If you plan to spend part of your retirement traveling across North America in an RV, you’ll quickly find that traveling with your own lodgings does not necessarily mean traveling on the cheap. There’s no way to avoid the cost of fuel, which fluctuates constantly and often wildly, and if you have a big rig, fuel will be one of your biggest expenses. But staying at campgrounds — which provide water, sewer, and electrical hookups for your rig — comes at a cost, too. Some campgrounds are cheap at $10.00 or less per night; typical state park campsites with electrical and water hookups run from $15 to $25. Private campgrounds, which sometimes have a swimming pool, can run to $40, or even $50 or higher at popular destinations. While still cheaper than a hotel, particularly if you’re traveling with several people, these charges can add up quickly during the course of a weeks-long tour.
One way you can save is by joining an RV club. There are many clubs in North America that have affiliations with hundreds or even thousands of campsites in the United States and Canada; these campsites offer discounts to club members. Membership will cost you an annual fee, but if you do a lot of RVing, you’ll quickly make up the cost of the fee in savings at campgrounds.
With over a million members, the Good Sam Club (short for “Good Samaritan”) is the world’s largest RV club. The club offers a 10 percent discount on nightly rates at more than 1,700 affiliated campsites across the United States and Canada. The club can help you with routing, too, providing details about bridge and tunnel restrictions, towing laws, current fuel prices, and more. Club members are eligible for discounts on emergency road service as well as RV parts and repairs at affiliated service centers. The club provides its own emergency road service (at an extra cost, of course), and has an insurance arm, offering extended warranties on RVs, motor vehicle insurance for RVs, and even term life insurance. You will need to decide whether the insurance products offered by Good Sam are worthwhile — you may do just as well with your current insurer — but the discounts on campsites is well worth the membership fee for most frequent travelers. Current fees are about $20 a year, or $50 for three years.
Camp Club USA
Camp Club USA is another large club, perhaps misnamed because affiliated campgrounds can be found in Canada as well. Club members can get 50 percent off nightly rates at nearly 1,200 campgrounds across the continent. The club’s newsletter (distributed electronically to all members) invites members to submit camping tips, travel experiences, humorous stories, or other items of interest; if your item is accepted for publication, you’ll get $50. If you have a way with words, this might be one way to subsidize your fuel bills. The club also helps members with trip routing and planning, and offers gift certificates if you refer friends. This all comes at a cost — annual memberships are $50, or $120 for three years — but the deep discounts at campgrounds make this club an attractive option.
Escapees RV Club
The Escapees RV Club bills itself as a “total support network for RVers.” The club sponsors its own events, including seminars and educational events as well as fun gatherings, in an effort to create a unique community of RV enthusiasts. The club claims that the greatest benefit of membership is the camaraderie that members — “SKPs” — develop among each other, but there are financial benefits as well. Nearly 1,000 campgrounds in North America offer discounts to Escapees members ranging from 15 to 50 percent off nightly rates. One of the more useful support services offered is a mail forwarding service. The club also has an advocacy group, representing the interests of RVers in pending municipal legislation that affects RV travel. Annual membership is not cheap — $70 for a new member in the United States — but if you take advantage of the activities the club offers and stay at the discounted parks, it may be worth it.
Passport America is yet another continent-wide RV club that offers 50 percent off nightly rates at 1,700 campgrounds in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The club offers the usual assistance with trip routing; membership dues are a very reasonable $44 per year, with modest discounts if you sign up for two or three years. And there are dozens more general-interest RV clubs that offer discounts at affiliated parks, including Happy Campers, Recreation USA, and more.
RV ‘specialty’ clubs
Then there are clubs that cater to specific groups of RVers. Loners on Wheels caters to single RVers; RVing Women, Handicapped Travel Club, Special Military Active-Retired Travel (SMART), and Fulltime Families all welcome members from the groups indicated by their names. These clubs are primarily social clubs, but they may offer discounts on services and other monetary benefits, so they are worth investigating. One other category of RV club caters to owners of specific RV models; these clubs will typically hold annual conventions, where your RV can spend a long weekend surrounded by others of its own kind. A large field filled with hundreds of classic silver Airstream trailers is a sight to behold. Whether you can get discounts at campgrounds or not, these RV-specific clubs are extremely useful for tips and support about your particular vehicle.
US National Park Service
While not exactly a “club,” the U.S. National Park Service sells annual passes giving free access to more than 2,000 federally owned parks and recreation sites across the United States, including all the Natural Parks. The passes cost $80 per year, but seniors (aged 62 and older) can purchase senior passes, $10 for life. A senior pass includes discounts at campgrounds located within many of the parks, although these discounts vary and may or may not include separate hookup charges. In any event, the low cost of a senior pass makes it a must-buy for any senior RVer.
RV clubs are well worth investigating; many frequent RVers join several clubs simultaneously, giving themselves the broadest range of options. If you find you’re using one membership more than another, you can always not renew memberships that are not useful to you.