Hitting the open road for travel and adventure is part of the American dream.

And a growing number of older Americans are RV’ing their way through their retirement years.

The most recent research for the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association found about 8.9 million U.S. households own a recreational vehicle and ownership among those 55 an older edged up to 9.3 percent, second only to the 35-to-54 age group which rose to 11.2 percent from 9 percent.

After years of working and keeping to a schedule, retirees enjoy the freedom to be able to pick up and go when and where they want whether that means in a basic towable camping trailer or a luxury Class A motor home, generally the roomiest and most expensive RV.

“It’s great life if you like fresh air,” says Anderson Township retiree Mike Overbeck. “A lot of times when we camp I don’t cook in the coach. I cook outside all the time.”

Overbeck and his wife, Judy, have been enjoying the RV life for more than 15 years and now have a 45-foot Class A motor home with four slide out-sections that expand the living space. They’re on the road at least one week a month, spent January in Florida and are planning an extended trip to the West Coast and back this year.

Like a lot of RV’ers, the Overbecks started small and moved up to bigger vehicles.

Overbeck, who worked in the hydraulics business, says, “I was mechanically inclined and had a truck so we got a truck camper that slid in the truck bed. We had so much fun in that truck camper that we graduated up to the Class A.”

Overbeck, former president of the Tristate Traveliers, a local chapter affiliated with the Cincinnati-based Family Motor Coach Association, advises retirees considering the RV lifestyle to do plenty of research.

“It’s not cheap, you know,” he says. Besides the cost of the vehicle there’s the cost for fuel and parking the RV for the night.

“You’ve got to do your hom work. Someone who thinks they’ll jump in and say, ‘I’m ready.’ Well OK, if you have a ton of money, that’s great.”

He advises figuring out a daily budget and sticking to it. There are some ways to save on overnight camping fees such as joining an RV club, which can offer discounted stays at some campgrounds, or if you’re a military veteran, some military bases offer discounted rates.

In a pinch you can park overnight in some retail locations such as Walmart parking lots.

“But you’re running on a generator and not plugged into power,” says Overbeck. “There’s also no sewer to dump. You can only do that so many days until you’ve got to find a place to dump your waste.”

Medicines and medical costs are the biggest downsides to retiring RV.

“As people get older they get sick,” Overbeck says. “When a lot of people travel they like to stay close to cities just in case. You have to do some really good planning.”

Tiny Home Downsizing

Another option gaining popularity with retirees is downsizing to tiny homes—small, self-contained houses, typically 400 square feet or less, than can be mobile on wheels or set on a slab.

Because of their affordability and variety, tiny homes have gotten a lot of attention nationally and been featured on popular series on HGTV. And because tiny homes cost less to build and maintain, they’re gaining popularity with retirees on fixed incomes, say experts. Nearly 30 percent of tiny home residents are between the ages of 51 and 70, according to a 2015 survey conducted by thetinylife.com, a tiny home website.

WheelLife Tiny Homes, a Cincinnati tiny home startup company, says it is drawing the most interest from retirees.

“We thought for sure it would be all these millennials wanting to build them,” says Natalie Gregory, a real estate agent and partner in WheelLife. “But it’s probably 85 to almost 90 percent people who are 55 and older who are interested.”

She says seniors want something less expensive than a typical condominium without homeowner association fees.

“We’re hoping to build our tiny homes, depending on the land cost, under $100,000 and about 500 square feet,” she says. “That’s more realistic for the older generation who don’t want to spend money on a condominium and don’t want to move into assisted living and don’t want to continue maintaining a large house.”

Gregory, with partners Charlie Pond and Hap Pendleton, started their tiny home business a couple years ago and have built a few units, including ones they offer for short-term rental at Riverside Marina in Dayton, Kentucky, and in Gatlinburg, Tennesse.

“Even in the rentals it’s mainly 65 and older people,” she says. “We never thought that would be the case at all.”

WheelLife’s original units were mobile, but they’re finding more interest in building units anchored on concrete slabs in pocket neighborhoods. They’re exploring creating a neighborhood of tiny homes with communities such as Newport, Anderson Township and New Richmond.

“We’ll probably build a model unit on a lot to gauge the interest,” Gregory says.

“It will be under 500 square feet on slab and from there, we’ll work with different developers and investors on a small neighborhood.” 


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