Brian Demo, a former U.S. Marine helicopter mechanic and now a Master RV Technician, has taken to the RV life -- full time -- along with his wife and daughter. They have spent years traveling from one coast of America to the other in their recreational vehicle.
He tells us what to consider before buying or renting, types of vehicles, expenses, health and safety, which vehicles are easiest to drive, RV clubs, rallies, and dealing with kids and pets.
We then discuss trips that Brian and his family have taken in the RV, including The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas; Roswell, and White Sands, New Mexico; California and Oregon.
Brian hopes to go next to Alaska and the canyons of Utah. And he ends with a special memory.
Brian Demo is a personal RV blogger, RV technician and a JustAnswer expert. Brian is also a Florida-based, former helicopter mechanic for the U.S. Marines, and a Master RV technician. In addition to working on JustAnswer, Demo blogs about his family’s own personal RV adventures, and has appeared on many radio and TV shows as an RV expert.
Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at forbes.com, has traveled to over 100 countries, written nine books, including Places I Remember, and contributed to guidebooks. She's @lealane on Twitter; Travelea on Insta; on Facebook, it's Places I Remember by Lea Lane. Website: placesirememberlealane.com. Please follow, rate and review this bi-weekly travel podcast!
*Transcript edited for clarity.
Lea Lane 0:00
There's no better way to explore America than a good old-fashioned road trip. And the greatest part of a road trip isn't always the destination. It's often what goes along the way.
Lea Lane 0:10
According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, 61 million Americans plan to take RV trips over the next 12 months. The expert site justanswered.com reports an 85% increase in RV questions this year, and received nearly 10,000 RV questions last summer alone. Our guest is RV expert Brian Demo, a personal RV blogger, RV technician, and a justanswer expert. Brian is also a Florida based former helicopter mechanic for the US Marines. Welcome, Brian.
Brian Demo 0:44
Thank you so much for having me here. This is awesome, I'm really excited.
Lea Lane 0:48
We're very excited to have you. In Episode 18, I featured a personal road trip with my family in France and Belgium. And we're going to talk about some great US destinations later in the discussion. But my road trip was by car. In this episode, we're focusing on recreational vehicles. First question, what should travelers consider before renting or buying an RV?
Brian Demo 1:09
The first thing you really want to think about is what you're going to do with it. You can go rent a million dollar RV or buy one if you really wanted to, or you could actually go into a smaller size or travel trailers. It really is a personal option of what you want to do. I always say think about this - do you want to drive or do you want to tow? That's the big ones, the first two, and that will help you narrow down your categories.
Lea Lane 1:32
What are the positives and negatives of driving versus towing?
Brian Demo 1:36
Oh, well, I will admit I love driving, so I have a classic. With towing, if you have a vehicle, say you have a truck or a really powerful van, you won't have to buy another vehicle, you know, you can hook your RV possibly to your vehicle and tow it that way. Whereas if you have a car like I do, I can attach my car to the back of my RV and I can tow my car. So I get more living space in my Class A and then I can drive my car around to all the destinations I want to see,
Lea Lane 2:03
What's a Class A versus a B and C?
Brian Demo 2:05
Class A is those big motorhomes that you see, they're the all encased ones with the engine either in the front of the back of the diesel pusher or anything like that. A Class B is going to be your van style, so those are those sprinter vans, Mercedes Benz vans, that are a little bit more compact and very impressive, I will say, and then the class Cs are going to be your smaller RVs that are on the truck base style, so the Dodge 4500s or the Ford 5000 series. It's basically got a drive train with the RV in the back of it.
Lea Lane 2:36
What's a pop up top camper considered? I did that one summer in Scandinavia, I was in a VW pop top camper. What is that?
Brian Demo 2:47
Now I want to hear about that adventure! Oh my goodness, those are great. So those are still considered a B, but you can get the tow-behind pop up ones, which is basically a nice folding cassette style travel trailer that you can tell with almost any vehicle, really. They're very light, and you get there and the top comes up and it expands out, You normally have a bed in the front and a bed in the back, and then in the center you have your kitchen, bathroom and all those other things. So they're really a very quick and economical way to travel.
