This article is not to be an answer to everyone’s needs. It is how we have chosen to travel around the country and planning our stops to make the most of our money. Having discussed various methods on Facebook, I know this can be a hot topic. Take it as one method to travel around this great land.
When we decided to retire and hit the road, I started researching the cheapest methods to visit various places. We wanted to visit all the states. We wanted to have the comforts we had grown accustomed to and live within our budget.
I am retired military and 62 years old. Our income is slightly over $3000 a month. We have money in the bank and are debt free. Planning for retirement started about a year before we hit the road in June 2014.
For about 12 years we have lived in various RV including 2 fifth wheels, a travel trailer and now a motor home. Initially, we were going to use the fifth wheel as our retirement home and take an embroidery business with us as an extra income. However, we decided to sell the business and sold the fifth wheel to our daughter. At the time we started planning for our retirement trip we owned a 2001 Dodge Ram 3500 Diesel Dually and a 2004 Prowler Travel Trailer. The motor home came into our lives in September 2013 and we sold the truck and travel trailer prior to hitting the road.
Since parks (state and federal) and boon-docking are not within our chosen lifestyle, we needed to find a way to camp cheap. Our first membership was Passport America. Passport America is a discount club. Your rate is up to 50% off the campground rate for at least one night. We purchased the lifetime membership to get the best deal and keep our monthly expenses low once we started traveling. Both of us worked at the time so the expense was not an issue. Next we looked into the campground memberships. We had campground memberships in the past but couldn’t use them to the extent that would have made them worthwhile. But we were familiar with the concept and being full-time knew that we could get our moneys worth with the proper plan.
Thousand Trails (Encore now) always had nice parks so I researched some of the memberships. Figured out we wanted an Elite membership so we could go from resort to resort without having to stay ‘out of the system’ for any period of time. Plus the Elite membership offered 3 weeks of camping per resort. I started searching online for used memberships and found an Elite Basic membership for $2400 including the transfer fee. It entitled us to 21 days resort to resort with a $540 annual maintenance fee. As a ‘used’ membership we did not get ‘all’ of the benefits, but this met our requirements and saved us a lot of money.
As part of the Elite membership we were also able to purchase an RPI Gold membership which allows us to stay in any RPI campground for $10 per night.
These three programs make up the majority of our locations. I also have Good Sams and am retired military so we can stay at military famcamps when and where available.
We knew we wanted to change our state of residence and had researched it many years ago when we first started living in our RV. TX, FL and SD are the three most RV friendly states. Researching the insurance, registrations, inspections, taxes etc will verify that. I chose SD due to the insurance cost and no vehicle inspection requirements. Alternative Resources (http://www.alternativeresources.net/) offers the mail box and other services that you will need while on the road. South Dakota vehicle registration can be done over the web or you can have Alternative Resources do it for you. Drivers Licenses must be done in person, so that will be our first trip. To give you an idea on the cost savings, in PA our motor home insurance with Progressive as full-timers was over $3200 a year, in SD it is $975.
With all of this planning out of the way it was time to plan a trip to SD. I knew we were leaving in July and had to return by Oct (Daisy’s birthday). So I started with Google to plan a trip from Philadelphia, PA to Sioux Falls, SD. Books with campgrounds listings for Passport America, RPI, and Thousand Trails were opened, a long with maps and Google was running. I figured that the most I would drive per day was 300 miles and that I didn’t want to drive straight through. We were retired after all and wanted to see the country not the roadside signs.
3 days later I had completed the planning. Yes, 3 days of planning. Looking at the map figuring out which way to go, then see if any free campgrounds (Thousand Trails) where in the area for the end of the day stop. If not was there any RPI parks, if not, any Passport America parks, etc. Then I had to check to see if the motor home would be able to go there (our height is 12 ft 8 inches). Call the campground to see if they 50 amp service, sewer, water and space for a 39 ft motor home. If all worked out ok, determine when to make the reservations and the cost of fuel and camping. It was very stressful process. Along some Facebook to the rescue.
I figured there had to be a better way, so off to Facebook to find an answer. I asked people how they plan their trips. I got the normal response of ‘I don’t plan, we just go until we feel like stopping’ answers. But someone posted about RV Trip Wizard. Research the site and signed up.
Redid the trip I planned out over 3 days in just a couple of hours (learning curve included) and saved over $300 dollars in the process. RV Trip Wizard found campgrounds that were cheaper, closer to my route and told me about road hazards I hadn’t found. In addition, it kept track of expenses and could be exported to my GPS and Excel Spreadsheet.
For those of you who like to have an idea of where you are going next, I would recommend RV Trip Wizard (http://rvtripwizard.com/)