By Janet Groene, F47166
This is the final of three columns reporting the results of the full-timers survey published in the April 2004 “Full-Timer’s Primer” column. Nearly 300 replies were received, representing the opinions of approximately 600 full-timing singles, couples, and family members. Results have shown that FMCA full-timers are highly experienced in choosing, equipping, driving, and maintaining their motorhomes. Most are also old hands at full-timing, too.
In the first two columns reporting the survey results, we covered the respondents’ ages; incomes; and opinions about slideouts, galleys, and power sources. They also revealed how they planned to transition out of the full-timing life when and if the time comes.
The last group of questions began with the problems of full-timing. Then we asked what major purchase will be next; what will be jettisoned from the motorhome; and what advice veteran full-timers have for new and future full-timers. The answers tie together, because many problems often lead to a purchase or a discard. These answers also led to advice for tomorrow’s full-timers.
First, the problems. The high price of fuel was on almost everyone’s list, but, surprisingly, most respondents mentioned it lightly, or in passing. The biggest brickbats were saved for other complaints, starting with campgrounds. Only a few years ago, our full-timer survey revealed enthusiasm for membership campgrounds that bordered on zeal. Memberships were everyone’s favorite purchase and a much-mentioned recommendation for future full-timers. Suddenly that bandwagon has a broken wheel.
Respondents complained that getting reservations was difficult, and, when they did book time in a campground, they found the facilities neglected, inadequately wired for today’s motorhomes, and the sites often too small for coaches with multiple slideouts. These complaints weren’t made about membership campgrounds alone. All campgrounds, commercial and government-run, drew complaints about noise, lack of cleanliness, inadequate wiring, lack of Internet access, and high fees. Another common complaint concerned pets, either because they are not allowed or because they are.
Places to stay overnight for free are getting harder to find, and folks expressed displeasure at rates charged for a quick, overnight stay in a commercial campground. Respondents said they resent paying for recreational amenities they never use when all they really want is a safe place to hook up, have dinner, hit the hay, and get an early start the next morning. (Hint to commercial campground owners: Is there an opportunity here? How about a special rate, on a space-available basis, for guests who arrive after 6:00 p.m. and leave before 8:00 a.m.? People who are now parking for free in noisy lots said they would go out of their way for the quiet and security of a real campground, but only if the price is right.)
Ranking second on the squawk list are communications. Most full-timers now use at least some high-tech methods, beginning with a cell phone. Many others use Wi-Fi computer connections to do their electronic banking and bill paying and to send and receive e-mail. One person who has satellite Internet service noted, “It’s expensive, but it saves our sanity.” Still, most full-timers don’t have 100 percent communications availability. Respondents requested that campgrounds provide better modem hookups, better cell phone coverage, and pay phones that are easier to find. Campgrounds no sooner provided hardwire modem access than Wi-Fi came along. With technology changing so rapidly, this is a problem that won’t be solved quickly.
Full-timers’ third-largest complaint is about maintenance. Respondents wondered whether motorhomes could be made better to begin with so they didn’t have to be fixed so often. They also asked that maintenance be cheaper and easier to schedule and complained about having to find another place to live while the motorhome was in the shop. Even though more full-timers gave a thumbs-up to slideouts than those who said “never again,” many folks reported bad experiences with them.
One full-timer summed it up by saying, “Today’s rigs have too many bells and whistles. I wish I could buy a good, basic motor coach at a reasonable price and built to high quality. I’m tired of tacked-on gimmicks that are constantly failing.”
We asked folks what they were going to buy next and what recommendations they have for future full-timers. Reflecting the complaints about quality and service, extended warranties and service contracts were high on the list of recommendations. In a related area, those who have had breakdowns, accidents, or other losses also recommended more and better insurance.
In addition to complaints about campsites, communications, and quality or service issues, problems that popped up three or more times on the complaint list included medical and dental troubles (scheduling, doctors and dentists who make patients wait too long, and the high cost of insurance for those under age 65); laundry; crowded highways and/or bad drivers; and the increasing difficulty of finding dump stations or places to wash one’s own motorhome.
Many full-timers mentioned family or cultural complaints, such as the difficulty of finding theater, opera, symphony, and other highbrow pursuits as they travel. Many miss their family, especially grandchildren, and a few mentioned the problem of caring for elderly parents.
