By Janet Groene, F47166
Many thanks to those who completed the full-timers’ survey that appeared in the April 2004 edition of this column. Since most of the 300 respondents were couples, the survey represents opinions, gripes, desires, and expert advice of almost 600 full-timers. Replies, which are still coming in, were carefully read and noted and will be reported in this column and in future issues.
Talk about happy campers! Once again, FMCA full-timers revealed they are the most savvy, satisfied travelers on the road. You know how to manage money on the go, make the most of limited spaces, and live the roving life to the fullest. You also know what you don’t want.
On a sad note, one survey was returned by a woman whose husband died suddenly only a day after they completed the survey together. She mailed it in anyway, providing another example of how close the FMCA family is. Our hearts go out to you. Special thanks also go out to those who penned kind words about this column and/or wrote long letters to expand or explain survey answers. If you are still waiting for a personal reply, I’m afraid that it has gone astray. Please write or e-mail me at one of the addresses listed at the end of this column if you have a question you’d like for me to answer.
What has changed
Full-timers have changed since the last survey, and that’s both good and bad. This time only one reply came from people who are full-timing with children. Our median age is getting older, but that doesn’t mean we’re slowing down. We move on often and keep our coaches updated. Most respondents said they planned to replace their current motorhome soon or eventually, as needed. Only 81 respondents indicated that they never expect to get another motorhome.
The questions asked in the survey were different from those in previous surveys, so we can’t make an exact comparison between today’s full-timers and those of five and 10 years ago. In one previous survey, everyone yearned for a diesel pusher. Only a handful mentioned that term now, perhaps because more full-timers already have them.
In a previous survey, campground memberships were a hot topic, with respondents fervently recommending that everyone jump on the bandwagon. Today campground conditions were one of the chief complaints, often with the explanation that the campground networks have failed to keep up. Respondents wrote that it is increasingly hard to get reservations at membership campgrounds and complained that facilities are run-down or outdated.
Since our last survey, slideouts have become almost universal, and your answers about them are all over the ballpark, from “never again!” to “more, more, more!” Because an industry insider told me that household appliances are the wave of the future, some questions dealt with your preferences in regard to 110-volt-AC household power compared to alternative sources. The surprising answers will be covered in a future column. You also gave a resounding “NO!” in response to the industry spokesperson’s assertion that galleys need to be smaller, because nobody cooks anymore. More than one full-timer pointed out that cooking is a hobby as well as a budgetary or nutritional necessity.
FMCA full-timers know the RVing lifestyle better than anyone, so we asked what items you are going to add, what you’re getting rid of, and what recommendations you have for those who are just entering the world of full-timing. Results will be reported in upcoming columns.
A professional pollster could be more precise about the survey results, but I’m not a statistician. In reading about the survey, keep in mind that not everyone answered every question. Some couples gave different answers for him and for her; some gave multiple answers to a question that required only one reply; and there is no way of knowing whether an answer counted for both husband or wife or just one of them.
Who we are
Most respondents were willing to reveal their ages, which ranged from 23 to 92, not counting the respondent who reported that their full-timing group varies in number and ages, but sometimes includes children as young as 4. More than six FMCA full-timers were 81 or older, but only 24 were under age 50 and only 65 were under 55. Of those who gave their ages, 20 percent were between the ages 56-60; 30 percent were in the 61-65 age group; 22 percent were in the 66-70 age group; approximately 10 percent were in the 71-75 age group; and less than 5 percent were in the 76-80 age group. Nearly everyone reported that they are living on “retirement” income.
Many respondents didn’t reveal their income, but we do know that one single full-timer is getting by on $9,000 a year while one couple has $250,000 in annual income. At least 40 respondents, some singles and some couples, get by on less than $25,000 a year, with several couples reporting incomes of $10,000 to $15,000. The largest group falls into the $46,000-$50,000 category, and 80 respondents earn more than $50,000 yearly. Of them, approximately 40 have an income of $70,000 or more.
