One of the attractive ideas is that of the vacation home in some desirable local or remote location. If local, it will generally be located at some nearby attraction. If remote, you don't want it too remote. The problem with this idyllic dream is that it gives you another house and yard to maintain. Our friends, the Joneses, bought a two-bedroom, two-bath vacation home in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. It had a modern kitchen, and a large great-room, with a stone fireplace, and a back deck where you could watch the sun set over pine-studded mountains. Those vacation homes weren't terribly expensive. We considered buying one. But then we thought smarter and deeper. We noticed that the Joneses always seemed to be making trips to North Carolina to supervise maintenance on their vacation home. Often, they would go over there for no other purpose than working on their house and yard. It wasn't always easy to get repairs performed on Saturdays when the Joneses could be there. Their vacation home was mounted on a knoll surrounded by a few feet of lawn, with a small lawn at each end of the house. (If it hadn't been planted in grass, it would have been muddy there in that rainforest.) In addition, there was a 400' driveway leading up to the vacation home, with a narrow strip of grass and weeds growing alongside of the driveway. That grass had to be mowed every two or three weeks in the summertime, and it took about three hours to mow it. (I know. I mowed it once.) The Joneses hired someone in town (about 15 miles away) to come out and mow it, but he didn't always make it. When he did, he was expensive, since he had to drive out from town. So the Joneses kept a lawnmower at their vacation home when the lawn man in town couldn't make it.
The Joneses owned their vacation home for about ten years, spending much of their free time working on it there. Finally, they sold it and didn't buy another one. They had learned the valuable lesson that we don't own things... things own us.
We Bought the Boat
Ruth and I didn't buy the farm, but we bought the boat. We had rented a ski boat a few times, and I was very eager to own one. (I would have liked a 100' yacht, but that was a little expensive at the time.) We started with a used bowrider. It turned out to have been run to ruin. We began by trading its worn-out, unreliable 55 hp. Chrysler engine for an equally-unreliable 70 hp. Chrysler engine. The engine was forever breaking down on the lake, and we were forever being towed home by some kind passer-by. (Chrysler is no longer in the boat business. In fact, it's barely in any kind of business.)
We had constant problems with the trailer, particularly with the wheel bearings and the backup lights. Backing the boat into the water with hot bearings after driving to the water generally destroyed the bearings after one or two immersions. "Bearing Buddies" solved that problem. Backing the boat into the water also submerged the taillights corroding their electrical contacts. Two or three immersions was generally sufficient to ensure that they no longer worked. Sears had something called "Dry-Lights" that kept the water out of the taillights, and that solved that problem. Backing the boat into the water soon rotted the carpet-covered, V-shaped transom used to support the boat, and I replaced it with a piece of water-resistant cypress into which I had to saw a V-shape. Another problem with the trailer was that it could be hard to get the boat on the trailer if there were rough water and/or strong crosswinds. Once or twice, the trailer became damaged that way. Naturally, any customized trailer repairs took a lot of my precious spare time.
In 1979, we bought a brand new 15' Bayliner Bowrider with a 90 hp Mercury engine. We bought "Bearing Buddies" and "Dry-Lights" for its all-steel trailer, and didn't have too many problems with it. Later, we began leaving our boat in dry storage at Honeycomb Lake. That way, we didn't have to park our boat in our backyard, and cover it in the winter, and we didn't have to trailer it to and from the lake. By that time, our children were driving, and were taking out the boat by themselves, and just like us, they sometimes had problems when they tried to trailer it, not to mention our worrying about the possibility that they might have an accident. So we rented a slip in the dry storage building at Honeycomb Lake, and left our bowrider there at the lake. We parked our trailer at the marina where everyone else parked theirs. (A few years later, when we got ready to sell our boat, we found that someone had stolen our trailer.)
Keeping our ski boat in dry storage wasn't too expensive at first, but we were forced to pay year-around rent because of the threat that if we didn't, they could rent the space out from under us. At first it cost about $20 a month ($240 a year), but it soon reached $30 a month ($360 a year). Of course, the boat required extra insurance and a boat license.
Every spring, the first time we took our boat out of dry storage, we had to clean it, since dust and dirt had settled on it in the storage building. That generally took about an hour. We also had to fill it with gas at the 50%-inflated price that the marina charged its captive audience. We would generally ride up and down the lake for perhaps, another hour and then go home.
During the summer, it was amazing how few weekends we were actually free to go to the lake and enjoy our boat. Sometimes, even though our boat had a canopy, the weather was too hot to enjoy tooling around the lake. Usually we would go 4 or 5 times over the course of a summer. The last time we went each season, we would have to winterize it, which meant draining its gas line, disconnecting its battery, cleaning it again, etc. We also paid for a general servicing and tune-up. Usually, that wasn't very expensive, but sometimes, gaskets had to be replaced, and once, the steering had to be repaired.
