Traveling by RV can be a great way to save money. True, you must buy or rent an RV and pay the associated expenses, including campground fees, but in return, you save on hotel and restaurant costs. Here are some resources for finding low-cost RV campgrounds and parking places.
Escapees RV Club costs $60 per year ($70 for Canadian members). Escapees members can choose from almost 1,000 RV parks that have agreed either to charge $10 per night or provide at least a 15% discount on their regular rates. The club’s online message boards are extremely informative. As a member, you can join local SKP (“Es-cape-ee”) chapters and attend Escapades, which are five-day events featuring activities, presentations and entertainment. Escapees also operates eight RV parks for full-time residents.
- The National Park Service’s Senior Pass, which costs just $10, gives park visitors over age 62 free admission to U.S. national parks and federal recreation lands for life. Pass holders can bring up to three guests to sites that charge per-person admission fees. Pass holders also get a 50% discount on camping fees within the parks.
National park lovers who aren’t yet 62 can buy annual admissions passes for $80 per year. These passes do not include camping discounts.
- Military RV parks are open to active duty members, military retirees and their immediate families. Many also accommodate reservists, National Guard members and Department of Defense civilian employees. Per-night fees for RV pads range between $10 and $20 per day. Many military campgrounds require advance reservations. Facilities vary, but you can find information on the Army’s Paths Across America website. The website lists details for each campground and provides links to the websites of military bases with RV pads. Since most military campgrounds are on base, you’ll need your military ID card, vehicle registration and proof of insurance to use them.
- Passport America is another discount RV club. One year’s membership costs $44. In return, members receive 50% discounts at participating campgrounds and RV parks in the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Benefits vary by RV park; some give the discount at any time, while others only offer PA discounts on weeknights or limit members to one night’s discounted stay per month.
The Boondocking Option
Boondocking is the practice of dry-camping, or parking your RV in a space without hookups, usually at a Wal-Mart, casino or truck stop. It’s free, and you can do your shopping at Wal-Mart while you’re there. You’re expected to move on after one night. Boondocking is somewhat controversial; some RV owners – and RV park owners – feel that boondocking deprives RV parks of much-needed revenue. Others argue that they don’t need hookups and swimming pools for a one-night stay, and that dry-camping in a parking lot works well for them on occasion. Some cities have banned boondocking altogether.
If you choose to join the ranks of the boondockers, be aware that many Wal-Marts don’t permit overnight camping. It’s best to call ahead. Some Wal-Marts (and, obviously, truck stops) allow truckers to park overnight, so your boondocking experience could include the rumble of diesel engines.
- FreeCampgrounds.com lists campgrounds in the United States that charge $10 or less for RVs. You can search by state or look at the user forums. If you’re looking for a place to stay in Canada, go to the “Canadian Provinces” section of the forums. Some of the campgrounds listed have hookups, but many are “unofficial” camping areas or parking lots whose owners give RV campers permission to stay overnight. The website also offers a useful list of Wal-Marts that do not permit overnight RV parking.
- CasinoCamper.com provides information on boondocking in casino parking lots and on dry-camping in general. You can search listings by state to find casinos that allow overnight RV parking. RV campers have contributed information to this website and have given their personal opinions on every aspect of casino camping, from safety to amenities. You’ll also find information on casino gambling, just in case.
- Boondockers Welcome offers its members the opportunity to dry-camp for free at other members' homes. Membership is $24.95 per year, less if you offer to host other RVers on your property.
- Harvest Hosts, another membership organization, connects members with vineyard, orchard and farm owners who have free boondocking space to share. In return, members are asked to make a small purchase at their host's gift shop or farm stand.