The next question was whether you’re feeling the pinch, getting by comfortably, or able to splurge a little. In every category, including the lowest incomes, at least some respondents said they are able to splurge a little, reflecting vast differences in the cost of full-timing. For those who responded that their annual income was $46,000 and above, everyone checked off that they were either comfortable or able to splurge. Pinched or not, only 14 respondents (including most of those in the $100,000-and-above group) work full-time, and only 41 work as needed. Even those who are in the younger age groups and squeaking by on minimal income say they are retired.
The smallest coach reported was an 18-footer, with approximately 10 percent of respondents saying that they live in coaches that are 30 feet or less. One family of three lives in a 26-footer, constantly on the go! The 31-foot-to-35-foot class was noted by approximately 20 percent of respondents, while 5 percent said they have coaches that are 41 to 45 feet long. Everyone else “” approximately two-thirds of the respondents “” responded that their motorhomes are 36 to 40 feet long. A related question was whether the motorhome was too small, just right, or too large. Overwhelmingly, full-timers deemed their coaches just right, no matter the size. Almost no one checked off “too large,” except for one respondent who said the coach was just right for the campground, but a handful on the highway.
One case history
Here is a story taken from the many surveys that were submitted. One couple who uses an Escapees mail forwarding address has a 4-year-old, 36-foot diesel pusher that they find to be just the right size. They have retirement income of approximately $43,000 a year, which they say allows them to splurge a little. At ages 55 and 66, they don’t expect to replace their motorhome. When the time comes to quit full-timing, they’ll retire to a gated, manufactured-housing community in Arizona.
In 17 years of full-timing they have explored 49 states and 12 Canadian provinces; photographed 48 state capitols; identified more than half of the 704 kinds of birds found in North America; toured 15 caves and caverns; and have seen 50 Canadian national parks, national historic sites, or national monuments. They have toured 191 dams; 46 U.S. national parks and national monuments; 103 national historic sites or parks; 15 national seashores or lakeshores; 25 national battlefields or military sites; 22 national recreation areas; 24 national memorials; and 60 other national sites (trails, scenic rivers, preserves, etc.).
In driving 448,447 miles they have encountered temperatures as high as 114 degrees and as low as 17 degrees. They have traveled the equivalent of 17.9 times around the world. Now that is full-timing, FMCA-style!
Next month I’ll reveal more findings about full-timers from the survey responses.
Cruising the past
If you’re a “total immersion” traveler, consider seeing different destinations from the water as well as from the land. Because original settlers often arrived in new places by canoe, riverboat, or ship “” sometimes a century or more before the place could be reached by road or rail “” a region’s earliest history is usually found along the waterfront. To gain insight and perspective while exploring in our motohome, my husband and I take cruises that last a day, overnight, and even a week.
So, what do you do with the motorhome if you decide to take a water excursion? When embarking on a Mississippi River cruise out of New Orleans, Louisiana, according to Lucette Brehm of the Delta Queen Company, you can contact Hotard Coaches Inc. Fenced parking with 24-hour security costs $28 per day while RVers go “steamboatin'” on the Delta Queen, American Queen, or Mississippi Queen. Electrical hookups are usually not available at Hotard, so be sure to fully charge the batteries, turn off all unnecessary loads, and rely on the house batteries to keep the refrigerator running while you’re away. Cruises as short as three or four nights are available. For steamboat information, call (800) 543-1949; for information about secured parking at Hotard, call Dale Dunlap at (800) 553-4895; (504) 942-5706.
Outrunning junk mail
Full-timers face a constant challenge trying to tame the flood of junk mail they receive. To be put on a “do-not-mail” list for companies that belong to the Direct Marketing Association, send a signed letter with your name and address to Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, P.O. Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512. Doing this will not completely eliminate all junk mail, because the list goes only to DMA members, and non-members will continue to send you mail. However, it will cut down on the amount you receive. Send a new request each time you change addresses. It’s free, but you’ll get faster action if you register online at www.dmaconsumers.org; a $5 fee is charged if you choose to make your request online.