We had just pulled into the KOA RV Park at Sam’s Town in Las Vegas. As we were hooking up the water supply and electrical, a woman walked by, looked at our bus and said “There goes the neighbourhood”. She turned and briskly walked away. That in a nutshell is what this article is all about.
There are many reasons why converted coaches are not welcome in some RV parks. It may be because of people like her. Some parks want to keep up the image of being an upscale resort. Some RV park owners have had bad experiences with buses leaving oil slicks, tripping breakers with unsafe electrical systems and smelling of diesel exhaust when they come and go. The other unlikely reason is that the RV park owner has had a bad experience with difficult people, although in my “unbiased opinion”, bus owners are the best people I meet on the road.
As a rule, we don’t just show up at an RV park without reservations. Calling ahead of time avoids a rude refusal, which could turn into a really bad day for someone. I can’t count the number of times the person at the other end of the line has asked “What is the year and make of your Class A motorhome?” If I get that question, the discussion usually goes downhill from there. I never start out by admitting we have a converted bus, but once that infamous question is asked, I know we’re going to have to keep looking.
I should clarify at this point that the “Not Welcome” mat doesn’t stop at converted buses. People with older motorhomes and trailers get the same treatment. It doesn’t matter how well kept your rig is, RV park owners find it easier to have a blanket policy for older units. As an example, they may exclude any RV’s built before 1995. Some parks insist that all RV’s must conform to Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) standards. If there is no RVIA sticker, there’s no way.
We own a 1970 GM PD-4108 highway coach that was converted in 1988 by the first owner after the bus was retired from service. I think our bus is typical, built by an individual or by a company that specializes in bus conversions. Some buses, particularly the high end Prevost coaches were never in revenue service and were converted from a brand new shell.
I have no intention to draw any conclusions about the various types of converted buses or the reasoning behind the various designs. Some people live full time in their bus, because their bus is their home, many others spend 3 to 6 months every year in their coach, and some people consider their coaches to be a short term vacation option. We all have different travel accommodation needs.
Some travelers are proud of the fact that they never pay for overnight RV accommodations. There is an art to accomplishing that. In some communities, you can park at WalMart and other big box stores for free. Some casinos offer free RV parking and you can usually park and sleep for a few hours at truck stops and highway rest areas.
We’ve taken advantage of these options, especially casino parking because there is usually a 24-hour security patrol. We stay away from street parking in unknown areas not just for safety reasons but some communities are plagued with derelict motorhome squatters and we don’t want the police or the local neighborhood watch volunteers banging on our bus.
As a rule, when we travel we look for a combination of options to help make our travel more cost-effective. If we stay for free for a few days, we don’t mind paying $80 a night somewhere else for a few days. Generally, I would estimate that we pay an average of $25 a night over the time we travel.
If we’re traveling into unknown areas we check the internet for possibilities. Websites like RVParkReviews are helpful as other travelers have written informative reviews. These sites usually provide a link to the particular RV park website, if it interests you. Sometimes we just go to a search engine like Google and type in RV Parks and the city we’re going to. Most RV park websites don’t tell you if there are motorhome restrictions and all RV parks look better on their website than they are in reality.
If you want to be located close to a major city, you can expect to pay more for the location. We found RV accommodation close to city centers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Phoenix, and San Diego among other large cities. In almost every case we’ve said: “We’re paying all this money for THIS dump?” However, if you’re 10 minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge you soon realize the location is everything.
On our pre-trip form (as can be seen in the Bonus Section on page 57 of this issue in the Online Edition) we added a section for comments about RV parking. We can go back years later and recall how much the rates were and we add general comments about the park as a whole. We figure that once an RV park has accepted us, we can take advantage of that in the future. I’ll make sure to mention that we’ve stayed there in the past and liked it. I quickly let them know that they should have all our information on file. This helps circumvent the telephone interrogation.
RV parks drastically vary. The resort-style park is usually gated with high security; every parking spot is carefully landscaped and there is often a pool, hot tub and scheduled social events. Many of these parks cater to snowbirds that return every year and stay a month or two, rather than overnighters. The next step down is the really nice parks with some of the same amenities catering to snowbirds as well, but they save room for the short term travelers. The middle category of RV parks is; nice but lacks the landscaping and some amenities. You often see a section at the back of the property for long term permanent residents who live in their motorhomes. As the class of RV park decreases you see less landscaping, fewer amenities, more permanent residents, and sometimes suspect electrical connections.
The amount of land required to operate an RV park is considerable, even for a relatively small park. So you’re not going to find a cheaper rate in an area where land value is high. In smaller communities, you’ll likely be close to the freeway or a rail line. In larger urban centers, the local area might not be safe to walk around at night. RV park managers and resident owners tend to have a wary approach to newcomers. We try to be as friendly and complimentary as possible. I always hope the next converted bus owner will get a good reception. If we all “pay it forward” we will all benefit. Good luck and we hope to see you in our travels.
Bryan and Rhonda Larrabee live in Vancouver Canada. They have been converted bus owners since 2008, the same year that their dog Zeke joined the family. Bryan is the primary driver; however, Rhonda has her airbrake endorsement as well and drives now and then. Bryan retired from his career in Emergency Management in 2011 and still teaches one or two days a month for the Justice Institute of BC. Rhonda is the Chief of the Qayqayt Indian Band in New Westminster BC and is very involved in that community advocating for educational opportunities and services for aboriginal children and families.
You may reach Bryan at Bryan.Larrabee@shaw.ca