Campgrounds/Parks….Camping Style?

After more than a year of full time RV’ing, you realize finding camping or RV spots takes some knowledge, talent and is a learning process.

We came right out of the gate staying at pricey places (even just overnighting). This is a mistake unless money is no object.

Another thing that can be exhausting and expensive is moving every few days or even every week. Daily rates are typically more expensive than weekly rates; weekly rates are typically more expensive than monthly rates…you get the picture.

The talent comes in finding a balance. There are a lot of facets to this full time RV’ing thing.

We have come to rely on apps (many available) such as Campendium (most used) or RV Parky, etc. There are many! I love Campendium. Easy to use. Search by location for camping areas and look at reviews by fellow RV’ers.

RV Parks/Resorts tend to be just that, parking lots. This may not apply to all but for the most part these privately owned campgrounds are going to maximize lots they can sell. Campgrounds can also be this way. Campgrounds can be a little more rustic, with tent camping, all can have some or a lot of seasonal (stationary trailers most of which look like they will be falling apart!

I like a good atmosphere, I hate looking at trashy stuff. It also just feels uncomfortable like….who is living there and is this place safe.

This is why I prefer well known real resorts, such as Fort Wilderness at Disney, Angel Fire New Mexico. I get a lot of information looking at reviews, Google Earth, Social media groups that RV’ers use, Airstream groups, etc. This is what I like about social media that is so useful. Beware…resorts such as the ones I mentioned above are pricey but it’s like a vacation as if you were in a stick and brick existence…and sometimes you just have to do it!

State parks and National Parks, as well as Army Corps of Engineers are the best…but they book in advance. It’s hard to wing it and just show up. These sites are usually well spaced with trees and foliage in between giving you a sense of privacy. They are reasonably priced as compared to the above resorts, and with a senior national park pass…which we will have the minute Mike turns 62 this January (😂) you can get 50% off camping at Army COE.

This is an Army COE park in Virginia

Another important note is these state and national parks may have size limitations, especially the older campgrounds. This is another reason we chose the 30ft Airstream without slides! We will most likely up that size by 3ft in the future, but it is still much smaller than a 42′ toy hauler. It’s also lower in height. Height in campgrounds can be important for lower hanging branches and trees…on the road, especially in the northeast it’s important for bridge clearance if you like to take back roads…but that is another topic.

If you need to overnight in an area on the way to your destination and you won’t be using amenities of a campground, why spend the money. You can overnight at Walmart (which I believe we used to make fun of!). You can overnight at Cabelas or Bass Pro Shops, and some will even have water or dump stations. Cracker Barrell is also another overnight stop that RV’ers use. Casino camping is big…cheap and a lot of times with hookups! You can overnight camp at LL Bean in Freeport Maine and that place is open 24 hours! There are also the truck stops like Flying J and Pilot. It does not feel unsafe any time we have done this and we will do more. If you feel uncomfortable…just move on!

We are lucky to have a small solar setup on the Airstream. We can run our propane tanks for heat, turn on lights, use our fresh water tanks and even watch a little TV while we are in these lots.

Dry camping or boon docking is something we will be doing in the future a little more! In seasonal temperatures the land out west is vast. There are BLM (Bureau of Land Management) sites that are federal lands monitored by rangers. You can camp u to 14 days usually. It’s dispersed camping and you can be neighborless, or have neighbors in the distance, or some have reported to me that people will park right next to someone when there is plenty of land LOL. It’s kind of like that beach thing…a huge stretch of empty sand and someone will plop down right next to you. Doesn’t that just piss you off? 😂

A place I want to try is Nomad Dispersed BLM camping in South Dakota. You can park on the edge of a canyon with wildlife right outside your door.

We have memberships like Harvest Host, where you can park at enrolled museums, farms, wineries, breweries and golf courses. Typically you give them some business in exchange but we like supporting small local business.

We have stayed at a winery where we had 50 amp electric and water hookups, and we stayed at an Alpaca Farm and dry camped. We knew we were headed to Bass Harbor Maine to work so we picked up alpaca socks.

At HH you usually have a pretty nice view and privacy. It is also fun when others are camping there and you can socialize.

We decided just this year to buy a zone pass with trails collection from Thousand Trails. The reason we did this was so we could stay at the Keys ($20/night). I was late booking reservations for the Keys and thought I wouldn’t be able to get there this time around. It gets pricey at the private campgrounds so with the zone pass and the cheap nightly rate I still saved money over what we would have spent. Now I can and have used other parks and pay $0 dollars for up to 14 nights!

We stayed at Rose Bay in Daytona Beach FL which was not a bad park at all, but they did put us next to a boarded up seasonal which I hate.

I did this for the year…we will try more parks and I’ve heard of the really good ones and also the really bad. Yemassee SC was one I wouldn’t return to. We checked it out for a night only…too bad because it has a decent proximity to Charleston SC and Savannah GA. If it’s worth it we may renew…if not we will cancel. It’s a good way to save money in camping fees.

There are also discount clubs like Good Sam’s, KOA and Passport America. They will have restrictions but they are not expensive memberships.

A lot of people buy in to the Thousand Trails. It’s like timeshare ownership. They will have annual dues to pay and I am not a fan for 2 reasons. I don’t want to feel like I have to stay at a Thousand Trails or Encore campground all the time but more importantly and the second reason, I work as a travel Cardiac Sonographer and will take assignments across the country. I work usually 3 months at a time and the areas I work in I usually don’t find a Thousand Trails or Encore park nearby. It’s not worth it for me, but if I am at this when I retire it may become useful. For now a zone pass will work to save money while we travel in between assignments.

Between the zone pass, Harvest Host, Army COE, BLM dry camping, state and national parks with a couple of resort trips sprinkled in, we should be able to control costs better in the future.

Also Camping World – I recently discovered – will allow overnight camping with hookups for free if they don’t need it for a service customer. We did stay at a Camping World Campground in Charlotte NC at a raceway kind of place for $30 a night. If you were into speedways and Nascar that was kind of cool.

We just joined the Airstream Wally Byam Club. This enables us to caravan with other Airstreamers but also allows us to get steeply discounted rates at Airstream exclusive parks.

I know I haven’t covered this fully as people in the know have been doing this for decades. We are just newbies so what the hell do I know!