RV travelers build community wherever they land

Sunday, September 27, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:18 a.m. CDT, Sunday, September 27, 2009
Stacy and Ken Roberts enjoy the patio they've made outside their motor home on Sept. 14 at the Cottonwoods RV Park in Columbia. The Robertses sold their home in Arizona and switched to the motor home when they retired six years ago and have lived three months out of every year in Columbia where Ken grew up. "It's a hard life," he said with a grin and then pointed to the principal advantage to the motor home: "If you get tired of your neighbors, you just crank it up and move."

It can get a little cramped in a 300-square-foot home, but Stacy Roberts and her husband, Ken, are used to it. 

They don’t mind sacrificing personal space if it means they can be on the road 12 months out of the year.

Until the snow starts to fly, the Robertses are living in an RV they pulled into Cottonwoods RV Park on Oakland Gravel Road.  It has two bathrooms, a bedroom with a king-sized bed, two flat-screen TVs in the walls and a stacked washer-dryer.

They spend about three months in Columbia and another five months in South Florida. The rest of the year, they strike out for new destinations. Favorite spots include North Carolina, Georgia and Kentucky. 

Stacy can recall the day in 2003 that their lives changed for good. She had been a teacher for 33 years in Tucson, and Ken was general manager in the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.

“I came home one day and thought, we’re both healthy and young enough to keep traveling.  I asked Ken, ‘Do you want to sell our house and buy an RV?’  He said OK without hesitation, and we sold our house in three days.”  

The couple bought a recreational vehicle and moved everything out of the house except for a few necessary items to stash in the traveling van. Then they hit the highway.

According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, one in six U.S. households intends to buy an RV.  By 2010, as many as 8.5 million households will own an RV.

The association predicted continued growth in recreational vehicles because they allow inexpensive trips close to home, which fits the current economic climate.

The Robertses have confined their recent trips to the states between Missouri and Florida in an attempt to save money.

Recently, the Robertses borrowed a friend’s three-wheeler motorcycle and spent a day on the backroads of central Missouri.

“We aren’t the type of couple that sticks to a day-to-day schedule,” Stacysaid. 

“Traveling in an RV is such a different experience, in a good way," her husband added.  "When you stay in a motel you walk down the hall and no one says a word to you.  Everyone in the RV parks are so friendly and actually acknowledge you."

“Everyone helps you out here if you have a problem," Stacy added."  There are always such nice people to count on at Cottonwood.”

Buster and Loretta Caudle are the owners of the the Cottonwoods RV Park they built 15 years ago.

According Buster, Cottonwood is rated in the top 3 percent of RV parks in the U.S. and Mexico.  The ratings are based on a variety of factors that customers rate, including cleanliness, friendliness, available space and sightseeing opportunities. 

RV travelers from all over North America travel through Columbia on sightseeing missions, and sometimes end up staying a while, the Caudles say.

“You never know what kinds of people will stroll through here on any given day," Buster said. "You’ll see a guy walking around in cutoff shorts, and he could be a multi-millionaire.  The guy next door to him might be a construction worker.”

“Our main customers are traveling nurses,” he said.  Apparently, health professionals from across the country come to Columbia on three-month contracts to work for the local hospitals.

The Robertses love to base their activities on what’s specific to the area, and this is one of their favorite parts about traveling to different cities.  In Columbia they attend the MU football games, the Roots 'N Blues 'N BBQ Festival and concerts in the area that they find appealing.

“It’s great to settle into a community and live your life and just become a part of the area.  The flea markets, the fall festivals and the spirit of the community make it seem like we are actually a part of all this and not just tourists,” Stacy said.

Lack of space is often an issue for RVers, but the Robertses have figured out a strategy. 

“There are times when the RV can become a bit stuffy," Stacy said. " I say to Ken, ‘Don’t you have some project you need to be doing outside?’ 

"If that doesn’t work, we have a car that Ken or I can always drive around to get away for a bit.”

The lifestyle makes the Robertses feel adventurous:  “We chose to give up our home on a whim in order to do the things we love.  It was one or the other,” Ken said.

“Sure there are things that I miss about my old lifestyle,” Stacy said.  "Most of all I miss my woman friends and my sisters.  There is something about being in person that e-mail can’t touch.” 

But now the Robertses have friends all over the place, especially in Columbia where they settle for longer periods of time.

They admit that eventually they will have to buy a house and sell their RV. 

“There will come a time when I feel like I can’t drive around anymore,” Ken said as Stacy began to speak.

“Health will guide us the most and let us know when it is time to settle down again.  But for now, it’s hard to find anything to complain about,” she said.



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