RV'ing on a budget

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shalbleib

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Dec 22, 2018
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1
I've been dreaming of an escape for a while now. Doing a little research first. My main question is if you want to stay on the road for a lengthy amount of time (months, a year or so), what's the most affordable way to keep moving? Are there places you can park overnight without fees? I had heard WalMart allows you to park in their parking lots. I have dogs so I'd be more interested in grassy areas or parks preferably. Do any public state parks allow overnight parking? I live in a fairly urban city and they don't here. Just trying to figure out places to stay that don't cost $20-50 a night.

And I'm sure this has been discussed before. I did a quick search and didn't see what I was looking for, but if it's already on here and someone can post a link that would be great.

Thx in advance!
 

zulu

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Dec 13, 2011
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shalbleib said:
I've been dreaming of an escape for a while now. Doing a little research first. My main question is if you want to stay on the road for a lengthy amount of time (months, a year or so), what's the most affordable way to keep moving? Are there places you can park overnight without fees? Do any public state parks allow overnight parking?
Typically, the longer you stay at a place, the cheaper the rate.

Yes, there are places (besides Walmart) where you can boondock for free or very little, but you'll have no electrical, water, or sewer hookups.

State parks with campgrounds allow overnight camping, but usually only allow limited stays -- like a few weeks at a time.


shalbleib said:
Just trying to figure out places to stay that don't cost $20-50 a night.
First, I suggest that you figure out a budget of your expected monthly expenses -- food, gas, insurance, lodging, etc.

Next, go to the Escapees web site (http://www.rvnetwork.com). There are folks there like you.
 

Isaac-1

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Dec 3, 2016
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SW Louisiana
This really depends on where you live, there are a number of federal land options (BLM, and National Forest land) where you can camp off grid for free or minimal charges, though there are some restrictions, like having to move at least X miles every 14 days.  Generally you need to get a permit at the local field offices for this.  Campgrounds with water and electric services generally cost money, though I have seen a few city parks with free for the first night or make donation systems, these are usually in out of the way towns in the western states.  There are web sites that help you find these free, and low cost camping options, one is called Ultimate Campgrounds.  As to the Wal-Mart option, many Wal-Marts will allow overnight stays for RV'ers in transit, though this is a benefit that we may be slowly (or not so slowly) loosing due to people abusing it and turning Wal-Mart parking lots into homeless camps.

In addition to this there are discount clubs like Passport America, or buy in programs like Thousand Trails that provide lower cost options, though often with some restriction, generally keeping nightly rates down to under $20 per night.

Having said all that traveling in an RV is not cheap, camping expense is just a small part of it, there is also RV maintenance, fuel cost (it takes a lot of fuel to drag a house around), etc.  Generally travel trailers are the cheapest RV's to buy, own and operate assuming you have an adequate tow vehicle.
 

Larry N.

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May 26, 2010
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Note, too, that state parks with campgrounds often have, in addition to a camping fee, also a daily fee (or annual pass), so depending on the state and the park, $5 to $10 (maybe a bit more some places) for the daily fee plus $7 or $8 to $??? per night. Some have full hookups but electric only is more common, and many have no hookups. Usually there's a water faucet in the general area that you can use to fill a bucket or, with a long enough hose, fill your fresh water tank, but not designed for leaving it hooked up (others need it too). The 14 day limit per stay, as mentioned above, is also very common for both state and national parks. Often there'll be restrooms, some flushing and some pit style.

Also, weekends in these parks (Fri nite and Sat nite, especially) plus holidays often require reservations well in advance, since they're extremely popular and are usually filled up within the first day or two that reservations are available (often 6 months or more in advance). Weekdays (Sun nite thru Thu note) and off season, for those that remain open then , will be easier to find availability on short notice.

And as others have said above, the camping fees are often the least expensive part of RVing. For occasional use it's often cheaper to stay in hotels, though that would be a problem for longer terms such as you mentioned.

And finally, the practicality of boondocking or otherwise is dependent on the specific RV you are using, too. Some are more suitable for one thing than another.
 

SpencerPJ

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Nov 1, 2017
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Midwest
shalbleib said:
I've been dreaming of an escape for a while now.
I hope that Dream does not imply that living in an RV might be cheap.  As you do your research, you will be enlightened, that most will agree, the the RV life actually is pretty darn expensive.  There are some that have mastered a frugal lifestyle, and do it well.  Most of them are pretty handy to do their own repairs, and stay at times in places that I wouldn't.
 

