It may be that the Roma or gypsy horse-drawn wagons were the original recreational vehicles or RVs that today have become a motorized culture and phenomenon in many countries known as RV lifestyle.
The self-contained RVs typically include kitchen, bathroom, sitting room and sleeping areas. They can be small or large, simple or luxurious. Some are motorized, some are trailers hitched to pickup trucks. They tend to be popular in areas where people enjoy camping and there are dedicated RV sites, and there are also travel clubs.
But they are clunky and gas-guzzlers.
As of last year, the United States had seen 100 years of caravan travel, but in China, RVs are still unfamiliar, except through American TV series or films.
China is the world's biggest auto market, and SUVs are extremely popular, especially as status symbols that are seldom taken off the road. But not RVs. Most Chinese wouldn't consider buying one. They'd rather drive a nice car and stay in a nice hotel.
Recently, at Shanghai Top Marques 2012, an exclusive and luxury show, a travel trailer towed by a pickup truck, made a splash. Visitors queued up to take a look at the Flying Cloud vehicle, which is called Airstream in the United States; the trailer is 7 meters long and costs 1 million yuan (US$160,600).
Despite the lines, only a handful of Chinese visitors said they would actually consider buying an average imported RV, priced at around 300,000-400,000 yuan.
"It would kill me to drive this," says a businessman from Zhejiang Province. "This is too huge for me and I can't think of any place to park it."
Another middle-aged man said he had researched RVs but he feared he wouldn't be able to maneuver such a large vehicle or find a place to park.
"Where should I go after getting this mega car?" asks Luo Dan, a department director of a private wealth management fund. Given China's population and what she called "paralyzed traffic," Luo says it would be impossible to enjoy the same open-road holidays enjoyed in North America and Europe.
"There are three problems for RV development in China: policies and regulations, supporting facilities and consumer recognition," says Han Xiaolu, director of Asia Affairs for the RV Industry Association.
He tells Shanghai Daily that potential customers are confused about what kind of registration and driver's license they need. Campgrounds are another problem because without parking, electricity and water hookups, there's no way to enjoy RV travel.
"I don't think people don't buy RVs because they can't afford them but because they have little knowledge about RV travel and holidays," Han says.
Get out into nature
Good news is that recently at the Yangtze River Delta Tourism Cooperation Conference, Shanghai Tourism Administration issued an outline for RV travel in the delta region in which 14 campgrounds in Shanghai were revealed.
Since more people are interested in travel and getting out into nature, policies and facilities will eventually catch up, he says.
Han says that leasing is a good way to start for RV enthusiasts because the lease company will provide a designated campground. Most owners or potential buyers are looking at RVs that are less than 6 meters long, with 7 people at maximum, which the normal driving license and plate can fit.
Chen Quanlong, manager of an industrial and trade company, bought his first Great Wall RV last New Year's Day. Chen, who was born in the 1970s, says he enjoys "quality time" in his motor home and is considering buying a better one.
"During the National Day holiday, my two families and a friend's family dodged the horribly crowded expressways and took a trip on a national highway instead," Chen says.
They took camping equipment and tea set on the way from Shanghai to Anhui Province with a commercial vehicle to carry their things as they traveled and looked around. Chen called the trip pleasant and soothing.
Still, there were nuisances.
"Sewage disposal is extremely inconvenient since we don't have enough campgrounds," he says. Though he searched online, he found few.
His RV's door was broken by someone from outside while they were in Hangzhou, capital city of Zhejiang Province, he says, adding that he didn't know whether the person was a thief or just curious.
Safety is a major concern.
"I can hardly sleep when I am outside overnight in some strange places," says Zhang Youda, a 57-year-old, middle-class Shanghai resident. He owns an RV, modified to his specifications by the manufacturer.
The vehicle cost more than 400,000 yuan, luxurious for him.
Zhang says he got interested in RVs when he was eight years old. He bought his vehicle three years ago but says that was probably too early, since the market and facilities are not mature.
"It has been said for years that RV campgrounds will be built in Shanghai and neighboring cities, but still I can hardly find one that's acceptable," he says. Some cost 100 yuan to 200 yuan per night, as much as a small inn, Zhang says.
"If there isn't enough water, once you take a quick shower, you're out of half your supply," he adds.
"Sometimes if you go for a little restaurant, they can give you a water hookup and you can buy bottled water just in case. But there's no electricity hookup, so in summer I rarely use my RV," he says. Air-conditioning is expensive.
Zhang sometimes spends his weekend alone in his RV, watching TV or surfing the Internet. He enjoys the quiet and no one bothers him.
In three years, Zhang has only driven the RV 16,000 kilometers. Recently he has started to rent it out for extra income. During the filming of "Silent War" (2012), his RV was the place where Mavis Fan, a Taiwanese pop singer and actress, took her rest. Zhang earned 1,500 yuan per day.
Wu Qunhua, chairman of the Harley Davidson Owners' Club in Shanghai and also general agent of an RV center, says not every RV buyer can hit the road immediately. Planning can be a big effort for beginners. People should try out friends' RVs to see if they really like it.
"Chinese are reluctant to buy RVs, especially if they are older than 50," Wu says. "Only a minority of them have a passion for outdoor activities."
Therefore, the target RV market are those from 30 to 40 years old "who hopefully have lived abroad and are more open-minded and willing to try a new lifestyle," Wu says.
He recommends that ordinary customers wait for European brands that will be introduced soon. "Some domestic brands are not recommended by consumers, while modified RVs can do a good job if the work is well done, like the Ford Transit and Naveco."
Jing Zonghua, who heads the Shanghai branch of the Centech RV Club, a Beijing-based RV seller and rental service, says domestically made RVs are designed for Chinese road conditions with higher chassis and different interior and equipment than imported RVs. Both domestic and imported have advantages, he says.
The 14 campgrounds in Shanghai
Sheshan National Holiday Resort
Chongming's Mingzhu Lake area
Thames Town in Songjiang District
Dongping National Forest Park in Chongming County
Chongming Ruihua Orchard
Changxing Island Orange Garden Resort
Shanghai International Tourism and Resort Zone in Pudong
Lingang New City in Pudong
Jinze Town in Qingpu District
Liantang Town in Qingpu District
Peasant Painter Village in Fengjing Town of Jinshan District