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Get Up and Go in Your Own RV

Owners tell just why this mode of travel has so much appeal

Not too long ago, Urban and Ginny Arbour clocked in 6,000 miles in six weeks - from Oregon down to Mexico and back.

For them, the road has never looked better as they traveled in their RV (Recreational Vehicle).

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The semi-retired "snowbirds" are part of a growing population of senior RVers lured by independence, flexibility, convenience of home (on-wheels), and sometimes-economical extended stays.

According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, RV ownership has increased by 50 percent among householders aged 55 and up since 1980. As baby boomers mature, the population of RV owners is expected to bulge significantly.

The Arbours own a fifth-wheel trailer (one that fits on a connector in their pickup truck). "It's easy to pull, easy to maneuver," says Mr. Arbour. Their RV has nice bath facilities and a kitchen. The Arbours also make good use of the CD and tape player. Some RVers carry a satellite dish for cable, but the Arbours just hook up their television at parks.

Since summers are so nice in Oregon, the couple takes a road trip to the south every January - more often than not, south of the border.

Their most recent trip didn't turn out exactly as they had planned, however.

"We were going to take a tour with an operator going into Mexico, where you put your rig on a flatbed trailer [of a train] and go through Copper Canyon. But when we got there, the railroad was on strike," Mr. Arbour explains.

So they decided to head down to Mazatln in Mexico, and beyond. That's the nice part about RVing - a quick change in plans is usually no problem.

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Urban Arbour and his wife, Ginny, talked over the phone about their RV lifestyle:

How would you describe RVing to someone who has never done it but might be thinking about it?

There's a lot of driving and you have to enjoy it. You should rent an RV before you buy, of course. Generally, you can't rent a fifth wheel, but you can rent a mobile home and find out if you like it on the road.

RV travel is less structured than going to a motel. You don't have to take a plane and make reservations. [And with the amenities right there], life is very convenient. We enjoy all the scenery. You are very free and can stop whenever you want.

Says Ginny: With a freezer, there's no problem in the food department. Really, it's just a relaxing vacation. [And Urban does all the driving.]

How long have you been RVing and what's changed through the years?

I've been RVing since 1982. ... I'm on my third one now. It hasn't changed that much. Facilities have become a little nicer. They have some beautiful RV parks - lots of them.

The rules have remained the same, too: Be kind to your neighbor; it's always been that way. We've met some nice people along the way.

Do you find yourself following certain self-imposed policies concerning packing and on-the-road preparedness?

Packing? That's easy. You have everything - food, equipment - such as jacks, spare gas cans, tools, radio equipment, CB radios, cell phone - and necessary papers, such as passports, ownership records, and insurance.

Ginny: It's wonderful - no suitcases, because you have drawers.

Urban: I have a couple of policies in driving an RV: Be very passive on the road, give everybody the right of way, don't do anything wrong, stay within the speed limit. It's better to be overly cautious.

Many people praise RVing for being economical. What do you think?

From here, West Linn, Ore., to San Diego, it's about the same cost to drive down and back as it is to fly. When you get into Mexico, price of gas is $1.75 a gallon; toll roads are very expensive.

So, generally speaking, it's about the same cost [as other forms of travel.] The inexpensive part is when you park.

You do your own cooking. You eat light and the way you're accustomed to. We take certain basics, fill the freezer with meat and things like that. We stock up on canned goods such as soup and spices, and buy [fresh] vegetables. It's pretty easy.

Do you set goals in miles or time travel every day?

No, you tend to go at your own pace. If you make a date to meet relatives or friends, then you do. And if you're on your way home, then you tend to drive a little farther. Other than that, you just drive until you feel like stopping.

What's next for you two?

Next January, we'll head south to the sunshine. Baja [California, Mexico] is a nice place - it's easy, close, warm ... and a little more laid back.

Who's Driving All Those RVs, Anyway?

* One-third of the 9.3 million RVs on the road today are owned by people over the age of 55. That number is expected to increase as baby boomers enter prime RV-buying years.

* Generally speaking, RV vacations cost 50 to 80 percent less than comparable vacations, with average campground fees running $21 compared with average hotel cost of $85.

* RV-owning households are projected to increase by 21 percent by 2010, outpacing overall US household growth of 15 percent, according to a University of Michigan study.

* Motor homes are the RV of choice for the 65 to 74 age group, while conversion vehicle, travel trailer, and fifth-wheel ownership rates peak among RVers age 55 to 64. Folding camping trailers are most popular among the 45 to 54 age group.

* Those curious about RVing are wise to rent first. For information, call the Recreation Vehicle Rental Association: 800-972-1074. The organization offers a directory of more than 270 rental companies across the US, Canada and Europe. Cruise America (800-327-7799) is an agency that rents nationwide.

Source: Recreation Vehicle Industry Association 888- GO-RVing

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