Jun 062010

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?

While I was taking a nap yesterday afternoon, Bad Nick took over the computer and posted a new Bad Nick Blog titled BP = BS. Check it out and leave a comment.

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  15 Responses to “Fulltime RVing Can Be Very Affordable”

  1. Hey Nick, don’t forget about the Corp of Engineer (COE) Park system, which we try to utilize. With the Senior Pass (cost of $10 a lifetime) gives you 50% discount at COE parks and National Parks. (You need to be 62 to obtain the pass.) But many of the COE parks have full hookups with a discounted price of $15 or less. We have stayed at parks for as low as $6 a night. Nick, remember Toad Suck, ARK COE Park? Didn’t have full hookup, but right on the river with electric and water and only $10 a night I believe.

    COE parks are always near water since they came about from building dams. We have also stayed at a couple of National Parks which you can get the 50% discount on. And you can reserve ahead of time online, or search for a park on recreation.gov

    Also if we can’t find a COE park in an area, we try to utilize State Parks. They are a lot less that the private RV parks. While in Texas last winter, we purchased a TX State Park Pass (cost $70 for the year); but saved us the “daily fee” per person for all the TX State Parks that we stayed in. Average camping cost in TX for us was $16 per night.

    We average about $15 per night most months, but I have some months which has cost us much less ($10 per night).

    While we are still “newbies” with only 9 months of full timing under out belt and still much to learn; this part of the RVing budget I have figured out. Safe travels!

  2. We’ve budgeted $10 a night and have averaged that or less over the past several years, with a combination of what you and Sandy have have mentioned above, plus taking advantage of weekly or monthly rates in areas we will be staying longer. We also volunteer in exchange for a site, such as Habitat for Humanity RV Care-A-Vanners, state, COE or national park volunteers – that helps keeping our costs within our budget. It’s certainly doable – it takes a little research and having guides, such as you mentioned.

    Lu & Larry

  3. Nick, Great post and I shared it on my company’s Facebook page as above. BTW, do you have a Gypsy Journal Facebook fan page? I couldn’t find one.

  4. We average about $17 a night but we rarely dry camp. We are a big fans of Passport America, Elks, Moose, VFW, Golden Age/Senior pass, friend’s yards, Day’s End. If you are in to dry camping you can keep your cost definitely below $10 may be below $5 a night.
    I do understand their problem. When we started we bought a KOA (Keep on Adding) membership. It didn’t take us long to figure out we didn’t like the destination campgrounds and didn’t use the game room, kid’s play yard, canoes, etc. We love the Mom and Pop campgrounds. They are much more interesting than destination campgrounds.
    I just happen to like a spot with at least 30 amp electric. Peter and I just aren’t big fans of dry camping. The reason’s are: we don’t have solar installed and have to run the generator for 4 hours (cost 2 gallons of fuel) a day to keep the batteries topped up. If it’s hot, I want to run my AC which you can’t do dry camping unless you run the generator. That can be rude to your neighbors. I like to take a nice shower and not be involved with the counting of how much water is in the tanks.
    Peter and I are NOT camping. We are living in our RV. It’s our home for more time each year than our home base where we store most of our stuff. So while we economize as much as possible on campgrounds, we like to be in a campground at the end of the day. Perfect example: we are in Canada and don’t have use of WiFi in our rig. Two nights ago we dry camped in a Flying J. WiFi was $5 a day there. We didn’t buy it. Last night we were in a campground which included WiFi. I night free, one night $29.25 Canadian, average about $15 Canadian. We will be moving today and spend the next 2 nights in a Passport America park, cost with PA about $15 a night. So keeping the cost down can be done.
    By the way Canada is expensive. Went into IGA (upscale here in Quebec) and WalMart. Half gallon of milk was $3.27 and a loaf of bread was $2.97 Canadian. I bought them in WalMart and bought the cheapest they had. However, Canada is beautiful and we enjoy it each time we come.
    Tell those people, go to RV seminars (like Gypsy Journal Rally, FMCA, Escapees, etc) and also talk to RVers. We all can easily help them understand their choices and possibilities.

  5. I do understand the dilemna. . .we also do not dry camp. . .at all.

    I allow $20 average per day for camping when we are on the move. So far it has been doable. . .and then when we can get a monthly rate, and it is much less than the $20, I bank the extra. . .for when we are moving again. . .to allow a cushion.

    It takes time to figure it all out though. . .

  6. We have done all of the above and agree wholeheartedly; however, one additional possibility has been overlooked: ownership.

    While it is true that we had to lay out an initial investment of $55k for our lot, in a time when interest earnings are next to nil, this has proved to be extraneous to a cost analysis at this time.

    So — what are our costs per day to live in an RV resort with FREE CABLE TV, no charges for water or sewer, a full activities schedule, a heated pool, hot tub, shuffleboard, tennis courts, horseshoes, putting green, a clubhouse with a dance floor, fully-equipped kitchen, billiards room, card room, library, exercise room, laundry, ?

    If we lived there year-round: $3.97 per day + electricity
    Of course, we stay only 200 days
    and travel north for the summer months,
    so it’s $7.24 per day + electricity

    Where? Estero, Florida, 20 minutes from the beach! One mile from the Estero River.

