The full-time RV lifestyle is absolutely fantastic, and we’ve been loving our nomadic life since 2007. Many people who are new to the idea of RVing full-time wonder how full-timers get their mail or file their taxes or what kind of insurance they buy. What the heck do they use as a home address (known in legalese as a “domicile”) and where do they register to vote? And how do they save money on RV park and campground costs?
This page, the third part in our series on full-time RVing, reveals all that we have learned about these topics in our many years on the road. The previous two articles are: Working and Living in an RV and Which RV is the Best Rolling Home?
For easy navigation on this page, and to read a little now and come back for more later, click on these links:
- Selecting a Domicile: Taxes, Mail Forwarding and Vehicle Registration
- Full-time RV Insurance and Extended Warranties
- Saving Money On RV Overnight Costs
Links to the entire series and its various chapters are here: Full-time RV Lifestyle Tips
SELECTING A DOMICILE: TAXES, MAIL FORWARDING & VEHICLE REGISTRATION
Once you run away in an RV, you lose all the familiar pillars that supported your life before: mail no longer arrives daily at your doorstep, the washer and dryer are no longer just steps from the kitchen, the bank is no longer on a familiar corner. With a little flexibility all these things are easy to handle in a traveling lifestyle.
Selecting A Home State – Taxes and Vehicle Registration Rates
When you trade your home address to live on the road in an RV, you need to decide how to receive mail and what to call “home” on your tax returns. Some of the full-time RVers we meet retained the state of residence where they were living before they hit the road. Most of them still own property in that state, and they often have a relative or friend who forwards their mail.
However, most full-time RVers change their state of residence, or domicile, and there are valid reasons for doing so, including tax, insurance and vehicle registration rates.
States Without A State Income Tax
Not every state has a state income tax. South Dakota, Florida and Texas are among the states that have no state income tax, and they are the most popular states for full-time travelers. They are also fairly lenient for establishing residency, and they have many companies that offer mail forwarding and vehicle registration services.
State Sales Tax Rates
The sales tax rates also vary from state to state. The sales tax in one particular state may not seem important for someone who is going to be traveling all over the country, but the sales tax in your home state can actually be very important. If you buy a new vehicle — car, truck, trailer or motorhome — during your travels, you will register it in your home state and pay that state’s sales tax in the process. Many full-time RVers upgrade either their RV, tow vehicle or “toad” at some point. We have purchased a truck and two trailers during our years on the road. The sales tax rates in the most popular states for full-time travelers are:
South Dakota 4%
Other Considerations – Additional Taxes and Insurance
Vehicle registration fees and vehicle insurance rates, as well as cell phone taxes and health insurance rates also vary between those states. Health insurance varies dramatically from state to state and health insurance needs and qualifying criteria also vary from person to person.
For those concerned about dental and medical care on the road, another option is to zip across America’s southern border to get good dental/medical care in Mexico. We have gotten a lot of excellent dental care in Mexico, both in our lives as RVers and our lives as boaters living in Mexico. We have detailed information about dental care in Mexico at this link:
South Dakota is popular among full-time travelers because it boasts no inheritance tax, no property tax and no vehicle inspections. We chose South Dakota as our domicile right before we hit the road as newbie full-time RVers in 2007.
There are other states that have either no income tax and/or no sales tax besides these three most popular ones (SD, TX and FL). However, those states make it a little more difficult to establish residency, leaving full-time travelers in a bind, and they have fewer companies offering mail forwarding and vehicle registration services.
The Impact of Non-Residents on these Popular States
The advantage to these states and communities of having lots of non-resident residents is that they receive many thousands of dollars of sales taxes, insurance premiums and registration fees that wouldn’t otherwise come their way. The presence of mail forwarding companies also creates jobs in these states that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
At the same time, this non-resident residency impacts the local politics of the cities and towns where the biggest mail forwarding companies do business because of the huge number of absentee voters. These voters may vote like each other — full-time RVers have a lot in common with each other — but they don’t necessarily vote like the other residents of their adopted hometowns.
The Right to Vote
Many Americans assume that they have a constitutional right to vote. Surprisingly, that is not the case. States control who can vote and who can’t, from local elections on up to presidential elections. For more info on this, visit FairVote.org.
