I've slept in just about every kind of RV there is. My journey has taught me about all kinds of things, like the magic of blue water, and the importance of being your own chieftain, and a possible reason behind my odd sleeping habits.
Some of my fondest memories of childhood are of sleeping in weird places. My family never had money to go places or do things, but one summer our house was getting renovated; so there was an extra couch in our living room. Turned on their sides and pushed together in just the right way, the space between the two couches made a fort, wherein I put a small battery-powered lantern and a blow-up camping mattress. Forty years later, I can still remember closing myself up in that tiny space, zipping my sleeping bag, curling up with a book that was surely either Calvin and Hobbes or the Hardy Boys, and shutting out the world. The lamp’s glow on the greenish yellow felt of the couch was adventure at its finest, as far as I knew it then.
I think that every RVer has felt and embraced, at some level, that thrill of oddness. Laying your head in a new place is always an experience. It can’t not be—you’ve never been here before, wherever your new here is, and you may never be here again. It took something to get to this particular parking space, and, for those who live and love the RV lifestyle, that’s worth something. And how you arrive at that moment says something not only about who you are, but where you are in life.
The RV bug first hit me around the age of 10, when my aunt and uncle parked their motorhome outside my parents’ house for two weeks. It’s important to this story for you to know that the same uncle had once brought an actual unicycle to the house. Both held the same level of novelty. Both were vehicles, both built for recreation. Both had the thrill of oddness. The RV just had it on a much larger scale. This was a house. That you could drive. For a 10-year-old without much experience in the world, this was mind-boggling. Even more mind-boggling? There was a bathroom in it, too. I had no idea how it worked, but the blue water in the toilet might have been magic for all I knew. (It didn’t smell like magic.)
There’s a novelty to RVs that never goes away. Every new parking space is an opportunity for growth, where we can meet a new friend or see a new sight. New parking spaces mean new adventures, and, if you try hard enough, some of them are indeed magical.
The first RV I ever slept in was a Class A (although I remember this one being light on the class). But it had walls that moved—at the flip of a switch. This was major. Thinking back, it was probably an old Winnebago Chieftain. It was after my freshman year of college, and my old childhood room had been surrendered so that younger sisters could have their own space. The rig was borrowed from yet another RV-loving uncle, and it was parked out behind my parents’ Florida house. At that time, it meant that I had my own space during the couple weeks' visit to home. It was an older unit, and it smelled older, to the point that sometimes when you got out of it you smelled older too. But I was the returning, older, wiser brother now. I deserved my own space after all and felt like a budding chieftain in my own right, having seen more of the world and done more of the things. It gave me a sense of power, confidence, and self-sufficiency—old smell and all.
Google tells me it was Confucius who said, “Wherever you go, there you are.” With an RV, wherever you go, you bring some of your own space to that place. And you deserve it, after all. You’ve earned that right to be the chieftain of your own teepee. Even if you have to drive the teepee all the way there, park the teepee, pull out of the parking space and try again to park the teepee, level the teepee, hook up the teepee to a power source, and make sure the teepee’s black water gets changed.
The first time I ever lived in a vehicle was a couple years later when I was traveling the country with a small singing group from my college. It wasn’t an RV but, rather, full-time van living. We’d typically be in a different zip code each day, often swinging into a town, singing at a local church, and then hitting the road to get to the next state over. As a kid who didn’t do too much or go to too many places, van life was a revelation. I met people who didn’t sound or look like me, and I shared stories, a campfire, or some tunes with them. Some of them I even shared the van with, and this was the best part of van life—there’s a forced intimacy found in nomadic cohabitation. We crossed deserts and state forests, north and south, from sea to shining sea, or at least from sea to shining Mississippi River. When you see things with people, you also see those people differently. As we traveled, we learned. Live in a vehicle with other humans and there is no getting around the learning, about yourself and your fellow passengers. Some of the things you learn, you’ll never forget. Some, you’ll wish you could. But you’ll never be the same.
There is a reason that we read so many stories these days about families calling it quits on the never-ending corporate rat race and hitting the road together full time. Folks in the RV community get it. There’s adventure out there, and we’ll never see it, touch it, taste, or even smell it until we hit the road. And, like it or not, there’s intimacy to be found on the way.
The RV life isn't for everyone.
But those who embrace the adventure
it brings are in the driver's seat of life,
with a world of possibilities ahead.
So, today, what would my RV of choice say about me? I’m a Coachman Clipper, ultra-light kind of guy. I like the flexibility that the smaller towable gives. It’s easier to put in a parking spot on the first try and makes the boonies more accessible to whimsical wandering. Our very-scientific chart says this makes my RV spirit animal the bear, which actually may explain some of my strange hibernation habits. What that says about me overall is that I like to go places and do things, and my omnivorous interests mean I don’t need a lot to make me happy. Or that’s what I think it says, because I’m still learning things about me. And, if you're an RVer, you're still learning things about you, too. RVs are great places to do that. They’re vehicles of change, in you and in your surroundings.
For me, the RV life isn’t about what kind of rig you’re hanging your hat in. I guess by now I’ve laid my head down in just about every kind of RV there is. What I've found is that there is no perfect RV. If anything, the perfect RV is simply the next one. The one that defines a phase of life you haven’t experienced yet. The one that will take you to your next adventure. And, the longer you hang around the RV community, the more you’ll find that picking an RV is a lot like picking a favorite pair of shoes. They’re your favorite until they’re not, and you can always trade them in for a new one. And it’s really less about the shoes and more about the journey they take you on that matters.
In this way, RVs let us explore our own humanity. They're where we grow closer to our senses, to nature, and to our families. This dynamic you're probably familiar with—it's what really fuels the RV lifestyle. It's what makes it magical.
And if we’ve ever seen enough places, and met enough people, then I suppose we can hang up the keys, finally turn in that propane tank and get that deposit back, and have no need for a recreational vehicle. If that happens, then wherever we go, there we will stay. But for now, at least, I want to keep learning. There are plenty more weird places to sleep in, after all.