Not all travel trailers have to ... travel. How I made an RV into my summer home.
In the early 1950s my late father-in-law bought a camp on a lake in the Adirondack Mountains in New York. Thirty years later I was newly engaged to his son and visited the camp and the Adirondacks for the first time. The lush green countryside, fresh clear air and panoramic hundred mile views of those majestic mountains seduced me, it was love at first sight. For the next ten years I spent as much time as possible at "the camp."
But life moved on and after a time my husband and I divorced. I lost access to my home base in the Adirondacks and the camp I had grown to love. It left a very real void in my life.
For years after my divorce I would read the vacation real estate ads hoping to find a camp in the Adirondacks in my price range but my price range translated into pretty dilapidated properties miles away from the nearest body of water. Even if I could afford the initial expense, the cost of making those places livable was insurmountable for my pocketbook. Reluctantly I came to the conclusion that I would never own a camp in the mountains.
But, as the saying goes, never say never. I don't remember any particular event, advertisement, or conversation that caused this thought to percolate up into my consciousness but here's the epiphany: why don't I buy a travel trailer and move it to a campsite in the Adirondacks.
Finding the right campsite
Now I was a woman on a mission. I knew practically nothing about travel trailers or recreational vehicles (RVs) but before I started working on that piece of the puzzle, I had to find a campsite that was a good fit for me or the whole project simply would not work. So I sat down and created a wish list of features of my ideal site.
- Clean, well maintained
- Visually beautiful
- Uncrowded, did not want neighboring RVs too close yet did want neighbors close enough so that I felt safe and not isolated.
- A septic system on my site!! I learned RVs have a holding tank that can be emptied every other week or so either by the owner or a hired service but I knew myself well enough to know that was not for me.
- Water and electric on my site.
- A clean, safe place to swim.
- No more than an hour drive from my home.
- Finally, a sense that I would fit in with the lifestyles of the other campers. I wanted a fun, family friendly campsite with reasonable, enforced, rules about site use and "quiet hours."
So off I went into the Adirondacks one early fall afternoon with my wish list in one hand and a list of potential sites in the other. I had heard about one campground that was described as beautiful so that was my first destination. As I drove down the tree lined entrance, the eight acre pond appeared in front of me. The fall afternoon sun sparkled off the water and it was hard to tell where the real multicolored forest that surrounded the pond ended and its reflection in the water began. Clean: check. Beautiful: most definitely. Septic, electric and water, check, check, check.
It never occurred to me that campground owners would have their own check list for potential campers but after an extended conversation I had their approval and they had mine. The yearly rate of $1,750 seemed more than reasonable to me. For an additional $100 I could leave my RV on the site during the winter. The very first campground I visited became my choice. We agreed I would call them in the spring after I had purchased my RV and, depending upon its size, we would identify a mutually agreed upon site.
I decided to wait until spring before actually purchasing my RV. I couldn't see making monthly payments through the winter for an RV covered in snow and sitting in some dealer's lot. I spent the next few months adding the names of major RV manufacturers to my vocabulary and visiting their websites. I educated myself on the different types of RVs:
Since I planned to have the RV delivered to my new campsite where it would stay year round, motor homes were eliminated from consideration. Personal security was a top priority for me so a canvass pop up camper was not an option. That left a travel trailer or a fifth wheel.
Next I checked the internet for sites that provided consumer reports for RVs. Those reviews gave me insight into actual users' experiences as well as helped me develop a list of companies that were top rated in terms of quality.
Then I sat down and made some hard choices about how much money I was willing to spend and what features I would be willing to compromise. I wanted a comfortable, homey interior. I wanted lots of windows and lots of light. I needed the RV to be structurally sound because I knew nothing about RV repair. I also expected the RV to last for many years with regular maintenance. Those points were not negotiable.
I decided to buy a lightly used RV from a reputable dealer but not from a private owner because I was in no position to recognize potential problems.
Once I had a general idea of what I was looking for I went to RV shows in my area where local dealers displayed a selection of their RVs. It's great fun walking through brand new RVs, looking behind doors and snooping about. I was surprised at how attractive they were. They had entertainment centers, some with TVs included, speaker systems that filtered through the entire camper including outside speakers, microwaves, air conditioning, heating systems, skylights, garden tubs and fireplaces.
