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More Americans hit the road as RV sales surge

Many of us have dreamed about packing up our stuff, buying a recreational vehicle and road tripping across the United States. New data suggests that more Americans are actually making this a reality.

On Thursday, Thor Industries (THO) (which manufactures the popular Airstream trailers), reported its best quarter ever, selling $2.2 billion worth of RVs. The company says demand is so high that they can’t make the RVs fast enough.

The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reports that RV shipments through August 2017 totaled 334,408 and are expected to reach 472,200 units in 2017. This would be the highest annual total since the data has been collected. According to the RVIA, the industry is on track to hit its eighth consecutive year of shipment gains.

Bill D’Andrea, owner of Family Camping Outlet, which has been selling RVs in Pottstown, Penn. for 36 years, tells Yahoo Finance that business has been booming since the recession ended.

“When the economy started changing, people wanted their campers again,” said D’Andrea. “RVs have really escalated quickly back up to and far exceeding the time before the recession.”

Why the jump in sales?

According to the RVIA, a record 9 million households own a RV in 2017, a 64% gain since 1980.

Traditionally, baby boomers have been the group most associated with RVs, and with 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, the group’s influence continues to grow. The AARP credits baby boomers with the increasing popularity of teardrop campers, small two-person trailers that can be towed behind a car. In addition, older buyers typically have more money and time to spend on luxury purchases.

Millennials have embraced the RV lifestyle.
Millennials have embraced the RV lifestyle.

At the same time, millennials have also fully embraced travel and the RV lifestyle. An RVIA survey found that buyers aged 35-54 are the largest segment of RV owners, a trend that D’Andrea has seen with his customers.

“It used to be baby boomers, but now we are seeing more kids in their 20s,” he said.

One millennial getting in on the action is Carli Jo Rhylander, a middle school counselor from Plattsmouth, Neb. She and her boyfriend bought a used RV earlier this year, and have it parked on a plot of land near a lake. They don’t plan on traveling much, but love the feeling of having a second home.

“My boyfriend is very outdoorsy and loves to hunt and fish. I liked the idea of having a place to get away — a home away from home,” Rhylander told Yahoo Finance. “On weekdays and weekends during the summer we are down there all the time.”

The increased interest in RV life could also have to do with the overwhelming push to get people outside.

In 2016, the National Park Service (NPS) launched their “Find Your Park” campaign to encourage people to get outdoors to celebrate the organization’s 100th anniversary. Thanks to these efforts, the NPS recorded a record 331 million recreation visits in 2016, 23.7 million more visits than 2015. The NPS also found that in 2016 overnight stays in RVs or tents hit their highest level in 20 years.

The cost of freedom

Owning a RV gives travelers the option to choose their own adventure. They get to pick where they go, when they’ll arrive, and how they get there — but that freedom isn’t cheap.

The new Airstream Globtrotter costs $99,900.

There are several different types of RVs, and the cost varies depending on the size, style and brand you choose. Motorhomes come in three different classes based on their size, and a new one can cost anywhere from $50,000 to $140,000.

Fifth wheel RVs are large and spacious, but are towed behind another vehicle like a pick-up truck. These cost between $15,000 and $50,000, depending on the size. Then there are pop-up RVs, which are lighter to tow and smaller (imagine a tent on wheels). A new pop-up trailer starts at $8,000.

Innovation and technology has also impacted the cost of recreational vehicles. From fuel efficiency to green technologies like solar panels, RVs are getting lighter, sleeker and more technologically advanced.

Case and point: Airstream just released its Globetrotter RV, which features modern décor, premium kitchen appliances, increased storage, climate control and an entertainment system. It cost a whopping $99,900.

“The industry has grown, with the manufacturers and style of campers,” said D’Andrea. “You would think you could only arrange that small space so many ways, but the new stuff continues to amaze me.”

The investment, however, could be worth it in the long run. A 2014 survey from PKF Consulting USA showed that a family of four can save 27%-62% on vacation costs by traveling in a RV, even when factoring in ownership costs and fuel.

Brittany is a reporter at Yahoo Finance.

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