RVing today is a far cry from what it was a decade or two ago

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    By Chuck Woodbury
    RVTRAVEL.COM

    What does this scene have to do with RVing? At first glance, you may say nothing. But I think it does, or at least it can.

    I took this photo of a suburban housing development from my window seat on a Boeing 737 as the plane let down into Philadelphia. The thought struck me that 40 years ago, the same area was probably rural, a few farmhouses here and there, but mostly wide-open, unoccupied farmland. People who lived there lived in the country where life moved slow, neighbors were few, and when they gathered it was at the corner cafe, where everybody knew their name and their dogs, too.

    Bye and bye, the local chamber of commerce decided to promote the area as a fine place to live, away from the problems of crowded, decaying cities. “Live in your dream home where the air is pure, where there’s room to breathe, and where everybody knows your name.”


    And, one by one, people came. They loved it — the freedom, the peace, the clean air. “We never locked our door,” one woman once told me who lived in such a place in rural Missouri. “We never worried about anyone stealing anything. Sometimes we’d come home and somebody would have left a homemade pie in the refrigerator.”

    FAST FORWARD 15 YEARS. A home developer arrives and begins building affordable tract homes. He builds 60 at first, which sell quickly, then 60 more. A freeway is being built nearby; residents can live in the country and easily commute to the city to work. And then another developer arrives, and another. The general store and corner cafe give way to 7-Elevens, McDonald’s and Taco Bells. Walmart arrives in the next town and decimates Main Street. The freeway is gridlocked half the day.

    Before long, “rural” becomes “suburb.”

    I watched this happen growing up 20 miles from Los Angeles, moving there as a child to a town of 4,000, leaving 16 years later when the population had swelled to 60,000. The orange groves were gone. The hillside where my buddies and I played became luxury view homes.

    Could the local chamber in Pennsylvania continue today to promote country living as it had before? “Live in your dream home where the air is pure, where there’s room to breathe, and where everybody knows your name.”

    HOW THIS RELATES TO RVing
    And here is where I see a similarity with RVing: The RV industry continues to promote the freedom of RVing, even though another half-million RVs are unleashed onto the highways and into campgrounds every year. Years ago it was absolutely appropriate to promote RVing as a way to “go where you want when you want.” I know, I did it! I didn’t make a single camping reservation for more than 25 years. 

    The RV industry continues to promote the “freedom” idea, but it’s just not true, any more than living in the subdivision above is still akin to living in the “peaceful countryside.”

    Hershey RV show
    Buyers were out in force at last month’s Hershey RV Show. More than 60,000 people attended.

    The population of the Unites States when I began RVing in the early 1980s was about 230 million. Since then it has grown to about 330 million. Those additional 100 million people are now sharing our public lands — our National and State Parks, National Forests, even the wide-open spaces of the desert Southwest. Anyone with a modern RV can easily live full-time in it (that wasn’t easy to do even 25 years ago), and increasingly that’s what they are doing; these people fill RV parks once available to drop-in overnighters.

    Is it any wonder it’s harder now to find a place to stay on the spur of the moment?

    In 1982, the year I bought my first RV, a total of 140,000 RVs were shipped to dealers. Last year, 504,000 were shipped. In all those years, I’d guess the number of available campsites has barely increased.  

    RV parks are often so packed with long-term residents that there’s no room for last-minute drop-ins.

    MY POINT IS THAT RVing TODAY is not the same as it was a few decades ago. It can still be wonderful, just as living in a crowded suburb can be wonderful. But the lifestyle in both cases is far from what it was before the crowds arrived.

    Yet the industry does nothing of significance to address where to stay with the RVs that it continues to spew out in record numbers. Today, campground and RV park reservations are often required – often months, even years in advance – to secure a place to stay in popular tourist areas. A recent RVtravel.com poll showed that two-thirds of the more than 2,000 readers who responded make reservations all the time or most of the time rather than just “winging it.” 

    Here’s something the RV and camping industry associations could do, but don’t: Many small town entrepreneurs propose building RV parks in their communities. But misinformed locals complain to the city council: “We don’t want those lowlifes here!” And so the council denies the building permit. Why doesn’t the RV industry dispatch a skilled representative to the city council meeting to sell them on the benefits of having the park? They don’t! They are too shortsighted.

    My point is that RVing has changed. How and where we use RVs has changed. We need to address those changes or our RV lifestyles will become as clogged as our suburbs and freeways. If change does not come, RVing will become increasingly challenging and eventually not worth the effort. At that point, RVers will sell their rigs and buy condos. Some RVtravel.com readers report they already have.

