do we really need to list all the reasons people have decided to rent or buy an rv this summer? isn’t it enough to say that phones at dealerships, rental agencies, and campgrounds have been ringing nonstop?
oh, okay. those phones have rung ever since it became clear that air travel this summer would be dicey, hotels only partially reopened, cruises docked, european villas boarded up, and summer camps closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. they've rung since people who have spent months carefully socially distancing at home began wondering how they could go away this summer but avoid some, if not all, of the physical contact that comes with travel.
"rental inquiries are up 367 percent from the same time last year," said jer goss of goss rv, a service that specializes in luxury motorcoaches. meanwhile at the recreational vehicle industry association, monika geraci reported, "rv sales at dealerships across the country have increased by 117 percent."
ordinarily, people who buy or rent at this time of year already own an rv or have taken a trip in one before. but both goss and geraci said many of the recent calls have been from first-timers. "we usually spend 30 minutes on the phone with a client, but now it's more like five times that," said goss. "along with learning about the vehicles, new buyers are asking dealers where they can take them and which regions have the best campgrounds," said geraci.
the first rvs appeared in the united states in the early 1900s, among them the touring landau, unveiled by pierce-arrow in 1910 at new york’s madison square garden. americans have been crisscrossing the country in them ever since—from simple pop-up trailers to sleek silver airstreams and brick-shaped winnebagos.
the main appeal of the rv has always been the freedom they afford—there are countless campgrounds, national parks, and roadside pullovers where you can park them. it doesn't hurt that once you make the considerable up-front investment, rv "camping" offers a frugal way to visit a lot of places for not a lot of money.
in recent years, however, a new class of rv has emerged, one which features granite countertops, king-sized beds, and enormous designer appliances. they are built on tour bus platforms and have expanding sides and roofs. "we call them land yachts," said goss. "most people don’t realize you can spend more than $2 million for a motorcoach." (a motorcoach, fyi, is a self-propelled rv versus one pulled by a car or truck.) nor do most people know that there are numerous resorts that cater to the owners of these expensive vehicles with amenities like private bungalows, tennis courts, golf courses, and spas.
goss rv, which acts as a rental service for rv owners, charges anywhere from $15,000 to $40,000 a week depending on the type of vehicle. the company provides detailed travel itineraries for those that want them, and its staff is happy to teach first timers how to drive and operate the vehicles. they also offer a driving service for an additional charge of $595 a day, plus food and accommodations.
"we call our drivers 'coach operators' because they do so much more than drive," says goss. "they park the vehicle, get it set up, and make sure everything's nice, just like a boat crew does when you dock it at a marina." (the coach operator then docks him- or herself in a motel until you’re ready to embark on the next leg.)
rvs have their celebrity proponents. matthew mcconaughey owns an airstream, which he occasionally brings to movie premieres. head out on the highway during summer months and you may spot supreme court judge clarence thomas, whose love of rv camping, including occasionally overnighting in walmart parking lots, is well documented.
but how will americans who are used to jetting off to europe for vacations take to the open road? danielle pergament, a writer and editor who has covered travel for many years, embarked on her first extended rv trip in may when she and her husband drove their two children from their home in los angeles to the berkshire mountains in massachusetts. "we didn’t feel comfortable flying and this seemed like the safest way to get from there to here," she said.
the family made the trip in six days, and because parts of the country were still in early stages of reopening, they were careful to maintain distance from other travelers. despite the 10-hour daily drives and a less than commodious rental vehicle, pergament said they had a lot of fun. "it is definitely a different experience than many people are used to. but you meet a lot of really nice people on the road."