Editor’s Note: Chuck Woodbury, noted RV industry writer and editor, has begun a cross-country trek by motorhome. Read about the start of his journey below, as reported on www.rvtravel.com.
I’m off and running (driving, actually) on a two- to three-month motorhome adventure across America, from the Northwest to Northeast and then to who knows where? My daughter Emily will be with me the first two weeks, and then I will be on my own — a rolling stone.
Be sure to look for me at the big Hershey, Pa., RV Show Sept. 15-18. Gary Bunzer, the RV Doctor, and I will do a live webcast from there Saturday, Sept. 18 at 1 p.m., Eastern time (10 a.m. Western time). Please join our audience. I plan other live webcasts as well from RV parks and campgrounds across America (more about this later).
I’ll write a lot this trip, posting short updates on Twitter and writing often in my blog. I will also provide updates most days right here in the newsletter. So return here often each week and look for the trip update logo below.
That’s about it for my opening comments. Now, I need to get everything packed up and ready, and leave some extra time for map studying and daydreaming about the road ahead.
Friday evening, 10 p.m. (Pacific): We didn’t leave Seattle until 2 p.m., and then drove straight through on I-90 to Post Falls, Idaho — just beyond the Washington/Idaho border. Emily was quiet today, very sad about leaving her childhood friends as she heads off to her freshman year of college in New York. So most of the drive we didn’t talk — each occupied with our own thoughts. The late afternoon light on the rolling hills of eastern Washington was spectacular. It’s warm here tonight in Post Falls. Tomorrow we plan to stay in Billings, Montana. UPDATE Saturday, 7 a.m. I’m up early to read emails from readers to see if I made any typos or other mistakes. Emily is sleeping in. Gorgeous morning. UPDATE: Sunday 10 p.m. Visited Battle of Big Horn site today, now camped in park campground in Devil’s Tower National Monument. Gorgeous scene here, now with a billion stars in the night sky. More trip updates coming twice a day (most days) throughout the trip. So keep checking back.
Rent an RV, hit the road and save gobs of money on your next vacation.
Really? Maybe not, even some advocates concede, according to Jane Engle, travel writer for Los Angeles Times.
“You could probably pack four people in a car, eat at restaurants, stay in hotels, and I imagine it’s about the same cost,” said Chuck Woodbury, editor of RVTravel.com, a consumer website offering tips and tricks for RVers.
But consider the intangibles.
“The real advantage of the RV is that the family’s together, and you can cook and eat healthy meals,” Woodbury said. “There’s something about being in a little house that’s very appealing. Sitting around a campfire at night is a lot more fun than sitting around a hotel room and watching TV.”
Pauline Frommer, creator of the Pauline Frommer’s Travel Guides series for budget travelers, said she was won over by her first-ever family RV trip last year. (And, yes, “we probably spent exactly what we would have spent if we went on a car road trip,” she added.)
I priced a hypothetical one-week vacation trip for a family of four from Los Angeles to South Lake Tahoe and back in July by rented RV versus going in the family car and staying at a hotel. Excluding food, the cost was about the same. But because it’s typically cheaper to make your own meals than to eat out, the RV won by a nose. (I priced a 25-foot Class C RV rental with a KOA campground stay and used a standard AAA calculator for driving costs of a medium sedan, with some tweaks.)
But why spend more than you need to? With that in mind, I gleaned tips from Woodbury and Frommer on how to save.
Rent the right size. Many people overestimate what they need.
Frommer’s family of four rented a 30-foot RV to tour the West. But in Sedona, Ariz., she said, “we realized we couldn’t drive it to a trail head. It was too big to park anywhere. So we turned out having to rent another car.”
Next time, she said, they’ll rent a smaller unit or even a pop-up camping trailer, which Woodbury said often rents for a fourth of what a regular RV costs.
Scout out free or low-cost parking: On my hypothetical trip, it cost $69 a night to park my RV with full hookups.
“You picked the high season and a very popular spot,” which boosted the price, Woodbury said.
Many private and national forest campgrounds charge less than $25 a night, he said. Cheaper spots don’t come with hookups or may just have water and electric. So consider doing without for a night or two, Woodbury said; rely more on battery power and siphon waste into a dump station.
You can park free on some public lands, he added, and many Wal-Marts will let you pull into their lots and spend the night — not exactly a nature experience, but OK in a pinch. For tips on cheap parking places, check out websites such as FreeCampgrounds.com.
Don’t write off private campgrounds, such as KOA, which may cost more but provide a resort-like experience.
“KOA is great for kids,” Woodbury said. “They’re in heaven. Many KOAs have swimming pools, game rooms, pancake breakfasts, movies at night and ice cream socials. It’s safe. There’s a store for supplies.”