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    Lynne
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    Lynne

    Seeing the lead picture, and having left the Philadelphia suburbs for fulltime RVing, my initial reaction was there are too many people. We saw the area around our house grow with new developments that increased traffic congestion. My cousin, who has lived in Florida for over 30 years, recently told me about the numbers of people moving to Florida. These are not only RVers. A couple of years ago I had never heard of The Villages. Now that I know what it is, I am astounded. And it is continuing to grow. On the other hand, I have heard of… Read more »

    Butch
    Guest
    Butch

    We just completed a ten week 11000 mile RV trip from Florida to Idaho and back. Most of the time was spent driving. Most nights were in RV parks, packed in like sardines. High prices…view of my neighbor’s sewer hose. State Parks are no longer a deal. Same prices as RV parks, with slightly larger sites…usually. I can’t even stay in my home state of Florida any more. The Keys are booked a year in advance. No RV parking signs everywhere. Sure not like the pictures in Camping World advertising. 🙂 We have a 21 foot Roadtrek. We thought we… Read more »

    Bill
    Guest
    Bill

    Lots of good comments. I think that the answer is that we are the consumers and control significant “spend” that’s required for any solution to be successful. Escapees has a model where members invested in parks and worked to improve their parks for long term folks and provided space for travelers. It seems the momentum has waned and needs a kickstart for growth. Their model allowed for people to sell to get their original investment back. The Airbnb type solution is interesting, but probably won’t serve enough people to be a long term solution. I think we need to consolidate… Read more »

    Eric Meslin
    Guest
    Eric Meslin

    Family commitments forced me to make a detailed plan, and then follow that plan with almost 100% reservations over a one month time frame this summer. We stayed with a Harvest Host for one night, but it was very warm and no one was happy. I’m still hearing about it. This originally came about because a National Forest reservation fell through due to flooding. We twiddled our thumbs at some locations and wished we could extend at others, but with reservations we had to stick to the plan or pay additional cancellation/change fees. I only had one reservation at a… Read more »

    Retired firefighter Tom
    Guest
    Retired firefighter Tom

    Wow! Lots of comments. I, too, started camping in 1981 when our only child was 2 yeas old. [he and his family are also RVers.] Back then we only made reservations at places like Disney World. Everything else was ‘as you go’ with no problems. The lack of campsites became worse about 2014 and now finding a spot for the night is extremely difficult even if you call early in the morning. Many campgrounds are full. I hope the situation changes – soon. Approaching 74 years of age I certainly don’t need the stress of not finding a place to… Read more »

    Rachel
    Guest
    Rachel

    There is no doubt that the RV life is not like it used to be, with good and bad things that have come with progress.

    As far as the marketing needed to encourage communities to open small RV locations, that comes down to not having the skills or the motivation needed to do that marketing. Sadly, if it is not profitable, then there is no incentive to train a department that is dedicated to advocating for RVers.

    Renee G
    Guest
    Renee G

    Chuck, thanks for posting the article. We are seasonal campers and travelers and so far we’ve noticed that the full hookup campgrounds in our area are increasingly harder to get into. Even trying to make a reservation almost a year in advance is near impossible. On the positive side, we much prefer dispersed camping and we can usually find something in our area. The major holidays do take planning, but it’s been that way for quite some time. Our major travel is done mid to late September and we usually don’t have a problem with finding a spot at that… Read more »

    Kelly R
    Guest
    Kelly R

    Yep Chuck, times are a changin’ and I would go back to 1950 if I could. Dad started “trailer camping” then – I don’t think “RV” had been invented back then. Now I’m in a Roadtrek Class B. (I have gotten soft.) The RV industry as a whole SHOULD provide/support RV resorts and campgrounds. If I recall the PBS programs I have seen, the trolley car lines that ran through cities created amusement parks at the end of their lines to increase ridership. Railroads built Lodges at the end of or along their lines to increase ridership. Even before cars,… Read more »

    Bob
    Guest
    Bob

    In reading all of these comments, a couple of thoughts come to mind. First, some argue that RV builders have no vested interest in CGs and therefore should not be held responsible in any way for the problems. Then again, some argue that RV builders are creating the problem and therefore should solve it. It seems to me that somewhere in the middle of these two arguments is the answer. That development you pictured is a place to start. The developer found the land and planned to build houses. But the developer needs some things-electricity, water, sewer, roads, etc. While… Read more »

