This is not roughing it at a remote campsite, but it is an ideal way to take a vacation and still avoid contact at airports, hotels, restaurants and with people in general. Plus – as the inside of this travel trailer at Lee’s Family Trailer Sales and Service in Windham shows – you can bring along so many of the comforts of home. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

WINDHAM —  As Dan Craffey stopped in his office after a tour of dozens of RVs, the owner of Lee’s Family Trailer and Sales chuckled as he looked at the two dry erase boards that showed sales for May were up 100 percent over last year.

“We sold 160 RVs in May. Last year we sold 80. And May is not over,” Craffey said Thursday. “We needed a second board to write them all down. Actually, now we need three.”

Dan Craffey, owner Lee’s Family Trailer Sales and Service, opens up the back of a Mercedes travel van – which he said is a big seller – at his dealership in Windham on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

In Maine and across the country, sales and rentals of RVs, or recreational vehicles, are on the rise this spring as people turn to a mode of leisure travel that allows them to avoid airports, hotels and, most notably, crowds.

The living space in modern RVs – even the bathrooms – are more spacious than in older models. Some are rugged enough to travel the rough logging roads of northern Maine or drive through a stream.

“We had a rash of customers who wanted to see their kids in the South. This is how they wanted to travel, rather than doing a hotel or flying,” Craffey said. “What I hear from people is they always thought about camping, now they want to do it. This pandemic made them think a little more about their leisure time.”

Other RV dealers in Maine are now seeing customers who had never thought of renting or buying an RV before.

Rentals have increased this spring at Seacoast RVs in Saco. Co-owner Amanda Blow said she’s had three couples who had to cancel trips to Europe decide to vacation in an RV instead.

“It was really iffy in the beginning, when we didn’t know what would happen (because of the pandemic). We had a lot of cancellations,” Blow said. “But the past two weeks it’s been non-stop calls and emails inquiring. There aren’t many other options. With an RV, you’re self-contained. We had one customer who rented a motor home just to drive around and stay in parking lots.”

RVshare – a national online booking company that provides RV rentals – has seen rentals jump 1,000 percent in May, said Jon Gray, the company’s chief executive officer.

At Lee’s Family Trailer Sales and Service in Windham, and around the country, sales and rentals of RVs and travel trailers are showing a significant rise. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

In early March, Gray said there was a huge drop in rentals because of the virus outbreak. But as stay-at-home orders began to lift in some states, Gray said vacationers showed they wanted to hit the road.

“On April 15 the governors of a few, mostly southern, states – such as Texas, Florida and Georgia – announced the loosening of restrictions. As soon as that happened, we had an immediate increase in bookings,” Gray said. “Those quadrupled week after week.”

Two weeks ago, an RVshare survey of 300 of its customers nationwide showed a clear theme: People who want to travel want to do so in a way where they can self-isolate. As many as 92 percent said the focus of their vacation this year would be on avoiding crowds.

So far, at least in Maine, few RVs are heading to campgrounds. Many campground managers anticipate a downturn in business because of Gov. Janet Mills’ executive order requiring a 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors once they arrive in Maine.

“We did open Memorial Day weekend. We had about nine people show up,” said Brett Metzger, the general manager at Bass Harbor Campground on Mount Desert Island. “We haven’t had any RVs yet this year. I think people are a little afraid. There’s a lot of confusion, even among Mainers.”

Branch Lake Campground in Ellsworth – along the road to Acadia National Park – has 50 sites, including several seasonal sites for those with RVs to stay through the summer. Campground manager Shawn Holler opened more seasonal sites this spring as a way to draw more permanent business from locals.

“The only thing saving us is the seasonal business. That will help carry us through and pay the bills. But overall it won’t be a good looking year,” Holler said.

Some dealers, like Craffey, think that Maine RV renters and buyers are heading out of state to visit family or explore the country. Craffey has had RV customers this spring send him photos from Alaska, the Grand Canyon and California.

Gray, with RVshare, said many RV travelers never even stay at campgrounds.

“People boondock: park the RV in a space where it’s OK to park it, but is not an official campground,” Gray said. “It’s almost backcountry camping – away from people. What we’re seeing is people want control. Being able to pick up and move on to less-crowded places is more important than ever.”


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