Whether it’s Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz traveling across the country in “The Long, Long Trailer” or Iggy Pop spending time at home with Mom and Dad, Americans love their campers.
Now the iconic symbol of middle-class success is gaining ground with a new audience: Millennials, who not only are traveling the country in them but renting the wheeled living quarters through Airbnb.
According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, RV shipments saw their second-best year in 2018, with 483,672 units. Shipments were down only 4.1% from 2017’s record-setting year of 504,600 units.
The surging demand also is fueling the market for classic campers.
Organizations like the Tin Can Tourists (TCT), a nationwide group celebrating its 100th year in 2019, draw collectors looking for vintage style and design.
“I like the design, the shape of the unit, to the fabrics used inside, to the woodwork,” said TCT member and hall of famer John Truitt regarding vintage travel trailers. “I like how it reflects past eras of design and workmanship.”
Millennials move in
More than a million American households have started camping each year since 2014, with millennials making up 38% of the 75 million active camper households, according to the New York Times.
Truitt said the group is seeing more interest from younger members, with many in their late 20s and early 30s.
Lauren Albrecht of Holly became fascinated with vintage trailers after her family traded in their pop-up camper with her grandfather’s Avion camper. The 26-year-old is in TCT with her parents and is “obsessed with all things vintage.”
“It’s cool to see the trailers restored,” she said. “That’s the most fun aspect of our group besides the people we camp with. Everyone is so creative, and they really care about preserving the history of these trailers.”
Edward Byrnes 38, of Commerce Township, first became aware of TCT after a member happened to be walking by while he was working on a 1959 Fan trailer in his driveway. Byrnes and his girlfriend, Jessica Neff, ended up going to their first TCT rally at Camp Dearborn in 2017.
“One of the reasons Jessica and I got together was our affinity for vintage campers,” he said. “After the rally, we were hooked, and attended as many rallies as we could. That is, until we purchased an aging home that now requires much of our time for renovations.”
When the couple is able to go camping, Byrnes said he enjoys the “smell of campfire smoke in the air, making memories and enjoying the company of other TCT members.”
RV brands are taking notice in the demographic shift and are designing trailers geared toward 20- and 30-somethings.
Perhaps the most iconic of all the RVs on the road is Airstream, resembling a gleaming silver bullet.
Airstream — which saw its fifth consecutive year of growth, with sales increasing to 218% — offers a compact RV called the Nest. Weighing 3,400 pounds, the mid-size trailer offers a two-stove burner, microwave and bathroom. Users can also change the colors of the interior lighting with a smartphone app. Prices start at $45,900.
Another popular choice is the TAG Teardrop Boondock by NuCamp RVs. The compact towable, which weighs 2,900 pounds, starts at $15,000.
Even car companies such as Volkswagen are jumping back into the camper game with the launch of its California Camper Van last year. In addition, VW is making sure its conventional vehicles have enough power to carry trailers. The Atlas SUV has a 5,000 pound towing capability.
Can’t afford an RV? Airbnb offers RVs to rent. Spend the weekend “glamping” or glamorous camping in Los Angeles in a 1969 Airstream Globetrotter. Located in the San Gabriel Mountains, campers can take in the sights of L.A. such as the Hollywood sign, and the city skyline. The cost? Two hundred thirty-six dollars per night.
For something more rustic, Airbnb offers a vintage Airstream in Wimberley, Texas, near San Antonio and Austin. For $130 per night, the RV includes a hot tub, outdoor shower, patio grill, fire pit and a selection of Western movies.
Campers in pop culture
Campers and RVs over the years have come to symbolize Americana.
The 1954 film, the “Long, Long Trailer” and Lucille Ball’s vacation rock collection set the standard for comedy.
James Osterberg Jr., better known as punk rock artist Iggy Pop, grew up in a Coachville Mobile Home park in Ypsilanti. He talks about growing up in the 500-square-foot trailer with his parents in the Jim Jarmusch film, “Gimme Danger,” released in 2016.
