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.
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.