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John gets interviewed by NationalRVparks.com

Shane, owner of NationalRVparks.com, recently sent me an email asking if I would agree to be interviewed for the web site. I said sure - who can pass up an opportunity to provide an opinion! The following is the interview as provided to NationalRVparks.com.


In your opinion, what would be the best and most affordable campground or RV park for a family to visit on a tight budget?

Without a doubt, non-commercial campgrounds (national, state, county or city) offer the very best dollar and scenic value.  We particularly like Army Corp of Engineers parks due to their usual close proximity to a body of water and some of them have almost RV resort-like amenities.  If on a very tight budget, look local first.  Chances are good you will find a suitable getaway destination within an hour or two drive from your home base to limit your fuel and time expense and maximize your fun.

We use a variety of resources in our campground "discovery" process.  One of the easiest ways to find and evaluate RV parks is through the Internet.  We always use rvparkreviews.com as a primary resource due to the unsolicited reviews by those who have stayed there previously.  Other great resources are RV forums (rvforum.net, rv.net, etc.) - usually they will have a specific section dedicated to campgrounds.  Read the forums or register and ask your questions.

If a family is considering buying their first motorhome, what are some questions the family should ask the dealer?

Don't start the shopping process by visiting a dealer first!  Do lots of research beforehand!

The first significant factor to consider is obviously the family budget - how much rig can you afford?  Once you have a dollar amount to work with, then you need to ask yourself a few questions (and do your homework) BEFORE you visit any dealer with that "deer in the headlights" look.

What is my intended use?  If your objective is to focus almost exclusively on non-commercial campgrounds, many of the more desirable, scenic, and remote campgrounds have a size (length) limit.  If you want to be able to fit into about 98% of any campground in North America, limit your overall length to no more than 26 feet.

If you have a large family and kids in particular, look for units that feature bunk beds and other kid-friendly features (like a dinette.)  Don't forget storage - where are you going to store the motorhome when not in use?  Many cities and homeowner associations are very specific about parking your motorhome on your property or on the street.  Some forbid it, some allow a certain time limit for loading and unloading and then it must be moved.  Even if you can't or don't want to park it on your property or in front of your house, all is not lost.  Chances are good there are storage facilities where you can park the rig when not in use (if you go this route, don't forget to factor storage expenses into your total cost of ownership.)

If you will be shopping for a larger unit and want to tow a vehicle and leave the motorhome parked in the campground while you shop or explore, consider your towing requirements.  How heavy of a vehicle do I want to tow?  Be certain the motorhome can handle the weight.

Speaking of weight, a critical factor is how much stuff you can load into your new motorhome and still be within the manufacturer's weight limit for your unit.  Just because a motorhome has cavernous basement storage, it doesn't mean you can stuff it full of goodies and still be safe.

And then more questions to be answered about the rolling part of the motorhome (the chassis): do you want gas, diesel, rear engine, engine in the front?  Then there are several chassis manufacturers - some of the more popular ones are Workhorse, Ford, Sprinter, Spartan, Freightliner and on and on.

Generally speaking, the smaller units (less than say 30-35' in length) will be built on either a Ford, Workhorse, or Sprinter chassis and feature a gasoline engine (except for the Sprinter.)  They are all excellent choices and the decision really should focus on which floorplan and RV manufacturer you like (and of course the ability to safely carry an adequate weight for all of your stuff.)  The larger motorhomes will almost always feature a diesel engine in the rear (commonly referred to as a "pusher"), the rear engine affords the quietest ride and usually the best hill-climbing and towing ability.

One disadvantage of the larger motorhomes is maintenance expense which increase almost exponentially as the length of the motorhome and the size of the engine increases.  For example, our motorhome is an Itasca (Winnebago Industries) Horizon, 40' long with a rather large diesel engine (Cummins ISL).  Annual maintenance (if you pay a shop) is about $500 and bi-annual maintenance is about $1200.  Our engine requires 26 quarts of oil at every oil change, the air filter is the size of a large round kitchen trash can, and we have air brakes and axles to service (each axle requires about 24 quarts of oil if I remember correctly) - it's a long list of stuff that requires service (which includes our diesel generator.)

