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Millennials go outside, just not on boats

By Brianna Liestman

Millennials love spending time outdoors. Unfortunately, it seems many of them prefer spending that precious time in nature in a campsite, not on a boat.

The 2017 North American Camping Report, an independent study supported by Kampgrounds of America, states an estimated 13 million U.S. households plan to do more camping in 2017 than in 2016, and more than one million new households have started camping each year since 2014.

KOA also reports that more Millennials now enjoy camping and account for 38 percent of the 75 million active camper households in the U.S., up from 34 percent in 2016.  Fifty-one percent say they plan to increase their camping this year.  Key reasons for camping include spending more time with friends and family, being physically active and improving overall emotional health and well being.

I can say anecdotally that this is very, very true. In fact, in 2014 my group of best friends and our spouses/partners began taking an annual camping trip to Minnesota state parks, chosen by one couple each year. I absolutely love camping. I turn my phone on airplane mode for the weekend so I can be disconnected from distractions but still take photos of our outdoor antics.

So if my friends and I all love the outdoors so much, why aren’t we boating instead? Doesn’t boating provide the same quality time with loved ones, keep us physically active if we engage in water sports and improve our emotional health? Certainly that’s true, but for many people in my generation the price point just doesn’t add up.

I go camping once a year because the summers in Minnesota are short and most of my weekends are filled quickly with weddings, birthday parties, baby showers and powering through Top 100 applications. Cost is a huge factor, considering the time crunch; a campsite or two split between three or four couples is about $30 or less for the weekend. By contrast, a boat rental for eight people – without considering lodging – looks like it estimates being $75 a day per couple in my area.

And in my experience, buying a tent you use once a year is incredibly less expensive than buying a boat.

If there were an option for us, at this stage in our lives, to go boating at a price point that made sense for us, we would probably do it and it would become part of our summer ritual. And I would hope the first couple that gets out of student debt would eventually buy a boat we can all use!

We need to find creative ways to just get my generation on the water, knowing their time is incredibly limited and their boat trips may be only once or twice a year. We need them to realize how worthwhile this recreation is and fits well into the same goals we are aiming to get out of camping.

And if you think my generation is just an anomaly we have to live through, think again. The KOA report states Generation Z teens, ages 13-17, are very enthusiastic about camping and place a high value on people their age spending time outdoors. The findings for this group – new to the report this year – indicate that teens share adult campers’ views about the benefits and emotional connections to camping. They are building these lifelong memories now, and that will surely impact us in the future.

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