July 3, 2012 at 9:24 AM ET
For Kirk Wong of southwest Washington, there’s only one way to travel: He loads up his 37-foot motor home with two kids, four bikes, two dogs and a tortoise, and he and his wife Andrea take off for some much-needed, uninterrupted family time.
“In our house we’re always scattered and our schedules have us running,” Wong said. “But in the RV, this time is invaluable. The boys take turns sitting next to me when I drive, we talk. For me, it’s never about the destination; it really is about the journey.”
Suzi and Jason Jewett of Forest Grove, Ore., hail the benefits of traveling with their 29-foot pull-behind trailer this way: “It drives family time,” she said. “We actually sit down together and we can play board games for hours.”
More than 30 million Americans travel by RV. Despite high fuel prices, this number seems to be on the rise, with more families realizing a surefire way to spend time together and enjoy nature in a comfy home on wheels.
Brent Peterson, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to RVing” (the third edition was just published), cites another reason for the rise.
“Air travel is becoming uncomfortable and expensive enough that it’s pushing more people into RVing,” he said. “RVing has grown through hard economic times, and if done right, it can be economical.”
Many young families, he said, start by pulling a pop-up trailer and then move up to bigger RVs as their needs grow. By seeking out $30 campgrounds, fixing your own meals, and traveling at times of lower fuel prices, families can enjoy cheaper trips than had they flown, stayed in hotels and eaten out every meal.
“I don’t have the ability to save money when I’m traveling without my RV because I have to stay in a hotel, buy meals and pay for every little thing,” Peterson said. “Traveling by RV gives you choices.”
And it is the choice that appeals to the Wong and Jewett families, too. The Wongs, who this summer plan to take weekend trips to the Oregon coast and a bigger trek to Yosemite National Park in August, like that they don’t need a travel agenda.
“If we see a basketball court or a water park or a nice lake, we just stop and check out,” he said, adding that his younger son is crazy about basketball. To decide which campground to stay the night, he checks out RVParkReviews.com.
Wong also likes that he can often get three or four hours of driving under his belt, home-brewed coffee in hand, before his boys, ages 13 and 15, even crawl out of bed.
Jewett enjoys the options her trailer’s floor plan gives them. In the evenings, she can close off the small bunk-bed room in the rear for her 5- and 2 ½-year-olds to sleep in while she and Jason play board games or read with their 13-year-old son. She said they typically stay in nice campgrounds with pools, mini-golf courses or recreation centers so there is something for everyone, often choosing campgrounds from the member-based Thousand Trails.
The Jewetts originally bought the trailer four years ago just before their 8-week sabbaticals from Intel. They spent the time off trekking to Crater Lake, Yosemite and Grand Canyon national parks, as well as Las Vegas, Monterey, Santa Cruz and back through Florence, Ore.
“It was something fun that we could involve the kids in and we wanted to use the money for something we’d have for longer than just eight weeks,” said Jewett, now a manufacturing manager for Care Innovations. “It allows us to get out into nature more than if we just had tents.”
If you’re curious about RV travel, Peterson recommends renting one before making a big purchase. Cruise America is the nation’s largest RV rental chain, and others are El Monte RV and Camping World. The Recreational Vehicle Rental Association has a complete list of rental companies on its website.
The typical base rate for a seven-day rental on a five-to-seven-passenger RV is $600-plus, or nearly $100 a day, according to Peterson’s book. That does not include taxes, mileage fees (about 32 cents per mile), hourly generator fees (about $3) nor, of course, gas. To save money, Peterson advises checking rental sites for specials; going at non-peak travel times; and bringing your own linens, pillows, and eating and cookware. A must: Make rental reservations to get the RV you need with enough space as early as possible.
Similarly, Peterson said, start RVing as early as you can, in particular when your kids are young. Car seats and seat belt laws apply. RVing, he said, is a great memory-maker, and a fun and easy way to be together.
“With kids, having an RV is the great equalizer,” Peterson said. “You can overpack, have the comforts of beds and a kitchen, and still get out into nature together.”
More on TODAY Travel