In early February, 2016, a bill was introduced in South Dakota that would effectively deny anyone using a South Dakota mail forwarding service as their legal domicile the right to vote. The history behind this bill was that in Pennington Country a vehicle tax increase of $60 came up for a vote, and prior to voting day, certain politicians assumed that the nomadic RVers with legal domiciles in that county would unanimously vote against it.
Interestingly, in the end only 11% of the RVers from Americas Mailbox in that county actually cast a vote. Of course, 98% of them did vote against the tax, which continued to raise an alarm for the politicians.
As a result, Senate Bill 164 was proposed by Republican Senator Craig Tieszen to deny voting rights to residents who did not maintain a home in the state. The bill was tabled in committee, due in large part to the very vocal response from the RVing community, but the issue still rankles certain politicians in South Dakota, so it would not be surprising if it surfaced again in the future.
We have posted a detailed article explaining the issue as well as a detailed analysis of the committee hearing written by the Escapees Advocacy Director in an email to Escapees members. The comments made by Senator Tieszen at the hearing make it clear he is going to continue to work towards eliminating the voting eligibility of people who are not physical residents of the state.
Selecting A Mail Forwarding Company — Your Home Address
In addition to finding a state that makes financial sense for your lifestyle needs, finding the right mail forwarding company is very important. This company will give you your actual legal mailing address for everything you do, from banking to borrowing to filing income taxes to voting.
South Dakota, Texas and Florida are all home to major mail forwarding services that will help you become a legal resident, help you register and insure your vehicles and help you become a registered voter. Your postal mail will be sent to your address at the mail forwarding service. They will then sent it to you, wherever you are. You will have to show up in person in your new home state to get your driver’s license. The terms for renewing a driver’s license vary from state to state.
If the company goes out of business (and we’ve heard of that happening), not only might you lose some mail, but you are left without a legal address. Of course, it is easy enough to “move” when you live on the road, so you won’t be homeless for long. But you will have to make a lot of phone calls and online address changes wherever your mailing address is recorded.
“Virtual Mail” Service
Most of the bigger mail forwarding services now offer some kind of “virtual” service where you can see a scanned image of each envelope as soon as it arrives and then request to have the envelope opened and the documents inside scanned as well, with options to do something special if the document needs to reach you physically right away.
We have been enjoying the Virtual Mail Service at Dakota Post since they implemented it, and we have found it is really handy to know what is waiting for us in the mail before we have it shipped to us.
Mail Forwarding Service Providers
In South Dakota, one of the largest mail forwarding services is Dakota Post out of Sioux Falls. We chose to work with them when we started and have been very happy. We call them once a month and tell them where to send the mail. Other mail forwarding providers in South Dakota are My Dakota Address, America’s Mailbox, Your Best Address, and Escapees.
In Texas, Escapees has the largest mail forwarding service in the country. They receive a semi tractor-trailer load of mail everyday. We saw this truck come in everyday while visiting the main Escapees Headquarters campus in Livingston, Texas, and we toured their mail sorting facility. We were absolutely floored by the operation (our blog post about it is here: Rainbow’s End – Escapees RV Club Headquarters in Livingston Texas. Another Texas mail forwarding service is Texas Home Base.
In Florida, cruising sailors have relied on St. Brendan’s Isle mail forwarding for ages. To my knowledge, they were the first (by at least 5 years) to provide virtual mail where you could see a scanned image of your mail in an email message. This kind of service is now provided by Dakota Post and Escapees and others as well. Other mail forwarding services in Florida are Nato Mail, Escapees, Good Sam Club and My RV Mail.
How Do You Get Your Mail Forwarded To You?
Usually we have the mail sent to a post office, addressed to us via “General Delivery.” We get the zip code for the post office online from www.usps.com. If we are in transit, we try to guess what town we might be traveling through in a few days. The post office holds all General Delivery mail for 30 days, so there is plenty of time to locate the post office and retrieve our box.
The format for a General Delivery address is:
City, State Zip
When selecting a post office, be sure they offer General Delivery services (you can find out at the www.usps.com link). Virtually all full service post offices do, but some of the “Approved postal providers” that they list don’t. When you go to get your box o’ mail, they will ask for your ID before handing it to you.
