I got an e-mail from a couple who have been bitten by the fulltiming bug and would love to sell their home and hit the road. However, they are afraid that they cannot afford the lifestyle. Their concerns are expressed in the following paragraph, cut and pasted from their e-mail:
“We have been looking at RV park websites here in our area of Ohio, and near our son’s home in Pennsylvania. With daily rates of anywhere from $35 to $40 for a full hookup site at Surf Campground in Marblehead, Ohio; to $31 for a water and electric site at Huron River Valley Resort in Huron, Ohio; to $40 a night at the Kinzua Pennsylvania KOA near our son’s home, we just don’t see how we can afford it. That comes out to about $36 a night, or $1100 a month, or over $13,000 a year. That is about half of our retirement income. Are most fulltime RVers really paying that much every night? If not, what is the secret to making it affordable?”
My first reaction to their e-mail was that they are looking for camping in all the wrong places. I looked at the websites of the three campgrounds they mentioned, and all three seemed more like weekend or vacation spots than the kind of places most fulltimers frequent.
Most fulltime RVers we know are paying a lot less than $36 a night. In fact, for most of our years on the road, we have averaged less than $5 a night, and we know many fulltimers who average $5 to $10 a night. Sometimes we do pay more per night, on rare occasions much more. But, the savings we get most of the time offset these costs and keep our nightly average low.
How do we do it? Through a combination of free campgrounds, weekly or monthly rates at commercial RV parks, discount campground programs, a Thousand Trails campground membership, camping at Elks and Moose lodges, camping at fairgrounds which have RV hookups, occasional nights dry camping at places like WalMart and truck stops, and occasional nights parked in the driveways of friends and relatives’ homes when we are visiting them. I think most experienced fulltimers would tell you they do things about the same way, with some combination of some or all of these options.
There are many, many free or very low cost campgrounds nationwide, usually located in small town city parks and county parks. We publish a guide to over 1,000 such places, and the Escapees Days End listing is also a good way to find many of them. You can find info on our guide in our RV Bookstore.
Most fairgrounds nationwide have RV hookups, and many of them make these sites available to the general public, usually at rates much lower than area RV parks. We also publish a guide to fairgrounds camping, which is available in our RV Bookstore.
We have belonged to Passport America ever since we hit the road, and it has saved us a lot of money. Members get a 50% discount at more than 1,600 campgrounds nationwide. Most are Mom and Pop type RV parks, and many of them have restrictions during their peak times, but if you read the campground guide and work within the system, it can be a real money saver.
Membership campgrounds can also save you money, if you use them enough to get your annual dues worth. The secret here is to know you’ll spend all of the days in the system that you can, under your membership, and not to buy a new membership, but rather to do your homework and buy a low cost resale membership directly from the previous owner.
I belong to the Elk and Moose, and many lodges nationwide either have an actual campground, or at least allow traveling members to dry camp in their parking lots overnight, usually for free or for a small donation. I’m also a VFW member, and we have found many VFW posts that allow us to park overnight, usually for free.
When we are on the road from Point A to Point B, we seldom pay for a campground, since all we plan to do is get some sleep and go on down the road. Our motorhome is fully self-contained, and all we need is a safe, level place to park overnight. We have spent many nights at RV friendly businesses like WalMart, at truck stops, in highway rest areas, all for free, and all of which helps us keep our nightly camping costs down.
We also save money by parking in the driveways of friends and relatives. Sometimes we don’t have hookups, but usually we can at least plug into a 20 amp outlet in a garage to keep our batteries charged up, and we can find a water outlet to fill our fresh water tank. It’s nice to visit people and enjoy their company, then be able to retire to our own home on wheels, giving them and us both our own privacy.
How about some of you other experienced RVers? What do your nightly camping costs average, and how do you keep your costs low?
Thought For The Day – The five most essential words for a healthy, vital relationship are “I apologize” and “You are right.”