By Chuck Woodbury
In 1981, Barbara Mandrell recorded a song titled “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.” For those of you new to RVing, there was a time when RVing wasn’t cool. In fact, 10 years ago it wasn’t cool. It was still “Grandma and Grandpa’s Playhouse” (popular bumper sticker for a few decades). It was for old people. If you were 20, 30 or 40, it was for your parents or grandparents.
The pandemic has changed that. The only safe way to travel now is by RV. For anyone accustomed to hopping a plane to Europe every summer, or booking a cruise in the Caribbean, hitting the road with an RV and exploring the USA sounds a lot better than sitting at home. Europe can wait. Even if you’re 25, RVing is okay. It’s hip! Everybody wants to do it.
But this coolness has come with a huge price – crowding. RV parks are packed. Good luck finding a spot in a National Park campground without reserving it a year ahead. Some National Parks now require a reservation to just drive through the front gate!
I liked RVing better when it wasn’t cool. I could move around easily. I never made camping reservations.
THE RV INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION predicts more than half a million new RVs will ship to customers this year. KOA, the chain of campgrounds, predicts that nearly 20 million people will camp over the July 4th weekend. If you think you might want to join them but don’t have reservations yet, then plan on cooking your holiday hotdogs in the microwave in a Walmart parking lot (“America’s Overflow Campground”).
The relatively sudden “coolness” of RVing struck a nerve with me last weekend when Parade Magazine featured a cover story. “This could be you,” a caption near the top said. And there, in full color, occupying the entire cover of a magazine that would be read by 20 million people was a Class C motorhome crossing a beautiful highway bridge along the Pacific Ocean beach. I’ll tell you, if I were not yet an RVer, I’d be drooling: “I want to do that!”
I’m a road trip kinda guy. I don’t like parking my motorhome for months on end at a fancy resort to play pickleball and make jewelry in the craft shop. I want to be out searching for the world’s largest hairball or wolfing down any hamburger with a weird name (my all-time favorite was an Earl Burger). I want to drive blue highways, walk small town main streets, and grab coffee at the local cafe. “What can I bring you, Hon?” That’s what the servers ask (they used be called waitresses). They’re always women. Half are named Betty. I love ’em.
But those days are going, going … almost gone.
Okay, I’m venting about the good ol’ days just like every other old fart in the world. It’s a new world – yeah, I know – and most of the folks buying RVs nowadays don’t remember when you could drive whatever road you wanted, any direction, and at 4 p.m. find an RV park, pull in, and spend a night or two. They accept today’s realities of a crowded world.
What peeves me big time is that the RV Industry Association and its advertising and PR agencies are still pitching RVing as the way to “go where you want, when you want,” like it really was 20 years ago. That’s a whole lot of B.S. I suggest that today it’s far easier to find a hotel or motel room closer to a popular tourist attraction than a campground or RV park.
To be honest, I don’t even know what RVing means anymore – is it traveling with a $400,000 motor coach with built-in heated floors or a 20-foot travel trailer? Is the RV for camping or living? Do “houseless” people living on the streets in $150 junked Class C’s qualify as RVers? Do people who live year-round in a 45-foot luxury fifth wheel – are they RVers? Do workers on pipelines and wind machines, and traveling nurses, who spend three months in one place and then move to another, home-schooling their kids – are they RVers? Do van dwellers squatting on public lands, pooping in Home Depot buckets — are they RVers?
I don’t know. I really don’t.
Thank you for listening (reading). I needed to get this out.
Please leave a comment.
Another recent change to consider. Massachusetts campgrounds now REQUIRE proof of Covid stab. I’ve removed MA from my summer itinerary. Oh, and BTW – as a fulltimer, I like to take a break from the traveling, and enjoy staying in one place sometimes for 3 or 4 months. It allows me to join a pickleball or golf league. That doesn’t mean I’m NOT an RVer.
I downsized from a class A to a class C just to have better access to state parks, but I still enjoy the traveling.
