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The St. Louis RV Vacation & Travel Show

Things we saw last week at the St. Louis RV Vacation & Travel Show:

Fake Fireplaces, Giant TV’s, Mobile Man Caves, Central Vacuum Systems

Things we didn’t see any of:

Solar Panels, Energy Efficient Lighting, Composting Toilets, Camper Vans

Though we have been full time RV dwellers for years now, neither of us had ever been to an actual RV show. When we saw that “one of the largest public RV shows in the country” would be happening last week while we were still in St. Louis, we knew that we would have to check it out.

Mobile Luxury: Kitchen Island, Huge Living Room, and Fake Fireplace

We were hoping to get exposed to variety of RV’s of different sizes and styles, and to check out a wide range of the latest products and technologies for mobile living.

We ended up being disappointed.

The RVs on display did not reflect nearly the breadth of RV’ing style and quality that we had hoped to see. Instead of variety, the St. Louis RV Show offered up aisle after aisle of fairly forgettable cookie-cutter box style trailers, oversized fifth wheels, and slide-out-laden class A’s.

Only a handful of smaller travel trailers were on display, and there were no camper vans, bus conversions, fiberglass trailers, or truck campers to be seen anywhere on the show floor.

If you were hoping to be exposed to a breadth of choices, this was not the show to come to.

We did however get a chance to ogle at some over the top RV’s optimized for hosting epic tailgate parties, and others designed to be luxury condos on wheels pushing the boundaries of ostentatious excess to new extremes.

Though nothing we saw fit out personal style of travel, it was nice to spend an afternoon checking out a few of the more impressive designs.

Here are a few things that caught our eye…

St. Louis RV Show - Welcome! Giant Living Room
With many of the premium models costing upwards of $100,000, it is no surprise that a lot of emphasis is placed on recreating all the comforts of home while on the road. But I was disappointed in how rare an emphasis on intelligent design, practicality, longevity, or quality seemed to be.

For example – why worry about being able to open up your refrigerator door without cranking out the slideouts, if it means that you can have an elegant island in your kitchen? And why bother with energy efficient lights or space on board for more than a single battery when you’ll need to be perpetually plugged in to a 50amp circuit full time for your dual rooftop air conditioners?

Garage / Bedroom Another Outside Kitchen
We saw RV’s with dual kitchens (indoor and outdoor), dual bathrooms, three or more giant screen televisions (including outdoors), fake fireplaces, ceiling fans, elevated back porches, and cavernous cargo holds… Many of the toy haulers even found space for a dedicated beer fridge in the garage area!

One brand was using the tagline “Leave Nothing Behind” – and that was indeed a design philosophy on display at the show.

Giant TV & Basement Leave Nothing Behind
There were only a few RV’s at the show that were suited for full time living on the road, and there was nothing at all on display that was suitable for “boondocking” or operating off grid. Solar panels and power efficient technologies were completely absent.

For those wanting less emphasis on square footage, the smaller and easier to tow RV’s on display disappointingly tended not to have tanks or electrical systems worthy of more than a weekend away from power hookups.

And while there were plenty of “bargain” smaller designs on display, the lack of quality in construction and the pervasive smell of formaldehyde when you stepped aboard made it clear that with most of the cheaper models you were getting what you paid for.

One standout design was the ultralight Quicksilver CampLite. The all aluminum body and frame should last years longer than most traditional plywood & steel RV designs. And the sub 2000lb empty weight should allow for towing by even some cars!

CampLite Beer Tap & Party Fridge
One of the larger fifth wheels we toured actually had a built in beer tap in the “man cave” second living room that the garage in the back transformed into once you pulled your ATV’s out. Imagine – two living rooms, two bathrooms, two fridges, beer on tap, and a garage – all in a single RV!

And while having quality microbrews on draft is something that our Oliver lacks, we ultimately didn’t see much at the show to excite our technomadic souls. And in the end, there was nothing that left us fantasizing about upgrading from our Oliver.

One final disappointment was the vendor area. I was surprised with how little we could find of interest to full-time RV’ers. Instead of solar panels and satellite internet systems, there was an out-of-place preponderance of home-show style booths. Basements? Bathrooms? Aluminum siding? Kitchen remodeling? Dog training?!?

The only appealing thing we managed to find in the entire vending area was a very clever but way overpriced 50′ long wind-up collapsible water hose. After spending hours looking at all the mobile monuments to inefficiency, seeing an actual space efficient design – wow!

To see more from the St. Louis RV Show, check out our full photo set or slideshow on Flickr.

Also – for our advice on how to choose the style of mobile home that best suits you, be sure to check out Cherie’s guide to selecting a home on wheels.