Ask yourself how often will I be able to use an RV.  If you are in the middle of a busy career and can only take short breaks once or twice a year, it might be significantly less expensive to rent an RV instead of owning.  An RV that is not in use for 99% of the year will be much more prone to have maintenance issues than one regularly used.

Let's assume you want to purchase an RV and you now have a pretty good idea of what to focus on in terms of length and perhaps even a particular engine and chassis.  Now I would begin to focus on which RV manufacturer is in the running for your hard-earned dollar.  Consider their financial stability, how long they have been in business, how extensive their network of dealers is, warranty offered, reputation (look in the RV forums for anecdotal evidence of quality or other issues), and if you are a do-it-yourself type, are there wiring and plumbing diagrams readily available.

Now you are ready to start visiting dealers.  look over the floor plans, take some on a test drive and most importantly, DON'T BE IN A HURRY TO MAKE A DECISION!  Ask questions about the dealer's service department.  Ask in RV forums.  Do they have well-trained technicians that have been employed for a long time, or does the dealer try to get by with the cheapest tech they can hire and the techs move on after six months of service.  The most important relationship you will ever have with a dealer is not the salesperson or sales manager, it will be the service manager and technicians.

Oh, don't forget the used market.  Buying a pre-owned unit is a good option but I advise you hire a professional RV technician to evaluate the house part of the RV (the "box" that sits on top of the chassis) and have the chassis dealer evaluate the rolling part of the RV.  Money spent upfront will ultimately be your best way to avoid grief later down the ownership road.

Good luck in your hunt.

What websites or other blogs would you recommend to RVers visit before they travel on their next RV vacation?

As previously mentioned, rvparkreviews.com is a great site to help you make an informed decision about where to stay.  The National parks have good information available on the web as do many state parks.  www.hitchupandgo.com has an extensive list of RV blogs (including janeandjohn.org!) and other RV related information available.  A fantastic source of information is the rv forums - rvforum.net and rv.net.

Do you recommend RVing as a family event? Would you say it's brought your family closer together?

Camping is a fantastic family event!  Mom and dad can relax, take a snooze, fish or play games with other adults while the kids have a blast playing with the other kids or participating in ranger-led events.  Campgrounds are safe, friendly and everybody is there to relax and enjoy life in the outdoors.  Jane and I weren't blessed with children, but as our family unit of two, we have most definitely felt close as husband and wife while enjoying the awe and grandeur of nature.

What experiences should a first time RVer/camper come to expect on their first RV vacation? How many life long friendships have you made from RVing ....

Don't expect everything to go perfectly on your first RV or camping trip, and don't expect it to be like having a backyard cookout where your comfortable house is a few steps away.  I always advise new campers or RVers to camp in your driveway or on your property for at least three nights before you head out into nature on on that long awaited and planned two week getaway.  That way you can thoroughly check out the operation of your unit and discover missing items (you will almost surely forget something important the first time out.)

Also, try to camp close to home the first time or three you use your new or new-to-you unit.  Get some experience before you take a long or extended trip.  Your first few times out, you won't be in the routine of setting up and breaking down camp, but as time passes, all will become routine and not stressful.

We have made so many friends over over the past six years and 65,000 miles of camping, I think I have lost count.  We still regularly correspond and visit with folks we have met on the road.

What's the most exciting RV experience you've ever had?

Wow - a very difficult question.  If I had to choose, it would be driving the Horizon to Alaska on the Alaska Highway, spending the entire summer in Alaska, and taking the Alaska Marine Ferry from Haines, Alaska to Prince Rupert, BC.  Words fail me to describe the beauty and grandeur of Alaska.