Full-time RV Family Sets Off on Whitewaters of the Grand Canyon

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12-year-old Abby is young to paddle the 280-mile course. But the Holcombes, who live year-round in a Winnebago View, say families today need serious adventure.

Peter, Kathy, and 12-year-old Abby Holcombe kayak across the U.S. as they live full-time in a Winnebago View.

"It's like we know a secret and we want everybody to know the secret."

The Holcombe family has launched their kayaks into the Colorado River on a 26-day whitewater trip through the Grand Canyon, Winnebago announced today. Abby, a nationally ranked junior freestyle kayaker at age 12, is paddling her own kayak through the 280-mile route, a course guides commonly recommend for paddlers age 16 and up.

Peter and Kathy, and daughter Abby have been full-time travelers in their Winnebago View since selling their Boulder, Colo. home in June of 2014 to adventure through the nation’s top parks and public lands. They run a professional photography business and online school Abby on the road.

Parking their View during the river expedition, the Holcombes say RV life can either be a boon or a bust to your nerves and budget, and they blog tips about the travel lifestyle at Famagogo.com.

“It’s like we know a secret and we want everybody to know the secret,” says Peter of the simple freedom they’ve pursued, partly through creative sponsorships. “Being able to inspire people through my images and Kathy’s stories, that’s really what excites us now.”

The Holcombes’ guidance is timely. According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, adventure-seeking families headed by 35- to 54-year-olds are the fastest growing segment of RV owners. A surge in mobile careers along with low gas prices and more-affordable models are projected to drive RV sales to an eighth straight record in 2017.

So for families RVing one week, one month, or full-time, how can they make the most of it? Here’s what the Holcombes advise:

PURSUE A PASSION. Find something outside that you can all do together and plan trips around it. For the Holcombes, it’s kayaking. Pulling a trailer full of gear, they plan their itinerary around river destinations, meeting up with elite coaches for Abby and entering competitions along their route.

“I love how I have friends all over the country now,” says Abby, who fastens their photos above her RV loft bed like any pre-teen. “I have friends in Georgia, Ontario, the Yukon--everywhere. And I’m seeing all these different cultures.”

LOOK FOR DEALS. After gas, the biggest RV vacation expense can be overnight fees. Spaces range from free public lands and Walmart parking lots to campsites that charge from $15 to $150 a night, depending on amenities and region.

“Depending on the experience you want, you can have a very luxurious vacation or take a more natural wilderness approach that’s much less expensive,” says Kathy. “Our personal favorite places to stay are free—national forest areas or Bureau of Land Management areas. So we probably pay for camping less than 50 nights a year.”

The Western U.S., says Peter, has more wild public lands with beautiful free spaces than the East, which has more high-end resorts.

“In the canyon country of Utah,” says Peter, “there are amazing places three or four miles off the state highway with camping spots where you can legally park free for 14 days—and they’re just incredible.”

Internet access in their Winnebago View is essential to their wanderlust—and budget. On the road, they use the Allstays travel app to find affordable stop-offs. A combination of Google Maps and Google Earth helps them maneuver in and out of remote areas. These frugal habits, on average, keep their spending under $2,500 a month, including gas, insurance, food and camping fees.

CHOOSE AN RV THOUGHTFULLY. When you’re buying a camper or motorhome, consider not just your family size, but what you’ll be demanding of the vehicle. Concerned about maintenance as well as comfort, the Holcombes chose a Class C Winnebago View, a smaller, solid 24-foot model built on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis. They liked how it drove like a van in tighter spaces, but still had a spacious interior for three.

They looked for plumbing installed through the cabin (keeping it warm in cold climates like Alaska), private living spaces, a sturdy roof to stand and take photos, and general endurance to last years on rocky roads.

“We kept hearing from dealers that if you’re going to be doing all this crazy stuff, you should definitely get a Winnebago,” says Peter of their thorough research. “Because they’re built so much better and they’re going to take the beating.”

KEEP THINGS SIMPLE. The tiny-house movement has a lot of families scaling down their stuff—something the Holcombes embrace. While they love the storage space and ample width when they open the View’s slide-out wall, two things are still essential: personal spaces like Abby’s loft bed, and keeping a rein on clutter.

“You always fill the space you’re in. We were completely out of space in our 2,700-square-foot house in Boulder!” Kathy observes. “We go through almost every single month and get rid of things that seem to accumulate in our RV closets, cupboards and bench storage. That’s really important.”

All-in-all, the Holcombes wouldn’t trade their lifestyle for anything. It helps that the family’s photography business, Holcombe Photography, can operate smoothly on the road. But even for average families limited to an annual vacation, RVing, they say, is the way to go. It provides the excitement of waking up anywhere while still feeling at home.

“We’ve done tents and hotel trips,” says Peter. “But the familiarity of being in a place that feels like home and is as comfortable as home—but it can be anywhere in all these exciting locations—that’s what’s cool to me.”

To get daily updates on the Holcombes’ adventure through the Grand Canyon, follow Peter.Holcombe on Facebook. To read their blog posts, go to Famagogo.com or WinnebagoLife.com. To explore Winnebago models for adventuresome families, go to WinnebagoInd.com.

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