Friday, August 21, 2020

Tiny Trailer Camping, Social Distancing, and KOA's 2020 "North American Camping and the Effects of COVID-19" Special Report

KOA Special Report
Tiny camping trailers are safe, easy to tow, and owned by a hardy breed of campers who don't mind getting outside and enjoying a bit of weather. As a camping group, I think tiny trailer campers are a less intimidated by the idea of self-sufficient camping that includes social distancing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

After all, what does social distancing and self-sufficiency mean for a tiny trailer owner? Many tiny trailers are bought with the idea of getting away and engaging in some "boondocking," camping off the grid and without campground support facilities. Continuing to boondock, therefore, isn't a big stretch for tiny trailer owners. Also, even if camping in established, full-service campgrounds, tiny trailer owners can use boondocking expertise to remain socially distant. 

"Wait a minute, now," astute readers might say, "aren't the big-rig, fully-equipped RVs the most able to be totally self-sufficient?" They've got full kitchens, great bathrooms, and are large enough to be considered tiny apartments on wheels. How can they not be better able to be self-sufficient? I can't argue with those facts--except that many large camper set-ups, when hooked up on Sewer Alley, are cheek by jowl with other RVers. Close proximity is dictated by the need to have straight runs for the sewer system. I would say that mid-range 5th-wheels and travel trailers are better set up to have full facilities and still be able to park in a campsite with a bit more space.

Tiny trailers, though, are able to camp in those tiny nook campsites, the ones that the bigger rigs just look at, shake their head, and move on. Tiny campers are even sometimes allowed in many campgrounds that use tent campsites, which are usually primitive and more secluded. Utilizing portable toilets and showers, tiny trailer campers don't have to worry about filling tanks and then having to pull the trailer up to the dump station often (although fully equipped RVs can buy the portable waste tanks to use to transport wastes to the dump station).

Even the most simple tiny trailers, as "hard-sided tents," possess a sense of being a haven of safety from people and the elements that tent campers lack. And I'm not knocking tents, because I've had great camping experiences with tents. It's just that in these stressful novel coronavirus times, I find the added security of my standy tiny trailer comforting. I find that I can settle more, knowing that I have more control over my environment, being a tiny trailer owner. Camping in my local area of SE Iowa, campground camping has become a hybrid experience of "boondocking" with electricity and water. 

Camping this season means self-isolating while in a campground with other campers. I find myself taking a stroll through the campground loops and maybe chatting from the middle of the road but not inviting myself or being invited into the campsites of others. The closest I came to another camper on my last camping trip was after a distance chat with a husband and wife, the husband wanted to show me a photo on his phone of his black powder muzzleloader rifle (and I wanted to see it). I just said, "Stand back. I don't have my glasses, so I can see best from a distance," which happened to be both true and the safe course of action. 

On May 11, 2020, Kampgrounds of America issued a special report, "North American Camping and the Effects of COVID-19," the information in the report based on an April 27-20 survey conducted by the Cairn Consulting Group. It's been three months since the report has been issued--and a lot of social and political water has passed under the bridge. Nonetheless, in late April, society had been in some form of social restriction for about a month, and North America and the rest of the world realized (with notable exceptions) that the pandemic was a significant event. What did the special report have to say? I've provided a link so you can read it in its entirety if you wish (it's nineteen pages, including graphics), but I'd like to share some takeaways regarding camping with small and tiny campers. Those surveyed were for the most part "leisure travelers," most of whom did some camping.

Not surprisingly, most of the leisure travelers planned to increase camping in their travel plans once the country opened up again. What we see now, three months later, is that fewer people are traveling by plane and train, and more people are considering road trips. Traveling by road with some form of camping capacity ensures the greatest ability to maintain social distancing. "Among all leisure travelers, prior to the pandemic, camping accounted for 11% of all trips while post COVID-19, camping is likely to account for 16%." Forty-seven percent of travelers who sometimes camped said they would replace one of their cancelled or postponed trips with camping. Of the travelers who wanted to be outdoors and camp, 41% said it's more affordable and 37% said it would be easier to maintain social distancing. My feeling is that now that the deaths in the United States from COVID-19 are hitting 180,000 that the latter (social distancing) percentage would be higher. Many campers, I'm sure, are looking at their rigs and equipment and asking themselves how they can tweak what they've got to be more self-sufficient and, therefore, more safe. I wrote an article in mid-March, "Camping in the Time of the Coronavirus," and I think my observations and suggestions are still relevant now, five months later. The main change is that we've become more accustomed to taking safety measures when we go out.

