Looking for ways to save on your next RV camping trip? As full-time RVers, saving money on camping fees is key to making this lifestyle work. Check out our tips to save big on RV camping in this RV Travel Guide.
Miss the first two posts in this RV Travel Guide Series? Check them out here: Discover Your Unique Camping Style: RV Travel Guide Series Part 1
4 Ways To Save Money On RV Camping
The most expensive RV camping is located close to tourist areas and in private campgrounds. Consider alternative camping locations or camping styles to find the biggest savings.
1) Free Or Cheap Overnight Camping Options
In route to your destination, you can overnight for free in parking lots like Wal-Marts, Cracker Barrels, and casinos. Parking lot boondocking is a popular way to overnight.
Camping apps like AllStays Camping can help you find free overnight parking lot camping. Always call the location to make sure overnight stays are allowed.
If parking lot camping isn’t for you, you can still find cheap overnight in route RV camping options.
Boondocking on National Forest or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land is always an option. A membership to Boondockers Welcome is an inexpensive way to help you find additional boondocking locations on private property.
Inexpensive overnight options include fairgrounds (many have hookups), casinos with RV sites/hookups, and Harvest Host locations.
Harvest Hosts are private businesses that allow overnight camping. A few have hookups but most are boondocking/dry camping.
You purchase the inexpensive Harvest Host yearly membership to get access to these locations. Many are farms, breweries, or wineries where you can try local products or take a tour.
Overnighting on the way to your destination can be a fun part of your RV adventure.
2) Less Expensive Styles of Camping
We already mentioned that private campgrounds, especially those in tourist locations, are the most expensive style of RV camping. So what are the cheaper styles of destination RV camping?
We talked about boondocking as an overnight option in route to your destination, but it also is a great free destination camping option.
There is a learning curve to boondocking and you need the proper equipment to pull it off, but many campers love the freedom boondocking provides.
Destination boondocking is great when camping itself is the focus of your trip. It is usually found in remote locations, so it may not be the best camping style for sightseeing in an area.
There are many other options for less expensive camping styles that have RV hookups and are located closer to the area you wish to explore.
State and National Parks
State Parks, National Parks, State Forests, and Corps of Engineers campgrounds often offer larger, more private campsites for much cheaper than private campgrounds. The bonus is that they are also usually in beautiful natural locations to explore.
City or County Parks
City Park and County Park camping locations are often overlooked RV camping jewels. They are usually pretty cheap and located close to sightseeing.
All of these different camping styles/locations vary in RV hookups. Make sure to check that the location offers the hookups that you need for your trip.
3) Longer Stay Length
Another way to save money on camping fees is to stay longer. Twist my arm, right! I always hate when it is time to leave.
Many campgrounds give discounted nightly rates for stays of a week or longer. Or sometimes they offer buy 6 nights and get a night free.
Usually, places have an even deeper discount for monthly stays. Longer stays do often charge extra for electricity though, so keep that in mind.
It’s definitely worth it to ask places you are considering if they have discounts for a longer stay.
4) Camping Discount Cards and Memberships
There are a number of camping cards and memberships that can offer a range of discounts and benefits.
Discount cards and yearly memberships can benefit both the weekend camper and the full-time RVer. While some ownership memberships are geared more for campers that RV a large portion of the year or for full-time RVers.
Yearly Discount Cards & Memberships
The one camping discount card I recommend for all RVers to get is Passport America. It is an inexpensive annual discount card that offers up to half off camping fees for campgrounds in its network.
KOA and Good Sam
Yearly discount cards like KOA Rewards and Good Sam offer 10% off when staying at participating campgrounds. Good Sam also offers a discount on purchases at Camping World, Gander Outdoors, and Pilot Flying J gas.
Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome
Escapees has a small network of member campgrounds and other locations discounted outside of their network. The number of campgrounds is limited however, this can be a great option if they are located in areas you travel to frequently.
Escapees is more of a club membership with many other services tied in besides just the camping discount. They have social meet-ups, RVing educational opportunities, and mail service.
State and National Parks
National parks and some state parks offer discount camping for seniors and disabled individuals. Each state varies on state park camping discounts, so it is worth it to do a little research to see if you qualify. Some state parks require you to be a state resident to get a discount.
The inexpensive National Parks/Federal Recreation Lands Senior Pass discount card is for seniors 62 or over and provides half off of camping on federal lands including national parks, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Corps of Engineers. The free Access Pass offers the same discount for disabled individuals.
The last yearly discount membership we are going to talk about is the Thousand Trails Zone Pass. This membership is more expensive than the other options listed at $615 a year, so you want to be sure that you camp often enough to see the savings from the Zone Pass membership.
The Zone Pass allows you to stay up to 14 days at a time at Thousand Trails locations in your purchased zone (Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Northwest, and Southwest). You can also add on additional zones.
After 7 days out of the system, you can stay another 14 days using your membership. You can also add on additional campgrounds by adding the Trails Collection.
