Younger families find adventure, comfort in RVs

Posted: Friday, March 21, 2003

LONGMONT, Colo. (AP) Jeanette Shallenberger and her family have always enjoyed spending time outdoors.

But they could live without the cold, damp mornings and stiff backs that come along with tent camping. The middle-of-the night sprints to unkempt bathrooms weren't much fun either, she says.

My husband hated the tent thing,'' Shallenberger, 33, says. He wants a roof over his head. He wants a place to sleep where there is no dirt.''

So the Shallenbergers purchased a truck trailer and now they're camping in style.

The new unit fits on the bed of their one-ton pickup and features a queen-size bed, a bathroom with a shower, a gas stove and oven, a dual basin sink, air conditioning and lots of storage.

They can still drive to remote sites on dirt roads. But now they can spend their nights in a comfortable home on wheels that sleeps five. If they want a spur-of-the moment vacation, they can be ready in a snap.

If we decide to go somewhere Friday morning, I can have us packed with some quick clothes and groceries,'' Shallenberger says.

No longer just for retired seniors, recreational vehicles, commonly known as RVs, are becoming popular among young families.

In the United States, almost one in 12 vehicle-owning households owns an RV. The typical RV owner is 49 and married with an annual household income of $56,000, according to a 2001 University of Michigan study commissioned by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association.

More RVs are now owned by people between the ages of 35 and 54 the fastest growing segment in the market than any other group.

RV manufacturers are responding in earnest to the demand from younger travelers, creating larger vehicles with more family-oriented amenities.

They range from folding camping trailers, which provide a tent-like atmosphere and include a couch and kitchen, to luxury motor-homes with king-size beds, full bathrooms, satellite televisions, and DVD players. Some newer models even include gas fireplaces, cedar-lined dressers and closets, washers and dryers and motorized slide-outs that can double the vehicle's square footage. Other new offerings include a sky deck accessed by an indoor staircase, allowing owners to sun themselves on top of their RV.

Parents say the convenience of RVs can't be beat. Cookware, bedding and clothing can stay packed, ready for the next adventure. There's plenty of room for toys; food is stowed in cabinets and the refrigerator. Heating units and air conditioners make traveling possible year-round. And a clean bathroom is just steps away, even for a day trip, they say.

It's nice the kids don't have to go to outhouses,'' Shallenberger says.

For her children Kaley, 7, and Ryan, 10, it's all about fun.

I like to watch movies, and I like to sleep inside and watch for deer,'' Kaley says.

Traveling in motor homes, where the transportation and living quarters are contained in one unit, has an added bonus, owners say. Kids can play board games at the kitchen table or watch movies while strapped into seat belts.

Rentals are available so families can get a taste of the RV experience before they buy. A 21-foot to 38-foot motor home usually ranges from $600 to $2,100 per week, depending on the size and season. Some campgrounds also offer onsite rentals.

Buyers can choose between towable recreation vehicles, which are pulled behind a truck, and motor homes, where the vehicle and living quarters are all part of one unit. Vehicles range in price from about $5,000 for folding camping trailers to $130,000 for higher-priced motor homes, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association in Reston, Va. The price for used motor homes will vary depending on age, condition and milage.

The initial cost may be substantial, but families say they save money while camping. Recreational vehicle sites typically cost less than half what a budget hotel costs roughly $10 to $15 without hookups and $20 to $30 with electric and water hookups. And families can cook and eat in, rather than pay to dine out.

RV's aren't just for young families. Erie resident Bob Lee has four grown children, ages 19 to 25, a 4-year-old granddaughter and a wife who still enjoy recreational camping as a family. They tough it out in a 25-foot fifth wheel.

It's a good way to keep the family together,'' says Lee, 49. It's fun to be in the outdoors camping being able to enjoy the campfires and hot dog roasts things you can't do in a motel.''

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