This is the season when nearly 100 million Americans will take a vacation, according to the Automobile Association of America, about half of them heading out on road trips.
Nature is a top draw, with lodging in and near national and state parks often booking up months in advance. Vacation rentals from app-based platforms have helped expand supply at the most popular spots, but many vacationers are opting for a more mobile road-tripping option with a recreational vehicle. These travelers don’t necessarily fit the retiree stereotype you might have from decades past.
Kampgrounds of America (KOA), the massive public campground operator, shared these insights about today’s RV traveler in its latest North American Camping Report:
- “Seventy percent of RVers are Millennials and Gen Xers.”
- “As Millennials welcome children to their family, their preference for RVs increases.”
- “One in five campers say that their first camping experience was in an RV. In a noticeable drop from past results, far fewer new campers report starting their camping experiences in a tent.”
If you’re picturing a massive land barge chugging eight miles per gallon, your mental image of RVs is also largely out of date. Those still exist, but “lightweight travel trailers are the most popular,” comments Kevin Broom with the RV Industry Association. “Many can be pulled by the family sedan or SUV, and still have the comforts of home,” he notes. These can include flat screen TVs inside and out, convection microwave ovens and smart controls. Some compact camper vans offer 14 to 20 miles per gallon, depending on how much gear you’re carrying, road conditions and your driving style. RVIA publishes buyers’ guides on its GoRVing.com site.
The longer vehicles are often too big for national parks, in addition to still being gas guzzlers. “Some parks impose 30-foot length limits, so it’s best to tow something around 25 feet maximum, which also makes it easier to navigate if it’s crowded,” suggests Gigi Stetler, founder of TheRVAdvisor.com and CEO of RV Sales of Broward, a dealer located in the Ft. Lauderdale area.
“Different demographics have different preferences,” she notes. “For instance, my South Florida market loves two-bedroom towables. In other areas we’ve seen that tiny one bedrooms are hot, especially for people going to remote locations.”
If you’re an off-roading type, you can select a model that’s built for those conditions. Setler recommends a camper with dual wheels for the most stability. “Some RVs and travel trailers are built with bigger tires and higher clearance from the ground. They may also be equipped with solar panels for an off-the-grid experience,” RVIA’s Broom adds.
Deserted locations with more space open up your travel possibilities. “However, as a tradeoff, you might encounter fewer public amenities and clear-cut parking spots, so it’s important to plan ahead,” suggests Luca Sumberac, Category Manager at CAMPERiD.com, an online retailer of RV parts and accessories. “If you’re going to be boondocking (parking/camping for free), you likely won’t have access to electrical power. If you go this route frequently, a bigger rig that has a reliable bathroom, larger water tank and generator capabilities is a wise investment.”
Other popular – and practical – RV amenities, says Sumberac, include full-size refrigerators, washer/dryer sets, both offering families more convenience; LED lights for greater longevity (and less maintenance), and smart security systems tied to your phone. The most sought-after features overall, Broom reports, are, first and foremost, a comfortable bed, then a bathroom, wifi and climate control. Pricewise, you’re looking at $8,000 for a new travel trailer up to $50,000 depending on size and feature, he says.
What if you think you might want to try this type of vacation, but don’t want to invest until you know you’ll like it? Borrowing a trailer from family or friends is a very popular option, KOA concluded in its study. Renting is another option if you don’t know someone who owns a camper.
Sites like Glamping Hub let you choose a camper van – including those retro-chic Airstreams –located in or near your preferred vacation area, and use it there or take it on the road. Although this is just one of the company’s vacation rental categories, it increased about 22 percent since last year, partnerships manager Jessica Armstrong says. The majority of the site’s U.S. listings are in California, with Texas, Oregon and Washington rounding out the top four, she says. (Interesting to note: the U.K. is nearly twice as large a camper van market as California.)
Pet-friendly camper vans are a popular option, Armstrong points out. “Finding a place for your dog to stay means leaving your furry friend out of the adventure. Now you can enjoy their company on what will be an unforgettable getaway.”
Amy Burkert of GoPetFriendly.com believes that pets are increasing the popularity of RVing, especially since 68% of American households have at least one animal. “A camper allows pets to travel in familiar surroundings, and makes it easier to stick to their normal routines, both of which help reduce any anxiety the pet might feel about being away from home. Using remote cameras and a temperature monitor even allows you to leave the pet alone for short periods of time,” the author and blogger notes.
While a vacation home would offer the same advantage, the cost and annual tax bill is typically higher, and you’re not afforded the benefit of seeing new places each time you vacation. With pets and nature both being well-established stress relievers, this could be a doubly beneficial vacation strategy.