More millennials are hitting the road in trailers, RVs

Micah Walker
More millennials are hitting the road in trailers, RVs

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. 

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Tin Can Tourists member Jackie Jernigan goes retro in her 1970 Avion trailer.

"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, Michigan, 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, Michigan, 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 rallyin 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. 

In this Oct. 22, 2014 photo, Airstream travel trailers line the factory floor as they are assembled at the Airstream factory in Jackson Center, Ohio. Not only are the Airstream trailers still being built by hand at the same western Ohio site that has produced them for the past 60 years, but the company also can't roll them out of there fast enough to meet the demand these days. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

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, Michigan. 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."

Director Jim Jarmusch and Iggy Pop walk the red carpet before the screening of Jarmusch’s new Stooges documentary 'Gimme Danger' at the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts on Tuesday October 25, 2016.
Sharon and Kevin Sopata of Macedonia, Ohio in their 1964 Shasta Airflyte.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: More millennials are hitting the road in trailers, RVs