The dysfunctional RV industry and you. Part 4

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Did you miss part three of this series? Read it here.
If you missed parts one and two, Read them here.

PART FOUR

There is, however, more to this than a shortage of RV parks. There are countless campsites available every night. But they are either in unpopular tourist areas or along dirt roads where there may be no cell service and no hookups. When surveyed, 25% of RVtravel.com readers reported that cell service was “critical” to where they chose to camp. Another 64% said it was critical, but not essential. Those RVers, I suspect, will never or seldom camp somewhere too isolated to even receive a cell signal. That rules out thousands of Forest Service and other government campgrounds.

In other words, it’s not just about a shortage of campgrounds that has caused a need for reservations. It’s also about a shortage of campgrounds that meet the requirements of the many RVers who wish to use all the creature comforts their RVs afford, which most often means at least an electrical hookup.

When we asked our readers how far they would travel to a campground along a “good dirt road,” nearly 60% of the almost 3,000 respondents said a mile or less. That, too, rules out thousands of primitive (and often beautiful) campgrounds.

Many RVers need power to run all the electronics they have come to rely on, including residential refrigerators which can only operate on electricity, not propane. So unless the RVer has a sophisticated solar setup, an inverter and a big bank of batteries, he or she can’t stay for long without hookups.

Last summer, we asked our fulltime RVer readers how long they could live in their RVs without plugging into electricity. Two-thirds reported they could last “a few days, but less than a week.”

Did you read our recent article about KOA opening a new RV park near Maine’s Acadia National Park? Don’t bother to show up with your RV: You are not welcome. The entire “glamping park” is permanent “glamping” tents that rent for $218 to $315 a night. And it’s not like this is a new location for KOA. It was a traditional “campground” for nearly 50 years. Now the RV sites are gone, replaced with luxury tents.

You can glamp in this Free Spirit Sphere treehouse on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. FreeSpiritSpheres.com

KOA has every right to do this. It may turn out to be a big money maker. If so, you can bet other KOA parks will do the same. And, of course, so will other independent campgrounds. But how does that help you and me find a place to stay when every RV park in the area has already been booked for six months or longer?

RV parks across the country are already removing RV spaces in favor of “glamour” accommodations — cabins, cottages, tents, yurts, treehouses, tee-pees and cabooses. Expect this to continue.

Where will they stay?
Depending upon who you ask, there are 13,000 to 15,000 commercial RV parks in America plus another plus 1,600 state parks that cater to RVers. At first, that seems like a lot of places. I believe that figure is misleading.

Off the top of my head, based on my many years of RVing, I would like to ask you some questions to help you determine how many of those parks might be, or not be, available for you. Get out your calculator. Okay. . .

• How many are in the area where you plan to camp? Do you do most of your camping in Oregon, Indiana, Georgia, etc.?
• How many are so dumpy you would not want to stay there? (For example, rule out any with a rating of 2.5 or fewer stars out of five.) I’d guess that’s about 25% of all parks.
• Are you younger than 55? How many are 55+ parks, where younger RVers are not welcomed.
• How many are a long drive away from where you want or need to stay?
• How many charge $75 or more a night, when your budget doesn’t permit that?
• How many are already reserved for the dates you want to stay? (In a popular tourist area many, if not most, may be booked a year ahead.)
• How many are occupied or nearly occupied with seasonal RVers (snowbirds in the winter)?
• How many are essentially “trailer parks” where RVers live year-round?
• How many do not offer Wifi or adequate Wifi, if that’s important to you?
• Is your RV older than 10 years? Some parks won’t allow it – too old.
• Do you have a dog? How many do not permit dogs or have restrictions on size or breeds?
• Is your RV 45 feet or longer, plus a tow vehicle or dinghy behind a motorhome? How many sites are off-limits because your RV won’t fit?
• Do you need to 50-amp service? How many only offer 30 amps?
• How many are open the time of year you want to travel?
• How many don’t allow campfires (if you want to roast marshmallows with the grandkids)?
• How many do not have a swimming pool, if that’s important to you?

If you think long and hard about those questions, you’ll realize that you may be severely limited in where you can stay that fits your needs. Twenty years ago, sites were much more readily available in most parks.

