Retired seniors are rewarded with many perks, and they deserve them. One of the easiest perks to overlook is travel. There’s nothing like exploring the unexplored. And, being a senior allows you to enjoy the sights and beauty of America’s parks and campgrounds.
But how should you travel? Why not an RV? It’s rising in popularity, and the average age of seniors living in RVs has gone down.
While the freedom to hit the road immediately may be calling, it’s important to take precautions when choosing a vehicle and deciding when to begin your travels.
Do you have medical issues that could interrupt your trip or disabilities that require more accessibility options for your RV? These are just a few things to consider out of a multitude.
So, we’ve compiled a guide to safely get you on the road!
You Might Want To Rent First
Often people rent houses before buying them. It allows the tenant to understand what they like and don’t like about the home.
It’s a good idea to treat an RV the same way. If this is going to be your new home or camping home, then there is going to be an adjustment period. There may or may not be homesickness problems, but there will definitely be a downsizing transition.
To deal with this, it’s recommended that you try RVs of varying sizes and consider what things are most important to bring with you while camping.
There are so many types of RVs that it can be confusing to choose one. Here’s a list of the types of RVs that suit seniors:
Class A Motorhomes: These come operating with gas or diesel. They’re the most luxurious type of motorhome with regular home appliances (refrigerators, showers, microwaves, etc). Diesel-powered motorhomes have a smoother ride with stronger torque than gas motorhomes. This would be great for seniors with a lot of money and accessibility needs.
Class C Motorhomes: They are smaller than the class A motorhomes, shrinking the bathroom, and bedroom space. You’ll recognize these mostly with a bunk over the cab. While it’s smaller than class A motorhomes, it offers more maneuverability and better parking access (some parks and campsites don’t allow class A motorhomes). This would be perfect for a senior without mobility issues that can downsize.
Class B Motorhomes: You’ll recognize these as camper vans or sprinter vans. Because they’re so much smaller, they will move like a car and can park in the same spaces. Most class B motorhomes lose the typical appliances like a washer, dryer, and fridge.
Tow Campers: Come in various sizes. You’ve seen them on the road before, both long and short. These would complement seniors with a truck or vehicle that can tow a camper. They also require extra maintenance because you’ll have to check the tow’s bearings and tires.
As we stated earlier renting is a smart option because you can see what RVs best fit your lifestyle. If you’re eager and are bent on buying one outright, or you’ve already rented and are at the buying stage, then consider buying an older model.
It’s no secret cars depreciate quickly. They hold value, as well as two-ply toilet paper, holds water. New RVs are the same, losing a good chunk of value within the first years.
Many feel that it makes more sense to buy an RV older than five years to get the most bang for your buck!
If you’re visiting campsites and you’re enjoying the outdoors at night, then it’s important to have ample light. Some campers come with a lamp, but if yours doesn’t there are plenty of automatic lamps that’ll light your doorway.
A lamp near the door will help light your steps as you enter and exit the van, and it’ll double as a safety feature to see who’s knocking on your door.
Medication and Doctors Appointments
Safety also includes staying up-to-date on medications and appointments. Inform your doctor of your trip plans, so that they can give you information that’ll help you stay on top of your health.
Also, plan your trip with doctor’s visits in mind. Do you have any appointments within the next year? If you do, plan your trip so that you’ll loop around back home with more than enough time to make your appointment.
Finding RV Campsites
Now that we’ve covered the important safety features, we’ll move into the fun topics, like finding places to camp.
While you can go the old-school route and use a map to find the campgrounds, it’s recommended that you use Google Maps. Google Maps makes finding a campground near you as easy as typing “campground near me.”
Of course, you can change this by typing in the location you’re going, like, “campgrounds in central Florida.” This will help you find campsites at your desired location with the best ratings, so you don’t have to worry about bad customer service.
Google Maps will also route you around traffic and construction, so you can have a stress-free drive.
