At a time when most of his contemporaries are settling into retirement homes, Ray Lawson has thoughts only for his motorhome and the freedom of the open road. 'I built it in 1988, we turned the ignition key in 1989 and we've been living in it ever since,' the 80-year-old former mechanic said. 'We travel 11 months of every year and, so far, we've notched up 280,000km.' Mr Lawson and his wife, Peg, also 80, consider themselves the elder statesmen of a growing band of Australian retirees and baby boomers who are forsaking the comforts of home and spending months, or even years, driving round the continent in caravans, campervans and motorhomes. Completing the 18,000km-long circumnavigation of Australia, known as 'the big lap', has long been a rite of passage for foreign backpackers, but now older Australians are getting in on the act. Fitter, healthier and wealthier than previous generations, there are now an estimated 15,000 'grey nomads', or 'wrinklies on wheels' on the road at any one time, from the coast of tropical Queensland to the parched deserts of Western Australia. Many have been persuaded to holiday closer to home by the September 11 attacks, the Bali bombings and Australia's involvement in the Iraq war. Taking a rare break from life on the road at their son's house in Brisbane, Queensland, the Lawsons are itching to get back on the road in their 10-metre-long motorhome. Since selling their house 16 years ago, they have driven around Australia four times and know the country intimately. The swelling ranks have led to a boom in the sales of caravans, campervans and motorhomes, collectively known as recreational vehicles, or RVs. There are about 350,000 RVs registered in Australia, with 18,000 of those bought in the past 12 months. Production has tripled in the last decade. 'You can do it in much more comfort these days because the vehicles and camping equipment are so much better,' said John Osborne, manager of the Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia. The club's membership has doubled in the last five years, to 40,000, and is expected to double again by the end of the decade. The Lawsons are busy planning their next trip, which will take them from Queensland, south along the coast of New South Wales and across the Great Dividing Range into Victoria. 'Some people rush around the whole country in 90 days, but that's too fast for us,' said Mr Lawson. 'The key is to take it easy, have a yarn with the people you meet, and make lots of stops for cups of tea.'