Editor’s Note: Outdoors Writer Tom Stienstra filed this story for the San Francisco Chronicle.
For some, the vagabond life in an RV is the last way to live free.
You turn the key and away you go. Just by parking, you can create your own coastal villa, lakeshore cottage or mountain retreat.
You can roam wherever you want, stay at a spot overnight or for days, and venture off on daily adventures.
Suddenly, you are off the grid, beholden to no one. This might feel like perfection for those who subscribe to the philosophy of Billy Joe Shaver, the old Texas songwriter, “Moving is the closest thing to being free.”
In the era of Wi-Fi for computers, satellite TV and radio, and do-it-all cell phones, you do not have to sacrifice being connected.
RV sales, particularly sales of used trailers and fifth-wheels, are strong this winter, according to several dealers and the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). The new, high-priced 2011 models are getting a second look this week by customers at the Pleasanton RV and boat show at the Alameda County Fairgrounds.
One reason for the RV surge is the widespread collapse of California’s housing market that has people looking for a way out. An RV can provide it.
In my travels, I’ve run into several people who have bailed on the American Dream of owning a home and refinancing against their equity to buy plenty of goodies (and then in the past year, watched as others saw their home value fall below what is owed). They bought RVs.
“No more house payments, no more property tax,” said Peter Borgards, who decided to buy new, not used, symbolic of a new start. “I got rid of my house and bought a fifth-wheel. Best thing I ever did. The pressure is off. I love the thing.”
Simpler can be better
An RV doesn’t have to resemble a rock-star tour bus. It can be as simple as a shell on a pickup truck, where you stash an inflatable bed in the back and throw a kayak or canoe on top, your fishing gear behind a seat and a mountain bike on a bumper rack.
It can range from a little pop-up camping trailer to a typical 26-footer, or extend to a Class A motorhome. There are also van conversions, fifth-wheels, overhead campers and countless variations of trailers. Some have multiple slide-outs and awnings to expand the living space, inside and out.
RVs of all styles are great for the outdoors because many RV parks and campgrounds are at beautiful destinations within walking distance of adventures.
Instead of paying a fortune to buy an oceanfront cottage, park at San Francisco RV Resort in Pacifica or at Half Moon Bay State Beach, then walk the beach, play golf, or, in Half Moon Bay, ride your bike on the Coastal Trail.
Drive up Highway 1 to Gualala on the Sonoma Coast and stay at pretty Anchor Bay Campground, or any one of another dozen sites on the way. Head south to Big Sur, and venture beyond to San Simeon, Pismo Beach … or just keep going to Arizona and the Mogollon Rim. You could even end up in Luckenbach, Texas, where you actually might run into Shaver himself, sitting against an oak tree, drinking a Lone Star.
Good deals can be had right now. Tracking sales and auctions, I’ve found that top-quality used RVs with little wear are often available at low prices, providing you know value and work the Internet to find bargains.
There are three reasons: 1. Some seniors buy a new RV and find their health does not allow them to use it, so they sell cheap; 2. People find the lifestyle is not for them, so they sell cheap; 3. People like the RV life so much that they are eager to upgrade, so they sell cheap. The common thread is “they sell cheap.”
The best prices are often for used, mid-size trailers, usually 22- to 30-footers. These include a bedroom, kitchen, dining area, couch and small bathroom in three separate rooms.