How to Cut Your RV Site Fees in Half
I think we were on the road for a good six months before we heard of, or really started thinking about, camping clubs and memberships. One of the first ones we came across was Thousand Trails, and after a decent amount of research it was the first one we made any significant investment in. While it’s not for everyone, it really can save you a bunch of money if you’re in the position to take advantage of it. Here’s our focused review of the “Camping Pass” membership in particular: what we’ve liked, disliked, and what it’s meant for our bank accounts.
Disclaimer: we are in no way affiliated with Thousand Trails, we are just some nomads looking to save some cash and thought we’d pass along the info! If you would like to support us and our dashboard creating, blog post writing efforts, click the link to the Thousand Trails page at the bottom and we will get a tiny referral bump. As always, thanks for reading :)
Thousand Trails is a membership program that gives you mostly free RV and tent site rentals at up to 191 properties. We say mostly free because there are some “premium” properties that have a $20 nightly fee (only applies to the Trails Collection - we try our best to explain this below). The Thousand Trails (TT for short) memberships can be a bit tricky to navigate because there are a number of different types/tiers and they are even available for purchase on a resale/secondary market. The “Camping Pass” membership, which is what we purchased, cost us $708 for the year with the includes the Thousand Trails campgrounds in the Northwest and Southwest zones and we added in the Trails Collection. Other Thousand Trails memberships can cost upwards of $6,000 (one-time fee) with an annual fee comparable to what we pay for the annual “Camping Pass” fees. You might wonder why someone would pay $6,000 for one of these other memberships if they still have to pay $400-$700 in annual fees. The answer is: more benefits and greater flexibility. By paying more you gain access to more properties, can stay at those properties for a longer duration, go from property to property without having to have any time “out of the system”, book your reservation farther in advance, and some other perks such as discounts on cabin rentals.
Since we were newbs and we didn’t know how long we were going to live the digital nomad lifestyle, we only considered the Camping Pass Membership.
Camping Pass Highlights
Access to anywhere from 8 to 191 properties (as of the time of this post) see maps for locations.
Total annual fees from $499 to $894 (for 2018).
Properties are split between 5 zones (Northwest , Southwest , Midwest , Northeast , Southeast , and The Trails Collection ).
The base fee and TT membership includes 1 zone of your choosing. Each additional zone is $49, except for the Trails Collection which is $199. You may add as many zones as you like as well as the Trails Collection. You cannot opt directly into the Trails Collection - it must be added onto your existing TT Camping Pass.
Stay up to 14 consecutive days at any property and then you must be out of all properties for 7 days before your next stay (there’s a loophole here - see the next bullet).
Go directly from a Thousand Trails designated property to a Trails Collection designated property without any off-property time in-between.
Book up to 60 days in advance. Advantage here is no one with the base camping pass can book earlier than the 60 days (some tiers allow you to book 90 days in advance). Meaning? Campgrounds aren’t booked out for: holidays, summer weekends, special events etc. a year in advance. I’m sure that every full timer has run into the same experience: you are looking for a place to call home for Labor Day but lo’ and behold - every darn campground has been filled as of a year ago and when you finally find a place they go ahead and charge you an astronomical price for a sardine can spot. This was the sole reason we were looking for a campground membership and I am happy to report that since we joined TT we have had no issue getting into highly coveted areas all times of the year!
Thousand Trails PropertY Map
Our Stats Explained
The blue columns are the first 4 months that we started using the Thousand Trails Membership (Aug 2018 thru Nov 2018). The gray columns are the 9 months (Nov 2017 thru July 2018) leading up to our Thousand Trails purchase. If you click the columns in the column chart it will show the associated campgrounds and fees in the list to the right. As noted under the column chart, to try to paint a more accurate picture we spread the cost of our membership across each month even though we paid for it upfront.
In the first 4 months of using the membership we’ve spent 75 nights at Thousand Trails properties. During the 9 months prior to purchasing the pass we spent an average of $36 a night on RV sites. In the first 4 months of using the membership our average nightly spend was down to $19. Put another way, we would have spent about $2,700 (75 nights @ $36/night) but we paid only $708 for the year so we’re already ahead $1,992.
