Many people ask us how affordable this lifestyle is as far as campgrounds, RV resorts, and boondocking. The answer to those questions are complex, because it is one hundred percent dependent on individual travel style and needs for daily life. Mike and I like to stay in a location three to four weeks to explore local flavor and adventures. We travel on weekends and seek out areas with reliable cell service because Mike works remotely full-time for corporate America. I like RV parks and resorts because I’m a spoiled full-hookup kind of gal, but I can also make do with partial hookups and enjoy occasional boondocking in beautiful scenic areas.
We thoroughly researched the Thousand Trails system. For an upfront cost and yearly maintenance fee, we can stay free in their network of campgrounds. Basically, it’s a no-brainer financial decision for the type of RVing we prefer. The upfront cost is high depending on the membership purchased, but it shortly pays for itself. For example, we now have the Ultimate Odyssey package (we started with an Elite) and our first six months of 2019 scheduled in the Thousand Trails System will be at no cost. If an average 30 days of camping is $500 (and that’s a low-ball amount), it means we have already saved $3,000 this year.
There are several levels of membership to meet a traveler’s needs. There are zone passes which cover campgrounds in a particular part of the United States (northeast, northwest, etc.). There are levels that include only certain campgrounds across the country. Our membership covers the entire Thousand Trails system nationwide with a 28-day stay in any park. We can travel from one Thousand Trails park to another with no time required out of the system. We have also included the Trails Collection, which expands our campground choices to include free Encore RV Resorts (two weeks in the Encore system and one week out) and Resort Parks International parks at a hefty discount. We can book reservations 180 days out. We are also able to freeze our maintenance fee at age 62, will the membership to our heirs, and up to six family members can use the membership for a $99 per year fee. We can also resell our membership if we no longer find a use for it.
There are a few downsides to the TT network:
- The front-end expense can be quite daunting.
- We don’t always stay in the Thousand Trails system because locations are not available in areas we visit.
- There’s a big hole in the middle of the United States where Thousand Trails does not have property. This includes the big national park areas.
- Some of the preserves are old and rustic, some have tight spots and make us feel a little sardine-y, and others are located in remote locations where there isn’t much to see and do.
- It’s more often than not extremely difficult to work the reservation system and book the days we need. It takes patience, perseverance, and a lot of time listening to the ridiculous Thousand Trails on-hold recording.
We have the freedom to pick and choose when we want to surf our membership, and there are times where we budget and bite the bullet and stay outside of the system. As in any decision, it’s important to research and weigh the pros and cons in what would work to meet individual needs. It’s also realistic to know ahead of time the Thousand Trails system is full of flaws and is nowhere near perfection.
For those interested in researching a membership, I highly recommend talking to Kim or Chad at Campground Membership Outlet (tell them they came RandomBitsRV recommended). We purchased our Elite level through Kim, who patiently listened to our needs and educated us on what membership would fit us. She also worked to get us the best deal financially. To realize the money benefit of talking to Kim or Chad first, obtain details from them and then seek the same through Thousand Trails directly–the savings will speak for themselves. Thousand Trails memberships are resold by people who come off the road and Chad and Kim know their business and can successfully help in any buy/resell situation.
I am happy to honestly discuss any Thousand Trail questions in the comments below from our perspective and experience. We are not advocating the system is right for everyone–we can only attest it has fit our needs and has already paid for itself in two years of being full time on the road. It is also important to note Thousand Trails is only one of several RV park discounts in our arsenal. We love our ability to plan stays and exercise our freedom in ways that benefit and enrich our lifestyle, which is what RV life is all about.
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