The KOA survey included asking campers how they intended to return to camping. What would they change? How campers intended to change their camping habits and routines followed what we probably would have predicted if we had been asked in April. Camping in small groups (or alone) was one intention; even those who usually camped in groups of 3-5 intended to go smaller. Seventy percent of those who camped said they intended to camp closer to home and that they were willing to camp at less popular campgrounds in order to avoid overcrowding. Campers were more willing to try a different mode of camping, with the availability of private bathrooms being an important consideration. More people were considering the idea of full-time RVing.

It's also no surprise that travelers increased their appreciation of being outdoors as a safer and less stressful environment. "The pandemic has impacted travelers' views toward nature and experiencing the outdoors--43% of leisure travelers say spending time outdoors is now more important as a result of the pandemic." Those surveyed also felt it was important for kids to spend more time outside. As late summer is upon us, it is easy to see why many parents are concerned that their children will be heading back to school where their children will be inside in groups. 

A comfortable, safe, self-sufficient camp at a state park 25 miles from home

This pandemic has created stressful and uncertain times for everyone, and campers intuited the need back in April for the nurturing qualities of the outdoors. Once restrictions were lifted, those surveyed felt that they were "most likely to want to explore (69%), be able to relax (67%), and be in the outdoors to clear their mind (66%)." If the survey were held now in August, I'll bet those percentages would increase, and of those three qualities--explore, relax, and clear the mind--I think "relax" and "clear the mind" might have the highest percentages. There was a 37% increase of travelers looking forward to when it would be safe to travel again. 

Ironic, isn't it? It's not safer now to travel; it's more dangerous because the virus has spread geographically. The infection curve is still rising, as are deaths. What we would hope is that campers have adapted their travel procedures to be safer from getting the virus, but on the news we see significant disbelief and rebellion against safe health practices. This (again, ironically) makes small and tiny trailer owners safer in their travels than many other modes of travel because they can easily tow their "safe house" with them . . . or they can go out for a day trip and take their portable toilet with them to use in their SUV if necessary. Nowadays, "portable and adaptable" are two positive points if one is trying to avoid the invisible and increasingly prevalent virus, and tiny trailers and tiny trailer camping equipment is nothing if not adaptable.

Even back in April, how to handle COVID-19 was not an unknown; it wasn't rocket science that the average traveler couldn't understand. Nine out of ten surveyed (and 95% of the campers) felt it was necessary to put measures in place to deal with the virus. For parks and campgrounds, depending on the specific situation, from over a third to almost half felt it important to moderate trail traffic, group sizes, and where to use masks. Three months later, these basic health safety measures have somehow become politicized. Why? The KOA report's tone was more that these measures were just common sense, the kind of thing you do if your kid has chicken pox or lice, only more serious because of the danger of a totally new strain of virus. We have to guard ourselves nowadays not just against COVID-19 but also from people who because of stress, high emotions, misinformation, and inaccurate reasoning are placing themselves and others in danger. When camping, knowing you can get inside your hard-sided camper and close the door is a comforting safety measure.

My dad used to say, "When you leave a campsite, make sure it's cleaner than when you got there." If we can apply his words to cigarette butts and pop cans, why can't we extend our intent regarding this pandemic to keeping our parks and campgrounds covid free? When boating we worry about keeping out invasive species. We pick up after our pets to keep campgrounds tidy and to not infect wildlife with diseases. Those are simple, straightforward, no-nonsense actions; maybe we can call them ecological versions of "sterilizing" and "distancing." No matter what our mode of camping, let's respect our parks and campgrounds. Let's respect our fellow campers. No matter what size our camping rig, when it comes to COVID-19, let's leave no trace behind. And for you tiny trailer campers, know that maybe you are leaders in a new lifestyle, one it seems will be with us for at least another year. Lead the way, and may we all have safe and happy camping experiences.

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