Popularity of motorhomes "turbocharged" by COVID-19 pandemic

Christopher and Mari Annett and dog Punky Brewster with their Tiffin motorhome, which has self-levelling airbag suspension and sets up in about 15 minutes. Picture: Karleen Minney
Christopher and Mari Annett and dog Punky Brewster with their Tiffin motorhome, which has self-levelling airbag suspension and sets up in about 15 minutes. Picture: Karleen Minney

It was a health scare that provided the catalyst for Christopher and Mari Annett to finally decide to sell up everything in Canberra and hit the road for good.

And now they know becoming full-time nomads was the best decision they've ever made. As they gleefully declared: "Every day is Sunday."

"We're living the dream. We need a digital clock on the wall to tell us what day it is," Mr Annett said

"Some people buy a caravan and head off for a lap of the country but this motorhome is our full-time home now; we don't have anywhere else.

"I'd owned my own businesses and we'd both worked very hard to have a lovely big house that we'd ploughed a lot of money and time into.

"But then the kids had all left home so there was just the two of us left there, cleaning and gardening."

Canberra couple Christopher and Mari Annett now live out of their motorhome with their poodle Punky Brewster. Picture: Karleen Minney

Canberra couple Christopher and Mari Annett now live out of their motorhome with their poodle Punky Brewster. Picture: Karleen Minney

The couple had always hankered to see more of the country so they bought a smaller motorhome and started doing a few trips.

"It all came to a head a few years ago. I was tired and super-stressed and my doctor told me that I had to give up work or basically it would kill me. That was the real crunch moment," Mr Annett said.

"So we sold up everything: our house in Charnwood, our business and everything we had of value to do this. And do we regret it? Not a bit."

As the rain teemed down outside at the new Canberra Park in Mitchell, the couple, aged in their early 60s, were warm and snug inside their premium Tiffin motorhome, the coffee maker hissing, the widescreen TV on, and their elderly poodle Punky Brewster perched on one knee.

The pair are self-funded retirees, living on the road in their $500,000 motorhome, towing a trailer containing a little car and two electric scooters for day excursions.

Inside the Annetts' 10.5-metre motorhome. The two large slide-out sections open up the living, dining and sleeping areas. Picture: Karleen Minney

Inside the Annetts' 10.5-metre motorhome. The two large slide-out sections open up the living, dining and sleeping areas. Picture: Karleen Minney

While their commitment level to being full-time grey nomads far exceeds most, the Annetts have joined tens of thousands of Australians rolling around the countryside in their motorhomes and caravans, unable to travel internationally and injecting cash into the local economies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has "turbocharged" the already healthy demand for caravans and motorhomes in Australia, according to Stuart Lamont, the chief executive officer of the national Caravan Industry Association.

"The industry was already growing by 6-7 per cent annually over the past decade but when the realisation hit for many people that overseas travel was off the books for a long time, product demand has gone through the roof," Mr Lamont said.

"The industry growth in the past seven to nine months has been estimated at between 30 to 40 per cent but honestly, I suspect it's even bigger than that.

"Anecdotally you hear of how caravan shows are selling out of floor stock within minutes of the gates opening."

He said the traditionally dominant "grey nomads" sector of the caravan and motorhome market was now being displaced in size by young families who were doing "the big lap" and home schooling along the way. And the newest of the emerging groups: the digital nomads.

"These are people who have realised that they can keep working and see the country along the way. So they travel, usually in a high degree of comfort and use technology like sat dishes and onboard Wi-Fi, to keep working as they go," he said.

He said for many people, the pandemic and the shutdown of international travel had reshuffled their "bucket list" and sent them out on the road, into the furthermost reaches of the continent.

What the Lonely Planet guidebooks used to be for backpackers during the 1980s and 90s, the Wikicamps website was now the Aussie travellers' must-have connection as they explored in record numbers and usually with a degree of luxury and comfort that would shame the old Viscounts and Millard caravans of yesterday.

And sadly, those blue and white ACT numberplates don't always get the best reception from fellow travellers.

"It's a shame because there's still a stigma associated with being from Canberra when you travel around," he said.

"But we're doing our best to help fix that perception."

When the COVID border lockdowns hit, the couple were right in the midst of transitioning from one motorhome to another. Mr Annett was coming back from Queensland with the new vehicle while his wife, staying in their old motorhome at the Bungendore showground, was one of the dozen or so campers told to leave immediately.

"There were a few tense days where there was a lot of uncertainty about where to go but we ended up parking up for six months at Kalaru, just outside Tathra, and as it turned out, it was a really nice place to sit out the lockdown period," Mr Annett said.

The couple now circles back to Canberra every three months for specialist medical appointments and to catch up with family. And sometimes take their granddaughter Matilda along on a few road trips.

Their advice to anyone contemplating hitching up and heading off was to hire a motorhome or caravan and try before buying.

"You see all ages travelling; young couples, young families all the way through to retirees in their 70s and 80s towing these huge new vans," Mr Annett said.

"Getting into caravan parks, especially with a big rig like ours, is now getting harder and harder because so many people are on the road now.

"But my advice to anyone who asks is: don't leave your big trip until it's too late. Life is just too short."

This story 'Every day is Sunday' for this Canberra couple out on the road first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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