When in college, I worked a couple of summers in Yellowstone National Park. My job was usually in the kitchen, where my friends and I could be found chopping vegetables, flipping burgers, or (if we were lucky) scooping ice cream for tourists. As you might imagine, the work paid peanuts. We invested many long, hot, thankless hours in the belly of the Park’s food service beast. But we did so eagerly, for the promise of living in one of the world’s most beautiful places. Our off days were cherished. Whenever possible, we maximized our free time by going camping.

In those days, primarily because we were financially strapped students, camping was a simple proposition. Someone would have a tent, usually a modest 2-4 person affair. We’d bring along our sleeping bags, a couple of canteens, some snacks – and that was pretty much it. “Camping” really just meant a few good friends sharing basic shelter under the stars. And yet, the experiences were spectacular.

My wife and I have enjoyed some spectacular camping experiences with our RV. We LOVE our Airstream. So it’s tempting to position RV ownership as a simple, elemental lifestyle. After all, camping is camping, right? But is it really so simple?

Airstream RV Blog #12 – The Simple Life? from Sean Michael on Vimeo.

Alas, our tastes have grown more sophisticated. In the old days, a moldy sleeping bag was enough; now we sleep on 600-thread-count sheets. Once we were satisfied with a sack of snacks; now we tote around a refrigerator. In the past, tap water would suffice; now it’s captured from some French mountain spring, filtered, and bottled.

Sure, life is simple enough — once you have your propane tanks filled, your tire pressures checked, your assorted water tanks emptied and/or filled, an inverter generator, properly sorted weight-distributing hitch, your storage compartments locked, the stabilizer jacks set in place, and a plethora of camping equipment.

Then there’s the electronics. In our case, we can’t leave home without our smart phones, laptops, DVD players, HDTV, gaming console, digital cameras, HD video cameras, audio equipment, MP3 players, noise-canceling headphones, and enough assorted paraphernalia to open a branch outlet of Best Buy. The wires and cables alone would stretch from Earth to the Moon, three times.

So, the RV lifestyle may not be simple per se. It’s far too complex to be labeled simple. But it does strip away a host of mental and physical clutter. Although we haul along a plethora of creature comforts, when camping we still shed much of our suburban largess.

RV camping facilitates simple pleasures. This is an active lifestyle. One not only spends more time outdoors, but also with family. RV ownership brings people closer together – literally and figuratively.

Even when camping in our fancy travel trailer, I’m certain that we use much less electricity and water than at home. As Kristy blithely remarked, “You get used to being a little dirty.”

We acquire fewer material possessions because there’s no place to store them. When shopping, the first question that comes to mind is, “Where are we going to put it?”

In the end, I suppose we haven’t traveled so far from my college days. The key is to keep all of these technological goodies on a tight leash, and to make sure that they serve us, and not the other way around.

In the final analysis, we RV for the same reasons we went tent camping — to spend time together with the ones we love, enjoying the great outdoors. We master the complexities of RV life just so that we can enjoy certain basic, simple fundamentals. Whether you’re camping in a $40 tent or a $400,000 motor home, there’s still no substitute for the companionship of good friends and family, enjoyed alongside a campfire.

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  2. Catherine

    When I was young, back in the early 60’s, my dad built a home-made tent trailer which we could put up in 5 minutes flat! We travelled every summer to somewhere new and got us kids hooked on camping. Today, my husband and I have a 34 ft fifth with all the comforts of home. While not “roughing” it, we still love the fact that almost all campers are a friendly lot, will trade stories with you or help if needed. And our grandkids love our annual family camp-out! So, not that much really changed at all even after 50 years!

  3. Nick, I hear ya… That’s the beauty of RV-ing, the choices are diverse and spectacular. A few years ago Kristy and I camped in a tent in Yellowstone — we froze our butts off! Now we are warm and cozy inside our Airstream. I must concede that there’s a lot to be said for insulated walls, thick blankets, and a heat furnace. 🙂

  4. We are fulltimers and we always tell people that we are not “campers.” Camping equates to roughing it. That’s just not my style. Our bus conversion is our home and we enjoy the same comforts of home that people who live in sticks and bricks homes do.

  5. Brad, I guess we really do have the best of both worlds now. It’s sort of analagous to the space program…. Tent camping is like taking a brief capsule flight into orbit; RV camping is living long term on the space station!

  6. TXBrad

    Sean: Again great stuff. Electronics allow people to work & travel letting them add the joys of the great outdoors.
    We are non-workers & many electronics aid in safe travel and help in saving time and effort in travel. Try to find a pay phone? Familyfriends can call our cell phones. Lap-tops can plan roads, find/make park reservations. Most RV parks & even state parks have web sites. Tv lap tops have weather. On & on, just tools for better safer travel. GPS , a great tool.
    One cannot have a camp fire @ Motel hotels that I know of ! But, we have the freedmon to tent camp w/ moldy sleeping bags ! We see many people doing it still today.

  7. Wink, I know what you mean. Being from the South, air-conditioning is one amenity we can’t live without! Last summer, we discovered that summertime A/C comes in handy even in low humidity climes like Wyoming and Montana.

    And Darrel, like you I am tethered to my Internet connection. The Internet really allows us to have our cake and eat it too.

    I’ve thought a little more about my original post and have a few more thoughts. All of these modern amenities allow us to camp for longer periods of time than in “the good ole days” (when we were thoroughly tired and stinky after a couple of nights). But there’s a tradeoff, in that they take us away (ever so slightly) from the reasons why we camp in the first place. I guess the key is achieving the proper balance. I will confess that sometimes I enjoy boondocking / dry camping (even in Wal-Mart parking lots!) because the experience feels a little more elemental.

  8. Hi again Sean, we wouldn’t be able to go “camping” if I couldn’t have our laptop and Internet service. We are very fortunate that our occupation allows us to “camp” and work while “camping”. My job is 99% answering email. We are also fortunate enough to have our adult daughter at the office to ship packages out to our customers. But my part allows us to be gone several days at a time or even longer if we chose to. My wife still doesn’t like to be away from home for very long.

  9. Wink

    One thing I notice at camp grounds where we go is in most cases the bigger the motor home or TT the less time people are out side.I will say that camping in Florida and the south it is nice to have a A/C humming for the middle of the day.Our trip to the mountains was nice not to need A/C and stay out all day and a camp fire to warm by at night.But a little heat is nice in the cool mornings.