Contributed by Michael Stegner
If you’re going to be traveling the country with an RV, it is imperative that you learn to create a budget that works for you. Sometimes your budget might be so tight that you have to sacrifice one luxury for another. Sometimes this might even mean giving up the comfort or security of a campground in order to extend your travels a few more days and maximize your sight-seeing. Perhaps even if you have the money in your budget for a night at a campground, you only need a few hours to shut your eyes before continuing on down the road. Whatever your reason, we all would like to save money on the road, and one of the biggest expenses of RV travel is overnight camping fees. We’re here to share some of our tips for saving money on overnight stays.
The Art of Boondocking
Sure, amenities like electricity, camp stores, and level parking spaces are nice, but they all come with a price tag. Depending on the campground you’re considering, the price could be well over $50 per night. Boondocking (AKA camping on public land without being hooked up to any power or water) offers you the opportunity to leave all those amenities behind and trade them in for seclusion, adventure, and complete immersion into nature.
Dispersed camping on public land is free, although you must make sure that it is allowed at the area in question. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages all of this public land, and it is often located right outside of national park boundaries or near other popular destinations that would charge you much more to stay overnight. Depending on the type of RV you have, the lack of amenities may be a bigger deal to you, but with a little preparation, you’ll have no problem adjusting to boondocking.
Save with Campground Discounts
Do a little bit of research and you’ll quickly learn that there are dozens of different clubs, memberships, and other various passes that RVers can sign up for in order to save money while traveling. Clubs like Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) offer various benefits including discounts at campgrounds across the country (including 2 free nights at the FMCA campground in Cincinnati).
If you’re not quite ready to give up the comfort of a well-maintained campground, Kampgrounds of America offers a KOA Value Kard reward program that gives you a discount to over 500 facilities in North America. (FMCA members get a KOA Value Kard for FREE when they join.) Another discounted camping fee program is offered through Passport America. There is a network of hundreds of campgrounds that provide a 50% discount to any Passport America cardholders - it’s that easy!
Overnight Walmart Parking
Have you ever heard someone say that anything you need, you can get at Walmart? Well, that even includes a good night’s sleep! Although not every Walmart participates, nearly 80% of stores allow overnight RV camping in the parking lot for free. Some even have designated RV parking spots in the parking lot. If you’re planning on taking advantage of this generous move from Walmart, make sure to keep these tips in mind.
- Always call ahead or talk to a manager when you arrive to confirm that they allow overnight parking.
- Make a purchase at the Walmart, even if it is small. It is a nice gesture to show your gratitude.
- Leave the parking space cleaner than when you arrived. Pick up any trash that you notice and push any stray shopping carts into their designated areas.
- Never stay more than one night at the same Walmart.
- Be considerate of all other people, and make sure to park far away from the entrance to not take up prime parking spaces.
- Do not set up chairs, grills, fire pits, or other various tailgating equipment. Keep in mind, it’s still a parking lot- not your personal campsite.
Keep the Adventure Going
Congratulations, you just saved $40 on a campsite by using one of the tips above! What now? It might not be much, but that can be used for gas, snacks, or other supplies to get you further down the road. When you’re RVing, each day can be filled with countless adventures and surprises, so saving enough money to extend your trip even by an extra day or two can lead to unforgettable memories that you might not have been able to experience otherwise.
Do you have any other tips for cheap overnight stays or RV friendly budgets? Please share them with us!
FMCA is a member-owned, non-profit RV Club with more than 150,000 members across North America. FMCA offers exclusive discounts, travel benefits, rallies, RV education and more for RVers. Learn more at www.fmca.com.
Michael Stegner: FMCA Marketing Assistant