New RV parks and resorts are being built, but slowly. Many of them, a high percentage, from my observations, are “resorts”, where the RVer buys a lot for six figures or more (often far more) and then pays annual homeowners dues. Some have attached cabanas or casitas. Some are for motorhomes only. Others are available as rental spaces similar to traditional RV parks, but the price tags are commonly $100 or more a night.

Twenty years ago I never made a reservation, never had to. I remember a newspaper reporter who was writing about me asking what my biggest decision of each days was. I told him it was whether to turn left or right when I departed the campground! I had no reservations ahead so I could travel any road I wanted, and take the fork in the road that looked the most interesting. I would check my watch at about 3 or 4 in the afternoon and then start looking for an RV park or campground. I almost always found one with an available space within a couple of hours.

Back then an RVer could truly “go where you want, when you want,” without a reservation. The RV industry still promotes that message in its advertising, but it is no longer true. The slogan should have been retired 10 years ago. It’s far easier today to find a hotel reservation on the fly than an RV park, at least a decent one.

I grew up 20 miles outside of Los Angeles in West Covina, in what was then the rural San Gabriel Valley. The town’s population was 4,000 when my parents brought me there at age 1. My home was surrounded by orange groves. My buddies and I would walk a quarter-mile to the hills behind us to play. We built a raft on a small pond. I grew up a “country boy,” not a “city boy.”

The chamber of commerce could well have advertised “move to the country,” where the pace of life was slow and the air clean.

When my family moved away 16 years later, every orange grove was gone, replaced with tract homes and shopping malls. The air was often so smoggy that our school would cancel physical education classes. Two-lane Garvey Boulevard into Los Angeles was now the San Bernardino Freeway (now I-10). The hills where my friends and I played were covered with high-priced “view” homes. The population was 60,000 (and growing).

The West Covina chamber of commerce no longer had the right, ethically, to use the same “move to the country” slogan. And it didn’t. The “country” was gone.

Just like West Covina, the landscape over time has changed in the RV community. The RV industry has no right to continue advertising that with an RV you can “go where you want when you want.”

From GoRVing.com, where the industry promotes RVing:
“Take control. You decide when and where to go and what you want to take with you…. Your schedule is your call when you’re behind the wheel. Make unplanned stops along the way when something catches your eye. Stay as long as you like or hit the road earlier than planned.”

Nonsense! Not true in 2020 (it was in 2000)!

There are too many RVs these days and too few places to stay. The day of spontaneous travel is over. Today, reservations are the name of the game.

Today, travel with an RV can still be magical. But it’s no longer something you can easily do spontaneously, unless you’re willing to stay in Walmart parking lots when you can’t find an available campsite. For RVers who prefer to carefully plan their trips, plotting out stops and how long they will stay, then RVing today can still be a wonderful way to live.

Next: How fifth wheel trailers have ruined RVing.

##RVT937b

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Danny Evans

We are newbies even tho I’m 68 and my wife is 66. I finally retired and wanted to travel for a couple of years. We bought a slightly used 21 ft single axle trailer to pull with a half ton truck. We know now that it should have been about 5 ft longer with maybe a slide out, but we didn’t want to invest a lot in case we didnt like it. So off we went last April. Didnt know much. Had a blast. Another adventure in july. Had a blast. Still another in September. You guessed it, had a blast. Over 6000 miles last year. I don’t know what RVing was like 20 years ago, but its sure fun now. We stayed at friends and relatives along the way, boondocked on walmarts, cracker barrels, and cabellas. Pulled over at rest stops to enjoy lunch and rest a while and best of all , always had our house with us. Never had anything like it before. So much better than motels. We always were able to find a spot in a RV park if we wanted one. We stayed in one on the shore of Lake Huron, outside of Yellowstone, and outside of Big Bend as well as others along the road as we traveled. Fun., fun, fun. And we’re heading out again in about 3 weeks. If RVING isn’t as good as it used to be, it must of really been gosh almighty awesome back in the day. And, if my health holds out, I’m stretching that couple of years out a lot longer.

Vincee

Chuck, I think you paint too much of gloom and doom scenario in your fourth installment in the series about RV’ing today.

