“We traveled for 11 months and visited 24 states, but only paid for 14 nights of camping.”
Bob Schweinsburg, a campground host at Hillsborough River State Park, had the look of a seasoned RVer, but surely I had misunderstood him. Or not. Bob and his wife, Anita, had only been traveling 7 months this year. But, last year, the couple spent 11 months on the road, RVing from Florida to California and back, visiting 24 states. During that cross-country trip, they had only paid to camp 14 times.
How has this happily retired couple, who freely admitted they “don’t have a huge amount of money,” managed to travel at least 7 months at a stretch, for the past several years? If you guessed workcamping, you would be half right.
The Schweinsburgs credit careful planning, budgeting “just like you would at home,” and a handful of lessons learned on the road for the opportunity to live their RV dream. They are happy to share their cost-saving tips if it will help fellow RVers hit the road without breaking the bank.
#1 – Plan your major stops before you go.
Bob and Anita’s first workcamping gig was in El Centro, California. But they had to travel 2,500 miles to get there. The couple had family in Mississippi and Texas; but, beyond that, they were on their own. So, before they ever left South Florida, they looked at maps and searched online for the best free stops on their route. They discovered beautiful national parks and safe rest areas all along the way.
#2 – Take advantage of abundant workcamping opportunities
Camps and conference centers from coast to coast are always looking for workcampers. Bob explains, “One southern Baptist camp where we volunteered offered us a free site, free laundry and free food, even when we weren’t working.”
Anita added. “The work was easy, and the conference center was beautiful. We had a marvelous time.” The couple has workcamped at Christian camps in New Mexico and North Carolina. But, says Anita, this is just the tip of the iceberg. “There are 50 conference centers in the Asheville area alone. All of these places need volunteers.”
Bob is also a veteran. In fact, the workcamping gig they had in El Centro was at the El Centro Naval Air Facility. “This was a beautiful resort. For volunteering there 18 hours per week we received free parking and a $150 per month voucher.”
To learn more about opportunities like these, Bob and Anita recommend RVers check out “Workers on Wheels” at www.work-for-rvers-and-campers.com.
#3 – Camp Free & Cheap at Federal Parks
Dispersed camping at National Forests can be a good option for folks not afraid to boondock. “While there are zero amenities, you can’t beat the view.” Though, a few of these quiet spaces can get busy. “We stayed one night at Lake Meade near Las Vegas. It was absolutely gorgeous, but their dispersed camping is so popular they even have a campground host.”
And, for RVers over 62, the America the Beautiful senior passes are a must. These passes provide free access to 2,000 federally managed recreation sites, including national parks. The senior passes also offer camping discounts and can be purchased for a one-time fee of $10.
#4 – Free & cheap is possible everywhere
Of course, discounts are not just for national parks. The first thing Anita does after they arrive somewhere is to jump online search for free or inexpensive things to do. Among other things, her searches uncovered a bus tour in New York City and a boat tour of Houston harbor, both free of charge. Between finding free local tours and park passes, Bob and Anita never lack for fun new places to explore.
“Another way we save is to plan our meals and our shopping just like we would at home. That helps us avoid the cost of eating out.” And, whether for food or entertainment, Bob and Anita are “big couponers.”
Bob admits he was slow to accept that. “I had a hard time with it as first, because it felt limiting. Then I saw how much we were able to save for other things. Now I’m the one looking for the coupon books when we arrive places.”
#5 – Find moneysaving tech tools
Anita loves her smart phone apps. “There’s one called Gas Buddy that can tell you where the cheapest fuel is. And Lemon.com lets me record all my receipts and keep my budget organized.”
Anita uses solar power to charge smaller electronic items. “We have two solar chargers. The larger one we use for small appliances and the smaller we use to charge our cell phones or other electronic devices.”
They also prize their battery adapter kits, which can turn AA and AAA batteries into C or D sizes. “The first time you run out of one type of battery but don’t immediately have to go buy more, it pays for itself.”
#6 – Get comfortable boondocking
Rest stops and Wal Marts can be your best friends. “We feel totally safe at the rest stops. We park near the truckers and introduce ourselves. They really look out for you.”
And Wal Marts, many open 24 hours, make great dry camping spots. “We always speak with the manager first, to get permission. If you use their facilities, you can save your tanks for other stops.”
#7 – Fill up & dump out at every opportunity
“Our Wal Mart gas card saves us 15 cents a gallon. That really adds up. We try to fill up there when we can, whether we need to or not. Besides, not running it on ‘E’ helps out with gas mileage.”
“And we keep our eye out for places that will allow you to dump your tanks for free. Flying J’s are good for that. Whether you are full or not, take the time to dump. That way you can dry camp as much as possible.”
And where will Bob and Anita’s cost-saving travel adventures take them next? Hawaii is on the horizon. Their hosts will provide housing, food and transportation. The RV will stay home for this trip, but Bob is already talking about their next cross-country tour.
“By the time we get back from the islands, Anita will have our next adventure all planned out.”