    Richard Lang
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    Richard Lang

    I can’t disagree with you, but I would point beyond the manufacturers to the organizations that say they represent the RV communities – FMCA, Escapees, Good Sam, Passport America and the rest. Many offer excellent benefits to the individual RV owner, but fail to take on representing their membership as a body and the RV community as a whole. After that, those of us IN the organizations could be seen to be shirking a proactive stance in the matter. If we leave it for others and don’t start pressing up, then nothing will happen. Get involved! Demand that the dues… Read more »

    Land Shark
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    Land Shark

    I grew up in the Philly area, and trust me, 40 years ago very little of the immediate suburbs were considered “country”. Philly was always a neighborhood centered community and in the time between 1945 and 1965, or so when the suburbs were built up that tradition continued. I noticed how you still managed to fit in a dig against Camping World. This is a regular thing anymore. I don’t know what it is but your hatred of them is almost unhealthy. Fine, you have issues with them but do you constantly need to rail against them and their CEO?… Read more »

    livingboondockingmexico
    Guest
    livingboondockingmexico

    I like Chuck’s idea of hitting them in the financial pocket. What does that really mean to most rvers who are retired? How many of us are invested in mutual funds that are contrary to the subject at hand? Most people don’t check or the information is so convoluted that you can’t get to the bottom of the file as funds are sold and purchased. People are against low minimum wage but are invested in funds that support those companies known for paying minimum wage. People complain about CW and then go and shop at their stores. As Chuck said,… Read more »

    Laurel Deveso
    Guest
    Laurel Deveso

    We are some of those full-time RVers clogging up your parks. That’s because we simply can’t afford to live any other way. My disability and my husband’s divorce wiped out our retirement funds and now we live on SSI – and we are far from the only ones we’ve met over the past year. Hopefully those RVers not able to get a reservation at least still have a home to stay in – plenty of us no longer have that option. And you and I both know it is going to get waaayy worse, not better.

    Mark B
    Guest
    Mark B

    Does anybody else feel guilty? From ages 18-64, I drove tiny vehicles that were as fuel efficient as possible. My Jetta diesels all achieved 48+ combined mileage and when the fed stop delaying the date for cleaner diesel fuel, diesels became better stewards of our environment. I slept on the ground (tents) until this year, with the exception of two years of a novel fiberglass (1972 Compact Jr) TT that could be towed behind a small vehicle. I traveled alone, with friend(s) and then with family. Now, at age 65, I have a gas guzzling Class C (yes, there are… Read more »

    Cheryl
    Guest
    Cheryl

    Feel guilty, that is a hands down no. My first car could hold 8 people, was a V8, took leaded gas and was made of steel.

    Bob Schilling
    Guest
    Bob Schilling

    Chuck, I’ve read a large chunk of the comments you’ve received so far and I just have to comment on a theme I’ll paraphrase.. “Remember, they are a business, they need to make money and it’s OK if that’s the number one measure of how they operate.” This headset that making money is all that matters, as much money as possible, devoid of a thought for working together with your fellow humans / customers to meet everyone’s needs, is just wrong headed. It’s easy to witness this happening in big industry where workers are becoming viewed as parts to be… Read more »

    Mark B
    Guest
    Mark B

    Eureka, I think I have another solution:

    Amend the Federal Highway Aid act so that to receive federal assistance for interstate roadway interchanges (new or rebuild) there is requirement for every 6 motels built at a single interstate exit, the local establishments must acquire property, build and service an RV overnight area equivalent to their total number of rooms divided by 100, within two exchanges either direction. (We don’t necessarily want to be right behind 6 motels, Denny’s, McDonalds and 4 gas stations do we?)
    .

    Mark B
    Guest
    Mark B

    Chuck, when you are done pounding you war drums about Camping World and the RV builders, you should focus on a real problem. Boeing and others keep building more and more planes. At the same time, airlines keep putting the seats closer together and charging higher fares. Sometimes it costs $600 for a seat, and then I have to pay $50 for a bag… if I can even get on the flight. In 1980, I used to be able to fly from city to city and often stretch out and sleep across the whole row. I could bring as much… Read more »

    Renee G
    Guest
    Renee G

    I applaud Chuck for being persistent in point out the poor quality of RV’s built today, the financing racket, and the monopoly of Camping World. Leave the cost an airline ticket and problems with that industry to someone else.