Lea Lane 3:14
What about reconstructing a school bus or something like that? I've seen all these TV shows with that. Is that feasible?
Brian Demo 3:21
It is feasible. I will caution, though, a lot of parks have a problem with converted schoolies. It was something my wife and I had considered at the time when we went RVing full-time that, hey, let's just buy a school bus and we can do this, and we found a thread online that had mentioned numerous parks do not like letting schoolies come in to rent. Not all of them, there are still places to go, but there are several parks that will not let you in.
Lea Lane 3:46
And the reason is ...
Brian Demo 3:47
The visual, I believe it's the visible aspect of it. People are a little bit on the, "we don't that shouldn't be an RV." They don't like it.
Lea Lane 3:55
Okay, well what makes an Airstream so popular, the streamlined silver retro RVs?
Brian Demo 4:00
Ah, the Bullet, we love those things, they're so pretty. I think it is a nostalgic craze, personally. They are pretty, they are absolutely pretty rigs. I think they're, most of them are pretty well built and they've maintained the same design for years. They've just upgraded a few things from there. So I think a lot of people fall into the nostalgia of it.
Lea Lane 4:18
What are the expenses of an RV? How do they vary?
Brian Demo 4:21
Significantly, unfortunately. So you could be talking about expenses when it comes to fuel, that cost really is a big one that people need to consider. If you're in a class A, Class B, or any of the driven ones, you've got to remember you're probably getting, in the big ones you're probably getting 10, maybe 15 miles per gallon. That's a very large thing to consider. And the tow behind, you're also in your vehicle, you know you're used to whatever the mileage is, whether it's 20, 30 miles per gallon, you're also dropping down significantly because you are towing. So fuel expense is a big one, and also campgrounds. You could be at a place that costs you $180 a night. We have a campground here in the panhandle of Florida that is 220 dollars per night on the beach. But if you go down the road about 20 miles, you will drop down to $80 a night.
Lea Lane 5:07
So what's the difference?
Brian Demo 5:09
The view is pretty much the difference. Some people really love that they go to one campground and they have a lot of loyalty for that campground and that's where they want to be. They feel that that's their home and they can be more comfortable. I totally understand that, and that's just how it works for them.
Lea Lane 5:26
What about the cost originally of the vehicle itself? I mean, I know that could vary tremendously. What's the lowest price you can think of for a good basic RV that has, you know, bathroom facility inside and so forth?
Brian Demo 5:39
Oh my goodness, you are absolutely right, and that range is anywhere from, I think the lowest I've seen is $5,000, and the highest I've seen is $5 million. It's a huge range.
Lea Lane 5:50
Oh, okay. I guess you get a bathroom or two in the $5 million range.
Brian Demo 5:57
You can get some pretty amazing things in the $5 million range. I believe the last one I saw like your towed vehicle, the driving vehicle, that actually went into the RV into a lower compartment. It slid on a rail system.
Lea Lane 6:12
Oh, my goodness.
Brian Demo 6:17
Yeah, that car was worth more than my house, so, I mean, they were already doing quite well, as like yeah, that's a really pretty rig, But it's really, like the $5,000 ones I've seen, along with the cassette style that's normally where you're looking at here, and especially the really tiny teardrop looking trailers, those can be on the lower side. Most of those are just a bed, but you can find some of the teardrop ones and some of the smaller tow behinds, I believe, in the 15 to 30,000 range that will have the full kitchen, full bathroom, that set up for you to be able to utilize.
Lea Lane 6:46
How about air conditioning and Wi Fi?
