The number of Australians hitting the roads in caravans has surged since the start of the pandemic, as people continue to seek alternatives to international travel.
- The number of caravans on the road has surged since the start of the pandemic, the Australian Caravan Club says
- The growth in popularity has led to delays in obtaining custom recreational vehicles
- The club says a new generation of caravanners is hitting the road, aided by the ability to work and study remotely
The Australian Caravan Club said there were 30,000 new recreational vehicles (RVs) on Australian roads in 2020.
The club said a surge in camper trailers, motorhomes and caravans traveling amounted to 1.7 million RV movements on Australian roads over the 2022 Easter weekend.
Club chairman Ken Newton said market demand and supply chain issues had created a 12-to-24-month wait for custom recreational vehicles.
Taking the stress out of pandemic travel
Mr Newton attributed the rediscovery and rising popularity of domestic road travel to the ongoing pandemic, a quest for freedom and hesitancy about international travel.
“Most people would be happy to travel within this country rather than take the risk of getting on a cruise liner or an overseas flight,” he said.
Besides avoiding potential health risks, disruptions, restrictions and cancellations inherent in pandemic travel, retired RV owners such as Colin Whitehand appreciate the simplicity of not having to constantly pack up and check out of motels.
“At least you know where your luggage is going to be when your caravan is following behind you!” said Mr Whitehand, president of the Gippsland Gypsies branch of the Australian Caravan Club.
More young families are hitting the road, driven by the inaccessible housing and rental market, job insecurity, and a “work-from-van” freedom enabled by wi-fi technology.
There is also an abundance of seasonal work around the nation, meaning more young families are homeschooling their children on the road.
“The average age of people buying recreational vehicles is about 34,” Mr Newton said.
“Baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964, once the majority of the RV population, are being replaced by millennials coming through.”
He said many couples who were raised on caravan-park or camping-ground holidays wanted the same experience for their own children.
“With families traveling on the road with homeschooling, mum and dad tend to be working whether it’s fruit picking or hitting a keyboard for five or six hours a day,” Mr Newton said.
Some families go from region to region house-sitting or providing relief management services to motel and caravan park owner operators, he said.
“Some people just say, ‘I’m going to get a car and caravan, camper trailer or motor home and I’m going to go around Australia and give it a go’. It’s about adventure.”
Likewise, single women in their 50s and 60s are also increasingly taking to the freedom of life on the road, typically preferring the convenience of a motorhome over towing a van.
“The number of women traveling on their own with a pet is huge,” Mr Newton said.
He said the trend was driven by everything from housing affordability to the death of a partner or healing from illness.
The proliferation of solo travelers even inspired the Australian Caravan Club to facilitate a Lone Trekkers special interest group, which includes solo travelers of all ages.
He said the solo RV lifestyle was particularly inspiring for writers and journalists.
“Technology is allowing you the freedom to be where you are, whenever you want to be, and that’s been a big change,” he said.
“The catalyst was COVID and now Zoom meetings are common place.”
Going bush in comfort
Fellow club member Wayne Clark enjoys the freedom of becoming absorbed in remote natural settings where there’s no COVID, often no television reception and no negative news cycle.
“Some of the remote places you go to, you couldn’t get further away from reality, you don’t have to worry about anything else,” Mr Clark said.
“You light the fire of a night time, you sit back in your chair and look at that wonderful light show that happens at night time where there’s no artificial light.
“It’s just absolutely beautiful in the outback. You think you’ve died and gone to heaven.”
Unplugging from the perils of modern life does not mean unplugging from the comforts of modern life, even when traveling off-road.
With the outlay for a new RV costing anywhere between $70,000 and $250,000, vans come with washing machines, ensuites with hot showers and separate toilets, heating and air conditioning, microwaves, stoves and ovens, and solar panels.
Some RV owners have managed to offset the expense of their vehicles by renting them out on share economy websites such as Camplify, earning hundreds or thousands of dollars a year.
“A lot of people now are traveling shorter distances and stopping somewhere for longer due to the cost of fuel,” Gippsland Gypsies social coordinator Lorraine Clarke said.
Club member Barbara Willingham has progressed from a campervan to a van with bunks for the children, to a modern van with an ensuite and large fridge.
“It’s a bit more luxurious,” she said. “It’s like towing your own motel room behind you with all the conveniences.”