With summer around the corner, many Americans are considering what vacation will look like in 2020 with the coronavirus threat looming. Communities across the country are beginning to re-open but air travel remains a risky prospect.
A handful of tech startups are pitching camping as a low-risk alternative, including a new venture launched by former Seattle Department of Transportation head Scott Kubly. He and the rest of the team at Cabana have been quietly renovating cargo vans into Instagram-friendly campers that can be rented using an app.
Extreme social distancing: Why camping is poised for a ‘huge jump in popularity,’ fueled by technology
Cabana recently closed a $3.5 million seed funding round led by Craft Ventures with participation from Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden and Ford X President Sunny Madra.
The funds will help Cabana scale beyond its home region to other cities. The startup plans to launch in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Denver using the investment.
For now, Cabana vans are only available for rent in the Seattle area. A two-night rental costs $235. Cabana’s custom-built Ford Transit vans include beds, storage, bathrooms, and internet. Vans are rented using the Cabana app, which also allows customers to lock and unlock the vehicles contact-free. Cabana says it has adopted a rigorous sanitization procedure between rentals.
Cabana bills itself as a “luxe mobile hotel company” at a time when traditional hotels and travel companies are taking a financial hit due to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, companies that help travelers find campsites — like The Dyrt and Hipcamp — are seeing big spikes in demand.
“Consumers are responding positively,” Kubly told GeekWire. “Everyone still has an urge to travel this summer but wants to do so in a way that feels safe, socially distanced, and with more self-control.”
Between his time at SDOT and Cabana, Kubly was chief programs officer for Lime, the mobility company behind the bright green scooters and bikes for rent in cities across the country.
Custom camper vans have exploded in popularity over the past few years, driven by adventure hobbyists and social media. Serial entrepreneur Kyle Kesterson left Seattle’s startup community for vanlife two years ago, documenting the adventure with a series of online projects. He’s one of many “digital nomads” who work from the road thanks to advances in technology that enable knowledge workers to earn income wherever they are.
Cabana hopes to capitalize on the trend, allowing would-be vanlifers to live out the fantasy for shorter periods of time.