Why Thousand Trails Adventures?

We share why we decided to invest in the “top tier” of the Thousand Trails campground membership program. We are not selling anything, we are sharing what works for us in case someone else has a similar lifestyle and can benefit from saving money in today’s increasingly more costly world of campground-based living.

This is what we have observed changing over the past six years of travel, this is what is working for us. We have done extensive research, feel free to reach out if you have questions. We have been members using the “South Eastern Zone Camping Pass” since 2017 and have learned the nuances of the system. We do have a referral link available, but we are not trying to sell this to make any money. We are sharing our frustrations, our decision and our goals for this investment.

Check-out our our past Thousand Trails related blog posts!

The 2023-2024 winter was our last winter in Florida in the way that we have for the last five of our six years. In our first winter of 2017-2018, we wandered around trying to find reservations on the fly because we started this adventure in the fall and did not know we needed reservations for wintering in Florida. We had picked up the Thousand Trails base monthly membership and got our feet wet. Then we found out about Trails Collection which opened our territory. Since that winter, we have pre-booked each winter season directly at the Encore Winter Garden RV Resort in Florida. We have been there every year since, paying for that seasonal site for at least three months to get the discount.

Winter 2023-2024, Florida: Site 182 at Winter Garden RV Resort, a Thousand Trails Collection related Encore Property where we stayed from the beginning of December 2023 through February 2024.

While the seasonal pre-booking approach has been very economical in reality, it kept locking us into returning to this area for the winter. It also locked up a deposit of a full month for six months. As Florida residents, we have some obligations to deal with licenses, etc. every so many years. However, Florida doesn’t require us to be physically in the state to maintain residency like some other states. In the future, we can still return here for 21 days per stint and can choose any one of some other Orlando area Encore resorts.

With all that in mind, we decided to upgrade from the base level Thousand Trails annual “Camping Pass” and we bought into their Adventure level package. The major difference is that we are locked into a 15-year commitment, where previously it was an annual membership that could be canceled any year. We have been on the fence about this and made the decision that now was the time in life to invest in this 15-year membership. At our previous membership level, we have been at we have been using it to the tune of costing us about $5-10/night each year, which is very hard to find any campsite at that price today. Even with spending more per year for this higher tier, we have already been able to recover those costs just by not committing cash to the winter seasonal site in Florida.

  1. Campsites are getting much more expensive per night. When we started six years ago we were looking for sites that were $25 and under, which is a near impossibility when you pay “rack rates” on sites. Finding any site for less than $75 is a challenge, it is also almost now impossible to be under $50. With Thousand Trails there is no additional cost per night (excluding a couple of premium campgrounds charging $10-25 extra for ocean view, etc.), so we have a very predictable cost per year instead of spikes in our monthly budget.
  2. Campgrounds are adding more and more booking fees, non-refundable fees, cancellation percentage deductions, etc. to their reservation systems. Reservation system companies are becoming the new “Ticket Masters” of the world where they are charging on top to broker the deals between you and the campground.
  3. Many campgrounds are requiring 100% down up front at booking, locking YOUR money into THEIR accounts where they can draw on it and use it. This could be over $1,000 per booking out of your pocket months before you even arrive there.
  4. Worse of all, many of those 100% down campgrounds are also not providing any refunds either. Maybe you can get a fractional credit against a future stay.  That might work for “locals” who come on the weekends repeatedly to that property and could use it on a future weekend, but for us we may never pass through that area again. We need to have the ability to cancel our plans in a reasonable timeframe. Typically, if we could get 100% of our money back up to seven days in advance with a modest cancellation fee we would book our reservation.
  5. While many campgrounds do have online booking systems, many STILL do not and we completely skip those campgrounds. Planning needs to be easy, we need to not fight everyone for a limited inventory of sites and we need to have the ability to do this in any timezone in the evening or early morning. The Thousand Trails Adventure level gives us priority booking in “green” Thousand Trails network campgrounds 180 days in advance, and “blue” Encore network campgrounds 90 days in advance. This is substantially further out than the lower tiers of membership.
Summer 2021, Seattle, Washington: Most of the RV sites at the resort have only a 30-amp service, but we scored site #108 at the Tall Chief RV Resort which has a 50-amp service with water. (Requires a Thousand Trails Collection add-on as it is an Encore park)

Having this membership, we can stay in any of the properties throughout the country for up to 21 days. In theory, we could be in the Thousand Trails system 365 days out of the year and not pay a dime extra per night. You just have to move between campgrounds every 21 days, but that is about all we want to stay in any one place anyway. Those can be green to green, green to blue, etc. and at this level, there are no restrictions.

There were some other perks, that are just that, which we may or may not use. There are several years of cabin rebates, where your family can come and use a cabin in a park where you are staying and you get money back. You can book at “Resort Parks International” (RPI) sites at a discounted price in the first couple of years. There are also exchange perks for vacations with timeshares, condos, cruises, etc. through a broker.  We also get two “peak” holiday bookings per year that may be blocked out at lower membership levels.

Fall 2023, Pennsylvania: Not all Thousand Trails or Encore sites are made equal. Site #103 was a nice site but it was a terrible bear getting into it. This photo doesn’t show the depth and angles we had to deal with as we had to multi-point turn around this 270-degree turn around the tree and sit there with the Sprinter RV.

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