By Chuck Woodbury, editor
I wrote this a couple of years ago after returning from a cross country trip in my motorhome. For whatever reason, it did not get published. Until now.
My trip around the country has been an eye opener. I know far better now why so many RVers choose to stay the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot — or one at Cabellas, Camping World, a Cracker Barrel restaurant or a highway rest area. The price is right — free. Equally important, these places are easy to find.
I have written before how parking overnight like this is not “camping.” And, no doubt about it, that’s true. But, frankly, when night is upon you and you need a place to stay only to sleep, an experience with nature is not a priority. Sleep is the priority. A safe place is important. Most RVers feel comfortable in the parking lots of the above mentioned places.
I carry along the Good Sam Campground Directory to help me find RV parks, but I find it almost useless. It lists many parks — but it largely ignores those operated by local, state and the national government — and according to most everybody, it favors the parks that advertise.
I use my GPS, laptop computer and iPhone to find places to stay. The other day, my iPhone led me to an RV park a few miles off the highway. It looked nice on its website. But at the entrance, there was a junky mobile home office, a junked car and weeds a foot high. I moved on — a few miles and 15 minutes wasted. This happens far too often. So how do you find a decent RV park without driving all over the countryside looking for one? It’s a helluva lot easier to find a Wal-Mart.
To me, when it comes to non-membership camping, KOA is the only game in town for an overnight stop. With rare exception the parks are clean, safe and easy to find. But they are not cheap. I pulled into one earlier this trip. It was not in a destination tourist area but along a busy interstate. “All I need is electricity” I said. “Oh, all our sites are full hookups,” the friendly clerk said. The cost was $54 or $47 with a KOA discount card, which costs $24 a year. She then explained to me about the bathrooms, showers, laundry and swimming pool — all of which I did not want or need. In my case, I needed electricity to run my air conditioner on the hot, steamy day, and a quiet place to write. I paid, but the price was way too high for my modest needs. You know, “one-size fits all” is not a customer-friendly policy.
Someone with some money to invest needs to call me so we can talk about setting up a chain of hundreds of cheap, barebones, no-frills campsites along the highways of America. RVers pay for a level piece of land that’s off the road. It cost extra for electricity (you pay at your site with a parking meter type device for as much power as you need), and water (an extra dollar). If you want to to use a restroom, drop 50 cents in the door each time you enter. A shower is a buck or two. A small office would include vending machines for snacks and beverages. When people check in, they get a bag of goodies — each item paid for by a business for the exposure (and earning the park operator a profit). But these parks could be set up as “self-service,” with someone on call for questions and emergencies. A security service would drive though several times a day and night.
The property for these sites would be cheap. Not prime land. Away from cities. No dump station or anything to do with sewage other than toilets, so no expensive environmental red-tape to deal with to get the business going.
Again, campground owners and operators will say this can’t be done, that it’s a crazy idea. Yeah, and the guys who started Motel 6 were told they were crazy. And Fred Smith was told his idea for Federal Express would not work (imagine if our own post office had been smart enough to create such a service first — it wouldn’t be in such a stink hole of financial trouble today).
Even Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart was considered “bush league” by Kmart and other major retailers when he began building his empire in small towns (instead of going head to head with competitors in big cities). Well, Sam buried ’em.
So call me, rich investor. Let’s talk. You’ll make a lot of money and do the RV community a huge service. I’ll settle for a tiny cut for my idea.