I learned three things from those RV shows:
- The starting price for fifth wheels is considerably higher than the starting price for travel trailers and while I liked the steps up to the bedroom in a fifth wheel, the design simply was not worth the extra money to me.
- I was going to buy a travel trailer.
- I was going to buy a travel trailer with a rear lounge layout
Finding my RV
In the early spring I found a lightly used travel trailer with a rear lounge at a large local RV dealership. It appeared to be particularly well taken care of and the dealership offered a limited warranty. The price was $19,000 which was within the $25,000 budget I had set. The problem was I did not like the color of the interior. It was blue and I'm a more neutral colors kind of gal. I also did not like the gold tone cabinet knobs and fixtures. So I went home to think about it for a week.
Thinking I could mitigate the blue by creative interior decorating and easily replace those gold tone fixtures, I returned to the dealership a week later to make an offer. My enthusiasm was quickly deflated when I learned the RV had been sold.
Feeling disappointed, I decided to mope around the lot as long as I was there and see if anything else caught my eye. They had just received a delivery of brand new RVs so I innocently strolled over to take a look. As soon as I stepped into the nearest travel trailer I knew I had found what I had been looking for. Rear lounge with a huge picture window, beige and dark green furnishings, pine tone trim, black appliances and a platform queen size bed.
I stepped back out into the cool early spring air, hoping it would snap me out of my emotional reaction to the RV so my more practical side could take control. Trying not to be overly excited, I walked to the office and asked the salesperson I had been dealing with what the price might be. He told me it was $26,000 but it happened to be their annual spring sale weekend and with all discounts it ended up costing $22,000. The price of a new car. But, unlike a new car, the RV came with furniture and appliances. I walked out of the dealership that day a very proud owner of a brand new, 29 foot, RV.
Delivery and set up
The day my RV was to be delivered I went to the dealership for a final walk through and a hands-on how-to class with a technician before it left the lot. He even had me open and close the 20 foot awning. Even though pounds of handbooks and manuals came with the RV I am a visual learner and found the process very worthwhile. While none of the information was in any way overwhelming, cumulatively it was a lot to think about.
Finally, my RV was hooked up to a pick up truck and the driver and I headed for the Adirondacks and the large, wooded campsite that was about to become my vacation spot.
I was surprised at how easy it was to maneuver the RV into the campsite. Once it was situated the installer lowered the four stabilizing jacks and used a level to be sure the floor was even. Then he plugged the electric cord into the outlet on a nearby pole and connected the new drinking water hose to the outside faucet and the intake on the back of the RV. Finally, he used a pipe to connect the RV to the septic system, dropped down the medal stairs and bob's your uncle, in less than an hour I was ready for summer!
When the RV deliveryman drove away and left me alone with my new 29 foot purchase that day I have to admit I felt a bit intimidated but that only lasted for a minute or two. Once I stepped inside and looked around I couldn't help but do a happy dance. I had done it. I owned my own little place in the Adirondacks!
It has been four years since that day and I have no regrets. As a matter of fact, I consider buying my RV one of the best decisions of my life. Owning an RV is so much easier than I imagined. In the spring I plug in the electric, hook up the water and press the button that opens the bump out and I am good to go. Once during the summer I wash the outside with a long handled brush and a cleaner/waxing product.
Sometimes I think about traveling with my RV. Of course, I would have to buy a truck to pull it and the thought of backing it up or turning it around squelches any enthusiasm. I tell my friends if I ever did travel with my RV I would have to go down the east coast to Florida, then over to Texas, up through California and around through Canada that way I would never have to back it up!
I love the campgrounds, swimming in the pond, the road trips on raining days, the wonderful friends I have made, the hundreds of campfires I have shared with those friends and family and the adventures I have had in my canoe (stories for another day).
I love walking into my cool and quiet RV after a hectic week. I love sitting on the deck I had built a few years ago and watching the sun sparkle through the leaves of the trees in the woods across the road and watching the moon come up.
So my friends, if you have ever thought about buying an RV, or are thinking about it now, I would encourage you to look into the possibility. Don't sit home wishing when you can be out there having fun.
Life is good.