When the Escapees RV Club was getting started 45 years ago, its first organized camping event attracted 24 RVs and the group had about 160 members.
Fast forward to 2024 and the organization has 70,000 members, with hundreds of members gathering for the club’s events, which includes its signature Escapade rally.
Escapees RV Club has prospered in large part because the organization — now in its third generation of family operation — has constantly found new ways to bring more value to its members, according to Travis Carr, president and co-CEO of the Livingston, Texas-based group and the grandson of founders Joe and Kay Peterson.
Carr said his grandparents had been RVing full-time for about eight years in the 1970s when they decided to share their expertise with their fellow RVers via a five-page monthly newsletter.
“When the club was founded, they didn’t really have any big plan or goal. It was just a means to connect with other RVers and make friends along the way. And that’s really the club’s roots,” he added. “It was really all about the social aspect and sharing the experience of the RV lifestyle before there was the internet or cell phones. So, this was the only way to get the word out.”
As the organization grew, it was able to offer more benefits to members. Carr said notable accomplishments in the 1980s included the founding of club-owned RV parks and member co-op parks, all of which operate exclusively for Escapees members. Today, Escapees has grown to include eight club-owned RV parks and 11 co-op parks. Additionally, club members are eligible for discounts of 15 to 50 percent off at hundreds of private RV parks across North America through the Escapees Discount Parks program.
Carr said his father, Bud, played a significant role in the creation of the Escapees RV Park system, while his mother, Cathie, was responsible for launching a mail forwarding service for full-time RVers, which continues to be one of the most popular add-on services the organization offers.
Meanwhile, the club newsletter has grown into a bi-monthly 88-page magazine, available in print and online. Other benefits added over the years include club member discounts on items such as tires and a roadside support service.
For his part, Travis Carr said he didn’t set out to follow in the footsteps of his grandparents and parents in one day running the club. After graduating high school, he spent four years in the Army and then enrolled in college as he looked to forge his own path. However, when an opportunity to work for Escapees on a part-time basis arose in 2014, Carr said he reconsidered his earlier decision.
“At a certain point I said to myself, ‘There is a really cool legacy here from my parents and grandparents. Why would I not want to be part of that?’” he said.
After Carr and his wife, Melanie, joined the organization, they spent months on the road traveling to the club’s owned and co-op RV parks. On those travels, they often ran into younger RVers, whom Carr said he would chat up.
“I would always talk to them about Escapees and were always like, ‘Well, that’s not really for me, because it’s a club for retirees, right?”
Carr said those conversations prompted Escapees in 2015 to launch Xscapers, which is a subgroup within the club for working-age RVers. Today, Xscapers comprises about 22 percent of the organization’s total membership. The club also has chapters based upon geographic location and subgroups based upon the shared interests of club members, such as boondocking, hiking or visiting breweries.
“One thing the club has always prided itself on is being diverse,” Carr said. “Any person is welcome to join the club. Club members are full-timers, part-timers, weekenders, people with vans, trailers and motorhomes. We are super inclusive.”
Another area where Carr and his wife, who today serve as co-CEOs of the organization, were able to contribute to Escapees was in the field of technology and modernizing operations. That included updating the campground reservation system and embracing various digital initiatives, including the online travel guide, the RVers Online University and an Escapees RV Club mobile app, as well as making use of social media.
Today, the club describes itself as “your total support network for the road” focused on events, education and other benefits and camping.
Given that 45 years in business is a milestone anniversary, Carr said the organization is taking 12 months—from July 2023 to this July—to celebrate. As a benefit to current and potential future members, Carr said the annual membership price has been rolled back to $49.95 and the membership package includes free access to its online RV Foundations safety and maintenance educational classes, which is a roughly $150 value.
“We’re really looking forward to this year,” Carr said, remarking on the organization’s anniversary. “We just really want to focus on what we do well and making it even better. Creating membership value is our big goal.”