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.

Comments

User commented on October 15, 2021 8:27 PM
You are a beautiful family! Peace, happy travels, show the world what love looks like.
User commented on October 18, 2021 12:24 PM
User commented on October 18, 2021 12:25 PM
User commented on October 23, 2021 10:33 AM
Hope to meet your family on the road, plan on drinking great wine, BBQ and guitars anytime in our campground or rig!
User commented on October 23, 2021 1:22 PM
Good for you and may you have many happy adventures in your future!! Always chase the sunsets! (they are awesome!!!)
User commented on October 23, 2021 1:27 PM
Thanks for this! I’m a female POC who loves to camp. You’re right about evaluating your surroundings within campgrounds. Please keep these articles coming.
User commented on October 23, 2021 1:48 PM
Thank you so much for your open and honest article. I am an African American female that loves RVING. My self and my spouse have enjoyed camping for many years. While I’ve usually been the only person of color (POC) in a campground, I had not noticed rampant bias until recently. I would love to see more POC out enjoying the great outdoors. My spouse is Caucasian and worries about me when we travel in certain parts of the country now. It hasn’t stopped us, we’re just more careful. We use primarily National, State and County campgrounds when we’re not boondocking. We don’t use private campgrounds if we can avoid it.
User commented on October 23, 2021 2:13 PM
We have a Mini Winnie too. We look forward to meeting you and your family someday on the road. Diana and Nancy from Arkansas.
User commented on October 23, 2021 3:24 PM
We are POC and have felt welcomed at most RV places throughout the Midwest and Eastern States as well as Georgia, SC and NC and Florida. We have been doing this over 12 years and we have ran into more POC enjoying the RV life. You have a beautiful family.
User commented on October 23, 2021 6:48 PM
This is a great perspective, thank you! If you haven’t been to Maryland and aren’t from this area, try camping out here. The state parks in the DC area and on the eastern shore can have pretty diverse campers, at least compared to what you often see elsewhere (not sure about western Maryland as I have only lived here a couple years). I hope you and your family have more and more good experiences!
User commented on October 23, 2021 7:13 PM
Kudos to you for living the way you want to live in spite of all the negativity you've encountered. I wish it wasn't necessary for you to be so brave just to live your life. I sincerely hope things will improve for you and all POC. Prejudice is stupid.
User commented on October 23, 2021 8:19 PM
Thanks for this article. I too am a person of color, a solo black female RVer. I can honestly say most people are friendly enough to wave hello as I pass by, some even start a conversation. I was asked to leave one RV park almost as soon as I arrived, but most are welcoming.
User commented on October 23, 2021 9:14 PM
Good attitude always helps break down preconceived stereotypes!
User commented on October 24, 2021 7:35 AM
We are a retired couple from India, we just completed 10,000 miles trip visiting 25 National Parks. I understand POC’s are the minority in RV community, we avoid places that we don’t feel comfortable. We’ve met wonderful people in our travels, made beautiful memories. We decided to go full time RVing, we are off to Quartzsite AZ, hope to see you down the road, God bless.
User commented on October 24, 2021 8:21 AM
We have a Winnebago Travato 59KL and recently joined RV life. I hope our paths cross during one of our trips. Your story is truly inspirational. The outdoors should be for everyone to enjoy. This article has given me something to think about that I have taken for granted and I appreciate that. See you on the road!
User commented on October 24, 2021 9:40 AM
The gift you are giving your daughter is amazing! RV’ing with our children is such a gift of travel. My oldest is now off to college and we have traveled to almost every state during the summers while I was off from teaching. I’m so happy you are helping to blaze this trail!
User commented on October 24, 2021 3:44 PM
What an amazing and inspiring story! Dineo Dowd knows how to tell it like it really is, out there. Yes, people...things have definitely changed in the RV business. This means that ALL the RV companies and RV park owners have to get "up to speed" in order to better service and take care of the "newcomers" that will continue to grow, at an amazing rate! This includes Hispanics and other nationalities too! If the business industry does its best in this area, they will all enjoy enormous profits in the near future. I sincerely wish you and the rest of the RV industry the very best! Joe
User commented on October 24, 2021 7:04 PM
Ms. Dowd (and family), I greatly appreciate your comments on the state of diversity, or lack thereof, in RV'ing today. It really shouldn't be that way, and I too hope that this situation will change, sooner rather than later. While I am not a Person of Color, (unless the green of my Irish ancestry counts, which I don't think it does), your thoughtful words will inspire me to project a welcoming an inclusive attitude toward all POC's that I may meet in my travels. And if I should happen to see you and your family in a campground somewhere, I will be happy to introduce myself and let you know in person that your thoughtful words have touched me and have expanded my view of all that makes RV'ing such an enjoyable activity. Hoping to see you and your family on the road someday, John Carroll
User commented on October 25, 2021 9:36 AM
You have a lovely family! Sadly, there will always be those people who are narrow minded and hateful regardless of where you are in the world. I believe in my heart that good people outnumber the bad and that's a very good thing. I'm glad you're out there helping to spread the love in the RV world. I wish you and your family happy travels in this beautiful country and beyond! :)
User commented on October 25, 2021 9:40 AM
A worthy goal “. . . inspire other POC to get outdoors and FEEL safe in the RV campgrounds.” Be brave and bold and overcome your understandable fears. Watch out for your own stereotypes. Don’t assume that RVing people displaying “signs” of being a “patriotic right winger” will be unwelcoming to your participation. I think there are far fewer bad apples in the RV community than one would find in general. Overall a very welcoming group of people.
User commented on October 25, 2021 2:26 PM
Thank you so much for sharing your story! My partner and I purchased a 2022 Winnebago Era this year, after going back and forth for 5 years due to safety concerns of RV'ing as a Black woman and a lesbian. We have only taken local weekend trips at this point, but hope to take some longer ones in the summer. We are clear we need to be diligent about choosing where we camp, however, I hope there comes a time when we don't have to worry about our safety in these environments.