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Despite costs, suburban family still prefers summer of RVing

Category: Herzog, RV
Source: Daily Herald, IL
Publish Date: Thursday, August 7, 2008
Summary: The biggest perk of all, they say, is having control of their schedule. If they see a sign for something interesting and want to check it out, they just stop.

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Despite costs, suburban family still prefers summer of RVing

By Jamie Sotonoff | Daily Herald Staff

The Herzog family fills up their recreational vehicle's gas tank two or three times a week, and each time, it costs them around $200.

Even during this $4.20- per-gallon summer, they say RVing is actually a cheap way for a family to travel around the U.S., and they much prefer their "house on wheels" to myriad hotel rooms and fast-food restaurants.

This is the eighth consecutive year the Herzogs and their two boys, ages 7 and 6, have spent their summer crisscrossing America in an RV. They visit tiny towns as well as big tourist attractions, with spontaneous stops in between.

All they need is a KOA campground, a state park or a Wal-Mart parking lot and they are "home." Last week in Chicago, they spent one night in the McCormick Place truck lot.

"I've never really liked hotel rooms," said Brad Herzog, a Highland Park native who pulled his 39-foot rig into the O'Hare Oasis on the Tri-State Tollway for an interview last week. The family was passing through town on the final leg of their two-month trip and will head home to California next week.

"We can go to every nook and cranny of the United States - we park, close our blinds and we've got our house there," he said. "And have you ever driven looking through a windshield this big? I love the view. It's like you're looking at a movie screen and America's playing."

'Full of options'

Don't they get claustrophobic? Doesn't everyone get on each other's nerves living in such a small space for such a long time? And isn't a vehicle that gets 8 mpg expensive to drive, not to mention environmentally unfriendly?

No, no and no, Herzog insists. People in the Chicago area don't understand the benefits of RVing the way most Americans do, he said. Brad loves RVing so much, he makes his living writing about it.

"We're your typical suburban kids. What's not to like about it?" said Brad, reclining in the RV's leather chair next to a flat-screen TV.

The RV is equipped with a king-size bed, two leather chairs that recline into flat beds for the boys, a toilet and a shower with water pressure that's "not bad," air conditioning, plenty of closets, a full kitchen and a cable TV hookup.

The RV's about the size of a large studio apartment, thanks to the "slide outs." When it's parked, they push a button and the walls slide out, adding extra living space.

The boys don't fight any more than they would at home, says Brad's wife Amy, but they've received a valuable education - seeing 43 states without having to pack and unpack suitcases every night or sit in airports.

"It's one thing to read about the Alamo. It's another thing to see it," Brad said, adding that one of their favorite nights this summer was when they made an impromptu stop at an old-fashioned penny arcade in a small Colorado town.

The biggest perk of all, they say, is having control of their schedule. If they see a sign for something interesting and want to check it out, they just stop. Both Brad and Amy work from the road (Amy does freelance public relations).

If they stop to visit friends, they don't have to impose by staying in their house - just their driveway.

"For every person who says (you're crazy), there's one that says, 'You're living my dream,'" Amy said.

The Herzogs took their first cross-country road trip in 1993. They gave up their Lincoln Park apartment, bought a $60,000 RV and spent 10 months on the road.

"It was a life-changing experience," Brad said. "We realized that life is full of options."

The trip inspired Brad's first travel memoir, "States of Mind."

When they got home, they sold their RV, figuring they were done. But they missed it so much, they were RVing again a few years later. They even took the boys on the road as babies.

"We could bring big boxes of diapers or bouncy chairs, because we had the room," Amy said. "I'm sure there are people in New York City who live in less space than this."

Cheap way to travel?

The RV Industry Association provides the Herzogs with a complementary vehicle each summer, but they still have to pay for all of their gas, food and entertainment. What they spend on gas is less than 60 nights worth of hotel rooms and three meals a day at restaurants, they said.

To save money, they prepare two meals a day in the RV, which allows for healthier eating. Since storage space is not an issue, they can bring bulk packages of food and lots of toys for the boys.

Any family who wants to give RVing a try should rent first, the Herzogs said. And don't go for a weekend, take at least a week.

"Don't drive 10 hours a day and think that's going to be fun. It won't be," Brad said. "We drive three to four hours a day, and we spend a lot of time outside the RV. We plan a lot of stops."

RV rentals can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000 a week, depending on the amenities and the time of year (summer is more expensive).

Even though high gas prices are a deterrent - there's buzz in the industry about a hybrid RV - demand for RVs remains high.

Joe Laing, director of marketing for El Monte RV in Villa Park, said they've been renting or selling to local families (sometimes two families go together in one RV) and Europeans, who tend to take longer vacations than Americans.

To help first-time RVers, El Monte RV offers training sessions, schedules planning services and even will book campgrounds for them.

"People don't even know you can rent. And when they find out, they say, 'Oh, I've always wanted to do that!'" Laing said.

Brad warns that once you try it, you might never want to travel via airplane again.

"We're going to keep doing this," he said. "Every year, it keeps getting better and better."

To read Brad's blog from the road, go to www.GoRVing.com/blog

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