Thousand Trails also offers nationwide ownership-type campground memberships through their sales department. Starting with a Zone Pass is a great way to try out Thousand Trails before buying into one of their ownership memberships.
Ownership Campground Memberships
Who Are They Best For?
Ownership campground memberships are best for RVers who camp a large portion of the year or who RV full-time. The initial investment is high, and you want to make sure you use it often enough to see the savings.
How Do They Work?
Ownership memberships are like timeshares of the RVing world. You own the membership, pay a yearly fee to keep the membership, and then can resell the membership when you are done with it.
What Should You Look For?
Property conditions vary widely, there are many rules of membership usage, and it can be sometimes hard to get reservations. Here are some things to look at:
– How far out can you make reservations?
– Where are properties located? Many are very rural and can be far from things you want to see/do.
– Can you go from one resort directly to another or do you have to have time out of the system?
– How long can you stay at each resort?
– What are the annual fees and can they increase?
– What are resort reviews like? If possible go check out a few locations to see what condition they are in so you know what to expect.
Learn all you can about the membership you are looking into so you understand all of the ins and outs of how to get the max usage and savings from it.
Ownership campground memberships are what makes full-time RVing possible for many RVers. The savings over the long term are completely worth it to make this lifestyle possible.
The three companies that offer a large number of nationwide camping locations within their ownership camping memberships are Thousand Trails, Coast To Coast (C2C), and Resort Parks International (RPI).
Coast To Coast (C2C)
With Coast To Coast, you buy into a home resort location and then have reciprocal benefits to be able to use your membership at other resorts. The price can vary based on the home resort you buy the membership with.
There is a nightly fee to use the membership that may also have add ons for certain services like 50 AMP electric. The fee varies by resort.
There are also campgrounds out of the Coast To Coast network that give discounts to C2C members.
Resort Parks International (RPI)
RPI operates very similar to Coast To Coast. There are also a few overlapping resorts that are in both membership programs.
The price varies based on the home resort you buy the membership at. There is a nightly use fee and also a network of campgrounds outside of RPI that give discounts to RPI members.
The difference with RPI is that you can buy into a home resort or add RPI onto a Thousand Trails ownership membership.
We mentioned the Thousand Trails Zone Pass above which is a yearly camping membership. Thousand Trails also offers nationwide ownership campground memberships.
The main difference between the different Thousand Trail ownership campground memberships is how many days you can stay at a time and how far in advance you can make reservations. Thousand Trails can be tough to get reservations in peak season locations.
Unlike C2C and RPI, with Thousand Trails you aren’t buying into a resort location, but instead are just buying into the network of campgrounds within Thousand Trails. There is no nightly use fee to use your membership.
You also have the ability to add on additional Encore locations by adding the Trails Collection to any membership. A few Trails Collection properties charge a $20 per night usage fee but most are included.
Purchasing New Versus Used Memberships
You can purchase memberships new directly through a resort (for C2C or RPI) or through sales (Thousand Trails). You can also purchase a resale membership through an individual or a resale company.
The benefit of buying new is that you can usually pay monthly on the cost of the membership and the membership includes all of its original benefits. New memberships are the most costly option though.
The benefit of buying used is of course the huge savings. Resale memberships often lose some benefits though when they have been transferred.
Always get the membership number you are considering purchasing and verify with the membership company which benefits will transfer with new ownership. Also, note what the transfer fee is.
When we began our full-time camping journey, camping memberships were a huge part of what made this lifestyle possible in our budget. After much research, we bought a used Thousand Trails Platinum Plus membership through a resale site called Campground Membership Outlet.
The experience was really straightforward and easy. The savings paid for our membership purchase within the first year and we are still using it today. I highly recommend going through Campground Membership Outlet if buying or selling a used membership.
We were able to add the Trails Collection through Thousand Trails later after it became available to gain additional camping locations. We also added RPI to our Thousand Trails membership and used it for a few years.
At different times in our full-time adventures, we have used Escapees, Passport America, Good Sam, and KOA discount cards.
I hope this helps you save money on your next RV trip. Do you use any camping memberships or have any tricks to save money on camping fees? Comment and let me know!
Did you miss the first or second posts in this series? Discover Your Unique Camping Style: RV Travel Guide Series Part 1
Have you ever wondered if full-time RVing feels like living on vacation? Check out this post: Why Full-Time RVing Is Not Like Living On Vacation
Grab my FREE guide: How To Score Sold-Out Campsites In State And National Parks
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Enjoy your adventure detour!
Scott and Van of The Adventure Detour are travel writers focusing on RV travel, family outdoor travel, national parks travel, and hiking. They have been full-time RV living and traveling across the US since 2015. In 8 years of full-time RVing, they have visited 38 national parks so far with the ultimate goal to see them all. They work as digital nomads while roadschooling their daughter nicknamed Sissy. On the way to all 50 states, they have visited and hiked through 42 states so far. The travel bucket list is forever growing!