There are several ways that we afford full time travel in our RV with kids but one of the biggest way we keep costs low is with our Thousand Trails Camping Membership.
In this video, we review how Thousand Trails is working for us as a full time family on the road with kids. As with anything in life, it has its pros and cons...check out what we think of it and if we recommend it for others considering this lifestyle.
Traveling On A Budget
Thousand Trails was something that we kept hearing would save us money when we started traveling full time. We were skeptical at first because we had never been to one of the parks and we couldn't wrap our heads around the fact that you can camp for no nightly fee.
When we first started traveling, we were spending A LOT on campgrounds. Depending on where we were, and if we spent any time boondocking, that could be anywhere from $600-$1200 a month!
So we decided to give it a try since we are all about traveling on a budget with kids. As a full time traveling family, we are always looking for ways to make our dollar go farther!
What Is Thousand Trails?
Thousand Trails is a campground system that has over 80 campgrounds (and 100+ more if you add their "Trails Collection") totaling almost 190 campgrounds!
They have several different options to join their network of campgrounds and once you are a member, you camp for no nightly fee.
The option that is sold on their website is their basic "zone pass." They break the US up into 5 different "zones." You purchase one zone or multiple zones per year.
It allows you to camp for up to 14 days at one location, and then (if you stay longer than 4 days), you are required to stay out of their campgrounds for 7 days. You get a 60 day booking window, and can stay within your zone as much as you want, as long as you obey the "7 day out" rule.
As for the type of camping you'll find... If you are looking for a place with $100/night resort style amenities, you may be disappointed.
Thousand Trails campgrounds are definitely a family friendly atmosphere and are more on par with a state campground with a few added bonuses such as pools, laundry facilities, playground, equipment borrow or rental, and usually full hookups.
Can You Travel Full Time With The Zone Pass?
Because the zone pass makes you stay out of their campgrounds for 7 days, it makes full timing a little hard if you really want to utilize their system to its fullest.
The way we make Thousand Trails work for full time RV living is that we purchased an "upgraded" lifetime membership.
There are several upgrade options out there, and we were honestly overwhelmed with all the options in the beginning. But we did a ton of research and ended up buying an "Elite Basic Membership."
We are able to stay 21 days with NO nightly fees, NO time out of their system, and we can book 120 days in advance.
What this allows us to do, is jump park to park and stay up to three weeks at each park.
What We Don't Like About Thousand Trails
If we had to list out the things that we wish Thousand Trails could do better, the list wouldn't be too long. We are overall very impressed with Thousand Trails.
However, as with anything in life, there are always pros and cons.
-One thing we have noticed is that some of the parks are older. They do seem to be constantly working to modernize things, and make your stay as comfortable as possible.
-There seems to be a little lack of uniformity with check-in procedures. Some parks help you find a site, sometimes they assign a site, but usually you are left to your own devices and go in search of your own. Some people like this and some don't.
A few parks do up charge for 50amp (usually only about $2-3/night) but we have only seen that twice.
-Many of the locations are off the beaten path so to speak and therefore cell service may not be stellar.
-A few of the parks we have been to are really far out from a town and that can make visiting tourist attractions, stores, and restaurants a little further of a drive. However, we know that well before we arrive and are usually using our Thousand Trails membership as just a safe spot to park our RV. We know in advance how far it will be from places we want to visit, and plan accordingly.
What We Love About Thousand Trails
1. FLEXIBLE PAYMENT OPTIONS!
We did not have the cash up front for our membership when we bought it. We are a family of 5 and we needed to work the cost of the membership into our budget until we could pay off the full amount.
We paid about $125/a month. The membership cost depends on which upgrade you choose. We have the Elite Basic.
2. NO NIGHTLY FEE
Make a reservation. Show up. Get a site. That's it. What's more to explain?!
We do love that our kids always have a playground, a pool (or two!), and things like mini golf, an arcade, and other activities to enjoy. There is sometimes a nice member's lodge that will have games, DVDs, and equipment check out.
The bathrooms are usually kept very clean.
The parks are also pet friendly, and some even have a dog park. If you are a dog lover, check out our dog travel tips here.
Finally, many of the parks are either on the water, have a fishing pond/lake, or are within a close drive to water access. We are stand up paddle board enthusiasts so this is a huge plus for us!
Depending on the park, they can have some really fun activities! We have seen crafts, family movie night, dances, field-day type games, scavenger hunts, and even a "water wagon" battle!
They try to offer things for kids and adults but we love that there is always something to do, especially in the summer and on weekends. And many times, they are free or only cost a few dollars (ex. 4th of July tie dye shirts for $6).
5. FULL HOOK UPS
Most Thousand Trails parks have full hook ups with 50 & 30 amp electric, water, and sewer. There are a few parks that offer only 30 amp or have select sites with no sewer, but many of those offer a honey wagon service if needed.
6. MEETING OTHER FAMILIES
We meet so many other fulltime families at the Thousand Trails parks. Our kids become friends and we love the company of other likeminded parents!
The Number One Thing We Love About Thousand Trails
As a full time traveling family, we love that our Thousand Trails membership helps make our campground fees affordable!
That is why we do it. During our first summer full time RVing, we spent on average $900/month on campgrounds. We even boondocked a bit but when winter came, we decided that it was time to make some changes.
The fact that we can camp all month for less than what a weekend at most campgrounds costs, is a WIN for our budget! Plus...it helps us have extra money so we never have to say no to ICE CREAM! (There's an ice cream shop at some of the campgrounds!)
We try our best to stay in Thousand Trails as much as possible to really get the best bang for our buck.
Is The Thousand Trails Membership Worth It?
YES. YES. YES!
One thousand percent...yes.
After spending an average of $900/month in campground fees our first summer, we realized what we really needed...
A safe place with electricity, water, and sewer that would be a good landing spot for our family. We wanted the ability to stay in one place for several weeks if needed, and the ability to meet other families.
We have met so many families while staying in Thousand Trails campgrounds. The kids are loving that they meet new friends who we often meet up again with down the road later.
If you are on the fence about getting a Thousand Trails membership or just have any questions, shoot us a message and we would love to help you decide if it would be a good fit for your family and your traveling needs.
***If you decide to purchase a Thousand Trails upgraded membership, please contact us at [email protected] before purchasing to GET UP TO A $500 DISCOUNT!!! We have teamed with an awesome Thousand Trails membership specialist who is guaranteed to get you the BEST PRICE AVAILABLE!***
Take care, and we'll see ya on the road!