. In the past, she’s hunkered down at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison and Mineral Springs in Stafford Springs and campsites in Rhode Island for shorter stays; she’s gone on weeklong forays to Maine, Florida, Lake George, N.Y., and Delaware, picking up friends along the way.
“People RV to do it for fun and to meet people,” Pellegrino says recently by phone. “It’s absolutely social. … you can go about the day and do what you want and then at night, someone might light a fire in the fire pit and your neighbor next door brings some cake and you put on a pot of coffee and you sit around the fire and talk. It doesn’t matter where you came from, it’s just a chance to meet people from all over.”
If you think RVing has taken a hit because of gas prices or a growing societal trend to log one’s experiences vicariously through digital media, you would be mistaken. The number of RVs on the road is the highest it has ever been, at 9 million, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association.
“Growth of the industry has been pretty steady. It’s an interest that has been long-held by many people, particularly as they retire,” says Kevin Broom, association spokesman. “Many set out to hit the road in an RV and see the country. The desire for that lifestyle has been strong and remains so.”
Shipments hit a record last year, and Broom expects it will be broken this year. Retirees may be the bread-and-butter of the RV legions, but there are plenty of others out there. The typical RVer is a bit younger, at nearly 50, according to a recent survey by the RVIA, and nearly 40 percent of RVers have children under 18 living at home.
Historians peg the dawn of RV travel to the first decade of the 20th century, 1910 to be exact, the year the first motorized campers were built for commercial sale. A tad more rustic than today’s models, they still provided a home away from home as travelers puttered about a country that had yet to build a transcontinental network of paved roads. As interest grew, so did the amenities, including bathrooms, electricity, solar panels, high-end appliances and docking stations. There are huge top-of-the-line motor homes, where owners replicate a land-locked abode, while smaller versions may still provide many amenities, but in a more maneuverable package.
For those who like to tow their lodgings, there are plenty of ways to do that, including fifth wheels and other trailers, as well as campers. Prices for new vehicles range from several thousand dollars for a folding, or pop-up, camper to several million dollars for what are called Class A motor homes. The motorized RVs can be gas-guzzlers, averaging six to eight miles per gallon, but studies have found RVers save money by not eating out or staying at hotels (even if they are paying campground fees).
For nearly 10 years, Pellegrino has been on the board of the Connecticut chapter of the Good Sam Club, the largest RV club in the world. It’s an indication of the community that RVers tend to engender. Take a quick cruise online and you can find a club for your specific set of wheels (Airstream, Bounder, Coachmen, Gulf Stream, Winnebago and others), interests (golf, nature, agri-tourism), solo travelers and families, as well new, experienced and year-round RVers. While tooling around, you also get a sense of the different types of RVs. Those who have been at it awhile suggest talking to experienced travelers before plunking down money. You can rent one, too, to see whether the lifestyle is a fit before committing to it.
A friendly disposition might be a common trait among many RV travelers, but they also cite the freedom to travel where and when they want; the chance to unplug and connect with family; travel with pets and save money. The idea of traveling to far-off places, yet feeling at home at the end of the day is a large part of the draw, says Massachusetts resident Sandie Bock, president of the Northeast Network Chapter of RVing Women, which includes Connecticut. Bock and her partner have been RVing for more than 10 years. They plan to travel to Montana later this year and stay awhile.
“At night, you can put your feet up, have a full, home-cooked dinner and relax,” she says. “You feel more at home. There is this layer of comfort.”
Pellegrino is hoping to make it to the Jersey shore sometime this summer with her daughter, Helen, another RVer, who is president of the Southern Connecticut Rowdy Raiders, one of about 10 chapters of the Connecticut Good Sam Club.
“I’m counting the weeks,” Pellegrino says.