TAMPA — Sometimes I dream about owning a luxury recreational vehicle with a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and all the comforts of home. Then I awake, take a look at my kids (8 and 6 years old) and the inch of sand they've deposited inside the tent, and decide that the little creatures would surely ruin an otherwise sound investment.
RVs, I've always assumed, were for retirees who have put their child-rearing years behind them.
But Dave Kelly, marketing director for the Florida RV Trade Association, was determined to prove me wrong.
"You are crazy," said Kelly as he drove me through the 25th annual Florida RV SuperShow at the Florida State Fairgrounds. "There are plenty of affordable RVs out there that are the ideal fit for families."
Judging from the kids in the crowd Wednesday, the opening day of this year's show, Kelly might have a point.
"But my kids are animals," I said affectionately. "They would tear one of these things apart."
Kelly smiled and patted me on the shoulder. "Let's have a look around," he said.
Simple is better
When many people think of an RV they picture the behemoths parked outside a football stadium. Many of those luxury liners cost more than my house. If I owned a nice RV, I would undoubtedly be a nervous wreck, and for sure I would drive my kids crazy each time they let a lizard loose or got mud on the upholstery.
"I bet you your kids couldn't destroy this camper," said Don Mills, manager at the Conibear RV Center in Lakeland, as he showed me the Quicksilver automotive camper. "This is all aluminum. There is no wood. You could wash this out with a garden hose if you wanted to."
Now that's my kind of RV, I thought to myself. I could clean the camper and the kids in one fell swoop.
"They are light (600 to 1,500 pounds) and easy to pull," Mills said. "You can pull one with a minivan."
The Quicksilver is a bare-bones popup camper that sleeps two adults and two children. There is no stove, toilet or refrigerator. But most campgrounds have restroom facilities and showers, and I usually pack my food in a cooler and cook over an old gas stove on top of a picnic table anyway.
"Most people just sleep in the camper anyway," Mills said. "If it starts to rain there is still plenty of room inside."
The price range of $5,500 to $8,500 will also prove attractive to many first-time buyers. For more information, go to www.livinlite.com or contact Mills at (863) 858-4455.
Light, easy to tow
Another option for cost-conscious campers is the lightweight, low-to-the-ground, easily towable Aliner camper. You don't need a big pickup or sport-utility vehicle to get this beauty to your campsite.
"You can pull this camper with just about any car," said Rick Como of Como RV Sales in Inverness and Homosassa (1-866-344-1411 or www.comorv.com). "That is a real plus for a lot of people."
The Pennsylvania-built popup has a hard top with sky lights and many of the amenities of a larger, heavier RV. Aliners, which range in length from 9 to 18 feet, are surprisingly comfortable for their size. The middle-of-the-line model, the Classic, is 15 feet long, 6½ feet wide and weighs just 2,000 pounds. It sleeps two adults and two children and retails for about $13,000.
"If you include airfare, hotel, meals, etc., it is not hard to spend $5,000 to take a family of four on vacation," Kelly said. "If you take the money you would have spent on two vacations and put it into an RV, you can have fun every weekend instead of just once or twice a year. If you think about it, that's a real bargain."