LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Flying is not all that attractive these days, but with gas prices low, travelers are hitting the road. Some of them, worried about staying in hotels and eating in restaurants, have decided to go a different way. They're taking an RV, a recreational vehicle, for the first time. Melanie Peeples has more.
MELANIE PEEPLES, BYLINE: Like a lot of people, Amy Holditch has never driven anything bigger than an SUV, but she's about to get behind the wheel of a 30-foot-long house on wheels. Getting their first look at their home for the next 10 days, Amy, her mom, Sandra, and especially her 12-year-old son, Duncan, are thrilled.
AMY HOLDITCH: All right.
DUNCAN: This is amazing. Oh, my gosh.
SANDRA: Very cool, very cool.
PEEPLES: It looks plenty big for their trip from Madison, Ala., to Cape Cod, Mass. There's a table, a kitchen, a back bedroom, even a shower and bathroom, not to mention walls that slide out to make their living space even bigger. Cheryl Huettel is the owner of the RV.
CHERYL HUETTEL: OK. So normally, we start at the front door. We're just going to go around, and everything's been cleaned with bleach because of COVID.
PEEPLES: You wouldn't think it, but it takes two hours for Huettel to show Holditch everything she needs to know. There's all the indoor stuff - how the benches turn into beds, when to hook up to electricity, when to use the generator, how to turn on the generator, not to mention all the outside stuff, like power cord and water hookup.
HUETTEL: All right. Now we get into the meat.
HUETTEL: Control panel, air conditioner - where are you headed to?
PEEPLES: This wasn't the vacation Holditch, who works as an aesthetician in a salon, had planned for her family. They were all supposed to fly to Hawaii. And, sure, they could have just put that off for another year. But Amy wanted something for making memories this summer.
HOLDITCH: My dad has Alzheimer's, and my mom has a progressive memory loss, as well. And I knew - I don't know how many trips we have left in us, you know? There's a lot of uncertainty right now, and I just kind of went with it. I just kept thinking about it and kept thinking about it, and I just kind of jumped off the cliff and did it.
PEEPLES: That is not to say she doesn't expect challenges, but as she's navigating her new role as a single mom, she's discovering learning to overcome them is a good thing.
HOLDITCH: And so there was a little bit of uncertainty of doing it myself, but I've always been able to do it myself before, for the most part. I, you know, struggle sometimes, but I think I can do it.
PEEPLES: She doesn't want to look back on this year as the year coronavirus ruined everything. Holditch is not alone. Nationwide, three times as many people are renting RVs this summer, according to the RV renting service RVshare. CEO Jon Gray says people who are leery of shared spaces are discovering what's great about RVs.
JON GRAY: People, you know, can bring the bathroom with them. They can bring their kitchen with them. And that premium of control that has always existed in RV travel is at even more of a premium this year.
PEEPLES: Prices run from $50 a night for a pop-up camper to 1,000 a night, depending on size and level of luxury. Despite the coronavirus, Americans certainly aren't sitting at home. The American Automobile Association, or AAA, expects 683 million car trips this summer. That's only a 3% drop from last year.
JEANETTE CASSELANO: Bottom line is Americans plan to travel.
PEEPLES: Jeanette Casselano is a spokesperson for AAA. One thing different this summer, she says, is people have to plan ahead.
CASSELANO: You want to plan your trip from point A to point B, not just to know how you're going to get there but where and when you're going to make stops.
PEEPLES: And that's exactly what Holditch has done, mapping her route all the way up to Cape Cod, making sure she won't have to quarantine along the way. Speaking of Holditch, she's gotten her last bit of RV instructions, and the family is all inside, buckled up and ready to ride.
(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE STARTING)
HOLDITCH: All right. Here we go, guys. Oh.
PEEPLES: She'll be fine. No, really. She made a perfect three-point turn in reverse after that, and then they were gone, off on their big adventure.
(SOUNDBITE OF HORN HONKING)
PEEPLES: For NPR News, I'm Melanie Peeples.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Since Melanie reported that story, Amy has made it safely to Cape Cod but says driving an RV through the Lincoln Tunnel is not something she would advise.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLIDAY ROAD")
LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM: (Singing) I found out long ago it's a long way down the holiday road. Holiday road, holiday road...
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