Vacation off-season. By avoiding summer, the peak time for RV rentals in most places, you’ll pay less. Cruise America, which claims to be North America’s largest RV rental company, was recently giving 25% off rentals between Sept. 10 and Dec. 15.
Grab a one-way special. Rental companies sometimes need to move their inventory around, and if you help them, you can get “incredible deals,” Woodbury said.
Cruise America, for instance, was recently offering one-way autumn rentals from Carson, Calif., to Phoenix for $24 a night, with 1,000 free miles and no dropoff fee. By comparison, when I priced the 25-foot RV for my hypothetical trip in July, the company quoted $169 a night, plus 32 cents a mile.
Most everyone in the RV industry agrees that sales of recreational vehicles are up after several dismal years and that prospects are good for the future. But according to a reader survey over the weekend at www.RVtravel.com, sales may have peaked for 2010, according to a posting today by RV News Service Editor Chuck Woodbury.
More than 1,200 of the website’s readers responded to the survey as of today (March 29), which asked “How likely is it that you will buy an RV in 2010?” (see results below)
“Overall, I was discouraged by the response,” said Woodbury. “The good news was that more than 7% of our readers have already bought an RV this year. That seemed right in line with what everyone is saying about RV sales, which have shown a significant increases this year over 2009.
“The discouraging news is that only about 3% of our readers say they will ‘almost surely’ buy an RV during the rest of the year with only 8% saying they will probably buy one. What was most discouraging to me was that nearly two-thirds (65%) of our readers reported that they will definitely not buy an RV this year, with another 20% saying they will probably not buy — that’s 85 percent who are not likely to buy.”
See the latest results of the survey, which is still in progress, by clicking here.
Here’s another indication the RV industry is heading upward: the sales of books devoted to the RV industry are heading upward.
Chuck Woodbury, owner of RVbookstore.com, the largest store devoted specifically to books and DVDs about recreational vehicles and the RV lifestyle, says books sales have been heading upward again since last July, according to a news release that was distributed and posted by Woodbury’s RV News Service.
Woodbury gets an hour-by-hour sneak peek into RV consumers’ habits well before most others in the industry.
“About two to three years ago, our sales of books and DVDs aimed at novice RVers and RV buyers nosedived,” he said. “It was like night and day. At about the same time, consumers quit buying RVs. It was very clear to us that the industry was in big trouble. In the months that followed, one RV manufacturer after another filed bankruptcy.
“Our sales stayed down until about last July, when they shot up dramatically. Every month since the they have run about 150% of the year before. Titles that instruct RV buyers about how to negotiate a purchase, and DVDs that teach new RVers how to use their new vehicles are up the most. It’s obvious to me that consumers are once again in a buying mood.”
Woodbury started rvbookstore.com 10 years ago in his home garage. Now, the online store occupies a 2,000-square-foot warehouse near Seattle with about 700 RV-specific books, DVDs, CD-roms and eBooks.
Besides running RVbookstore.com, Woodbury also publishes many informational RVing websites including RVtravel.com, NewRVer.com, FreeCampgrounds.com and about three dozen popular blogs. He says that more than half a million different RVers visit the sites every month, making the audience one of the largest aimed at recreational vehicle enthusiasts. Woodbury’s weekly RVtravel.com newsletter is in its ninth year with an email circulation of 54,000 every Saturday morning.
The week of Sept. 11, 2001, Chuck Woodbury was set to issue his first RVtravel.com online newsletter. He recalls he had less than 100 subscribers. “Then, after the terrible events of that day, it seemed unimportant to be discussing RVing,” he recalled.
Two weeks later, he issued his first newsletter, initially every other week, then weekly after a few months. On Saturday, (Oct. 18), the 62-year-old RVer and publisher will post his 400th edition to an audience of about 100,000, according to a press release.
It’s a labor of love for Woodbury, but also a driving force in his business, which earns half its income from advertising and the other half from sales at RVbookstore.com, which Woodbury said is the largest store in the world specializing in books, eBooks and DVDs aimed specifically at RVers.
The newsletter, which is free to subscribers, covers important consumer news about recreational vehicles and the RV lifestyle, and short features on most aspects of RVing. Woodbury’s opening essay — sometimes newsy but often more personal — is the biggest draw. “In the 1990s, I spent a good part of my time traveling the American West in a motorhome, publishing my on-the-road newspaper Out West,” he said. “I kept a journal of my travels and published it in the paper. That was where I found my own voice as a writer. What I was doing was blogging before the term was coined.”
Out West was so unique that Woodbury was profiled by most of the major news media including all the broadcast TV networks, CNN, USA Today and People Magazine. Phone booths became his favorite hangout. “For about a year, every couple of days I’d be a call-in guest on a radio talk show,” he said.