You can also have your mail sent to an RV park where you are staying or to a friend’s house. If mail is going to a friend, address it:
c/o Your Friend’s Name
City, State Zip
We find it is far preferable, in all mail and shipping matters, to select a smaller, quieter rural post office instead of a big chaotic urban one.
How Do You Have Packages Shipped To You?
Because we don’t like to plan more than a day in advance, we have small items sent to our South Dakota mailing address. Sure, we pay double shipping sometimes (first to get it to SD and then to get it to us, wherever we are), but that’s a small price to pay to be on the road full-time, happy, free and independent.
We have larger packages shipped directly to us, wherever we are. This takes some planning and strategizing, as explained below.
Can FedEx and UPS Packages Be Shipped to General Delivery Post Office Addresses?
UPS and FedEx packages are most easily shipped to real street addresses (RV Parks or friends) or to post office box holders at a post office or to a shipping store like FedEx/Kinko’s or a UPS store or Mailboxes Etc. If you are staying somewhere for the season, you can get a PO box at a mailing services store.
If you don’t have a real street address at the moment (i.e., you are boondocking), the easiest way to go is to have packages shipped by the US Postal Service to General Delivery at a post office. Doing it this way, the package stays within the US postal system the entire time from shipping to delivery.
We have at least two dozen shipping addresses listed in our Amazon account. LOL!! Reading through those addresses is like reading a brief history of our RV travels, as the addresses date back to our first year on the road!!
If the shipper can’t or won’t use the Postal Service, then they can ship via a dedicated shipping company like UPS or FedEx to a post office General Delivery address. However, this is more complicated because the package is handled by both the Postal Service and the shipping company.
The Postal Service coordinates shipping and deliveries with UPS and FedEx, but they are also direct competitors with them, so things can get muddy and there are no strict rules and regulations that we know of.
We’ve had the Postmasters at several different Post Offices give us totally conflicting information. We pressed two different Postmasters to call their district supervisors to get the details clarified, and even then we got conflicting information. So it seems the Postal Service is is still working out its relationships with UPS and FedEx as far as General Deliveries go.
Postal Service Fees For Packages Shipped By UPS and FedEx
Sometimes packages shipped by UPS or FedEx to a General Delivery address at a post office are handed to the recipient free of charge. However, sometimes the Postal Service charges the recipient a fee at the pickup counter before handing over the package. I know this seems odd, because FedEx or UPS carried the package all the way across the country while the Postal Service is merely carrying it from the mail room to the front counter. But it happens.
We have received many Post Office General Delivery packages shipped by both UPS and FedEx without being charged a penny by the Postal Service. However, we have received just as many packages where we were charged a fee of as much as $12, depending on the size of the package, when we went to the post office window to pick it up. There is no way of knowing what the fee will be ahead of time, as it is out of the hands of the company that shipped the package and is entirely up to the local Post Office that delivers it to you via General Delivery.
Shipping to a Warehouse Distribution Center
To get around this, you can look up the nearest warehouse distribution center for either FedEx or UPS and have the package shipped to that distribution center with “Hold for Pickup” written on it. You will not be charged a fee at pickup. However, you will need to track the package and you will have 5 days to pick up the package before it is returned to the sender.
Delivery to a Shipping/Mail Services Store
If the distribution center is too hard to get to, you can opt to have the package shipped to a UPS Store or FedEx/Kinko’s store or other shipping store like MailBoxes Etc. The store will likely charge you a fee, even if it is a UPS store and you are shipping via UPS or is a FedEx/Kinko’s and you are shipping via FedEx. We’ve seen the fee range from a flat fee of $3 whenever you pick it up to $7 per day, however these stores are more likely to hold the package longer than 5 days. So, check with the store before having something shipped to them to get the details and verify how they want the package to be addressed.
Case History – UPS Goes Above And Beyond!
This all may sound complicated, but sometimes it’s as smooth as silk.
One time we had a package shipped via UPS to a post office General Delivery address in a small town. We tracked the package, and noticed its status was “On the truck and out for delivery.” This seemed to imply that the package was on its way to the post office, so we called the UPS distribution center to find out at what time of day the truck might get to the post office so we could drive in to get it.
The UPS distribution center was small, and they said only the driver would know the exact time. To our utter astonishment, they gave us the UPS driver’s cell phone number. So we called him!! He was very friendly and said he could drive over to where our RV was parked and hand deliver the package in about 10 minutes. We were both totally shocked when he pulled alongside our rig and handed our package to Mark — at no charge. Now how’s that for service?!
