Alumna hits the road to bring research to life

December 17, 2012
Amy Dove
Rose Nadon found community and a better understanding of herself on the road. Her 14-month RV experience was captured in her thesis.

Rose Nadon found community on the road.

Together with her partner and their two dogs, she packed her life into a 39-foot recreational vehicle (RV) in an effort to simplify her life, see North America and infuse her thesis research with real-world insights. Her temporary homes, scattered throughout Canada and the U.S., gained her immediate access to a very unique community – one she found was very much worth studying.

“This was living, not just a vacation,” she says of her 14-month lifestyle adventure.

Her MA in Tourism Management thesis, Hitting the Road in an RV: Rethinking Tourism and Travel through the Recreational Vehicle Motorhome Lifestyle, looked at the key motivators drawing people to the RV lifestyle, and positive elements of the lifestyle in an attempt to highlight why academic research into this growing – and largely unstudied – tourism trend is important.

Between Winnipeg, Man. and Gaspé, Que., she reviewed what literature on the subject was available and by the time she drove through northern California her analysis was well underway. The findings were solidified along the Oregon Coast and her conclusion set to paper between Seattle, Wash. and Vancouver, B.C. Throughout it all she spoke to people immersed in the lifestyle, gaining insights on their motivations and values and finding common ground with many of them.

“Her research looked at the role of travel in the human condition,” says Prof. Geoffrey Bird, Nadon’s thesis adviser. “It involved field research and living as an ethnographer. It allowed her to gain insight that we wouldn’t have gained through a survey or a focus group in a university setting.”

What she found was that the business of RVing was evolving to encompass the expectations of a more affluent traveller, yet still one who was looking to see their world on a reasonable budget.

There is a real growth in terms of the popularity of the RV lifestyle, Nadon says. Campgrounds are moving away from the traditional look and feel and offer amenities suited to a different kind of traveller. “I saw a lot of campgrounds that were upgrading to attract a much more affluent demographic, because they saw that as the future wave in tourism,” she says.

Rose Nadon found community and a better understanding of herself on the road. Her 14-month RV experience was captured in her thesis.It’s not what many people might think, she says, noting RVing is often associated with hippies and nomads. The industry is feeding a need for low-cost accommodations and a higher level of luxury than camping can afford. Nadon writes in her thesis that the new RV traveller is “energized by a fluid agenda, buckled into a state-of-the-art fully-equipped mansion on wheels.”

“RVing is about comfort. It’s not about rustic living. You have your silverware,” she says.

Some campgrounds have lounges, coffee bars, pools and hot tubs for visitor use.  One stop in Arizona offered space to work on carpentry projects, take a yoga or stained glass workshop and even attend dog obedience classes. It’s not uncommon for people to stay months at a time.

“They have turned RVing into a complete culture,” she says. “These campgrounds have turned into learning centres for the aged. They make it a fantasy land.”

The amenities may be making RVing more comfortable, but the crux of what draws people to the lifestyle remains simple. The pace of life is slower, and often times more friendly, as people openly engage with each other in activities and discussion.  Many of the people she spoke to explained that the lifestyle gave them the freedom to be who they really were, without the pressures and expectations often found at home.

“People are spending too much time in their lives chasing the Holy Grail – acquisition and accomplishments and more money and more things. I found that this year where we were forced to think about other values had indelibly impressed us with the need to re-evaluate how we feel about all of those things,” she says. “There is a realization that all of these things that you own you really don’t need. What you need is more quiet time, more time getting to know your fellow man and more time to look after your health.”

Nadon’s research revealed an insider’s perspective on a cultural phenomenon, Bird says. RVers are a small but significant group of people who are investing in travelling around North America. Motivations can vary, but it appears that for each the need to connect to community in a different way is at the crux of the travel arrangements.

“There is value in understanding the significance of travel in a globalized world. There is a lack of community in day-to-day life. It’s a different way to look at globalization,” he says. “The MA program allows you to go into the world and gain a better understanding of it. The advantage to the industry is that it allows you to understand the kind of experiences tourists want so you can become more conscientious in terms of the kind of experiences we offer.”

Nadon returned home to Vancouver Island with 17,000 miles on the RV’s odometer and a life times’ worth of memories that changed her perspective on life, both on the road and off.

As for the RV, it’s for sale and Nadon is on to her next adventure.