There are many RV membership clubs and web-based services that you can join for an annual fee - each offering something slightly different.
While club rallies and glossy magazines are nice, for us the club needs to have some more measurable advantages.
Saving money, after recouping our 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 getting 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 RV membership clubs and are signed up for two related services. To see which ones, scan to the bottom of the page.
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:
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 up paying for more campgrounds than we prefer.
With the cost of campsites rising to the point of craziness, 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 or $40.00 (after the discount) 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.
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 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.
I know of two: Passport America and Happy Camper Club. They'll get you half/price camping during less busy times and dates. Both clubs have campground directories that you can view on-line before you sign up
By comparing the directories, I found that a large percentage (perhaps as high as 75%) of the same campgrounds are listed in both clubs. Usually they have the same restrictions (dates when member discounts won't apply). Not having to compare those aspects made comparing the clubs a little easier.
Most campgrounds won't honour club discounts during holidays and weekends and some block off entire weeks or months in peak season. You can expect good, well-managed parks but not five-star amenities. You may have to drive five or ten miles out of the way and, usually need to phone ahead for a reservation. However, if saving money is the objective, camping at $20.00 or $25.00 per night sure beats $40.00 or $50.00.
Of course, it will also depend on campsites being available but that would apply whether you're a member of a club or not. You stand a good chance of getting a site on the days (non peak times) when the discounts apply, since those are the dates they are trying to fill; hence the discount.
The following clubs offer 50% camping discounts:
For Canadians: CAN$37.99 or CAN$67.99 for 2 years. For USA and international citizens: CAN$60.00 per year.
Camping Benefits: 10% discount at campgrounds and up to 25% offered at some. All 440 campgrounds in the directory can be viewed online before joining (but not any restrictions they may have).
We have belonged to this Canadian-based RV membership club since we purchased our first RV in 1999. Although it has a few other advantages, the main reason we belong is because membership gives us a discount (an amount that's more than the annual club fee) on our RV insurance with Wayfarer Insurance who, after shopping around, has always offered the best rate we can find for insuring our RV. So really, the membership is free. In fact, it even puts us ahead by $2.00 a year. I like no-brainers like that!
Annual Cost: $39.95 plus an additional $10.00 administration fee for your first year.
Escapees is voted almost everyone's favorite RV membership club! It includes membership in Xscapers, a linked club especially geared to younger RVers, families, those working on the road, and living full-time in an RV. This is one club where there are many worthwhile benefits, but campground discounts are decent too - a minimum of 15% and up to 50% off regular prices. at approximately 1,000 campgrounds in the program. (137 listings are at 50% off.) An online directory showing which campgrounds are part of the program is available before joining.
The club offers some unique benefits and is one of the only clubs that encourages and offers advice about boondocking. As for money-saving features, one main reason to join is to have access to the 18 RV parks - Rainbow Parks and Co-op Parks - under the Escapees umbrella. These are spread across the mid and lower states. Club members may 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 to $8.00 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.
Annual Cost: $15/year - this directory is exclusively available only to Escapee RV Club members.It's a list of legal boondocking sites and cheap campgrounds compiled by SKP members. The searchable online directory has a superb Route Planning Map. Plan a route and see the directory locations along it. Once logged in, you can also display the listing details by town or city.
Annual Cost: Normally $39.99. Save $10 with coupon code FRUGALRV
A time saving app that simplifies RV ownership. The free version gives you a service center and mobile RV repair locator, RV maintenance tracking and reminders, vehicle registration notifications, how-to guides, videos, and tips, travel destination recommendations, gear guides, and vehicle recall alerts.
Togo RV Plus is worth every penny for the many extra benefits: GPS navigation customized for your RV, free membership in OvernightRVParking.com (described below) ($29.99 value), 25% lifetime discount on annual Harvest Hosts membership, premium trip planning with Roadtrippers Plus ($29.99 value), helpful customizable checklists, and campground discounts up to 15%.
OvernightRVParking.com (included in Togo Plus) saves you time and frustration as well as money. If you're into "blacktop boondocking", it can prevent 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.
Annual Cost: New memberships are $85/year and renewals $75/year.
Members may camp for free two nights every month at the FMCA member-only campground in Cincinnati (based on availability). The campground has 15 full-hookup and 9 electric-only sites.