We have registered four vehicles with Dakota Post: two trucks and two trailers. Each time they have emailed us a few forms and worked with us on the phone to fill them out properly. They have then submitted the forms to the registry of motor vehicles and we have received our license plates in the mail a few weeks later.
Each year we get new tags for our plates. We handle this via the phone or online with a credit card or check, and the tags come within a week or so. Easy!
Online banking has made full-time travel much easier than it was years ago. Almost everything can be done with plastic in person and then by paying the credit card bill online. For cash needs, you can get “cash over” on a debit card at the supermarket without any fees rather than worrying about finding a branch of your bank in some obscure town or paying extra to get money from an ATM machine. Buy a pack of gum for a buck and get $100 over. If you need to deposit a check, get the mailing address of your bank branch and mail them a short explanatory note, a deposit slip and the check, endorsed “For deposit only.”
If you will be RVing in Canada or Mexico a lot, get checking and credit card accounts from Capital One to avoid international currency exchange fees (Capital One doesn’t charge anything whereas most US banks charge a 3% fee on every transaction made outside the US).
We have other notes for RVers headed into Canada here: Tips for RV Travelers Going to Nova Scotia
FULL-TIME RV INSURANCE
These are notes from my own recent calls to 7 different insurance agents representing a variety of providers. I got mutliple quotes from National General (Good Sam Club), Nationwide (Allied), National Interstate and Progressive .
Some agents represented the same companies as each other, but getting an apples-to-apples comparison between agents and providers proved extremely difficult and required repeated phone calls and lots of persistence. The differences are all in the fine print, which no one likes to read.
How Much Is That RV Worth?
New insurance policies for late model RVs can cover the RV for its Replacement Value. That is, within the first 2 to 5 or so model years, depending on the insurer, if the RV is destroyed, you can shop for a new one of similar type and features. In the next model year after the insurer’s time limit for Replacement Value coverage has ended, your coverage will change to Actual Cash Value which is the current market value of the year, make and model of RV.
If your RV is covered for Actual Cash Value, at the time of a claim, the insurance adjuster will determine what that current value of it is using the NADA guide or similar pricing tool.
When you give up your home owner’s policy, you give up a lot of nice blanket coverages that come with it, like liability coverage and the loss of personal belongings. Quite a few companies offer “Full-time RV insurance” that includes liability coverage similar to what would typically come with a home insurance policy. Coverage for personal belongings is a whole different story, however. See below.
The biggest problem for full-timers is covering their personal belongings. Anything that was not originally sold with the RV and is not attached (imagine turning the RV upside down to find out what’s “not attached”), is considered “Personal Effects,” and most RV policies include some kind of coverage for Personal Effects. However, from my research, this coverage is woefully inadequate if you have anything beyond basic camping gear in your rig.
The value of Personal Effects coverage available generally ranges from $2,000 (National Interstate) to $20,000 (National General), and the full amount is reimbursed in the event of the RV’s total loss. In the event of theft, there has to be proof of forcible entry and a police report must be filed (the time limits for filing the report vary). In case you disagree with the value the adjuster assigns to an item at the time of a claim, it helps to have dated photos of each item and receipts.
In the event that there is a partial loss, like theft of just a few items, there are caps on what is covered. With National General, if the theft occurs inside your RV, then the cap is 25% of the total value of all the Personal Effects coverage that you carry. For example, if you have a $20,000 Personal Effects policy, then this means there is a cap of $4,000 per claim. If the theft occurs outside the RV but on your campsite, then the coverage is 10% of the total value of all the Personal Effects coverage that you carry. Again, for $20,000 total coverage, this means a cap of $2,000 per claim. There is no coverage if the theft occurs away from the RV (i.e, your bike is stolen from the bike rack at the coffee shop in town).
In the case of Nationwide (Allied), there is a four page description of how personal effects are covered and the capping methodology used, including more than a page of listed exclusions. Some highlights: There’s a cap of $500 per individual item. Groups of similar types of items are capped differently, for instance items grouped as “camera equipment” or “fishing gear” or “musical instruments” are capped at $1,000 per group while items grouped as “computer equipment,” “tools” and “silverware” are capped at $3,000 per group.