    No! Ownership does NOT limit you. In fact, we have rented out our lot (prime location) three times now while we journeyed elsewhere for one reason or another.

  7. It would have been a shame had this couple made their decision NOT to full-time based only on rates at RV parks near relatives. They came to the right place for good information.

  8. The National Parks Senior pass is also good for 50% off at LA State Parks and TVA’s.
    We dry camp a lot. I know many people do not like to dry camp and be restricted on water and power usage. We love it and it is our preference. “Sometimes” it is nice to have our umbilical cords hooked up but for the most part we enjoy the dry camping. Most of our dry camping is done in the southwest during our winter timer usage.
    If we travel in the south and southeast, we use COE campgrounds as much as possible. They are wonderful campgrounds. As memtioned before, in LA, we use the State Park system. We also have Passport America.
    We probably all looked at those high priced campground at one time and dreamt about them. Once we woke up, we knew, high price does not always include a good time and fit into all budgets. We have so many options available to us that we need to take the blinders off, turn our heads and look around.

    Also, buy Nick’s CD, for even more and better budget wise options!

  9. We are not full-timers, but go out in multiple 3-5 month trips per year. We average $20 per night which includes the mix of locations stated by the previous posters. We have not “sat” for more than a couple of weeks, so we know that weekly and monthly rates would bring down the nightly average substantially. Our occasional “high end” park skews that average.

    Besides SKP, Passport America, Elks, and Golden Age discounts, folks can almost always get at least 10% off using a AAA or Good Sam discount. Yes, there are the annual fees that must be factored into the various discount programs, but if used, they do pay for themselves pretty quickly.

    Another option RVers can take advantage of are “promotional” stays. During our last 4-month winter trip we stayed at a number of parks that had booths at rallies (FMCA, Quartzsite, Gypsy Journal, Escapade) where we received various “free” nights ranging from 1-7 days. We only had two parks that required sitting through the “presentation” — which we did and politely said NO. Membership parks are not something we are ready to use.

    (currently parked this week in a family member driveway w/20 amp)

  10. Although we now have solar, we did a lot of camping without it. We have done a lot of Wally World/truck stop overnights. We use Passport America, Coast to Coast, RPI as much as possible since we brought those memberships to our marriage. We do have a KOA card since there tend to be at least 2-3 times a year when it seems they are the only option. LOL! We belong to Moose and Elks although we haven’t used them yet (partly because of our size rig) and Stu is now a member of the Legion so I expect we’ll try them out once in a while. Like the Moose & Elks, sometimes it’s just a parking lot but other times there are hookups. Lastly, we look for weekly & when it works, monthly rates to help alleviate costs. We don’t stay at “destination” parks, we prefer mom & pops with few amenities but clean and neat.

  11. Coming up with a housing price is difficult. For 2010, year to date, our total expenses are below $3.30 a night. Of that, we spent almost $1.50 a night for propane in January, Feburary and March. Our only time in a park was at Yuma for the rally for 5 days and 5 days in the SKP park at Deming. For January through April, we were almost 100 percent boondocking excluding the Yuma and Deming stays. When headed back to the midwest, it was either Walmart, or city parks (mostly free). We’re setup for full solar and did not run the generator during the winter.

    In 2009, our housing was perhaps between $10 and $12 a night. Much less boondocking, and into a private park in South Texas for 2 months. Part of the time was in a membership park in Florida (owned lot). The lot was rented when we left and we don’t count that in our yearly expenses. (park fees and electricity included in our expenses while there.) Two months of the spring /summer/fall were on the farm with only an electric and propane fee.

    My guess is that one member of the couple does not really want to give up the S & B location, so it is easy to prove that it is financially not the right answer.

    Did all of us do an in depth evaluation, or did we just jump in? For us, it was a two year adventure and then it was to be back to the conventional home some place. The two years was up 15 years ago.


  12. As the couple who contacted Nick because we were worried about camping costs based upon what we were seeing, all of your responses are very helpful and let us realize that yes, we can make this happen. We never knew there were so many options available. Keep them coming!
    Roger and Cynthia

  13. In addition to the above posts, we have also pulled into parking lots of hospitals and stayed the night. Also, have stayed in long term parking lots of large airports before just for the night and have never even been bothered by incoming or departing aircraft. Of course when staying in either one of these places, after dark arrival and pre dawn departure are best. All we need is a cheap or free place to lay down our heads for a few hours. We have also parked, with permission, behind big name hotels/motels, most of the time for free. Don’t forget many of the big chain restaurants such as Cracker Barrel also let you park free over night. Local police stations in smaller towns are most helful in pointing out safe and free places as well.

  14. Roger and Cynthia,

    Listen to what Nick has said before. Do not buy into “ANY” membership ” (park or organization) for a year. Our park in Florida has a pool, shuffle board, horseshoes, whiffle ball, bicycle riding, cards, a library, golf course -nice one, and various meals and potlucks. We only have used the library and meals. We’re in it for the many friends we know in it. (We’re the local computer help desk when there.)


  15. We do the same as alot have already mentioned. In addition we volunteer at a Florida State Park several months a year and get a free site. We are required to work 27 hrs per couple per week. We love it and it is a great chance to save a few dollars.

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