We love to travel to new places and see new things. Luckily, as full-time RVers, we get to do quite a lot of that. Unfortunately, travel can cost a lot of money.
Considering the fact that we don’t have unlimited funds, it’s important that we lower our travel budget as much as we can without cutting out all the fun. There are several ways to do this including using reciprocal memberships to lower admission costs and using Amazon Prime to have items shipped wherever we are free of charge and take advantage of free books, music, and movies. We also lower our food costs as much as possible by packing lunches and using Groupon when we do eat out. However, one of the best and easiest ways to save is to cut down on campground costs.
In our years of travel, we’ve found quite a few fabulous ways to drastically lower the amount we spend on campgrounds. We do this by using a combination of 6 different tricks.
Thousand Trails is what we end up using most often. This membership did cost us a few thousand dollars upfront. However, we only pay around $500 a year to keep it active, and in exchange, we can stay at any of the 81 campgrounds in the system free of charge.
Not only that, but we can also stay for up to 21 days and even hop from one park to the next without spending any time out of the system. This means we could stay at Thousand Trails exclusively and never have additional camping fees, as long as we wanted to stick to areas where Thousand Trails parks exist.
In addition to our regular Thousand Trails membership, we also have the Trails collection add-on. This option gives us access to even more parks, most of which we can stay at for free. There are a handful of parks that do charge $20 a night, but because these are nearly always located in awesome places, that $20 is still an awesome deal. We can stay in Trails Collection parks for up to 14 nights, and we can go directly to a Thousand Trails park after, but we cannot hop directly to another Trails Collection park.
Finally, we have the option to add a Resort Park International (RPI) membership to our Thousand Trails membership. We’ve personally chosen not to do this, but if we changed our minds, we would only pay around $100–$150 a year and have access to a large number of campgrounds at about $10 a night.
If Thousand Trails sounds like something you might be interested in, but you don’t want to jump in with a full-fledged membership costing several thousand dollars, consider getting a Zone Pass to try it out. If you do end up buying a membership, I highly recommend buying used through Campground Membership Outlet. Also, don’t forget that Coach-Net Members can save 10% on standard RV or tent sites at more than 170 beautiful RV resorts and campgrounds. Check your benefits information for details.
The second camping membership we always keep current is our Passport America card. At just $40 a year, this is a super inexpensive investment that pays for itself very quickly.
What you get is the ability to stay at hundreds of campgrounds across the country for half-price. While each campground does have its own set of restrictions, these restrictions are clearly stated on the website, and it is possible to work around them and still save a pretty penny.
Generally speaking, we use Passport America for one- to three-night stays on our way from one place to another, and not so much as a membership for snagging a discount on a long-term stay.
Another superb option for finding super cheap short-term camping is Freecampsites.net. This website features crowdsourced information on free and extremely cheap (under $12 a night) campsites across the US. Most of these are dry camping spots, but some have potable water, a dump station, or even electrical hookups.
We’ve found some really cool hidden gems through this website, and always take a look at it when planning our travels just in case there’s a super cool spot we need to see.
Of course, there’s also the option of good old-fashioned boondocking. To be honest, we haven’t done as much boondocking as I would like. This is mostly due to the fact that we simply aren’t equipped to stay off-grid for long. That said, the boondocking we have done has been fun, and we definitely see this as a feasible option, especially when we take our next big trip out west.
To find good boondocking locations, you can use the Freecampsites.net website mentioned above. However, there are many other good resources, including Campendium and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) website.
State, County, and City Parks
When we want to stay in a particular location and the options listed above aren’t working out for us, we tend to turn to state, county, and city parks. These options tend to be much cheaper than privately owned RV parks, and since we actually prefer a more rustic and natural setting most of the time, this works out.
As much as we like to wander, there are times when staying in one place is necessary. Usually, we try to be in a Thousand Trails park when this happens. However, when that isn’t possible, the next best thing is to see monthly rates.
Many RV parks offer monthly-stay rates that are far less than their nightly rates, making it more feasible to stay for long periods of time. If you’ll be in a place for more than a couple of weeks, ask about a monthly stay to see what it’ll save you.
These are the money-saving methods that work best for us. That said, they are far from the only options out there. There are several camping clubs and memberships available that could help you save on campground fees. Among these are Coast to Coast, Boondockers Welcome, and Harvest Hosts.
I recommend checking them all out, deciding which one suits your travel style best, combining it with the other tips above, and investing in additional memberships only as needed.
About the author: Chelsea Gonzales
Chelsea has the amazing opportunity to take part in full-time RV living and traveling with her tiny tribe. She homeschools her five-year-old son as they travel, and takes full advantage of their unique situation by using the entire world as her son’s classroom. A group of total Disney fanatics, Chelsea and her family often find themselves in the Orlando area in order to visit the Disney parks, but they have also visited over 25 of the 50 states with plans to see many more along the way. No matter where her travels take her, Chelsea enjoys riding bikes, gazing at beautiful sunsets, finding new coffee shops, Irish dancing, and sitting around a campfire with her family.
You can join her adventures through her blog, Wonder Wherever We Wander.
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