MikeFromMesa

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Jul 13, 2014
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Different states have different park policies.

New Mexico State campgrounds are very nice and very inexpensive. The ones we have stayed at were $14/night with hookups and $10/night without.

Texas sells a yearly pass (the last time I bought one it was $70) and this allows you to camp without paying the park entry fee, which I believe is $10, so you pay only the camping fee and not the camping + entry fee.

BLM land in places like Arizona may offer you free camping or a flat fee ($40 the last time I checked) for an extended stay of (I think) 2 weeks.

If you are a senior you can get the National Park Pass which also allows you to camp at National Forest campgrounds for half price. We do this frequently and nightly fees can be very reasonable for very nice campgrounds. The senior pass is a lifetime pass, so you pay only once. If you are not a senior I believe there is a similar yearly pass.

The point is that different states, the US government and counties and cities all have different policies and it would be a good idea to check them out. You will probably find some wonderful bargains in beautiful places. We have.
 

NMDriver

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Dec 3, 2018
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106
As others have said you can save some on spaces but not on fuel, propane, repairs, insurance, etc. There are commercial places here in the Southwest where the monthly fees are less than $300 plus electricity.  They are not resorts but if you are just looking to park for a season they will suffice. Casinos are another option for low cost space rental besides WalMart and similar big box stores.

In the short term you may even avoid most of the more expensive repairs every RV needs in the long run like Refrigerators, roofs, and leaks of all kinds. If you are only planning to live in it for a year and then sell it you may even break even on the unit, if you get a bargain and keep it looking good. 

RVs seems to be like boats the longer you own one the more it costs, still it is a fun way to spend money.
 

grashley

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Western Kentucky
Welcome to the Forum!

RV life is NOT cheap, or cheaper than living in a fixed building.  It DOES allow you to travel and see many things while taking your home with you.

There are VERY FEW truly free places to camp.  Wal Mart is one, but is for overnight stays ONLY.  Same for interstate rest areas.  They provide no power, water, and usually no dump stations.  Some BLM areas in the west are nearly free, as mentioned above, but offer no amenities.  You will need a way to keep batteries charged at a minimum.  This can be solar or a generator.  You will also need a water supply to periodically fill your tank and a dump station.  These are rarely "free".

Some less expensive camping options include local, state and national parks and COE campgrounds.  They are often $20 or less per night, and usually provide electric hookups.  Most in the eastern US will have water available, but not necessarily at your camp site, and have dump stations.  No charge other than the nightly fees.  They often have time limits, too.  Usually 14 days.

If you want full hookups of electric, water and sewer, you will likely need privately owned campgrounds.  They range from $20 per night in a gravel parking lot to beautiful grounds with many nice amenities and prices to match.  You can often get weekly or monthly price discounts.  Most start at $40 per night.

Hope this information helps.
 

rbrdriver

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May 23, 2016
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327
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Visalia, CA
you do have the LTVA area by Quartzsite, AZ where you pay $180 for 7 months (September to April) and you do have access to water and dump stations, but you do need to be set up for boondocking, i.e. with generator, solar panels, extra batteries, etc.  8)
 

Lou Schneider

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Mar 14, 2005
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Not just Quartzsite, the same $40 for 2 weeks or $180 for the season pass lets you stay in any or all of the 6 other LTVAs near Yuma, the Imperial Valley (Holtville/El Centro) and Blythe, CA.  You can go from one area to another as you please on a single pass.

Like rbrdriver said, this is self-contained boondock camping.  The differences between the 14 day free areas and LTVAs in the desert southwest is you have to move a certain distance (20-30 miles) every 14 days in the free areas while you can stay as long as you want, up to the full 7 month season, in the LTVAs.  The LTVAs also have water, dump and trash stations within the LTVAs while you'll likely have to pay for these services in towns near the 14 day free areas.

Many people stay in the desert southwest throughout the winter months.  You get nice weather while most of the country is digging out from snow and below freezing temperatures.  If you stay in the LTVAs or in the free 14 day free areas, your camping costs are low to non-existent during this time so you have more money to spend during the rest of the year.  This is especially true if you're retired and on a fixed income from Social Security, etc.  If you spend little or nothing to camp during 1/3 to 1/2 of the year, you have that much more you can spend the rest of the time.

https://freecampsites.net/blm-ltvas/

 

johnaye

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Aug 6, 2016
Posts
273
Consider a Passport America membership.  You can find lots of discounted campgrounds, but many have restrictions on use.  Generally, the longer you stay the cheaper the daily rate equivalent.
 
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