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When school lets out for summer break, motorhoming is back in session for the Mazza family of Lehigh Acres, Fla.

Two years ago the Mazzas purchased their first RV, a 33-foot 1990 Holiday Rambler XL. “My wife’s brother had a motorhome, and we thought it would be great to get out and about in one,” Rob Mazza said. “Frankly, we were couch potatoes; we sat around on the weekend watching TV. Now we go out and do things.”

Rob, 36, is technology specialist at Lehigh Acres Middle School. His wife, Bonnie, 34, is a guidance counselor at Academy High School. Their daughter, Marisa, 5, will start kindergarten in the fall.

Weekend trips
Rob, Bonnie and Marisa already have traveled to 20 states by motorhome, setting out from Lehigh Acres, a town of about 36,000 located 15 miles southeast of Fort Myers. They focus their trips on factory tours and outdoor activities such as hiking and bird watching. Digital photography is one of their hobbies — they recorded more than 1,000 images while motorhoming last summer.

“Now our life revolves around planning our next trip,” said Rob, who grew up in Boston, Mass. “People at work always ask us, ‘So where are you going this weekend?’”

During the school year, Sanibel Island, about a half hour west of Lehigh, often is their destination. Sanibel has parking lots reserved for RVs 20 feet or longer, Rob said, and the spots are usually close to the beaches. “In some areas along the Sanibel Causeway [a three-mile road that connects Sanibel with the mainland], you literally get to park right on the ocean.”

Last summer they drove up U.S. 75 and through Ohio, across Michigan and into Wisconsin with Chicago as their turning point. “I had never been to any of those states,” Rob said. “It was incredible to see how the terrain changes from state to state. Chicago was nicest city we went to – the people were so friendly.”

This summer (2002) they’ll head to San Francisco, Calif., their longest motorhome trip to date (approximately 8,000 miles round-trip). Planned stops include the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Boulder City, Nev. And, they’re enthusiastic about touring the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, Calif., where Bonnie and Marisa’s favorite gourmet jellybeans are made.

Factory tours
The Mazzas have planned most of their motorhome trips around factory tours. Muffins, cheese, wine, crayons, ice cream, teddy bears – they’ve seen how all these items are made. They’ve toured Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory in Waterbury, Vt.; the Vermont Teddy Bear Company factory in Shelburne, Vt.; and the Crayola Factory in Easton, Pa. The Chelsea Milling Company in Michigan, maker of Jiffy baking mix, was their favorite tour “because the people there were so nice,” Rob said.

“The tours are really interesting and usually free,” he said. “Some charge admission for the tours but may make a donation to charities, so you feel like you’re doing something good, too. Most companies will give free samples to those who are there.”

Rob and Bonnie research and plot their trips using online resources. “We live on Internet. What you can find there is incredible,” Rob said. They recommend the book Watch It Made in the USA: A Visitor's Guide to the Companies That Make Your Favorite Products. It lists more than 290 factories to help travelers select and locate tours close to vacation destinations or near home.

While traveling, the CD mapping software they use with their laptop computer helps them to locate campgrounds, attractions and other services.

Best way to travel
The RV industry’s “Go RVing” marketing campaign aimed at attracting young families like the Mazzas has been under way since 1996. During the past four years, the number of RVs owned by persons ages 35 to 54 grew faster than all other age groups, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). Rob’s not surprised by this.

“For a family, motorhoming is a great way to vacation,” he said. “We were thinking about getting a travel trailer, but with young kids, I think the motorhome is the way to go. It has everything you need.”

The Mazzas, F295100, joined FMCA in June 2001 after meeting an FMCA member at a campground. “He came over and spoke highly of the organization and gave us several Family Motor Coaching magazines.”

The motorhomes’ self-containment features — bath, sleeping and cooking/dining areas — make traveling more relaxing, Rob said. “Having everything right there, and not having to stop and get out are big advantages.”

He’s noticed that they’ve also saved on expenses while enjoying these comforts of home. “We find that when we travel by motorhome, we eat out less. We tend to grill outside or cook inside the coach.”

How has Marisa taken to motorhoming? “She loves it. She gets to meet a bunch of kids. She’s really outgoing. She likes to ride her bike on approved trails in the nature areas.”

They have “a ton of” games inside the motorhome. They play cards and travel games related to things they pass along the road. “There’s a seat belt right at the kitchen table, so Marisa can sit at the table and still be buckled in.”

Ramblin' on
Rob said their Holiday Rambler, which has 52,000 miles on it, is just the right size for navigating most roads and parking areas. “A lot of places we went last summer would have been tough if we’d had a bigger coach. But the hills in Tennessee were challenging for our 10-year-old coach pulling an Oldsmobile on a tow dolly. I could see us buying a diesel some day.”

Disconnecting that tow dolly gave him quite a workout, he said. But now they tow a Saturn four wheels down using a tow bar. “All I have to do is pull out one fuse, place the transmission in neutral, and go.”

Motorhomers they’ve encountered have been helpful. “We’ve learned so much from people we meet at campgrounds. I pick up a lot,” Rob said.

He recalled a windy day at a campground when he was having difficulty rolling up his coach’s patio awning because the awning arms weren’t completely retracted. “The next thing I know, eight guys are standing around saying let’s take a look at it.”

In addition to fellow motorhomers, the Mazzas have grown to appreciate Wal-Mart stores. “I love Wal-Marts — you can pull in and get an oil change, get all your groceries,” Rob said. “They have been really nice to us. In Pennsylvania, when we didn’t know how to get to the Crayola factory, the manager of the store came out with a map and brochure. He had been there recently.”

Staying in touch
While travelling, the Mazzas send images captured on their digital camera to friends and family via e-mail. Rob, who maintains a Web site for Lehigh Acres Middle School, creates slide presentations and e-mails them to his aunt in Vermont.

They have an Olympus 3.3-megapixel camera. It offers more features than their previous model, a 1.3-megapixel. “We can print out 8x10 pictures and they look perfect,” Rob said.

In addition to the digital images, the Mazzas have developed another way to remember their trips — without taking up space in the motorhome. Every place they go, they write on a postcard and mail it to their home address. They try to mail at least one postcard per day while they’re away.

“Usually when we get home from a trip we have bills and a lot of junk mail. So, it’s nice to see all those postcards of where we’ve been and what we were thinking that day. Then we turn on the computer and look at digital pictures of places we’ve been — that’s really fun.”

Even without the postcards and digital images, their motorhome trips are unforgettable. “The time we spend together getting there is great,” Rob said, “and we’ve seen so many things going down road.”

He claims it’s never too early for families to begin making motorhoming memories. “I think a lot of people wait too long. They think motorhoming is too expensive or don’t have the time. But they should do it while they’re young. It’s really great.”

The Mazzas can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

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