Brian Demo 6:48
Ooh, those are nice things, aren't they? Those vary. I have seen several pop ups that do have an air conditioner on there. Air conditioning is amazing. you absolutely want to have it, in my opinion, because it's hot outside and you want to get where it's cool. Those range anywhere from, I believe, they're starting in the eight to $10,000 range and can go up, you can see those in the pop up trailers I've seen a lot more. And for Wi Fi, that is more geared towards the bigger coaches, so you're looking at your higher end travel trailers, fifth wheels, which is the same as a travel trailer that hooks into the back of the truck, and then your Class A motorhomes. They have an added piece for a Wi Fi extender or a Wi Fi system through satellite, if you wish, or just a pirate system, if you will, for the Wi Fi extender to grab and bring it to your coach.
Lea Lane 7:36
Okay. So let's let's talk about health and safety. You know, considering what's going on right now, what are some tips we should keep in mind?
Brian Demo 7:43
All the campgrounds are almost always spaced out well beyond six feet. There are some that are very, very, very tight, and the tolerances are hard to get with. So it's a matter of just being patient and getting into those. There are open fire pits in almost every campground you go to for your area. Some of them have a communal, some of them have the bathhouses that they have there, and I believe several are still enforcing distancing. So there's those pieces. The biggest one, I would say, is if you're in an RV campground, you're out in wilderness a little bit more, you're out, you're spaced out. So you have a little bit more availability versus what you would if you were in a hotel,
Lea Lane 8:20
I would think you want to check to see you have enough batteries and tires, or check fluids, belts, and all that kind of thing, if it's a long trip, ahead of time, I would think, correct?
Brian Demo 8:31
Absolutely. And you can do that all throughout the time there. And if you're not comfortable with it, there are many people you can contact. There's a lot of mobile techs like me that get calls, Hey, can you come look at this, we're going to go on a road trip, can you come service and make sure it's good to go? There's a lot of those ones. And then there's also on justanswer.com, if there's something you see that you didn't like you can ask a question, and one of the RV techs like me will come on and say, Tell me a little bit more and we'll help you narrow it down to figure out the problem.
Lea Lane 8:55
Great to know. Which RV is easiest to drive? Let's say I wanted to do it, a beginner, what would you suggest?
Brian Demo 9:02
I would ask this, but I have to answer your question with a question. What's the biggest vehicle you've driven?
Lea Lane 9:08
That pop top camper that I mentioned the VW.
Brian Demo 9:12
Perfect. You actually could very comfortably drive just about everything on the road.
Lea Lane 9:17
Brian Demo 9:17
They are all automatic transmission, they are very, very smooth. There's only two big things that I recommend when it comes to the driving thing, is know when a big rig passes you, there's going to be an effect where once it gets close to your driver's side it's going to push you away for about a second and a half, and as soon as the truck goes by you, it's going to suck you back in to bring you back. So it's a matter of knowing, hey, I'm going to get moved a little bit to be comfortable.
Brian Demo 9:41
Not all coaches are like that. Some of the heavier ones, you don't even feel it, but a lot of times that happens. And then as far as length, almost all these RVs have cameras in the back and also the side, so you can see your blind spot. You can see behind you so you know if merging is a problem. Almost everything on the road is very drivable. It's just a matter of taking your time.
Lea Lane 9:58
Brian Demo 9:59
Lea Lane 10:01
Tell me about some of these RV clubs. What are the benefits if you join them?
Brian Demo 10:06
Most of the ones I've seen, there are some great discounts on campsites or traveling. I believe FMCA, there is a giant one for tires, which is a very large expense. They have a great discount there. But they're also a great club that offers medical care. And actually Air Ambulance, which is amazing to me, but the peace that comes with that, that is awesome, and the peace of mind the travel is. My wife doesn't like driving the RV, it's just not her thing. She doesn't enjoy it. She'll drive the car if we need it, but she really doesn't like driving the RV. If something happened to me and we had to return to Florida and the RV was, say, in Oregon, FMCA has a program where they will send somebody to your RV to drive your RV home. You don't have to, which is a huge benefit if you're, you know, in that kind of situation. We have seen where, unfortunately, one of the members of the family dies, and the RV is stuck somewhere. That's a great option to get it back.
