Looking for an adventure, consider a trip in an RV

Not everyone is enamored with the wonders of a Winnebago, but for those with time and a taste for adventure, consider a trip in an RV.  

The original tiny house, the newest incarnations of these homes on wheels are both comfortable, stylish and not so tiny. Slide outs, which open to increase the square footage of living space when parked; multiple flat screen televisions; awnings; full-size kitchen appliances and king-size beds are just some of the features that make these ships on wheels so desirable.

“Side-vision cameras that operate by activating the turn signals are a newer feature,” said CJ Valero, owner of Valero Century RV in Delmont, Westmoreland County. “As units get more expensive additional features are added for safety and comfort.”

While the bigger, fancier, newer models can go for well over $800,000 with upgrades, the modest versions are a bit more reasonable. You can buy a used one for under $200,000.    

Renting an RV and hitting the open road is probably the best way to determine if this is something you would enjoy.

“We do consignment rentals,” he said, referring to the wide variety of vehicles ranging in size and price.

“How it works is someone who owns the RV and usually bought it from us, has us rent it when they are not using it,” Mr. Valero said. “It also gives them a place to store it and when they pick it up all the batteries are charged and the tanks that are supposed to be full are full and the ones that should be empty are empty and it is a way to help pay for it.”

On a warm summer day in August at Valero all the rentals were out with the exception of a Fleetwood Bounder, which was being cleaned and serviced for a rental customer who was picking it up that day. The Bounder was equipped with two slide outs; four televisions, with one outside to watch under the retractable awning; a full kitchen; a master bedroom with full-size shower and even a fireplace in the living room.  

But it’s not just the summer months that are busy.  

“We get people all year long wanting to rent,” he said.  “When there are Penn State games we have a big demand,” said his wife, Kathy.  Along with renting, they sell used RVs from a multitude of manufacturers, including Fleetwood, Winnebago and Allegro.

RVing always has been popular with retirees, but lately it has been attracting a larger demographic. “We get a lot of young families coming in looking to rent or buy,” said Mr. Valero. He said former Pittsburgh Steelers lineman and current sportscaster Tunch Ilkin took his family on an RV trip to the West using one of Mr. Valero’s vehicles.  

Penney and Barton Buxton of Oakland, Mich., haven’t yet retired, but they already have incorporated an RV into their lifestyle.

“My wife and I were looking for a recreational vehicle, that would allow us to travel in comfort and also spend time visiting our children,” said Mr. Buxton, during a brief stop last summer at one of the service plazas on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The couple were heading back to Michigan after a family reunion in Virginia and Pennsylvania.  They had recently purchased a 2017 Tiffin Allegro.

“My wife’s youngest son is a junior in college and actively involved in intercollegiate athletics, and the RV was a way to travel to his games and enjoy tailgating with the other parents,” he said. Their 36-foot-long RV is self-contained with a king-size bed and a full shower in a spacious bathroom. The kitchen features an oven, stove, refrigerator freezer and microwave. The vehicle includes four televisions, a fireplace and two slide outs.  

The benefits of a rolling home include no need for hotel reservations, no TSA pat downs and you can pack all the water and scissors you could ever use. 

“The beauty of the RV, is if you’re tired you can pull over into a truck stop and sleep,” Mr. Buxton said. “You can also limit stopping by having food and drinks in the vehicle since the capacity of the gas tank [80 gallons in this model] allows you to go a long way without refueling. It is very easy to use all of the amenities inside the unit,” he added.

Their RV has a gasoline-powered, V10 engine, which drives like a car.

While it is nearly the size of bus no special license is required to drive it.

“Although I didn’t have to take a course to drive the RV, it does take some time to get used to its size, he acknowledged.

He bought his RV in Michigan. “The only instruction I got, was driving it around the block after I had purchased it.”

At Valero, the owners make sure customers understand how to maneuver the vehicle safely and confidently. “I never want someone leaving here without feeling assured they can drive the RV,” said Mr. Valero.  He has been giving free instructions to renters and buyers for 16 years.  “I can have anyone driving any size RV confidently in a few hours.”  

The Buxtons have taken several long trips between 3,000 and 4,000 miles. “Although we have not driven across country we do have plans to drive to Yellowstone National Park and take in the sights along the way,” Mr. Buxton said.

Like most big RVs, his is equipped with a generator that runs two roof air-conditioning units while they travel. They make the inside cabin very comfortable or while at a rest stop. 

“Although my wife, Penney, and I are not retired, we plan to use it more during our retirement and the trips we take now are allowing us to get used to this type of travel,” he said.  

As far as short destinations from Pittsburgh, Mr. Valero recommends Stonewall Resort, a drive of a little more than two hours to Roanoke, W.Va. “This is a true resort with incredible on-site activities,” he said. It’s situated on a lake with more than 1,900 acres and includes an Arnold Palmer Signature golf course. It has a campground that can accommodate RVs.

“We also take the RV to Florida,” added Ms. Valero.  They started out as backpackers when they were younger, but the RV became an easier way to explore the country.

“Our RV is painted in Steeler colors, black and gold, and has been used for charitable benefits,” she said. “It’s very recognizable.”

What to know before hitting the road

1. Plan, plan and plan some more. “There are books that will give you lists of all the RV parks across the country with information on costs and amenities,” said CJ Valero of Valero Century RV. RV parks are not all created equal. Some are like five-star hotels with pools and ocean views, others are more rustic.

2. Most Walmarts and truck stops allow RVs to park there at night for free. You don’t need to hook to anything because of the generators on the vehicle. “You can just ask for the Walmart manager and they usually tell you where to park behind the store. It’s great if you get too tired to continue,” Mr. Valero noted.

3. If you stock up on food and drinks you can eliminate a lot of unnecessary stops and save money preparing your own meals in the RV or grilling out under the retractable awning that is on nearly all models made within the past decade.

4. New drivers of RVs might want to do a few short trips to nearby locations just to get the feel of the vehicle and a sense of what it will be like driving on various highways.

5. Get a KOA North American Camping Guide Map. They are free at many state park information centers, at Valero Century RV in Delmont, Westmoreland County. or you can download the app. Go to KOA.com.

Patricia Sheridan: psheridan@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2613 or follow her on Twitter at @pasheridan.  




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