As fulltime-traveling RVers on a budget, we’ve found that RV park fees can be a financial drain. And, all too often, the experience lacks nature and character. In this article we’ll share the methods and tools we use to find free (or cheap) camping that also inspires the soul!
There’s No Such Thing as a Free Campsite
The adage remains true and there is an expense to free camping.
Most free camping opportunities don’t have hookups. This means you’ll have to produce your energy, supply your water, and contain your waste. Be prepared – modifying your RV for dry camping can lead to a few upfront investments.
Our free camping methods also include membership programs, costing us about $100 yearly in fees.
BLM land is amazing. It stands for Bureau of Land Management, and is generally, large expanses of nature with little to no developments. On BLM land you’ll find primitive sites, possibly with a fire ring, or you can create your own site. However, it’s important to leave no trace.
There’s no comprehensive list of BLM land, but there are some ever-growing websites that really help us find great spots.
This is our go-to when hunting BLM land. It’s a huge, user generated database of free campsites, and is moderated for quality assurance.
Pros: It’s the largest collection of sites, with an active community reviewing the grounds.
Cons: The website is bulky, and sometimes the reviews are short and vague.
Campendium is much newer than freecampsites and doesn’t currently compete with its database. However, the community is made up of full-time RV travelers and provides amazing, in-depth reviews.
Pros: The website is sleek & modern and the reviews are amazing. They include cell service ratings for each site and allow contributors to link corresponding blog posts.
Cons: In order to view photos, you must create an account. It’s not a huge deal, but it annoyed me at first.
AllStays Premium App
This app costs $9.95, but its well worth it. AllStays provides a user-friendly map with the most comprehensive camping options. It includes free campsites, paid campsites, state & national parks, rest areas, truck stops, overnight parking, and so much more.
Don’t let all those options intimidate you – the filtering capabilities of the app are on point. We can search for free camping on a road with little elevation change, overnight camping near a dump station, and thousands of other filtering combinations.
Pros: So much great information!
Cons: An initial investment of ten bucks.
Membership Programs for Free Camping
Paying a membership fee for free camping seems counter-intuitive, but these are a few of the programs that have saved us lots of money.
Harvest Hosts provides a collection of farm, vineyards, and museums that allow members to camp on their property for a night or two free of charge. We enjoy these spots, not only for the price, but because they offer unique experiences.
The membership costs $44 a year.
Boondockers Welcome is a yard-share program. Members across the nation allow RVers to boondock on their property. Every member has different rules for length of stay, allowing pets, and use of generators. However, some members offer water & electric free of charge.
The membership costs $25 a year.
When you want to camp at a location that doesn’t offer free camping options, get creative! Do some research on local campgrounds, find the ones that click with your style, and call them up offering your services.
Do you create websites, do handy-work, or offer any other skill? Let them know you’ll be in the area for a week and offer a trade of services.
We’ve received tons of free camping using this method. It feels a little vulnerable putting yourself out there to be rejected, but the payoff is great. With every “yes” we’ve received, we’ve gained confidence and free camping!
When We Have to Pay
There are many times when we have to, or even want to, pay for camping. Doing laundry, taking a long hot shower, dumping our tanks, or visiting a specific area are all reasons we pay to camp.
Our Passport America membership has saved us more money than all of our memberships combined. It offers a huge network of campgrounds that offer members half-price camping.
We soaked in hot springs at high-end RV resorts for half the price – saving over $300 in just two weeks.
There are rules for use specific to each campground, but for travelers with a loose schedule, these rules haven’t been limiting.
Life on the road is full of energy & thoughtfulness, and we learn more about ourselves each day. We’ve discovered that refining our methods and focusing positive energy on our objectives leads to great results. This is true even when it comes to finding free camping.
Failure is the best teacher, so don’t get too discouraged. We’ve pulled into many free campsites that were total busts and left us scurrying late in the afternoon to find a spot to sleep.
See y’all out on the open road!
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