This is especially true with your list of reasons why a campground wouldn’t work for you. Wi-Fi, well that’s great, but it really hasn’t been around that long. Give the campgrounds a chance to spend the money needed to upgrade to a good reliable system. I stayed at a CG in Ohio that had a $2.50 daily fee for Wi-Fi use. I asked why the fee? They had a great response telling me that a very good system was expensive. So they bought into it by borrowing the money from a bank. They then would charge the daily fee until the loan was paid off. After that, the system would be free to use in their CG. Perfect if you ask me.

I think as today’s electronic needs grow, including all-electric RV’s starting with residential fridges the CG’s will adapt, or lose business and close. Give them time, most are small family-type operations that don’t have a huge cash flow.

We as the camping-RV’ing community have become too damn picky and demanding in our expectations in campgrounds. For crying out loud, it is called camping! I don’t mind gravel or dirt sites, gravel roads, no pools etc. If I wanted glitz and sizzle, I’d go to a Marriott.

Although you have traveled the country to share your experiences with us, thank you, It is my un-knowing opinion that things are a bit worse out West where it seems every driveway has a camper in it, more so than here in the East.

C.Lee

My wife and I must be opposite the trend. We purchased our travel trailer about a year and a half ago specifically to “fit” the tow vehicle we already had, and we bought it with the idea of it being a “go anywhere” type rig in mind. It’s actually a little bigger than we had initially planned at 24 feet, with dual axle, but it will pull down any decent dirt road, and we aren’t afraid to do so. Our tow vehicle is a Jeep Grand Cherokee, so we sometimes set up a bit beyond where the “good dirt road” ends. We purchased an inverter generator that will run the rig, including A/C if necessary, and we purchased a suitcase solar panel setup to keep the batteries charged. We always have a couple of five gallon water jugs with us to fill at any gas station, store, park, wherever we can, to haul water back to the rig, so we don’t do without unless absolutely necessary. We prefer being out away from others when “camping”. For us, that is the best part of it.

Mila

I have enjoyed reading your magazine for some time but I must say this series is incredibly off-putting. Times change and we hafta just roll with it or be a miserable complaining mess no one wants to be around – or read for that matter. People, trends, technology evolve. It is obvious you miss your “good ol’ days” of travel and RV style. I miss being 20 something too. I also enjoy what technology and modern times has to offer me in my daily life. Doesn’t make me a bad person. I appreciate your knowledge. I respect your experience. I however did not sign up for this magazine to hear nothing but ranting and complaining about a lifestyle I enjoy. We have had multiple campers and have experienced reservation issues for the past 16 years in CO. We still love the experience and the memories we have made. We have worked our butts off to retire in our 40’s and are planning to be able to go full time in 21 months. Your ranting and raving will NOT stop us from getting out there. We will do the reservation dance bc that is what modern day RV’ing entails And that’s just the way it is. We will NOT complaint about it as we will just be grateful to be alive, financially and physically able to go on this adventure. You can complain all you want about anything and everything and die miserable. OR you can take the bull by the horns and go for it – reservations be damned.

Ed Stephens

Chuck. I have no problem Boondocking for a few days. No problem driving on what you call good dirt roads for a few miles. Like you, my problems are in the need to reserve so far in advance. We are making a 6000 mile trip this May and June and I have few deadlines. How could I ever manage reservations from place to place and expect no problems along the way. I have reservations in four different areas. I think I can make up a day or two here and there, but can not count on it solely. I think we will be fine but if not we may be doing longer driving days part of the time. Thanks for all you do to keep us informed on the changes we can look forward to.

Suru

We are retired baby boomers, but not full-time RVers. We usually camp somewhere for one week out of the month. We prefer National & State Campgrounds or boondocking. We’ll drag our little trailer down any dirt road and we are fine without hookups. Also, I don’t have a problem making a reservation in advance and planning a little ahead. What bothers me is showing up at a popular State or National Campground and half the sites are empty because someone booked a year ahead, but their plans changed and the site sits empty. In Utah, where I live, the window is 6 months out at the State Parks and it seems much easier to get a spot then those that book a year out. I think the reservation window should only be 3 months out on those popular campgrounds and I bet it would be easier to get a spot and people would actually show up. Reserve America used to have a service where you could be put on a waiting list and when a cancellation came up, you were notified by email. I wish they would bring that back.

