Camping in comfort.
Basically, that's what the owners of recreational vehicles are after when they hit the road. That, and a quest for neighborliness.
"With three kids and a dog, I spent 11 years of vacations in a tent," says Pat Stogoski of Baltimore. "We've met so many nice people. When you're in a tent, people come over and help you set it up."
Her children are now grown, and Mrs. Stogoski still calls herself a camper. But these days, she camps in the comfort of her 30-foot motor home. RV, for short.
Mrs. Stogoski fits the stereotype of RVers -- retired or almost retired, and the kids grown. Or does she?
"Most of our newest customers are families," says John Staub, a sales consultant with the Joppa RV Center. "They're not spending as much as the retired folk, about $70,000 to $80,000. Instead, a 22-foot trailer costing $8,994 is pretty typical for a young family."
There are four basic models of RVs: the pop-up, the truck camper (or fifth wheel, which slides in over a truck's cab or payload), the travel trailer (looks like a motor home, but hitches to back of a truck) and the motor home. You can spend as little as $3,000 for a pop-up, or cash in the pension and spend as much as $400,000 for a motor home castle.
Though people in RVs look removed from the dirt and grime of nature at campgrounds, most RVers prefer to be called campers. That's because almost all RVers earned their stripes, so to speak, on the ground in a tent.
Retiree Phil Rensch spent his first night in the woods as a Boy Scout -- in a tent. Today, he has "moved up" to a 34-foot motor home that sleeps six. The best thing about his motor home, he says, is "knowing who slept in your bed last, and being able to pick out your food. It's home."
Having the comforts of home while still "getting away from it all" is a commonly expressed desire among RVers. It's so comfortable, many live there full-time. Like Don Reid, now somewhere in southwest Arizona.
"It has a washer and dryer, a microwave oven, a queen-size bed, a slide-out living room and of course room for a computer," says Mr. Reid. "I have been living this way for several years and love it."
In their book, "Living Aboard Your RV" (1986, Tagged Mountain/McGraw Hill), Janet and Gordon Groene say, "Some people look down on RV campers as gas hogs, nature tramplers and all-time chief polluters of the outdoor world."
They beg to differ. "The consumer needs of most RVs are minuscule compared to even the smallest homes. When we do run the heat or air conditioning, it's for an entire home that has less cubic footage than one bedroom in the average house."
Gas is a big expense in RVs; the average motor home, or truck pulling a trailer, gets about 8 miles per gallon. Still, says Mr. Staub, that's cheaper than a night on a good hotel.
There is the expense of a campground slot. The average price of a night's stay at the more than 10,000 RV campgrounds in the United States is $10 to $15.
Most campers don't take long trips in their RVs. The average trip is just 200 miles, say industry sources. RVers says that's because they're not necessarily after Mount Rushmore, but a neighborly feeling.
"Everywhere you go . . . you see people sitting outside, talking. It's like a . . . little community," says Mrs. Stogoski.
Among several RV organizations are RVing Women, a feminist group, and the Escapee Club, all full-timers.
In Maryland, the largest RV event is the annual Good Sam Jamboree at the Frederick County Fairgrounds. This year it's on Memorial Day weekend, and more than 2,000 RVs are expected to park in.
MARYLAND RV SHOW
Where: Timonium State Fairgrounds
When: Today and tomorrow, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Admission: $6 adults, children 12 and under free (discount coupons at all RV dealers)
Call: (410) 252-0200