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Comparing US and UK caravan and camping: Tomato (Tow-may-toe) vs. Tomato (Ta-mah-toe)

September 2, 2010
by Miranda | guides

When it comes to comparing US and UK camping trends, the similarities and differences are much like that of the language we share; we’re all speaking English, but when it comes to the actual words and pronunciation, the disparity is very clear. But it is, indeed, our distinct idiosyncrasies that make both sides unique…and make for a pretty amusing comparison.

What’s in a name?

Pop-up camper in campgroundWhen it comes to camping on wheels, we Yanks haven’t quite figured this one out!  From my count we’ve got five modes of caravan transportation. Going from smallest to largest, we start with the pop-up trailer.

These fibreglass or canvas space savers fold into a box that is towed behind the vehicle. The advantage of a pop-up trailer is that it’s a lot less burdensome going up inclines and most of them are lightweight enough to be towed behind a compact car.

The next two sets of accommodation are a little bit tricky.  First, there is the caravan campervan.  They’re a towed unit, the equivalent of a touring caravan - like having a mini motel on wheels. They’ve got benches that fold out into beds, tables, and sometimes a miniature kitchen, shelves and bathroom. Many have running water, AC and heat, and even satellite hook-ups.  

There is one disadvantage to the towed caravan: it is against the law for anyone to ride in any towed vehicle, not matter how spacious. Which brings us to our next mode of transport…

The camper caravan — a.k.a the American equivalent of a camper or small motorhome and the little sister of the RV or Class A motorcoach — comes in all shapes and sizes, with amenities ranging from foldout beds, seats and maybe a table to full kitchens, plumbing, heating, and modern entertainment systems.

While we don’t technically have static caravans here in the states, they’d find a first cousin in our trailer.  That being said, the difference between a British static park and an American trailer park is one I’ll leave you with the pleasure of researching. Trust me, it opens up a whole different can of worms!

Putting on the Ritz

When it comes to luxury and design, we’re about neck and neck and there’s no better display of good old American excess than the Class A motorcoach.

Class A luxury RVs (recreational vehicles) have an asking price of up to $2million. As such, they are literally mini-mansions on wheels. Their amenities, features and quality interiors rival MTV cribs in design and excess, and offer the luxury of any ultra-posh resort.

One such luxury RV resort is nestled in Pelican Lake, Florida. It’s strictly A-list which means only Class A motor homes can pass through the security gates. For $200,000 to $300,000, owners can purchase a landscaped lot in a private community with amenities like heated pools, golf courses and spas.

Truck conversion RV

Luxury RV resorts like these don’t bother with an adults-only requirement because the chief demographic is business execs in their 50s and 60s who gave up the grind to relax in greener pastures with fellow retirees without leaving their posh lifestyles behind.

Where only the very wealthy can enjoy pimped-out RVs, the average family is confined to a standard campervan. When it comes to variety, the UK has us beat. Well ahead of us on the glamping scene, Brits have managed to make camping enjoyable and quirky no matter what salary you’re on.  From the rise of alternative accommodation choices like tipis, yurts and wigwams, to eco-friendly lodges and festival focused campsites, the UK delivers more bang for the buck.

To market, to market

While camping and caravanning in the UK is becoming fashionably retro and popular amongst the ‘Primrose Hill’ crowd, you’d be hard pressed to find a Hollywood ‘tween’ going on holiday in an RV.

The number of RV-owning households in the U.S. was expected to rise to nearly 8.5 million by 2010, growing at 250 percent higher than the projected growth of U.S. households during that time, according to a 2005 University of Michigan study commissioned by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). According to the RVIA, baby boomers (members of the ‘baby boom’ generation in the 1950s) are driving those numbers. RV ownership now spans a 40-year range, from ages 35 to 75, with baby boomers between 55 and 64 having the highest ownership rates, according to the study. While camping is climbing confidently upwards towards the height of cool across the pond, in America it’s the baby booming generation that looked upon camping and…er…campervan-ing with fond nostalgia and sought to outdo their childhood memories. The sub-30 crowd never really caught the trend.

…and it wasn’t the credit crunch that brought Americans back to the RV—it was the ‘axis of evil’. "Since 9/11, more people have tried the RV experience and liked it," said Frank Konigseder, co-owner of Liberty Coach, a North Chicago company that makes top-of-the-line luxury motorhomes. "We have seen a greater influx in the Class A type of motorhome probably because people are wanting to do more with the family and are travelling more in this country instead of flying over the top of it."*

While Americans stay true to the ‘bigger is always better’ trend (huge surprise there!), the British camping and caravanning market has hooked everyone from yuppies to OAPs by juxtaposing the time-tested standard with new niche trends. All things considered, what I can conclude after looking at the two markets side by side is that the fundamental reason Yanks and Brits forsake motel rooms and hostels for RVs and tourers is, indeed, the same: they desire the freedom to take to the open road and explore their country without having to worry about flights, hotels and reservation confinement. In that, both markets speak the same language.

* https://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2002949788_rvs24.html

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