While campground associations across the country work to have campgrounds and RV parks declared “essential businesses,” snowbirds and full-time RVers are hunkering down wherever they have spent the past few weeks or months
Many fear if they leave their current campsite for another city, they may have a hard time finding another park willing to accept them.
Snowbirds and full-time RVers also tell WOODALLSCM.com (WCM) that the coronavirus pandemic has not only disrupted their cross-country RV trips but trips they were planning to take overseas.
“The coronavirus has completely altered our travel plans,” said Patricia Genegabus, who has been full-time RVing with her husband, Ben, for the past six years in a 42-foot Country Coach Affinity motorhome.
They have spent the past few months at the Gila Bend Kampgrounds of America (KOA) Journey in Gila Bend, Ariz.
“We had to cancel our trip scheduled for mid-April to Italy to visit our daughter and grandchildren,” she said, adding, “We’ve decided to shelter in place and not travel cross-country to Texas at this time and risk exposure. We’ve extended our reservation at our current RV park, so we won’t run the risk of not having somewhere to stay, due to park closures. Other plans for family events later on in the coming months have been put on hold or canceled altogether.”
Doug and Cindy Creek, of North Pole, Alaska, a tiny town outside of Fairbanks, have been full-time RVing in a 43-foot fifth-wheel that they tow with their Ford F-350 truck.
But the Creeks are not your typical snowbirds. They are traveling full-time with their kids, ages 6 and 10, who they homeschool, and they both have telecommuting jobs. Doug works in IT for a company in Boston, while Cindy works part-time doing payroll and bookkeeping while homeschooling their kids.
Since the Creeks both have telecommuting jobs, they can’t afford to take a chance on traveling and not finding another park with Wi-Fi and LP gas, let alone not be able to find food and other essential services nearby.
Full-time RVers say the closure of many state and federally managed campgrounds across the country has made RVers even more dependent on private campgrounds and RV parks.
“There is nowhere else for us to go,” said Matt Andrews, who is full-time RVing with his wife, Sarah, at a private park in Florida, noting that the Sunshine state’s public parks have closed.
Andrews said if things get worse with the pandemic, they could stay with a friend in Kentucky, but it’s a 775-mile drive to get there from their current location in Florida.
“Private campgrounds are really the ones who are getting everybody though this,” said Jason Epperson, a full-time RVer who blogs about the RV lifestyle with his wife, Abigail, and their three boys on three websites, www.ourwanderingfamily.com, www.nationalparkpodcast.com and www.rvmiles.com.
The Eppersons were staying at Verde Ranch RV Resort in Camp Verde, Ariz., as the Coronavirus crisis intensified. Jason said they plan to hunker down at the resort at least until May 15 or until they feel they can travel safely again.
The Genegabuses, for their part, plan to stay put at the Gila Bend KOA for the time being.
“We are able to stay at our current location as long as the owner is allowed to remain open as directed by state and local government policies,” Genegabus said, adding, “We’ve found that several of the parks where we usually stay are not accepting overnight guest reservations for the coming weeks and possibly up to an entire month.”
Such restrictions, she said, pose enormous challenges for full-time RVers.
“We feel park closures are impacting full-time RVers significantly. We have very limited options to safely self-quarantine ourselves when many parks are choosing to close. It would be very difficult if we were forced to move,” she said. “Where else could we go?”
Even boondockers are staying in place, including Marc and Julie Bennett, who have been full-time RVers since 2014. The Bennetts wrote the book, Living the RV Life: Your Ultimate Guide to Life on the Road, and they have a website at www.RVLove.com, where they share numerous educational resources for RV enthusiasts.
“We were already boondocking in Arizona, spending a couple of weeks off the grid in our Class A motorhome, when the situation started to escalate,” the Bennetts wrote in response to questions from WCM. “We just decided to stay put where we are and ride this out for as long as we need to. We had planned to head over to Palm Springs, Calif., and spend a couple of weeks with friends at a campground, but we all canceled. It was the right thing to do. Fortunately, our RV is very off-grid capable, so we are able to spend extended periods without hookups, which gives us a lot more flexibility.”