I don’t think it’s ever going to go back to the old days when you could show up and get a spot at any campground and it’s useless to pine on about that. What would be helpful is to try to come up with solutions to the campground shortage problem. Even though the environmentalists would have a fit, it might be beneficial to upgrade the National Campgrounds at popular parks to accommodate the big RVs. I’m not saying that you need to add full hook ups to the sites, but make the pads a little bigger and the roads a little wider. Add some more sites too. I think most people only stay at the National Parks a few days and most could cope without hook ups or WiFi for a limited time. Then more people would have access to experience and enjoy the “Peoples’ Parks”.

Fred

There is a group of rvers that will find everything you say to be true about a significant shortage of available campsites that will fit their needs. But I disagree with your overall premise that the days of spontaneous travel are gone. The secret to spontaneous travel in today’s rv world is being properly set up for easy & extended boondocking, of which Walmart parking lots play a very small role. In 3,700 days of fulltiming, we’ve spent less than 75 days in a Walmart. Boondocking is both an exhilarating & peaceful way to travel. Most of our top 10 most memorable & exciting experiences over our 10 years of fulltiming have been connected to boondocking. Whether you’re new to rving or experienced, if you want to put the excitement of spontaneity in your travels, research the components needed to boondock & go for it. We have a 34 ft fifth wheel w/ 3 slides, 500 watts of solar, 4 golf cart batteries, a 4500 watt generator, a catalytic heater, large water capacities, a 35 gal waste tote, a macerator & a 90 gal vinyl, foldable fresh water bladder; all items we use when boondocking. We’ve been to every state more than once, including Alaska twice. We have the same needs/desires as most rvers. We have a 32″ tv, 2 laptops with HP all in one printer, 2 tablets, 2 cell phones. & 3 wifi data sources with a quality booster for coverage in remote areas. We have a 1000 watt microwave, Cuisinart grill, hair dryer, WaterPik flosser, 150psi air compressor, rechargeable drill & grinder & various other electrical appliances, just like you would in a stick built home & we can use all of these anytime, regardless of whether we are “hooked up” in a park or boondocking. We started out fulltiming 10 years ago, rarely making reservations, & still rarely make them today. As an example, our last trip to Alaska in 2018, was 4 months long & the only reservation we made was for 1 week at Denali NP about 3 months ahead. The few times we make reservations, they’re usually only a week or two out. We have learned over 10 years, what the best times to visit the most popular tourist areas are. We still truly travel by the seat of our pants, rarely ever making long term plans.
Our travel motto was & still is “Chasin’ Our Dream Fulltime”. There is no other lifestyle that comes close to comparing to this.

brenda

Experienced a “first” for us last week. Booking a site for our spring/summer adventure, was using the campground’s online reservation site. It asked me to pick a site number — 1st through 3rd choices. Once I had done that, a notice popped up stating that they “could not guarantee the sites I had asked for, BUT for an additional $10 fee they would be happy to do so.” Really!?

I did not take them up on the offer and would have stayed somewhere else, but for one night it didn’t seem worth the trouble to do more research!

Bull

Fear not everyone as the “Fat, 60 and up Crowd” (the Boomer’s) die off over the next 10 years there will be plenty of room in Campgrounds, Glampgrounds, State Parks, National Forests and National Parks for the rest of us who are left enjoying life.

GONE will be all the big Fifth Wheel Trailers, 45 foot Motorhomes, 30 Foot Airstreams and all those other LARGE RV’s with all the crap travelers bring along with them that they just gotta have. The younger generation is into smaller items and better design. They are not buying into the large RV market and never will. They will never own a vehicle capable of pulling such a monstrosity! Smaller is the name of the game and all you have to do is look at the types and amounts of RV shipments reported by RVIA. By far the largest segment of RV’s over the last 5 years that has seen the largest increase in sales is the small towable market. That ain’t the “Fat, 60 and up Crowd” buying those RV’s.

Therefore to solve this space issue at RV Parks, RV Resorts, State Parks, WalMart or wherever you like to came I respectfully request all Boomer’s to hurry up the git the inevitable over with so the rest of us will have an easier time finding a place to camp!

