Oh no! Not the weekend!
We move frequently, by frequently I mean on average about every four days. This means we spend quite a bit of time looking for a new home (aka campsites). Before we started this adventure we did a lot of research about many aspects of traveling full time in an RV. We even did a mock up of what a month of travel might look like to give us an idea of the cost. Not having traveled in an RV before, however; we didn’t really know what to look for in a campsite (price was our main concern during research phase). When you find yourself constantly in unfamiliar territory it is difficult to know what an area will be like. After having stayed in many different campsites in many different states we have a much better idea of what to look for and how to find a site that suits our needs.
The internet is our main resource for finding our next campsite. We use many different websites to find out about what is available in the area we plan to stay next. Some of the websites provide us with reviews, in these reviews we are looking for things that are site specific. This means we are looking for information about the cleanliness of restroom facilities, the width and length of spaces and driveways, if the amenities are what are advertised, etc., we sometimes have to weed through many reviews that are more about personal experiences or irrelevant things to find what we are looking for. Rates are another aspect we have to search for and these can usually be found directly on the camp websites, though sometimes you have to call the camp. We have three children and some places charge extra for more than two people and this is also a concern when choosing a site. We did not know that some places would charge extra for children, but they do and we almost never consider these as options. To us if they are charging extra for over two people they are probably not geared towards families which is what we want.
Another consideration for us is the proximity to the attractions we are there to see. We use a map program for finding out distances and will check to see how far the proposed camp is to what we are trying to see. Often we are planning to visit several places from one camp, but we don’t want to drive hours to get there. For us it is nice when we can be 30 minutes or less from most of the things we want to see and do. Road noise and light are other things to consider when choosing a place to stay, but can be difficult to determine from the internet. Reviews can sometimes be good indicators, but not always. We have learned to look closely at where a site is in regards to major roads as well as looking at how far back the actual sites are from the road. As for lights you kind of just have to take a chance, but if the place isn’t crowded don’t be afraid to ask to switch sites most places are fine with it if another space is available and you ask nicely! The best thing about traveling so often is that if we do get a site we don’t care for we know we won’t be there long and we can put up with a lot if it’s only for a few days.
Different places offer different types of amenities. These can vary as much as the rates do. Full hook-ups means you get water, electric, and sewer all at the site. Partial hook-ups are usually water and electric only at the site. Primitive or dry camping is when you have no on site hook-ups. We stay at all types of sites depending on what we need and how long we are planning to stay. We need full hook-ups occasionally to take showers in our own rig, plus these places usually have a laundry facility. We like to do laundry at a camp facility as opposed to going to the Laundromat, but when you are traveling sometimes you do what you gotta do. Another thing to consider is pull thru site or back in site. Pull thrus can be nice, but I highly recommend being able to back in because these types of sites are more common and sometimes the less expensive option. Some places offer WI-FI, pools, playgrounds, book exchanges, planned activities, along with many other amenities. When choosing where to stay it all depends on what you are looking for. To us the camp is usually just a place to park our rig and sleep, but we still want it to be nice and feel safe leaving our rig while we are out exploring. It can take some time to find a place to stay, but it’s worth it to find a great campsite.
So before I talk about the different types of sites let’s talk about rates. Campgrounds and RV parks are all over the place with the rates. We have stayed in free sites all the way up to sites that cost $100 a night, big variances. The prices are different depending on the area you are in and the type of site it is or the amenities they provide. It can still be inconsistent though because you might stay in a great place with full hook-ups, a pool, nice laundry facility, and great Wi-Fi for $30 a night and the next place has power and water only and you will pay the same rate. Some places advertise a low rate, but when you look more closely you find out they charge extra for everything. This can include things like use of the pool, game room, electricity, Wi-Fi, visitors, extra vehicles, pets, and as I mentioned earlier kids. If you plan to stay somewhere that has many tourist attractions, like Orlando FL or San Diego CA, you will probably pay more than if you stay in less touristy areas. We typically stay a little way out of the city because it is cheaper plus there is less traffic and noise. County and city parks are great because they usually have some hook-ups as well as low rates (some can be less than $10 and usually not more than $30). We have stayed in a variety of different campgrounds and RV parks and paid a variety of different rates, but on average I would say we pay around $30-$40 a night. We look for places that are conveniently located, have low rates, don’t charge extra for everything, and get pretty good reviews. It took us a while but we have a pretty good idea of what we are getting into now before we even pull in.
We have been in about half the states so far and are planning to see them all before we are done. In the states that we have stayed, we have been in a variety of places with our 29’ travel trailer. Now let me tell you about some of the different types of campgrounds we have stayed in during our travels.
Resorts- I will start by saying these tend to be more expensive, but they also typically have many amenities included. Their rates can vary anywhere from $30/night to $100 or more a night. The spaces are usually very close together with little to no privacy. They are also usually very clean with full hook-ups. They tend to have pools, playgrounds, game rooms, etc. These places will almost always let you get your mail forwarded to you. The laundry facilities at these resorts are nice, but like everything at resorts more expensive. For the most part these places don’t have a camping feel, no fire ring, no areas to enjoy being outside, and neighbors within an arm’s length. Resorts are not my favorite type of camp to stay in, but sometimes it’s nice to have the pool and get our mail. Plus you never know when you will find that awesome resort that has a fire ring or a hot tub without being too expensive.