On the other hand, the “outside the RV” coverage with Nationwide is more generous than National General at 25% of the total Personal Effects coverage rather than 10%.
All of these reimbursements may be subject to your overall policy deductible or may have a specially applied Personal Effects deductible (for Nationwide it is $250).
Getting Personal Effects coverage above and beyond the $20,000 limit generally requires scheduling each item and giving it a value. Progressive requires each item to be appraised ahead of time and submitted as part of the application process for securing an insurance policy. Nationwide doesn’t require appraisals but asks for receipts showing prices paid and date of purchase so they can determine the depreciated value. I’m not sure how either handles the “outside the RV” scenario if the base coverage is higher than $20,000.
So, as you can see, you won’t get much for your stuff unless the whole RV and everything in it goes up in smoke, even if your policy says that $20,000 of personal belongings is covered.
We had National Interstate at first and were very happy with their speedy payment in covering a very large claim. However, their Personal Effects coverage just isn’t adequate, so we have National General at the moment and are still shopping.
How About Renter’s Insurance?
Renter’s Insurance provides tenants with a policy that is much like a homeowner’s policy, covering all the items in the home whether the loss occurrs in the home or somewhere else. These can be set up with small deductibles (like $50) that make sense for a $2,000 loss. However, you must be renting a stationary home and you must provide the address of the place you are renting. Unfortunately, your mail forwarding address or a relative’s address don’t count, and using an address where you are not living constitutes insurance fraud.
Awww… We Don’t Have Nuthin’ — We’re Livin’ Cheap!
You may look around at your stuff and say, “Bah… I don’t have anything of real value here.” But imagine trying to replace all your clothes (winter and summer), shoes (running, walking, hiking, dress shoes, slippers, sandals, boots), jackets, sweaters, blankets, pillows, sheets, towels, everything in the bathroom vanity, food in the fridge as well as pantry, dishes, pots and pans, kitchen appliances, CDs, DVDs, BBQ, portable generator, tools in the basement, spare parts, musical instruments, laptops, printers, cameras, smartphones, bicycles, kayaks, books, etc.
It adds up quick! It is worth it to take five minutes with a calculator and get a figure, just so you know.
With any luck, as the full-time RV lifestyle grows in popularity, insurance companies will come up wtih a way for full-time RVers to insure all their worldly belongings beyond just their vehicles and to provide useful replacement coverage for it.
How To Insure Specialty Items Like Camera Gear and Bikes
If you have expensive camera gear or very high end bicycles, it is possible to insure them with specialty insurance. Cameras can be covered through a photography membership in NANPA. Bikes can be covered through Big Ring Insurance.
Upgrades to the RV
If you install solar power, a big battery bank, or upgrade your converter or inverter or have any kind of add-on that is pernamently attached to the rig, and you have an older rig that you are insuring for Actual Cash Value, that upgrade will be part of the Actual Cash Value figure that the insurance adjuster will be calculating at the time of a claim. If you are insuring for Replacement Value, check with your agent how best to cover major upgrades.
Photograph the equipment you have upgraded, locate the receipts, and ask your agent if they want those things at the time you apply for insurance or if they should be supplied at the time of a claim. They all vary!
RV Extended Warranties
We carry a trailer warranty policy through Wholesale Warranties now that the original manufacturer’s warranty is no longer in effect.
We were so exhausted by these repairs (they hit us all at once between August and October of 2015), that I haven’t yet written a blog post about the last one. It just isn’t fun writing that stuff!! However, hopefully you can see the incredible value of getting a motorhome warranty or trailer warranty, especially if your rig is a few years old (ours is a 2007 Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer).
The beauty of an RV Extended Warranty is that it picks up where a regular insurance policy leaves off. Our entire trailer is covered for all failures other than regular wear and tear. This includes having the frame crack or slides fail to come in and out or the suspension give up the ghost (it did) or having the air conditioner or refrigerator die (which it did too).
These could be very expensive repairs, and it is worth the peace of mind to carry an RV Extended Warranty policy rather than risk a large, unexpected repair expense. We use Wholesale Warranties, and you can get a quote for a policy from them here.
