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Will Styler

Associate Teaching Professor of Linguistics at UC San Diego

Director of UCSD's Computational Social Science Program

“I sure wish I was driving this road in a city bus”: A meditation on the motorhome

This was originally posted on my blog, Notes from a Linguistic Mystic in 2014. See all posts

For whatever reason, the recreational vehicle (“RV”) has a powerful romanticism associated with it in American society. For a great many people, the RV is a symbol of freedom, of escape, and of adventure, and it’s not unusual to meet somebody whose fondest dream is to retire, get a motorhome or RV, and travel the country in search of whatever may come.

I’ve had this dream. I will confess to having gazed longingly at motorhomes, imagining the joy of traveling the country while never being far from “home”. I imagined freedom from hotel reservations and exorbitant rates, from terrible gas station bathrooms, from living out of a suitcase, and most of all, the freedom to travel in comfort.

Then, I spent a week traveling from Colorado to California and back in a 29 foot motorhome. That dream is gone from me. Let me tell you why.

Imagine a wonderful road to drive on, the kind of road that makes a road trip worthwhile. Whether it’s snaking through a mountain canyon, meandering through a national forest, or even a two-lane stretch through miles of picturesque desert. These roads are why we love road trips, these are the roads we want to drive, rather than the ones we have to drive to get there.

Now, imagine driving that road in a city bus.

Behind the wheel of a motorhome, every curve is an affront. Every hill is a challenge. Every passing, a risk, and every strong gust of wind a moment of white-knuckle fear. Driving an RV is not the same thing as driving a car, and when bus drivers are maneuvering large, slow and clumsy vehicles, they’re doing so with training, experience, and a vehicle that was designed to be driven, rather than designed to be parked.

This is not to say that these roads cannot be negotiated, nor that a smaller (or pricier) motorhome won’t offer a more pleasant drive. Instead, this is simply to say that the kind of roads you want to drive are precisely the kinds of roads you want to avoid with your RV. In a motorhome, that long, curvy road, with magnificent views and 3000 feet of elevation change will go from attraction to obstacle, and that 120 mile straight line interstate through nothing at all will become a source of boundless joy.

There are other problems, many well-established elsewhere. Many scenic roads are closed to vehicles over a certain length. RV parks fill up as readily as hotels, cost nearly as much, and are an eighth as common. Overnight parking can be tough to find, daytime parking rarer still, and daytime RV parking spots near an attraction you actually want to visit are unicorns. And, of course, there’s the joy of having to maintain both a house and a car at the same time, all at specialized mechanics’ labor rates.

In my fantasies, I imagined an RV to be a car with a furnished apartment miraculously attached to the back of it. Now, I realize that an RV is a car with a furnished apartment not-so-miraculously attached to the back of it, and, with that in mind, it drives precisely as you’d expect. In short, a car is a terrible apartment, but a great car. An RV is a bad apartment, and a terrible car.

Ultimately, my experience taught me that the ideal $100,000 motorhome is a $60,000 luxury car with a $40,000 hotel budget. But, of course, your mileage may vary.