Robin Williams celebrated camping life in the 2006 film, “RV,” and they’ve been featured in other movies ranging from “National Lampoon’s Vacation” to “Meet the Parents.”
Tin Can living
The Michigan chapter of TCT will kick off the start of the camping season this weekend with an open house in downtown Wyandotte. The event, featuring 38 classic trailers and motorhomes from the 1930s to the early 2000s, will be held from 5-9 p.m. Friday and 4-6 p.m. Saturday at the corner of Elm and First.
“Our tour of these classic campers is a reminder of a simpler time and place,” Bone said in a news release. “Our members are eager to display their own personal campers and motor coaches. … Each one is a beautiful example of America’s love affair with the emerging concept of leisure time, family vacations and freedom on the open road.”
Visitors can check out the vehicles’ décor, luggage, and appliances. Some members will wear period attire, said Truitt, who will be bringing a 1974 Hunter I and a 1998 Casita to the event.
Truitt has been a part of Tin Can trailers for about 16 years. He first found out about the group while doing an online search for a small, vintage trailer. Truitt eventually bought an Airstream, with the former owner being TCT President Forrest Bone. He invited Truitt to a rally, and has been a part of the club ever since. Truitt likes the friendly environment of the organization, as well as the shared bond of vintage trailers and collectibles.
“The trailers are a starting point for conversation,” Truitt said. “We get more interested in the person and each other than our stuff. There’s no hoity-toity, there’s no ‘thumbs-up, thumbs-down’ kind of thing. You agree to have a good time and be a good time.”
While admission is free, visitors are asked to bring canned food to benefit the Wyandotte Soup Kitchen or bring clean plastic bags to be recycled and repurposed into sleeping bags for the homeless.
Where to buy a RV
Airstream, Winnebago and other brands of RVs can be found at various RV stores across metro Detroit. The General RV Center has locations in Brownstown Township, Mount Clemens, Wixom and Clarkston.
New trailers, such as a 2019 Tracer Breeze, can be found for as low as $19,000. Used trailers and motor coaches are also available, where potential buyers can find a 2018 Shasta for $8,999.
Chain store Camping World also sells RVs at select locations, as well as RV parts, repair services and camping supplies. The lone metro Detroit location is in Belleville and only offers repairs and RV supplies. The nearest dealership is in Grand Rapids.
Like, the General RV Center, users can shop for new and used RVs online on its website.
Another option is website RV Trader, which offers more than 200,000 used and new motor coaches, trailers and campers for sale from private sellers and dealerships across metro Detroit. Prices can be as low as $895 to as high as $705,000.
In addition, owners looking to sell their RV can place an ad on the site for as low as $29.95. Other features include being able to set up price alerts, estimating monthly payments, and receiving insurance quotes.
For those looking for a vehicle even cheaper than the ones on RV Trader, Facebook has become a source for buying and selling RVs. There are groups selling RVs and trailers for less than $5,000,camper vans, or travel trailers.
TCT also sells campers on their website, from as little as $500 to as much as $125,000.
However, good deals on RVs may soon come to an end, due to President Trump’s increased tariffs on imported steel and aluminum last year. Steel tariffs rose to 25% while aluminum increased 10%.
Thor Industries, the manufacturer for Airstream, said in a release that the increases led to more expensive costs for the two resources and dented the company’s profit margin.
How to get a CDL license
Before campers go out onto the open road, first, some must obtain a Commercial Driver’s License.
In Michigan a CDL is required when “towing a trailer or other vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,001 pounds or more when the gross combination weight rating (GCWR)** is 26,001 pounds or more”
In Michigan, drivers must take a knowledge and vision test before receiving a learner’s permit. This allows you to practice driving under the supervision of a driver who has a CDL for the type of vehicle you wish to drive. A permit is also required for the CDL skills test, which is through an approved third party tester.
Once a driver passes the test, they must visit a Secretary of State office to pay a correction fee of $25 to add CDL privileges to their license. An enhanced license is $45.
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