A lot has changed since Chuck Woodbury wandered the U.S. in a motor home writing about everything from Fred Flintstone memorabilia in Bedrock City, Arizona, to aggressive Cheez-It-seeking chipmunks in Oregon.
Now the Edmonds man who earned fame 20 years ago as the founder of his written-from-the-road, quarterly print magazine Out West, is celebrating his 10th year as the editor of a popular online newsletter written for recreational vehicle travelers.
Every Saturday morning for the past decade, the 24,000 readers who subscribe to Woodbury’s RVTravel.com newsletter have awakened to a new issue delivered directly to their email inbox – last Saturday, in fact, was his 500th issue. Since he tracks his site visits closely, he knows that he averages 60,000 readers weekly, so an additional 36,000 people find their way to the newsletter via referrals from blogs and related RV sites.
And thanks to his robust RV-focused audience, Woodbury is able to generate a good income with advertising, which he doesn’t need to sell – advertisers come to him with RV-related products and services for his national audience.
“We turn down a lot of advertising – because it’s either a questionable product or service or its not relevant enough,” Woodbury said. “It’s a waste of the advertisers’ space and a waste of our readers’ time. So everything has to be about our readers.”
Newsletter topics range from Woodbury’s campground and sightseeing recommendations to RV maintenance and repair tips from guest writers. He’s always had a passion for writing, and says it’s not hard to come up with new subjects to write about.
“When you travel it’s easy because you stumble across new stuff,” Woodbury said. “This morning it was raining and I wrote an essay on how the rain’s starting up in the Northwest, how I’ve become accustomed to it and kind of like it. And I led into how I really like it when I’m out in my motor home in the forest and it rains. How cozy it feels and the sound and the smell of the forest.”
He admits, though, that there are a few topics he won’t touch. “I stay away from politics and religion,” he said. “You can never win.”
His readers range in age from 30 to 90, but average 50 to 60. “It’s an older crowd,” he said. “I’ve grown into the demographic.”
Now 64, Woodbury bought his first motor home when he was 34 years old and hit the road, writing for magazines and “trying to see if I could earn a living.” At age 40, he started Out West, and his quarterly reports from his mobile 24-foot motor home/newsroom brought him national recognition on ABC World News Tonight, NBC’s Today Show, CNN, National Public Radio, People, USA Today and the Washington Post, to name a few.
Through his 10 years on the road, he also developed a deep knowledge of RV life, although he never used the RV term. “RVing was so totally uncool,” he recalled, “and I had a big following on college campuses at that point. I was just a guy who was traveling around using this as my little mobile office That’s what really appealed to me about it and still does.”
While he considers himself an expert on RV travel, Woodbury admits he doesn’t know “the first thing about the systems in an RV except how to turn it on and turn it off. People write me with all these technical question and they might as well be talking to a wall.”
That’s why Woodbury brings in a host of experts, including Gary Bunzer, “The RV Doctor,” as guest writers to address the technical aspects of RV life.
So what’s the appeal of living and writing on the road? “It’s the mobility,” Woodbury said. “It’s the ability to go where you want when you want and from the writer’s point of view…you can stop when you want. I’ll get an idea and pull off along the side of the road and pull out the laptop and start writing. And sometimes I’ll stay for hours.”
“When I did Out West, sometimes to get ideas I’d get into town and I’d find a newspaper recycling bin and I’d pull in front of it and make a pot of coffee and just go through all the local papers for the last month. Bring a stack in 2-feet deep and I might find interesting ideas and interesting people, and just go call them up.”
Woodbury gave up life on the road and settled in Edmonds after the birth of his daughter, Emily. He started an RV bookstore operation in the Harbor Square Business Complex, an Amazon.com-like warehouse operation for RV enthusiasts, appropriately named RVBookstore.com.
But now that Emily is in college, Woodbury plans to take to the road again soon and write about his experiences. “I’ll look for offbeat, small towns and people,” he said. “I’ll sit in a little café and start talking to the guy next to me and he’ll spin me a yarn and I’ll repeat it.” Thanks to the Internet and his RVTravel.com audience, Woodbury knows he will have a built-in group of acquaintances to meet along the way, anywhere he goes.
Over the years, his love of the road has inspired many of his RVTravel.com readers to follow their wonderlust. “I‘ve had a lot of people who’ve told me they’ve left their jobs, retired early, some marriages have happened,” Woodbury said. “You plant an idea with people that you don’t have to just sit in one place. You can find a way to get out, if you’ve got that desire, if it burns in you that you can have freedom and be creative, see the world.”
And it’s not just retirees who are taking the plunge, he said. With cell phones and mobile computing, more people are also operating their businesses from the road, including Woodbury. “I sit out in the campground and the phone rings if somebody needs me,” he said. “I’m video chatting with people. There’s not a whole lot of difference.”
He also believes that travel by recreational vehicle is much more accepted than it used to be. “There’ve been movies, there’ve been TV shows, MTV had a show,” Woodbury said. And then there are the celebrity endorsements: “You’ve got Matthew McConaughey who lives in an Airstream, you’ve got Jeff Daniels — he’s a motor home nut.
“You know that song, “I Was Into Country Before Country Was Cool,” Woodbury asked. “Some of us have been doing it a long time and now it’s OK. It’s very commonplace and almost glamorous to some people.”