Parting Thoughts (Issue 7)

Travel is one of those areas that, while it may have resumed on a broad scale, has hardly returned to pre- pandemic normalcy.

Parting Thoughts (Issue 7)

A Few Parting Thoughts by Robert Witham

2020 may have started normally enough, but within a few short months it became the year that most people wanted to forget had happened. As we rang in 2021, there was much optimism about life finally returning to “normal” and the pandemic-induced weirdness becoming a thing of the past.

While the pandemic may be sufficiently controlled to allow large-scale reopening and travel, much remains unusual and different, and theories about just how close to “normal” life will ever be again abound. Travel is one of those areas that, while it may have resumed on a broad scale, has hardly returned to pre- pandemic normalcy.

A year of forced isolation has left millions of people more than ready to be anywhere but home and anxious for a vacation. The idea of air travel or cruises leaves many people unsettled though and considering alternatives for travel. Some have decided to embrace lifestyle travel for a season or indefinitely, whether it is an old dream or a new idea discovered during lockdowns.

One effect of this shift has been the upheaval of the entire RV industry. RV sales lots sit largely empty. In many cases, the only RVs on the lot are already sold and are awaiting delivery.

Demand for RVs is so high now that manufacturers cannot produce the vehicles fast enough. Thor Industries recently announced a $14 billion order backlog, noting that RVs that they were producing and sending to dealers were already pre- ordered and that they were unable to produce enough to build inventory.

Anecdotally, stories also abound these days of buyers purchasing RVs with quality-control problems that appear to have been rushed through production. Unfortunately, this has long been a long-standing “dirty little secret” in the RV industry, but it appears that it may have become even more of an issue in the wake of the pandemic. RV quality does vary between manufacturers though so it is always worth researching brands and models before purchasing.

Yet another impact of the shift toward post-pandemic ground travel is the record- setting number of visitors to national parks and campsites. Stories of park or land managers who have never seen so many visitors and visitors who arrive to find that there is simply no more room for them are rampant on social media and in the news.

National parks like Glacier and Arches are so critically overwhelmed with visitors this year that they are implementing strategies that include requiring special advance-purchase tickets (Glacier) and closing the gates when a certain number of visitors are in the park (Arches) in efforts to protect the land and provide a reasonable experience for visitors.

Campgrounds, RV parks, and even dispersed camping areas are often full this year, particularly those that are well-known or that are situated near popular attractions. Travelers and local residents alike often report now that they have never seen so many people visiting outdoor recreation sites and camping.

While some long-time travelers have decided to hang up their keys due to the increased camping pressure, many more are quietly waiting to see if travel and camping also return to “normal” as the pandemic era fades further away in the rearview mirror of our collective national consciousness.