For the 50+ Traveler

Our wedding on a private cruise ship in Washington’s Lake Union on August 8, 2008 led us directly into a cruising lifestyle -- and not just on the water. After saying I do, we turned our honeymoon into eight years of criss-crossing North America in an RV. After that, we settled down in Arizona, which we treat as a base for our world travels, and I got to work on my first book, Carolina: Cruising to an American Dream, which chronicles our unforgettable RV adventure. It includes not only my immigration and love story but also a great many RVing lessons. These are the most memorable ones.

Choosing The Right RV Makes All The Difference

The first problem we faced as we imagined our new on-the-road lifestyle was choosing what RV to buy. We settled on a used 24-foot Class B motorhome for $10,000 -- and recouped most of that by selling our furniture and car in yard sales and on Craigslist. We stored the rest of our belongings in my daughter’s garage and rented out our condo.

I called our RV Star. She had enough storage space, and I appreciated that the bedroom/bathroom could be closed off from the living/driving areas. We bought for her a companion I called Vino, a blue scooter, too.

Star and Vino took us from Seattle to Calgary, through the Canadian Rockies, on the Alaska Highway, around Alaska, to the Arctic Circle, down through British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, and into Mexico, then across the Gulf States, and into all of Florida. We stayed an average of three to four days in a place. We celebrated our first Christmas away from home in Orlando, Florida. In almost a year, we saw so much on just slightly more than it would have cost us to live at home.

Fuel efficiency, easy maneuverability, and low initial investment -- those were the criteria we used in choosing the Star-and-Vino tandem.

You’ll Have To Find Your Own Right Way To RV

There was one drawback to all our driving around: It was somewhat tiring for my husband. We needed to tweak our arrangements a bit.

We quickly learned that camping costs were our single biggest expense, not fuel. We bought a membership in a national campground network. This reduced our camping expenses from about $30 to $5 a night over the next five years. And it was sad considering I loved them so much, but we eventually had to trade in Star and Vino for a 37.5-foot Class A motorhome with a used compact car for a dinghy. The newlyweds finally had a “home” where they could host guests, stay in resort campgrounds for weeks instead of days, and explore each area extensively and comfortably. And now it was life on fewer dollars than living in our condo!

If you are retired or your career is portable, living this dream is a smart way to travel in North America. If, however, you are tied to a job, to family, or for any other reason, you may consider “escaping” on weekends and holidays. Start by transforming your vehicle into a campervan, if suitable, or renting a small RV. You will be thrilled to get to your coveted destinations with the utmost freedom of movement.

The writer and her husband in the Arctic Circle.
Carol Colborn

Planning Routes In Advance Is Absolutely Essential

Our campground membership gave us a whole range of options to explore the entirety of the U.S. Of course, national parks and forests provided a whole other set of choices. As seniors, we enjoy discounted rates. It was therefore easy to plan itineraries based on three factors: closeness to attractions or family/friends we wanted to visit, climate, and distance. Generally, we followed the sun and created routes according to a logical sequence of destinations to further save on fuel expenses.

Unfortunately, one time we made a most grievous error. My son-in-law was taking care of our mail, and a hugely important letter did not reach me in time. It was for an appointment with the U.S. Commission on Immigration in connection with my application for citizenship. We were in South Carolina, and, when I finally got it, the appointment date in Seattle had already passed. My request to reschedule was granted, but we acted on our knee-jerk reaction and took our “home” across the country. It was foolish. We should have stored the RV, flown to the meeting, and flown back to continue our drive up the East Coast. After that experience, we shifted to a professional mail forwarding service.

Even If You Love Shopping Local, You Will Make Friends With National Chains

With any used RV, maintenance is an ongoing concern. At first, we used local service providers to help the economies of the towns we passed through. But when our roof sprung a leak in Spokane, Washington, no one wanted to take such a big job. We had to go with a national chain, even if it was expensive. We had to leave right after to meet my daughter and her family at Glacier National Park. Well, when it rained again, once we were in Chicago, we found out that there was still a slight leak. But we heaved a sigh of relief: The chain who’d done the work had a branch there, one of its 120 branches in 36 states. The job was completed to our satisfaction in Illinois.

We dealt with flat tires twice -- once in an isolated canyon and later in the middle of a busy interstate highway. The noise was so unbelievably loud that I got scared both times. It was good my husband insisted on maintaining membership in a great roadside assist service. Help arrived in under an hour. There was another scary time when my husband’s heart medication ran out. That would have been a crisis in the Philippines, where I grew up. But in the States it was very easy to transfer his prescription to the nearby branch of our nationwide pharmacy.

You Have To Build Healthcare Into Your Plans

This last lesson we realized late. Early into our RVing, my new groom suffered a minor heart attack. It was such a stressful situation for me. As a result, chronic hives kept me company for months. When he developed a blood clot behind his right knee after driving straight for two days from Seattle, Washington to Denver, Colorado, the hives were replaced by intense bouts of acid reflux. The problems did not stop there. Plantar fasciitis on my right foot, a root canal on a molar, and cataract surgery on both eyes followed. We should have returned once a year to a place -- somewhere central -- where a regular physician, dentist, and ophthalmologist could have taken care of us. We’d totally neglected preventive care, given all the excitement.

Still, we encourage everyone to experience RVing at least once in their lifetime, whether as full-time RVers like we were or for shorter escapes.

Want to know what it’s really like to travel solo in an RV? What about the biggest pros and cons of RV travel, or RV essentials: eight tools and gadgets you didn’t know you needed?