Tuesday, December 6, 2022


Camping versus RVing: What’s the difference?


By Chuck Woodbury
I think I am finally able to define the lifestyle called RVing, which some people criticize because it’s not really “camping.” What they don’t understand is that RVing and camping are not the same, although sometimes they overlap.

Only one segment of RVers are exclusively “campers” – those who “camp” for a week or two a year. These people generally camp in the summer, often on family vacations. They typically spend their days sightseeing or hiking and their evenings by the campfire. Their RVs, if they have one, are pretty basic and are often rented.

Photo by R&T De Maris

After Labor Day and before Memorial Day, the RVers you see on the road are more often “travelers” than “campers,” using their RVs for both transportation and lodging. Their rigs are larger and better equipped than the vacation campers – sort of “homes away from home.”

Sometimes, however, these well-equipped RVers end up in the same national park or national forest campgrounds as more traditional campers and this is where their lifestyles get misinterpreted.

These avid RVers, in their bigger rigs, are simply living in a portable way. They are essentially living in self-contained, mobile condos rather than in fixed-based houses.

Many of these RVers have simplified their lives. I’m especially referring to the hundreds of thousands of retirees who have sold their homes and moved into a trailer or motorhome. At some point, they had to get rid of a lifetime of possessions. They retained what they considered important – fishing rods, a sewing machine, favorite books, a TV, pictures of the kids and grandkids and sometimes a computer.

These full-timers and serious part-timers would never be traveling America in the first place if RVs didn’t exist. They would not set off in their cars month after month, staying in a different Holiday Inn each night. To do so would be too much trouble and even exhausting. They might fly off to Europe on occasion, but by and large, they would spend their lives at home.

After climbing on Wyoming’s Independence Rock for more than an hour and doing battle with a blustery wind, it was a wonderful feeling to return to my comfy porta-house. When I closed the door behind me, I felt truly at home, even though my street address (at that time) was a thousand miles away.

I understand the concept of the portable house. It’s not the same as camping.

(Posted previously in April 2018)


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2 years ago

You pegged us on this one Chuck. With our 45′ Class A we no longer consider ourselves campers but we do travel for 3-5 months each summer, moving around this beautiful country. We have three dogs and, without the RV, we would not be taking those trips. Because the RV gives us the opportunity to travel with our furkids, we do. Otherwise we would vacation as we did in our pre RV lives – hire the pet sitter and leave to tour a different country or cruise another area of the world, in a much shorter time period. Now retired, our days of tent camping and pop ups are long gone. Creature comforts are important. We love our RV and hope to continue being travelers for many years.

Danny Evans
2 years ago

I really don’t care what I’m called, I just know that I’m finally retired, we have a small TT, and we go when we want to for as long as we want to. We stay where the end of the day finds us. It may be a Walmarts, it may be a Cracker Barrel, it may be a rest area, it may be a week on blm land, it may be a RV park, it may be a state park, but I know this , we are having fun and we are FREE!

2 years ago

I have gone camping off and on most of my life. As a kid we went in a tent, then my parents bought a soft top tent trailer ( with no sink , fridge or furnace ) As an older teen, back to tenting again. Most of the time I/we stayed in campgrounds. Met the woman who eventually became my wife early 80’s and we went camping in a tent as often as we could. Same thing when the kids arrived…..more tenting. in 2013, we bought a tent trailer because sleeping on the ground was no longer fun or pain free. 5 years later we sold it and bought a travel trailer , that just happens to have a bunch of things we didn’t have when we went tenting. So instead of lugging coolers with us and buying ice every day or two, we put the food in the fridge. And when nature calls in the middle of the night, the toilet is 10 or 12 feet away…..inside. But, we still feel like we are camping, enjoy camp-fires when possible, and sitting outside into the night. Call it what you want, the important thing is you are doing something you hopefully enjoy doing. Happy Trails.

Cheryl Bacon
2 years ago

“These full-timers and serious part-timers would never be traveling America in the first place if RVs didn’t exist. They would not set off in their cars month after month, staying in a different Holiday Inn each night. To do so would be too much trouble and even exhausting. They might fly off to Europe on occasion, but by and large, they would spend their lives at home.”

