As Lockdowns Lift, a Surge in RV Sales—and Rookie Drivers

americans eager to get outside find social distancing in camping

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

As states reopened last month, RV sales spiked, placing new drivers on the road, New York Magazine reported. This means that a lot of first-time campers will have plenty of questions for getting started. Choosing a campsite and setting up come next.

Rv on road
A rise in RV sales has occurred while people are choosing to travel locally as stay-at-home orders have lifted. Photo by welcomia / Shutterstock

According to New York Magazine, Americans desperate for the outdoors are finding solutions in recreational vehicles. “As states lift stay-at-home orders, the humble RV is, for many, suddenly looking like the perfect solution for a socially distanced vacation,” the article said. “Dealers, in turn, are noticing a surge in sales.

Seasoned RVers recommend that rookies rent before buying to figure out how much space they need (city dwellers seeking weekend escape might be content piling into a compact camper van, whereas RVers with preschoolers may require bunk beds) and to see if they prefer driving or towing.”

Once a vehicle is chosen, the next steps for any new camper are choosing a campsite and getting it set up.

Designated Driving

“Some backcountry areas require you to camp only in designated areas; others allow you to camp anywhere; others have a combination of designated sites and zones where dispersed camping is either allowed or not,” said Dr. Elizabeth K. Andre, Associate Professor of Nature and Culture in the Outdoor Education Department at Northland College. “Check the regulations in your destination.”

Dr. Andre said that once someone knows where they can camp, the next step is deciding where they should camp. A campsite may be marked as a designated area but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily safe. Campers should be on the look out for fallen trees, or those that look likely to fall, as well as any indicators of recent extreme weather like rock fall, avalanches, or flash floods. Finally, families should make sure the campsite is sheltered from oncoming severe weather—a nice view isn’t worth being hit by a 60 mph wind.

“After safety, consider comfort and convenience,” she said. “Are you in an area with a lot of biting insects that will likely come out at dusk? If so, see if you can find a spot with a light breeze.

“Is it easy to get water? The site on the top of the mountain will seem less ideal when you’re schlepping pots of water a quarter-mile up a steep trail from the creek.”

Setting Up Camp

The next step in RV-based camping is setting up your home-away-from-home, but in order to do so, you should visualize where everything should go first to optimize your patterns of foot traffic.

“Site the kitchen out of the way so people won’t need to walk through it for any reason, risking knocking over a pot or kicking gravel in the pasta sauce,” Dr. Andre said.

Other obvious hazards to avoid include placing a hammock in between a tent and an outhouse—unless you want to get netted like a fish during a late-night bathroom run—and pitching a tent downwind of a fire pit. Keeping your tent upwind of flames will prevent sparks from burning holes in your tent and ruining it. Dr. Andre said how you wake up in the morning should also determine placement of your items.

“Is it summer and are you hoping to sleep late? If so, don’t pitch your tent somewhere where the morning sun will cook you out of your slumber. Or is it winter and you know you’ll need the extra warmth to motivate you to get out of your sleeping bag? If so, consider a spot with a clear line of sight to the east.

“What happens if it rains a lot? Is your potential tent location in a depression that will turn into a little lake?”

For anyone with a new RV hoping to beat the COVID blues, a camping trip might be an excellent way to stay socially distanced while getting out of the house for a while. Picking a safe campsite and setting up shop in the right way can turn an inexperienced camper’s nightmare trip into a dream vacation.

Dr. Elizabeth K. Andre contributed to this article. Dr. Andre is an Associate Professor of Nature and Culture in the Outdoor Education Department at Northland College, an environmental liberal arts college on the South Shore of Lake Superior. She earned her MA in Outdoor Education from Griffith University in Australia and her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction of Science and Environmental Education from the University of Minnesota.