Despite the many travel interruptions associated with the coronavirus pandemic, every full-time RVer contacted by WCM said they feel very safe in their RV. The challenge, they say, is getting and keeping enough food and other supplies on hand.
“The hardest part of being in the RV is that I can’t stockpile much because we just do not have space for it,” Creek said. “The people that do have the houses and keep cleaning out the stores are making things more difficult on us with less space.”
The Bennetts also said they feel very safe in their RV.
“We feel very safe in our RV as our environment is contained, controlled and we are comfortable,” the Bennetts said, adding, “We have windows all around so we can see outside, and don’t feel ‘cooped up’ — plus we are able to get out and go for a walk to get some fresh air and exercise. Because we are off-grid in the desert, there is hardly anyone around us, so social distancing is actually very easy. We have big tank capacities (fresh, waste, fuel) so we can easily go for a couple of weeks without having to break camp. And we have plenty of food on board to last us a while. We are lucky to have solar panels and lithium batteries to keep us powered, and we have an on-board generator too.
“Right now, we are being extra diligent about our water usage so we can last longer off-grid,” they added. “We are challenging ourselves to see if we can go for 28 days straight without breaking camp to dump and fill, as that also reduces exposure for us — and for others. Plus, we’re away from the crowds and cities, so we are able to avoid a lot of the anxiety that is prevalent out there. So yes, we definitely feel safer in our RV.”
The Bennetts also said they empathize with private park operators who are trying to navigate the many coronavirus-related orders and restrictions across the country.
“We have seen some private campgrounds closing down, while others are staying open,” they said. “The situation is definitely hurting a lot of campground owners, many of which are family-run businesses. But many are also offering long term stays to full-time RVers or people who need to hunker down for a while. Their activities and events are canceled, and most amenities are closed, except laundry, but at least they are able to provide a safe haven for RVers who need a place to park for a while. We are Thousand Trails members, and while we aren’t personally in any of their parks right now, we do have some future reservations in the system, and from what we are seeing, they are being good to work with, and even extending stays (where there is availability) for RVers that request it.”
Looking to the future, the Bennetts plan to stay off-grid in Arizona through the end of April, and essentially minimize their movement and travels for as long as necessary.
The Creeks said they plan to stay at the Gila Bend KOA until the end of April.
“At that point,” Creek said, “if things have started to settle down and things are opening, we will leave for Vegas for a week, then from there be able to pick up the schedule that we planned. If things are still closed down and it’s still difficult to get supplies, we will probably hunker down here in Gila Bend and hope that things settle down before it gets into the extreme temps here or figure out ways to prepare the trailer better to withstand the heat.”
Genegabus said she is grateful to Gila Bend KOA owner Scott Swanson for being so supportive of the snowbirds who have had to extend their stays.
“Our current park owner has taken great steps in minimizing contact between guests,” she said. “Activities have been canceled, guest areas have been closed, overnight guests must be fully self-contained, and all guests are to practice the 6-foot, 10 (people) or fewer guidelines put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) along with other restrictions to remain a guest.”
Genegabus said she and her husband will also remain at the Gila Bend KOA until it is safe to travel again, depending on park availability.
Meanwhile, other full-time RVers are waiting out the immediate crisis by staying at the homes of family members.
“Full-time RVing only works if the rest of society works and is functioning,” said Mark Koep, of CampgroundViews.com, a virtual company that produces 360 video tours for campgrounds, RV parks and resorts. Koep has been full-time RVing for 10 years with his wife, Katarina. They have a seven-year-old son and a six-month-old baby.
He said they decided several weeks ago to stay with family in Thousand Oaks, Calif., rather than continue trying to survive the next few weeks full-time RVing. Koep said he needs to have a reliable Wi-Fi connection to service his clients. He also wants to be close to major hospitals if they need medical attention.