On the road to retirement in an RV

Attracted by the flexibility and low cost of full-time RV living, millions of savvy seniors are hitting the road in recreational vehicles that have all the comforts of home without the headaches.

Escaping snow shoveling in the winter and grueling heat in the summer, they travel the nation’s highways in sleek motor homes or truck-drawn fifth-wheelers, pulling into private and public campgrounds for sightseeing and outdoor recreation before moving on.

Many of these “retirement homes on wheels” have all the comforts of traditional houses, including central air and heat, eat-in kitchens and large living rooms and bedrooms made possible by walls that bump out at the touch of a button. Some RVs are even equipped with plasma TVs, says the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, an industry trade group whose Web site (www.rvia.com) offers extensive and up-to-date consumer information about RV styles, costs and trends.

Fifth-wheelers can cost between $13,000 and $100,000 new, while motor homes cost $65,000 to $400,000 new, the RVIA says. Custom features such as heated floors, fireplaces, luxury baths and media rooms can push the price above $1 million. Other expenses can include overnight and monthly parking fees, fuel and insurance.

Like their part-time counterparts, a substantial number of full-time RVers affiliate with local and national RV clubs. Membership fees can run from less than $100 a year up to several thousand dollars, but offer RVers low-cost campsites, mentoring and other benefits they might not otherwise receive.

Large clubs like Thousand Trails (www.1000trails.com) and Coast to Coast (www.coastresorts.com) provide discounts on campgrounds across the country.

For full-time RVers, Escapees RV Club (www.escapees.com) also offers a broad range of support services, from a sophisticated forwarding system that handles more than 2 million pieces of mail a year to an on-site CARE Center near its Livingston, Texas, headquarters. The center provides adult daycare, cooking and cleaning for RVers temporarily limited or permanently prevented from traveling by age or disability. Considered the premiere club for full-time RVers, the 65,000-member Escapees RV Club also gives its members access to expert advice on a broad range of topics, including how to establish a home address in order to vote, register a vehicle, get insurance, pay taxes, deal with estate issues or receive medical care.

The club publishes an 88-page magazine mailed to members twice a year, supplemented by an online newsletter, RV guides and e-alerts on legislative and advocacy issues affecting RVers. Its seminars on RVing, held across the nation, are open to the public.

If you’re considering full-time RVing as a retirement option, RV experts suggest that you:

• Stop and talk to those who’ve already made the leap. Escapee RV Club founders Joe and Kay Peterson say roadside rest areas are among the best places to approach full-time RVers. Also try campgrounds, fairgrounds and other sites designated for short-term RV parking.

• Gather information from publications like “Full Timing: An Introduction to Full-time RVing,” written by longtime travel writer Gaylord Maxwell, or the Peterson’s online guide, “Full-time RVing: Is It For You?,” which is downloadable from the club Web site. DVDs and special interest magazines providing tips and insider views of full-time RV life are available online through the RV Bookstore (www.rvbookstore.com).

• Learn from the experts by signing up for workshops and seminars. One of the most popular is the RV Life on Wheels “College of RVing,” a weeklong seminar on RV lifestyles and technical issues that was first offered in 1994 as part of a summer extension program at the University of Idaho. Today, the seminar is also offered at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pa.; at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green; at Des Moines Area Community College, Iowa; and at Pima Community College, Tucson, Ariz. Each draws several hundred would-be, novice and experienced RVers. Tuition ranges from $130 to $199. For information, check out the RV Life on Wheels Web site (www.rvlifeonwheels.com) or call (866) 569-4646.