Evanne Schmarder

Evanne Schmarder’s e-mail nickname, “roadabode,” says it all, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Schmarder is only 44, but for the past 10 years she’s been living what many people consider a retiree lifestyle for a decade with her husband, Ray, 55. The couple live full time in a 31-foot recreational vehicle, combining a public relations business, RV cooking show and Ray’s music career.

“We don’t have traditional jobs, mortgages or children so we’ve felt for a long time that we have more in common with retirees than we do people our own age,” she said.

Soaring gas prices and the nasty recession have put a dent in RV sales, inspired RV foreclosure websites and slowed the movement of warriors still on the road. Devotees say they are hopeful, nonetheless, that Baby Boomers will keep the industry alive, even if it means reinventing its image.

One example: Chicago-based Equity LifeStyle Properties last year began offering lectures by Ivy League professors at its RV parks in Florida and Arizona. Other parks offer kickboxing and yoga, though bingo and spaghetti dinners are still on most agendas as well.

Now that Ray is 55, the Schmarders can stay in RV parks geared to older adults, where Evanne says she’s most comfortable.

“We meet mostly people in their mid-60s and up,” she said. “They’re the most vibrant, active and sharp people you could imagine.”

Anita Lalonde, 76, has essentially lived on the road for seven years with her husband, Robert, 69. Anita’s former husband was in the military, so she got used to moving.

“It’s an adventure every day,” she says of her lifestyle, which involves spending winters at the Fountain of Youth Spa in Niland, Calif., in a “park model,” an RV that is a fixed structure and stays put in the park. During other months, she travels to see relatives.

“I am not a person that’s attached to home,” said Anita, who said she lived in 35 homes before settling into the couple’s three-bedroom, two-bath park model.

Think life on the road might be for you? There are some caveats, though most RVers say they are spending far less to live than when they would in a permanent house:

  • Rising costs: Costs to stay in full-service parks have risen dramatically in the last decade. There are ways to economize, however, including seeking RV-friendly retailers, such as Wal-Mart, where some stores allow free overnight parking. Many retirees work at some RV camps in exchange for stays.
  • Logistics: This has gotten easier with conveniences such as online bill pay, RVers say. And an organization in Texas (the Escapees) offers mail forwarding. As for the mechanics of operating a giant mobile home, many RVers maintain Internet chat rooms devoted to minute details of issues such as repairing a GFCI outlet (basically the circuit breaker), but ask yourself whether you’re up for such hassles.
  • Finding the exits: Leaving the RV lifestyle can be costly if health issues arise. Finding a down payment on a traditional home can be prohibitive, especially if you’re relying on the sale of your RV to finance it, experts say. One strategy that’s gaining steam is the park model structure, where you own the RV and stay in it at least several months a year, but rent the campsite underneath on a permanent basis. One of the potential downsides, of course, is that you have little control over rental costs.

Editor’s Note: Evanne Schmarder is a columnist and regular contributor to Woodall’s Campground Management and www.WOODALLSCM.com. Schmarder told WCM that in response to the question from friends and relatives as to whether the Schmarders are ready to settle down and find a permanent home, “Not yet. We’ll know when it’s time but until then the open road beckons.”