Nadyne and I have been living in our fifth wheel on the road for over two years now and the pandemic lockdown affected us almost immediately when it began in late March. With our Thousand Trails membership, we typically spend 2-3 weeks in a single park, the limit for the program, before moving on to the next resort. We were in the Brownsville, Texas, area when the stay-at-home orders began and were able to move as planned to Lakehills, Texas, near San Antonio.
Before our 2-week stay there was complete in mid-April, multiple states in the south and west shut down new arrivals in campgrounds and we were forced to stay in our park for a total of five weeks. By then Arizona, our next destination, had made campgrounds “essential businesses” and we packed up and left the park on April 30th.
We boondocked at a Walmart overnight in El Paso on our way to the Sedona, AZ, area, common for us on an extra-long drive between parks. That night we received a notification from Thousand Trails that our reservation had been cancelled and all of their parks in Arizona would not be accepting new reservations. They suggested we continue to stay in place in Lakehills, but of course we were now nine hours from that park.
To show the confusion at the time, all of the ten or so RV campgrounds in Arizona told us we could come there and stay, and that there were no restrictions in Arizona for new reservations. Another call to Thousand Trails resulting in their reaffirming their decision, which I have since been told that it was due to a confusion of what counties had been telling them.
We decided on a high-elevation park in Williams, the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon,” where at least it was cooler than in other Arizona towns. Nadyne grew up in Arizona and we had been hoping to visit many of her old stomping grounds, friends and family. With most businesses and public lands closed down, we had to be content to stay in the campground without visiting anyone or doing anything.
Thousand Trails relaxed the restrictions during our two expensive weeks in Williams (at Thousand Trails parks we pay no out of pocket fees), and we were able to basically continue a revamped itinerary. We normally have our schedule planned 9 to 12 months ahead, and when the pandemic hit, we scrapped everything and started over with a short time-frame, up to a couple of months in advance.
There is basically no safer place to travel in a pandemic than in an RV. It is fully contained and once parked, social distancing is pretty much built in. Almost all campgrounds have closed their public areas, such as pavilions, clubhouses, snack bars, etc., and unless you visit people in their campsites, you aren’t liable to be within six feet of anyone. Since most RV’ers are strangers to each other, this is a fairly normal lifestyle for us.
One way we have been meeting people is through an online social community called RVillage with over 250,000 members of RV and nomadic lifestyle enthusiasts. All last year we arranged meetups among us RVillagers that happen to be in close proximity, starting about once per month at a brewery, pub or restaurant, and we enjoyed hosting them so much, by the end of the year we were having them every other week. We were still doing them in March when the pandemic restrictions began and have been making the best of it by using Zoom to host virtual dinner and cocktail parties instead.
I asked Curtis Coleman, founder and CEO of RVillage, to express how the pandemic has affected his community and how RVillage has been able to operate during these difficult times. He sent me the following:
Curtis and his excellent staff have become an even greater resource since the lockdown began, even arranging with a large venue in Florida to make sites available to any member having trouble making reservations in states that have not been RV-friendly.
This led me to wonder what the effect those state-mandated restrictions and social distancing might be on popular RV-based YouTube channels. I reached out to a couple we have been following for quite a while, Tom and Cheri from EnjoyTheJourney.life, and asked what effect, if any, the pandemic has had on their travel and YouTube activities. Tom replied:
My own writing has both improved and taken a hit. It has been emotionally draining to be self-quarantined for so long, over three months now, in 300 square feet of living space and nowhere to visit except from the cab of my pickup. Those sightseeing trips have been our saving grace, exploring vast areas of the eastern Arizona mountains, the eastern Sierra Nevadas and even a now-open Lassen Volcanic National Park. But many historic towns like Jerome, AZ, or Virginia City, NV, either have been crowded with mask-less tourists and not worth the risk or mostly closed down.
My latest Pat Ruger novel has only been getting written in small spurts, still not half complete, and it is difficult to get some quality writing accomplished amid the pandemic, protests and politics happening seemingly around the clock right now. I have rewritten several chapters as I’m still struggling with focus on this longer-term project. Conversely, my blogs and photography have been coming along fairly well, and I’ve even begun to make and post videos for my website.
RVLove is a couple, Marc and Julie Bennett, whose travel-related business has expanded from their YouTube channel and writing a successful RV-travel guide to hosting online training and other virtual get-togethers. They had this to say:
It certainly sounds like the RV industry is handling COVID-19 well. When self-quarantining and non-essential businesses were shut down in March, RV manufacturers stopped building new units, and now that the country has realized that RV travel can be a reprieve in the pandemic, sales of existing stock have increased substantially. I have heard of new RV inventory on sales lots being very low and prices have skyrocketed as demand has risen. Per MSN this week:
As I wrote in my first blog post about the pandemic, “Pandemic Difficulties for Full-Time RV'ers”:
Now that we’ve been experiencing it for a few months, our biggest problem on the road during the pandemic has been our lack of proximity to grocery stores and, therefore, the absence of delivery services available. We have been no closer than 30 miles to a Walmart Superstore or other national grocery chain since the self-quarantine orders began.
Regardless of whether you like or believe in wearing masks for helping control the spread of COVID-19, for people who are high-risk for serious symptoms if infected, such as myself with asthma, it is frightening to walk up to a Walmart or Home Depot filled with people without masks. Also, our RV refrigerator is 10 cu. Ft., including the freezer, so we can’t physically store two weeks’ worth of groceries. That means shortages can affect us more and we have to risk infection more often than most.
Still, we’re getting through it, washing our hands between shopping trips and gassing up, socially distancing at all times, wearing masks in public areas, and using drive-thru’s and thinly-attended outdoor spaces when eating out. We are preparing for a second wave in the fall, as some scientists are predicting, and looking forward to the pandemic being behind us. With the RV-related YouTubers and communities providing an occasional respite from the reality of life on the road during these times, the future seems bright in the long run.
Author, poet, photographer, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, sportsman,