While we’re happy with the 48% savings, we definitely haven’t taken as much advantage of our membership as we could have. That was our choice, not a limitation of the membership or an issue with availability. We also stayed at Portland-Fairview and San Francisco RV Resorts which cost $20/night. There were a few occasions where we had plans to meet friends that were not Thousand Trails members so we opted to stay with them at other parks where we paid full price. Prior to having the membership we also spent some time with friends and in hotels on points (when we were having the trailer polished) where we didn’t pay anything for site fees. The numbers aren’t perfect but neither is life. If anything, 49% is probably a conservative estimate of how much you could save if Thousand Trails is the right membership for you.
There are a lot of properties to choose from compared to other similar memberships.
Holidays, summer weekends and special events aren’t able to be booked by most members until 60 days in advance - so if you plan 2 months out you will be stress-free and happy during those hard to book days! We had zero issues finding a beautiful spot for the fourth of July and Memorial Day this year booking 2 months in advance.
You can move from Thousand Trails properties to The Trails Collection properties without any “time out of the system”.
Except for the handful of $20/night Trails Collection properties, there are no additional fees for bookings.
Many of the properties we have been to have been in extremely beautiful places and have had a true camping experience as opposed to some of the asphalt laden RV resorts.
Most properties have you choose your site when you arrive (this is both a pro and con).
You have up until the day before your reservation to cancel without any penalties.
Wifi is typically available in the lodge/clubhouse areas and is sufficiently fast.
You can book online.
A number of the properties have pools/spas and recreational activities such as basketball courts, mini golf, horseshoes, hiking trails, lakes etc.
There are very few properties in the middle states. (None in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming… all of our favorites).
The membership auto-renews 60 days prior to anniversary date so you have to be careful if you plan to cancel.
Many properties we have been to do not have sewer hookups or have a very limited number of full hookup sites. They all had dump stations and many offer “honey wagon” services but the prices can range from $20-$60.
Many properties have a limited number of 50 amp hookups.
Popular campgrounds can get booked up pretty quickly so you can’t wait until the last minute to make your reservations.
Most properties have you choose your site when you arrive without letting you know what is available. Basically, you drive around not knowing where you are going with a bunch of other campers in the same boat fighting for spots. We typically travel on Sundays which coincides with the weekend campers leaving and so this hasn’t been a problem.
Wifi is typically not available at the campsites.
While it hasn’t been a problem for us, many properties don’t have many sites that can accommodate big rigs.
It can take a while (30-60 minutes) to get someone on the phone when calling about reservations.
The Thousand Trails properties tend to be older with unlevel pads, dusty roads, and amenities that are sometimes in disrepair.
After four months our Thousand Trails Camping Pass has already paid for itself more than twice over, has taken us to beautiful destinations, and provided comfortable places to live for 75 days. Some parks are better than others. Sometimes it’s easy to make a reservation and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes not having a sewer is ok, sometimes it’s a drag. All in all it has worked out pretty well for us, however, it’s not for everyone. Make sure to do your homework and pay special attention to things like 1) where you want to travel (remember lack of properties in the middle of the country), 2) if you’re willing to deal with honey wagons, dump stations, and blue boys (lack of sewers at many properties), 3) how big your rig is (older parks designed for smaller rigs), and 4) how long you want to stay put (14 day limit). If the Thousand Trails Camping Pass doesn’t fit your requirements, consider their other, albeit pricier, options or keep looking for the membership that’s right for you.
Photos Taken at Thousand Trails Campgrounds
If you think Thousand Trails will work for you, save $100 and toss a few bones our way by using our referral link below:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dave, or delish as he is often referred to as, is an independent technology consultant that, when he’s not sitting behind a computer, enjoys hiking, biking, skiing, photography, attempting to build things (both physical and virtual), cooking (but eating more), and meeting great people on his travels.