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We jumped into full-timing with little knowledge or experience in the RV world. Our goal was not to be RVers. Our goal was to visit all fifty states. Turns out, buying an RV was the most affordable way to make this happen. And so we bought a fixer-upper off of Craigslist, planned our route, and took off four days after our wedding.
Because it took us so long to pack up the RV and hit the road on that first day, we knew we wouldn’t end up arriving at a campground until after camp offices closed at five pm. Instantly we were faced with an unforeseen problem: How do you check into a campground if there is no one there?
Before we left Texas to head west, we joined only one RV membership at the suggestion of a friend: Passport America. We had no idea how to use it or how it all worked.
I found a campground near our destination using Passport America’s app and gave them a call. The woman in the office told me to find any open site and set up camp for the night. She said to drop by in the morning after the office opened and pay for our stay. We were shocked by this for a few reasons:
- She wasn’t worried at all about us not paying.
- She accepted our Passport America discount (50% off) without asking for a member number.
- This campground with wifi, a heated pool, and a hot tub cost $19.
Instantly, I fell in love with Passport America. (Really I’ll fall in love with any campground that offers a hot tub).
I’m all about saving money on the road, so RV memberships are high on my list of things worth paying for each year. In this post, I’ll break down the most popular five RV memberships, their benefits, how much they cost, and if I think they are worth it.
The Top Five RV Memberships (based on popularity)
Good Sam Club
Good Sam Club is Good Sam’s reward program (a separate fee from their insurance, roadside assistance, and any other services).
Nugget RV Park in St. Regis, Montana
- 10% off camping fees at participating campgrounds
- Over 2,100 participating campgrounds
- Up to 30% savings at Camping World
- 3¢ off the gallon at Pilot and Flying J
- $27 annually
- $50 for two years
- $69 for three years
The Problem with Good Sam
Good Sam is one of those companies people love to talk crap about. This is especially true with RV park owners. As a user, I’m grateful that most RV parks right off the highway are part of Good Sam. The discount isn’t much, but having the little Good Sam icon on their RV park makes me more likely to choose that park over other nearby campgrounds.
However, here’s what I’ve heard from park owners: RV park owners pay thousands of dollars to be listed on Good Sam Club’s website and in their phone book of listings. Not even for big ads promoting the park, just to have their name as part of the database. That’s RIDICULOUS amounts of money parks are conned into paying–especially since most RVers do not go to GoodSamClub.com/travel/campgroundsandrvparks to search for a place to stay.
Here’s where it gets worse: GS assigns a three-part ranking to every participating park. It rates the facilities, the restrooms, and the appeal. After talking to multiple RV park owners, these numbers directly correlate to how much the RV park pays Good Sam for advertising.
Take the ratings at a recent park we visited, for example:
Good Sam says this park should be super awesome, but the reviews by actual RVers are terrible. Basically, Good Sam is the Yelp of the RV world.
Oh, my other problem with Good Sam: they send you mail. Like, a TON of mail. All of which are trying to upsell you on their other services–even services you already use. They send me mail at least once a week trying to sell me products of theirs that I already own and trying to convince me to buy more. SO ANNOYING.
Is Good Sam Club worth it?
If the average price of an RV park is $35, you save $3.50 per night with Good Sam. This means you’ll need to use your GS membership discount for at least a week of camping to make back your investment before you actually start saving money.
We used our Good Sam discount for less than ten nights this past summer–most notably for a week-long stay at Nugget RV Park. While we loved this particular RV park and have stayed here twice after leaving Glacier National Park, when it comes to saving money on the road, Good Sam isn’t a great investment.
We’ve used Good Sam for nearly three years and I highly doubt it’s saved us more than $5 in that time frame. The 10% discount isn’t enough to make a huge difference. (However, I definitely recommend Good Sam’s Roadside Assistance which has saved us hundreds of dollars.)
Passport America is the 50% Discount Camping Club.
- 50% off camping fees at participating campgrounds
- Nearly 2,000 participating campgrounds
- Easy-to-use mobile app
- Affiliate referral program
- $44 annually
- $79 for two years
- $109 for three years
This RV park on the Arizona-California border has quickly stolen my heart. Hammocks on the river? Does life get any better? (Actually it does because this is a Passport America park so it only costs $20 plus they have a pool and hot tub and surprisingly decent wifi). Excuse me while I convince @heathpadgett that we should stay a few days and then go nap in this hammock.
Arizona Oasis RV Park off I-10 on the AZ-CA border
The Problem with Passport America
Passport America parks have a reputation for not being very nice. We’ve definitely stayed at some trashy $12 parking lots that call themselves RV parks. However, we’ve also stayed at a bunch of RV resorts with pools, hot tubs, good wifi, game rooms, and all the perks that come with resort RV parks. The good thing about Passport America is that you can really easily view amenities. You cannot, however, see real reviews like you can with Good Sam.
Here’s Passport America’s webpage for Valencia Travel Village, the RV park where we always stay when we visit LA:
I can easily see on their website (or on their app) that this park has a pool, hot tub, golf, tennis, a playground, and more. They even offer security, so I know this will be nicer than most RV parks out there. If you pay attention to these icons, you can get a good idea of what an RV park will be like before you arrive. But again, PA does not have any reviews or any way to directly read real customer reviews to give you a better sense of what the RV park is like.
