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Best RV Membership Clubs for Boondockers

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There are many RV membership clubs and web-based services that you can join for an annual fee - each offering something slightly different.

For someone who is boondocking most of the time, is joining any one of them worthwhile?

While club rallies and magazines are nice, for us the club needs to have some more measurable advantages.

Saving money, after recouping the membership cost, is the key.

The biggest cost of RV travel, other than fuel, is camping. Even consummate boondockers like us can't find free camping every night or every place we visit.

UPDATE: That's going to get easier. We saw a need for a new club and created our own - Boondockers Welcome. More on it below....

Aside from Boondockers Welcome, we belong to three other RV membership clubs and are signed up for two other related services. To see which ones, scan to the bottom of the page.

How did we choose which clubs to join?

Because they're all a little different, comparing RV membership clubs is like comparing apples to oranges - depends on what you're looking for. I decided, for our purposes, to compare only one aspect:

Which RV membership clubs will save us real money on camping?

If you haven't noticed - we're frugal. We wouldn't join just for the social aspects or the incidental benefits like roadside assistance, which we've got coverage for elsewhere, or a free magazine, which we like but wouldn't necessarily buy.

Some years, when we travel to the southwestern states, we hardly ever camp in a campground. But it's harder to find boondocking options in some places than others - for instance, in densely populated areas such as the Eastern United States, Southern Ontario, and anywhere in the vicinity of large cities. When traveling in these areas, we sometimes end end up in more campgrounds than we prefer.

With the cost of camping in most of these areas rising to the point of crazyness, a 10% RV membership club discount is just a drop in the bucket. We'd rather spend the night in a parking lot (Walmart or otherwise) than fork over $30.00 a night to sleep in our own bed which is just as comfortable, no matter where it's parked. So, when we do use an RV membership club discount at a campground, we want it to be substantial -50% seems fair.

Multiple Clubs, Multiple Discounts, but Same Campgrounds

Most of the RV membership clubs have on-line directories you can view. Study the directories for the area you'll be traveling in and you will notice that many of the same parks appear in each and every directory. But the discount may vary...anywhere from 10% to 50%. If you join more than one RV membership club, do your homework, ask for the higher discount, and check to be sure that you get it.

Campground 50% Off Discount RV Membership Clubs

There are three that I've found - All have campground directories that you can view on-line before you sign up.

By comparing these directories, I found that a large percentage, maybe as much as 75%, of the same campgrounds are listed with each of these clubs. It also stands to reason that the same restrictions will apply as to when the discounts are accepted. Not having to compare those aspects allowed me to compare the clubs a little easier.

What are the restrictions?

Most campgrounds won't honour the club discounts during holidays and weekends and some block off entire weeks or months in peak season. You can expect good, well-run parks but not five-star amenities. You may have to drive five or ten miles out of the way and, sometimes, phone ahead for a reservation. However, if saving money is the objective, camping at $12.00 or $15.00 per night sure beats $25.00 or $30.00.

If you plan your route and your travel time well, you can certainly benefit from these memberships.

Of course, it will also depend on campsites being available but that would apply whether you're a member of a club or not. Chances are you stand a good chance of getting a site on the days (non peak times) when the discounts apply.

The following clubs offer 50% camping discounts:

  • Passport America

    Annual Cost: $44.00 ($36.00 a year if you sign up for three years)

    Camping Benefits: 50% off at 1600 campgrounds across USA and Canada and even a few in Mexico. A referral program, both for campgrounds and campers gets you $10.00 toward your next renewal for everyone who signs up. I like the fact that, even before you join, you can download the entire campground directory, including current prices and discount restrictions, from the web site. So, if you have a trip planned, you can decide before you buy into the club, whether it will let you save money on camping.

  • Happy Camper Half Price Camping Club

    Annual Cost: $39.99 (multi-year discounts are offered as well).

    Camping Benefits: 50% off at over 1200 campgrounds across USA and Canada. Download and use your membership immediately. (They claim to be the only one that offers this.) Their referral program is better than Passport America's - you get a whole year free membership for one referral. The downside: less campgrounds in the program (than Passport America) and, although you can access campground listings (USA only, not Canada) online before signing up, the restrictions aren't shown.

  • Explorer RV Club

    Annual Cost: $45.00 or $40.50 per year if you sign up for two years.

    Camping Benifits: 10% dicount at camprounds in directory. (A higher discount up to 25% offered at some). Members get $10.00 off a Passport America membership. No indication of how many campgrounds are in the directory but it can be viewed on line before joining.

    We have belonged to this Canadian-based RV membership club since we purchased our first RV eleven years ago. Although it has a few other advantages, the main reason we belong is because the $45.00 annual membership gives us a $47.00 discount on our RV insurance with Wayfarer Insurance who, after shopping around, has the best rate we could come up with anyway. So really, the membership is free and even puts us ahead by $2.00 a year. I like no-brainers like that!

  • Escapees (SKPs)

    Annual Cost: $60.00 ($70.00 for Canadians) and an additional $10.00 your first year. Note: Passport America members don't pay this $10.00 so, if you're going to join both, do it in the right order.

    This club, the highest priced, still seems to be voted everyone's favorite RV membership club! Membership gets you a minimum of 15% discount and up to 50% off at approximately 1000 campgrounds in the program. (137 listings are at 50% off.) You are sent a directory guide after joining but there's also an online directory showing which campgrounds are in the program that's available before joining.

    The club offers some unique benefits and is one of the only clubs that encourages and offers advice for boondocking, but the main reason to join, as far as saving on camping is concerned, is to have access to the 19 five-star RV parks owned or co-operated by the club. These are spread across the mid and lower states. Escapee members can camp with hook-ups in these parks for $10 to $15 per night. Weekly and monthly rates are available with weekly rates at all the parks under $100.00. All of them also offer a dry camping option for $5.00 a night (limited to anywhere between 3 to 21 days depending on the park). Joining would easily pay for itself if you want to spend time in the areas where these parks are located.

