RVing is hot and not just with retirees. A new generation is hitting the road, from the Burning Man festival in Nevada to concerts at the Gorge Amphitheatre. And TV programs such as “Road Rules” and “Simple Life 2” have helped bring RVing to the forefront of pop culture.
For years MTV’s “Road Rules” followed the adventures of six 20-somethings as they traveled by motor home “attempting over-the-top missions” in exotic locations.
In last summer’s hit “Simple Life 2,” the antics of “celebutantes” Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie were chronicled as they “worked” their way across the country towing an Airstream travel trailer.
“An RV is no longer just Grandpa’s and Grandma’s playhouse,” said Chuck Woodbury, publisher of Web sites about RVing.
“There’s a much broader range of appeal to traveling by RV, from the oldest RVers to people as young as in their 20s.”
Woodbury first hit the road in an RV about 20 years ago when he was in his mid-30s.
“Nobody my age was traveling in a motor home then,” he said from his office in Edmonds, Wash.
“When I left town, I really left town. I kept in touch with friends using phone booths and an occasional letter – that was it.”
Today cell phones, text messaging and WiFi make leaving town a lot easier than two decades ago – and more and more Generation Xers are doing it in an RV.
“I can’t imagine a better way to travel with a family than in an RV,” said Brad Herzog, 37, author of a dozen children’s books and two travel narratives.
Herzog, his wife, Amy, 36, and their two young sons currently are traveling the country in a 39-foot 2005 Winnebago Adventurer as spokespersons for the RV industry.
“We have found we can be very spontaneous traveling this way,” Herzog said. “If we spot a view or a park that looks interesting, we can stop and explore.”
Brian Nate of Spokane agrees.
Nate purchased his 30-foot 1985 Itasca motor home two years ago for $6,500.
“A lot of times, a group of my friends will pile in the RV, and we just take off without a destination in mind,” said the 33-year-old bachelor. “We just let the trip decide where we end up. With the RV, we know that we can pull off wherever and have a place to stay.”
Shifting from tent camping
A growing number of younger RVers are ending up in Idaho and Washington state parks.
“About 60 percent of all campers are young families, and a high percentage of those are in RVs,” said Betty Norlander, reservations clerk for Farragut State Park on Lake Pend Oreille.
The Washington State Parks system also is experiencing an increase in RV use, according to parks planner Brian Hovis.
“The same activities are occurring in parks today as they did when I was a kid,” said Hovis from Olympia. “People still sit around campfires, hike trails and go to the beach.”
But in the mid-1980s, he continued, “all of those folks were camping in tents. Now there is a general shifting of the camping population to RVs. Today it’s a lot closer to two RV campers to one tent camper. That’s a big shift.”
Adam and Karen Graves, both 30, made the shift five years ago when they purchased a 1975 Volkswagen Rivera pop-top camper van for $3,500.
“We do a lot of camping with our family and friends,” said Adam Graves, owner of A Creative Advertising Agency in Coeur d’Alene.
“We love it because we can pull into a campsite and be completely set up within four minutes while some of my friends will spend another hour setting up their tent,” he said.
“The same thing happens when we are ready to break camp. Within four minutes, we will have loaded everything back in the bus, put the top down and be on the road while they are still at the campsite, packing stuff away,” he said.
“When you go camping as much as we do,” he concluded, “the RV is a big timesaver so that we can get to the good part of camping quicker.”
Romance of the road
Younger RVers seem to like RVing for much the same reasons as the Baby Boomers and retirees.
“You have your own little universe on wheels,” said nanny Jayme Aumann, 35, of Spokane.
Aumann borrowed a family motor home in 2000 and toured the Southwest for four months.
“One of the great things about RVing is that when you are in a campground, you get to meet people from all over,” Aumann said. “When you travel by car and stay in a hotel, you tend to just come and go from your room.”
Kevin Pollack, 27, of Warren, Mich., put it this way: “You have people who like hotels and people who like camping outdoors, and RVing is the best of both worlds.”
Pollack started the Michigan RV Club, a Web site that is geared toward those younger than 30.
“Every year I go to the biggest RV show in Michigan,” he said during a telephone interview, “and I notice more and more young people there. The coaches are even changing by offering options younger people would like.”
Some of those options include more colorful interiors and “garages” that haul ATVs and off-road motor bikes.
But more than color schemes, it’s still the romance of the road that calls many young RVers.
“I can remember in junior high school,” Nate said, “a friend and I had this fantasy to cruise America and pick up chicks. It was going to be a great life. RVing is just an extension of that pipe dream.”
But, ultimately, Nate said, “It is the freedom it gives you and it’s great. It’s awesome.”