Prices for campgrounds and RV parks have risen dramatically over the last 3 years. The RV industry is booming with sales breaking records. Driven in strong part by the retiring baby boomers RV parks and campgrounds are filling fast and taking advantage of the demand to raise rates. Saving money on camping takes a bit more work but can be done. The following article will discuss ways to save money camping.
In order to save money you need to have an idea of how much you are willing to spend. By setting a budget you will allow for a baseline with which you can gauge the cost benefit of a particular park. For full-time RV living a good baseline average is about $30 per night. This comes out to $900 a month or $9600 per year. From a budget standpoint you will find that some months you spend more while others you spend less,
Another way to look at full time RV living costs for campgrounds and RV parks is to consider it “rent” or a “mortgage”. To properly do this you will also need to include the other costs that make this your “home” including propane, electric, gas (between campgrounds), cost of the RV and other direct costs to making and keeping this as your home.
A mistake often made by folks planning the fulltime RV lifstyle is the accidental ignorance of all the other costs that go into living in a RV.
Have a Decision Set
Depending on your goals, lifestyle budget and familial circumstances your decision set will be slightly different from someone else who travels. What all RVers and campers share is a basic decision set that re-orders based upon priorities.
1. Cost – how much is this camping option going to cost me per night, week, month, or season?
2. Location – how close is the location of the campground or RV park to the places I want to be and want to see? How far am I willing to drive to get from a place not as convenient?
3. Fitment – does the campground or RV park have a site that will fit my equipment? Will I be able to easily maneuver the roads to get in to and out of the site?
4. Onsite amenities – are there additional services and amenities located at the campground or RV park that I want to have immediate access to?
5. Extraneous motivators – this is individual specific but having a few decision criteria points that are important to you can also be added. For example there are some RVers who will only stay at parks that provide chocolate cookies and hot cocoa on the 3rd Sunday after the summer equinox!
To save money on camping all these decisions come into play. There is no advatage to staying at a park (or Walmart) because it is free if it is 150 miles from where you want to be every day. At the same time it does you no good to try and stay at the fancy waterfront resort if they only allow RVs up to 38 feet especially if your RV is 41 feet long!
Be Smart with Memberships
Some folks swear by Thousand Trails. Thousand Trails can save you significant money on camping but you are limited to their parks at their locations and within their rules (ie most of the parks are first come first serve).
Passport-America creates flexibility for your planning by adding an additional cost saving consideration for staying somewhere. There can be some hidden treasures in Passport America parks where they offer you 50% rates for a night, two, three or even an entire season.
The other clubs like Good Sam, AAA, etc don’t tend to get you huge discounts. We have had significant success with negotiating the price with park owners when we don’t have their preferred membership card.
Biggest Cost Saver
The biggest saver of cost for camping is reducing your travel frequency and distance. This is especially true for full time RVers but also applies to vacationers too. Frequently travelling or covering long distances in a short period significantly drive up costs most obviously with fuel but also with additional wear and tear on your RV and other vehicles.
Public Versus Private
Some RVers will “never stay in anything but a public park” and for them the location is the key driver because sometimes the net price is dis-advantageous. Depending upon the agency running the campground there may be times when you find that the public parks are higher priced with less amenities.
Out in the wild west there are hundreds of BLM managed lands that are open to free camping. In fact there is an entire city that pops up in the Arizona desert around Quartzsite driven by this phenomenon. On the flip side RVers can find private RV parks that offer significant savings for longer term stays.
When looking to save money on camping pay attention to the various factors that drive your decisions and prioritize the obvious costs against the opportunity and hidden costs.
What tricks do you have to save money on camping?