Some consumers consider a more mobile way of life

September 18, 2005|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Don and Jennifer Fishler sold their New Mexico house a few years back, moved into a Pasadena apartment to be near their grandkids and started the search for the place they really hope to call home.

Forget great rooms with cathedral ceilings and state-of-the-art kitchens with Viking ranges. This 60-year-old couple wants something on wheels.

"This one's a little more me," Jennifer Fishler said as she inspected the 42-foot motor home aptly called the Travel Supreme, with its Corian countertops, leather couches, flat-screen TV and price tag over $300,000. "Don says, `We can get the one you want or we can continue to eat.'"

Recreational vehicles are in demand, from the tiny pop-up trailers towed out for camping trips to the ones that look like rock star tour buses. Despite gas prices hovering around $3 a gallon, baby boomers, retirees and young families are learning the ins and outs of a life - or at least a vacation - spent on the road. From the high end to the low, hundreds of models were on display yesterday at the Fall Maryland RV Show at the state fairgrounds in Timonium. The show wraps up today.

Demand for RVs could soon outstrip supply in the wake of the devastation to the Gulf Coast brought by Hurricane Katrina, dealers said. They said manufacturers are slowing down production for consumers and stepping up production for orders from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Some dealers said they have sold in recent days to local agencies that plan to send people down to help in the damaged areas. One said he sold 10 to a company that plans to drive them down to their executives who have been flooded out of their homes and offices in Louisiana.

John Law, who works for Brooks Ramsey RV in White Marsh, said he sold a $25,000 travel trailer to a Louisiana family with five children last week. The family had been staying with relatives in Baltimore and were planning to drive their new trailer down south until their home is livable again.

"It was the most economical solution they could come up with," Law said.

Still, most people look at recreational vehicles and think journey and not destination. While shoppers certainly ask about gas prices - motor homes can have 80- or 100-gallon tanks and get a less-than-efficient 8 miles to the gallon - Law's co-worker Gregg Lowery said he doesn't think a tick up at the pump is having any effect on sales. Some people still worry about airplane safety in the years after Sept. 11 and besides, he said, it's cheaper for a family to travel this way than to spend money on many airplane tickets and hotel rooms.

"This will get you to Disney World and you'll stay for $60 a night instead of $260 a night," Lowery said.

"It's not like you're commuting to work in a 10-miles-per- gallon monster," said Skip Tate, president and owner of Recreation World RV in Annapolis.

Allan Cooper and his girlfriend, Dorothy Lester, can't wait to take off in the new 32-foot camper they bought yesterday. She is already thinking about their first trip to Pennsylvania next month, when she plans to do the whole place up in spooky Halloween decorations.

The Halethorpe couple picked this one because it has a room up front for them - with a door for privacy. And space in the back for their four kids to sleep - with a door for more privacy. They also liked the skylights.

"I was always the survivor camper," said Lester, 46, who works at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "I just wanted a tent. I didn't want bathrooms or anything. Now I'm older. I want my camper."

Recreational vehicles, by definition, are smaller than 400 square feet - which would include some New York City apartments if they had tires. Some are just as nice, with amenities such as surround-sound stereos, DVD players and personal computers built in. Some look like U-Hauls with mattresses and lawn furniture tossed into the back. Some are just a step above totally roughing it, with pop-up campers that require climbing over your brother to get back to bed after a journey outside to the bathroom.

The Fishlers say they've been looking for just the right motor home for a couple of years now, but they're starting to get that itch to hit the road.

"We've been taking our time because we've been enjoying the children. But we're starting to think it's time," Jennifer Fishler said. "Before we get too old."

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