In the have wheels will travel world of the campervan and motorhome there is a different view of how long it takes to see Australia
Committed motorhome owners say spending a few years on the road is not taking enough time to do justice to the experience. Along the way they have completely reinvented themselves and the meaning of retirement and travel for thousands of Australians. Australia's total campervan and motorhome owner population is now estimated at about 100,000 compared with a total of 350,000 caravans which includes permanent and single-destination vans. The core campervan and motorhome group is retirees who travel 140 nights a year.
They start, in their own words -'bright eyed and bushy tailed' with a three year plan and then find that nine years does not do the job. So they shape their lives and sense of adventure to the roads of Australia and decide to head off again, but this time the road stretches into the balance of a lifetime.
Some circle Australia many times and in the nomadic transformation their motorhome becomes their permanent, mobile address. Often they start with training runs to taste the lifestyle and learn the driving and living skills which go with their big, take-it-all-with-you vehicles. But even these first steps can easily clock up 12,000km. over 12 months of experiment.
The evocative 'Grey Nomads' label is based on fact. The majority of the members of the Campervan and Motorhomes Club of Australia are mostly aged between 55 and 65. There are about 40,000 members in 20,000 motorhomes in the CMCA, and it is the biggest club of its kind in Australia, says the General Manager of CMCA Limited, John Osborne.
But they come, like their motorhomes, in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life.
Members of the club, which was formed in 1986, are young and old, families and singles, millionaires and pensioners, workers and retired. There are full-timers, part-timers and wannabes CMCA member, Lorraine Heybrook, 'a gran on the road with no fixed abode' says she is ' a novice' compared to some who have been five, eight and the longest she knows of, a couple who have been on the road for more than 14 years.
Motorhome ownership is growing fast. In 1986 about 40 vehicles took part in the first National Rally at the Sydney Showgrounds, now between 800 and 1300 roll up for CMCA National and Anniversary Birthday Rallies.
Motorhomes take many forms, from a converted fire engine and a rebuilt mobile library, through former double-decker buses and Pioneer Cruisers to Toyota Coasters, Nissan, Hino and Mazda buses of various models. Of course made to order luxury is to be had from builders like Winnebago, Swagman, Matilda, Trakka, KEA, Venture Fifth Wheelers, Breakaway, Activ R.V., Sunliner, Jayco, Lupara, Paradise, Discoverer Campers, ATS, Billabong, Dryden, Jacana, Vogue, Superior RV's, to name a few.
Motorhome owners love them and names like Winnegogo, Me-and-er, Vamoose and Gunnadoo reflect the relationship and lifestyle. The attraction is the continual involvement with new experiences, people and places. It is generally agreed that the motorhome lifestyle beats the hell out of looking at the world each day through the window of a lonely flat.
Among the leading likes of motorhoming are - When hungry just pull over and fix lunch, plus there is a clean bathroom wherever you go. Pets are part of many motorhome families. Daily life is full with activities like motorhome upkeep, markets, emails, books, fishing, bush walks, new places and swimming. Old hands plan their motorhome and its equipment to the last detail. Safety and medical requirements are high on their list and then they just set a general direction and go.
Their laid back, practical approach to time keeps coming up. In his advice to newcomers to motorhoming CMCA club member Vincent Moran is typical, 'Don't go past anything, don't be in a hurry', he says. Recent research based on a very good sample of responses from more than 500 Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia members, who attended a rally in Toowoomba, Qld, in September 2004, shows that 50 per cent plan to travel for more than 10 years and 32 per cent intend to stay on the road for up to 10 years.
There is a big wake up call in the analysis that suggests that of the current crop of campervan and motorhome owners only a few are within the Baby Boomer demographic. While the Toowoomba sample must been seen as a 'discrete population' when measured against the CMCA's membership of about 40,000 there are strong indicators for the future. In a decade the Baby Boomers will be between 50 and 70 and they are likely to add significant numbers to the campervan and motorhome growth spurt.
If Baby Boomers take to motorhome and campervan ownership and have the same strong preference for free camping areas as the current motorhome and campervan owners there will be considerable strain on current facilities. The suggested preferred stopovers are rest areas, paid camping areas or National Parks, but there is some doubt about where in the end they actually stay. Caravan parks actually rank second for overnight stays in the survey response, followed by stays with friends and relatives. This indicates that overnight stops are dictated by practical realities, rather than influenced by personal preferences.
In 10 years time those on the road will most likely be current self-funded retirees, semi retired people, wage/salary earners and self employed people the CMCA research suggests. Those on a current income of $20,000 a year are more likely to be travelling in 10 years time, the research says. Another pointer to what is actually happening among Grey Nomads is shown in that among responses to the research questions 96 per cent said that there was at least one person between 55 and 65 travelling with them, and 59 per cent said that there was one person between 65 and 75 on board.
Of the sample group 85 per cent of vehicles were home to two people and only 14 per cent were travelling alone. Their average travel budget is $10,000 per annum which is supported by 85 per cent of those who responded being pensioners, pensioners with private income or self-funded retirees. Over two years 91 per cent said they spent less than $600 a week on average when travelling. Charting the response shows 58 per cent spend less than $400 while travelling.
Although it is tied to income level fuel is not generally a significant factor in deciding how far they travel and most, 59 per cent of the group sampled, drive professionally built campervans or motorhomes while 25 per cent use a converted bus or truck. A high proportion of those who responded to the research are 'old hands' 62 per cent had owned a campervan or motorhome prior to their current vehicle. Boats and pets are part of the 'family'.Thirty-three per cent tow or carry a boat and 23 per cent have a pet, 20 per cent of which are dogs. Most CMCA members, 32.5 per cent come from NSW, followed by Queensland 26.9 per cent and 16 per cent from Victoria, making up 74 per cent of the club's total membership.
In the Toowoomba analysis Queensland 87 per cent and New South Wales 38 percent response provides a result which is not representative of all campervan and motorhome owners, but it is valuable as an indicator from a (hard) core group as only 3 per cent of the vehicles used in the survey contained a person aged less than 46 years. Of those who went to Toowoomba the NSW and Victorian group decided to make the most of the experience with more than 50 nights on the road while the Queenslanders thought 30 nights would do the job.
Spending patterns vary to such a point that researcher's note that some of those who responded might be being coy about their annual income as the figures provided show some spend more money than they have income.
The majority, 44 per cent, said the number is between $10,000 and $30,000 per annum. Only 9 per cent said their income was between $40,000 and $50,000. They are 'canny' with their cash and while they say they regard $13 as the maximum to be spent on a camp ground site there is a preference for all facilities with shower and power over toilets and dump points for black and grey water from the motorhomes holding tanks.
UHF radio is the popular means of communication on the road. Overall the Internet is not their window to the world but Internet use jumps to 40 per cent once earnings reach between $40,000 and $60,000 a year more than 20 per cent of the self-funded retirees and semi retired people interviewed use the Internet. Grey Nomads are an active group. They like to visit markets, bush walk, enjoy heritage sites, National Parks and museums, they enjoy involvement with the communities they visit and the natural environment.
The CMCA says that in 2004 about 16,500 caravans were built and 1,650 motorhomes of which 80 per cent of all these vehicles will be sold to people over 55 years of age. The figures are expected to grow into 2006 and peak in 2011.
There is a significant trend developing in motorhome ownership, first time owners topped 40 per cent in the Toowoomba research once income levels reach $40,000 to $75,000 and rise to 56 per cent for those in the $50,000 to $60,000 bracket. Big change is coming up on the motorhome road ahead.
Phone 02 4978 8788 for information on CMCA