I disagree with this 100%. I have always traveled a lot. My parents loved traveling (in our car, boat and travel trailer). I had seen 85% of N. America by the time I graduated high school. My husband and I did the same with our kids, but mostly staying in hotels. We traveled several times a year and during summer for longer periods of time. When the kids moved out and technology made it so much easier to work remotely, we were gone for months at a time, staying at hotels. Then came the motorhome. We thought about getting one many times before, just didn’t. Not because we were tired of hotels, but we were trying something different. We sold the house because we wanted to downsize anyway. We still stay in hotels and cruise periodically. As time and technology has changed, making traveling freely so much easier, to us and 100,000’s like us travel as a lifestyle. My point is, RVer’s and campers are not the only ones that travel a good portion of the year. I have meet many that have bought multiple timeshares dirt cheap on EBay and from brokers, people that go on back to back cruises several months of the year, hop from one hotel with kitchens/kitchenettes to another, people that live in their RV’s and boats. If people have the love of travel or just plain wanderlust, they find ways to travel. They don’t find the need to have a big house filled with all the latest and greatest and spend their money on a life of travel. Trying to put RVer’s and campers in certain groups, or humans in general in neat little boxes sounds easy, but in reality it is impossible! So a person doesn’t do or something or live like me, who cares? I only care if they are breaking a law. The beauty of being human is we have free will, are all unique and everyone has a life story.

Have a wonderful day everyone!

2 years ago

When we stay over night(s), we always PARK, but it’s more than parking and it’s like CAMPing, but not really. I call it PAMPING.

2 years ago

With a little bit of tongue in cheek we call our 40′ 5th wheel with 4 slides a camper. It’s really not but as we progressed up in size the word camper just stuck.

2 years ago

When you sell the S&B and move in to your RV spending all or part of the year on the road, you become a NOMAD.

2 years ago

We camped in a tent before having kids, camped in a tent with the kids, camped in a tent when the kids were gone. Loved it! At 60 I said I’m DONE sleeping on the ground but not done camping & traveling. Along came the 21′ Salem TT. I loved my motel on wheels and called it the camper. Guess I camp while I’m traveling. My guy would rather stay home and tend the garden so I solo 5-6 mo. a year. So much left to see before I have to give up the RV.

Great article Chuck!

2 years ago

Something that might help if it were possible…

Instead of identifying as a campground or RV Park, maybe it would help if they call them:

** A Campground: For tent campers, open air campers, pop up tent campers, towables under 20′

** An Overnight RV Park: For all RV’s regardless of size. Maximum stay – 3 Days

** An RV Park: For all RV’s regardless of size. Maximum stay – 30 Days

** An RV Resort Park: For RV’s regardless of size. Maximum stay – 30 Days

** An RV Residence Park: Full Time living for workers, or those who want to stay in one location for extended periods.

** A Retirement Park: Those 55 or older looking for a permanent, long-term residence.

But there is the problem of Federal/State/City parks that mix the companies.

There just seems to be no standardization in a name. And, it would likely have an impact on the business model that may or may not necessarily work. For now, it’s like a box of chocolates…You never know what you’re going to get or see until you get there.

It seems that there is just no happy medium.

2 years ago

I grew up canoe+tent camping. Paddle the tent as far as you can and CAMP with less creature comforts in exchange for scenery and wildlife.

I cannot ever call my trailer camping with a straight face – my HOUSE doesn’t have a furnace or AC, so it’s not remotely camping to upgrade the comfort from my normal.

Mark B
2 years ago

Chuck, just as there are more flavors of ice cream than vanilla, chocolate and strawberry… RVer, camper, and backpacker come in many different flavors and combinations.

Donald N Wright
2 years ago

Those of us who backpacked are also different from campers. We carried our “home” on our backs, walking (or some cycling) from place to place. The campers drove from place to place to set up their tents. Using an RV to travel from one place to another is just another form of camping. I admit, full timers are on the move, so where do the folks who park in one place for six months or longer fit in?

Tommy Molnar
2 years ago

When we finally dumped the tent for a travel trailer, it took forever for me to port over to calling this new travel style “camping”. All our friends who were already doing this were calling it “camping”. I finally gave in, and now I too call it camping any time we take the trailer out. Sigh . . .

John Whitney
2 years ago

Good description, Chuck. The third group is those who consider their RV as an affordable home while working, or retired, and they mostly leave out the traveling for recreation. They are generally in a RV Park permanently, or move occasionally.

2 years ago

To sleep in your own bed. Wonderful!

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