Many respondents noted that they still have problems with too much “stuff.” At the top of the list of items full-timers said they plan to rid from the motorhome are clothes, especially bulky winter garments. Some full-timers said they throw away items they haven’t used in anywhere from six months to three years. Cooking gear, barbecues, and seldom-used kitchen appliances also were mentioned going on the trash heap, although several are so fond of their George Foreman grills that they recommended that everyone get one. One full-timer happily announced, “I added leveling jacks and now I can throw away the wood blocks!”
Also on the discard list was hobby equipment, including bicycles, golf clubs, and roller blades; unused tools; too many canned goods; and outmoded entertainment electronics. Respondents also indicated that they are trading in old satellite TV systems for new ones, and several raved about satellite radio.
Surprisingly, full-timers mentioned weather complaints, the difficulty of getting haircuts, “outsiders who don’t understand who we are and what we do,” and growing too deep in debt. A few full-timers cited problems with a partner who has different ideas about their lifestyle, but others voiced their loneliness and a wish that they could find a partner. Many complained about having to purchase fishing licenses for each new state and mentioned other government-related problems, such as voting, getting a driver’s license, or explaining why they can’t show up for jury duty in their “home” state.
That brings us to choices for a home base. Many full-timers stick to their original home states out of habit or because their families are there. Others choose a state because of its great climate or a full-timer-friendly atmosphere. However, a majority of those surveyed chose with their pocketbooks and have become official “residents” of a state that has low taxes. Texas, with no state income tax, ranks first, not just because of its tax rates but because so many FMCA full-timers are also members of the Escapees RV Club, based in that state. On the minus side, several folks complained about Texas’ high insurance rates.
Florida, which also has benign weather and no income tax, ranks a close second. Surprisingly, South Dakota came in third, because its tax climate (no state income tax, inheritance tax, or vehicle inspection) suits the full-timing lifestyle. New Hampshire also has no sales or income tax, but was chosen by only a handful of full-timers. Colorado was named by one full-timer who feels health care is best there. Other popular states mentioned were Nevada (no state income tax), Oregon, Montana, Arizona, and California, although most who are registered in the Golden State say their choice was made “despite high taxes and high cost of living.” Many other states and two Canadian provinces received a vote or two, and three responding full-timers call Alaska home.
What are full-timers planning to purchase in the near future besides the next motorhome? Predictably, the answers included updating computers and other high-tech items; adding security in the form of shredders and safes; upgrading tow bars or towed vehicle brakes; and adding or upgrading electrical aids such as surge protectors and voltage monitors. Many mentioned climate-control additions such as rain gutters, more awnings, or a patio room.
Washer-dryer facilities were on almost everyone’s wish list in earlier surveys, but this time only a handful of respondents say they are adding them, while one couple said they are getting rid of theirs. While barbecue grills were on the discard list, a few full-timers said they are looking for new Webers (mentioned by name), and one family yearns for a portable campfire. Several full-timers are readying for major purchases, such as a complete interior re-do. Many said they are looking for a new towed vehicle, adding solar panels and/or larger inverters, and purchasing toys such as a boat or bicycle. Some are adding air compressors; many who already have this equipment mention them on the “recommended” list for future full-timers.
Many thanks to those who answered the survey!
Books for travelers
Noting that “weather is the last wild thing on earth,” Firefly Books has published Weather: A Visual Guide ($29.95) to provide hours of armchair reading pleasure as well as insights into the weather that controls so much of our travel. Heavily illustrated with stunning color photos, sturdily bound for years of use, and printed on glossy stock, this 303-page book will enrich every traveler’s library. It’s a fascinating, absorbing reference for everyone in the family, from curious kids to professional meteorologists.
The next best thing to traveling is reading about it, especially when the yarn is spun by a truly gifted writer. The Best American Travel Writing 2004 ($14, Houghton Mifflin) offers a variety of writing from several authors to inspire your own writing or to enrich your reading hours. Unfortunately, few of the stories are about travel within North America. If you long for faraway places, these writers describe them superbly.
If you drive between Miami, Florida, and Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Christine Marks’ new book, I-75 and the 401 (Firefly Books, $19.95), is a useful guide, and it’s fun to read. Every exit is mapped, showing the locations of food outlets and fuel stations. Coverage of sight-seeing attractions is excellent. On the minus side, it isn’t as comprehensive as some other interstate guides that list hospitals, food stores, superstores, and emergency pet hospitals. Some campgrounds are listed. Although the book promises coupons worth $2,000, most of them are for motels.