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.
RandomBits is an Amazon affiliate, which helps to support this blog. Would you please consider using the following link for your Amazon shopping? It costs you absolutely nothing, and Amazon gives us a very small amount of your purchase for advertising purposes. Please click here: Amazon.
I can definitely see the advantage of TT, especially on the west coast where RV parks can be quite expensive. It’s too bad there is such a gap across the entire middle of the US. I love the fact you can reserve 180 days out. Thanks for the info. Happy (Thousand) Trails!
I had no idea such a system existed. But then I’m not living on wheels either. But a brother-in-law and sister-in-law are selling their Minnesota home soon and joining your on-the-road lifestyle. I’ll tip Annette off to your blog for some tips.
It helps tremendously, but does come with headaches. I’m happy to give any information I can.
Are they safe? I think that would be my biggest concern. I haven’t owned an RV in so many years (like over 40) and in those days it was very inexpensive and safe. Is that still true?
It is safe and fairly inexpensive still. We haven’t run into any campground where we felt unsafe so far. For the most part, fellow RVers are friendly and hospitable. We have stayed in campgrounds we didn’t particularly like, but not because of safety issues (close sites or location). We’ve been full time for 2+ years and haven’t had any problems with feeling unsafe, theft, or issues of that sort. Thank you for the question.
I would read this if I could see it. It petered out at word 25, and I saw nothing to click to finish reading. ??? Maybe I’m blind today and don’t know it.
Thanks for the info and contact! Every once and awhile we discuss TT and whether we should join. Unfortunately we’ve been in mostly the middle of the country during this past year’s travels so it wouldn’t have worked for us. However, there’s always next year!
The big TT hole in the middle of the US is our biggest disappointment. The Encore and RPI discount helps, but it’s still not ideal. It sure is nice out west and along the east coast so far. It’s definitely a give/take decision and depends on travel destinations. Thank you for your thoughts.
Excellent advice! The hubby and I were just watching a video about RV memberships. I like the info you presented much better! I have to ask… GoodSam… what’s the deal? Do you subscribe??? Is it worth it? I love your posts and will continue to read up! Maybe you already answered my question. We are in the preparing stage and my mind is ready to explode with information overload! So thank you for this break-down!
I’m glad you found it helpful. I try to be honest with the challenges as well as the benefits. We have Good Sam road service and the campground discount comes with it, but we haven’t had the opportunity to use it. I don’t think it’s that substantial for our needs. We have used Passport America, but we try to use our free TT whenever we can. If we pay full commercial price, monthly fees are usually less than shorter stays. I’m always happy to share our experience if we can. Thank you for your question!
Terrific! Thanks for the information. Your posts are truly helpful!😊
Love this blog post Dawn!!! You know the amount of time I spent considering whether a Thousand Trails membership was right for me. Even after you and Mike had already purchased your membership – I was on the fence. The folks at Campground Membership Outlet – Kim in particular, was so patient with me and answered the hundreds of questions I asked. And – the price was perfect for me. I purchased the Platinum Plus membership almost 2 years ago and have loved it. As of today – I am ahead by over $1,000 so the membership has not only paid for itself, I receive the comforts of knowing I can camp for free at so many places across the country. I have not upgraded at this point – but I am considering it. Thanks for sharing your story.
What’s really cool now that it’s paid for is you can use it FREE for the rest of your life. Kim was a WONDERFUL source of information and knowledge. For us, it was an obvious good choice. It is scary making that leap, though–and it has its frustrating moments trying to book and finding areas near where we want to be. I’m sooooo happy we have it. Thank you so much for your thoughts.
Can’t find the Ultimate Odyssey package anywhere, Where did you find your package.
We started out with the Elite package purchased through Campground Membership Outlet with Kim and Chad and upgraded to the Ultimate Odyssey directly through Thousand Trails after hearing the benefits and how it fit with our travel style. There is a possibility they may not be offering it anymore or may be doing it only certain times of the year. I would recommend calling a membership specialist at Thousand Trails (1-800-388-7788) to inquire about their current packages and then checking with Kim and Chad to see if they have a similar membership for sale (which may be more economical). It’s perfect for us–even with the headaches of using the TT scheduling system. Let me know if you have any other questions. I’m happy to share our experiences with the membership. –Dawn