Believe me when I say that campground memberships are your lifeblood when you choose a life of full-time RV living. (If you hadn’t picked up on that yet, you’re welcome.)
Well, at least they were for us. You see, we were not set up or equipped for the abundant boondocking options available to us such as parking lots, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and national forest locations, etc. Our 26-foot travel trailer would have required some extensive upgrades, along with major lifestyle adjustments for us, and it just didn’t make sense at the time with five of us along for the ride.
In all honesty, if we ever embark on a full-time RV adventure of this magnitude again (it’s pretty likely down the road), you can bet I will find a way to take advantage of those boondocking locations instead of being tied to RV parks and campground memberships the majority of the time.
Don’t take that as a sign of regret on my part. Our adventure turned out exactly as it was supposed to, and it was beautiful and astounding and life-altering.
And the success of that 17-month full-time RV living adventure can absolutely be tied back directly to these campground memberships that I want to share with you now.
Here’s Why You Will Use These Campground Memberships the Most
If you are currently in the planning process and moving toward a full-time RV living experience, this is for you. That is especially true if you are not planning on the boondocking (or “wild camping”) path.
But even if you end up in an RV that is capable of going off-grid on a regular basis, these campground memberships will probably still hold plenty of value for you…because nobody can boondock forever. You will need a break, you will need some “creature comforts” to maintain your sanity.
So, let’s dive into these campground memberships so you can learn from our experiences. I will be listing and discussing them in order of the ones we benefited from the most, from greatest to least. And so, we have to start with….
Campground Membership #1: Thousand Trails
When we launched into our RV adventure in May 2017, I did not have a Thousand Trails campground membership. I knew about them, I had researched them extensively, I knew the cost was very reasonable for the value they offered. I knew that the Camping Pass (with all Camping Zones included) was the best place for us to start. So what was the problem?
Location, location, location. You see, we were launching from Austin, Texas and planned to stay in the state for the first month in order to attend a family wedding in Austin.
And when we did leave the state in late June, we headed straight north for the Rocky Mountains. (Of course.)
*You can take a look at our Top 6 Thousand Trails Campgrounds post right here.*
Gaps in Coverage
Unfortunately, Thousand Trails has extremely limited campground and resort options in the middle of the country, as you can see below.
In Texas, you can find quite a few along the Gulf coast and in the Dallas area. But other than that, you are pretty much out of luck except for one near San Antonio and one west of Houston.
Being the savvy and skilled planner that I am, I decided it wouldn’t make any sense to “burn through” a few months of our membership before we even made it to the West Coast where we could start taking advantage of the Thousand Trails campgrounds.
So I actually purchased our Camping Pass membership about the time we hit British Columbia, Canada and were ready to head south down the West Coast for several months.
Ironically, the very first campground that we stayed at in Washington was the very first campground in the Thousand Trails system! How crazy is that?
It is called Chehalis RV and Camping Resort, located in Chehalis, Washington, and it was an emerald paradise with trees so thick you could hardly believe it. It was this location that inspired the name “Thousand Trails” because of the multitude of trails available to explore in the resort, most of them winding through impossibly beautiful trees.
Without a doubt, we used our Thousand Trails membership more than any other single option in our arsenal. That Zone Camping Pass was absolutely worth it!
Many TT Membership Options Available, But They All Start with the Camping Pass
The Thousand Trails Zone Camping Pass is the starting point for anyone interested in trying out what they have to offer. The actual cost of the pass depends on how many zones you want to include in your pass, based on how much you will be traveling.
But the Camping Pass starts at $585 per year with one zone. Additional zones are just $54 per year and there are a total of 5 zones across the country.
While they do have many other membership options available to you, they are all upgrades from the Camping Pass and are far more expensive than this entry point.
**Note: You are able to purchase existing, upgraded Thousand Trails memberships from other members without going the Camping Pass route. The upgrade details are far too much to cover in this article, but you can check out this fantastic Thousand Trails Upgrades article by RV Love that helped us understand the ins and outs of the options available to us. As RV Love will tell you, Campground Membership Outlet is your best place to start when you are actually ready to pursue a specific upgrade.**
Campground Membership #2: Passport America
In terms of overall usage of membership, Passport America was definitely in second place looking back on our travels. On average, I would say we probably stayed at one of the campgrounds in their discount network at least 2-3 times per month during our travels.
And overall, we had really good experiences. Sure, there were a handful of them in certain locations that were just plain sketchy. But you are going to run across that no matter how you are planning your travels. It just happens.
I want to be clear on this and make sure you understand that this one is a campground discount network and not an actual campground system owned by a single entity.
Worried that there aren’t enough campgrounds in their network to take advantage of? Just look at the map for Texas and you will get an idea how extensive their network actually is:
How Likely Will You Be to Recoup Your Cost?
So, let’s talk about cost. The annual cost for a Passport America membership is only $44. When you consider that you are saving 50% at every single location, I can say that we most likely recouped our annual cost every single month.
When the average campground is $40-50 per night, you are saving $20-25 each time you use this membership.
If you use it twice, it pays for itself. What’s not to love about that?
Campground Membership #3: Good Sam Club
If I had to guesstimate, I would say that we probably used the Good Sam Club discount card less than half as much as we used Passport America.
