Buckle Up: 2020 Marks the Return of the American RV Vacation

Thanks to the pandemic, RVs are having a major moment

RVs in park
Mint Images / Getty Images

What's large and self-catering and driven all over? RVs—the new (again) king and queens of the road. While the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on much of the travel industry, it's turning out to be a boon for the RV industry. Even a coronavirus-imposed manufacturing shutdown lasting from late-March through May couldn't put a damper on America's growing demand for recreational vehicles. 

During the peak virus month of April, RV shipment numbers topped out at a mere 7,197 (compared to a whopping 40,243 in April 2019). Still, the RV Industry Association predicted the industry would be back on top with a rebound come summertime—and they were right. In June 2020, 40,462 recreational vehicles were sent to retailers across the U.S., marking the highest number of tracked wholesale shipments in one month since October 2018, and a 10.8 percent rise in the number of RVs shipped out last June. 

To be fair, RV sales were already slowly rising pre-pandemic; however, many experts believe that current pandemic-specific conditions—like states reopening, closed international borders and tightened travel restrictions, plus growing unease over the rise in U.S. coronaviruses cases—have been a major driving factor in the recent months' uptick in purchases and popularity. The large vehicles, which can cost upwards of $500,000 for a fully-loaded luxury option, provide safe, isolated, self-catering travel capabilities, checking the boxes for many travelers who are both itching to get a change of scenery and weary of traveling because of the ongoing pandemic. 

First-time RVer Lizzie Dulien from Austin, Texas, says she decided to take the plunge and hit the road in an RV after realizing that, while she's traveled to several different countries, she's only seen a fraction of her own. "That, combined with COVID-19, my neurosis, the endless fears with standard air travel, and my need to get out of the house for mental stability" made RV travel a "perfect remedy" for her. While the RV Industry Association website partly credits first-time RVers for the rise in sales, Dulien isn't part of those statistics—she opted to buy a used RV from her brother who was making an upgrade. 

For those not ready or able to buy an RV, new or used, other options are available. Jon Gray, CEO of RVshare, an RV rental company that functions like Airbnb for RVs, notes that many of the site's bookings this season have come from first-timers. "Bookings have nearly tripled since last year," he says. "And have increased by more than 1,600 percent since April as travelers opt for a cost-effective, safe means of travel." 

Sun RV Resorts
, which operate over 140 RV parks in the U.S. and Canada, say they have also seen increased interest. Future bookings for September and October are already up 10 percent from the same time last year, and, so far, 2020 has brought them over 40 percent more web traffic than they saw on the site through August 2019. 

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