With RV living on the rise and the age of senior campers lowering, campgrounds are bustling. This will make it harder to get reservations at popular campgrounds. So, to ease the pain of hearing that your favorite campground is booked, book ahead.
Some campsites will have their phone numbers displayed on Google or booking information on their website. Be sure to inform the campground workers of your vehicle’s size as it’ll affect where you’re able to park.
Places You Can Park Your RV Overnight
Sometimes you might get tired when you’re driving. Maybe you’ve been driving all day and didn’t make it to your destination, or maybe you just need a nap. Either way rest is important on the road, so you’ve got to know where you can park.
Here is a list of some overnight parking areas:
State Rest Areas: Rest areas are state-owned places for families to take a break from the road. That break could be to use the restroom, eat food, or nap. Your camper’s size will determine parking options. Class A, C, and Tow Campers will be parked on the side with the eighteen-wheelers. Class B campers can be parked near the cars. The amount of time you can spend there will be dependent on the state you’re in. If you can’t find that information, then try not to stay longer than necessary as someone else might need your parking space.
Truck Stops: Truck Stops are like rest areas except the space is private property, so the amount of time you can park there is usually shorter. They offer bathrooms, food, and amenities like showers and washers. You’ll see these every so often off of major highways. TA, Pilot, Flying J, and Buc-ee’s are some of the names of truck stop franchises.
Walmart: Walmart, like Truck Stops, are private property, so parking will depend on the staff’s rules. You may prefer to park here because most Walmarts allow overnight parking, and they’re not as loud as truck stops.
Senior Parks Pass
The freedom to travel and see America’s beauty is nice and all, but it’s even better to do it at a discounted cost. Seniors over 62 can visit 2,000 recreation sites with the National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Senior Pass. That includes National Parks as well.
Getting a senior pass will also give you a discount on amenities offered at National Park campgrounds and recreation sites!
Slow Trips Are Better Than Fast Ones
It’s important to be punctual when booking trips, but make sure you have time for exploring. While the destinations you have planned will be grand, try to enjoy the journey just as much. Find restaurants, cook dinner in the wilderness, fish rivers, and make friends on the road!
Becoming a senior camper is something that must be planned. With finances and health at risk, there’s no way that a senior can jump in. So, we hope our Beginners Guide to RV Camping for Seniors has instilled in you the confidence to make plans and explore America’s beautiful landscapes!
Featured Image Credit: Deposit Photos, Lic # 264277866
Nobody on this planet can tell you as a disabled or handicapped person what you can and cannot do. All you need is the will and the tools to get you where you want to go. What I will share with you are options for making your life experiences and dreams a little more possible and a little more convenient. I was told as a young man, “Sometimes life doesn’t always fit. Sometimes you must make some adjustments.” I’m coming straight at you as an 80% Disabled Veteran who deals with day-to-day physical challenges; however, my disabilities don’t stop me from being an RV owner who enjoys the open road and the majestic sites that seem to envelop this great land that we know as America. I believe that your RV is your magic carpet to experience this great country.
A special needs RV can make what was once difficult or impossible, enjoyable. Today’s RVs can be custom modified to meet every need of the disabled. Most importantly, especially for those who are mobility impaired or using a wheelchair or electric cart, modern RVs are equipped with hydraulically lowered and hoisted ramps or a wheelchair lift. Getting in and out of your rig is as simple as pushing a button. Just like homes and apartments, RV floorplans can be customized to meet the 36’’ spacing required for wheelchairs. Bathrooms are designed to be spacious to accommodate your wheelchair and tubs are equipped with seats and 60’’ handheld shower hoses.
