Dec 3, 2021 - Economy

The rise of RV living

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

RV — or recreational vehicle — sales have been steadily rising for the last decade. But the numbers were supercharged by the pandemic.

The big picture: Many Americans are taking advantage of newfound work flexibility and pivoting to van life. It slashes costs, takes "glamping" to a new level, and truly embodies the "work-from-anywhere" philosophy.

By the numbers: As of March 2021, 11.2 million U.S. households owned RVs, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. That's up 26% since 2011.

  • What's even more striking is that 9.6 million additional households say they are considering buying an RV in the next five years, says Monika Geraci, communications director at RVIA.
  • The reasons? Wanting to spend more time outside, to take advantage of teleworking policies, and to travel safely despite pandemic risks, she says.
  • "People have just rediscovered the great outdoors, and that really spills over into the RV industry."

RV manufacturers are responding to the demand: October 2021 saw the production of a whopping 58,000 RVs in North America, Geraci notes. "That's the most RVs ever built in a month."

The pandemic made the upsides of RV living obvious, says Karen Akpan, who sold her house and transitioned to full-time RV living with her husband and young son in — get this — February 2020. She homeschools her son.

  • For her, the timing was just a lucky coincidence. But Akpan, who has been blogging about RV life, tells me she gets at least 10 messages a day from friends and strangers who are interested in taking the plunge themselves because of the pandemic.
  • For Akpan, the perks of RV living include saving money and building generational wealth, traveling without leaving home and risking infection, and spending more time with her family.
  • In the last year and a half, they've visited Yellowstone, Idaho and Florida.

But there are downsides:

  • Of course, there's less space than in a house or apartment. It can be a pain to get your refrigerator fixed if it breaks down. And you're in the middle of nowhere.
  • People also underestimate the costs of RV living, the Wall Street Journal reports. While it's cheaper than owning a home, gas costs and nightly fees at RV parks can add up.
  • There are also such legal considerations as picking a domicile, per the Journal. "Domicile is defined as the place you intend to permanently live and ultimately return to," Robyn A. Friedman of the Journal writes. "A person can have multiple residences but only one legal domicile."
  • That's important for everything from taxes to marriage laws, but it gets complicated when you live in an RV.

Still, there are RV parks in every state that make life on the road convenient, Akpan notes.

What to watch: Look for RVs and other living alternatives to keep gaining popularity, as the pandemic has permanently shifted the way we think about work, school and life.

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