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Road Trip: Think Motor Homes are Only for Retirees and Outdoor Types? Think Again—RVs are Perfect for Family Travel.
Essence, August, 2005 by Wendy Paris

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When I was 8, a friend of my stepfather offered to lend us a recreational vehicle for a road trip to Florida. I fantasized about that vacation for months. When the RV finally arrived, it came with an unexpected perk: The friend, who worked at a gum company, had stocked the kitchen with a case of grape bubble gum. On the road, we watched the Ohio fields rise to the mountains of Tennessee and Civil War battlefields give way to palm-tree-lined beaches. Our whole family was together every day. In my memory, that vacation--complete with bubble gum--rates as one of our best.

Recreational vehicles have come a long way since then. Modern RVs have everything from satellite TV, Internet and global positioning systems (GPSs) to washer--dryers, queen-size beds and slide-out room extensions. Then there's the savings. A week's vacation for a family of four in an RV can cost up to 70 percent less than a cruise or an all-inclusive air-and-resort package. An increasing number of young working families are planning RV vacations, drawn to the savings, freedom and flexibility of having their own home on the road. This rise in travelers has led to an increase in RV rental companies and an improvement in RV campgrounds, making it easier than ever to plan your trip. "Black families are becoming more aware of this as a good way to travel," says Anne Shearer Steele, president of the National African-American RV'ers Association (NAARVA), a nonprofit with more than 3,000 members. "You can do just about everything in an RV, as long as the driver pays attention to the road."

Terms You Should Know

Before you hit the road, learn the lingo. This guide will bring you up to speed:

RECREATIONAL VEHICLE (RV) Call it a camper, a motor home or a Winnebago: It's still an RV. These are divided into two categories--motorized RVs and towables.

MOTORIZED RV The traditional car-condo combo. Generally 20 to 40 feet long, a motorized RV can sleep up to eight people and has a kitchen, a bathroom, bedrooms and a living room right behind the driver's seat. Modern RVs often have slide--outs motorized walls that extend to increase the size of the rooms when you park. Motorized RVs come in two types: Type C, with a bed the front cab, is the most popular. Type A, shaped like a bus, is the biggest RV on the road. Pros: You travel in the motor home, making driving time part of the fun. Cons: At your destination, you have to take your 40-foot home with you to nearby attractions, which is why some people tow a ar behind to use on location.

TOWABLE RV An RV that attaches to a car or truck; you detach it at each campsite. Generally 15 to 23 feet long, a towable has many of the same facilities as a motor home, including sleeping room for up to eight. Pros: You can detach it at your destination, letting you zip around in your car, Cons: The road-trip part of your excursion happens in your car, not in your camper.

CAMPGROUNDS Yes, you sleep in your RV, but you have to park it somewhere. There are more than 16,000 public and private campgrounds in the United States, about half near national parks and forests. Many campgrounds have grocery stores, laundry rooms, swimming pools, playgrounds and game rooms, as well as hookups (see below). Some even have petting zoos and coffee shops. Campgrounds are rated like hotels, so research before you book.

HOOKUPS Campgrounds can supply electricity for your appliances and lights through hookups--big electric sockets for plugging in RVs. You'll also be able to connect to a fresh-water supply and find facilities for dumping waste.--W.P.

The Advantages of RVing

Not convinced? More reasons why motor homes are worth the trip:

Cost Cross a car with a condo and what do you get? Savings. Recreational vehicles rent for $80 to $200 per day, while towable RVs that you attach to a car or SUV go for $28 to $90. You'll pay about $50 a night at a campground, including electricity, water and dumping. You'll take a hit at the gas pump--RVs get 10 to 12 miles per gallon--but compared with the cost of airfare and lodging for a family of four, RVs still offer a better deal. Food is one of the biggest vacation savings in an RV: Doing your own cooking lets you avoid expensive tourist restaurants. For additional savings at campgrounds, join a discount club such as Good Sam Club (goodsamclub.com). You can also park overnight free of charge at certain WaI-Mart locations, though there's nowhere to hook up water and electricity.

Convenience ,ate airport lines, security clearances and hotel checkin? Skip it all in an RV. Everything you need is on your own six wheels.

Control An RV lets you travel how you want, when you want. Loving Louisiana? Stay as long as you like. Too cold in Chicago? There's no penalty fee for leaving early. You do your own cooking, meaning you eat what you please. Kids (and you) can bring favorite toys, books and snacks along without worrying about luggage limits. You can bring your parents and even your pets. It's your choice.

Comfort Ever slept in a luxury yacht? Today's RVs let you live the yachting life on land. They resemble cabin cruisers in that every space is utilized, increasingly with the best facilities available. You'll find RVs with white leather couches, full bathrooms and kitchen cabinets so well crafted you'll want them at home. They're surprisingly comfortable to drive too. Today's motor homes come with cruise control, power steering, power brakes and plush seats that look like loungers. But test-drive your RV before renting, and watch the instructional video; cornering in a 28-foot-long vehicle takes practice.

Friendliness "Motor-home folks and RV people are some of the nicest folks in the world," says Steele, the president of NAARVA, who has made lasting friendships with people she's met at campgrounds. "You're going to feel comfortable in a campground. Someone's always willing to give a helping hand."

Saundra Powell, a reading-lab coordinator in Kansas City, Missouri, has been RVing with her husband and son for 14 years. "There's a camaraderie around RVers. It's a community," she says. "There's more interaction with people than there is in a hotel. When people say, 'Happy campers,' it's true. Campers are happy."

Fun and Adventure "In an RV, you get to experience different cultures along the way," Powell says. "As the children start studying history, you can stop and see all the things they're reading about." Not only can you tour some of the most dramatic parts of the continent--the Alaska Highway, California's Pacific Coast, the Nevada desert--but you're also traveling in a perfect base camp for hiking, fishing, biking and exploring. You can store sporting equipment and tow or mount bikes, boats and other recreational equipment. On an RV vacation, you can explore the country in the comfort of your own (rented) home. Happy trails!

RV RESOURCES

For more information on renting, trip routing and camping, check out these Web sites:

NAARVA.COM Info about the National African-American RV'ers Association, including the national NAARVA rally, July 31-August 7, at Palm Creek Golf & RV Resort in Casa Grande, Arizona.

GORVING.COM Testimonials and information about RV types, dealers, destinations, campgrounds, packing checklists and a free DVD with info for novices.

FUNROADS.COM Destination descriptions, recipes for cooking in small spaces, a state-by-state map of RV campgrounds and links.

RVRA.ORG RV info and a state-by-state directory of hundreds of rental companies.

CRUISEAMERICA.COM The nation's largest rental chain, with 135 centers throughout the United States and Canada.

GOCAMPINGAMERICA.COM A listing of commercial campgrounds.

Wendy Paris is a freelance writer in New York City.

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