The RV Life: On the road again… and again

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The Crabill’s of Bartonville are discovering the joys of the open road. (Photo by Helen’s Photography)

Crystal Crabill never thought she’d see the day. But there she was one morning in January, standing at the stove making pancakes for her husband, Dan, and three children as they drove down the interstate to Galveston Island.

“It probably wasn’t the safest thing in the world to do, but that’s how we roll,” she said with a laugh.

The Crabills are doing lots of things that they never imagined possible as proud owners of a 40-foot Fleetwood Discovery RV.

Avid travelers, the Bartonville residents jumped in blind and bought their brand-new home on wheels in July to keep their love for family getaways going strong during a time when flights and cruises continue to be hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

They’ve gone from traveling twice a year to road-tripping 10 days out of the month — all the while having access to a full kitchen and bathroom, four beds, a fireplace, and all sorts of conveniences from home.

Their RV life has allowed them to sleep out under the stars, spend quality time together without getting caught up in flight plans, hotel reservations, and social-distancing guidelines, and venture into parts of America they’ve never seen before.

They’ve been to Angel Fire, New Mexico, New Orleans, Galveston, and San Marcos.

They plan to visit Phoenix next, followed possibly by Yellowstone National Park, San Antonio, and maybe even Colorado.

“If something doesn’t fit, we can easily turn around and go elsewhere,” Crystal said. “When we were doing our research, 100% of people said this is the stupidest thing you’ll ever do with your money — but you will never regret it. It has been a blast for us, and we definitely didn’t envision this until the environment changed.”

And they’re not alone. More and more families who have never stepped foot in an RV before are renting or purchasing them and hitting the open road with newfound confidence. Add those numbers to the existing RV community that includes those who live in their RVs full-time, and what you have is an industry that reportedly brings in $114 billion to the U.S. economy, employs over 600,000 people, and has spurred the creation of more than 16,000 campgrounds and parking facilities to support public and private RV camping.

An RV Industry Association article published in June said that 46 million Americans planned to take an RV trip over the next 12 months. Outdoorsy, a website that pairs RV renters with owners willing to list and rent out their RV, says they grew a whopping 4,600% from April 2020 to October.

Even local RV dealers like Southwest RV Rentals in Hickory Creek say they are averaging 250 calls a day.

“Yesterday was my seventh day off in eight months if that gives you an idea,” operations manager Mark Anderson said. “[In life], we move so fast that we forget to slow down sometimes. People are starting to realize that [and are RVing].”

The Crabill family travels in style: Zachery, Nick, Eli, Crystal and Dan. (Photo by Helen’s Photography)

The Crabills say it was the best decision they ever made. As the story goes, their oldest son Nick pointed out during a planning conversation about their next vacation that they hadn’t been on a road trip in a long time. Before they knew it, the foursome talked about renting an RV to avoid the increasing complications of traveling during a pandemic.

“It definitely made us look at our travel in a new light,” Crystal said. “We had flown to places like Disney and Nassau, and we’d been on cruises, but we hadn’t done the drivable stuff. So we started asking ourselves about the possibilities and if we should take it seriously. Could we all be squeezed into this little space and not kill each other? How would we all manage one bathroom? How do you cook in an RV? Can you bake things? There were so many questions.”

Thankfully, Crystal, a health coach, and Dan, who owns his own business, have the luxury of working on the go. They also homeschool their boys Nick (19), Zack (16), and Eli (10). So nothing but a little fear of the unknown was holding them back. They began exploring their options in person, researching online, and watching lots of YouTube videos and became so invested that they created their own YouTube channel (Driving Me Crabill) to document their decisions.

Ultimately, they chose to buy instead of rent, and their YouTube channel now includes highlights from several of their trips.

“We did reserve one to rent, but we thought, ‘Why spend $2-3,000 on this rental if we are going to just turn around and buy one eventually?’” Crystal said. “So, we jumped in blind and bought one. We’ve been able to do a lot of things we didn’t do before. When you stay at a hotel, you have to find places to eat. You’re not cooking for yourself. You’re not sitting down and playing cards or sitting outside and using the grill or sitting at a picnic table. With the RV, we can play cards, sit outside, and even talk to the neighbors. The RV community is such a family-friendly community. Anywhere we go, within 30 minutes, my 10-year-old has found a friend to ride bikes with.”

She added, “During our first trip to New Mexico, we met someone who lives in Lantana. I was dumbfounded that it happened, and it’s been that way ever since. We usually run into someone who lives near us.”

As for what they have planned for years down the road, Crystal simply said anything is possible when you have an RV.

“We like to fly by the seat of our pants,” she said. “It’s our home away from home.”

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