At first, we enjoyed exploring Honeycomb Lake, the adjoining Whittaker Lake, the adjacent Guntersville Lake, and our section of the Tennessee River. We trailered our boat to Tims Ford, Wheeler Lake, and the Elk River. But after a few such trips, we had pretty well mapped out what was where, and our wanderings lost their luster. Eventually, after our boat called the dry storage building on Honeycomb Lake "home", it became the same old, same old. Ruth never tired of riding up and down Honeycomb Lake sitting on the bow and feeling on her face, but I was the chauffeur who had to keep his eyes on the road, and I didn't enjoy it.
In the meantime, the boat was depreciating, and by the time you added up all the costs, it was probably costing us about $1,000 a year for 4 or 5 trips out on the water, not to mention requiring a certain amount of our time and attention. That worked out to about $200 to $250 a trip. It would have been cheaper to rent a boat for half a day.
Finally, we had to sell it, and that involved a lot of time and work, and we didn't get out of it more than a small fraction of what we had paid for it.
The RV Scene
After retirement, Dad and Mother loved traipsing around the U. S. and Canada, caravanning three times into the bowels of Mexico in their Airstream trailer, and several times, through the Canadian Rockies. They loved camping in rustic RV Parks, and making friends with the people they met.
I soon noticed that it took time and work to set up and level your RV in the RV park, and a certain amount of work to render it ready for the road, when it came time to leave. You have to be very careful to dot every "i" and cross every "t" before hitting the road (or the road may hit back) You have to load everything you might need for the next month... especially, prescription medications. I also noticed that something was always going wrong with the trailer, and having to be repaired or replaced. Most of these repairs could be performed at the nearest Airstream dealer's facility. Sometimes, though, these repairs stemmed from hazards of the road, and were too serious for local repair. RV parks are generally located in sylvan spots, often with serious dips or bumps across their access lanes, and it was easy to damage the trailer during entry or exit. Dad and Mother would sometimes have to take their trailer for repair to the world center for Airstream products in Jackson Center, Ohio. Sometimes, they would leave it there, and then come back later to pick it up. Other times, they stayed there in a motel while it was being repaired. Repairs were expensive.
The onboard sewage tank was wonderful, but it had to be emptied at RV-park sewage disposal sites. The propane tanks have to be refilled fairly often. Some RV's come with generators, but of course, these require fuel and maintenance themselves.
Dad and Mother mentioned that they were getting something like 8 miles per gallon of gasoline when they were pulling their trailer. RV parks were gradually raising their rental rates until by now, they can cost $15 to $25 a night... not that much less than an economy motel. Dad and Mother would trade their trailer every few years, moving up to a little bigger, newer, and better trailer, and spending thousands of dollars in the process. Trailers depreciated slowly, but they did depreciate. Obviously, RV's are no cheaper a way to travel than autos and motels, or renting an apartment on the beach.
Most travel trailers are made with wood frames to hold down their costs. However, trailer roofs have several holes in them for several kinds of pipes. Trailers jiggle quite a bit while in motion, and water tends to leak around the pipes, rotting the wooden frames. To combat this problem some RV's, including most motor-homes, are made with aluminum frames-e. g., those made by Airstream, Avion, and Holiday Rambler. They're more expensive but more durable. Still, every fall, Dad and Mother would have to get up on the roof of their Airstream and re-caulk all the seams around all the pipes that protruded through the roof of their trailer. Also, they had to winterize it and wash it. Then in the spring the had de-winterize it and wash it again. Mildew can be a problem, since trailers are at ambient temperature and humidity whenever they're not occupied.
Dad and Mother loved their Airstreams, but at least in part, it was because they loved showing them off. Airstream was the Cadillac of the RV world, and it allowed Dad and Mother to feel relatively rich. Also, they loved to socialize and tell people their stories over and over again, and on the road, they could do that. (It's not boring the first time you hear it.) Mother enjoyed things that were snug and cozy, and their trailer answered the call. After a while, I noticed that they didn't spend that much time each year on the road. They would leave home for Florida shortly after New Year's, and would return home early in March. They also went on local camporees. Finally, I asked Dad about it. He said that after you've seen your thousandth waterfall and your thousandth beautiful mountain scene, it begins to lose its luster. Besides, they wanted to be at home where they could enjoy all their friends and relatives. After all, although we may roam, there's no place like home.