Internet and Phone – Staying Connected On The Road
We do not have a cell phone, but getting internet on the road is pretty easy. We have written an article on how we get get internet access and live without a phone here: RV Mobile Internet Access – A Minimalist Approach
Many RV parks have laundry facilities on-site, and some full-timers purchase RVs equipped with a washer and dryer. We like to use the local laundromat in town. We can do four, five or six loads of laundry in two hours flat. We use the biggest front loading washers in the laundromat we can find because they are usually the best ones both for washing and for spinning dry. Laundromats can be a great place to meet people and learn about an area. In Flagstaff, Arizona, if you want to meet Navajo Indians, go to the local laundromat, preferably on a Saturday when it’s busy!
However, if you want the place to yourself, go to the laundromat midweek around noon, well after the daily morning rush and before the after work crowd arrives.
Laundry facilities in RV parks can be very crowded and usually have just a few smaller top loading machines. Most parks have only a few machines and when a park is full they can get very busy and it can be hard to get a machine.
Washers and dryers installed in RVs are really small, and it is common to do a load a day to keep up. However, you can do it “in the background” while doing other things around the rig, the way you used to in your old conventional life back home!
Along with all the other changes when you start a life in an RV on the road, you’ll find yourself adjusting to having a new hair stylist — and sometimes a new hair style — every time you get your hair cut. There are Great Clips and Super Cuts everywhere, and Walmart has their in-store salons.
One of the best ways we’ve found to get to know a small town is to get a haircut from the local barber. We have many special memories from haircuts in towns from Kansas to Utah to North Carolina to Mexico’s Pacific Coast.
But perhaps our best hair cutting story is in this blog post:
SAVING MONEY ON RV OVERNIGHT COSTS
There are three basic options for where to park the rig and spend the night:
- Private RV parks
- Public campgrounds and RV parks
Private RV Parks
There are private RV parks everywhere. They are extremely easy to find online, in commercial guide books and by asking at visitors centers. The AllStays App is a very popular resource. Private RV parks range from about $30/night to $60/night or more, tending to even higher prices in popular destinations at peak season in choice sites that offer more amenities (like a view). The parking is generally laid out in rows, and the sites can range from drycamping sites (no hookups) to electric and/or water only to electric/water/sewer with cable TV, telephone and free WiFi. Usually the site includes a picnic table, and sometimes the park has a pool, showers, shuffleboard or horseshoes, sometimes bike and canoe rentals, a small store, or other goodies.
Staying for one night is most expensive. Commiting to a week or a month or a season will get you a much lower nightly rate.
Public Campgrounds and RV Parks
Public campgrounds run the gamut from rustic campgrounds on-site at the national parks to state park campgrounds to national forest service and BLM campgrounds to Corps of Engineers campgrounds to regional park campgrounds and fairgrounds. Somewhere along the line there is a crossover to municipal and city RV parks. These campgrounds and RV parks often offer fewer amenities than private RV parks: there may (or may not) be water spigots or vault toilets (non-flushing), or there may be electric and water hookups and hot showers. Usually there are no sewer hookups but there is often an RV dump station in the campground.
Usually there are picnic tables and campfire rings at each site. Often the sites at national park, national forest and Corps of Engineers campgrounds are too small for a larger RV. However, some state park campgrounds have absolutely gorgeous big sites that are in a natural setting with a jaw dropping view. Generally these campgrounds cost anywhere from $8/night to $35/night, depending on the amenities offered, the beauty and popularity of the surrounding area and the the season you are visiting.
Many of these public campgrounds (except the state parks) honor the National Senior Access Pass (for citizens aged 62 and over) and Federal Land Inter-Agency Pass (the annual “National Parks Pass” that is available to everyone) offering a 50% discount to carriers of one of these passes.
Don Wright has written two books that list inexpensive public campgrounds:
Generally there is a stay limit at these kinds of campgrounds, typically 2 weeks, and generally there are no discounts given for longer stays.
Many National Forests and most lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allow RVs to camp outside the confines of their campgrounds. Also, it is generally legal to park in public parking areas and rest areas that are not posted with signs prohibiting overnight parking. And you can always camp out in a friend’s driveway! The price for these kinds of overnight stays is $0. However, you need to equip your rig to run without hookups to take advantage of these places for an extended period of time.
For more info about boondocking, check out our pages on:
There are a lot of campground membership programs that offer discounted nightly rates at private RV parks. Each program is different, however they fall into two general categories: inexpensive memberships that offer modest discounts on nightly rates and “investment” memberships that cost a lot up front but offer big discounts on nightly rates.