HIS MEDIA FAME led to a book deal with New York publisher William Morrow, “The Best from Out West,” and a six year stint with the New York Times Syndicate, which distributed his columns to newspapers around the world.
These days, Woodbury says he spends about two days a week producing his RVtravel.com newsletter. Most times, he writes it from his home in Edmonds, Wash., but he’s written and posted many issues from throughout North America while traveling by motorhome. In September, he posted two issues while vacationing in Germany.
Woodbury says he will likely make it to a 500th issue, but he’s not sure after that. “I will have been publishing it more than 10 years at that point,” he explained. “I know I will keep writing, but I don’t know if I will want to deal any more with a weekly deadline.”
The 400th issue of the RV Travel newsletter will be posted early Saturday at RVtravel.com. The same morning two RVing experts, the ”RV Doctor” Gary Bunzer and Eric Davis of Eric’s RV Performance Center, will join Woodbury in a live two-hour video webcast that will appear on the same web page as the newsletter beginning at1 p.m. EST
Overnight parking of recreational vehicles in all public parking lots of Maine will be illegal if pending legislation passes the Maine Legislature.
LD114/HP98 would make it a civil offense to park an RV overnight on any public parking lot in the state, according to the rvnewsservice.com
The text of the bill reads, in part:
“A person may not park or occupy a recreational vehicle, as defined in Title 10, section 1432, subsection 18, in a commercial parking facility overnight. For purposes of this section, ‘commercial parking facility’ means a parking structure or area open to members of the public for the purposes of parking their vehicles while patronizing one or more commercial establishments, but does not include a mobile home park or recreational vehicle park allowed by a municipality or a camping area licensed by the department. A person who violates the provisions of this section commits a civil violation subject to a fine of no more than $100, which must be suspended for the first violation and may be suspended for subsequent violations.”
Due to the way this is worded, these restrictions will apply to any publicly accessible parking lot including those at casinos, truck stops, Wal-Marts (popular overnight stops for many RVers) and even dirt or gravel areas commonly used by truckers and RVers.
This is not the first time that RVers have been faced with such a challenge. Several years ago, similar legislation was introduced in Montana and Nevada. Due to the protests from RVers all over the country, the attempts to ban RV parking failed.
Typically, RVers make significant contributions financially to places that welcome them and, many times, will return to an area for an extended stay if they have been received in a friendly manner. Signs banning RVs from parking areas do not appear very friendly to an RVer who may simply be looking for a quiet place to sleep and have no need for a full-service RV park.
“In most cases there is a huge uproar from the RV community any time this type of legislation is proposed,” said Chuck Woodbury, editor of RVtravel.com. “I suspect that Maine lawmakers will back off this time. RVers value their freedom to stay where they want, as long as they are welcomed. Maine will be perceived as RV-unfriendly if this should pass, and it will likely cost the state significant tourism dollars.”
Nearly 28% of the more than 2,100 RV enthusiasts who answered the survey reported they owed more on their RVs than what they could sell them for. “It’s not uncommon for these RVers to be forced to dig deep into their pockets to unload their vehicle,” said Chuck Woodbury, editor of Edmonds, Wash.-based RVtravel.com and host of the Better Business Bureau DVD Buying a Recreational Vehicle.
Woodbury and other RV experts say there are many reasons why RVers get in trouble with their loans.
“They buy an RV with little or no money down and stretch their payments over too many years,” said Charles Davis of RVfinancing.com. Davis said that in 2008, nearly all the RV loans of $100,000 or more his company arranged were for 15 or 20 years.
Davis explained that the minute an RV buyer leaves a dealer’s lot, his or her new RV becomes a used vehicle and generally drops about 20% in value from its selling price.
RVers who finance their vehicles at significantly lower rates than offered by most other lenders are also asking for trouble. “The RV dealer will simply add thousands of dollars to the RV’s selling price to offset the low interest rate, in effect doing what’s known as a buy down or buying down the rate,” explained Davis.
“A few years ago a guy who I had advised the year before not to take advantage of a dealer’s low financing rate came back to me at an RV show. He asked me to tell him how badly he was upside down in his RV loan. I told him about $50,000 on the amount he had borrowed.”
The problem gets worse when such an RVer trades in his RV to buy another one.
Davis said he was not surprised by the results of the RVtravel.com survey. “People should always establish an equity in a new vehicle, whatever they buy,” he said. “That means making at least a 20% down payment.”
Woodbury said it’s easy to avoid getting upside down in an RV loan. “Buy an RV that you can afford, make a significant down payment and pay off the loan in the time you expect to own it. An RV is a depreciating asset. If you don’t get equity in it right up front, you’re asking for trouble.”