Trendy Getaways: Going Mobile

Gentlemen, start your engines, and propane systems, and hydraulic jacks. Our intrepid reporter takes a sleek new RV — they're booming among boomers — for a little spin

THIRTY-TWO FEET long. Eight and a half feet wide. Twelve and a half feet high. One queen-size bed and a fold-out couch. Standup shower. Galley kitchen. Twenty-four-inch TV.

That’s right: I drove a starter apartment to Virginia.

From the debut of the iconic silver Airstream trailer in 1936, recreational vehicles have given travelers like me a more or less no-frills way to bring the major comforts of home along on the open road. But as sales and rentals of everything from 11-foot pop-up trailers to bus-like motor homes have boomed over the past decade — one in 12 households in the U.S. now owns some form of RV — a small but stylish high-end market has also developed. Sporting Ralph Lauren color schemes, natural wood appointments, Corian countertops and home theater systems, coaches up to 45 feet long and costing anywhere from $300,000 to $1.5 million are banishing the irony from the phrase "luxury RV."

As a nervous first-timer curious to experience La Vida RV, I recently rented a 2004 Fleetwood Storm — a slightly more modest but still attractive Class A motor home — for a weeklong trip with my wife and our two strapping lads, ages 15 and nine. We picked up the rig from Stoltzfus RV and Marine in West Chester on what I had hoped would be a fairly low-traffic afternoon; no sense braving rush hour on my maiden voyage.

In the manner of things that we most fear wasting no time in confronting us, our thorough introduction to the vehicle’s electrical, propane, water and sewage systems meant we didn’t leave the dealership till 4:45 p.m. In my first five minutes on the road, I had to pull a 10-ton rolling brick out onto a crammed Route 202 North, immediately get into the far left lane, make a hard turn into a jughandle, and merge onto a more crammed Route 202 South. In the end, I managed to survive the trip home, and we took off at 7 a.m. the next morning at a cautious clip of 50 mph, with the boys belted down in back and my wife and me in the cockpit — given all the switches and digital readouts, the aerospace lingo seems apt.

Having crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge, I summoned the courage to get up to 60, and found to my great relief that once it was really rolling, the RV wanted to stay straight. Carefully checking my four outside mirrors and the rear camera (used mostly for backing up, but I left it on the whole drive), I even passed the occasional slowpoke on I-95. Over the next few hours, as cars whipped around me and cut back in just ahead of my bumper, I came to feel some sympathy for truckers — except the ones who passed me at 75. I’d been driving for eight white-knuckled hours when we got to Outdoor World Williamsburg, a membership campground that’s part of the Thousand Trails network ( Released from my piloting duties, I eagerly threw myself into the setup.

Once we were parked at our site and leveled up (an automated process involving hydraulic jacks that emerge from the belly of the rig with satisfying whirs and thunks), two sections of the Storm — the eight-foot-long dinette and couch area, and the five-foot-long back bedroom — slid out by two feet, greatly enlarging our living space. Hooking up the water and electricity was easy.

After settling in and figuring out how the table and couch converted to sleeping areas, we all had a blast. The RV was both more private and, with fridge and cooking facilities, more convenient than a hotel — we didn’t feel forced to eat out every meal. The rig was even big enough to keep us happy on one rainy day, when my wife and the boys enjoyed a Lost marathon while I read and kept them supplied with snacks. Other days, we used a rented car to visit Colonial Williamsburg, or made use of the camp’s indoor pool, mini golf, and basketball courts.

Relaxed and confident on the drive home, I shaved two hours off the trip. Every minute we hummed along, the winter sun almost whiting out the gentle flatlands of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, I felt as though that cross-country road trip we’ve always talked about really could be done — if gas prices come down a little.

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