Promoting Diversity in the RVing Community
Promoting Diversity in the RVing Community
A look into the struggles of one family and their hopes for more inclusivity outdoors.
By: Dineo Dowd
Growing up in South Africa, I had hardly seen any RVs until I moved to the U.S. It took me some time to understand the difference between a trailer park and a campground. I started seeing many RVs on the road, primarily motorhomes, and my initial thought was, “wow, people retire and buy motorhomes and start traveling.”
Little did I know that I would be part of the RV lifestyle before I knew it. This lifestyle is very addictive. You start by renting an RV for a road trip, then fall in love with the lifestyle and decide you’re getting one by the end of the journey.
My Introduction to Camping
My camping journey started from the bottom. I remember camping at Canyonlands in Utah with students from the university and sharing a four-man tent. I was excited to be there, and it was my first time in the wilderness.
Everything was going well, with no high expectations, just new experiences, and meeting new people from different cultures and backgrounds. However, some of the students asked me many ridiculous questions since I was the only black student. It makes sense that they were curious, but some of them seemed to have never seen a black person before in their life. I could tell they were uncomfortable around me.
This was a major experience with realizing it is uncommon for people of color to do these kinds of outdoor activities.
Our Experience RVing as a Diverse Family
Today, I’m a wife, a mother, and a sister. I’m living my life in the outdoors, embracing the outdoors, nothing to be ashamed of, and I’m always the only black woman in every event.
It’s been over four years since we embraced camping as a family. Overall, it’s been the most fantastic experience. This summer, I’m living in a Winnebago Minnie, traveling from state to state and meeting other RVers along the way.
My experience has been great, awful, and unique because I’m living this life authentically and making memories with my loving family.
This RV community has changed in the past five years. I don’t only see motorhomes on the road, I see young people taking over the van life and families buying school buses and renovating them, turning them into beautiful homes on wheels. This RV life is not what it used to be; the community has changed. But I do recognize bias in the RV community.
My challenge living and traveling in the RV is that people don’t expect me to be there. Whenever I have to make a reservation, I have anxiety because not all RV campgrounds welcome people of color - even worse, I have a diverse family to keep safe. The struggle is real. I have to be careful where I camp. And I don’t always have lots of options.
Sometimes I won’t know a campground is unwelcoming until we arrive, and I see the flags or bumper stickers people are displaying on their RVs. Or the people staying there look surprised to see people of color.
There are certain things I have learned to see as signs that I am not in an inclusive place. It is unlikely to see other people of color, so I usually can’t use that as a sign it is safe for my family. I just use my intuition and knowledge gained from past experiences.
When I saw those signs of being unwelcome at a recent campground we visited, my heart was beating faster, I was shaking, and my heart sunk watching my husband fill out the form. I knew I was not in the right place and locked myself in the RV then left early the next morning.
So next time you’re camping and enjoying the outdoors, look around you. If you don’t see people of color, know that more can be done for campgrounds to be welcoming – including more representation in marketing. Many people of color want to be outdoors, and roast smores by the campfire, but the outdoors is not as inclusive as you may think.
However, I’m facing challenges every day within my own circle as well. Some of my family members say that I’m doing ‘white stuff,’ I need to figure out other hobbies. Some people I once called friends told me that I look homeless living in the RV, I need to go back home. Everyone has got something to say about me. And as a black person living in an RV, it’s ubiquitous for people to walk up to me and ask if I’m one of the missionaries from Africa.
These biases and stereotypes are additional challenges for people of color who want to pursue outdoor lifestyles.
Looking Ahead to a More Inclusive RV Life
But I must give credit where it is due. I attended my first Winnebago Grand National Rally this summer. I was very nervous and didn’t know what to expect at all. But everybody I met at the rally was willing to have open conversations about racism outdoors. They thought I was inspiring and brave, living this RV lifestyle unapologetic and authentic. I had an opportunity to meet some of the Winnebago ambassadors, and I’m very excited that I chose Winnebago because they have already diversified their panel.
I continued talking about diversity in RV life, and the amount of support I got was overwhelming. I’m grateful that Winnebago has partnered with the National Park Foundation to make the outdoors more accessible and willing to diversify the RV lifestyle. They are eager to support people of color (POC) and the LGBTQ Community.
My mission is to continue this journey authentically and inspire other POC to get outdoors and FEEL safe in the RV campgrounds.