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The last few months have been rough on just about every sector of the economy. But I know of at least one business that is thriving right now. RVs – that’s short for Recreational Vehicles – are flying off the shelves right now. Dealers and manufacturers are having a hard keeping up with demand.
I can understand why. After weeks and months of being cooped up, people just want to go somewhere. Anywhere! But they want to do so safely. For a lot of people, owning RVing seems like a good way to do that.
Depending on your personality and finances, RVing might be right for you.
RVs: A Family Tradition
My personal obsession with RVing goes way back. My dad had truck campers and motorhomes his entire life and I always thought they were great. He was forever buying some used, beat-up RV and fixing it up. Dad and I didn’t always have a lot to talk about. He was not an easy man to know and we didn’t have much in common. But when I bought a 1997 Winnebago Rialta, remodeled her completely, and named her “Glinda the Glamper”, we agreed that the apple hadn’t fallen far from the paternal tree.
I am so glad that I bought Glinda and fixed her up. She really was a dream fulfilled for me. But she also proved the truth of an old Rving adage. “The two best days of your life are when you buy your RV and when you sell it.” (This adage works for boats too.)
I adored Glinda. I really did. She was my grownup dollhouse on wheels. I loved fixing her up to my exact taste and needs. The trips I took in her are burned in my memory, for good and for ill. However, Glinda was also a money pit and the worst financial decision I have ever made in my life, hands down.
So, would I ever buy another RV?
Try Before Buying an RV
Maybe that sounds crazy. But I know a lot more about RVs than I did the first time out. I can imagine circumstances in which RVing is right for me. I can also imagine circumstances I which RVing is right for you too. It depends. But before you buy an RV, there are some things you really should do.
Traveling by RV sounds really great. And, in so many ways, I think it is. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that RVing is right for you. Renting an RV for a week or two will help you figure out if the reality of RVing is as appealing as the dream.
Before I bought my Winnebago Rialta, I rented a 19-foot RV from Cruise America to travel in during my book tour. Since being able to have a “hotel on wheels” during tours was one of my primary motives for wanting to buy an RV, I wanted to test it out in a real world situation.
I learned a lot during my trip.
The Pros and Con of Buying an RV
On the con side, I realized that even a small RV can be hard to park when you’re in urban settings, which is where my book tours generally take me. Also, finding a safe campground for the night usually meant having to drive for quite a ways after I finished a speaking event. Since I’m usually really tired after speaking, this wasn’t ideal. I also learned that the amount of hot water in an RV is not enough for me to wash and condition my hair. And that “black water” tanks are gross.
On the pro side, I loved not having to pack and unpack my suitcase every time I traveled to a new city. I liked being able to bring my favorite quilts along, as many books as I wanted, and my dog. I liked arriving at whatever bookstore or library I was headed to early and being able to rest before my speech. I also liked having a refrigerator and microwave to prepare healthy meals whenever I felt like it. And I loved waking up among trees, lakes, and rivers every morning.
For me, the pros ultimately outweighed the cons. But it could just as easily have gone the other way. Renting that RV wasn’t cheap. As I recall it ran around $1,500. But better to spend fifteen hundred to be sure that RVing is right for you than to spend fifteen, or thirty, or fifty thousand, or even more only to discover that the reality of owning an RV isn’t as good as the dream.
Count ALL the Costs
Yeah. This is where everything went downhill for me.
Though I was smart enough to rent before I bought, I really didn’t understand ALL the costs of RV ownership before buying an RV. Even a used RV can quickly run into tens of thousands of dollars. In addition to the actual purchase price, you need to consider other costs…
- Gas (RVs eat a LOT of it)
- Campground Fees (Usually $30 to $50 per night)
- Winterization (You’ll probably need to do it every year)
- Repairs and Maintenance
- Lost revenue (If you invested the dollars spend on an RV, how much would it earn?)
- Depreciation (Your RV will lose value every year. An RV is NOT an investment.)
- Renovation costs (If you’re fixing up an older RV)
When I bought Glinda, I definitely underestimated how much the renovation would cost me. But what I really underestimated was how much money I’d be spending on repairs.
A Complete Money Pit
Unless you are a professional mechanic or married to one, never, ever, EVER buy a twenty-year old RV. Even if it’s super cute, and the mileage is really low, and the price seems fair, and you have a mechanic check it out first. (Like I did.)
Seriously. Just say no.
I really did love Glinda. But at the end of the day, she was a hole I constantly threw money into. Every time I turned around, something was going wrong with her. Little things like having to replace the speedometer. And big things, like having to replace the brakes. Or the entire engine.
All this being said, I can actually imagine a time when RVing is right for me. But it would involve being able to purchase a rig that’s under warranty and having the time to be able to use her frequently. (When I added up Glinda’s costs of a per-day basis, I could have rented a suite in the nicest hotel in any city in America and come out ahead.)
If you have the time, ability, and inclination to use it frequently, it’s possible that RVing is right for you. But if you’re only going to use your rig for a few days or weeks per year, you might come full circle and go back to renting.
Coming Back to Renting vs. Buying an RV: Outdoorsy
My first experience with renting an RV wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great. While I liked the camping aspect, renting that first RV was pricey. Also, the selection of rigs I found at Cruise America were limited and not really ideal for my purposes and it hadn’t been kept in great repair.
But renting a beautiful Airstream trailer from Outdoorsy when I took my mom camping last year, changed my mind about renting. Outdoorsy is basically the AirBnB of RV rental. You can rent everything from a teeny teardrop trailer to a forty-plus foot A Class motorhome, direct from the owner.
My experience renting our Airstream from Outdoorsy was wonderful. I could see the owner had gotten great reviews from other Outdoorsy renters and my experience was just as good. The communication was quick, and the walk-through he gave me was thorough. For a bit extra, he even towed the trailer to my camping spot. Since I don’t have a truck, this was a boon!
I’ve always wanted to stay in an Airstream and renting from Outdoorsy allowed me to fulfill my fantasy. This little trailer was cute, clean as a whistle, in terrific condition, and equipped with dishes, bedding and even towels. Yes, the cost for renting from Outdoorsy was just as much as getting a nice hotel room. But it was exponentially less than Glinda cost me on a per night basis. The way I see it, I’m money ahead.
Dreaming of RVs in the Future
I’m definitely planning on renting from Outdoorsy in the future. I might rent that Airstream again but I’m also excited about trying different kinds of rigs. If you’ve got a fantasy RV, chances are there is someone on Outdoorsy who would be willing to rent one to you.
That’s something to keep in mind if you’re thinking that RVing is right for you. Chances are good that you can rent the same kind of rig that you’re considering buying. That can be a big help when researching which kind or brand of RV to purchase and could help you avoid making a costly mistake.
I really do love the fun and freedom of RVing. Someday, I’d love to have another rig. However, renting an RV is the best option for me right now. If you’re trying to decide if buying an RV is for you, know that trying before you buy and counting all the costs is crucial!