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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    Alvin

    Great article Chuck. What we’ve noticed hasn’t changed is people still appear quite content to jam and cram themselves, kids, pets and relatives into smaller and smaller busier and busier “tourist destinations”. I say smaller not because they’re physically smaller but because these former places of solitude can’t accommodate, the hoards descending on them, they’ve run out of space.

    A lot of what we notice is the contest, to see who can drive or pull the largest most unwieldy piece of equipment, into parks and campgrounds many designed in the 50’s and 60’s to accommodate 25 foot Airstreams & tent trailers.

    We work at trying to avoid the high density areas, something in itself that’s becoming more and more of a problem too, as the yahoos who are not welcome in the cram and jams with their racket, move further out to the country to yahoo their heads off way into the night – most nights.

    It sure isn’t like it used to be and I’m glad we lived in a more considerate time when getting out of the city actually meant getting away from “it all”

    Billie Kucharo

    Makes me very sad.

    Holly

    As usual Chuck, you have hit the Rv nail right on the proverbial head! We’ve been in one Rv or another since 19-oh-my-God … (1979??) We now have a 2017 29′ 5th wheel & 2016 Ford f-250. In 2009 we took an 11 month jaunt cross country – great trip, but the planning was mind-boggling. We had to make reservations for every single stop. If I recall, the planning took almost as long as the the actual trip, if not longer – CRAZY!! This past year we took a 5-week getaway in Northern AZ, we just wanted to go one place and stay for the entire time. Finding an RV campground in the area to meet our needs was an exercise in terror – we finally found a place, it sounded wonderful, wound up being not so much, way over-priced and very disappointing. Yes, RVing sure has changed. But we’ll keep on trying … next time we’ll head over to Laughlin and gamble for a few days – at least at the Riverside you know what you’ll get.

    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 people who tried to open new RV parks, paying thousands of dollars jumping through hoops to ultimately be told there is some obscure zoning issue.

    Obviously, the popular areas are going to be booked in advance. The numbers of people who visit national parks is forcing them to come up with new options – such as no private cars in Zion during peak season. Not just an RV problem.

    Not sure what the answer is. But, sadly, I don’t think this is unique to RVers.

    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 could go anywhere. But now stuck “boondocking” in my sons driveway in Houston. At least I feel welcome.

    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 our buying power and create our own solution. Why not create a poll and see how much each of us would invest to start building your “10 buck Chuck” hybrid RV parks? You have started the discussion and can take it to the next level or find an existing organization that could carry it forward.

    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 national park when we headed west for a one month trip in mid-September. I didn’t expect problems, but Utah was downright crowded. No space at any campground in or around Moab. There must be at least 20 or 25 campgrounds. I finally found one site (last one) at a campground about 40 minutes north in a mostly abandoned town. Despite the warm weather we got turned away from two federal campgrounds closing for the season. Even the hosts didn’t get why they closed so early. We’ll continue to camp until it’s not fun any more. We live in Florida and can’t use our state parks unless we reserve way in advance. Commitments that far out are very difficult when you’re older. To make matters worse: I see there’s a new computerized notification service for cancellations. I can’t compete with that. We may only be good for another year or two before we just give up and retire from RVing.

    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 stay for the night.

    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

    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 time of year. The biggest problem is with FS CG’s closing early.

    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, some people improved the muddy roads along the way and charged a toll, to get people to their inn/tavern. I’m sure there are many other examples of how business created a destination for their product.

    Mr. Camping World should set up a RV park at every one of his stores. (I don’t think I would stay there but it would get people off the road to make room for me.) Lazydays RV in Tampa is a huge RV dealer with a huge RV park right next to its dealership. It sure works for them.

    The RV industry including the RV organizations should not be so short sighted as to not create a destination for their products or organizations if they want to exist into the future.
    OR…. is it that the CEOs of these organizations just do not care, if they can get their million dollar salary and golden parachute? – don’t care if their company goes under after they leave? OR …. do they see that the industry is at its peak and that when it crashes they would end up with an oversupply of empty parks?

    We travel to travel. We are not destination people. Motel RV spots, roadside overnight spots would work just fine for us. I do not mean Walmart parking lots.

    Keep the flag flyin’ high.