So which type of RV best suits your needs? It’s up to you. If you want to go basic and least expensive you may want to consider a pop-up (tent) trailer with a ramp for access. In most cases, you’ll have to rely on the campground for bathroom and shower facilities. In the mid-range price, you have the pull-behind, hitch or fifth-wheel towed camper. These units will be larger and have a bathroom that can be modified to meet your needs. The big boys, class A (think bus) and class C (think bigger than an airport shuttle) are homes on wheels. They have it all. These motorhomes are driven by you and can spare you the physical strain of hitching and unhitching a pull-behind. Driving controls can be modified to meet your needs. Foot controls can be replaced with hand controls. With these amazing new vehicles, there is nothing to stop you from enjoying this beautiful country.
Handicapped Accessible Campgrounds and Parks
Campgrounds can be quite difficult to navigate for those of us with disabilities. Even though handicapped-accessible campground work for everyone with mobility challenges, basic campgrounds are mostly void of paved surfaces for wheelchair access and handicapped-accessible bathrooms. I live in Colorado and have visited and stayed a night or two at several of Colorado’s handicapped-friendly campsites. In my native Colorado, which is home to Mesa Verde National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park; one park stands out above the others when it comes to wheelchair and disability access.
The park is The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve just Northeast of Alamosa, Colorado. The trip runs about 230 miles south and west of Denver and should take you about 3- and one-half hours to traverse. The views are incredible. With the expansive seas of sand, the dunes would normally be inaccessible to wheelchairs, but the park has loaner wheelchairs for adults and children that are equipped with giant, balloon tires that glide over the fine sand. The chairs do require an adult to provide mobility but, nonetheless, these chairs will get you out to incredible scenery and remarkable views in comfort. I stay at the KOA campground in Alamosa. It offers spacious pull-through RV lots, plenty of paved paths to handicapped-accessible bathrooms, and full hookups, including fresh water and electricity. If you’re in Colorado, go check out the beauty at one of our nation’s largest sand dunes. Remember to reserve your chair ahead of time.
Good ‘ole Yellowstone. Yellowstone is one of the most iconic parks in the world. Those that haven’t visited it have read about it or at least seen it on National Geographic documentaries. Want to go and see Old Faithful? It’s easier now than ever. The park has made wheelchairs available at the main lodge so you can comfortably visit the geyser when it erupts roughly every hour during the day. Pathways that are handicapped accessible have made their way around the park offering access to everything from sightseeing to flyfishing. I found that nearly all campsites have at least one handicap accessible sit. If you really want to get outdoorsy, Yellowstone has made accommodations for wheelchairs in their backcountry campsites. Make your dream come true. Go visit the land of wonders and amazement. The National Park Service has made a huge effort this century to make the park accessible and enjoyable for all.
At 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and 6,00 feet deep, the Grand Canyon is a spectacle to behold. You’d think that handicapped access to this amazing gorge would be impossible. The park will complement your experience by offering “smart” wheelchairs that have built-in guides that show all shuttle stops around the park that will conveniently return you to the park lodge and parking. Several wheel-chair accessible trails will take you to the South Rim where majestic views of the park abound. If you don’t want to get out of your car, the park offers people with mobility issues a special park pass https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/accessibility.htm that grants folks permission to traverse normally off-limits roads around the park and soak up the sights that most visitors do not have access to.
There are many, handicapped accessible parks in the US, including national, state, county, and city. The last one I will mention is Acadia National Park in the great state of Maine. This park is one of the few that has miles of beachline on the east coast of the US. It’s rocky and rugged but has some of the most picturesque beaches in the country. One thing to note, you can view nearly all these scenes by wheelchair. You can stay at any one of the many KOA campgrounds around the state and you will find large pull-through and back-in RV lots with plenty of paved access around the campgrounds. The campground I stayed at provided reliable and easy access to 30- and 50-amp service and full hookups. Just imagine you can run your microwave, TV, and washer and dryer at the same time (if equipped with these appliances).
Top 5 Most Accessible, Wheelchair-Friendly National Parks
Here are a few things to consider when you are planning for your trip this next spring or summer: wide, paved paths that are handicapped accessible, parking lots with ample handicapped parking, including extra-wide spots for wheelchair-capable vans, free handicapped-friendly shuttles, and parks that have handicapped-access maps that show what sights and scenes are available to enjoy.
