High gas prices aren't keeping Brad Herzog's family from the open road this summer. Herzog, his wife, Amy, and sons Luke, 7, and Jesse, 6, embarked about a week ago on a 66-day tour that will take them from Monterey, Calif., to Chicago and back again. They're traveling in a gas-devouring, 39-foot Winnebago Adventurer motor home.
"We're in Anaheim," says Herzog from a cell phone inside the family's six-wheeled digs. "We did Disneyland Monday and California Adventure park Tuesday, and today we haven't even left the RV. We're just hanging out."
The family, dubbed the national "Explore America" family by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, rolls into the East Valley today, stopping at an RV park in Tempe to share wisdom from behind the wheel. They're also charged with promoting RV travel on behalf of RVIA and GoRVing.com, an online campaign to increase RV sales.
Believe it or not, Herzog says traveling by RV isn't that hard of a sell these days.
"We get asked about gas prices a lot," he says. "But the money that we save by not staying in hotels every night and not having to eat every meal in a restaurant more than makes up for gas prices."
At $4.15 per gallon, the RV's 75-gallon tank costs $311.25 to fill. If the rig averages eight miles per gallon, Herzog can drive about 600 miles before his next fill-up. If the family covered the same distance in a minivan with a 20-gallon tank at 18 mpg, they'd save about $172 in fuel costs. However, once they racked up two nights in a no-frills hotel room, that savings would begin to evaporate.
As it is, the family eats, sleeps, plays and lounges in the homey rig between outings to malls, movies, tourist attractions - and the grocery store.
"We're not spending any money on gas at home and we're eating the same way we would eat at home. We're in complete control of the vacation," says Herzog. "If we want to save money, we can decide not to go an extra couple hundred miles."
Before you think, "Oh, well, sure it's doable for them, they've got an expense-paid vacation," think again. The Herzogs pay for fuel, food and fun themselves. Summer RV trips are customary for this family, whether they're branded spokespeople or not.
An author with two travel narratives and more than 24 titles for kids under his belt, Herzog first stepped into an RV 12 years ago, when he and Amy took to the road in a 314-day attempt to find material for Herzog's first book.
"It seemed pretty crazy at the time," he says, "but we had the best year of our lives. We fell in love with the experience, and we do it every year now. We kind of live our life according to the tenet that there are a lot of wonderful things to do and see right here in America."
Despite all those hidden gems lurking just off the interstate, the Federal Highway Administration reported last week that Americans drove 1.4 billion fewer highway miles in April 2008 than during the same time last year and 400 million miles less than in March of this year. The report marked a decline of nearly 20 billion miles traveled on all roads in the U.S. in 2008.
From his place out there on the nation's byways, Herzog says he's seeing plenty of other RVs on the roads. "The industry itself, like every other industry right now, is facing a challenge in terms of selling new RVs. These are dire economic times. But I think the people who have RVs are still doing it," he says. "For a house, it gets great gas mileage - better than any other house I've ever driven. It doesn't make sense financially to stop doing it. If you want to take a vacation with your family - all things considered - this is still the more affordable way to do it."