More and more seniors are going mobile

You can take it with you after all, just as long as your recreational vehicle is your house



More and more people aged 55-plus are getting in touch with their inner vagabond and embracing the RV lifestyle. Whether they’ve become sick of the daily grind, saddled with the high cost of home ownership, grown weary of winter or simply desire to unbridle their spirit of adventure, they are heeding the call of the open road in record numbers.

There are now more than 16,000 public and privately owned campgrounds in the country and ownership of recreational vehicles has climbed to a new peak of more than 9 million US households, according to a University of Michigan study. Almost 10 percent of the owners now are seniors, which is also a new record, and many of them are newbies to the lifestyle.

“This is the first time we’ve done this,” says Don Latham, 75, of Atkinson, who began a 43-year teaching career at the Holderness School in Plymouth and retired from the profession in 2005. “After last winter we said, ‘Enough of this.’ We’ve paid our dues. It’s time to do this.”

Once Jennifer Latham, 68, retired in July from her position as the coordinator of the gifted education program for the town of Hampstead, the couple looked into buying a vacation home or condominium in Arizona and also considered a rental apartment in a warm climate.

 “Then we had a huge epiphany,” Jennifer Latham explains. “We’re talking about a family here. How do we get Rani where we want to go? And would she be welcome?”

Rani is their 9-year-old golden retriever, so a motor home was the obvious answer. They discovered on eBay a 38-footer with only 35,000 miles on the odometer, pulled the trigger on the purchase, and named their RV “Venture.”

Venture will take them south in December to Pennsylvania to spend the holidays with their children and grandchildren. Then it’s on to mainland Florida for January and February and to the island of Key West in March.

“I have this mental picture of the awning being out and the lawn chairs placed perfectly under the palm trees in the middle of February. We have great hopes,” Don says.

So do Sylvia and Stephen Pierce from Gilford, but she wasn’t so sure when her husband pulled into the driveway one day with a surprise in the form of a pre-owned 38' RV. But after selling their home overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee in August, the motor home accommodated them while their new house is under construction.

“I had to downsize from 3,000 square feet to 300 square feet. But I’m getting used to it,” says Sylvia, 63, an entrepreneur. “Almost all of our stuff is in storage, so getting ready to go to Florida until spring was very complicated. I’m starting this journey with one-tenth of what I had before. You can’t bring a set of china for eight.”

To make the transition more palatable, Stephen, 68, used his skills as a custom car designer to overhaul the RV’s interior and install new Pergo and tile flooring, new upholstery and window treatments, and all new paint in a lighter and brighter color scheme. He even installed a 40" flat-screen HDTV that swivels and they topped the bed’s mattress with memory foam and thick padding.

“The changes made all the difference. We’ll have the comforts of having our house with us wherever we go,” Sylvia says.

But what about cabin fever in such a confined space?

“When you’re traveling in your house, you’ll always have an outdoor living room and as long as the weather cooperates, your life is outside the RV most of the time,” Sylvia Pierce says. “We plan to do a lot of cooking on the grill.”

Nonetheless, there are pitfalls and problems in adjusting to the nomadic life.

“How does the daily regimen of running a household, whether you’re talking about the mechanics of cooking or whatever, dovetail with the other guy with whom you’re living and the machine you’re becoming accustomed to? That is something significant,” says Jennifer Latham. “For example, our unit doesn’t have an oven. It has a convection oven and I had to learn how to use it and then had to get all of the right equipment to cook with.”

The retired educators also had to take a crash course in paying bills and conducting other business affairs online. But having mail forwarded, staying connected and managing health care are only some of the issues that prove problematic for many RVers.

“We’ll have a [satellite] dish on our RV, and since we do everything online we’ll also get a jet pack so we can stay connected to the Internet wherever we go,” Sylvia says. “My pharmacist told me that I cannot fill a prescription at the Wal-Mart in Gilford and refill it at the Wal-Mart in Orlando, so I’ll ask my doctor to write out monthly scrips in advance. Stephen gets his medication by mail and that is a concern because we have heard an awful lot of nightmare stories about mail forwarding.”

Then there is the riddle of insurance coverage, which differs from standard auto insurance. Good Sam, AAA, other organizations and private carriers offer policies of all stripes and sizes to cover everything from vehicle replacement to flying in a family member should there be an incapacitating medical emergency.

“It does give you peace of mind, especially if you’re someone like me who gets a little uptight about the ‘what ifs,’” Jennifer says.

Nonetheless, the lure of escape and escapades anew outweighs any downside.

“I’m looking forward to meeting interesting new people, learning about their background and experiences and hearing their stories,” says Sylvia. “The journey we’re taking is a journey of new friendships.”

“There are a lot of unanswered questions to be experienced and answered,” Don Latham says. “This is a grand adventure and it will be great fun. I can’t think of a better way to have our cake and eat it too.”

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