The inexpensive memberships generally unite thousands of independent RV parks under a single umbrella. The “investment” memberships tend to include fewer RV parks in their networks and insure a higher standard and better consistency in RV park quality.
Inexpensive Campground Memberships
The most popular inexpensive campground membership is offered by Passport America. They charge an annual fee of $44 ($79 for 2 years) and offer a 50% savings off the nightly rate at any of the 1,900 member RV parks. Another similar membership program is Happy Camper which costs $40 per year and also offers 50% off at their 1,200 member RV parks.
There is little risk in joining these programs, as they are cheap to join and you do not have to renew if you don’t like the program. Sometimes they even offer a money-back guarantee for the first 90 days. However, because the member parks are independently run, parks join and abandon the programs as suits their individual business needs. When you make your reservation, double check that the park is still a member of your program.
“Investment” Campground Memberships
“Investment” style campground programs cost a lot up front but offer very inexpensive overnight stays.
The Thousand Trails network offers 30 free overnight stays in a 12 month period for $545 at campgrounds that are within one of five zones across the country. After you’ve used up the 30 free nights, the rest of your overnights for that year are just $3 a night. Each zone has between 13 and 23 RV parks in it. You can stay at any RV park in your zone for up to 14 days and then you must stay somewhere outside of the network for 7 nights before coming back. You can repeat this cycle indefinitely. Right now they are offering a special of two zones for the price of one. An added perk is that you get a 20% discount on overnight stays at the affiliate Encore network of RV parks too.
Other “investment” campground programs are structured like a timeshare. You buy into a “home park,” pay an annual fee, and can then stay at member parks for $10 to $15 a night. You learn about these membership programs just like a timeshare — by taking a tour.
We have taken two such tours, and they were a lot of fun. In each case we were given two free nights at the RV park, and at some point during our stay we took a 2-3 hour tour. The sales technique is the “hot seat” method, but it is easy enough to smile and say “no” politely if you aren’t interested. One of our tours was at the Havasu Springs Resort.
These kinds of campground membership programs are a complicated, and the companies change the rules as their profitability and growth plan requires. It is best to book your stays 90 days or more in advance and there may also be a complex set of rules to follow regarding staying within the network and outside of it. Sometimes an alternative campground network is offered so you have somewhere similar to stay when it is time for you to stay outside your home network. Two we’ve heard of are Resorts of Distinction and Adventure Outdoor Resorts given as the alternative networks.
Moose and Elks Clubs
We have met several full-timers who are members of the Moose Club and Elks Club and use their RV facilities on a regular basis. This seems like a terrific option, although we have not joined either organization yet. Membership requires a sponsor, but each time we’ve stopped in and inquired, people have offered to be sponsors right at the bar! The membership fee is on the order of $100 or so a year and overnights in the RV parks are $10 to $20 or so. Some lodges without formal RV park sites may allow members to dry camp in the parking lot if there’s room.
Military RV Parks
For those people that are retired from the military, there is a fantastic network of RV parks located on many bases throughout the US. If you enjoy dry camping, you may be able to cut the cost even more by parking on the grass (we have!).
I hope these notes have given you an idea of what becoming a full-time RVer entails when you are ready to turn your fun RV vacations into a lifestyle. Despite all the words I’ve written here and in the other two posts in this series on full-time RVing, going full-time isn’t all that complicated.
Do your research, get out and talk to as many full-time RVers in person as you can find, practice a little by renting or buying a small rig, and then take the leap and go have an awesome RVing adventure!!
This was the third part in our 3-part series on full-time RVing. You can read the other parts in this series or skip to its various chapters via these links:
- Who Lives the Full-time RV Lifestyle?
- What's the Best Way to Learn About RVing Full-time?
- What Does Full-time RVing Cost and How Do You Make Money On The Road?
- Work Camping - What Is It and How Do You Find Job Openings?
- How Do Full-time RVers Travel?
- Making the Transition to Living On the Road in an RV
- Which RV Makes the Best Full-time Rig?
- Selecting a Domicile: Taxes, Mail Forwarding and Vehicle Registration
- Full-time RV Insurance and Extended Warranties
- Saving Money On RV Overnight Costs
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