Why We Chose Thousand Trails
As we were considering becoming full-time nomads, we continued to run into a thorny financial problem. Namely how to keep our monthly expenses low enough to fit in our budget. We’re retired, and have a fixed income.
Our expense projections led us to believe that we could only afford to spend $600 per month for campground fees. But all our previous camping experiences indicated that campgrounds cost at least $30 per night, which comes to $900 a month. And that’s with discounts. In other words, we were over budget.
At first we thought we could make it work with boondocking and camp hosting. But that didn’t seem something we could depend on. Fortunately, we discovered Thousand Trails. With a membership, we could stay at any of 80+ campgrounds scattered across the country at no cost other than an membership fee of $600 per year.
Great deal. But we needed a membership to get the deal. And the more we looked into it, the more confused we became about what membership provided the best deal.
Over the years, Thousand Trails has sold lots of versions of their memberships, and the options can be a bit overwhelming. On the advice of RV Love, we checked out Campground Membership Outlet, which is a third party broker of resales, who works closely with Thousand Trails to handle the transfer.
RV Love recommended an Elite membership. It seemed a good fit for us, too. But even used it cost $2,850 plus a $750 transfer fee. $3,600 seemed daunting at first, but as we crunched the numbers, it started to make sense. So we bought it.
We treat the upfront cost as an expense we could amortize over 36 months, which is $100 a month ($3,600 ÷ 36 months). We count the annual fee as $50 a month ($600 ÷ 12 months). So our total monthly costs for the Elite membership is $150 for the first three years and $50 a month thereafter.
Of course, we don’t want to stay only at Thousand Trails. But we’re willing to stay there half the time, which frees up $450 a month from our $600 budget to spend on other campgrounds.
Here’s the breakdown: $150 for half a month at Thousand Trails plus $450 for the rest of the month everywhere else. After three years, we’ll have $50 for Thousand Trails and $550 for everywhere else.
We bought our membership in March 2015, and so far so good. It allows us the stay for up to three weeks per park and go directly from park to park. The exception is high season (Dec 15 to Mar 15) in Florida. We’re restricted to two weeks at a time, but there are three parks plus an overflow park all within a short day’s drive. So we just move around from park to park.
For instance during the first three months of 2017, we spent all but two weeks at Thousand Trails in Florida. It was a very cheap season, which let us save for future trips.
The parks aren’t without their problems. Some are run down. Others are quite nice. Some are in great locations, others not so much. People seem to either love them or hate them. And we understand completely.
But the fact remains that Thousand Trails has made it possible for us to be full-time nomads. And for that we are most grateful.