In 1992, a few months after Ruth died, I bought a Chevy Suburban (equipped for heavy trailering) for $2,700. I bought it and "restored" it. Then I bought a beautiful, 31' Airstream trailer, and "restored" it, too. This took a lot of time and money. I parked them both in the back yard, turning the back yard into a mud wallow. A year later, I sold them at a loss. During the entire year, I never once towed the trailer anywhere and camped overnight in it. I was too busy. Again, it's a second home, and it requires a lot of do-it-yourself maintenance.
Down to the Sea in Ships
If you want an object lesson in what boats are all about, go down to your local marina on a Saturday or a Sunday. At least 80% of the boats will be in their slips. On some of them, you'll find owners working on their boats. Another popular way to use them is to sit on the fantail with friends, drinking Coke or coffee.
Another experience I had was my "wonderful yachting experience", as described in "Why They Pay Sailors to Go to Sea". (One of the problems with blue-water boating is that
Even sea gulls don't stray far from
shore. In the days of horse and carriage, ships must have been competitively
fast packet ships to uncharted lands, but in our day and age, they're slower
than a boy on his way to the principal's office. You can't tell that you're
moving except by your wake. For anyone who gets seasick, the trip is miserable,
and even for those who don't, it's uncomfortable with the ship rocking and
rolling. With sailing ships, the deck is tilted. When you get into port, you
tend to want to have someone on board at all times to protect against theft.
There's some danger of piracy and murder on a small ship at sea. There's danger
from the weather, and from freak waves.
So Why Do We Do It?
Given that RV's, boats, planes, and second homes are such a hassle, why do we succumb to them?
One factor may be the urge to get away from the stresses of 21st-century life, and decompress. For men, there's the fascination with gadgets to accessorize our new getaway special. There's the fun of scanning catalogs, and the "toy" store experience of window-shopping for upgrades or accessories. Women can enjoy decorating the boat. Certainly, the prestige of ownership is a major factor. We can offer outings on our boat as a way of attracting people. Men perceive a yacht as a powerful drawing card for women. (What woman doesn't want to tell her lady friends about the wonderful, romantic weekend she spent on X' yacht?) Against this must be weighed the cost of ownership in money, time, and hassle.
Then, too, most of us--e. g., me--don't realize this until we try it. We have to learn it the hard way.
We have this golden image of carefree escape from the trials and tribulations of daily existence, and we fantasize that recreational ownership will give it to us. In my experience, it doesn't. Instead, it adds to one's trials and tribulations. When I was a chronically tired student, or was working under heavy time pressure, vacations were very attractive. But now that I'm retired and can vacation whenever I please, I realize that they were attractive primarily as a counterpoint to the heavy pressure I was under. Full-time fun isn't fun. Now that I'm retired, I don't want to waste time going somewhere on vacations.
The real luxury is owning one's time.
I think there are some people like Dad and Mother who really enjoy these extra dwellings, and are willing to put up with the hassle. But most people (including, eventually, Dad and Mother) would probably get tired of it.
I don't begrudge anyone the chance to try these escape hatches, but I think it would be good if people knew the tradeoffs in advance.
"For a cap and bells, our lives we pay,
Bubbles we buy with a whole soul's tasking... "
The problem is that we invest so much time, money and effort to earn the right to learn the hard way that these "luxuries" aren't what they're cracked up to be.
Oh, to Be Famous!
Another "Idyll of the Tribe" is fame. At first, it must be utterly thrilling to have people ask for your autograph. Think how it would be going back to your high school reunion!. But after a while, it would seem as though it woul get old. One day, I saw Johnny and June Cash at the Knoxville airport, waiting for a connecting flight to Nashville. A loud, obnoxious fellow had come up to them, telling them what terms of endearment he wanted them to write with their autographs, and then going on and on about himself, his relatives, his opinions, and so forth. Johnny Cash was the soul of chivalry and courtesy, but it must get tiring to have no privacy and no rest when you're out in public--like the Midas Touch. But as a celebrity, you'd probably feel that it was your duty to be patient with your public.
Another time, when I deplaned in Boston, a Mercedes limousine picked up one passenger and gave him a police escort wherever he was going. For a moment, I felt a twinge of envy. Then I thought to myself, "Now wait a minute! I'll bet they aren't giving him a police escort because they like him so much! I'll bet they're giving him a police escort because they want something they think he can give them. And I'll bet he's going into a meeting where he's going to have to be on his toes to handle the subtle negotiations that are going to take place. It's not going to be all fun and games. I'm not so sure I'm not happier renting a car and spending the evening any way I choose."
The Final Word
What I'm finding in my old age is that the joy of doing is its own reward. I have no urge to travel because it takes me away from what I enjoy most. I don't want to poke along on a yacht, i don't want to languish at a vacation home, I don't want to take another ocean cruise, and I don't want to spend the winter in Florida. I want peace and freedom right here in our house.