– Matt Colender
When I think of retiring and living on the road, I am filled with a sense of adventure and of freedom! I imagine Marcia and I having a planned campground for the night ahead and we are driving towards it with our small dog on the floor, in a cozy dog bed between us and my coffee full in the cup holder! We are headed to a place we can stay for 2 weeks or more before we move along to the next stop on the way! One step in a longer journey that will take us out and up through Yellowstone and to Tahoe to visit my best man, Tim, for a few weeks!
That’s the dream. The reality of that dream has a financial landscape and is full of logistical schedule points to offset frustration. That is why I wanted to write this one section. The path to ‘RV Nirvana’ is all based on having expectations meeting reality. If the experience doesn’t meet expectations, disappointment ensues.
So, what is my (and more importantly, Marcia’s) expectation on the road? Well, it is a drivable RV and a place to camp daily with water, electric and hopefully sewer. It’s a place that is safe and has a natural feel: grass, sand, moss, whatever. Not a parking lot for MOST of the time. Maybe a fire pit. We plan to stay for 2 to 3 weeks. We will want wifi, electricity for laptops and phones and a signal for satellite too. We will check out the local music scene on the weekends and possibly have a toad (or maybe Uber account?) and have burritos in parks with concerts. We might sign up for some local 5K’s. We will have our dog, so nights will often be at the camp cooking dinner and watching TV then taking the dog for a walk and looking at the moon and stars.
That’s OUR plan. That plan matches the budget of $4200-$4500 as outlined in “Article #1 Can I Afford It?” because we are planning to use a Campground Membership.
This may not be YOUR way. There are obviously many ways to do it – no right way, no wrong way. Let me count the ways 😊:
1. Mooch-docking: Free camping on family or friends land. This is a great way to spend quality time with family and friends. You don’t have to waste time driving back and forth to the campground. You don’t have to go back to let the dog out. You can sit outside in the morning and share coffee with your family/friends and end the evenings around a camp fire.
Note: This is also a great way to camp for that young family who are still working and trying to save money for their OWN land and setup.
2. Boondocking on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land or other open spaces. There is plenty of land across the country that you can drive in and boondock. Important to note that you must have your own resources: Solar or generator (and fuel) for power and food and water and sewage plans for this type of camping. There are many resources online for this type of camper.
3. Lot-Surfing: Many places allow you to stay on their parking lots. Walmart/Elks Club/Cracker Barrel/Cabela’s/Casinos These are places are one night way stations enroute to a better destination. Longer stays are not allowed but a one night stay can be very helpful if you’re just passing through.
4. Campground Memberships – This is what the majority of people depend on the most to save cost when camping or full timing.
5. Private Campgrounds – This can be anywhere from $35 to $75 a night. Great for people who don’t care to schedule too far out and just “go with it” and can afford it.
For my purposes, as a MIDDLE OF THE ROAD type camper, I am looking at Campground Memberships. And wow, there was a lot of info to review and digest!
The keys, for me, to understanding the campground membership comes down to two things:
- Cost per night
The cost per night is pretty straight forward and understandable. With campground memberships, you calculate upfront contract costs and then take yearly dues and put them in the monthly budget. You can divide these costs by the number of days in the system to find out your “Break Even” date.
The one Campground Membership that I most researched and that I would like to use for OUR planning purpose is Thousand Trails. I highly encourage any reader to do due diligence on all the other campground membership options. I focused on Thousand Trails so I want to vet out some nuances I found.
To me, it is all about scheduling. I’ll show you why:
In Thousand Trails, the entry point is the Zone Pass. People who get a Zone Pass for a certain region, such as the southeast that includes Florida, pay the least of any “contract” at Thousand Trails. They advertise that the Zone Pass holders can camp for free for $599 per year and $59 per additional Zone for the 5 Zones or The Whole Country for $835! But here’s the deal: you can camp for 14 consecutive days in the campgrounds, but then you have to stay out of the system for 7 days. OR if you move often, you can stay 4 days at a time in any TT campground and not have to go out of the system. Ok, sounds good.
Well here’s the real stickler: How far out can you schedule? 60 days.
It seems like a bait and switch, but I think that people get so wrapped up in the cost of the Zone Passes and how they can stay for free for 14 days or camp for 4 consecutively that they forget the schedule part!
For example, let’s say I have a Zone Pass and want to go to the best Thousand Trails park in Florida starting on January 25th for my birthday and I want to stay for 2 weeks with the family. We put our vacation time request in at work and I put it in my calendar to alert me 60 days before the date we want. I get slick and wake up in the middle of the night and try to schedule it at 12:01 AM on November 25th and guess what? I find they are ALL BOOKED.
Hmm. I try again using the dates just before. Again – ALL BOOKED. Then, after a little digging, I realize that all the upgraded memberships get a jump on Zone Passes when it comes to scheduling – from 90 to 210 days in advance. Even the “Standard” membership holders, which is just one level up from the Zone Pass, can book 90 days out! There is also the Elite, Platinum, Platinum Plus and VIP memberships that can schedule out as much as 210 days and allow 21 days in a park and you can go park to park with no time out!
The Zone Passes for $599 a year get out scheduled by these upgraded memberships in Florida in January and/or anywhere else in the country at any given time depending on location, dates and popularity – and this happens A LOT! But Duluth in January is open! Ha!
Undelivered expectation =Disappointment and Anger.
Now I start to look at the various Memberships:
A “New” Elite-type membership from Thousand Trails that you buy direct from them can cost close to $10,000 upfront, with annual dues billed separately. These “new” contracts can be bequeathed and can also be resold.
Campground Membership Outlet in Florida is a place that sells those “Used” contracts for a much lower price. Usually around $4,000 +/-upfront and yearly dues, but they can’t be bequeathed or resold. So, there it is.
For more info about the various memberships you can use to save money, check out the Memberships and Clubs post.
Back to OUR plan:
We want to be able to have the best scheduling window to go where we want to go, when we want to go. Marcia and I will look to get a USED Thousand Trails “Elite” or “Platinum” type membership from Kim or Chad at Campground Membership Outlet and pay the yearly dues, adding in the Trails Collection and possibly Encore.
That $4000-$5000 cost will be an upfront cost and will come out of the proceeds from selling the house and is captured in the budget shown the previous article. The annual dues are included in the monthly budget and fall within the $4200-$4500 range.
That being said, I do like the idea of trying out some Boondocking in Arizona and New Mexico as time progresses on the road. Who knows? We might like it better!
The key is to plan and have options.
- MAKE a plan.
- WORK your plan.
- DO your plan!!!
Consolidate your finances and run it through different scenarios to make sure you are set up to enjoy this awesome life on the road.
Begin by cleaning up your old 401k’s and consolidate under them under one umbrella with someone that you trust. I will be honored to be that safe haven for your planning.
Contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org set up a Zoom to talk!