The RV Lifestyle: Living Large in a Small Space – Baby Boomers Choose RVs As Permanent Homes

Peter Hawkins is living large. A photographer by trade, Peter and his wife, Debbie, spend summers at their home in Minnesota, and winters at their home in sunny Arizona. Both homes are in gated golf communities, have large swimming pools, luxuriant spas and resort atmospheres.

Except that Peter doesn’t really have two homes, but one. And it’s less than 400 square feet in size.

The Hawkins are among an estimated 250,000 people who live full time in an RV, or Recreational Vehicle. And the trend is increasing among the Baby Boomer generation as more retired couples find themselves with good health, circumstances that allow them to move as they wish, and the desire to pursue a more active lifestyle.

“Traditional homes no longer offer the financial security they once did,” explains Hawkins. “So with housing values in a state of flux, we had to rethink our retirement plan. An RV seemed like the logical choice, and we couldn’t be happier.” And for the past seven years, their motor home has been their only home.

Once you get used to the idea that you can take your home with you wherever you go, the nomadic lifestyle does open up possibilities that the ‘ground-bound’ don’t have. For one, RVers can change locations when the weather turns bad. The Hawkins, for example, are usually headed southbound from Duluth before the first frost, but return north in the spring to escape the 120-degree Arizona summers.

“You could be up north in winter, trapped inside your home by three feet of snow,” adds Steven Pendergast, manager of Rio Bend RV & Golf Resort in El Centro, CA, “or you could be here enjoying fresh air, sunshine, pleasant temperatures, golf and outdoor activities. There’s no question which is the more active, healthy and beneficial lifestyle.”

In fact, ‘snowbirds’ fill up RV parks and resorts throughout the southern U.S. for most of the winter. Many return to the same winter home each year, but the more adventurous are always in search of new and exciting (or relaxing) places to visit.

Which brings us to the real draw for most full-time RVers – the freedom of being able to pull up stakes at a moment’s notice, travel and follow their heart. “I think the freedom to be able to move whenever you like, or want a change of scenery, has a great deal to do with loving the lifestyle,” says Kjell Johnsen, who has spent the past 20 years RVing with his wife, Luanne. Yes, it’s that relaxed, almost Bohemian lifestyle that is drawing more retirees – and even younger families – to RVing.

But, wait – aren’t we talking about camping? Roughing it in primitive locations with few amenities, i.e. public showers, campfires, and no Internet? Sure, if that’s what you want, you can always go that route. But, that’s not why people are flocking to RVing by the droves. Instead, picture a full-service luxury resort hotel – but one that allows you to bring your own room.

Peter Hawkins, mentioned at the outset, spends winters at Westwind RV & Golf Resort, an adult-oriented RV park with all the amenities you’d expect from a luxury resort – golf, swimming, an exercise room, billiards, lounge – even a ballroom that brings in top-name entertainment. Roughing it? When you can enjoy the comfort of your own luxury ‘rolling condominium’ and lay in your own bed while surfing the web with a high-speed WiFi connection, and are just steps away from food, activities and entertainment… I think not.

According to the RV Park and Campground Directory, there are over 13,000 privately owned RV parks and over 1,600 state parks that cater to RVs in the USA. So, depending on your preferences, there’s always someplace new to visit and explore. And while many of these are more aligned with the typical concept of camping and cater to families, there is a growing trend toward upscale, luxury adult RV communities, such as those Westwind and Rio Bend, mentioned above.

“The RVers we see here at Rio Bend have raised their families and now their lives are their own,” says Pendergast. “They enjoy getting together with kids and grandkids, but when they can, it’s nice to get away with people their own age. That’s a big reason they keep coming back here; to be with friends that enjoy the same lifestyle they do.”

Hawkins agrees. “I love the meeting new people, seeing new places, and the opportunity to travel. But when I think back on the 20 years I’ve been RVing, it’s the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made that stand out.”

Small Space, Big Benefits
“But,” you ask, “How do RVers fit their entire lives into the space of an RV?”

“Once you’ve made the mental leap from stationary home to RV, it’s not that difficult,” says Johnsen. “Think about it: The furniture is built into the RV, so you’re down to your clothing and personal belongings. And when it came down to it, we found we just didn’t need that much stuff. And what we do need, we seem to find a place for.”

“You learn what you can live without,” echoes Hawkins. “What you don’t need you either give to family or put in storage.”

RVing may be a simplified lifestyle, but it’s by no means rustic. A Class A Motorhome, often referred to as a ‘diesel pusher’, can run hundreds of thousands of dollars or more and be as lavishly appointed as Air Force 1. A fifth wheel RVs generally cost much less, starting in the $30,000 – $50,000 range, and can actually have more living space than motor homes – and be just as nicely trimmed out. And pull-behind travel trailers are even less expensive, and a great place to get started with the RV experience.

The benefits, of course, are that your home travels with you – no packing and unpacking, no worry about hard, unfamiliar beds or poor service from rundown hotels, just you and your stuff, wherever you want to go or stay. It’s this benefit, and the ultimate convenience of RVing, that keeps so many hooked.

However, even the most avid full-timers realize that RVing isn’t for everyone, and it’s not for forever. “It’s a lifestyle, not a lifetime,” admits Hawkins. There comes a point where the excitement of the road gives way to the security of a more permanent nest.

Until you reach that stage in your life, though, if you have the health, energy, time and resources to just pick a direction and go, your home in tow, then RVing might be a great way to spend the winter – or the next few years, living large.