Image Credit: Deposit Photos Lic # 264549036
Social Security and Medicare
I’m not Social Security age, at 53, but I know plenty of folks who are, some of whom have varying degrees of disability. Most of these wonderful people started out apprehensive about their ability to afford an RVing lifestyle on a fixed budget, but quite a few of these folks have committed to the lifestyle change and made the change to RV life. Varying Social Security payments average between $18,000 and $35,000 a year, as of 2022. These days, those numbers seem on the low side. But look at it this way, without a house payment, the cost of commuting to and from work, and the kids out of University, RVing may not hit you as hard in the wallet as you may think. I would recommend you take a virtual trip to the Social Security website to make plans – http://www.ssa.gov. The folks that I’ve talked to at various RV parks and campgrounds have pretty much confirmed that if you plan and do it right you can live the RV life on a fixed budget.
If you’re on Medicare and RVing, you’re in great shape. You are covered nationally. Some plans may restrict you to certain states or regions, and that can be a problem. Nobody wants to drive across the country for medical care. The Affordable Care Act is also a viable option for folks traveling around the country. Keep in mind that the Individual Mandate has been overturned so you won’t be penalized for not having medical insurance.
Medications and Special Equipment
One challenge of living on the road is access to prescription medicine and special equipment. A little planning can go a long way to make sure you have your needs met if you’re out of pocket for a few weeks or months. As a Veteran, I fill my prescriptions through the VA pharmacy in Denver. I usually inform my doctor of my travels and he can get my medication filled in advance. You do need to verify in advance that all your meds (such as painkillers) can be filled in advance. It also would be wise to check state and local laws regarding which medications can be transported across state lines. Bring a copy of all prescriptions. If you have any medical issues while on the road, it will make things much easier for you and the medical providers that treat you while away from home.
While on travel, loss or damage of a prosthetic device, sensory aids, crutches, and wheelchairs can be a challenge. I know that the VA can ship your required special equipment from your primary care provider’s hospital or clinic to another VA clinic that is closer to your travel location. It’s best to check with your medical provider to see what processes they have in place to get your replacement medical devices as quickly and conveniently as possible.
Parking a 35-foot RV can be a challenge, but don’t let it be a barrier to your RV lifestyle. I have yet to see dedicated handicapped parking spots for RVs; however, most RV sites are spacious enough to accommodate disabled campers. Now, that’s not to say that they don’t exist. While you travel make sure you equip your RV with either handicap plates or a placard. As far as parking goes, my home state of Colorado has a weight and size restriction for oversize vehicle parking in handicapped spots. My Class C is just too big, so I try to get creative when parking – legally of course. I’ve also noticed that Walmart is RV friendly, but if you want to park at Walmart keep in mind that you should park in an area that is not keeping shoppers from parking closer to the store. Go ahead and head in yourself. I’ve found out that most Walmart and Super-Walmart locations are well stocked with all your RV needs.
Pumping gas can be a bit of a challenge in an RV, either a motorhome or pull-behind. Don’t let that stress you out. A little planning and knowledge of the law can make your travels much smoother. Firstly, know the height of your RV. That can help you avoid making unintended contact with low-clearance bridges, tunnels, and gas station awnings. Look for oversized gas stations that serve semis. And, secondly, know the law. Gas stations are required to aid disabled folks with full-service gas pumping at no additional charge. Go to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) website for details – https://www.ada.gov/gasserve.htm
Regardless of your mobility challenges, there is an RVing lifestyle out there for you. RV companies have fielded some of the most modern rigs that will meet your disability needs. National, state, and even local campgrounds and parks have been updated in the last twenty years to ensure you have access to the best views and all the amenities available to guests. Do not let your disability hold you back. Get out there and enjoy the beauty and serenity of the great outdoors.