(What’s wrong with the above photo? Read on for the answer below.)
RVing is getting cool again. Well into the early 1970’s RVing was seen as a fun, family friendly, and aspirational travel option, then something changed. I’ll leave it to social scientists to point to changes in demographics, culture and economics to explain the reasons, but there’s no denying the shift in public perception that stuffed RVing into a pigeonhole as a family-only activity and one, more often than not, featured in big screen comedies. Un-cool.
While RVing lost it’s cool, it didn’t stop buyers from buying pop-ups, trailers, and motorhomes throughout three decades filled with ups and downs of gas crises and recessions. The RV industry would chug forward, nearly meltdown, consolidate, rise again, and then repeat the near death swoon. For all the shocks to the system, none had the devastating force as the great recession. We’re now about seven years past seeing that mushroom cloud in the rearview mirror and the RV industry is once again re-consolidated, shiny and bright, and reporting healthy sales numbers.
In this renaissance of recovery and growth, a new element of “cool” has started to surround the RV experience. I attribute this to three factors: the Internet, millennials and baby boomers (sorry X’ers – you’re just a little overlooked here).
Boomers. As this age group starts heading into retirement they have more time for travel and more money to spend. And, typical of boomers, they are remaining more active and adventurous than their parents were at that age. Most boomers are past camping and sleeping on uneven ground. They still desire to be out and about in the world, but with a little more creature comfort.
Millennials. Much has been written about how millennials are focusing more on authentic experience, sharing, and personal fulfillment. They watched their boomer parents focus on double-income upward mobility that often resulted in children starting life out early in daycare, becoming latchkey kids, and all-to-brief vacations while mom and dad were mutual breadwinners. Unlike their parents, millennials don’t want to defer adventure.
The Internet. It’s humanity’s water cooler. Now anyone can hang out, listen to, and participate in the conversation. And, unlike decades past, this explosion of information about the RV experience (Facebook for boomers, Instagram for millennials) is seeping into corners and consciousness of people who never would have seen themselves enjoying the experience. All these videos, photos, articles and websites (like GoLife!) are broadening interest outside the traditional niche.
Airstreams are currently riding the wave of millennial interest and boomer nostalgia in mid-mod (mid-century modern) culture where it’s easy to envision Mad Men’s Don Draper pulling a trailer dressed in a v-neck golf shirt and summer fedora. Cool. The fastest sellers in the Winnebago line are the company’s B-Vans (Travato and Era) and Sprinter motorhomes (View and Navion). Hot. Consistently, buyers are drawn to their stylish, modern Euro-interiors. And then, of course, there’s the vintage inspired Brave which channels both classic and contemporary design.
With this proliferation of product and lifestyle information the idea of RVing is seeping into non-RV media. RV’s are getting their own reality shows and YouTube channels. I’ve seen Travatos and Braves show up on Internet trendsetter sites alongside with tech gizmos and futuristic products. But the most telling evidence of upwards trending is seeing the increasing frequency of RV-themed stories appearing in national newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. And it’s not just the coverage, it’s the content. Sophisticated travel writers, wary of the experience, seem to come away from their RV road trips with a new appreciation for the convenience and charm of this style of travel. Profile pieces on RV owners, both occasional and full-time, have a more cheerleader “yes, you can do this too!” tone.
And with this shift of more popular winds, more and more of our friends are asking us questions in detail about our own RV experience, instead of starting from the standpoint of “you did what?” with joking dismissiveness. Yup. RVing is cool again, but you already knew that.
(Did you discover what’s wrong with the WSJ picture? Nice photo. Wrong continent. Wrong products. It’s a shot of small, European motorhomes.)