The American way

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While America’s motorhome industry is starting to feel the knock-on effects of that country’s mounting economic woes, it seems the land of the free and the home of the brave still leads the way in all things RV. Of course, Australia has its own unique conditions and its own unique traditions, but the winds of change are blowing across this great southern land … and they are coming from across the Pacific.

Remember when fifth wheelers and giant motorhomes seemed to be a totally foreign concept … when to see one was a novelty? Now take a stroll through any caravan park you care to mention and see the difference. Nope, like it or not, if you want to find out what we will be driving and what we’ll be towing in a few years time, you really need to look what’s happening stateside.

And what’s happening is the rigs are still getting bigger, more luxurious and (despite rising ‘gas’ prices), more power hungry. Motorhomes and fifth wheelers certainly dominate the RV scene in the United States, with most motorhomes being 30’-35’ long and most fifth wheelers being 25’-30’ long. In America, caravans (or travel trailers as they are referred to) are not nearly as popular as they are in Australia. In fact, you hardly ever see them. With the RV’s extra size comes better facilities. Many rigs now boast dishwashers, air conditioners and washing machines as standard. You name it and it tends to be bigger and better over there.

However, just as we are seeing in Australia, although American rigs are getting bigger and more luxurious, the standard of RV park facilities that travellers demand is also continuing to rise. Once again, a look at the situation here confirms that the move towards American-style resort parks is already gathering pace. The Coconut Village Caravan Resort in Cairns in northern Queensland is set on 28 acres, and boasts everything from super ensuites (including a spa bath) and tennis courts to movie theatres, mini golf and a 40-metre pool. Where, you may ask, will it all end?

Not all Americans, however, are after the luxuries of the resort-style parks. Like their Australian grey nomad counterparts, many US snowbirds are also on a tight budget and seek out free camping, or ‘boondocking’ opportunities whenever they can. Not surprisingly in a society with such a violent reputation, security is uppermost in many RVers minds and many interstate rest areas have 24-hour armed security guards. Similarly, round-the-clock security is in place at the car parks of Wal-Mart stores in US shopping centres where RVers are allowed to park overnight for free.

If that’s not enough, high-tech security devices such as panic buttons are also being installed in an increasing number of RVs. These gadgets are often supplemented with other items, sometimes including personal alarms, pepper spray, mobile phones and even guns. Hopefully, that’s one trend we won’t be following over here. It’s bad enough having to listen to the odd noisy (but harmless) teenage party.

So, while Australia is very different from the United States in terms of its relative security and a few other issues, from a camper’s perspective it also shares many similarities. Both are vast, open countries with magnificent and varied landscapes, both have a well-established camping heritage, and both are populated by a largely friendly and welcoming people. Both are sufficiently wealthy to have spawned a massive RV-owning community, and both are served by a decent infrastructure and an established caravan park industry.

It’s just that they seem to do everything first! Why don’t they pinch some of our ideas for a change? What’s wrong with making damper? Or Vegemite sandwiches? Or playing cricket? Or driving on the left-hand side of the road? And what’s wrong with our cute little caravans? Those Americans just don’t know what they are missing!


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