I have traveled extensively throughout the US for many years and enjoy helping people to make the most of their RV vacations.
Saving Money on RV Campsites
If you travel a great deal in your RV and want to find the best ways to save a good deal of money on your camping costs, there are many methods you can use to do so.
Although many campgrounds have significantly increased their prices in recent years, anybody who wants to take the time to do some research (and perhaps make a few small sacrifices) can significantly reduce what they pay to camp.
No Frills vs. Bells and Whistles
For those who want all the bells and gongs, reducing prices is going to be random and much more difficult. However, for those who want clean, decent facilities that offer the basics, it is much easier.
My husband and I have been using sound money-saving methods for years.
Small Compromises Can Have Big Payoffs
For example, as recently as a month ago, we stayed in a gorgeous campground and paid $11 per night, while many other people visiting the same area were paying as much as $45 per night.
Over a one-month period, that added up to a savings of more than $1,000!
To get that deal, we used our National Parks Pass and were willing to use a dump station instead of having a sewer hookup at our site. We thought the small sacrifice we made was well worth the money we saved!
12 Saving Strategies That Work!
Here are some effective methods you can use to reduce what you pay to camp.
- Use a good campground guide.
- Negotiate site prices with facility owners.
- Join a good discount camping club.
- Buy and Use National Park Passes.
- Stay in casino RV parks.
- Camp in fairground facilities where permitted.
- Stay at full-hookup parks that charge little or nothing.
- Visit friends' homes.
- Avoid big cities and popular events.
- Travel in the off season.
- Research special deals.
- Camp in one park for long periods of time.
While you may not want to use all of these techniques (and there are more I haven't listed), even using just one or two of them will still save you plenty. Although there will be times when you cannot avoid paying full price for a campsite, you can use these methods to cost average what you pay to offset the higher fees.
For example, if you must pay $40 for one night, but spend the next three nights camping for free, your 4-day average is $10 per night!
1. Use a Good Campground Guide
My husband and I always use our Good Sam Travel Guide to help us contact and negotiate with campground managers before we leave home so that we know exactly how much we'll have to pay once we arrive.
We also use it to help us
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- research the areas we plan to visit,
- compare the prices of various campgrounds,
- look at the amenities each one offers, and
- then choose two or three we would like to visit.
Their phone numbers are in this book, so we make some calls and make it a point to speak with the owner, not a clerk.
We tell him or her our plans, that we are looking for a deal and then ask if he or she is willing to give us a better price if we stay longer. We always make it clear to not give us a better price will be a deal-breaker.
The beauty of the Good Sam Travel Guide is that it puts you in a good position to negotiate. Using it only costs you a phone call, which is much easier than driving all day to get to a park with the hopes that the manager will be amenable to your request.
2. Negotiate Prices
Many park owners are willing to offer lower prices in return for longer stays.
If you go to the Black Hills, for example, you will pay an average of $40 per night in season. However, at some parks, for a one-month stay, you will spend only $400. This is a savings of $26.67 per night!
Even if you only want to stay for a week, most places will still give you your seventh night for free.
Much depends on who you are talking to and how much they are hurting for business, but a polite request usually results in a less expensive campsite. They may say no, but it never hurts to ask. Often this is all you have to do to save some money.
3. Join a Good Discount Camping Club
Those who join the right camping club can easily reduce their fees by half. However, not all are equal. My review of the most popular camping clubs tells you which ones will save you the most money.
The club I like best is Passport America.
- For $44 per year, you get to stay at your choice of 1,900 member parks around the US that will cut their fees in half in most cases.
- They also offer deals. I just signed up for an 18-month membership for what I would normally pay for only one year.
The majority of their parks are well located, and many actually are the same ones that more expensive clubs offer.
However, as with other clubs, they have limitations, so always read the fine print before you decide to join.
4. Buy National Park Passes
National Park camping has become expensive because most facilities charge entrance as well as camping fees plus the cost of using showers and laundry facilities. Fishing licenses there are also extremely costly.
If you plan to visit several different parks during the course of one year, you can purchase a park pass that will
- eliminate entrance fees,
- cut camping costs in half,
- can be used at every National Park in the US and
- may also be honored by a few states, such as Arkansas.
If you are disabled, these passes cost nothing and never have to be renewed. If you are over 65, you'll pay $10 for one year. Those under 65 will pay $80.
Some state parks, such as those in Arkansas and Florida, either honor national park passes or offer similar deals, so it pays to contact them.
5. Stay In Casino Campgrounds
Casinocamper.com provides information about gaming venues around the country that offer reduced price or free sites.
Some only offer areas where people can dry camp while others offer full hookups and terrific amenities. None require visitors to enter their gaming areas other than to ask permission to stay on their property.
These facilities are very safe because they have 24/7 security. Usually they are well maintained and set up so that campers are housed away from the buildings.
