From luxury models to pull-behinds, you can take it all with you.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t an RV fan until a friend and I chronicled I-90, which runs from Seattle to Boston, the longest stretch of highway in the U.S. without a stoplight or stop sign.
Traveling in a basic Class C motorhome, space for camera gear was ample. There was always hot food from the microwave, cold soda in the fridge, and even colder ice cream from the freezer. An omnipresent bathroom and comfy sleeping quarters were available at 70 mph.
Who wouldn’t become a convert?
This reminiscing happens on the eve of the Seattle RV Show. I’m a fan of events like this because, like any auto or boat show, it offers one-stop shopping without the hassle of driving all over the region for comparisons. Plus, vendors and clinics can help both beginners and road warriors.
David Helgeson, the show’s director since 1994 has seen the industry through the booms and busts. Helgeson says “RV and trailer sales are a great barometer of the nation’s economy, rising just before economics pick up, and falling preceding a cool down”. FYI, he says the RV business is booming. There’s your weekly stock tip.
Renting an RV or trailer to sample the lifestyle before plunking down serious money on ownership seems vital but Helgeson says “most buyers jump in with both feet without renting first. They’re really excited to get going.”
My good friends Ben and Jan Olsen were a little more cautious. They had “car camped” with their kids from their Suburban for years, but Ben had always admired the ability trailers offered to take it all with you. Jan was more skeptical. Turns out they knew a couple who had completely plugged into the scene with a 27-foot Airstream Classic Limited. Showing the Olsens the ropes and allowing them to give it a five-day trial run was all it took. Even Jan was hooked.
“It exceeded both of our expectations” says Ben, “even mine.” It stayed on their mind for the next year until those friends switched to something smaller for more backwoods adventures. The Olsens seized the moment, bought the Airstream and a GMC Sierra Denali, and have never looked back.
Few of us have friends to mentor us on towing, balancing, and hooking up the various systems. The RV Show can be a godsend for newbies. Gary Buzner, known as “The RV Doctor,” will share tips and wisdom for both towable and motorized rigs. For “boondockers” (camping off the grid without hookups), Brian Pursel will share his wisdom on solar energy systems to keep the glamping in camping. Not all RVs are created technically equal so there are seminars designed to explain the differences.
With over 20 local RV dealers participating there’s a lot to browse. Helgeson says younger buyers gravitate to small trailers like the lightweight T@B my neighbors haul on the weekends. The compact and distinctive Airstream Basecamp is the 2017 RVBusiness RV of the Year. At 16 feet long, it has a kitchen, bathroom, and bed that sleeps two. At about 2,600 pounds with batteries and LP, it can be towed behind many SUVs like a Jeep Cherokee. Starting at $35,000, Basecamp proves that you can live large in a small trailer.
For us dreamers, luxury Class A motorhomes (built on a bus chassis) can go for well over $500,000. One impressive A at the show is the Freightliner-based Tiffin Phaeton. Available in lengths of up to 45 feet, Phaeton has 7-foot high ceilings and the ability to order a washer/dryer set and a fireplace. I got ideas for my upcoming kitchen remodel from its galley (yes, with dishwasher). Phaeton has enough air conditioning to chill a movie theater (hey, it gets hot when touring Arizona).
For something more maneuverable, go with a Class B that puts life’s necessities inside van shells like RAM ProMaster and Mercedes Sprinter. The Winnebago Paseo is the first Class B to be built on Ford’s Transit van chassis. Starting at $115,000, it’s less opulent as the Phaeton but includes a bathroom, a powered exterior awning with LED lighting and something a Class A can’t provide — agility. It’s easy to navigate cities in a B once you tire of the great outdoors.
Class Cs (motorhomes based on van platforms) have evolved since I drove to Boston in one. They now come with full slide-outs for maximum room at basecamp. Those who want to slide a camper into the bed of their pickups should check out the Lance 650 Truck Camper that’s specifically designed for half-ton pickup trucks with 5-foot and 6-foot beds.
Ben and Jan are planning Glacier, Yellowstone, Yosemite and Death Valley excursions with the comforts of home. This could be you. But research is important. The show runs from Thursday through next Sunday at CenturyLink Field Event Center. There’s free day care for kids under 10. You can even enter to win a Winnebago Drop camping trailer. Adults are $12, seniors 62 and older are $10 and children 17 and younger are free with adults. And if you haven’t learned enough on day one, ask for a complementary pass to come back again.