Is Passport America worth it?
Passport America pays for itself in two nights, or even with one use if you use it in California where it pays for itself pretty much instantly. Hands down, every single RVer should join Passport America. We’ve saved hundreds of dollars over the past 2+ years because of PA.
But you shouldn’t just join Passport America to save money. PA is also a great way to make money on the road.
Passport America offers $10 affiliate commissions for all referrals. So, if you use my link to sign up for Passport America, I earn $10 for referring you. For Heath and I, this is a great way for us to promote a product we use constantly and also make a little extra cash. Plus, if you sign up a campground for Passport America, you can earn up to $100 for the referral (but Heath and I have never done this).
If you want join Passport America and start saving money on camping fees, I’d be over the moon if you used our referral link here.
Website: https://www.escapees.com/ (Affiliate link)
Escapees RV Club is a support network for Rvers.
- Support network with answers to basic RVer questions
- Travel guides
- Job center for finding work on the road
- Mail service & domicile options (additional fee)
- $850 for lifetime
The Problem with Escapees
I joined Escapees thinking that it was another RV park discount program. They do have some RV parks that offer Escapees members discounts, but Escapees is more about community and life on the road than about saving money.
If you’re looking for another discount program, this is not the place to look. Here’s what their website says: There are nineteen Escapees parks located from Washington State to Florida with unique options and nearly 1,000 commercial RV parks that offer a 15-50% discount.
However, I couldn’t easily find a place where these RV parks are listed and found this confusing.
Is Escapees worth it?
Finding community and connecting to other RVers on the road is not easy. We are often asked how to meet other RVers and how to combat loneliness on the road.
Escapees offers meet-ups and rallies all across the country as a way to help connect RVers. There are 11 rallies being hosted this month alone. Here’s a picture from our friend Melanie (who runs Escapees) from their last big rally at the annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.
Plus, they have hundreds of articles and videos on their website to answer all of your RV-related questions–which is great for new RVers. This is especially helpful when it comes to needing quick maintenance advice you can trust.
If you are new to RVing, Escapees is a great membership for helping you learn more about the ins and outs of RVing and connect with other full-timers.
Plus, they also have “Xcapers” for younguns like Heath and I. If you’re a “young” RVer (basically if you’re under 50, you’re young) then this is another great way to meet RVers who are not retirees. No offense retirees, but it’s nice to meet working-age RVers too 🙂
*If you join Escapees, will you let them know we referred you? When signing up, just choose “Heath and Alyssa Padgett” from the drop down menu.
You can snag an Escapees membership here.
This post is adapted from my latest book, A Beginner’s Guide to Living in an RV: Everything I Wish I Knew Before Full-time RVing Across America.
This book answers all your full-time RVing questions, from how to get mail and internet on the road to how to pick the right RV for you.
Thousand Trails offers a slightly different kind of membership club. For a larger upfront fee, you can camp without charge for up to 14 or 30 days at a time (depending on the level of membership you purchase) at one of the participating Thousand Trails campgrounds.
- 86 campgrounds in five “zones” across the country
- “Free” camping in your selected zone
- $545 annually
The Problem with Thousand Trails
Just to upfront here: I’ve never heard a good thing about Thousand Trails. I’ve heard it can difficult to work with, confusing, poor customer service, and not great parks, since these parks are more designed for families with kids.
Is Thousand Trails worth it?
Probably not. The idea behind Thousand Trails is awesome. You pay an annual fee, you can at their locations for free all year, you save thousands of dollars on lodging and save time researching campgrounds.
It sounds like a great way to save money, and if the company was more well-run, then it might be. However, I do not recommend buying Thousand Trails, just based on the reviews. Not worth the hassle!
Here is more in depth review on Thousand Trails from some friends at Ditching Surburbia who we know and trust.
Harvest Hosts is a unique RV membership that allows campers to park their RV for free (for one night) at select wineries, vineyards, breweries, farms and museums.
- One free night of camping
- Good way to meet locals
- 500+ locations
- $40 annually
The Problem with Harvest Hosts
When you’re parking at HH sites, you likely won’t have hookups of any kind. Plus, in accordance with Harvest Hosts setup, participating business owners typically will only allow you to stay for one night.
However, I know from lots of friends that the nicer you are (and the more wine, beer, etc. you buy), the more likely it is that you’ll be allowed to stay longer.
Is Harvest Hosts worth it?
In one night, Harvest Hosts theoretically pays for itself.
However, the idea behind HH is that you camp for free (saving yourself at least $35) in exchange for purchasing products. Since most participating HH businesses are wineries or breweries, this is a great way to immerse yourself in the local area and try local flavors. However, buying a couple of bottles of wine will easily run you more than the cost of a campsite.
For saving money, this isn’t the best membership. However, for meeting people, exploring a local area, and having a good night of food and drink, HH is awesome! Plus, with HH you can escape from being in a parking lot surrounded by other RVers and actually park somewhere with space and a view. Personally, this is my favorite membership!
As far as RV memberships go, Heath and I actively use Passport America, Harvest Hosts, and Good Sam (in that order). Combined, these memberships have saved us thousands of dollars and with such low price tags, I recommend them all!