Brian Demo 10:56
And then there's other ones for families like us, we joined one called Full-time Families, which is full of all families in general,kids and all included. And it's a great resource for new travelers and families that are doing this full-time. And it's also a great resource for networking, because there's a bunch of rallies, and that is one of the greatest things with these traveling groups is the rallies.
Lea Lane 11:16
Tell me about it.
Brian Demo 11:17
Oh my goodness, it's so fun. You get to pull in somewhere, and you hang out with just a load of people and get to meet them. And it is the sharing of the knowledge and the experience. Our first rally was in Washington with Full-time Families. And I think we were maybe about eight months into our full-time travels. I learned so much from that rally alone. And I also "found my tribe," the people, we ended up traveling with another family for months. We just followed each other around and it was wonderful. It made for a real great ...
Lea Lane 11:47
Sounds terrific. Now I know that campgrounds can be very crowded because people are pent up and they're taking lots of road trips. I did hear about something called Harvest Hosts, which you can join and I think, for example, you stop at golf courses or wineries or breweries or museums, rather than, you know, campgrounds, but you have to pay for that. So I think it's interesting. There must be many of these kinds of things where you can find different places to stop rather than just a campground. Are there any others that you know of?
Brian Demo 12:19
There are. There's a couple of great little hidden ones. I gotta say with Harvest Hosts, that's a beautiful secret. If you can utilize it, please do. The breweries and the wineries have been known to bring gifts to owners of the RV.
Lea Lane 12:32
Oh my goodness. Those tribe meetings, those get togethers, must be something else.
Brian Demo 12:37
They're rough, I tell you. Boondockers Welcome is another great one. If you have an RV pad at your house, you can rent it out. So if somebody's passing through,wants to stay at your property, you can rent it out for the trip for them. It goes through the whole program. It's kind of a nice safety net. And there have been numerous that have been great. We've stayed at a couple that we've stayed for several days, and the hosts were so gracious. They had fires every night, things for kids, it was very well done.
Lea Lane 13:04
What about kids and pets? How about traveling with them? Any tips on that?
Brian Demo 13:08
With kids, it's the 'remember to be patient.' As a parent, we all know the patient level is going to have to go up a couple more notches, and especially if you're with depending on what trailer you're in, or towing whatever it may be. Remember, the road trip takes longer than it normally does. So take your time. With pets, it's actually not that bad. It's almost the same with the kids, be patient, you know, they are your furbabies, you still got to do the same things. A lot of campgrounds are okay with pets. It's always important to re-verify that. Also with that, if you're going to go to the national parks, which are a wonderful resource to visit and see, double check the pet policy. We have found that numerous ones will not allow you to take your pet on the trails, the hiking trails, so you have to - if that's something you're going to want to do, you're going to want to know about it beforehand. So I highly recommend calling the rangers for that campground or, I'm sorry, that national park and that will give you a little bit of a heads up.
Lea Lane 14:01
What about making reservations? Is that necessary for every stop, or just at the beginning and the end of the trip? What do you think?
Brian Demo 14:07
I think it's recommended, not so much necessary. If you know you're going to a very crowded place like Yosemite or Las Vegas, things like that, you might want to call ahead to make a reservation. It's not that on the trip from point A to point B, sometimes you have to just stop and there's an RV place off to the side of the road. Those are actually a little bit easier to just get in and out of for a night or two.
Lea Lane 14:28
And the flexibility gives you more chance to do more fun things. So I think that's a nice balance if you can do it. I know the crowds are a problem right now. But flexibility is a wonderful thing of traveling. Now I know you've visited over half the country. You've spent a couple of years - tell us about your trips. We're gonna go into destinations a little bit now. Tell us about what you did.
