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Our founder reflects: ‘What decades of RVing have taught me’

By Chuck Woodbury
I have traveled with an RV for about 40 years. If you count my travels as a wee lad in my family’s 15-foot Field and Stream trailer, then I have technically been RVing for 60 years. As my late-friend Al Kepler might have said, “Dat dere is a long time!”

I bought my first motorhome (above), a used 18-foot Class C, when I was 33. I can describe it with a four letter word: JUNK! I was so in love with the idea of traveling in a small wheeled home as a “roving reporter” that I barely inspected it before slapping down $5,500. It looked great if you didn’t notice the stains on the ceiling.

“Ah, now I know,” I mumbled at the first rainstorm when a leak in the roof at 3 a.m. delivered an RV version of water torture onto me as I slept on my overhead bunk. And how could I have known the Dodge 360 engine would break down once every three trips, usually in the middle of nowhere? The nice man I bought the RV from was the automotive instructor at a local community college. Surely he would have kept the RV well maintained, right? Wrong!

What that RV taught me

That motorhome, Rest In Peace, taught me what it’s like to be a new, naive buyer in love with the idea of RVing. It’s the dream and the “bling” that counts, I learned later. And if there is no bling, as was my case, then you invent the bling. “Oh, I can go anywhere I want and have great adventures,” I imagined. Being a single male, I would think “One day I will camp next to a beautiful single woman and we will fall in love” (extreme fantasy bling). Alas, most of my fellow campers then were twice my age with RV bumper stickers that read “Grandma’s and Grandpa’s Playhouse” or “Don’t Tailgate or I’ll Flush.”

I would take frequent trips in that little RV and write about what I found along the way. In 1988, with a new Apple Mac Plus and first-generation laser printer, I started a quarterly “on the road” newspaper I called Out West, “the newspaper that roams.” It would be a hobby. I’d travel for two months, write as I went, then return home, put everything into a tabloid newspaper, mail it, then head out again.

My RVing (and fishing) began in the 1950s as a child.

I could never imagine how it would change my life. The media discovered Out West and called for interviews. ABC-TV profiled me and my unique periodical on its evening news. More than 22 million watched. That landed me a book contract and a six-year stint writing for the New York Times Syndicate. NBC’s Today Show followed, and USA Today, and People Magazine did a two page spread. Subscriptions poured in.

My biggest decisions

Reporters would ask me my biggest decision every day. I’d answer, “I decide whether to turn left or right when I left the campground.” In other words, it didn’t matter where I went — stories were everywhere and there was never a need to make camping reservations, so no schedule to follow. Later in the afternoon, I’d look for an RV park with an electric hookup (to power the Mac). Or I’d save some money in a free, public campground, where I’d build a campfire, listen to my Walkman, drink cheap beer (I was poor back then) and marvel at the night sky. There was no Internet, no cell phones, no email, no social media. “Being connected” meant being within walking distance of a phone booth.

I am still interviewed on occasion. Reporters today ask me what has changed in all my years on the road. If they ask what my biggest decision is each day, I say “finding a place to stay next.” Alas, I can’t “go where I want, when I want” anymore, the RV industry’s mantra for decades. Frankly, it’s far easier to find a motel on the fly today unless you want to squat in a Walmart parking lot. What will happen, I wonder, when Walmart pulls the plug on this gift to RVers (maybe soon: see the latest news)?

THESE DAYS, AT RVTRAVEL.COM, our articles about campground crowding are consistently the most read. Crowding is an increasing problem that the RV industry must address. William Piper, the inventor of the Piper Cub airplane, lobbied communities to build airports: Who would buy his planes if they couldn’t take off and land them? Henry Ford lobbied for paved roads. Same thing: No good roads, no demand for his Model Ts. And how about Elon Musk? No charging stations coast-to-coast? Nobody buys Teslas.

The RV industry, all segments of it, must aggressively promote new, reasonably priced places to stay. RV “resorts” and RV parks for full-time and seasonal residents are fine for some, but not for most.

Is there a visionary out there in RV land who is willing to work tirelessly to lobby for more, inexpensive campgrounds for those RVers who want to live the dream — going “where they want, when they want”? If that’s you, please step forward.

Chuck Woodbury is the founder and publisher of RVtravel.com, which he started more than 21 years ago and that is read today by half a million RVers a month. 

##RVT1065

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BillyBogey
1 month ago

Good Day!! Yep; can remember as a Kid & travelling with my Parent’s in a 14ft. Sportsman!!
Suggested to “The Princess” we should Name our RV. A firm “No” was the answer. After, thought maybe she needs to hear “No” more often!!