Why? Well…cost. When Passport America is offering 50% off at every single location, and their locations are normally less expensive to begin with, it’s impossible for Good Sam to compete on price point alone. Good Sam offers a 10% discount at campgrounds and RV parks. Something is better than nothing, but that just doesn’t hold a candle to a 50% savings when I’m looking at that bank account balance.
This membership definitely served as a great backup to the first two campground memberships I’ve covered above, but it could never replace either of them in my book.
Again, this one is a campground discount network like Passport America.
Additional Discounts Beyond Campground Fees
Now, to be fair, the Good Sam Club does offer other discounts that are not available with Thousand Trails and Passport America (on fuel, propane, outdoor supplies, etc.). I absolutely made good use of the 5 cent per gallon fuel discount whenever a Pilot or Flying J station was nearby. But in terms of overall savings, that still didn’t bring into the same “savings ballpark” as the first two.
At $29 per year, it’s still a no-brainer if you are a full-time RVer. You could easily recoup far more than that just in fuel savings over a year, even if you never stayed at a single campground in their network.
Campground Membership #4: Harvest Hosts
If you are specifically interested in getting off the beaten path and having some remarkable experiences in stunning and peaceful locations, you cannot pass up a Harvest Hosts membership.
No, we are not actually talking about campgrounds here. We are talking about wineries, breweries, farms, cideries, golf courses, etc. I mean, come on…how cool is that?
As I mentioned above, we were not well equipped for boondocking opportunities during our travels. And I will definitely address that on our second round of RV life, because I want to be able to go to ALL of the Harvest Hosts locations around the country! Every. Single. One.
*You can read our more detailed review of Harvest Hosts and hear more about our experiences in this post.*
Our small handful of experiences at Harvest Hosts spots were some of our most memorable and enjoyable for two reasons: (1) the locations were serene, secluded, peaceful and in agricultural settings; and (2) the people (hosts) we were able to meet during our visits were authentic and welcoming. We made some great connections that we will never forget and hope to revisit someday.
Sounds pretty amazing…but what about cost?
I know, you’re thinking this one must cost a pretty penny with those kinds of experiences, right? I certainly would be thinking that.
When we joined in 2017, I think we paid $39 per year. Their current prices have gone up, but I can definitely understand why with the rapid growth of the number and variety of their locations.
So we are looking at the same type of cost analysis: If you stay 2-3 times with Harvest Hosts (instead of paying the average $40-$50 per night for an RV park), you have recouped your entire annual cost.
Because there is NO charge for staying with their hosts. That’s right, nothing. Yes, they encourage you to purchase product from the wineries, breweries and farms during your stay. Duh! We always find amazing stuff at these stops, so why wouldn’t you do that without being told?! Just my opinion…
Do yourself a favor and jump all over one of their membership options, especially if you are equipped to boondock. You will have the time of your life! I guarantee it.
Campground Membership #5: Boondockers Welcome
Now, I am sad to report that we used our Boondockers Welcome membership less than any other listed above. That was not by choice, but by necessity.
Yes, once again, our lack of “boondocking ability” kept us out of this network for the most part.
In truth, we only made this work for us one time while in British Columbia, Canada where they had a water and electric connection available for us in the driveway. But it was truly a fantastic stay in a peaceful neighborhood with some of the kindest and most authentic folks we encountered in all of our travels.
For the $50 annual cost, that one night staying with good people made it absolutely worth it for me. And I would actually pay it again, even if I wasn’t equipped for boondocking, just for the chance to possibly meet some more folks like this…or go back to their place again! No joke.
So pony up the $50 annual fee (only $25 if you also sign up to be a host) and go find some fantastic people to “driveway surf” with like we did. You just won’t regret it, my friend.
Which Campground Memberships Have You Used the Most?
Every situation is different, and you may use certain memberships more than we have. If so, leave a comment and let us know! Maybe you can teach us about another great option that we are completely unaware of…we are always interested in learning more. So share!
Todd Bonner loves a competitive game of table tennis, a breathtaking hike and simply exploring new places. He spends most of his time sharing information about RV travel and safety, RV accessories and tips, and the National Parks he has visited and still desperately craves. When he’s not busy working on TREKKN, you will often find him staring at pictures of Glacier National Park (probably his favorite spot on earth) or creating new products for Clever Camper Company.
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[…] had a Thousand Trails Camping Pass that saved us a ton of money. I recommend you go read all about the camping memberships we actually used on the road before you make your […]
Friday 12th of February 2021
I plan to be a Camper with a under 2100 lbs Light weigth Camping Trailer with toilet and shower. I enjoy reading your articles Todd and have gained insight and knowledge.Happy trails to you and your group and may we cross paths at some point. Regards. Amin BTW I am Canadian and have lived over 18 years in beautiful BC. Reside in Toronto Ontario now. Please keep writing these articles.
Friday 12th of February 2021
Thanks for your positive comment, Amin! Much appreciated and I wish you nothing but the best as you get your feet wet in your RV adventure. I will keep writing, I promise.
Also, I actually grew up in Washington state and made many trips to beautiful BC as a youngster. Dated a girl from there later as well...so that prompted more trips. AND I lived for a year in Toronto as a kid as well, so we have a few things in common besides the RV thing. :)
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