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Home on the open road

There’s an RV for any lifestyle and budget

By Amy Kenny

“It’s the best of everything,” says retired Hamiltonian  Patricia Fraser. “It truly is a vacation.” Fraser is a longtime RV enthusiast. When she and her husband were newlyweds, they opted for tents on their camping trips around Ontario. When they had kids in the late 80s, they switched to a rented cottage near Tobermory, but it didn’t take long to realize they could get more out of their holidays. 

At the time, a week’s worth of cottage rental cost the same as a whole season at a nearby family-owned campground on the Bruce Peninsula. Between Fraser’s part-time job and her husband’s work as a teacher, it would be easy to extend their summer break if they could only stretch their dollars.

They paid for a seasonal site at Summer House Park, bought a 30-foot park model trailer and spent a decade vacationing on the Bruce.

“It was like having a little apartment,” she says of the experience. “I loved it. A cottage is work , but an RV is like a condo or apartment. There’s no maintenance.”

These days, lots of Canadians are discovering the joys of RVing. Eleonore Hamm, President of the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) of Canada, says 14 percent of Canadian homeowners have an RV. 

“I think it was very popular 20, 30, 40 years ago,” she says. “And I think it’s coming back.”

If you’ve been thinking about bringing it back yourself, but you’re not sure where to start, here’s a little primer on the RV lifestyle.

WHAT ARE YOUR NEEDS?

“The first thing is what kind of RV do you want?” says Hamm. “What are your needs? Where are you going to use it?”

Chris Mahony, Executive Director of goRVing.ca, says the mistake most people make is failing to consider this question. Do you plan to camp during winter? If so, you’ll need an insulated RV. Will you use it to off-road, fish or hunt? Then a truck camper might be best. 

Fraser’s park model was a two-bedroom, which was perfect for her family of four. When the kids grew up, she and her husband sold it and eventually bought a towable trailer so they could travel to places like Cookstown,NY and Gettysburg, PA.

Touring around the Finger Lakes last fall, she says there were days they only used the trailer for sleeping. As someone who’s stayed in plenty of hotels (she worked in international banking), Fraser prefers the trailer for this kind of use.  

“A hotel is a bed and a bathroom and it’s very impersonal. It’s not a vacation,” she says.

TYPES OF RVS

There are three types of motorized RVs. The class A is the largest (it consists of a luxury living unit built onto a specialty chassis), followed by class B and then class C. 


Mahony says the thing to keep in mind with a motorized RV is that when you go somewhere, the whole home goes with you.

You can avoid this by bringing alternative modes of transportation (motorcycles, pedal bikes or an extra car for errands), or opt for a lightweight towable which can detach from your car.

If you don’t ever plan on taking your RV off site, maybe a park model is best. Mahony says the units are such an affordable alternative to the traditional cottage, 40 percent of RVers are seasonal.

And, he notes, it’s a stereotype that they’re all retirees. Young people, like Laura Strachan, are getting into RVing.

Strachan is a 36-year old industrial designer. Her husband is a developer at CBC. They live in Toronto with their three-year old son. 

They planned their first RV trip with Cruise America in 2007. The company offers deals (rental is free - you pay insurance, gas, food and campground fees) to people willing to deliver class C motorhomes to and from specific locations.

Not only was it a more affordable option than flying and staying in hotels, Strachan figured it would offer a unique view of the country. “Part of the reason we wanted to do it is, we wanted to see things we couldn’t normally see if we didn’t have a vehicle.”

Since then, they’ve done two additional American trips. Along the way, they’ve cycled ghost towns on bikes purchased through Craigslist. They’ve sampled Tex-Mex and southern BBQ. They’ve seen alligators and found themselves surrounded by swaying palm trees in the middle of a small southern hurricane.

“It’s just one country and it has mountains and desert,” Strachan says. “Utah is probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, and the only way you can really see it is on the road.” 

ISN'T IT EXPENSIVE?

Part of this has to do with the fact that there are RVs out there for almost every budget, ranging from $6,000 to $1 million plus.

Fraser says she thinks it has something to do with the fact that, unlike their parents, many baby boomers (and subsequent generations) have dual incomes. “We couldn’t afford trips to Florida every summer but we could do this,” she says.

Friends visiting from Europe recently opted to explore Canada by RV for the same reason. “That was how five people could see all of Canada. It’s affordable and fun. You see more.”

WHERE TO CAMP?

Mahoney says a certain segment of RVers are into boondocking – camping without hook-ups, often in wild locations.

While this may offer a sense of peace and quiet you might not find at a busy campground, it’s frowned upon in Ontario (though prevalent in the States) and Mahony doesn’t recommend it.

“There are so many campgrounds in the country and they’re not overly expensive,” he notes, especially considering the services and the sights you get for the price. In Ontario, some of the most popular locations are around Elliot Lake and Georgian Bay, but for a comprehensive list, check out goRVing.ca.

There are also many Web sites for specific areas. Be sure to check out other sites such as discovermuskoka.ca and rvparkhunter.com. For reviews on sites across Ontario check out rvparkreviews.com/regions/Ontario/. The latter provides information on facilities, pricing and directions.

OWNING VERSUS RENTING

Al Bossence and his wife Kelly blog about their RV adventures at thebayfieldbunch.com.

They committed to their rig from the get-go. In 1998, they bought their first RV – a 1979 Dodge Centurion Class C Motorhome - and fell in love with the lifestyle it afforded them. “It’s all about freedom and adventure,” says Bossence.

“The flexibility of having a complete and enjoyable separate lifestyle on the road, completely different from one’s other perhaps mundane lifestyle at home in a sticks and bricks house.”

Today, the self-identified snowbirds spend summers in Bayfield, Ontario and winters in Congress, Arizona. They use Congress as a home base from which to explore the American southwest.

Hamm says frequency of use can be a major deciding factor for people who are weighing buying versus renting. Whether you’ve got a tiny towable teardrop trailer or a 45-foot bus, you need space to store it.   

If the notion of the open road is a romantic one, there’s a reason for it.

For Strachan, it’s about adventure. For Bossence, it’s freedom.

“It’s summer at its best to me,” says Fraser.

All three agree it allows them to move at their own pace – whether that’s driving all day, or deciding at the last minute to stay an extra night. It combines creature comforts with easy opportunity for outdoor activity.

“One of our slogans is freedom, flexibility and fun and I think that really sums the RV lifestyle up well,” says Hamm. “You have the opportunity to be out there. You can really do whatever you want with your RV – sports, antiquing, camping.”

The opportunities, like the options are endless. •








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