Will the Pandemic ruin our RVing future?

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By Chuck Woodbury
In yesterday’s newsletter, we asked readers if they believe the worst of the current pandemic is now behind us. As I write now, early Saturday afternoon, more than 2,600 readers have responded (see the current tally here). By a 2-1 ratio, they believe that the worst is yet to come. But, apparently, many don’t care one way or another when it comes to travel with an RV. Just look at current RV sales – which are beating those of last year at this time in many, if not most RV dealerships.

Nice RV park, Vernal, Utah

If you have been reading this newsletter for a year or more, you know I have written often about crowded RV parks. After years of record-breaking RV sales more people than ever were buying and living in RVs — retirees in big numbers, and younger folks who could work from their RVs wherever they were, combining business with pleasure.

Still others are now living full-time in RVs while working on temporary job assignments – pipeline workers, wind machine technicians, and traveling nurses to name a few.

Sadly, many people are living in RVs in seedy RV parks because they can’t even afford apartment rent; a beat-up RV is better than a tent on a sidewalk. Except for these struggling RVers, most of more affluent RVers require a “campground” with full hookups. That almost always means a commercial RV park. And in recent times – probably starting five or six years ago – they began occupying tens of thousands of campsites year-round, or at least seasonally – those previously available for RV travelers who would stay a day or maybe a week before moving on.

Nice RV park, Susanville, California

And now, with most travel options dead due to the coronavirus, vacations by airplane and cruise ship are no longer an option for most people. Hotel occupancy rates have plummeted, some with only a few rooms rented out of a hundred. Who knows what germs lurk?

SO WHAT HAS HAPPENED? People are buying RVs – big time – that’s what! Most are not buying a popup trailer for a weekend with their kids in the national forest. No, they’re buying big ol’ motorhomes and fifth wheels with the idea of seeing the USA. I suggest most of these people are clueless about what’s involved in owning an RV – maintenance, repair … and finding a place to stay where they can hook up to run all the electrical goodies in their condos on wheels. Heaven forbid they can’t run their wine cooler, electric fireplace, washer-dryer or multi-colored outdoor lights to illuminate the sky for the orbiting astronauts.

Crowded RV park, Parker, Arizona

If this buying frenzy continues, I worry that there may often be times when there is no place to stay with an RV except on public lands or in Walmart parking lot. But that’s not part of the “RV dream” for most of the newbies. They are not campers in the sense of roasting marshmallows over the campfire, and most never dreamed that one day they could be so lucky to sit in their lawn chair in a Walmart parking lot and celebrate solar-heated asphalt.

No, they’ve seen the GoRVing commercials and bought into the dream of a laid-back, life of freedom in a comfy home on wheels — go where you want, when you want. Their RV salesperson sealed the deal – painting the glorious picture of camping along a beautiful lake or by the ocean shore, sipping fine wine, holding hands with their lover – and for only $899 a month for the next 20 years. “Gee, honey, you’ll be 103 and I’ll be 97, but that RV will sure be better than a nursing home!”

And, to further sound like Mr. Doom and Gloom, I needn’t remind readers who have spent a lot of time in RV parks that at least half of them across this great land of ours are dumps or downright ghettos. They’re the equivalent of all the seedy motels still left that offer rooms by the hour.

The only chain of RV parks of any significance is KOA, and even its 400 parks are not created equal – some are very nice (with a high price to match), but some are so junky you wonder why they are allowed to stay in the system.

I worry about how much worse crowding will become in RV parks now that #1: RVing is incredibly trendy, #2: Other forms of travel are scary due to germs, and #3: People love to travel and will find a way to do it.

Dueling slideouts: Just hope your neighbor doesn’t snore loud!

I can tell you that in almost three full years of RVing in the last four years, Gail and I have struggled at times to find a site in a decent RV park, and we have often had to make a dozen calls to secure it. It came to the point sometimes that if the park was clean, and appeared safe, that was good enough. If we ended up with a neighbor who chain-smoked cigars, so be it.

Okay, to end up on a slightly more upbeat note: Thousands of RV parks are very pleasant and sometimes even scenic, and those in out-of-the-way places usually do have sites available (say, in rural Kansas). But too often, where you want to go in prime tourist-land, you’re out of luck without reserving months ahead.