Private/Family Owned- This type of campground is similar to a resort in the fact that they often provide full hook-ups and some amenities. This varies some, but you can find pools, playgrounds and many other amenities you might find at a resort. They don’t all offer the same things though. These can be nice because they often honor discounts for Good Sam members, military, seniors, and weekly or monthly rates too. We move a lot, but we occasionally stay a week and it’s nice to get a good rate when we do. The best weekly rate we have paid was $125 and the most was $215. The reason some places can have good weekly rates though is because they tend to have more permanent residents. This means people that live full time in their RV in one place. We thought this would deter us from some places when we started out, but we find that it really doesn’t matter. Everyone is just living their lives and aside from feeling a little bit like an outsider (because we are) no one cares what we are doing. These places are usually not as clean or well kept as resorts (not always), but we are only there for a week or less so we can live with it. They will also usually let you receive mail and are really friendly in the office. Since they are privately owned though the parks are all different and you never know what they will actually be like.
County/City/Regional Parks- Where we used to live there are not any parks like this that let RVers camp in them so we didn’t know they existed until we were on the road. These are small parks with a small number of spaces where they allow RVs to stay for a short amount of time. They are usually fairly inexpensive and provide limited amenities. We have even stayed in some that have full hook-ups and free Wi-Fi. If they have no sewer connection they provide a dump station. The sites are usually pretty close together with little privacy. These parks can be tricky to find and do not accept reservations. This means they are not typically very crowded. It is nice for us because they are usually near a park which our kids love. It’s harder to know what you are getting into with these places because it can be tricky to get much information about them sometimes. The rates are good though and they are perfect for short stays or over nighting.
State Parks- While we like to stay in state parks they really are different in every state. The rates can be anywhere in the range of $25 to $55/night. It can change depending on time of year, if you are a resident or not, if there is an event going on, and many other factors as well. They are often very family friendly and rustic. They provide fire rings, BBQ’s, hiking trails, fishing, boating, swimming, and many other activities. Obviously not all state parks provide all of these amenities, but this is just to get an idea of what they can be like. Most of them only provide partial hook-ups, but they almost always have a dump station and showers. They don’t offer any sort of discounts for length of stay, but they also limit the length of stay, which is usually 14-30 days. Most of them have a camp host to buy firewood from. Sometimes they are very woodsy which can make driving around and backing in difficult plus they can have sites that are length specific. We like that some state parks have a Junior Ranger program for the kids and usually at least some sort of playground. Surprisingly they are not always the cleanest sites either and the space between sites is different every time. They can get really busy on the weekends, but can be reserved online.
National Parks- Keep in mind that not all national parks have campsites that allow RVs. We like to stay in National parks that we visit because it allows us to be close to the visitor centers and hiking trails. They often have only partial or no hook-ups, but they provide a dump station, fresh water filling station, dumpsters, showers and bathrooms, and spacious sites with beautiful scenery. The rates on these can also vary quite a bit but usually stays under $50. They also do not offer length of stay discounts and limit length of stay to about 14 days. The sites are always clean and well kept. A Junior Ranger program is also offered here, but no playgrounds. During peak season they provide free ranger programs at night in some campgroundounds. This time of year also means they are very crowded especially on the weekends. It can be difficult to maneuver through these campgrounds and into some of the spaces because of trees and bushes. Everyone is different, but they are great for being close to everything national park!
Primitive/Dry Camping- This means no hook-ups and no amenities. This also means free or really cheap. Most of the time a dry camping site does not have a dumpster, fresh water or a dump station, some do provide some sort of bathroom, but not always. That means pack in, pack out (take your trash with you). These sites are often very private and secluded, but can be hard to get to. These can be some of the hardest to find though and turning down a road that isn’t really labeled while towing a trailer can be scary. It is also a little worrisome to leave your home in some strange place while you go exploring the area in your car. Add into that the extra bugs and you might think that these sites are horrible. Then the fireflies come out and the whole forest sparkles without a single sound of other humans and you will realize that this is camping. No lights, no cars, no people, and animals all over the place and best of all the price tag, or lack thereof. So plan ahead and bring what you need to these off the beaten path sites for some good old peace and quiet.
Boon Docking/Stealth Camping- When we did our mock up first month to get a budget in mind, we had boon docking listed regularly. We thought it would be great to cruise into a parking lot and stay for free. Well after a year of traveling we have never boon docked in a parking lot or rest stop. Two things made boon docking not our cup of tea, first that we have a travel trailer that requires the slide to extend to stay in. The other is our kids, which wouldn’t stop us per say except that we only like to travel 2-4 hours a day. Spending 20 hours hanging out in a parking lot just doesn’t sound very fun. Stealth camping is staying where you are not really supposed to camp, like in front of someone’s house that you don’t even know. How are we going to hide a twenty-nine foot trailer with three kids running around? We only mention these two forms of camping because people do both these forms of camping because they are free. If your rig is the right size and your mindset is good with being in a parking lot, then there is plenty of information on the web about this type of camping.
We have stayed in so many different campgrounds all over country. There are so many different places available to stay in when traveling in an RV and we are by far no experts, but we wanted to share some of our insights and things we have learned along the way. We recommend doing some research before you head out on the road and get familiar with what you are looking for in the way of amenities and locations because we know that what is important to our family may not be the same as what is important to yours. Even after being on the road for a year we still come across things we find surprising about these different camps. Things change too, so rates and amenities that were available to us, might not be now, you just never know. Places tend to get full on the weekends so be prepared, especially in the warmer climates. We often have no trouble finding sites during the weekdays which is why we like to show up mid-week and we try to arrive in the late afternoon just after checkout time.
Another type of place we have stayed that I didn’t mention is with family members. It has been a great part of our experience getting to see some family members that we hadn’t seen in a long time or maybe never even met. Staying in driveways or yards of friends and family is nice for so many reasons. I will just name a few which include it is free, we get to reconnect, we can do laundry, and we get to enjoy meals together. Our adventure has taken us to so many places that we never expected to be and we are grateful that seeing family has been included in it. If you have any great campgrounds you would like to share with us please leave us a comment about it we are always on the lookout for our next great home!
Here are all the pictures above with where they were taken