Steve C
1 month ago

Hi, again Chuck,

I know that I’m the black sheep of the RV camaraderie, and I’ve written my take on the problem of overcrowding before. Maybe I can get someone’s attention this time.
My background is that I’m presently a retired, full-time truck camper traveler, but only for half the year. In the six months or so every year, I do loop trips of about 4,000 miles in the US from California. I then place my camper into storage and travel to somewhere else in the world, which is a lot less expensive than RV’ing in America.
“You must be rich,” you say. Not at all. For the past seven years, I’ve traveled to countries in Central and South America and also around South-East Asia. All were perfectly safe and very much cheaper than traveling in the States.
This half-and-half lifestyle helps with the overcrowding in the too few RV parks.
Also, if you truly call yourselves “Travelers”, there’s a whole interesting world out there just waiting for you to explore. It’s not difficult.

Kurt Shoemaker Sr
1 month ago

Your first Class C may have turned out to be junk, but you bought it used without close inspection. Today there are people paying big money for brand new equipment and having the same, plus many more problems. Quality has gone out the window.

Tony Barthel(@tony)
1 month ago

Who knew when you were writing Out West and I was a subscriber then, that now I would have the distinct privilege of working with you?

As RVs change I also see more and more opportunities for businesses to have several RV spots as part of their parking plan. What better way to bring in customers than provide some sort of place that they can stay one night?

Linda Shorb
1 month ago

Chuck, we were one of your faithful readers of Out West. In fact I still have old issues that I take out and read when I’m missing the good old days
We took your subscription up to Idaho when we moved there to get away from the pressure of California in the ’70s. We bought a cabin to get away and then we bought a log house on 10 acres in the trees.
We didn’t feel the need for an RV until we moved back to California to take care of family. We just bought our RV trailer. We are living the life and loving every minute.
I hope you appreciate a voice from the past who fell in love with you decades ago. We are so glad to be able to subscribe to this online newsletter. You made a difference in our life thank you.

Zeke Mcfartly
1 month ago

The RV Gods blessed us! Our first, in 1997, was a 1974 15′ travel trailer. Great shape, everything worked.
Our 2003 , 26′ (new) was not built quite as well. Our latest 26′ is a 2000, and isnt built as well. As a contractor, I make modifications and repairs as needed.
I expect to have to work on them, but I absolutely love our travel trailers!!

Heather
1 month ago
Reply to  Zeke Mcfartly

RVers as a major buying force really should be just as demanding as car/truck owners who rightfully -expect- their vehicles to be fully functional & dependable. The laws in place to protect auto drivers should be just as stringent for RVers. If anyone knows the best way to go about insuring this happens, please tell me.

Last edited 1 month ago by Heather
Sharon Tagle
1 month ago

I’ve been a camper all my life. Tenting with family as a kid, backpacking in my 20’s, and now hubs and I are happy rvers. But like the author, our first rig was a disaster. We fell in love with a 1976 Sprinter Class C (in 2011) and bought it on impulse. It looked great – on the outside. On our first shakedown cruise, we blew two hoses and a tire. The gas gauge stopped working, and then the leaks started. We named the rig “Matilda” because, like the Harry Belafonte song, she “took me money.”. We traded it in six years ago for a 2001 Bounder (“Quick, let’s go before they look at it too closely”) and have been on the go ever since!

TScott
1 month ago

I started in the 60s going to state parks, mom and dad usually got a “screened shelter” to sleep in. The first RV trip I had taken was in ’73 with friends (we rented it) and I was sold! My first 2 years of retirement, I did very little. Sold everything and I now own a class A and doing it full time (myself and 2 furkids). This has been the greatest time of my life! Has it all been cake and ice cream? No, but the good definitely out weighs the not so good, can’t say “bad” because none of it’s been bad. I haven’t been to all the lower 48 YET. But I’ll get there as soon as I can. I read this every day and truly enjoy it. This is one of the best articles, it gives me encouragement reading the comments left by others. There is so much to see, do and enjoy here in our own backyard! Safe travels to all.

David Ellis
1 month ago

I grew up in the back of a 68 Chevy C10 Camper Special with a Travel Queen camper all over the western desert’s. Our first was a Coleman pop up with our children. Now we have a Grand Design trailer. Considering full timing for a couple of years to decide where we want to live when we grow up (retire).

Drew
1 month ago

Chuck,

Thanks for the look back. I’ve read almost everything you’ve written and enjoyed it all.