Please hold your comments. I will answer the question that I know you are thinking: “So why do you continue to RV if it’s so bad out there, Chuck?” ANSWER: Because it is still fun despite the hassles, and if one knows how to play the game then it remains a great way to travel. And if you absolutely love little homes on wheels (as I do), then you’ll keep doing it until you’re too old to dump the poop tank without bathing in it.

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Bull
24 days ago

YES the pandemic will ruin the RV lifestyle.

With RV sales NOW at record levels many people who have never camped or traveled with a RV have now been lured to the RV lifestyle as a way to “Safely” enjoy family in a time “Distancing” from one another.

This RV FANTASY will never last for the vast majority of all these “RV Newbies”.

What will last is the RV FINANCIAL NIGHTMARE they acquired pursing their short lived RV FANTASY!

John
28 days ago

We started full time Rving just after the 2008 crash. We bought a nice Tiffin motorhome for a real bargain price and took off for four years. Gas prices were $4 + dollars a gallon at the time but we had best camping fun of our lives. We could pull in at 5 pm to most any campground and find a plenty of sites available. We traveled the country zigging our way all over the place. It was great fun but after a few years we started seeing campgrounds fill up with the new homeless from the real estate crash. We decided that we had seen enough and bought back in a house and ended our full-time as campers. We continue to camp but choose to do it in a more limited way because of having to plan months in advance to camp in areas we enjoy. We cherish the days we had with the freedom to travel anywhere on a whim.

Kimberly Lockwood
28 days ago

My hubby Mike and I are RVing outside of Harrodsburg, Kentucky, right now on a small property with all three basic amenities for $30 a night. We can walk about 100 feet and can see the Kentucky River. We are here checking out the property because we are the owners of a small business called UpClose-RV. Slowly, we are trying to address the issues of campsite costs and overcrowding.

Bull
24 days ago

At $30/night that’s $900/month for place to park a trailer.

Hope you like the view!!

Jan Schiller
28 days ago

Haha ! Bathing in it. Crack me up ! I’m celebrating 70 this year and have been full-timing it in my C-Class up in Northern Ontario for 4 years. You’re right ! Way to much fun to quit.

John Overton
29 days ago

I’m afraid that with all that is happening nowadays it will get worse. Especially knowing that some of the people who are buying RV’s are not the most upstanding neighbors to have in a nice RV park. A lot of lowlifes out there. Some that don’t care how trashy they are and not clean up after themselves.
Will write more later. Thanks

Steve Marusic
29 days ago

There is not a single indicator out there that things are going to get worse with the coronavirus. The only number the fearmongering media ever gives us is the total number of cases, which means nothing. The only numbers that mean anything is number of hospitalizations and number of deaths, which they never provide. People will always get sick. Colds, flu, stomach viruses, etc. are a part of life. Living under a rock in fear, because we are all afraid of a disease that has a 0.3% death rate, is ludicrous. GO OUT AND LIVE YOUR LIVES!!!!!

Rob Kelly
18 days ago
Reply to  Steve Marusic

Ya, that pandemic thing is getting less problematic by the day. Go out and live your life…don’t listen to the fake media…or the CDC…or epidemiologists.

Rory R
29 days ago

Boondocking on public lands is fine. Moochdocking in a friend or relatives’ driveway is fine. Many won’t agree but one of the reasons that so many HOA’s, cities and towns are enacting regulations against parking your RV, is complaints of people “stealth camping” in residential neighborhoods, and once again not cleaning up after themselves. Some in this group are quite militant about their rights to park in front of someone’s house, and get angry if the police are called. Not knowing is one thing, not caring is something entirely different.
Personally I don’t completely believe the reports of record RV sales. Most of the manufacturing facilities are/were closed. So dealers can only sell what they have. Being that the manufacturers base their sales on delivery, and there haven’t been a bunch of those, dealers are left with current stock, new and used.. Once the on lot stock is depleted it will take months to get the supply chain going again. I think we are still in that period of time where no one knows where this is going, and for some it can be scary, We will have to make some adjustments, but it will get worked out. For those who have a hard time adjusting to change, sorry, you will have to adjust or sit and lament about the good ol’ days….. Oh and just in case you are wondering, I’m 74, a FT’er since 2015, with a class A and a home base……

Karen
29 days ago

I think we are teetering on the brink in the RV world. Quality of new units is rotten yet they sell like hot cakes. More and more People take their mini homes everywhere, park, use and leave their mark. Crowded parks are only going to make things worse. I have been RVing more than 30 years and loved it like you all but I am staying off the road this year, the fun is waning. I am hoping for a new RVing group as time goes on. Better community, better use of the resources we have available to us.

