Have you ever traveled to a race or any other major event and thought to yourself, “Man, I wish I had my own bathroom,” or, “I just want to lie down and take a little nap.” Of course you have. We all have. There's never a time during a football game, concert, marathon, or any other event where you've been in the company of thousands of other people and haven't thought, “I just really wish I had some space and privacy!”
I'm happy to say that our society is in the growing stages of a new “tiny” movement. In larger numbers each day, people are downsizing their homes, driving more energy efficient vehicles, growing their own food, and choosing to live a more simple life in order to conserve our planet's precious resources. Part of this movement includes the rise of sales in smaller RVs and campervans. What used to be a pastime reserved for the golden years of retirement has turned into a passionate lifestyle for young and active singles, couples, professionals, and even families who lead active and busy lives on a daily basis.
I can't tell a lie. My desire to write about this new “fit life on the road” trend is multi-faceted. I love the idea of conservation and living as simply as possible. My husband and I have been dreaming and scheming of living out of a small RV for the last couple of years. What could be more romantic than hitting the open road with our bikes, paddleboards, and our kitty for a few weeks on the road exploring trails, parks, and obscure destinations that usually go unnoticed when you travel by plane 30,000 feet?
I used to think that RVS were obnoxious over-inflated homes on wheels. Let's face it. A lot of them are. I mean, do you really need granite counter tops and a fireplace in your vehicle? Those Class A motorhomes truly are expensive houses on wheels that are built on heavy duty frames like a commercial truck or bus chassis. When my husband first presented the idea of someday owning an RV, my initial reaction was, “I'm not driving one of those beasts!” My second reaction was, “Wait -does this mean we get to retire soon?” Hey, a girl can dream, right? But, that gregarious style wasn't really what I had in mind. I wasn't crazy about the concept of having some gas-guzzling motorhome that takes up more space than my permanent home.
We started to do more research on the RV industry and a whole new fantasy world started to open. As with everything in life, there is a culture, and a million resources, for everything. (Full Disclosure: I say “we” did the research, but it was actually “he” who did the research. When my husband was a little boy, he was obsessed with Winnebago RVs in the same way that most kids are obsessed with trains and Disney princesses. So much so, in fact, that for a young birthday, his Mom made him an RV-shaped cake and they took him to a Winnebago dealership as a present. To say that he's been dreaming about this his entire life is an understatement.)
Fortunately, I wasn't a hard sell on the idea. I'll take a dirt trail over a fancy hotel any day. If we pass a lake, I'm always like, “Can we get in for a bit?” The thought of living on the road part-time each year sounds ridiculously awesome to me. But, is this lifestyle possible? Are people doing it successfully? And, what kind of people? Are we going to be cavorting in the RV parks with a bunch of grandparents? What smaller vehicles are out there for people like us who want to throw bikes and wetsuits in the back, make some lunch, take a quick shower, and enjoy a glass of wine?
My research led me excitedly to Stahmann RV Sales Company in New Braunfels, Texas. Stahmann RV is a 52-year-old, family-run business that specializes in Class B motorhomes. While Class As are the big boys that you see up and down I-35, a Class B motorhome is actually a much smaller version built on large cargo van chassis like a Mercedes Benz Sprinter or Dodge ProMaster. They range in length from 19-21feet, which means that most of these trucks will fit in normal parking spaces. Ranging in price from about 80,000-100,000, your home on wheels won't cost you much more than a well-equipped SUV, but with a kitchen, shower, refrigerator and plenty of other amenities for living the good life on the road. Plus, insurance is reasonable ($500-600 annually) and you can even finance your RV like a home with a 15-20 year mortgage. Class B vehicles are also very green and many come equipped with solar panels for power, LED lights and other energy efficient equipment.
Now we're talking my language! There is such a thing as a vehicle that I can drive and park, throw some mountain bikes in the back and have enough room to eat? I can't wait to see these babies.
Right away Manager Christie Lopanec said what we sadly know to be true. “People have gotten so busy in life, they've forgotten how to unwind and truly enjoy the simple things in life.” Amen, sister. My conversation with her over the next two hours filled me with hope and adventurous expectation. “These smaller motorhomes allow even the busiest of people to take a simple weekend away and unwind for a bit since they don't require a tremendous amount of effort.”
Better yet? They're ridiculously practical. Since most of these small RVs can actually fit into normal parking spaces, you're not necessarily limited by where you can go and what you can do. In fact, she added, families are now using them as their primary vehicle because they are so easy to drive, convenient, and surprisingly fuel efficient. They're great to take to swim meets, soccer tournaments, and even football tailgating events. Have a long break between games? No need to wait in the stands for hours on end. Just head back “home” to the parking lot, grab a quick bite to eat, watch some TV, or even take a nap. They are a perfect vehicle for a family on the go!
Aside from families who are shuttling around to different events each weekend, who else is buying these Class B RVs?
“Believe it or not,” said Lopanec, “Over 30% of our Class B customers are single or widowed women.” Who can blame them, really? Because of the relatively size of the vehicle, they are easy to drive and aren't maintenance heavy. The smaller kitchens, bathrooms, and bedding make this the perfect vehicle for a worry-free getaway. Plus, there are plenty of on-line resources and meet-up groups for people along the road. Instead of feeling lonely or isolated, traveling in a small RV can be one of the best things you can do to remain active and social.
Younger Active Adults
This is definitely one of the largest growing segments of the small RV lifestyle. Active adults want to get out and experience new things and don't necessarily want to be bound by location. Part of the appeal is being able to pull up next to a random trail or lake and start exploring immediately. Want to stay for a while? You can! No one will likely know since your vehicle doesn't take up as much room as a traditional RV. In the RV world, they call it “stealth camping” or “boondocking.” For many, it's a fun and explorative way of life. Naturally, there are rules and etiquette tips scattered on the internet for how to make the most of your time on the road.
These vehicles are also the ideal “mobile office” for folks who aren't tied to an office or specific location. Christie loves talking about her loyal customers who all have unique stories about their RV.
She has customers who bought one so that they can drive to marathons throughout the country for weeks on end, photographers and artists who can work from the road, lawyers who now also have a mobile office and use the vehicle as a tax write-off.
Truly, the opportunities are as endless as the personalities that are buying these Class Bs in droves.
Sound too good to be true? That's what I thought, so I even asked Christie what I was missing. Everything sounded picture perfect.
“The only potential downside is space limitation,” said Lopanec, “But, you really do start to prioritize what you need and don't need on the road, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.” You also have to be courteous and as tidy as possible with the space, especially if you are sharing it with someone else. Aside from that, the biggest con is that people simply wait too long to realize their dream. They just don't think it's affordable, but it's way more affordable than the lifestyle most people are currently living. Plus, it allows you to see the world almost on a moment's notice.
If you're thinking about living an active life on the road, start learning more now. As Christie stressed emphatically, “It's time to get away from those bricks and sticks and hit the road!”
She definitely had me at, “Don't wait too long before you hit the road.” All I need to do is stop off at home and pick up my cat and my mountain bikes.