DW/ND
1 month ago

Great article Chuck. I can “feel” the nostalgia of those years as you reminisce about them. Lots of wonderful memories to be sure – sprinkled with “Oh no – now whats?” Hope you are enjoying retirement – like in the picture w/the C.

Marian & Richard
1 month ago

We began RVing in our 40s with a tiny pickup camper, basically a shell with an over-cab bed, hand water pump and sink just large enough for two cups. In it we traveled from Oregon to Expo ’86 in Vancouver, BC and Colorado Springs for the Air Force Acadamy graduation of a nephew.
Later we purchased a new-to-us travel trailer and spent two months traveling all the way to Fairbanks, Alaska. From friends downsizing, we bought their 30 ft. Beaver motorhome and our adventures really began. Over the past twenty years we have traveled nearly 200,000 miles, explored all of the lower 48 states, much of British Columbia and Alberta and the Eastern Provinces of Canada all the way to Newfoundland.
Now in our early 80s, we’ve decided to limit our RVing more locally. It’s been a great 40+ years of seeing the country by RV. Our advice to anyone considering this lifestyle is “Go for it!”

Dawn H.
1 month ago

Although we love having our TT, especially for cold weather camping, we have spent more time back in our collection of tents (from a 3-person for one, to an 8-person for three) than in our TT this year. We are in our 60s and have been camping since we were kids. Crowding has not been an issue for us because our TT is small and can go pretty much anywhere. What has changed a LOT is the amount of light in the campgrounds, neon, party lights, tiki torches, etc. I am not sure if people are afraid of the dark, or have vision problems but, wow, it feels like driving into Vegas in some places. In one campground there was a couple with a little teardrop in a site behind us, and they also had a screen tent with bright white LED lights built in. We could not sit out at night because the lights were blindingly bright. A walk around the FHU sites was a light show. We have now back-pedaled and instead choose no-amenity “quiet loops” on purpose…empty, dark, quiet. Happy travels, all!

Dana D
1 month ago

In my small town of Mesquite, NV there are 3 RV parks and another 100+ site park being built. What puzzles me is why RVers want to camp here. It’s 100 degrees plus in the summer. We do have a lot of snowbirds in the winter. Maybe it’s the 3 casinos, the 2 McDonald’s, and the 2 Subways!

Linda Wharton
1 month ago

Started out in a tent (1981) when we would just blow with the wind and always find a spot. Can’t do that anymore! We now camp locally in our 27’ Class C, from Sunday to Friday, and mostly at county, State, and ACE parks. Weekends are too busy and filled with noisy kids, outdoor TV’s and neon lit 40’ rigs. Miss the old days.

Spike
1 month ago

My RVing started around 56 years ago when my Dad got a 9′ pickup camper. Certainly no amenities in it. A bucket for a toilet. A refrigerator the size of a shoebox. No AC. We took a vacation in it “out west” every year and did weekend stints out in the woods. It was great fun.

If you have a rig that size today, you are still pretty much free to go where you want, within reason, and when.

But, you see, I am now spoiled with a very large DP. I need a large level site. I “need” hookups. How will I read the daily RV Travel newsletter without my phone and WiFi or a signal? “Needing” all the comforts of home (actually more than I have at home) complicates our travel planning immensely…greatly reducing our freedom to just go.

For us, it hasn’t been a lack of basic campsites available…we see plenty of those open…it’s what we seem to require because of what we travel in.

Brad G. Hancock NH
1 month ago

Hi Chuck,

We confine our travels in our Class C Winnebago motorhome to New England. We reside in New Hampshire. We have never had a problem getting a site – primarily because we camp non-week-ends. We ALWAYS choose small, family owned CG’s preferably with the owner on site.

See ya on the road,

Brad Geer Hancock, NH

Maurice Valois
1 month ago

In 40 years, you never learned to set up your readin’ chair under the awning instead of next to the sewer hole? Lm fao.

Snayte
1 month ago
Reply to  Maurice Valois

I was thinking something similar

CAREN KELLY
1 month ago

We are currently in a Manitoba Provincial park for $22 a night with electrical only. Lots of empty sites during the week but weekends are full with children screaming until 11pm. Going home today (Saturday). Stay safe!

Bob M
1 month ago

We were all poor when we were young and drank cheap beer. Quarts of Black label from the corner bar was my go to beer. I think with modern times and our greedy politicians It would seem hard for campground owners to keep campground prices cheap. Politicians keep raising the property taxesand reassessing. Plus what other taxes do some states local charge government charge, amusement tax, hotel, ect. Don’t forget the greedy insurance companies.

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