Cheryl Bacon
29 days ago

It really depends on what part of the US you are talking about, what you like to do while in your RV, what season it is. You are also not talking about the hotel industry in all states, even during this new World we need to get used to. The states that are basically back to the new normal, the hotels are booked solid, are doing a fabulous job at following CDC guidelines, are at 50-75% capacity and edging closer to being allowed to operate at 100% on a daily basis, have embraced technology to help them make it a safer World. The freeways are full with people escaping the states that want everyone to stay home and lose everything financially. Yes we have seen lots of RV’s too, but not nearly as many as we expected. We have seen more boats then RV’s. We have had very little trouble finding a nice park to stay. The KOA Resorts always sell out as you mentioned they did. If they are considered so expensive, why do they sell out so easily then? Because anyone that frequents them knows they are worth it. If some chose to dislike them for that, that is their prerogative, but don’t belittle those that have no issue spending more then $30.00 for a campsite. Personally, if I don’t believe those that are saying the RV industry are breaking sale records. If they are where are they? They are not at the parks we are going to, they are not on the roads. They are probably sitting in storage or next to a house like the 1,000’s of other ones you see rotting away from not being used.

Danny Evans
29 days ago

We are relatively new to RVing. I bought a very small used, but nice trailer before I retired . We didn’t know anything about RVing, had never done it, and were afraid we wouldnt like it so we didn’t want to tie up a lot of money. We paid cash. It pretty much set until after retirement except for one quick trip Lots to learn. Our first long trip was in April of last year. It was awesome!! The freedom of RVing is just marvelous. We made no reservations, just went. Spent our first night at a Walmarrs. Loved it! Didn’t cost anything. We made our destination and found a nice rv park. $26 a night. Great! Never traveled so easily. Had our own bed, kitchen, and bathroom with us all of the time!. Didnt have to carry luggage into a cheap hotel room at night. If we got hungry, we found a spot pulled over, turned the generator on for AC and enjoyed a nice meal in our own home! We traveled over 6000 miles with that little trailer last year. Stayed in relatives driveways along the way. Had our own bed so we didnt put anyone out. Just plugged into their outside outlets. Marvelous. I’m new so I can’t complain about others doing it. We’ve already missed a couple of trips this year due to covid, but we’re pulling out soon. Oh yeah , upgraded to a slightly larger trailer. Going to stay on government land out west and anywhere else we can squat for a night with an occasional rv park thrown in. I call it being free. Traveling has never been so fun.

KellyR
29 days ago

Chuck, I have never read a negative article in RVTravel in the, I don’t know how many years I have been reading it. Keep up the informative work you and staff are doing. The comment sections keep me laughing.
We have not been on the road for the past two years but hope to get out there again this summer – covid or not. We have never planned how we would get to our destination and have never had a problem finding a spot for the night. (Would not even think of Walmart.) A 1200 mile interstate trip may take us 3500 miles to get there. I hope it has not gotten that crowded in the past two years.
As to the question of the higher number of RV sales: I think it is a fad, somewhat brought on by the covid, and people not thinking things through before they jump. There will probably be an RV bubble just like there was a housing market bubble. As others have mentioned below, the maintenance (even if it just sits there for 9 months) and the 20 year loan will quickly sober them up – and then possibly sober the RV industry as a whole – or in a hole?.
Many of we “old-timers” were lucky enough to work for companies with pension plans. Many working today will not have the luxury of that income and thus will not be able to have the “toys” that they have today.
Ya-all just keep on truckin’ — or RVn’

John T
29 days ago

How can there be a “buying frenzy” when the manufacturers are producing less RVS this year than last year, because of the factory closures?

Snayte
28 days ago
Reply to  John T

Lots of excess inventory.

Mike Schwab
29 days ago

Solution: Along an country road between interstate exits a campgrounds with Electric only hookups. $1 / hr 20 / day 100 / week for long 50A. 15 / day 75 / week for short 30A spots. Trash / sewer / water station with bathroom showers. Should be cheap to build.