Brian Demo 14:49
So after I retired from the Marine Corps, we decided we were going to go full-time, so my wife asked me, you know, if I could do anything tomorrow, what would it be? And I said travel. She said okay, let's do that. I saidyou've got the greatest jokes ever, lady, I appreciate you. But she was dead serious. So we actually sold our house in California after I was stationed out there. We sold it. We sold 95% of our belongings, headed to Tennessee where my mother-in- law lived. We threw whatever we had left there, renovated our RV and got on the road.
Brian Demo 15:15
So we went down to Florida, we visited my brother to see him graduate. It was great, yay, yay, yay. And then we made our way up to New England. And that's where the adventure really got very impressive. I learned so much about the whole route from Kentucky, through Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, so many things to see that you would never really think, oh, hey, that's really cool. Unless I'd have been in an RV, and then I found it. Places that I've seen have been so wonderful. Niagara Falls on a whole different level, Acadia National Park, one of my favorite places, I did not realize the amount of history that came from that whole zone. It was absolutely impressive.
Lea Lane 15:56
Brian Demo 15:57
Then Maine, yep. And then from Maine, we made our way down all the way back down south and we cut across the country off the southern side, New Orleans. Everyone thinks oh, it's a booze fest. It's actually one of the fun - one of the coolest places I've seen. We went on an alligator airboat ride and learned so many things about the levee system and the foliage and all the important pieces and how that whole ecosystem goes into play, something we didn't even know that was coming from that.
Lea Lane 16:25
How long did you stay when you when you would go to these places? If you liked it especially, would you stay a little bit longer, Is that how you did it?
Brian Demo 16:32
Yes. In the beginning we made the biggest mistake. W we stayed four days in one place and moved. That was a horrible mistake for us, personally, because it took more money, because campgrounds will actually give you a bigger discount off of a week-long stay. You can normally get a day or two free from that. So we slowed down and we went to about a week. New Orleans, I believe we stayed for right at a week, and we saw so many things from there. And it was, again, great experience. We actually were able to use that as homeschool for our daughter, 'cause she's only 10. We have her in homeschool for the RV trips, and it was a great thing for her to see it, understand it, and she still remembers it to this day, so it really helped her out.
Brian Demo 17:08
So going west, Alamo in Texas, okay, Alamo's cool. But it was really cool to actually walk around the whole time, the city, and learn more about that, and then our campground, we learned, was close to a battlefield, so we went over there and learned about that.
Brian Demo 17:21
And then running across even further into New Mexico. Things get really weird when you go to Roswell. I highly recommend going to Roswell. It's a little cheesy, but it is so worth it. Because we went to the UFO museum, very fun, absolutely a cool little, like, yeah, okay, this is a little cheesy, but they also have a free zoo that has buffalo, bald eagles, leopards, wild peacocks just walking around.
Lea Lane 17:44
Are they alien animals or real animals?
Brian Demo 17:46
I mean, can you ever really tell? It was all real, it was great. They're well taken care of. But on the route down there we were going south to head to Tombstone from there. Tombstone, Arizona. We ended up bumping into White Sands National Monument before it was a national park, and that was something I wanted to see, and it was amazing. We went rolling and sledding down the white sandy hills of this park and learned so much about it, about how it came about, how it's all like this. So much fun. And then, of course, you got Tombstone, Arizona, fun little day there.
Lea Lane 18:21
So many of the movies, many western movies were filmed there, right? Classic backdrop.
Brian Demo 18:29
Yep, that does bring in for a lot of other themes for that one. But they've done great at rebuilding it. But the coolest part for us was the blacksmith, his name is Rocky. He will make you a brand, a personalized brand for you to bring home. That has been one of the great memories. But my daughter got - well, all of us, let's not just throw my kid in this one - we actually got to learn about forging. And he explained it, he showed it to us, it was a great education. So it was a huge piece there.
