The longer we live this full-time traveling lifestyle, the more we realize that our preferred campground is more like what we left in Osceola – national/state/county parks and forests that may boast fewer amenities but that offer more nature and open spaces. We found this to be true when we traveled in 2012 as well. So our hearts are in that style of camping, and we will continue to do it regularly for the good of our souls. But for the good of our budget, we will stay as much as possible in the Thousand Trails system.
What is Thousand Trails?
Thousand Trails is a nationwide campground network. They offer different types of memberships, and your stay is free when you stay at a campground covered by your membership. Memberships range from Zone Passes (the country is broken down into 5 different zones) to Elite Connections, and each has its own set of rules and limitations. Thousand Trails campgrounds are not found in every state, but for people who camp often on the East or West Coast, the South or the Midwest, membership can offer a lot of benefits and save a lot of money.
Why we Chose the Membership we Did
We initially considered zone passes for the Northeast and Southeast zones, since we were planning to be within those zones for most of our first year on the road. Compared with paying per night at campgrounds, this would undoubtedly have saved us money. But there were a number of restrictions in terms of how many nights we could stay in the system before we needed to be out of it for a certain period of time. Only the first 30 nights were completely free with a zone pass and after that there was a small charge for electricity. These disadvantages led us to consider other types of memberships.
Strangely, the Thousand Trails website only promotes zone passes and it isn’t easy to find information about their other options. But Staffan is a diligent researcher, and found out about Elite and Elite Connections memberships. These have a rather significant one-time buy in and then annual dues for as long as you own the membership. The cost of purchasing one of these memberships was prohibitive, until we found out about purchasing used memberships.
There is a whole list of rules about how used memberships can be bought and sold, and if you’re interested, we’d be happy to share more about what we’ve learned (just drop us a line in the comments). It’s complicated enough that it’s typically done through a broker and that’s how we purchased our membership. We were initially looking for an Elite membership, which usually can’t be resold if purchased used, but jumped on an opportunity to purchase a used Elite Connections membership that cost a little more but can be resold as an Elite membership. There are no limits on our number of free nights and while we can’t stay at any one campground for more than 3 weeks at a time, we don’t have any required time out of the system. We can move directly to another Thousand Trails campground.
How it works
After our initial investment, which we considered part of our start-up costs at the same time as we bought our trailer and our tow vehicle, our annual dues are under $600. As long as we choose to stay within the Thousand Trails (TT) network, we don’t have any other costs for housing or utilities. We will, of course, want to travel to places where TT doesn’t have any properties, so this is not our entire housing budget for the year. But it could be, and that is a fall-back option for us going forward as our long-term income solution is still uncertain.
Practically, we decide where we want to be and when and then we check on the website for availability. If there is a site available, we book it with just a few clicks. If not, we may need to adjust our dates or choose another location. When we plan far enough in advance, it usually isn’t a problem. Our membership allows us to book up to 210 days in advance though most memberships allow 180 days. But we have trouble imagining that we’ll ever be planned that far in advance. Once we’ve made reservations, if our plans change, we can usually cancel or adjust as needed without fees.
The properties are definitely not all created equal, and some have certainly been more pleasant stays than others, but we use it when we can to help keep our costs down. We’ve used it for about 30 nights so far, and if you consider that a typical campground night costs $30 or more, it was a worthwhile investment for us.
More about Three Flags
During our stay at Three Flags, we were able to meet other Full-time Families for the first time. Thousand Trails memberships are really popular among FtF members, but this was the first chance we had to meet up with other families. Our day at Three Flags became a pattern that we have often repeated. We call it “School and Pool” and it is what it sounds like. School before lunch, pool after lunch, then dinner and evening routines. When it’s not on a field trip day, which we aim to do about once a week, or a travel day, this is what a typical day is like. And usually while the kids are at the pool with one parent, the other spends time working on whatever else needs to be done, whether it’s grocery shopping, laundry, maintenance on the trailer or the car, or updating the blog.
Three Flags was an okay campground, but not a favorite. The sites were very small and close together, they had a problem with fire ants, and they have the strictest check out times and procedures of anywhere we’ve been. But the pool area was nice and the facilities well-maintained. I’m not sure I would have wanted to stay there very long, but for a few nights on our way to somewhere else, it was certainly adequate.
But we don’t stay put for long, and soon we were off to explore more of Florida.
Posted in Campground Reviews, Explore and tagged campground membership, Full-time families, RV Florida, thousand trails, Three Flags by Christine with 2 comments.