    Rod
    Guest
    Rod

    About the time that those crowded hillsides were rural ranch land, the population of the USA was around 1,500,00. No one seems to want to address the continually GROWING problem of
    overpopulation.

    Gayle Hutchings
    Guest
    Gayle Hutchings

    Camping or RVing used to be preferred for a less costly way to travel with your family and now with the shortage of campground sites without a reservation it makes it hard to even consider that option. Sometimes you would like to just go where you want and stop where you want but having to make reservations don’t always allow for that. If you have never been to a place and would like to stay a little longer you may not be able to because you did not reserve the extra time. As some comments say the closest RV Park… Read more »

    Elaine Ashton
    Guest
    Elaine Ashton

    Rod — you hit the nail on the head … I sure would LOVE to her more conversation on the subject of overpopulation — or do we wait for the civil war that is building?

    John Hiler
    Guest
    John Hiler

    Corporate is now beginning to control the RV and the RV Park market. Welcome to Corporate Amerika where every corporation has a vote of more…No big money in excess rv spaces…

    Jimmy Cornett
    Guest
    Jimmy Cornett

    As the new manager of Shadrack Campground.com in Bristol, Tn. we always have sites available. We’re always happy to accommodate those without reservations. Come check us out. We accept Passport America, Good Sam, and Military discounts. Not trying to advertise, just want to state there are campgrounds that still have availability.

    Mark B
    Guest
    Mark B

    Best of luck. Looks like you have a captive crowd for the races, and are also along a path that many might use when traveling from Northeast corridor to some of the warmer winter locations. Website could be updated as your cancelled events in 2017 aren’t a best foot forward. Are you open year round?

    Steve C
    Guest
    Steve C

    I work part-time at a luxury RV resort in the mountains of Colorado. This model will never be replicated in the resort areas because the land is far more valuable to a developer as a condo complex nowadays. The only reason this resort still exists is that all of the lots are individually owned, any many by folks who are not as concerned with the money as they are with having their own little piece of the mountains. We also avoid the “full-time” phenomenon due to county zoning–the lots are all zoned as vacation rentals, so they can only be… Read more »

    Kern
    Guest
    Kern

    Look into the company called Outdoorsy that is like Air BnB. The website explains them.

    Bob Schilling
    Guest
    Bob Schilling

    Steve C, your idea is fantastic. An AirBnB for RVs would make great sense, might even get me to buy a space in my favorite park if I could rent it out when I was planning to be on the road. That would make the price affordable. Thanks for the idea.

    Terry
    Guest
    Terry

    My husband and I have been camping for quite a few years now and each year it gets harder and harder to find a campsite. We travel south and north a lot and go a little west also. Mainly south or southwest to get out of the winter weather. We like having full hookups (water/sewer/electricity). A lot of sites do not have sewer. The biggest problem that we have found is that a lot of campgrounds/rv parks are reserved for full time winter patrons and they only have a few sites they leave open for the one night to weekend… Read more »

    Kim Mills
    Guest
    Kim Mills

    https://www.ohioturnpike.org/travelers/service-plazas As a sunbird who spends summers away from SW Florida I use our 21 ft trailer as a “hotel room” as we travel around touring and sightseeing in other states and provinces. We enjoy nice sites that allow us to spend 4-7 nites to explore a new area but ALSO like convenient short overnight places along the drive to recharge after a long day of driving. We found the model of the OHIO turnpike RV spaces in their travel places to be perfect and wish this was possible in other states where space was made available. Currently they are… Read more »

    Scott Snider
    Guest
    Scott Snider

    Great article and agree with all of it. I live in So Cal and you do have to make reservations months in advance most of the time. Also around popular tourist places. But I will say as I traveled from CA to Pittsburgh PA last year once out of Ca most place I called about an hour out and had no problem getting a place for the night in my road trip. Plus the prices dropped once out of Ca also from like $50+ a night to an average of about $22 a night with full hook ups and that… Read more »

    Dave
    Guest
    Dave

    Great article Chuck It will get worse before it gets better. Airlines have made travel miserable and costly. Families are better off with a cheap trailer and have more fun getting to the destination. Years ago RV manufactures built resorts to encourage buying their coaches. In Colorado I have tried to get developers to build a class A rv Park and no one can get a city to approve. Great need here even for KOA IN the Denver Area I also will not buy anything from Camping World or Good Sam Bad for America . I also do not buy… Read more »