I harbor the hope that one day we will venture far enough west for our RVing paths to cross with yours. However, I wonder if they already have. 😉 You described our RV pretty closely when contrasting it with a 20-foot travel trailer. 🙂 I do readily describe what we do with our RV as “traveling” not “camping.” As you note, having an RV with long list of amenities essentially identical to those of an upscale house calls into question whether one is “camping” when using it. Having grown up in the country among hayfields, pastures, and forests all right outside our back door, camping never appealed to me. I relished a warm bath and cozy bed after the end of a workday on the farm. So, I lobbied for as luxurious an RV as we could afford after lobbying for years to get an RV. Happily, we finally bought an RV five years ago. Since then we have covered 40,000 miles in it. Perhaps surprisingly our favored places to stay are “campgrounds,” not “RV parks,” and certainly not “RV resorts.”
Funny I just made a reservation at one of the nicest state parks for next weekend with no problem
Does anyone think the population explosion might be a factor here?
Great article Chuck. I just bought a 37 footer and it is hard as heck trying to get a reservation.
Times always change. Life is always changing. We can choose to either complain and whine or we can choose to make the best of things. Personally, I choose to continue to camp in my trailer. I choose to plan ahead if I want to stay in a popular campground. I choose to help the newbies I encounter (included three of my neighbors who recently bought their first RV) and help them learn the ropes whenever I can. I choose to NOT be selfish and begrudge anyone who wants to get into RVing because guess what, as far as I know people still have a right in this country to buy an RV and go camping if they want. I choose to enjoy my camping trips. I choose to look at the glass as half full. Sorry to say this, but I think if RVing has become such a nightmare for anyone that they have to constantly complain, then it’s probably time to hang up the keys.
My wife did “camping” since 1952 with her Mom, Dad, and two older brothers. She finally got me hooked in 1981. Made many vacations of 2 weeks without reservations [except places like Disney World]. Both retired in 2000 and typically spent 2-3 months in a state or two down south – without reservations. Can’t do that for probably 5 years now. The “not overcrowded” time was great. Spend a weekend now at a campground and you have to watch out for kids on bikes, etc. as they don’t even slow down or swerve out of your way. You have to move off the road – and watch out as they ride through your site! Now spending more weekdays camping [Monday-Thursday]. Much quieter and relaxing. I like seeing kids having fun but not running through my campsite. Hope more campgrounds are opened soon.
I’ll turn 70 later this year. Occasionally, I remember the “old folks” of my youth. Neighbors who were born in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. People who survived World Wars, the Great Depression, medicine and health care that by today’s standards would be considered medieval. I remember them being shocked at price increases that I took for granted. Every generation has to cope with and learn to deal with “advances” as the world grows and changes. I think the big issue is that inevitable changes are occurring at a MUCH faster rate than ever before. True “leadership” by government officials and others in power is SORELY lacking (just look at how the Corona19 Pandemic is being “handled”). When I was a child, MOST people seemed to be more tolerant and FAR less likely to go off in a rage about relatively minor issues. Back then, I think that far more people lived up to their Civic Duty of voting and being good citizens in general. I do NOT see America returning to those less hostile times
John, you’re right. When we were kids, everyone would have been in line to get a vaccine to eliminate a virus that has killed 600,000, read six hundred thousand Americans and several million world wide. But today, it’s I don’t want to get this, but you should! Everyone loves RV’ing as long as new campers don’t interfere with my camping, Oh and by the way, I want all the new technology at 1950 prices! Seems many have a severe an*l-cranium inversion issue nowadays. Time to roll with the times!
The hard truth is, many of us, new RVers were either too young or when younger could not afford the RV lifestyle described buy many of you. I fall into the later group. I think its great you guys had an experience this relatively new RVer may never see. It took 48 years of work to buy our new 2018 rig F350 & 5th wheel. Yes it makes us RVers. Over two decades of that 48 years in the US Navy while some of you explored without reservations. I don’t resent needing to work thru easier RVing times but I think those of you who didn’t, should be more happy for what you had and not resent those of us, that had to wait. I chose to enjoy every trip we get going forward reservations in hand
crowded or not.
Thank you and amen. I’m just about to get into retirement and RV-ing after 22 years in USMC followed by another 22 in church service. Great work but neither was great pay. Whatever tomorrow looks like, I’ll try to enjoy the days.
