When Home Is Where You Park It

The Freedom of RV Travel

By Megan Roessler | Photographed by Kaia Calhoun

In “RV,” the 2006 movie featuring Robin Williams, Williams rents a gas-guzzling motorhome in an attempt to force family fun through a close-quarters trip on the open road. What ensues is an adventure complete with quirky RV park neighbors and maintenance disasters.

Beyond this caricature though, is a unique culture and community. Today more than ever, the experience of traveling the country in a recreational vehicle stitches together timeless style, a generous community and the spirit of adventure, creating a unique experience ideal for older Americans.

From Jack Kerouac to Cheryl Strayed, American popular culture combines travel, self-discovery, fulfillment and wanderlust into a singular notion. Highway culture is something particular to America’s sprawling landscapes. Picture a ribbon of highway woven through small towns, past diners and sculptural oddities under a broad blue sky.

Nothing quite says “Americana” like a glittering Airstream trailer soaring down the highway.

It’s a culture that’s still drawing new converts.

Madison-area graphic designer Nichie Bendt and wife Terri Zeman are in the process of renovating a 1978 Argosy Airstream. It started with designing custom window curtains with scenes of the couple and their two dogs hitting the road and sitting around a campfire. The curtains “tell a story about places we’ve been and adventures we’ve had,” Bendt says. They’re trying to keep the retro feel of the Argosy, offered exclusively in the ’70s, although they did decide to take out the shag carpeting.

Companies are catering to this continued trend in smaller spaces for travel and more. Colorado Caravan helps clients renovate Airstreams into living spaces, storefronts or studios. Airstream pop-up coffee shops are a league all their own. Given the broader style of small living exemplified by tiny houses, as well as the vintage aesthetic, it’s no wonder Airstream is just as on trend today as it was decades before. And, “Everybody loves the wraparound windows because it feels like you bring the outdoors inside,” Bendt says. In fact, increasing numbers of young people—families included— are taking to RVs or tiny houses in hopes of living out on the open road.

The RV community is extensive and closely knit. Clubs such as the Good Sams, named for the peripatetic Good Samaritan, or Airstream’s Wally Byam Caravan Club International, are known for their friendliness. Both of these organizations have local chapters in the greater Madison area and plan regular social meetups of travelers and enthusiasts. Additionally, they host annual rallies and retreats, usually a longer drive away to really make the event something special.

If you’re not ready to invest in an RV of your own—the smallest of which can start at around $10,000—a popular option is renting a vehicle for a shorter-term trip. Sites like RVshare allow for recreational vehicle rentals for as short as a weekend.

Rentals like these are perfect for a test run to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula or over to Niagara Falls, both of which provide a trip long enough to provide either a rejuvenating and relaxing vacation, or the chance to catch the bug and get hooked on RVing full time.

Bendt and Zeman have circumnavigated Lake Superior in their RV and are currently on a “national parks kick,” with plans for more. “When we do retire that will be our new mini-home to take around the country,” Bendt says of the Argosy. Especially ideal for retired snowbirds looking to head south, RV travel creates the opportunity for long-term vacations that remain accessible and convenient. Your lodging is always with you!

Between the opportunities to take an extended vacation, join a closely-knit community of travelers and experience the adventure of the open road, RV travel promises new adventures down every stretch of highway, and around every bend in the road. Now head on out there and get your kicks!