    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 he does not build these, and is not responsible, necessarily, for providing them, you can be certain that he is at the table and seriously involved in influencing those that are responsible for their provision. So RV builders should be involved in the infrastructure development for their product. Not by themselves, though. There should be a national group composed of RV builders, CG association members, RV clubs, city and municipality associations, insurance industry representatives, RV publications, and others, along with several actual, real RV campers. Their goal should be to create a dialogue leading to real solutions to the issue. That housing developer was part of the discussions and decisions regarding infrastructure in his development. And so should the RV builders.
    Second, having said this, we usually look for the off-the-beaten-path mom-and-pop CGs or small town RV sites at their city parks, for this very reason. We don’t like the crowds at major tourist sites. And many quiet, uncrowded sites can be found, even in the state of ND where I live. Many will only have electricity, but with fresh water and dump site available.
    Anyway, just a few thoughts. Happy and safe travels to all. I will do much more next year after retirement begins. Be looking for you on the road!

    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 you pay go for more than a discount on tires or lower rates at a campground. Demand they fund a concerted lobbying effort to enhance your own lifestyle!

    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? Now KOA is quickly growing to a similar vein. Enough. We get it already.

    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, why doesn’t the industry support communities and builders of rv parks by sending representatives to city council meeting and the state legislature? It’s funny, most of us grew up in the 60s where it was popular to rail against government and now it appears we are sitting on our laurels. Write to your local authorities, city councilpersons, senators, and representatives and rv manufacturers. Saying and doing are two different animals. It’s time to act.

    Are you willing to give up some or a little of your comfortable rving life so that others in the future, such as our children, will be able to continue the rv lifestyle?

    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

    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 slightly more fuel conservative choices/combos). I get to stay in comfort, even luxury, protected from the elements. However, I still feel guilty about the carbon footprint I am leaving.

    I am proud to see one of my children enjoying nature on 1-2 week long treks with nothing more than a backpack.

    The cause I’d really like to fight for is the paradigm shift needed to have tiny tents/hammocks be accepted along America’s byways as long as they leave no footprint. I really feel guilty asking others to support stayovers of my motorhome, or even complaining about the fact cities have grown and replaced open areas, while the ratio of available RV spaces to RVs produced keeps falling.

    So far, I have found someplace to park every night. I have stayed at beautiful campgrounds overlooking waterways or scenic vistas. Campgrounds operated for/by Federal agencies and state parks have had accommodations, although I am prepared and willing to use the self-sufficiency of an RV for a few days at a time (read: no electric, water, sewer). I’ve also sampled parking areas and dispersed. I stopped at (or called) RV parks where the age of my RV was prohibited, or they were full (for the next month or two). And yes, I know that all summer long, there will be scarcity on Friday & Saturday all over the country. My expectations are adjusted for today’s realities. I still feel guilty that I am indulging in such luxury and pollution.

    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 used up and replaced as soon as they are no longer needed, as long as the bottom line keeps going up. You can see it in the idea that a business isn’t successful unless it creates a hefty increase in profits each year (as seen in stock prices). That headset is controlling RV manufacturers, city and town councils (via tax revenue), developers who will opt for massive condo/gated communities over RV Parks, the decision to grow/improve existing RV parks, etc.

    The problem, as I see it, is as much social as financial. When we became full-time RVers and rented, then sold our condo, we discovered how much ‘stuff’ we had accumulated and didn’t need (or use). We started thinking about what was really important, and it was enjoying our lives with friends and family and not about how much ‘stuff’ we had. Maybe, if we can find a way to help people stop equating success with how much ‘stuff’/money they accumulate, the headset will change. RV manufacturers would become as interested in how customers were experiencing their purchase and how they could improve that experience, as they were in profit margin. They would determine what they could do to to make satisfaction a measure of business success which it surely will be if they care about return business and reputation. City and town councils would recognize that RV visitors contribute as much money to town businesses and tax revenue as hotel visitors. I suspect many of these cities and towns currently have property on their rolls that aren’t producing any significant tax income. They could change that by encouraging developers to turn that property into profitable RV parks.

    When these entities start focusing on people instead of dollars, I believe they will still be profitable, maybe even more so, and everyone will benefit.

    OK… I’ll step down from my podium 😉

    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

    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 baggage as I wanted. Some flights only had about 20 people, so we weren’t all parked on top of each other. Who is going to fix this situation?