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.
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.
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.
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.
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.