Heath Padgett

RVE 0059: How to Negotiate Lower (or Free) Camping Fees

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A few things we talk about on this episode:

  • The introduction of mini episodes on the RV Entrepreneur
  • How to save hundreds of dollars on your monthly camping fees
  • Why you should be negotiate lower campground fees
  • Top three tips for using your unique skills to negotiate lower or free camping fees

Today is the first episode of what I’m calling mini-episodes on The RV Entrepreneur. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for awhile on the podcast and finally am getting around to launching them.

Essentially, mini episodes will be around 10 minutes in length and be aired in between regularly scheduled podcast interviews.

But first, why am I doing mini episodes?

I want the overall purpose of the podcast to stay the same, with the goal helping people you guys make the transition to full-time travel.

However, instead of interviews I’ll dedicate these mini episodes to more actionable advice. The interviews lend themselves really well for great conversation and stories where you can pull takeaways and value, so think of these mini episodes as more bite sized episodes with just the meat on them.

The episodes will be a mix of:

  • Any RV related, travel or business questions I answer that you guys can submit and ask me, either in our Facebook group at Make Money and RV or to my email — [email protected]
  • What I’ve learned while growing campgroundbooking and getting that business off the ground or while working with our video production clients from the road. So using ourselves as guinea pigs of sorts.
  • And lastly, I’ll use these mini episodes to dig into some more detailed subjects like budget travel, what kind of RV to pick, favorite apps we use to run our business on the road, how to make travel days less stressful, etc.

The mini episodes will still dig into the 3 primary areas of what this podcast has focused on from the beginning — travel, business, and the RV lifestyle.

How to Negotiate Lower (or Free) Camping Fees

Today I want to talk about how to negotiate lower (or free camping rates).  Obviously one of the biggest expenses while RVing is campground rates. One easy way to combat this is to boondock for long periods of time on BLM land or in national forests or in your friend’s driveway who doesn’t mind putting up with you and your RV for an extended stay.

But if driveway stays don’t appeal to you and maybe you’re not set up mentally or RV isn’t set up physically for long boondocking periods, I wanted to talk about a way to drastically decrease camping fees.

This is something I tried to do unsuccessfully around our second or third month of travel a few years ago. I had the bright idea that as two 23 year olds who were doing a little bit of blogging for ourselves and RV companies… I could easily just reach out to campgrounds and ask for a free stay. I told them about our Hourly America project and a couple of the companies we had written for… and I fired out a few emails to various campground along our route.

All of zero got back to me.

Looking back, I’m not surprised at all. 1) I don’t even think I gave them a clear deliverable that I was going to provide them and 2) I made the mistake of just reaching out to them over email.

Either way, my first attempt to try and reduce our camping fees was unsuccessful.

Yet, this past fall we were able to secure a few free months of lodging at a campground in the San Marcos area in exchange for a video, as well as multiple other stays along our route in exchange for providing some type of service — either video, providing blog posts about the campground, or a few social media posts.

Granted, Alyssa and I have this podcast, a Facebook group with over 5k people in it, and a blog that reaches tens of thousands of people a month so you might be saying, “easy for you to say because you have leverage, social proof, etc.” And you would be right.

So I’ll take Alyssa and myself out of the picture.

We have met many other travelers who have done something similar along their routes. They have been able to negotiate a few free nights (or longer) at campgrounds in exchange for bartering services with them.

One case in point is a guy we met at our conference named Ron. Ron just hit the road a few weeks ago, has no online following, no connections with RV companies, no podcast or anything. But Ron does have videography skills. After staying at our campground for a couple days and befriending the owners, he walked up to the front of the office and asked if he could make a nice little “about video” of the owners in exchange for a few more nights at their park.

They said yes.

Rich, another guest I’ve had on this podcast used to bring campgrounds on as web clients and then spend periods of time at their park at a discounts or free rate while also being paid for the website.

The bottom line is this: Campgrounds, like any business, need to attract customers in order to stay in business and make money. If you have a skill that can help them, whether it’s video, web design, muscle to help them move a heavy pile of wood, or anything else — you can leverage that into a mutual exchange of services. You leverage one of your skills to help them succeed and in return, they give you a discount for you lodging.

The most known and talked about version of this is with workamping, but some workamping jobs require 30-40 hours of work per week in exchange for no pay and just a free campsite. I’m talking about leveraging your most valuable skills in order to help the campground succeed or be better.

Sure, Alyssa and I could workamp and technically get free lodging, but a video we helped produce for that campground in San Marcos has been viewed over 80,000 times on Facebook and you can see people tagging their friends who want to visit that campground… which means those free months of lodging helped them attract more people to their campground through our video — which feels great.

If you want to try and negotiate a lower (or free) camping fee at a campground, here are a few things I’ve learned in the short period of time we’ve been bartering services with campgrounds:

  1. Like any client, don’t pick one you don’t want to work with. I know this goes without saying, but if a campground has terrible online reviews and it looks like the owners don’t care about their park or treat their customers well… they probably won’t treat you well. Another way to say this is that if you wouldn’t stay at the park normally, don’t try to work with them.
  2. If you find a park you think you want to work with, go ahead and make reservations & plan to pay them for your stay. Wait, what? Wasn’t the whole point to try and get discounted or free lodging? Yes, but something I’ve learned about this industry is that it’s a relationship driven industry… across the board. You’re 10x more likely to succeed in pitching your services to a campground if you ask them in person. Plus, this gives you a chance to check out their facilities & park and get to know them in person to make sure YOU actually want to work with them on some level.
  3. Make sure your services are actually going to be valuable for them. The whole point is to do something for the campground that will provide something of value. If we were trying to pitch a campground on doing a video for their park and I researched them before arriving only to find out someone had already done this for them… I wouldn’t pitch them again (unless I felt ours would be better or different somehow), as they have received the services I wanted to provide. I’d rather just pay for my spot than pitching them something that benefits me more than them.

The big reason I’m enjoying doing some work with campgrounds while we’re on road is that 1) it helps subsidize the cost of our travel and 2) we get to further hone our video skills and become better videographers and lastly.

Thanks for Listening!

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