One of the daunting tasks of preparing to go full-time is figuring out what memberships to buy to save costs on campgrounds. There are lots of good options, all at different price points.
Some people go more in the way of boondocking, which is when you do not stay in campgrounds but on state/federal land and other public domain. There is an investment with solar panels, batteries, and other equipment to be considered. You may have a better view, and definitely more privacy. On the other hand, you could be somewhat isolated in an emergency or crime situation. I definitely think we will try out some of the few beaches that allow you to boondock, but we will not be set up to do that for very long at all. We may invest more into this aspect later if we find we want to do this long term.
Most RV folks have to boondock some of the time. When we have gone, there are times you are just between destinations. There are many businesses that you can stay a night passing through – most popularly Walmarts and Cracker Barrels. You can also get a membership to Harvest Hosts for a really small fee and camp at participating Wineries, Breweries, etc for a night or two as you are passing through. We did purchase a membership because for the cost of under $100 it does open up a lot of places that we may just be passing through. They ask you to purchase something from their business, Heck though, it’s not hard to talk me into some wine or a meal.
We look at campground fees as our utility costs. There are many different memberships to choose from that can save on that cost. Here are the ones we are looking at (though there are many more out there available):
Thousand Trails – This membership will allow us to stay in their campgrounds free. There is an initial up front cost and can get pretty steep depending on the level of membership and what you want to be part of that membership. You can purchase someone’s used membership as well. The one that we are looking at would allow us to pay in the range of $4000, with a yearly maintenance fee of around $600. You can stay in any of their sites for 3 weeks at a time. At that point you have to leave for at least a week, but you can go to one of their other campgrounds. They do have good coverage in the perimeter of the US, but aren’t very prevalent in the middle states.
For us, there is the pro of knowing and controlling our costs. The con is it’s very expensive the first year, though if you were doing this for several years it’s a great deal. Since we don’t know yet how long we would like to travel we are not sure if we are going this route. The cost I quoted was for a used membership, we will use an intermediary company to purchase from an individual so that we have some assurance as to what we have purchased. There are some mixed reviews on Thousand Trails – people seem to either love it or hate it. If we do go through with this one it will be with our expectations in check.
Coast-to-Coast – This is a Good Sam company. For under $1000 you can stay in their campgrounds for $10-$20 a day. They seem to have better coverage throughout the united states, but don’t give you any preference over non-members. A lot of folks from my understanding use this as a supplemental one when buying the Thousand Trails. I am pretty sure we will use this one because we do not see a lot of downsides to it.
Passport America – For a very low rate of anywhere of $44 per year to a $399 lifetime membership, you can get 50% off at any of participating campground. This one is a no brainer to me as it would not be long for that to pay for itself.
We looked at some others – we currently have a Good Sam membership which was also not expensive – $29 for a year. It allows 10% discount at their campgrounds, some gas fuel savings, discounts on propane, dump services, and through some retailers, etc. Not a must have for us, but we saved enough at Camping World to pay for it. They also have roadside assistance which is a topic we have not fully investigated yet.
KOA offers similar perks. When vacationing we have primarily gone to KOA’s but probably do not need all the amenities they offer. If we were traveling with children, I think there would be a lot more need for some of the nice things they have set up for families to enjoy.
Both Good Sam and KOA’s have nice parks, but we are pragmatic in this is not us going on vacation, this is us changing our way of life. We envision the campgrounds to be a means to an end, but we’ll let you know if we still believe that when we get more varied experience.
When we initially started looking at our budget when we decided to go full-time, we had $700-$800 for campsite fees. After learning about some of these programs, and looking at what other RV folks have to say, I think we can do it for $300 or less a month. We had initially underestimated internet, because we will need multiple sources to always have reliable coverage as we need it for our businesses and Ed’s work. We will be monitoring this and reporting back as we get some time under our belts.