Above: The RV lifestyle can include plenty of time to relax in natural settings, like Skidaway Island State Park in Savannah, Ga. Courtesy of Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites Division, Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Gary and Kathy Livengood have learned to love life on the road.

“We just do whatever we can when we want to,” said Livengood, a retired Lockheed engineer who shares a Marietta address with his wife, Kathy, even though the couple spends much of their time traveling from campsite to campsite and living in their travel trailer, which they’ve nicknamed “Bertha.”

Like many seniors, the Livengoods have fallen for the allure of recreational vehicles, a class of traveling homes that includes several types of campers and which fans often call simply “RVs.” Freedom and affection for national and state parks has a lot to do with driving the overall appeal of the homes-on-the-road.

According to RVs Move America (2017) data, Georgia benefits from the RV industry with a total direct economic output of more than $402.4 million. Of the 407 RV related businesses and 49 dealerships, the state receives over $90 million in tax revenue.

Georgia’s State Parks have seen the growth, as well. Forty-one parks offer more than 2,000 campsites, many accommodating RVs.

Don Carter State Park, Lake Lanier, Georgia
Courtesy of Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites Division, Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

When it comes to “RVing,” Atlantans Skip and Jane Loman are “full-timers.” That means their camper is their only home. They recently spent a year traveling across the U.S.

“Right now, we’re homeless,” Loman joked recently, explaining that their RV was in the shop.

“We can’t stay in it when it’s being serviced,” he said. “Fortunately, my wife, Jane, has cousins with a place near Lake Allatoona. They don’t use it year around — so we have a good place to stay.”

But for the Lomans, the RV lifestyle is worth a few adjustments and inconveniences.  It’s something they both wanted to try, and they planned ahead. They talked to a lot of people, asked a lot of questions and researched how other full-timers managed before taking their plunge.

“We understood from the beginning that there would be trade-offs,” Loman said. “Part of this lifestyle is something we had to figure out beforehand.”

Managing medications, for instance, can be an issue for some older travelers. In the Loman’s case, their Georgia doctors gave them the medication prescriptions they would need for a full year, and the Lomans said that seeing their same physicians annually is important.

Learning from travel

They’ve learned other lessons on the road, too. During their first year of traveling, Loman said, they were in a hurry to “see and do everything.” Now they build in time to enjoy a sunset or just do nothing.

“One of the reasons we’re doing this now,” he said, “is it might be too difficult as we get older.”

“Jane believes that the full-time lifestyle has taught us that we don’t need all of the things we had collected in our home over the last 30 years,” said Loman. “When we move around the country, we collect memories and photos of our adventures rather than acquiring more stuff.”

They agreed, “It’s a freeing feeling to not worry about stuff anymore.”

The Livengoods also have had to learn how to deal with the challenges offered by spending time on the road. They share chores.

“Kathy takes care of the inside, and I do everything on the outside,” said Livengood. He says he’s been teaching his wife how to handle some of the outside problems that may come up — just in case.

“I keep a one-inch, three-ring binder which has a checklist for everything we need to know and do,” he said. “But I save the major repairs for the professionals.”

Livengood has been camping since childhood, said he especially enjoyed camping when his former employer, Lockheed, offered a piece of property on Lake Lanier for employee use.

During the course of his career as an aeronautical engineer, the Lockheed land was sold — but that love of camping has remained a priority.

Kathy Livengood said she had no trouble adjusting to the camping lifestyle. It reminds her of her childhood. “My mother was from the back hills of North Carolina,” she said, and when visiting her grandmother who had no electricity and who cooked on a wood stove.

Then again, camping today really isn’t anything like that, she admitted.

Georgia’s state parks, for instance, offer about 1,600 campsites for RVs; about 800 are “pull though sites, while the rest require some careful backing in. Most have electricity and water hookups.

Camping is big business

Jackson Hyde, a salesman at Three Way Campers, reviews sales figures with Jessica Porter Parker, who is a great granddaughter of the dealership’s original owner.

Camping World is the “largest U.S. recreational vehicle dealer,” according to Reuters and other RV articles. A Forbes’ 2017 article related to Camping World’s business states that there are “no headwinds in sight” — meaning nothing appears to disrupt the RV industry’s recent strong growth.

That same article said that ‘boomers’ have helped with industry growth; along with many millennials (who were born between 1980 and 2000). Both groups “like experiences over more material goods.”

What’s more, they seem to enjoy nature along with their ‘disposable’ income. Advantages of doing business with a national company include more service centers and plenty of easy-to-use camping gear for sale. However, smaller, family-owned and operated companies can offer personal attention.

For example, Three-way Campers in Marietta, Ga., was begun in 1952 by Ralph Porter. Ralph’s son, Charles, came on board in 1958 and today, grandchildren and great grandchildren take pride in running the company.

Salesman and RV enthusiast Jackson Hyde married into the business. Charles’ granddaughter, Jessica Porter Parker is a great granddaughter and handles their media relations.

“We’re all family here,” said Parker.

“We get to know our customers,” said Jeff Porter, grandson of Ralph who shares ownership with his brother David. Porter believes it’s the word of mouth that “keeps smaller RV companies going.”

“We see customers as our family, too” said Porter.

Is there a downside to RV-ing?

“Because RVing has become so popular, you have to remember to get your reservations in very early for places like the Balloon Festival in New Mexico and famous parks like Yellowstone and Glacier,” said full-timer Loman. “But also understand there are going to be mechanical problems that cannot be predicted.

“If you take your house right now and put it on four wheels and travel across the country and back with country roads and detours, you’re going to have to make repairs.” RV people get used to that. And it’s not always at the most convenient time,” he said.

RV enthusiasts also suggest reading or taking a course on keeping your RV in good shape. There’s plenty of valuable information online.

“It’s pretty clear to me,” said one RV owner, “that if you’re still confused about which end of a screwdriver to hold, then you need to learn — or expect to pay others to fix everything for you — and that becomes expensive.”

Types of RVs

Class A Motorhome — Resembles a bus in design and can be run with either diesel or regular gasoline (depending on the engine). Often used by full timers with a small car in tow. Slide outs allow for extra room, once parked.

Class B Motorhome — Built using a conventional van. However, the roof has also been raised to allow adults to stand up once inside.

Class C Motorhome — This is built on a minimal truck platform. The bedroom is generally above the cab area.

Fifth-Wheel Trailer — Once the sides are opened, the fifth wheel can often be the size of a one-bedroom apartment. Designed for towing, they require a large pickup truck for movement. The name “fifth wheel” comes from the hitch (placed in the truck) called a fifth-wheel coupling.

Truck Campers — Smaller than a Class C Motorhome, as truck campers are built on the back of a pickup truck. More often than not, truck campers are used for backwoods types of travel.

Tow-Type Trailers — (Everything from popup campers to teardrop and hybrid trailers.) The largest in this arena would be the popular “Travel Trailer,” which runs about 19 to 34 feet in length. It can come with slide outs and can be pulled by anything from a heavy-duty SUV to a pickup truck. (The towing apparatus for this class of trailer is a ball hitch, similar to what is used to tow a boat.)

Judi Kanne

Judi Kanne is a public health communications consultant and contributing writer to Atlanta Senior Life.