Choosing a Thousand Trails Membership

When we left Osceola National Forest we headed for Three Flags RV Campground in Wildwood, FL, which was our third stay in the Thousand Trails network.

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.

Thousand Trails
Emelie seems to be part fish!


Thousand Trails
Peter hasn’t quite gotten the hang of swimming on his own yet. But when he got to borrow this float, he could be independent in the water!


Thousand Trails
Micah got to splash a bit too!


Thousand Trails
Bruce Wayne never looked this cool!

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.



4 thoughts on “Choosing a Thousand Trails Membership

  1. So if we were buying used membership, what should we look For? I want to make sure we get all the parks. Ivr heard that older memberships don’t have all the current thousand trails parks. Is that true?

    1. Great questions! There is such an overwhelming variety in TT memberships that it’s hard to choose. When you purchase a used membership, you get all the TT parks that were included when that membership was purchased, so you have to be careful. The newer the membership, the more likely you are to have all the parks, but you’ll want to check the list before you commit. The last major addition was when TT added Outdoor World properties, so you’ll want to make sure your membership includes those. We would recommend comparing the list of any used membership you’re considering with the current TT list to see where it’s different. Some older memberships may come with additional Encore properties, which we’ve heard they’re doing away with so as always, read the fine print in your contract. Watch for days in/out of the system requirements, holiday restrictions, and advanced booking windows as these all vary significantly between memberships.

      A used membership may have a few parks missing. But you may decide that those few parks are worth sacrificing to save thousands of dollars, especially if the parks happen to be in areas where you have several other options or are in areas you don’t plan to visit frequently. There are trade offs in all directions – the trick is to find the ones you’re the most willing to live with. We bought ours about a year ago now and we’ve been very happy with it. No regrets!

      Does that answer your questions? Send us more if you have them! If our experience can be helpful then we’re happy to help! We remember all too well how difficult this all was to sort out. Good luck!

  2. Buying used sounds like a good option for us. WE have been a TT member now for just about year. We have bought three zones this year. We are retired, so while we are not full time, we do spend a lot of time on the road. How do you find these brokers that sell these used membership?

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