RV’ing and Camping have become like ‘Kleenex’ and ‘Facial Tissue’. Camping is what you do when you are in a ‘wild’ environment. It can happen in a government built/run Park, private campground or BLM land. RV’ing is doing RECREATIONAL things in any type of RV, but that is NOT always camping. When you full-time, and spend months at a time in a ‘spot’ then that’s not RV’ing in my view. Is it really ‘recreation’ when you have to move from Walmart to Cabelas to Cracker Barrel every day? When I fully retire in a few years, I plan on chasing the NASCAR series for a few years in my class A, but that’s not really camping in my view.
I think we need better terms for HOW we live. For over two centuries, Americans have looked at a ‘sticks and bricks’ home as the ideal. For years people with little or no means rented rooms in boarding houses, but those have been replaced with shelters, ‘couch surfing’ or ‘junker RV’s’. Are these RV’s a ‘rolling mansion’, or a ‘sleeping shuttle for work’?
Right; we don’t just Park and we don’t really cAMP. So I call it Pamping.
So that’s what you do to pamper yourselves, Michael? You go pamping? Sounds good to me! Have a good night. 😀 —Diane
Hopefully more RV campgrounds will be built.
we started our RV thing back in 1986 when we were in our mid-30’s. we were unusual because of our age. grandma and grandpa were almost always in the campsite next to us. we are not party people so the quiet of a campfire and a dark, moonless sky was the experience we craved.
the last few years have seen our travel limited to snowbirding. we’re currently in CA settling my late bro-in-law’s affairs. when we return home to IL the MH will be parked until snowbird time. our MH is paid for but it seems pointless to keep it and yet i can’t part with it. like Chuck I yearn for the past, a world that is nearly gone. he perfectly described what we loved about RVing and we miss that.
yes, it’s been a wild, wonderful and glorious ride. but i fear it’s almost over. not just because of the crowds…that’s bad enough..but my wife has developed mobility issues which severely limits our activities. she still likes to travel but the joy is rapidly fading away for us both.
Please, tell me more about the Earl Burger. I travel for burgers. Thank you.
As I tell my kids – the more things change, the more they stay insane.
I’m pretty confident that once the memories of the last 18 months fade, people will be back in the air, flying 500 miles instead of driving, staying in hotels with room service near downtown….and there will be a (literal) million 2-year-old RVs glutting the market. RVing really isn’t for everyone, and a lot of those people will decide they don’t need to be spending $250/mo (plus storage), twelve months a year, plus membership dues, when they only use the thing for 2 weekends over the summer.
The US population has nearly doubled since 1960. It stands to reason EVERYTHING is getting more crowded.
I always smile when I see these lamentations by Mr. Woodbury.
Here is a gentleman who has worked tirelessly and skillfully to basically advertise RV’ing for 20 years. To make it known and more popular.
And now it is popular. And now he does not like this state of affairs. Is there a certain irony here?
Boondocking is also a limited resource. “Leave No Trace” is unknown to many visitors. Picking up sofas and human waste strains limited budgets.
Are we in danger of “Loving our resources to death” once again?
I totally agree. I first saw Chuck Woodbury’s name when all he talked about was the sadness of a last adventure before his daughter went off to college. He posted a picture and I thought,”what a beautiful memory for a young woman going off to college.” I have been following off and on and love all the articles. I’m going to send a $ gift for the endurance, great article and lived through the ” good old day’s ” of camping and full time living.
Unfortunately, in general, the world is simply much more crowded today, and it will get worse. That said, the Covid-driven RV frenzy will likely abate. Most folks who are still working will find that smaller is better and that sometimes staying home or using motels is easier. When you’re working full time, that packing up, having a couple of days fun and then unpacking and cleaning gets old.
Understand your frustration, but maybe you ought to count your blessings that you had that more unfettered experience for many years? So many haven’t.
And yes, you can still have that. Just get a nicely outfitted, boondock-ready van. You won’t even have to poop in a bucket 😉 If you can’t find a forest campground spot, chances are you can find something else just as good for free. Sounds like a nice road trip to me.
Very well said. In my Golden years I had hoped to travel the back road of the US. I will still as much as possible. Thanks Chuck for the many years of delightful reading. Yours The Brandt’s
Agree 100%. We hope that those new arrivals will tire of the challenges of RV’ing (reservations, crowding, RV maintenance, RV loans) and will sell them or leave them in the driveway. On the other hand, the Western states are being overrun by new arrivals and what was once quiet beauty now has to be shared with multiple visitors (or, heaven forbid, reserved in advance)… Argh.