    Day's End Directory

    A list of boondocking sites and cheap campgrounds compiled by SKP members. The directory is only available to Escapee Club members and the cost is an additional $15.00 annually for a cd or $10.00 annually for a download. Contribute or update entries and you can bring your fees down.

  • Good Sam Club

    Annual Cost: Membership is cheaper than the other clubs (other than Boondockers Welcome): 1 year $ 25.00 ($22.00 with automatic renewal) or 2 years for $45.00, and 3 years for $59.00 with a full refund guarantee if you're not happy in the first year.

    Benefits include a 10% discount at 1600 campgrounds plus 10% discount at some RV parts and accessories outlets. The campground directory is available on line but prices are vague and restrictions not mentioned. (Maybe, at only 10%, there are none?)

  • Recreation USA

    Annual Cost: $44.00 ( or 6 months for $34.00)

    You can choose between two different systems at different participating campgrounds: Some offer $10.00 camping (or slightly more) for members, others, a 25% discount. Perhaps the club is still in it's infancy, but the number of participating campgrounds is limited, with eleven states having no listings yet. You can view the directory before joining and restrictions are noted.

Other Clubs to Consider

  • Boondockers Welcome

    Annual Cost: $ 24.95 or $19.95 if you can offer a host location (a boondocking spot for fellow members on your property)

    Now more than 800 locations across North America plus a few in other countries, the premise is freindly RVers like yourself who are willing to let you park for free for a night or two on their property. Providing a location is encouraged but not mandatory. The name implies boondocking but, in fact, many hosts are able to provide electric and water as well. What a deal!

  • Harvest Hosts

    Annual Cost: $ 40.00

    Modelled after similar programs across Europe, membership lets you spend a night parked at more than 470 locations across the USA and Canada - mostly at wineries and specialty farms, (likely to be a country setting). The program's list of participants just keeps growing.

  • Overnight RV Parking

    Annual Cost: $24.95. Tell them who referred you ( frugalrv@frugal-rv-travel.com ) to receive an extra month for free.

    A subscription to this on-line service for RVers might save you more frustration than money. If you're into "blacktop boondocking", it can keep you from driving out of your way to the nearest Walmart, Flying J, highway rest stop, or Cracker Barrel Restaurant, only to find out all the rules are different here and you won't be allowed to stay overnight. There are other guides on the market for this information, but I like this website because RVers themselves are encouraged (and rewarded by discounts on future renewals) to keep the information up to date.

  • RV Golf Club

    Annual Cost: $49.00.

    A great deal for golfers but you do NOT have to be a golfer to enjoy all the benefits. An annual membership lets you park overnight in your RV for free at hundreds of private golf clubs and other resort properties, every night of the year, all over North America. Most golf courses throw in discounts for golf and full access to their amenities. This is all about being an invited guest to park in stunning places at no cost.

  • Elk's Club

    The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks is, of course, not an RV club but, if you qualify, being a member comes with RV parking benefits. There are 2000 lodges across the USA and many offer free (donation requested) RV overnight parking for members, (actually, we have used it as a non member and no one noticed - just make the donation!) Some lodges even have campgrounds with hook-ups.

So, after all this comparing, what RV Membership Clubs did we join?

  • Passport America

    Reasons: They have more campgrounds and are cheaper than the other two 50% off clubs. The directory is downloadable - a pdf document that we store on our computer or kindle and so we don't need an extra printed directory book in our small RV.

  • Explorer RV Club

    Reasons: As I mentioned above, for us, a no-brainer. The membership gets us only 10% off at campgrounds which is why I felt we needed the Passport America membership too.

  • Escapees (SKPs)

    Reasons: I joined this one just because I want to know why everyone loves it so much and because, after months on end of boondocking, I like the idea of $5.00 dry camping in 5-star resorts - at least once in a while.
    Through the club, we also subscribe to the Days End Directory.

  • Harvest Hosts

    Reasons: The free wine tastings without having to worry about driving afterwards! Our favorite bottle of wine is bound to cost us less than a campground. We also discovered that most small agri-businesses are run by very friendly people!

  • Overnight RV Parking

    Reasons: Mainly because the website is a great idea and I want to support it. We don't prefer to stay in parking lots but, like everyone, we do it, in a pinch and usually have no trouble finding a legal option. We have found it quite handy since it also lists which Walmart stores do or do not allow overnight parking. I found the site to be.

  • RV Golf Club

    Reasons: Although we're not golfers, the beautiful grounds and facilities at golf courses are certainly appealing. We'll happily enjoy a beer and sandwich in the clubhouse dining room if it includes a peaceful night in the parking lot.

Add it all up and, yes, we are kind of heavily invested in RV membership clubs (just under $200.00 per year) but, you don't have to join them all; why not pick and choose a few and see how often you use them. Aside from the original reason of joining (to check them out), it ensures we can access a variety of free camping options all year long. The same money wouldn't go far in campground fees!

Two Years Later - CONCLUSION and an UPDATE:

We've used all of the clubs we joined (with the exception of RV Golf Club, which we'll definitely try out on our next trip), some more than others but each has been benificial for its own reasons. Of all of them, Escapees gets my vote as the best for boondockers; the annual fee is high but offers good value, especially if you use the SKP Parks and Days End Directory.

Boondockers Welcome is a place for RVers to connect and exchange invitations to park on their respective private properties. Since it's our own creation, I may be biased and tooting my own horn but it is quickly becoming one of the best-rated RV membership clubs and the best value (it has the lowest annual fee)!


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