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Cut RVing expenses by saving on camping fees

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High gas prices have increased the cost of RVing in recent times, forcing many RVers to find ways to save and dollar here and there. One way to save is obvious: cut down campground fees.

The average RV park these days charges from about $25 to $40 a night for a space. Public campgrounds -- those operated by the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Corps of Engineers, and state parks are typically half that price, and sometimes even far less.

There are plenty of "boondocking" places where the camping is free or nearly free. These spots almost never offer any utility hookups, but a self-contained RV can function pretty much normally for a day or two using 12-volt power and its onboard water supply (learn more about boondocking). Perhaps 100 small communities across the USA offer free or inexpensive RV stays in their city parks. The best resource for locating freebie and inexpensive places to stay in an RV is the popular website The best printed directory of campgrounds that cost $12 or less is Don Wright's Guide to Free Campgrounds, which comes in both Western and Eastern editions.

RVers who travel in the West can hole up for free for up to two weeks on Bureau of Land Management lands in Arizona and southern California. For less than a dollar a day they can stay for up to seven months in Long Term Visitor Areas on these lands. The most popular LTVAs are close to Quartzsite, Arizona.

Federal and state governments provide or sell discount passes to their various campgrounds. These may be annual passes, or passes for the disabled, seniors or veterans. Websites for these agencies provide information about their respective discounts.

RVers who plan to stay in private campgrounds, should join the Good Sam Club. With a Good Sam membership card in hand, RVers will automatically save 10% at most RV parks. Any RVer who does not join Good Sam but who stays at RV parks is tossing away money. The last time we checked a membership to Good Sam was $19 a year.

KOA operates hundreds of RV parks across the country and in the USA and Canada, and a KOA Value Card saves its holder 10 percent, which is significant because most KOAs charge between about $30 and $45, and sometimes more.

An excellent way to save money is by joining either the Happy Camper Club or Passport America, both of which offer half-price camping at more than 1,000 RV parks across the country. The campsites are available on a "space available" basis, but RVers who join these clubs (for about $50 a year), have little trouble getting their membership investment back, often many times over.

Another popular place to stay -- but not always a quiet place -- is at truck stops, nowadays often known as Travel Centers or Travel Plazas. The most famous of these is Flying J. Many of these businesses allow RVers to spend a night in their parking lot. The downside is that noise from big rig trucks is often present througout the night. The best resource for finding RV-friendly truck stops is the RVers Friend.

Perhaps the best deal in "camping" is provided by Wal-mart, where most stores allow an RVer in a self-contained RV to stay for a night or two at no charge. About 90 percent of all Wal-mart stores permit the policy. But if a store's parking lot is posted with "No overnight parking" signs, it's best to move on, although often these stores will look the other way. But if they don't, a 2 a.m. eviction is possible. When staying at Wal-mart, the rule is to pull off in a corner of the lot and blend in -- don't pull out awnings, lawn chairs or barbecues. The idea is to grab some sleep and then move on. Most RVers will inquire inside the store if it's okay to stay, and most times the reply will be yes. The Wal-mart Atlas lists Wal-marts across the USA  with driving directions to each and is a popular resource for RVers.

A good place to exchange information about free and inexpensive camping with other RV is in the reader forum at

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The Complete Book of Boondock RVing
Yearn to camp in the wild beside a babbling mountain brook or with a remote panoramic vista? This is the complete guide to camping without hookups (aka "dry camping").

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