Or, why traveling a Thousand Trails has led us to where we are today!
Since leaving Colorado 14 weeks ago, we’ve clocked over 2,600 miles in the coach and driven it more than 100 hours across 7 states. We’ve stayed in 25 different locations. We’ve been out and about exploring dozens of towns, lakes, mountains, roads, parks and lighthouses every week/weekend. And the longest stay we’ve had in one place is 14 consecutive nights. We’ve spent the month of September bouncing to a new location every 3–4 days, and now that we’ve stopped to stay in one place for the next 2 weeks, we’ve realized we’re really tired and need to slow down the pace a little!
After all, this whole adventure is meant to be a lifestyle – one that allows us to take our time, experience new places and stop and literally smell the roses. (Yep, we did that in Portland). For the most part, we’ve done pretty well with this. After all, we’re not adhering to anyone’s schedule but our own – and Marc’s work, naturally – and we’re committed to creating a balanced and sustainable lifestyle for ourselves, and setting a positive example for others at the same time.
During our travels, we’ve been trialling all different kinds of stay durations (anywhere from 1–14 nights at one place, depending on the area) to get a feel for what works best for us, maximize the use of our campground membership, while also trying to be cost effective and stay within our budget.
As this is the first time I’ve made mention of our campground membership, let me explain a bit about it – and specifically how and why it plays a big part in guiding our travel plans and schedule. And, for that matter, why we are now finding ourselves so tired!
A bit about Thousand Trails
In developing our budget for this RV lifestyle, we did loads of research before purchasing a campground membership from Thousand Trails (TT), which offers access to a national network of 80+ campgrounds around the country for an annual fee. We’ll be sharing more detail about the benefits, limitations, workings and quirks of Thousand Trails in a future post, but will keep this overview brief for now.
Buying a Thousand Trails “Zone Pass” gave us access to 2 out of their 5 “zones” around the USA. We decided to start with just 2 – the northwest and southwest zones – as that’s where we’re planning to spend most of our time in the year ahead.
Being the deal queen, I (Julie) picked up our annual Zone Pass for just $545 when they were having a “two zones for the price of one” deal. This included 30 days of free camping, after which we stay for just $3/night. Pretty good value for money, when you consider it also includes electricity and water! And especially when you consider that the nightly rate for campgrounds can vary widely from around $15 per night up to about $65 per night, depending on location, facilities, standard and so on. The average nightly rates for campgrounds tend to be in the $30-35 per night range and these may or may not have full hookups ie. electricity, water and sewer.
The TT Zone Pass we purchased allows us access to their 36 campgrounds in Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona and Nevada. Based on our extensive early research, this seemed to be the most economical solution to start with, while giving us access to some great locations in the areas we planned to travel to.
How the Thousand Trails camping membership impacts our travel plans
As you might expect, being such great value for money means the TT membership also comes with some limitations. The biggest one being the longest period we can stay in one place is 14 nights, then we have to stay out of the TT system for 7 days. That means, we have to pay to stay at a campground elsewhere, or dry camp/boondock for a week. Alternatively, we can get around their 14-in / 7-out restriction by staying just 4 nights at a TT campground then moving directly to another TT campground, and do this every 4 days indefinitely. Which might be fine if we weren’t working, but we are, which makes it not fine!
Up until September, we’d been spending 2 weeks in one campground then paying a couple of hundred dollars to stay a week out of the system, then spend another two weeks at a TT property, stay out for another week out, and so on.
But, when we left Portland (a non TT campground) after an 8 night stay during late August/early September, we thought we’d give the 4 day bouncing between TT properties a trial run, as there are a lot of campgrounds in Washington that are fairly close together, some only a 30-60 minute drive away. This way we could avoid the “one week out of the TT system”, save a few hundred dollars, while also giving us the opportunity to stay at many of the campgrounds in the region to discover which ones we liked the most – and file that knowledge away for future, longer stays.
So give it a try we did. Here’s a peek at our travel schedule from the past 3 weeks! (You can usually track us via our ‘Where are we now” page).
