Floridians' RVs Used but Less Traveled
Although many RV owners are modifying their vacation plans because of fuel costs, that doesn't mean they're giving up the RV lifestyle completely, according to the Tampa Tribune.
"We've got them, we're happy we got them and we're going to use them," said Bill Maxwell, who lives in Brandon, Fla., and heads the state chapter of the Good Sam Club, a worldwide RV owners association based in Ventura, Calif.
Good Sam Executive Director Sue Bray says most RV owners are coping with fuel costs by curbing their time on the highway, not by letting their vehicles sit in the backyard.
In a recent survey, Good Sam members listed high fuel costs as the fourth most pressing RV-related concern, while 4 in 10 respondents said they cut their travel by 1,800 miles last year to adjust to higher prices.
The club is updating the survey but expects to see the same or similar results this year.
"What we're hearing is people are making shorter trips but they're not giving up their RVs," Bray said. "Once you make an investment and a commitment of time in this lifestyle, it's probably not something you're going to give up entirely."
About half of RV owners are retirees or near retirement. They enjoy the outdoors and mixing with other RV enthusiasts to chat about travel, their careers and their families, Maxwell said.
They've also invested thousands of dollars in the vehicles, which can run from a $5,000 pop-up camper to a $1 million customized motorhome with sidewalls that extend out at the flick of a switch.
'This Really Has Affected Us'
Many are like Veliria and Rodell Shuford, both 71, of Jacksonville, Fla., who recently camped at the Lazy Days RV campground in Seffner. The couple likes to tailgate at Florida A&M University football games, visit family in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and travel to RV rallies across the South.
Their beige 2003 Monaco Diplomat reflects Veliria's decorating style. The interior is festooned with dried flowers, dolls and stuffed Jaguars to show their allegiance to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
She says the run-up in fuel prices has her mapping the couple's trips more carefully and keeping an eye out for gas bargains.
Their RV runs on diesel, gets 8 miles per gallon, about average for large motorhomes, and has a 100-gallon tank.
Topping off in Georgia recently, they spent $228 for 48 gallons of diesel, or $4.75 a gallon – a relative bargain a few weeks ago. Last month, diesel in Florida averaged $4.82 a gallon.
Even with bargains, Veliria Shuford said, the cost has her rethinking long trips.
Last summer, when diesel was $2.95 a gallon, the couple took off for four months across Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
"This year because of the price of gas we only went to Lazy Days in March and then to Mayport, which is about 20 miles away from our home, and to Lazy Days again," she said. "This really has affected us."
Shuford said she recently drove to Port St. Lucie, 180 miles southeast, to visit a daughter, but took the couple's car to save on gas.
Staying Close To Home
The Shufords aren't alone. The push by RV owners to stay close to home has campgrounds seeing more Florida tags than usual.
Bobby Cornwell, president of the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, said some Florida campers who in past summers trekked to Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee are staying put, resulting in a 2% to 3% bump in reservations at Florida campgrounds, he said.
In addition, the gas crunch has some out-of-state RV owners rethinking their trips home and leaving their vehicles at storage lots here.
Cornwell couldn't say whether the uptick in reservations will continue through winter, but he's optimistic RV owners from northern states will stream south once the mercury plunges.
"When it gets to be negative 10 in North Dakota, they'll come down," he said.
Carol Sandstrom, president of an RV club in Safety Harbor, isn't so sure many folks will make long journeys. While it's still cheaper to head out on vacation in an RV than to catch a flight, eat at restaurants and bunk at a hotel, the cost of gas has left many seniors hesitant about getting behind the wheel.
"It's getting a little bit rough. There are some that just won't go and some that can't go," said Sandstrom, an RV owner for 40 years. "Financially, for the older folks it's especially tough out there."
This summer, the 16-rig Pine Tree Sams No. 155 club hasn't taken a trip farther than Seffner, she said.
The Sams plan to attend a rally in Alabama in September, but she doesn't expect the usual number of Florida participants.
"We think there will be more people from Alabama," Sandstrom said. "When we talk amongst ourselves at dinner about where we want to go in coming months, more people are going to want to stay close to home.
Maxwell and his wife recently headed to northeast Georgia. He can make the trip there on a single fill-up, about $461. He admits that's high, but not high enough to stay in Florida.
"We have a place at the base of a mountain range. You can fish, canoe. We like to pan for gold," he said, laughing. "We haven't found any. We'd like to find some big huge nuggets to pay for the fuel."