RV clubs and membership programs have been a hot topic since the Good Sam Club was founded in 1966. Similar programs, such as Thousand Trails Club and Passport America have joined the race. While all of them have their appeal, the big question is, are they worth it?
Most people fail to recognize that there are many different lifestyles on the road. In four months, I've met all kinds of people living different lifestyles. We've crossed paths with people living in vans, tents, truck bed campers, million dollar RVs, and everything in between. While we all shared a passion for travel, we all traveled in very different ways. That said, I decided to do some research to figure out what if the discount clubs were worth the money, and if so, what type of travel lifestyle could benefit.
Passport America is one of the most popular discount camping programs. "The original 50% off discount camping club" was started in 1992. The club has one of the largest networks of participating campgrounds across North America.
- $44 per year.
- All members receive 50% off participating properties (subject to availability and blackout dates).
- Check with the campground about blackout dates ahead of time.
- All RVers!
- Even with the blackout dates, $44 for 1800+ campgrounds is a bargain!
- Because this deal can potentially pay for itself in 3 nights, we think it's good for almost every type of RVer on the road.
Boondockers Welcome was built by RVers, for RVers. This is a platform where private property owners welcome RVers to camp on their property. The only expectation is that guests show a little gratitude and have a pay-it-forward spirit.
- 1100+ and growing quickly!
- All members receive free camping on participating properties (subject to availability).
- Huge range of host properties. Small residential homes, large residential homes, businesses, neighborhoods, acreage, and every property in between can be found at Boondockers Welcome.
- Hookups, amenities, and other accommodations vary.
- Works like AirBNB but nightly stays are free with membership.
- The larger the rig, the harder it is to find a host.
- Must be in self-contained RV (with toilet and holding tank).
- RVers who travel often and plan in advance.
- RVers who own a medium sized RV or smaller will have the best luck finding hosts.
- RVers who are always looking to experience new things and meet new people.
- RVers who would like to gradually get into the boondocking scene without having to dry camp deep in the woods.
Thousand Trails Camping Pass
Thousand Trails is a chain of over 180+ RV resorts across the country. The Thousand Trails camping pass is an annual program that offers members free camping on Thousand Trails properties. Campgrounds fall into 1 of 5 different zones. The annual membership fee varies in price depending on how many zones are purchase.
- $565 per year (choose 1 of 5 zones).
- $49 per year (for each additional zone)
- $764 per year (covers all zones)
- Campgrounds that fall within the selected zone (or zones) purchased are free with the pass.
- Encore properties also offer 20% off to Thousand Trails members.
- The Thousand Trails Camping Pass covers the purchaser, his/her spouse, and any dependent children age 23 and under who live at home or attend school away from home. Other family members may use the campgrounds as guests (subject to guest policy).
- Members get a 60 day advance reservation system with this pass.
All sites are 1st come 1st serve. You can make a reservation but you will not be able to pick a site until check in.
- Max stay per visit is 14 nights in an RV.
- Stay at any of the Thousand Trails resorts from 5 to 14 nights in a row will require a 7 night break out of the system before you can use your pass again.
- To move from park to park without having to take the 7 night break just move every 4 nights or less.
- Stationary or slow moving RVers who prefer to plan ahead and explore one or few areas thoroughly per year.
- Remote workers who tend to work in major cities or vacation spots.
- Snowbirds who primarily stay on the coast.
- Retirees who prefer campgrounds and vacation spots.
Harvest Hosts’ is a network of wineries, farms, and attractions that invite self-contained RVers to visit and stay over night. Their goal is to provide fun, worthwhile experiences for self-contained RVers and Hosts alike. The camping experience is a special opportunity where campers are invited to stay on farmlands, meet interesting people, and perhaps enjoy wine tastings, farm tours, museums, and other unique attractions.
- $44 per year ($40 if you agree to annual auto-pay).
- hosts receive 50% camper memberships.
- $110 for 3 year membership.
- $300 for lifetime membership.
- Roughly 600.
- Camping is free on participating host properties (subject to availability).
- Host locations do not provide any hookups. Overnight stays are limited to one night only. No tent trailers, outdoor kitchens, or tents are allowed.
- Reservations are made direction with the host via the host directory. Arrival must be during business hours and proof of membership and registration is required upon arrival.
- Examples of a few of the host properties: historic open-air museums, aviation museums, alpaca ranches, wildlife rescue facilities, farm museums, oil museums, a brewery museum, a dinosaur museum, an alligator ranch, fruit & vegetable farms, cider mills, orchards, organic farms, lavender farms, goat and cow dairies, creameries, and maple sugar farms.
- RVers who prefer boondocking and are set up to do so.
- RVers on a budget who prefer camping for free.
- Families who are looking for cheap and unique adventures.
- Those who want to try boondocking.
- RVers who want to meet new people.
Escapees RV Club
Escapees RV Club is a "total support network for all RVers." In 1978, Joe and Kay started a support group called Escapees RV Club to answer a growing need for community among early RVers. The club grew from the original 82 member families to over 10,000. Today, it is one of the most popular RV Clubs in the RV community. While this club isn't known for its discounts on campgrounds exclusively, we thought we'd mention it because it's a valuable resource and we're fans of what they're doing.
- $39.95 per year.
- $850 for lifetime membership.
- The website doesn't specify exactly, but there were a number of different options to own, be part of a co-op, and camp at discounted rates.
- Campground Discounts
- Up to 50% off participating campgrounds.
- Rainbow park and Co-op offers.
- Other Benefits
- Escapees Magazine subscription.
- RV Education and beginner (boot camp) training.
- An online community with local chapters and a national rally.
- Job board and mobile tools and resources.
- Escapee members also have access to discounted mail forwarding services and healthcare plans through their preferred providers.
- Beginners who need to learn how to RV!
- RVers who are looking for general community and resources.
- Those who need RV related services, such as mail forwarding and healthcare.
- RVers who love local chapter communities and national rallies!
- Full-time RVers who just need comprehensive resources and a service team to point them in the right direction.
The club that's right for you will depend on which lifestyle you live on the road. My wife and I prefer Boondockers Welcome and Passport America but we rarely stay at campgrounds. For us, Passport America serves as a back up so we can charge our battery bank. Boondockers Welcome provides us with free camping options when BLM land and National forest camping isn't an option. That said, there are many lifestyles on the road, so you may find another option suits your needs better.
Good Sam is another option. However, it only gives you 10% off and it's relatively cheap, so we didn't compare that because it's not a significant purchase nor a significant savings. Good Sam's roadside assistance program, on the other hand, is a great program that could potentially save you a lot of money!
Happy trails! Are there any other clubs or memberships that we missed? Comment below and we'll check it out!
Derek and Amy
The Frugal RVer