Joining an RV Membership Club
We decided to do some research on if we should join an RV membership club of some sort before we set off. There are a ton out there, but we see a few repeatedly recommended to us that we felt were worth checking into. Below I will go through what I came across in my research, along with the conclusions we’ve drawn that make sense given our current plans.
The scoop: You select any of 5 “zones” throughout the US (i.e. northwest, southwest, etc), and then can camp for free for 30 days a year at any Thousand Trails campground, up to 14 consecutive days at a time (then you must wait seven days before beginning your next stay). After 30 days, a daily usage fee of $3 per night is incurred.
The cost: $545 annual fee for one zone. $795 for each additional zone. All five Zones for $2,995. No matter how many zones you choose, the annual fee is always $545.
The deliberation: Definitely an interesting proposition – FREE camping is never something to be taken lightly. But after looking at the location of the Thousand Trails campgrounds, we realized that there just aren’t enough of them in the areas that we plan to be for the first 6 months. There are only 86 in the entire country, and many states we plan to spend a fair amount of time in don’t have any at all (Minnesota, Montana). Plus we don’t really want to be going out of our way to camp only in specific locations. We want more flexibility – especially at first when we don’t know what the heck we’re doing.
Our vote: Not right now. There are a ton of parks AZ/CA, so if we end up there for an extended period of time, we may reconsider.
The scoop: 50% off camping at 1900 campground across the US, Canada and Mexico.
The cost: $44 for one year, with discounts for buying multiple years, all the way up to lifetime membership for $399.
The deliberation: The passport is good for a LOT of campgrounds. This is great for flexibility, but can also mean that the campgrounds are not quality-controlled in any way. In other words, being a Passport America affiliated campground isn’t any proof that it’s a decent place. You have to do your own research on a per-campground basis to decide if it’s what you’re looking for. Also, each campground can also put restrictions on their use of Passport America, which means sometimes there may be days you cannot stay (weekends), or even entire seasons that are restricted (summer). There also may be limits on the number of days you can stay in a row.
Our vote: Probably yes. In the research I’ve done, it seems like the general consensus is that it’s NOT perfect, but it’s cheap, and it pays for itself very quickly if you use it even a couple of times. Since we will be full time RVing it seems like we will have ample opportunity to use it over the next year. So, this seems like a yes, except for one complication: There appear to be 2 Passport America websites… one @ passportamerica.com and the other @ passport-america.com. Are they the same company? Anyone want to shed some light on this for us? I don’t want to give my money to the wrong person!
The scoop: Escapees is an RV Club that provides all sorts of varied benefits to it’s members. There are 15 – 50% discounts to some campgrounds, discounts on RV-related products, access to park ratings and a park locator, discussion forums, and their magazine with tips and updates on all things RV-related.
The cost: $39.95
The deliberation: This club is more about joining a community and getting easy access to info. Yes, there are discounts, but the focus it seems is more on dispersing information and staying in the know with the latest RV-related happenings.
Our vote: Maybe. Especially since we are just starting out, it might be wise to make an effort to stay in the know in the RVing community, with some discount perks thrown in there as well. It seems like this club has a lot of positive reviews and has been recommended to us more than once, so we will consider it.
The scoop: When you join Harvest Hosts, you get online access to a network of wineries, farms and agri-tourism sites that invite self-contained RVers to visit and stay overnight for free. The catch is that you have to buy something, anything, from the hosts. Also, there are no guaranteed hookups whatsoever, and you probably won’t find any aside from an occasional electric hook up opportunity. This is basically boondocking at someone’s business, with the cost being the purchase of some of their goods.
The cost: $44 annual fee or lifetime for $300.
The deliberation: Ok, there was no deliberation here because this is so far up our alley it’s practically on our doorstep. We love the idea. We love supporting locally owned small businesses, we love farms, we love wine, we love meeting new people – there’s nothing about this we don’t love. Although, one important note: Some places accept pets and others do not. I have been told this is indicated to you in the individual listing.
Our vote: Yes! Yay!
We will keep you posted with reviews of the clubs we decide to join once we feel confident that we know what’s up!