Valery and Danny Howard have spent the last three years in a home on wheels.
Their travels have taken them through more than 30 states across the country and they have no plans to trade in their life of adventure for a permanent foundation anytime soon.
“It’s just been a fun way to make memories and see parts of the country we never would have seen before,” Valery said from beneath the shade of their 42-foot Redwood recreational vehicle.
Valery works as a traveling radiologic technologist, allowing the family to hop from one locale to the next for weeks or months at a time. For the next six weeks, they’ll be residents at Columbia Falls’ LaSalle RV Park and Campground.
After that, it’s anyone’s guess.
RV living has allowed them to fuel their mutual wanderlust without being tied to a brick-and-mortar residence, and they’re not alone. The Howards are part of a growing community of RV enthusiasts. Last year, more than 480,000 RVs were shipped to dealers across the country, up by 125,000 from 2014, according to the RV Industry Association. RV parks in the Flathead Valley are springing up to meet that demand — Montana Basecamp, a 330-unit RV park is slated to open this month in Kalispell and West Glacier RV and Cabins has already opened its gates to the traveling populace.
The reasons for RVing are as varied as the individuals themselves. LaSalle RV Park owner David Dobson said his guests include folks who reside in their RVs year-round, along with daily or weekly campers.
“A lot of them want to downsize and they want to travel — they want to get out and see the world before they get to an age where they can’t,” Dobson explained.
Other common motivations for transitioning to RV life include saving money and the desire to lead a simpler life. As far as the rigs themselves, Dobson’s seen the gamut. At LaSalle are everything from decades-old RVs and fully restored Airstreams to million-dollar behemoths.
“Forty-four feet is the largest one I’ve seen,” Dobson said, “and there are some that are like $2 million dollar rigs with granite counter tops.”
The very best that he’s come across was an RV that had a special interior port that could store a car — and slide the vehicle out whenever the owners wanted to go for a drive.
“There’s some amazing rigs out there,” he added.
For the Howards, the pros of RV living outweigh the cons. At the top of the list is the constant travel and pared down lifestyle.
“I had a house fire in 2010 and it literally was the biggest blessing in disguise, just teaching me that we keep so much stuff — and that’s all it is, is stuff,” Valery said.
She also likes the consistency of her home on wheels — while their surroundings might change, what’s inside of the RV remains the same.
Former U.S. Coast Guard members Travis and Lauren Walton were also drawn to RV life and have lived at Mountain View RV Park in Columbia Falls since April. However, the Waltons’ RV journey has an end date — they’re living the mobile lifestyle while they wait for their permanent home in Whitefish to be constructed.
“We don’t have to worry about mowing a yard or doing any of the utility stuff. You just plug in and go,” Travis said. “Another good thing about being out here is you get a rotation of people. You get to meet all kinds of people from everywhere.”
The Waltons have encountered RVers from as far off as Miami and Maine during their stay in their 29-foot bumper-pull RV.
To make it work — especially with three young boys and a dog — Lauren said the key is “less is more.”
“You realize how much stuff you really don’t need,” she said. “Our stuff’s been in storage for one year — I don’t miss anything. I’ve kind of forgotten what we do have.”
While the necessary minimalism has its appeal, RV living comes with a few adjustments.
“I miss the solid foundation. These things have jacks, but they are on wheels. He moves around in the living room, I feel him in the bedroom,” Valery said. “I miss having our own yard. Here, everything is shared and you have very close neighbors. It can be good, but it can be bad, too.”
Finding a good spot, especially in the busy summer season, can often be a challenge. Travis recommends lots of advance research into an RVer’s prospective location and an inspection of the site in person first, instead of relying solely on pictures.
If sites are full — there are other options, Valery explained.
“Walmart’s a great resource. They let you park in their parking lot. The one here’s crazy,” she said. She also recommends Cabela’s, Cracker Barrel and truck stops such as Pilot or Flying J.
But all that aside, Valery is still enjoying the journey.
“We’ve criss-crossed the country. We’ve gone coast to coast. Every time I get a new assignment, I try to plan out a road trip. We try to see as many national parks as we can,” she said. “We’ve definitely seen places we never would have before.”
In a small basket inside her rig, Valery has a collection of stickers. There are stickers with streetcars, bridges, restaurants and sports teams. They’re small souvenirs of one big adventure — and they’re not done yet.
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss can be reached at (406) 758-4433 or email@example.com.