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Camping With Kids
By CJ Allen
If you are considering an RV for the first time, you are certain to have many questions. If you also have a young family to consider, you are certain to have many more questions. In this article, we look at an area of particular interest to many young families -- finding an RV that meets their unique needs while staying within a limited budget.
Finding that RV is much easier than you may at first imagine. The fold-down camping trailers, for example, are ideal for a family with children. They havea lot of sleeping space, are relatively inexpensive, and they are easy to finance.
Some loan companies will finance a self-contained fold-down (one that has kitchen and bath facilities) for up to 10 years. As a reference, a $10,000 loan at 10% works out to $132.15 per month.
Motorized RVs can be financed for up to 15 years.
A bonus with any self-contained RV is that it may qualify as a "second home" for IRS tax purposes. This can effectively reduce your payments by allowing you to reclaim some of the interest paid on the loan.
Which Type Should You Choose?
The pop-ups and the Class C motorhomes (also known as mini motorhomes) are particularly good choices for the large family on a limited budget. While the "walking around" space of these units may be limited, their sleeping space can exceed that found in much larger Class As.
Also included in this article are the Class B motorhome (van camper) and the pickup truck camper (also referred to as a slide-in camper) both of which are valuable as multi-purpose vehicles for the small family.
We don't cover the Class A and the fifth-wheel as these units can be some of the most costly RVs on the market today.
To help in your planning, we give some currently advertised prices, which should be considered as "average retail" prices.
If you are fortunate enough to already own an appropriate car, van, or pickup truck, you are more than half-way to RV ownership. You might have a camper package added to your van, buy a slide-in camper for your pickup, or use your car to tow a lightweight trailer.
To determine whether your vehicle is capable of towing the trailer you want, contact your dealer or write the manufacturer for weight and tow-rating information. If you have a Ford, or can't find a guide for your own model, call 800/245-7343 and ask for the "Ford Recreation Vehicle and Trailer TowingGuide". It has good general information about towing and selecting a tow vehicle.
Fold-Down Camping Trailers
These trailers are very popular with young families. Their cost is relatively low, and they hold their value well. Most can be towed with a passenger car using a simple bumper hitch. Retail prices range from $4,000 to $10,000.
Pop-ups are available in sizes from a 350-pound unit that contains only a bed and a table, to a luxury 24-foot model with the amenities of a full-sized travel trailer. The pop-ups shine when it comes to sleeping space. Most provide two queen-sized beds in fold-out wings. Many also have a dinette that makes a bed, and some of the larger ones also have a fold-out couch bed.
If you prefer hard walls to the canvas of the pop-ups, you can find conventional lightweight travel trailers at retail prices of $7,000 to $24,000.
Sleeping space in most hard-side travel trailers does not always compete well with the larger pop-ups. Typically, they have only one permanent bed, while the sofa folds out to make a regular bed and the dinette makes a bed to hold two children.
Some manufacturers, however, offer a "bunkhouse" option in some larger travel trailers. Bunk beds provide two (and in at least one case, four) permanent beds for the kids, in addition to the full-size bed in the "master bedroom".
Next in popularity to the pop-ups, for the young family, is the Class C or mini motorhome. It offers a lot of space, particularly sleeping space, for its size. Price range is from $30,000 to $60,000.
The Class C is easily identified because the cab, containing the driver and passenger's seat, looks like a pickup truck, complete with driver and passenger doors. It is actually a van chassis, with the RV "house", a section of which extends over the cab, taking the place of the van body.
A bed in the "cabover" section accounts for much of the popularity of the Class C among young families. Unlike the dinette or fold-out couch beds, which require that all other activity come to a halt while they are made up and the children bedded down, the cabover bed remains ready for use. Daytime napping is easy. At night, the kids can be put to bed, the privacy curtains closed, and the parents can go on with normal activities.
The Class B is built on a regular van, with the roof raised or the floor dropped to allow stand-up headroom. They usually contain one queen-sized bed plus one or two smaller beds. Retail prices range from $30,000 to $46,000. Another option is that you may be able to add a basic camper package to your existing van for around $6,000.
Since they can be parked in a standard space and may even fit in the home garage, Class Bs make an ideal combination camper/second car for a small family.
Families who own Class Bs love them and are willing to accept the small size in exchange for the benefits. Often mentioned is the advantage of having access to the Class B's facilities on shopping trips, visits to the zoo, theme parks, and other special events.
Pickup Truck Camper
If you already own a pickup, and have a small family, the slide-in camper can be an excellent choice. They are similar to the Class Bs in regard to amenities, advantages and disadvantages. Retail prices range from $2,000 to $15,000.
Let's look at some things you should consider before making your decision.
Where will you store your RV?
Some neighborhoods do not allow RV parking on residential streets or in driveways. Even where allowed, most ordinances require that an RV be parked on concrete or asphalt, not grass or gravel.
If you have such an ordinance, you may have to choose something small enough to fit in the garage or find parking elsewhere. RV storage fees are typically $30 to $75 per month. Costs of operation
When planning your actual costs, remember to take into account the costs of maintenance as well as the costs of fuel. According to one repair shop, repair costs for a motorized RV typically run about 25% higher than comparable repairs on the average family sedan.
The smaller trailers will probably have a negligible effect on your gas mileage, but as trailer size and weight go up, fuel economy goes down. Motorized RVs vary widely in fuel costs, but RVers usually report well under 10 mpg.
Play Like It's A Rainy Day
Once you have narrowed the field, but before your final decision, you should visit your preferred RV with the entire family. (Be sure to make arrangements with your dealer in advance.) Take coloring books, toys, or games. . .whatever you would expect to keep your children occupied during a long rainy day.
Try to spend at least an hour in the RV. Sit on the chairs and couches for at least 30 minutes and lie down on the beds. Go through the motions of preparing meals, putting the kids down for the night, and so forth. If there are too many arms and legs in the way, you need to know now, not after you buy the unit.
Make A List And Check It Twice
Look at everything with a child's eye. Get down on your hands and knees and inspect every nook and cranny that a child could possibly reach. Look for hanging wires, sharp or rough edges, and latches, doors, or drawers that could pinch. Be sure there are no sharp edges that a child can reach; no angles that could catch a finger; no latches or springs a child could activate.
Check your unit thoroughly before it leaves the dealer's lot. Even if it is new, insist on a test drive. Have the dealer go through the entire unit with you, not only to make sure everything works, but to make sure you know how everything works.
Remember The Most Important Thing
No matter how young your children are, it isn't too soon to start RVing with them. The memories you share and the time you spend together will be the greatest gifts you will ever give them, or they give you.
CJ Allen is a freelance writer from somewhere in Texas.
Reprinted from Woodall's Monthly Regional RV/Camping Publications.