Planning way ahead is the new normal for RVing in 2021

20

By Mike Gast
About 20 years ago, shortly after I had ditched a newspaper career to become the Vice President of Communications for Kampgrounds of America, Inc. (KOA), I stumbled across a phrase I loved in an old New York Times travel story. The story said campgrounds were actually “the last small towns in America.”

In the intervening two decades, a lot has changed. I’ve retired from KOA and am off doing my own thing, and campgrounds now look a bit more like the suburbs than the quaint streets of Mayberry.

Campgrounds – commercial parks as well as national and state-run facilities – are seeing an ever-increasing number of guests. Even before the pandemic, longtime RVers could read the writing on the wall. The days of freely roaming about the country, never knowing quite where you’d end up by dark, were likely over.

Then COVID-19 lockdowns made families across America long to breathe free in the Great Outdoors. That desire cleaned out dealer lots everywhere and made finding an RV site – even on a Wednesday – a bit like searching for a place to get your vaccination.

So, what’s a dedicated RVer to do? Here’s some advice. Take it or leave it.

Camping is still a wonderful thing, if you plan ahead

While you may find it more difficult to partake in your favorite outdoor lifestyle, don’t let the hassles and changing “learning curve” of RV travel ruin the experience. At the end of each day, you’ll still find yourself in your favorite camp chair, staring into a crackling fire with old friends as well as new. Don’t forget why you started RVing in the first place.

Embrace reservation systems, and always plan ahead

KOA was the first company to unveil a process for “real-time online reservations” more than a dozen years ago and now it’s the norm at nearly every park. Just like hotels, campground owners need to manage their inventory of sites, and know what’s available and when. You wouldn’t think of just showing up at the airport and expecting your desired flight to have seats available. Ditto for a hotel stay. Advanced planning is everything. Also, different campgrounds have different reservation systems. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the basics of the ones you use most.

Experienced RVers have an advantage

If you’ve been RVing for at least a few years, you know it’s getting busy out there. You also know that the sooner you make your travel plans and reservations, the better. A brand-new RV owner may still think it’s possible to wait until Memorial Day to make their campground reservations for the Fourth of July weekend. You know better. Play your advantage by planning ahead and making all of your summer camping reservations ASAP. Also, acknowledge that circumstances (weather, breakdowns, illness, etc.) might force you to switch up your plans along the way. Build some funds into your budget for reservation change fees or the occasional cancellation penalty.

Midweek is the new weekend

The summer of 2020 was a period when the available midweek RV site disappeared. Many campground owners reported that they were full every single day from mid-June to the end of their summer season. Don’t assume campgrounds will have “walk-up” site availability this summer. Camping is a commodity. Availability and price are always going to be driven by supply and demand. Many campgrounds are currently expanding the number of available sites or have plans to do so. Unfortunately, it takes a lot longer to build a site than it does to build a new RV. It’s going to take a while to substantially increase site inventories.

Show campground owners a little love

There’s never been a better time to own a campground. But that success comes with a burden. More campers mean more work. Stellar guest service is harder to maintain. My experience is that owners have a lot of pride in their parks and try very hard to hire and train the right people. Most really do all they can to take great care of their campers. But running a campground isn’t easy. Campground owners are really the mayors of their own small towns (who likely also clean the toilets). Owners are up before the first campers, and usually don’t hit their own pillow until the last campfires go out. When things go wrong with your stay, cut them some slack. They might just reach the solution you’d like a little faster.

Is the influx of new campers a passing fad?

Data for 2020 shows an unprecedented number of new campers. Since many made a substantial investment in RVs and other equipment to get into camping, it’s likely they’ll be around for a while. Remember that the new study by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association reports that there are now 11.2 million RV-owning households in the United States. And 9.6 million more households are expected to purchase a new RV in the next five years. RV factories lost two months of production in 2020 and still produced 430,300 new RVs, surpassing 2019 totals by 6%. Some of these new folks might ultimately decide it isn’t for them, but many will likely love RVing for the same reasons you do.

Over time, everything changes … even RVing. Hopefully, the core of what you love about the lifestyle is still there. Maybe you’ll even learn to adapt to both the frustrations and the benefits of advanced reservations, mixed-use parks with unique accommodations, and those RV newbies who don’t know which lever to pull when it’s time to dump the tanks.

Take a deep breath, plan ahead, and keep picturing yourself staring into that crackling campfire.

Mike GastMike Gast was the Vice President of Communications for Kampgrounds of America, Inc. for the past 20 years. Now, he’s on to new adventures, helping others tell their stories through his freelance company, ‘Imi Ola Group. You can reach Mike at mike.imiolagroup@gmail.com.

Related:

Study shows millions more Americans will soon own RVs

Subscribe
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

20 Comments
Newest
Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Randy Heasley
22 days ago

We’ve been making reservations for 25 years of RVing. Back when it was vacation time with the kids in a pop-up camper to now full timing in a motor coach. The reservation process has just greatly improved with the internet.

Cheryl Bacon
23 days ago

Finally, someone who isn’t complaining about the changes in Life, including our recreation! I have been camping since the 60’s, even my parent’s made reservations when we went away. In a 30 mile radius we had 3 state parks and even back then they stayed busy. We traveled all along the NE and south. When my husband started working remote 20 years ago, we took off more and still made reservations. Traveling without reservations might sound like fun to some, but not to others. It just seems now the tide is turning and people are rediscovering the great outdoors. I have never felt it was a horrible thing they did, quite the opposite. It is about time people realized we live in country and continent that all have their own customs, food and history and everyone in North America doesn’t think like you! Embrace it, learn from it, you might become a more knowledgeable and a kinder person when you realize not everyone are made from the same mold you were.

