October 19, 2017
The paradox expressed in Dickens opening line of the novel, Tale of Two Cities, is equally true with regard to our decision to become full-time RVers. It could not be a better time to take advantage of our personal economics, family circumstances, and the state of affairs that exist at both the state and federal level, to leave it all behind, at least temporarily, and explore what is out there for us and explore ourselves as well. At the same time, we are clearly not alone in this endeavor. It is a bit concerning just how many others are doing the same thing and how congested the retirement highway may be with fellow travelers making it more difficult to find spaces and resources.
It seems that virtually every conversation we have about our plans is accompanied by a story of either someone that person knows, or that person, planning to do the same thing or actively engaged in the journey. In our search for a suitable place in Florida for the winter, while we plan the next stages of our life, we were aware that sites in places that we felt best fit us, were not plentiful. Although we were able to get a spot in Bonita Springs, which is where we wanted to be, we had to wait for the spot we wanted to open up. Thankfully it did.
There has been a steady growth in the number of RV sales since 1979 when the industry started to keep track of sales. Sales have doubled since 2008. According to a USA Today article published in 2017, the majority of sales are to millennials in the age group 30 to 40. Young families are primarily purchasing travel trailers and choosing the RV lifestyle for weekend trips and vacations for the same reasons that we did the same with our family in the 90s. RVing promotes outdoor activities and provides an affordable way to visit places and see things.
Anyone who has flown with children, and/or stayed in a hotel for a protracted amount of time with even one child, has to agree that staying in a place that allows the kids to work off some energy at the playground and pool while the adults actually find five minutes to read the paper, or under miraculous circumstances, an actual book, is preferable to being stuck in a hotel room listening to the annoying screechy voices emanating from the cartoons on TV and relentlessly hearing “Can we go now?”.
The increase in people of retirement age hitting the road is a function of many things. Many baby-boomers have prospered financially in their careers and have the means to choose this lifestyle. Their economic status, coupled with a desire to shed themselves of major financial and time responsibilities, causes many to sell their biggest asset; the home. Many are in a position to reap sizeable equity from their homes and the very sizeable time commitment associated with upkeep.
Baby-boomers choosing the RV lifestyle tend to purchase at a different level than millennials. Millennials are concerned with value, quality and flexibility. Baby-boomers are concerned with making a home for themselves. Cost is less of a factor than amenities. You see more of a tendency to purchase larger motor homes and fifth wheels that allow for more space, flexibility and occasional privacy. Although they look forward to enjoying the travel with their partners, they also recognize that sharing a single space 24/7 with their partner could lead to divorce or murder.
The increase in the baby-boomer exodus to the open road is also a function of health and aging. 70 is the new 50. Really? I am 62. In my mind I am 40. Unfortunately, my hips and shoulders are trying to make me believe I am 80. Nevertheless, baby-boomers are in general are more active and in better physical condition than ever before. They do not want to sit around in retirement. They need to be engaged both physically and mentally. They are biking and hiking. They want to see things and experience things in person. And anyone over the age of 60 that says that they do not occasionally think about it being in the last quarter of the game, is either lying or utilizing way too much medical marijuana.
The fear is that the increase in those choosing this lifestyle, especially full-time in retirement, could mean a strain on site availability and a demand on resources. That increased demand on resources could manifest itself in increased prices for sites and amenities such as water, electricity, wi-fi, and cable TV. Travel could become a bit more difficult with less space in rest stops and refueling stations.
We have already experienced another manifestation of the glut. We unfortunately find ourselves in need of repair work on our largest slide-out. It does not seem to want to retract all the way. Finding someone who can do the repair at this time of year is near impossible. It is essentially the end of the RV season. Those who own RVs, especially in areas that experience cold winters want their units winterized. RV repair facilities are literally full out between October 1 and November 1. This is an indication of just how many RVs are out there and drawing annually on resources.
The upside to the numbers of people choosing this lifestyle is the opportunity to meet new people wherever we go. One of the things that we have enjoyed most about the RV lifestyle is the atmosphere that exists in campgrounds. It is a different world. Once most people enter a campground their inhibitions dissolve and naked friendliness ensues. Being a Northeasterner most of my life, and a Nutmegger from Connecticut to boot, I am used to a very buttoned-up and insolated environment. There are very few smiles and hellos to strangers and sharing family information with a stranger would be rare.
In a campground it would be considered rude to avoid a hello. You actively want to hear the stories of others and to share your own. We still laugh about our middle child’s take on camping for many years. We would pull into the campground, and while I tried to set up, my wife would try to manage the three kids and the dog. Invariably, our daughter would wander off to a nearby campsite that sported other kids and attach herself to another family. Often, she would become the extra child they never had or wanted for the remainder of the weekend. As much as we apologized for her intrusion and constant presence, the other family would almost always welcome her. We occasionally had extra children as well. It is just a part of the experience.
Time will tell what the experience brings. Will we enjoy the freedom of the road with unfettered access to campgrounds, sites and resources or will we be one of a growing army battling for places to stay and opportunities to enjoy unique experiences. The great thing is that we have options. We understand that we are fortunate to have those options and we plan to take as much advantage of them as we can.