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  1. I just read this post for the first time after seeing a link to it on a more recent post. Not sure if you have been to any RV shows since this one, but Brian & I had a totally similar experience at the Tampa RV show in Jan 2011. We were hugely disappointed that there were no vendors for solar panels/energy efficient products, composting toilets, water filtration, sustainable flooring/decor, mobile internet for full timers, or DIY remodel items.

    The only thing on our list which we found was LED light bulbs. We scored a wonderful discount buying a bulk quantity to replace all bulbs in our Howie. We could not believe how “home show” the setup was: kitchen pots & pans, jewelry, and other stuff that has nothing to do with full time RV living. The show is clearly focused on taking all the comforts of home on the road; not minimalistic, energy efficient full time living. Sure wish the RV world would come around to reducing our carbon footprint.

    • Hi Amber,

      To answer your question, yes it can, and often does. What you need is a device called an inverter, which steps up the 12V DC of deep cycle batteries to 120V AC common in households. There are many types and sizes, and these devices can quickly grow to be a large portion of a renewable energy system, so research what you need very closely.

      My advice is to (A) determine if you really need one. There is a lot you can do with 12V DC in a small home of any kind. (B) Research between “full” and “modified” sine wave inverters. Modifieds can be much cheaper ( about $.25 to $.15 per watt ) than full (about $1.00 to $.75 per watt) but they have draw backs in what kind of devices tthey can run. Finally (C), think of all the devices you’ll want to run at one time, and use the total power requirments to size your inverter. Double check surge requirements.

    • Amber – Solar can run an air conditioner, however – I’ve yet to see an RV large enough to carry enough panels to do it. On our little rig, we have 200 watts of panels- but our downsized small air conditioner needs 1500 watts (most RVs come equipped with larger units tho). Without setting up a ground array, it just ain’t gonna happen for us. We’ve seen larger RVs able to have 300-600 watts of solar on their roofs.. still ain’t enough.

      For being self contained in the heat we either:

      1) Go where we don’t need air conditioning (it’s amazing how in the desert even with 100+ temps – a little evaporative cooling makes it tolerable)
      2) Run our A/C off our Honda 2000 generator converted to run off propane.

      • We do have the original Onan generator that came with the Minnie Winnie when it was made, but it runs off the gas in the gas tank. I’d love to have it run off of propane instead – I’ll have to look up if there’s a way to do it. Thanks for the tips! I didn’t figure solar (of our size) could run an a/c, because we are getting two 60volt panels to equal 120v.
        .-= Amber´s last blog ..Baby Rats & Gas Tank Gunk & Solar Panels =-.

  2. for off grid stuff check out


    global expedition vehicles

    action mobil

    these people build “RVs” that are much more like yachts, designed to be away from RV parks for years on end

  3. Hey Cherie

    thanks for the link to Quicksilver. i’d never heard of them before. their stuff is truly innovative compared to all the other designs that are out there. i like how they have something unique for just about every niche. the lack of enviro/off-grid technology really does surprise me. i feel like the RVing crowd could really push the technology into new and interesting directions. sounds like one company just needs to come out and do it. i’m a film and video producer and a lot of times my productions are off the grid for long periods of time. we’re always designing and building our own stuff to get by. that’s how i found your site in the first place – doing a Google search for the Honda generator that we used on a shoot last September. it just boggles my mind that off-grid tech is taking so long to come to market.
    .-= Eric Hansen´s last blog ..Final Cut Rendering Glitch =-.

  4. The really sad part is for these large RVs, I don’t think they are even made that well. Many have interiors based on standard home decor, which means they aren’t designed for the rigors of even part time travel and break quickly. Not my idea of a wise $100K investment at any level of bling.

    • You’re right.. many RVs are focused on the ‘recreational’ part. There’s a reason they’re not called ‘homes on wheels’. After several months of living in many of them, they will show their age. Our Oliver however, after a year and half of full time living, still looks brand new.

  5. Well, I think if you think about it, unfortunately the majority of “R.V.ers” like to squat at r.v. parks, plug in and stay for a few months, unfortunately! I had a long drawn out opinion about this but just noticed that Joanna above my comment has the same last name as me and now I am totally sidetracked. Sorry. What are the chances of that?

  6. Thanks for the write up. It was almost like being at an RV show. While it is always interesting to see how the other half lives, the post was great reminder of the fact that we didn’t really miss anything by not going into any of the RVs during the show at Quartzsite.

    Hope you are having a good time in Florida!
    .-= Hitekhomeless (jenn)´s last blog ..Rocking and rolling in Arizona =-.

    • We’d walk inside some of them and think ‘Wow, we could park 3 of our Oliver’s in here!’. But wouldn’t Kiki have fun bouncing around in that much room?

      Probably going to a midwest RV show wasn’t the best idea to look for more eco and off-grid options 😀

  7. How disappointing that in this age of concern over the environment there were not new choices that took conservation into consideration. Sounds like the RV show is stuck back in the ’80s ‘bigger is better” mentality.

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