Camping in an RV is a great way to get away while keeping the comforts of your own home,  local sales managers say.

Camping in an RV is a great way to get away while keeping the comforts of your own home, local sales managers say.

Photo provided by General RV

Popularity of RV vacations, lifestyle spreading

By: Kristyne E. Demske | Metro | Published August 11, 2021


METRO DETROIT — After a year of staring at the same four walls, many are looking for a change of scenery.

In their search to discover new places and make new memories, some are hitting the road as they’ve never done before — with their home on wheels traveling behind them.

Derek Kline, the general manager at Kline’s RV Center in Warren, said sales and general interest in travel trailers, motorhomes and other recreational vehicles have increased over the past year. He’s seeing a lot of first-time campers, as well as people who may have previously owned a camper and are looking to upgrade.

In 2020, when COVID-19 restrictions began to loosen and campgrounds opened up, he said, people who may not have felt comfortable in a hotel found camping to be a vacation that was open, safe and affordable.

Although interest has increased, RV sales have increased only marginally over the past year, said Geoff Radke, the sales director of General RV in Wixom. Instead, he said, the company is seeing constant demand, whereas there used to be seasonal swings in demand.

He agreed that the pandemic brought on the heightened interest in camping.

“Who would have thought that after being stuck (at) home, cooped up amongst family, that the wonderful byproduct would be people choosing to spend more time with their families on the road, creating lifelong memories?” he said in an email interview.

More affordable, family-friendly trailers and motorhomes were the most popular models early on in the pandemic, but as 2021 has progressed, demand has equalized across the range of options.

“Initially, we saw a big jump in first-time buyers entering the market,” Radke said. “We still feel that many people that already own RVs are out using their campers and not trading them in as much. We are seeing fewer people trade in their RVs over the last year.”

Kline said they had customers buying RVs to use for quarantining, as well as for working remotely.

“Usually, they would use them for maybe five, six weekends a year. Now they’re going on extended-stay camps and working out of their RVs,” Kline said.

A lot has changed to make long-term stays more comfortable, he said.

“There’s TVs on the inside for rainy days. Most things are power now, so you don’t have to struggle with (manually) putting awnings in and out,” he said. Newer models may offer the option to extend or retract an awning with the touch of a button.

Many recreational vehicles and travel trailers also have the option of slide-outs, which increase the width of the vehicle once it is parked to provide more living space. With optional bunk houses where children can sleep, and couches and tables that can convert to beds, “you can sleep a lot of people” in a camper, Kline said.

First-time buyers are showing a lot of interest in smaller, single-axle units that are around 20 feet long and can be pulled by a midsize SUV, he said.

“That’s that first-time buyer who’s looking to get their feet wet,” he said. “Usually what happens is they use it for a couple years and they come back (and) say, ‘I got a truck. I want to upgrade.’”

The pandemic gave a lot of people time to reflect on what is most important to them and what they want to do in life, said Paul Domish, the owner of Drifter Vans in Southfield.

“Most of the people I work with are between the ages of 50 and 70,” he said. “People, they’re living in them or they’re at least spending months traveling. This isn’t retired people — (it’s) people who can work remotely.”

Domish also owns a tour and activity company in South America. He sold his house and car and was getting ready to move to Bolivia full-time when the pandemic hit and he was forced to stay in the United States. A cousin in Colorado invited him to come with him to Yellowstone National Park, and that’s where he was inspired to start Drifter Vans, which custom-builds camper vans. With a background as a general contractor building food trucks, he saw an opportunity to help people realize their dreams.

Owning a camper van isn’t for everyone, but for those who are adaptable and want to see more of the country than their own backyard, it can be a great investment, he said.

“A lot of people are like, ‘It’s smaller than I thought,’” he said. He added that sometimes people think all of camping is getting off the grid, but, “the reality is, you’re going to be around civilization to some degree.”

Domish said if someone is considering the camping lifestyle, they should just grab the bull by the horns.

He pursues “the same dream I’m selling to people,” he said. “I can work remotely.

“Just do it. If you’re thinking about it, just do it. There’s always a reason why not to.”

One factor to be cognizant of is storage.

“A lot of cities in the area won’t let you store your camper in your yard, so call around and think about storage before you purchase,” Kline said.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 manufacturing delays are having an impact on the recreational vehicle market, Kline said.

“The issue we are having is that the inventory is really low due to COVID. There was COVID issues that happened in a lot of the plants. The plants got behind,” he said. Because of that, there are thousands of units sitting at the main manufacturing plant “waiting for all kinds of random components. They’re essentially done. They can’t ship it because they’re missing one component.

“The demand is crazy, but the supply really can’t account for it.”

Prices have gone up, as well.

“We get price increases from different manufacturers every week, so the prices have gone up,” he said.

Inventories were depleted with large numbers of sales in the summer of 2020, and supply chain issues have caused manufacturers to remain behind in getting products to dealers. Radke said he thinks that trend will continue through at least the end of 2021.

What’s the best RV for each customer? Several factors play into that decision, Radke said.

“Who are you going to camp with? Where do you want to go while camping? What do you plan to do when you’re camping? Do you want an RV that you drive or one that you tow? If you’re choosing a towable RV, like a travel trailer or fifth wheel, do you have the towing capacity for it?” he said. “And of course, what’s your budget?

“All these questions will help you figure out what type of RV is right for you and prioritize which features are most important.”

With so many great campsites to explore, even just in the state of Michigan, and so many benefits to the camping lifestyle, Kline said, it’s a great time to get started.

“It’s yours. It’s your bed that you lay your head down on every night, as opposed to a hotel room, so you can make it as comfortable as you want it to be, and you can take that bed anywhere you want to go,” he said. “You just have to get out there and see it.”