Anthropologists conclude senior RVers happy with their lives
People who travel via recreation vehicle claim to feel healthier, both physically and mentally, than they would be if they led more sedentary lives, according to the first-ever anthropological study of RV owners.
Dorothy and David Counts
David Counts, Ph.D., professor of anthropology at McMaster University, and Dorothy Counts, Ph.D., professor of anthropology at Waterloo University, both located in Ontario, Canada, spent 20 years examining the society of Papua, New Guinea. In 1990, they turned their attention to the largely overlooked North American continent. They've since completed two anthropological field studies on the subject of RV travel and ownership. "What we have found in North America has stirred more interest than any of our work in New Guinea," says David.
"The RVers we interviewed during our study feel they are healthier than they would be if they didn't RV. While not overly strenuous, RVing is a physically active process with all of its accompanying chores and activities. RVs also allow people to go places and do things that are physical challenging, like hiking through a national forest," says Dorothy Counts. "The constant exposure to new people, places and events and the act of driving from place to place all help to keep RVers mentally alert," adds David Counts.
In addition, says Dorothy, "When RVing, you have your home with you and that means less stress." The Counts found that RVers cite this reduction of stress as a contributor to their feelings of health and vitality. They also believe that when the stress of traveling is eliminated, people often realize that the trip itself is an adventure.
The Counts say that RVing provides a great sense of freedom. "You are in complete control of your life when you RV," says Dorothy. "RVs give people the autonomy and flexibility to do what they want, when they want, where they want."
"We found it ironic that RV ownership is not only the means to an extremely independent and self-sufficient way of life, it's also the common thread in a vast community and, in fact, the reason for that community," says David. In studying the formation of this community, the Counts discovered a characteristic unique to RVers. "The RVers we interviewed are trying to rebuild American values of days past. They rely on the openness and trust that they say has disappeared from established urban and suburban areas," says David.
"Through our fieldwork, we have determined there are three keys to living a successful retirement: have control of your life, have interesting and challenging things to do and have friends outside the family," states David. "We've found that RVing is an excellent way to accomplish this."
To conduct their studies, the Counts set out across American and Canada in a 28-foot trailer, living and socializing with the people they were studying mostly full-time RVers. They joined the Escapees, a large national organization of mostly full-timers, and found that most RVers were happy to answer their questions. "They usually responded that it was 'about time' that someone outside the RV community took an interest in their lives," Dorothy wrote in the Counts' book, "Over the Next Hill, an ethnography of RVing seniors in North America."
After years of study, the Counts concluded that RVers tend to experience a greater sense of community and fewer of the emotional problems common to old age than those who have chosen other forms of retirement living.