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RVS and the fabric of the United States


The United States truly is a large country. We who live here often forget just how big it actually is. Most whole countries in Europe are the size of just one or two of our states. This size might seem natural but, when the country was being founded, it actually proved to be quite a challenge to those who were trying to push the natives out and settle the land. In truth, it was difficult to organize such large tracts of land before the rise of modern mapping, satellite gps and other advanced technology. They had to do the best they could with what they had which was very little compared to what we have today. But, against these challenges, a few key cultural conceptions emerged that were entwined with the very idea of bigness, size and manifest destiny. Wide open spaces became part of the American cultural tract and they stuck even after the nineteenth century was over. In the twentieth century, or the first half of the twentieth century, camping, campgrounds and campground design emerged as people flocked from cities to the wilderness. The wild was becoming a place to settle, at least temporarily but, then, in the middle of the century, something else happened. It seemed only mildly important at first but it would come to dominate American cultural life and change yet again how the citizens of the union saw their country. The first cross country highways were built.

    How roads changed everything
    To understand how the idea of roads influenced the development of camping and RV travel in the United States, it’s necessary to understand the idea of travel as it was before it was relatively easy and simple. Even in the early twentieth century any type of travel was still prohibitively difficult and dangerous. There were roads and ship routes, of course, but these weren’t always taken care of and were often prone to random and chaotic crime. While the rich could afford to travel with papers, travel for the average person was essentially extended camping. You stopped where you could, you ate what you had and you could only take what you could carry. Any national identity was vastly superseded by town and family identity which was much physically closer to most individuals. In fact, the American Revolution proved to be so difficult for precisely that reason. Getting people to see themselves as a nation instead of just a smaller tribe was a huge ideological leap.
    Where it all changed
    It’s different now but it’s only different for a few very specific reasons. One of these reasons was actually the development of large, long standing roads that allowed people to see more of their country than just their town. It wasn’t cheap, of course. For the first couple decades after these highways were constructed, it was only people in the upper middle class and upper classes that could use them. Traveling was safer and easier but it wasn’t any less expensive than it had been. It took the excess income of winning world war 2 to really kick start the average family into being able to afford an actual road trip. But it was the development of just such road trips, and a booming economy, that allowed for families to see a road trip as a necessary part of life and not just an extravagant side journey. This conception of necessity is key in this regard.
    RVing, camping and the future
    So now we finally come to the idea of the RV as a symbol of American freedom. Because it wasn’t just driving across the country that was seen as a necessary step for understanding the country as a whole. RV’s slowly carved out a significant role in this idea because they were a symbol of wildness and adventure. Of living on the road as opposed to just using it. The journey wasn’t just from one state to another. The journey was the meaning itself. It was the catalyst for American cultural identity. Any young person could only understand themselves through this act. In this way, the RV created modern America.

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