Our September itinerary
Portland, OR: August 29 – September 5 = 8 nights
Seaside, OR: September 6 – 9 (Thousand Trails) = 4 nights
Long Beach, WA: September 10 – 12 (Thousand Trails) = 3 nights
Chehalis, WA: Sept 13 – 16 (Thousand Trails) = 4 nights
Yelm (near Olympia), WA: Sept 17 – 20 (parked on a friend’s property) = 4 nights
Bow, WA: 21 – 23 Sept (Thousand Trails) = 3 nights
Blaine, WA near the border of BC, Canada: 24 Sept – October 8 (Thousand Trails) = 14 nights (woohoo!)
So that’s 7 locations, which meant 6 moves (pack everything up + drive time + set up again) in the space of 3 weeks, averaging two moves per week, with one of those taking place midweek. Yep, as you can imagine, this kind of hop-skip and jumping can get kinda tiring and a little stressful at times. (More about what our pack down/drive/setup process entails in a future post or video).
Meanwhile, remember we are still working, which means our only opportunities for exploring the local area are on weekday afternoons/evenings after work, and on weekends.
Lessons from too many trails in too short a time
Traveling so often, even though the drive in between may be relatively short, is traveling TOO fast for our liking. We’re tired and we feel that we didn’t really get to explore the local area in some places, and there have been times that, because we were tired and/or it started to rain, we just didn’t want to go out! Which is OK – this is a lifestyle remember, not simply a vacation – but we would like to enjoy more time in most places to balance our need for work, quiet time and exploring.
Now that we’ve finally stopped for two weeks in Blaine, WA – just south of the Canadian border – we are more than ready to slow down the pace, after this hectic month of constantly moving, without getting to see as much as we did in July and August when we had longer stays at many locations.
Of course, we’re also aware that our need to slow down coincides with the official start of fall here in the northern hemisphere. And, it could also be that the novelty and excitement of our adventure is beginning to wear off, as we settle more into a pattern of everyday life, albeit on the road. Plus, after so many months of dry weather, we’re admittedly feeling a little dampened by the amount of rain we’ve had in wet Washington these past 3 days!
Final thoughts and a solution
That’s why this month, we’ve also been giving more thought to our campground membership and how it’s working for us. For the most part, it’s been fantastic. It’s really hard to beat the value we get for our money, and we’ve stayed in some really nice places, close to some wonderful sights and had really good internet/cellular connectivity – for the most part.
But we are finding the 14 day maximum stays then 7 days out, along with the 4 day bounce options too limiting for our needs and desires. We need to upgrade our TT campground membership to a different level that allows more flexibility, including longer stays in one place. (More on that in a future blog post, too. It’s way too much of a minefield to adequately cover here.)
The benefit of visiting so many of these campgrounds in a relatively short timeframe, is that now we know what to expect – which ones offer strong cellular/internet signal, which ones don’t (we’d have to avoid those during the week), which ones are in optimal locations, have the kinds of facilities we enjoy and offer the most enjoyable environment.
We’re in the process of upgrading our membership to an “Elite” status right now, which we hope will be finalized in the next week or so. That will enable us to stay up to 21 nights in one location and drive directly to another – with no time out of the TT system at all. After another bucketload of research on the options available to us, we finally found one that suits our needs and our budget! We’ll be sharing more about that soon, once we’ve had a chance to use it and experience the benefits.
So, our journey continues as the seasons change. We just keep on learning more about ourselves and this RV lifestyle every day!
Happy fall to everyone in the northern hemisphere and happy spring to those in the south. Wherever you are, we hope you’re enjoying your journey too.
PS. The purpose of this article is to share how we’re feeling and educate our followers about our travels, which our campground membership is a big part of. We did not write this to sell or promote Thousand Trails – our opinions are entirely our own – and our decision to become members was the best one for us, based on our lifestyle, budget and what’s most important to us. That said, if you do decide to join Thousand Trails as a result of reading our article, we would really appreciate it if you let them know we referred you. Thousand Trails often sends gift cards to members when they refer a new member who joins, and we can always use that to enjoy a dinner out or something! Of course, it’s not necessary at all, only if you would like to. Above all, we hope you enjoyed the article and found it useful. 🙂