Other benefits: FMCA offers many benefits for its members including a tire program, roadside assistance for $69/year, access to RV tours, campground discounts, mobile internet service through Verizon and Sprint, savings on RV insurance, and more. Plus, members can save on campground fees, thanks to FMCA's partnerships with Kampgrounds of America (KOA), Passport America, and its network of member campgrounds (most offer a 5 to 10% discount). Members receive a monthly magazine, a sense of community through chapters — groups based on common interests — and the club’s biannual International Conventions, complete with educational seminars, entertainment, and more.
Annual Cost: Membership is cheaper than the other clubs: 1 year is $29.00 (less if you sign up for multiple years). It's one of the original first RV clubs but, truthfully, not what it used to be. And, in my opinion, probably no longer worth joining unless you plan to spend at least $290.00 per year at their stores: Camping World, Gander Outdoors, and Overton’s.
They do have 2,400 Good Sam parks that offer a 10% discount. The campground directory is available on line but prices are vague and restrictions not mentioned. Members can also save 10% at certain RV parts and accessories outlets.
Annual Cost: Unlimited free overnight RV parking on private property! Hosts (most are RVers themselves) join for free, earn 3 months of free guest privileges with every guest they welcome, and bank those credits until they travel themselves. They can purchase an annual subscription for half price ($25.00) if they want to travel before they've earned credits. RVers who can't offer to host fellow members on their property pay $50.00 per year for a guest privileges subscription.
Over 2,700 locations across North America plus a few in other countries. The premise is friendly RVers like yourself who are willing to let you park for FREE for a night or two on their own private property while en route or stopping briefly to explore the area. Providing a reciprocal location is encouraged but not mandatory. The name implies boondocking but, in fact, many hosts also offer electric, water, and additional services. What a deal!
Annual Cost: $79.00
Modelled after similar programs across Europe, membership lets you spend a night parked at more than 1,290 locations across the USA and Canada, mostly wineries, breweries, specialty farms and museums. An optional plan ($119.00 per year) gives you access to park at 350 golf courses as well. Overnight parking is free but these are businesses; you're asked (expected) to show your appreciation with a purchase.
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 2,000 lodges across the USA and many offer free (donation requested) overnight RV 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.
Reasons: Compared to the other 50%-off club, they have more campgrounds, the annual fee is only slightly higher, and the discount is never less than 50%.
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.
We first joined because I wanted to know why everyone loves it so much
and we fell in love with it for what I'm sure are all the same reasons. We've made lifelong friends through the club and take advantage of a few nights at Escapee Parks whenever we pass nearby.
Through the club, we also subscribe to the Days End Directory.
Reasons: Attending wine or beer tastings without having to worry about driving afterwards! A nice bottle of wine never goes bad in our larder and usually costs no more than a night in a campground. We also discovered that most small agri-businesses are run by very friendly people!
Reasons: We don't prefer to stay in parking lots but, like many RVers, often end up there in a pinch. The Overnight RV Parking subscription included in your membership makes it easy to find the nearest welcoming retailer. As more and more Walmarts no longer allow overnight parking, the website is increasingly more useful.
Add it all up and, yes, we are kind of heavily invested in RV membership clubs (roughly $200.00 per year) but, I'm not suggesting you join them all; why not pick and choose a few and see how often you use them? Belonging to many makes sense for me so that I can write about the clubs from experience. In fact, we've joined some of the others off and on for that reason. As a bonus, we're able to access a variety of free or discounted camping all year long. The same money wouldn't go very far in campground fees!
While each club is beneficial for its own reasons, Togo RV Plus, Escapees, and Boondockers Welcome get my vote for the three best clubs for boondockers to join.
Escapees' annual fee is reasonable, it offers good value, especially if you use the SKP Parks and Days End Directory. And every boondocker who has ever spent the night in a parking lot, will appreciate the Overnight RV Parking app that's part of Togo RV whenever they find themselves in a pinch.
Boondockers Welcome is our own creation, so I may be biased and accused of tooting my own horn but it is quickly becoming the next most highly-rated RV membership club. One annual fee allows travelers to book unlimited free stays and since hosts collect free guest privilege credits that they can save up to use when they travel, most never pay a penny. They can even gift extra credits to other RVers. So, it's definitely one of the best values!
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