Greg Even
23 days ago

The very first motorhome you see is ours. We were camp hosts at Cal Expo at the time this pic was taken. What a shock .

Rick Edgar
23 days ago

Thank you Mike Gast for this informative and positive article. Camping is changing but so can we as campers. Let’s just hope the newbie has a fast learning curve.

Randy Heasley
22 days ago
Reply to  Rick Edgar

Talk to the newbies in your campgrounds. Share some tips. Give them some good websites or podcasts to help them.

Grant Graves
23 days ago

I’ve always been a planner so it is no big deal to me. When I traveled to Hawaii or New Zealand or Australia or Europe it always helped to know what I wanted to do and where I was going to stay. I am doing fun things or resting up rather than running around looking for a room for an hour or two at the end of the day.

wanderer
23 days ago

Mike, do you prepay your rent or mortgage 6 months or a year in advance? Most of us who travel full or half time cannot afford to do that, even if we could justify being locked in to a tight schedule.

The problem is lack of capacity, and urging people to push to the front of the line and pay often non-refundable costs way in advance may be obvious advice, but not realistic for many.

Cheryl Bacon
23 days ago
Reply to  wanderer

If it isn’t realistic, why are the campgrounds full? We like a campground in Florida, and we pay for our site year round, even when we aren’t there. There are ways to to afford it, you just have to find them. Life has never gotten cheaper, that is why inflation is recorded.

Drew
23 days ago

I welcome the new rv’ers- some will need help and we enjoy providing that.

Irv
23 days ago

I plan ahead. Mostly learning what is interesting at our destination and along the route. Museums, natural wonders, historical sites, festivals, etc.

Too many times, I’ve been told, “you should have been here” at a slightly different time. Or returned from a trip to watch TV and learned we passed 20 miles from something we would have liked to have seen.

We first experienced the need to plan when we couldn’t find a tent-camping spot or motel near Gettysburg a late afternoon 50 years ago. We had to drive to Connecticut before we found a room at 3am. It was semi-finished with a mattress on the floor and no other furniture. We’ve made reservations ever since.

BIllinois
23 days ago

Well, when we have to start making reservations and plan trips a year ahead, that is when we will hang it up and sell. The whole appeal when we started RVing years ago was the ability to travel on a whim, stay where we wanted when we wanted. When that changes to the point where it doesn’t makes sense is when we’ll transition to some other form of travel and recreation.
We don’t need bells and whistles, pools, water slides, etc. Just a quiet, semi-private, reasonably sized campsite will do.

Jodine
21 days ago
Reply to  BIllinois

Whole heartedly in agreement

Judy S
23 days ago

Mike Gast, thank you and welcome to the newsletter! I’m always so impressed by the depth and breadth of wisdom here.

Will (DirectionWideOpen.com)
23 days ago

Today makes one year full-timing for the wife and I.   It never occurred to us to NOT plan ahead. The wife is a travel agent, after all, so it makes sense. In addition, we sold the house and got into this RV (not for Covid) to attend motorcycle and RV rallies, as well as to work remotely. Those rally dates are usually set, and those areas, of course, will see a greater influx of rigs during those event periods. Making a reservation ahead of time is just like booking the hotel room for your favorite conference; it’s got to be done.

We mostly have the entire year planned out, and reserved in most cases. (If a campground doesn’t take reservations, gasp!, then we exclude them immediately.) Maybe it has to do with pulling a 44′ fifth wheel, but we don’t fit just anywhere on a whim. In addition, we tend to stay in a location for a month to really experience the area (excluding those rallies, which generally means just a week.)

Tommy Molnar
23 days ago

“Embrace reservation systems, and always plan ahead”.
Sorry, I’m just not ready to do this. That would mean right now I should be thinking of where I want to go, and when. Heck, I can’t even decide what I’m going to do TODAY! We have to make another trip to Houston in April. We’ll make a reservation at the RV Park we stay in down there, but we’ll wing it (as usual) for the actual trip down and back. We don’t look for parks in the big cities along the way. We look for dinky little parks off the beaten path (read that Interstates) where all we want is basically a place to park, but we’ll use the power. Most likely there will not be a pool, hot tub, rec room, pickleball field, shuffleboard court, fire ring, or even paved sites. Once we’re back home in Nevada it’ll be 99.9% boondocking. I’m sure if we lived ‘back east’ (east of Salt Lake – ha) our lifestyle would be way different. But we don’t, and we’re grateful for that.

PennyPA
23 days ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

I totally agree with this statement. That’s how I plan to take my trip from Texas to New York this year.

Paul S Goldberg
23 days ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Agree with Tommy Molnar. I reserve when I know where I want to be when. Right now I am planting tent pegs in my map for places I have plans. The spaces in between are days and weeks long, So much of where we go next is determined by the weather, health and inspiration that often it is not possible to plan more than a few hours ahead. We have done this full time and extended part time for 20 years and yes it has resulted in our staying the night on the side of the road more than once – old road construction pullouts are just fine for dinner and a night’s sleep. Abandoned gas stations and big box store parking lots are also available. Even National parks often have Forest Service parks outside the main gate with no services, but privacy and really cheap with my Old Fart’s pass. I will reserve well ahead when I need a park for a special event

John Crawford
21 days ago

👍👍👍

John Crawford
21 days ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

👍I’ll give you a thumbs up on that Tommy. I can still walk into a hotel and airport with out making a reservation and get a room or plane. I can still call 3 or 4 campgrounds and find a place to stay for the night or week. Weekends are more challenging due to the locals but that is usually only at state parks. No I’m like you Tommy, if I have to make reservations everywhere I go I’ll hang it up.

Tom
23 days ago

Even those RV’s sold in disappointment will find other users to over fill campgrounds.