Last summer ushered in “the year of the RV,” when an unprecedented number of Americans opted to travel via motorhomes, campervans, and travel trailers as a way to socially distance and remain in a safer “bubble” while hitting the road and enjoying the great outdoors.
Now, with vaccinations on the upswing, travel restrictions loosening, COVID-19 cases decreasing across the United States, and a year’s worth of pent-up travel demand about to be unleashed, all signs point to summer 2021 being equally busy, if not busier, on America’s highways and byways.
Indeed, the RV camping trend isn’t going away, says Jon Gray, the CEO of RVShare, the world’s first and largest peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace.
“Our business tripled by the end of last summer as people hit the road in record numbers to visit family and friends, take a much-needed vacation to enjoy nature and new destinations, and go mobile taking advantage of ‘work from anywhere’ policies,” he said. “This year as vaccine distribution increases, even more people are ready to travel and continue to find RVs a comforting option.”
RVShare polled more than 400 of its current customers in its Travel Sentiment survey and found that 83 percent of them are ready to pack their bags and travel in the coming months. A full 54 percent said they are unlikely to consider flying, and 67 percent are likely to consider traveling by RV this summer.
Further, RVShare’s survey revealed that nearly half of consumers (45 percent) want to travel somewhere in nature, which outpaced destinations like beaches (20 percent) or major cities (2 percent).
All this adds up to a lot of travelers clamoring to get to some of the country’s most popular national parks, state parks, and scenic campgrounds, which means that you’ll want to consider booking your camping reservations or camper rental sooner than later.
That all said, if you’re new to RV camping, don’t let its popularity -- or the advice to plan ahead as much as possible (which can be overwhelming) -- dissuade you from giving it a whirl this year! My husband and I jumped on the RVing bandwagon late last summer, and we haven’t looked back.
We completed a 7-week, round-trip adventure from Colorado to Maine in a new-to-us Class A motorhome, and another recent RV trip took us to five different states in the Southwest. Read on to learn why I think RVing is a great way to travel, along with some tips for planning an inaugural trip this summer.
Consider Flexibility On The Road If Possible
When my husband and I set out on our 7-week RV trek late last summer, we had two main objectives: motor to New England to visit my mother (safely) and swing by a few national parks along the way. We both work remotely, so we took our business on the road, juggling travel days and sightseeing with periods when we just needed to be fingers to keyboard.
We had a loose itinerary, but only planned and booked our campsites -- a mix of national parks, state parks, private campground resorts, and free boondocking locations, such as public lands and Walmart parking lots -- a couple of days in advance.
We didn’t want to be wedded to a strict schedule, and we were able to be flexible -- skirting bad weather when we needed to or spending extra time in an area we loved. It was rare for us to be shut out of a campground as the busy summer came to an end; in fact, the only time we were unable to secure a campsite we wanted was outside of Theodore Roosevelt National Park on Labor Day weekend. Other times, we found sites along the way, but, also, and this is important, we weren’t too picky!
If you have your heart set on visiting a certain place, and you have a limited vacation time, I firmly believe you need to be booking summer camping reservations now. If you are setting out for a lengthy time in an RV, you can be flexible, and you don’t mind winging it and can pivot quickly (and perhaps risk missing out on experiencing a national park or other popular summer attraction), then you might be okay just booking along the way, like we did.
Pro Tip: There are loads of RV trip-planning apps out there, but we relied mostly on RV Parky to help us map out our travels and find campgrounds.
Knowing Your Rig’s Dimensions Can Help You Plan
When you book a campground online or over the phone, you’ll be asked the size of your camper. Some campsites are set up only to fit a travel trailer, say, less than 28 feet long. Others can accommodate bigger motorhomes that might be 38 feet. Reserving a camper rental now will allow you to start booking campsites ASAP because you’ll know the size of the campsite your rig will require.
Pro Tip: What’s the difference between a fifth wheel and a travel trailer? Does your family need a Class A motorhome or would a Class C do? Scroll down on the RVshare home page to get a quick side-by-side comparison of different types of RVs.
Summer Crowds Will Necessitate Patience
Signs are pointing to the travel industry roaring back in the coming months. RVshare’s Travel Sentiment survey reported that 45 percent of consumers are planning to take a “re-do” vacation this summer, a trip that was planned pre-COVID and was canceled due to the pandemic. That’s a lot of people seeking out popular travel destinations.
While restrictions are indeed loosening across the United States, you may still encounter some capacity limits at campgrounds or popular attractions like amusement parks or national parks. So, you’ll want to research the rules of engagement ahead of time -- whether that’s finding out if there are campsite cancellation waitlists to get on or learning how to purchase coveted tickets to key sights.
For example, the rules for ticket sales within the various national parks vary widely. This spring at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, limited capacity within the otherworldly caves means same-day self-tour tickets go on sale at 8 a.m. and may sell out by 9 a.m., which results in people lining up outside the park’s visitor center at 6:30 a.m. (yawn!).
Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky takes a different tack with online sales for timed cave tour reservations. If you want to access the Zion National Park Scenic Drive this spring, summer, or fall, you’ll need to buy shuttle tickets in advance.
Pro Tip: COVID-19 public health guidelines are changing rapidly. Be prepared to go with the flow as limitations ebb and flow. Research your intended attractions, book entry tickets ahead of time when you can, and don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to get the most current scoop so you don’t miss out!
About First-Come, First-Serve Campgrounds
Like tickets to attractions, some state and national parks have first-come, first-serve campgrounds. That means you need to be at the park in your RV, ready to pounce, when someone leaves a campsite. (Yes, it can feel like you’re a vulture swooping in -- a bit cutthroat!)
Last October, during prime leaf-peeping season at Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, we managed to snag a first-come, first-serve campsite for two nights because we were open to staying in any of the park’s four campgrounds (not picky!), and we arrived at the national park and started making our way along scenic Skyline Drive by lunchtime, having read that most of the campgrounds would be full for the night by 4 p.m.
Pro Tip: Some national parks announce when their campgrounds are full every day on social media. If you plan on trying for a first-come, first-serve spot, follow the park on Instagram or Facebook to study trends so you know the time you need to be there for your best shot at snagging a space.
Don’t Be Afraid To Jump In!
Traveling by RV is wildly fun -- whether you’re heading to one campground to park it for a week and explore an area deeply or cover a lot of ground on a multi-state trip.
Either way, it’s a wonderfully secure way to enjoy a vacation -- or nomadic lifestyle -- with plenty of independence traveling with your own kitchen and bathroom. If you’re craving a dose of nature and the outdoors, RVing allows you to admire the changing countryside as you’re rolling along and experience iconic U.S. sights or beautiful natural attractions close to home.
If you’re brand new to RVing, perhaps a short trip might be the way to get your feet wet. Now’s the time to start investigating options. With a little patience, the willingness to plan ahead where you can but pivot when necessary, and a go-with-the-flow attitude as hundreds of thousands of other Americans hit the road, your summer RV trip can be one for the memory books!
RVshare is the world's first and largest peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace. With thousands of satisfied customers and a broad inventory ranging from travel trailers to luxury motorhomes, RVshare has the perfect RV for your vacation, tailgate, or temporary lodging needs.