Ridge Gardner
29 days ago

I’ve always maintained that any tank dump is a good one if you don’t fill up your shoes!

EG Willy
29 days ago

Here in California, reservations made a year in advance are normal……if you don’t, sorry..

What is not normal is the pandemic and parks renting out only 50% of the sites for months now.

Carson Axtell
1 month ago

RV owners need a political advocacy association to watch after and represent their growing numbers and interests, just like automobile owners have AAA and motorcyclists have the AMA (American Motorcyclist Association), and the way other special interest groups have their advocacy representatives. De Tocqueville wrote about the American people’s inborn instinct for forming political groups to organize and promote their interests, similar to the ancient guild systems in Europe but more democratic. Annual fees could go towards promoting the growth of RV facilities that many communities oppose, as well as towards educating RVers and the public about the responsibilities of RV ownership and use, such as Leave No Trace when boondocking. This publication would be ideal as the voice of such an association, perhaps in partnership with an organization like the Escapees. But, we still have that “herding cats” problem with nomads who cherish carefree independence above all else.

Just stirring the pot…

Jac
28 days ago
Reply to  Carson Axtell

That association is called ARVC…. MOARC in Missouri

Joseph I Weinstein
1 month ago

While I agree with your overall view there is one thing that you never seem to consider. With the increase in RV sales, and the decrease in available “camping sites,” there will be a growing political/economic pressure to solve the problem. We may see new RV parks in lower cost or less traveled areas. We might see increased economic opportunity that those with some land decide that a campground may be a profitable investment. Short term, there may be some issues, but longer term, the more owners the more political and economic power.

David
1 month ago

We bought our DRV 5th wheel to live in fulltime so we don’t have to put up with cold weather if we choose not to. We are not “campers” and have never built a fire, let alone roasted marshmallows over one. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those, it’s just not for us. We’ll end up staying in our current RV park for a bit over 2 years because of our jobs. Finding a space where we are is NOT an issue, as there are around 100 empty ones. We’re also in the metro Orlando area, and in a pleasant resort, to boot. It does get old to continually read the complaints about how crowded RV parks are. The free market usually takes care of issues like this. If it doesn’t, it could be that new ones are a bad business model, and that’s certainly not good news for any of us. But you can’t blame new RVers. They have as much right to enjoy this lifestyle as you and I do.

wanderer
29 days ago
Reply to  David

If you live at a park full time, you are probably paying a reasonable monthly rate. Travelers are paying 2 to 3 times what you do per day. Florida day rates routinely exceed $50 a day which renders most parks and all “resorts” unaffordable for travelers.

David Allen
1 month ago

So much truth. I totally agree that the buyers running to RV’s have no clue. They are in for a rude awakening. I think 2 years or less, there will be a massive amount of repossessed, abandoned, and junked RV’s it will be ridiculous. I saw a post in a group yesterday from some full time RV’ers blasting all those “weekend and part time RV’ers” who are taking all their parking spots. I wanted to respond that it was the part time and weekend travelers that created the RV’ing scene. Yes many more people have made the decision to live full time in an RV which has created a lot more trailer trash run down trailer parks. I do not call these full time RV’ers, to me they are people who live full time stationary in a trailer park that also allows RV’s. BIG DIFFERENCE. I also feel that this group constitutes a large number of the folks buying now. They think it is cheap way to live and not have to pay taxes on homes.

C.Lee
1 month ago

Given that my wife and I purchased our RV with boondocking, rather than RV parks, in mind, my concerns with the RV park industry are fairly non-existent. The fact that we were kicked out of a New Mexico State Park, from an RV space we’d reserved and paid for months in advance, with an expensive, and now worthless (and non-refundable), New Mexico State Parks yearly camping pass in hand in March due to what I call the “Jinping Plague” epidemic, and are still barred from accessing our State Parks, has only re-enforced the idea in our minds that boondock RV’ing is really where it’s at. Solar easily runs our everyday “goodies”, and a generator runs the AC and microwave as necessary. Carrying a few water jugs (and a means to get that water into your RV’s tank) and some scouting for available water is pretty easily done. It’s really very easy overall, and the equipment is relatively inexpensive these days, and quickly recouped in the saving of expensive RV park fees, and the returns in freedom and real peace and quiet are innumerable.