Gman

My, how things have changed, good/bad/ugly and OMG! Can’t go back, got to roll with the punches and make it in todays world. Why worry about things you can’t change. Even if we all band together and say enough, will the RVIA say, alright you win? Will they now produce better craftmanship RV’s/TT’s? Will reservations for parks be dissolve to first come, first serve, cheaper fees for CG’s and anything else mentioned in Part Four? KOA’s? So, do you really care or RV’ers just chiming in just because it’s something to talk about. Really, how many of you have Maine on your “bucket list”? Thought so! Okay, you don’t like “social media”, face it, it’s here and here to stay and I’m in my mid 60’s, haha. 30, 50 Amp, get an adapter from one to the other or vice versa, problem solved. Hell, “Just Ask Mike” even talked about it. If you can’t reserve in your favorite or want to visit CG, go else where. Lots of undiscovered places in this Grand Ole USA of ours. You purchased an RV/TT/5-er, Class A,B,C, financed it for 20 years, go use it, travel, enjoy, make more memories. Agree or dis-agree, I’ll respect it. Faith is what you create.
Chuck, props to you, I know your trying to educate people venturing into the RV life. However, you tend to rant on doom and gloom.

Steve Murray

So many Govt. Campgrounds so little foresight.
Nice Campsites in private parks are $60.00-$100.00 Per night and are full.
Private Campgrounds have accountability to keep the Booger Eaters out and the noise down.
The Forest Service could actually afford to improve security, condition and behavior at most of their Campground if they raised their prices, staffed properly, (Including Night Time Security!)
People wouldn’t blink at $40.00 to have a nice, clean safe place to stay.
Everything changes.

Don Callahan

I can hardly wait for next week’s subject on how Fifth Wheels ….

Captn John

We travel in a 41′ 5er 7 -8 months annually pulled by a dually. Our size limits where we stay often and we want full hook ups as our stay will be from 2 weeks to 3 months. We do not camp but explore an area and snowbird. There are some great CGs out there but all require reservations from 6 months to a year in advance. No one would believe the wonderful CGs in great locations we stay at for $133 a week, $435 for the month. Those are offset with the $1990 monthly where we snowbird (3 month minimum). The days of cheap CG nights are ending and I suspect weekends will soon have a 3 day minimum. Like my snowbird stay people will realize it is less expensive to travel in a Prius and stay in a motel or condo rental. I’m not looking foe cheap, just a comfortable place to return to in the evening or sit out at night.

Theresa Kovacs

This is only the second time I’ve read your articles, and both time all I heard in your words is negatives. Why are you in this lifestyle? It seems you’re pining for the old days and resent the new RVers, no matter their age, because you blame them. I’ll give you some more time, but if you don’t ever write about the positives of this lifestyle, then I’m out. Who wants to hang around negative people.

Lee

Well, pilgrim, (hawk, patooie) things just ain’t the same as they used to was… And they never were.
Sounds to like many RVers are self limiting in their choice of rig, choice of campground, and choice of destination.
Not every RV park or campground can, or should be able to take behemoth 50 amp rigs, and that is a good thing IMHO. And since our camping style evolved (or devolved) from tent camping to pop up to hard side trailer as we got more ‘mature’, we’re comfortable with smaller, funkier RV parks, many of which are clean and quite charming, and Gov’t campgrounds.

Impavid

Even 35 years ago, in the west, you needed to book ahead in the summer.

bounder

We don’t use the $75 a night or age restricted RV parks. When we did in the past, they were $35/night!

We’ll stay off grid as much as possible using a combination or solar and wind for power. Our only significant limitations are fresh and waste water. For communications, we use VHF/UHF radio programmed for local repeaters; some link into a telephone system. We use big box stores for an over night en-route to a destination and sometimes state parks for the 2 week limits… but the reservation system can be a challenge without wifi for any long range planning.

Sink Jaxon

OK…so what’s wrong with making a few reservations?

Ron

I just made reservations for the last part of May…..

Scott R. Ellis

There is no doubt that the industry is promoting an outdated slogan. And I know that you have devoted considerable time recently to the idea that RVs are no longer used for “camping” in any traditional sense of the word. That said, if a person has decided that he or she cannot function without WiFi (or even just a cell signal), cannot function without electrical hookups (of 30 amps, let alone 50), and can’t drive a mile on a *good* dirt road . . . then some of this is on that person. If your RV experience has to be *exactly* like living in a sticks-and-bricks, well, then, it’s not hard to imagine the solution, here.