Brian Demo 18:55
And then rolling up to the west coast, California. Very expensive, be prepared, be prepared for that. But when I got to Northern California - 'cause we were stationed in Southern California at Camp Pendleton for my career, so we've seen quite a bit of Southern California - Northern California ia whole different animal. Standing in front of the General Sherman tree - it is a big tree, is a huge tree - but learning the history of these trees, how they can survive forest fires and how it actually helps them, was a great piece of knowledge that I never even knew from my days in school. I figured a forest fire would destroy, this one actually helps.
Brian Demo 19:28
So running through there and then into Oregon. Beautiful place beautiful country. And these pieces, while you're moving, you just get to see the changes in the environment, the ecology, how it changes there, how plants survive at different levels. We went to the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center and learned a ton about how these plants all survived and have thrived in the lava fields.
Lea Lane 19:52
What's it like there now? Is it green again and growing?
Brian Demo 19:56
Very, very green. Very growing. And very, very pretty. It is a beautiful backdrop. When the sky is clear, it's a great place to go. I think it's missed a lot personally
Lea Lane 20:09
Did you go to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, Crater Lake?
Brian Demo 20:13
We did. Crater Lake's beautiful. So if you can go to Crater Lake, of course it's great. Check with the rangers if you can to find out about their dark skies. Crater Lake is one of the few last dark sky areas at night. They'll do a program where they'll bring out telescopes and you will be able to see the rings of Saturn or Mars. They will explain it all and you can see stars for days. If you are a photographer, I personally recommend you add that to your bucket list because the photography that you can get will be perfect. I highly recommend trying nighttime photography with that.
Lea Lane 20:48
Speaking of skies, did you go to Moon National Monument in Idaho?
Brian Demo 20:52
We went to Craters of the Moon, is that the one you're talking about? Oh, yes. Okay, yes. The Craters of the Moon, a very large volcano field full of caves. If you are a cave explorer, or you've ever wanted to, there are some great ones to really go into. There's some large ones where you don't have to get into the very tight spaces. But there is a large field of exploration there. And I believe that there was where NASA utilized training for their astronauts as well.
Lea Lane 21:20
Where would you like to go next?
Brian Demo 21:21
My next is going to be Alaska. That is on our list of absolute places to see, one for our daughter to get her Junior Ranger badges because every National Park has a Junior Ranger program ,so we utilize that. But to see it, we've heard it is a beautiful place to visit, and it is going to be one of the hardest to get to. So, it's very much on that, okay, now I have to do it because you're throwing up obstacles.
Lea Lane 21:46
Yeah, I can see that. One of my favorite itineraries was the Mighty Five, the cluster of Utah's national parks, including Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands. I don't know if you did that. But that's a classic and highly recommend that one as well.
Brian Demo 22:01
Unfortunately we missed that. We unfortunately had to come home to Kentucky for that, we had a family emergency. But that was on our list to do, and it's still on our track for when we head out to the west coast, I believe in 2024.
Lea Lane 22:12
Terrific. Well, thank you, Brian. The name of the podcast is Places I Remember. Can you give us one special memory from all your road trips in your RV?
Brian Demo 22:21
Absolutely. Probably one of my favorite memories is going to be with my family at Yosemite. We walked out into the field where you're right next to El Capitan on your left, and the giant waterfall on your right. And it is a picture of all the paintings you could ever imagine being out in the wilderness for free. But the memory that really stuck out for me was, my daughter was out in this open clearing and doing cartwheels and giggling and staring at things and seeing the climbers, and just in awe, and that to me was one of my favorite memories, absolutely hands down, of seeing her taking in something like that.
Lea Lane 22:58
That's beautiful. Thank you so much, Brian Demo, for giving us so much information on RV travel. I'm ready to hit the road. Thank you.
Brian Demo 23:07
No problem. If you ever need anything, please do not hesitate. I will be happy to help you as best I can with traveling. It is one of the reasons I'm here, so please don't hesitate to reach out.
Lea Lane 23:17
We will have your information in my Show Notes for this episode. So thank you again.
Brian Demo 23:22