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Americans’ split attitudes on the economy revealed by soaring RV sales in the face of $5 gas

June 10, 2022, 3:53 PM UTC

Gas prices might be nearing an all-time high, but wanderlust is proving to be a more powerful force than budgeting.

RV shipments were up 19% in 2021, according to the RV Industry Association. And they’re continuing to increase in the first part of 2022.

In April, the most recent data available, total wholesale RV shipments were up 10.1% compared to the 2021 figures. Year to date, shipments are 14.1% higher.

“RVing remains a great travel option for people looking to experience the freedom of travel while also providing them greater control over travel costs,” said RV Industry Association President & CEO Craig Kirby in a statement.

Does it, though? It often depends on the distance of the destination.

The surge in interest in RVs comes despite the skyrocketing price of gas—and the substantial cost of filling one up. Tank sizes in those vehicles range from 25 to as much as 100 gallons, depending on their class, putting the current price of a fill-up between $125 and $500.

Mileage varies on the vehicles as well, but a Class B RV, also called a camper van, gets about 24 miles per gallon. Owners of a Class C vehicle, which is built on a truck chassis, average somewhere close to 16 miles per gallon. And a Class A giant RV will get about 11 miles per gallon.

To put that into perspective, the cost for a conventional (Class A) RV owner to drive from Charlotte, NC to the area around Mount Rushmore would cost $995 more round trip than flying there in late July. (Of course, that deficit would be lowered somewhat by doing away with lodging costs.)

It’s the latest in a string of examples that show the disconnect with Americans’ feelings about the economy (nearly three-quarters say they are cutting back on restaurants and entertainment, or putting off planned purchases) and their actions. While most expect inflation to continue rising, spending hasn’t slowed at the same pace, a possible after-effect of the pandemic’s isolation.

Despite rising prices, the travel industry is experiencing a revival after two rough years. Pent-up demand to travel freely has consumers ignoring price tags to indulge in “revenge travel” and “bleisure” trips. And with an RV, they’re able to take the whole family along.

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