One of the best ones is located in El Reno, Oklahoma. They have ten free full hookup, 50 amp sites that are located on the far edge of their huge parking lot. Beyond the camping area there is nothing but prairie.
If your coach has a washer and dryer, this is a great spot to rest up and do the laundry before continuing on your journey.
6. Use Fairground Facilities
Most small towns usually have fairgrounds that rarely are used but do have hookups. Many allow overnight camping at very reasonable prices, and some are even free.
Ask the locals for information about using these facilities, as some do not want strangers camping on their land!
7. Stay at Friends' Homes
One of the nice things about traveling in an RV is that you can often park it in the driveway of a friend’s home for a few days and hook into their electricity. This way, you and they have privacy, but can enjoy quality time together.
You can cook meals for them, visit together in your coach or even take them on short trips in the local area.
Give them a gift or some cash when you leave to make up for the electricity you’ve used and save yourself some money! They’ll be happy and so will you!
8. Stay at Free Campgrounds
Most people already know that there are a number of places around the country where people can dry camp for free and happily do so to save money, but would you believe me if I told you that there are also numerous places in the US, with hookups, where you can park your recreational vehicle for free as well?
The truth is that there are, but you need to know their locations.
Taking the time to learn this information is one of the secrets that helps you to reduce what you pay to camp while still having all of the comforts you love!
Here are some I personally have visited at various times for which I paid nothing unless I wanted to leave a donation. You can find many of them listed in camping guides, but some internet research will provide the same results for you.
- Santa Fe City Park, Chanute, Kansas,
- Waylon Jennings RV Park, Littlefield, TX,
- Lewis Park, Wheatland, WY,
- Municipal Park, Torrington, WY,
- Lions Park, Vermillion, SD,
- Holiday Inn, Ely, NV and
- City Park, Medicine Lodge, Kansas.
Each of these parks is unique, all have hookups and are located close to town. Most allow at least one night of free camping, but some let people stay for as long as four days.
You can also purchase a copy of Don Wright's highly popular Guide to Free and Low Cost Campgrounds. My husband and I have used this little book for years because it is concise, easy to read and is full of great money saving information about inexpensive campgrounds. There are other similar books, but we have found that this one is the most complete and easiest to use.
They only have a small number of sites (the largest being 30), but all are beautiful and safe places to camp.
9. Avoid Big Cities and Special Events
If you really want to save some money, avoid camping in or near big cities and avoid special events like the plague. The more populated a city or the more popular an event, the more campgrounds charge.
A better choice is to stay at simple and reasonably priced campgrounds that have either partial or full hookups and are located in small towns that are a step away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities.
Camping in small-town campgrounds will help you to avoid crowds and avoid the need for reservations. Plus, they usually are peaceful, quiet and have play areas available for children. Many also offer opportunities for fishing, hiking and visiting lesser-known places of interest.
For example, one we stayed in was located right across the street from the original Laura Ingalls Wilder home and museum.
10. Travel in the Off Season
Most people crowd the roads and parks during the summer season because this is when children are out of school. It is also when all vendors charge more for their services and products.
Therefore, you can significantly reduce your camping costs if you travel just before the end of school or just after it begins.
September and October are very popular travel months for certain venues, but if you avoid them, you’ll be fine.
11. Research Deals
As noted above, if you want to get good deals, you have to search them out. You’ll find many simply by visiting the websites of parks you think you’d like to visit.
For example, the RV Park at the Coushatta Casino used to advertise 5 free nights if you stayed for five nights. This deal was advertised on their website as well as in the Good Sam Travel Guide.
Also, parks that sell sites often give free nights to prospective buyers. You can find these by doing an internet search for “campsites for sale” and name the state.
We once had a free week of camping in Las Vegas by taking advantage of by doing this!
12. Camp Longer in One Spot
Most people don't realize that the longer they stay in one camping facility, the more money they'll save and the more they'll be able to vacation.
If you can get a deal to stay in a park for $15 per night for one month instead of paying $35 per night average cost when you are moving around, your savings will be high enough to pay for a second month of camping!
Furthermore, you won't be paying for gasoline for that month's travels because you won't be driving your coach!
Usually you get the best deal if you stay a month but each park has its own guidelines, so always be sure to ask before you pay up.
If you’ve got plenty of time for travel and fun, pick a spot that offers many different types of activities, good weather and fine dining.
Do this, and you'll save money and have fun doing it!
Save and Enjoy
Saving money does not necessarily mean that you have to sacrifice anything. It simply means that you need to take the time to do your homework and plan well.
You can save big on RV camping if you do this and will soon find that your efforts will be worthwhile.
Robinson Flat Campground: A Free Camping Spot
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: How much is the average cost of electricity for an RV site?
Answer: If you are staying for brief periods of time, this cost is included in your camping fee. If you are staying for long periods of time the cost will depend on the amount each park charges and how much electricity your coach uses. Larger units use more. I've seen it as low as $50 per month and as high as $250 per month.
© 2012 Sondra Rochelle