Retired school teacher Bill Maxwell loves hitting the road in a recreational vehicle, but lately when he and his wife get together with other RV owners, the conversation inevitably veers toward gas costs.
“We have curtailed some of our travels,” said Maxwell, 62. “We went to Boston to see the kids and grandkids, but we didn’t head out west.”
The Tampa Tribune reported that with RV sales off 27% nationwide compared with a year ago and gas averaging $3.84 a gallon – $4.60 for diesel – it’s pretty obvious times are tough in the RV industry.
Although many RV owners are modifying their vacation plans because of fuel costs, that doesn’t mean they’re giving up the RV lifestyle completely.
“We’ve got them, we’re happy we got them and we’re going to use them,” said Maxwell, who lives in Brandon, Fla., and heads the state chapter of the Good Sam Club, a worldwide RV owners association based in Ventura, Calif.
Good Sam Executive Director Sue Bray says most RV owners are coping with fuel costs by curbing their time on the highway, not by letting their vehicles sit in the backyard.
In a recent survey, Good Sam members listed high fuel costs as the fourth most pressing RV-related concern, while 4 in 10 respondents said they cut their travel by 1,800 miles last year to adjust to higher prices.
The club is updating the survey but expects to see the same or similar results this year.
“What we’re hearing is people are making shorter trips but they’re not giving up their RVs,” Bray said. “Once you make an investment and a commitment of time in this lifestyle, it’s probably not something you’re going to give up entirely.”
About half of RV owners are retirees or near retirement. They enjoy the outdoors and mixing with other RV enthusiasts to chat about travel, their careers and their families, Maxwell said.
They’ve also invested thousands of dollars in the vehicles, which can run from a $5,000 pop-up camper to a $1 million customized motorhome.
Many are like Veliria and Rodell Shuford, both 71, of Jacksonville, who recently camped at the Lazy Days RV campground in Seffner. The couple likes to tailgate at Florida A&M University football games, visit family in Port St. Lucie and travel to RV rallies across the South.
Their beige 2003 Monaco Diplomat reflects Veliria’s decorating style. The interior is festooned with dried flowers, dolls and stuffed Jaguars to show their allegiance to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
She says the run-up in fuel prices has her mapping the couple’s trips more carefully and keeping an eye out for gas bargains.
The Shufords aren’t alone. The push by RV owners to stay close to home has campgrounds seeing more Florida tags than usual.
Bobby Cornwell, president of the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, said some Florida campers who in past summers trekked to Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee are staying put, resulting in a 2% to 3% bump in reservations at Florida campgrounds, he said.
In addition, the gas crunch has some out-of-state RV owners rethinking their trips home and leaving their vehicles at storage lots here.
Cornwell couldn’t say whether the uptick in reservations will continue through winter, but he’s optimistic RV owners from northern states will stream south once the mercury plunges.
“When it gets to be negative 10 in North Dakota, they’ll come down,” he said.