Snowbirding 101

The ins and outs of RV clubs

There are many types of clubs for RVers—here are some of the most prominent ones

people sitting on lawn chairs beside RVs
Camper rallies are a great way to meet new friends. — Photo courtesy Roland Hoffman

There are so many different clubs and organizations for RVers. Some of them sound interesting but I’m not sure which ones would be best for me. Can you help me with this? —B.Q.

That is a big question, B.Q. To my knowledge, there are basically three different types of RV or camping groups: Membership parks, discount camping clubs and clubs that offer a variety of services, activities and communities. And there are often sub-groups within the organizations.

Membership parks

Membership parks (like Thousand Trails or Western Horizon) are like time share systems. You buy into a "home park" where you get special consideration and you can visit other campgrounds and parks in the system for a deep discount (often around $10 per night).

When you stay at other parks in the system, they usually have a specific number of sites allocated to the club and these are the only ones available to the membership holder. Most parks have a two-weeks-in and one-week-out policy where you have to leave the park for a week after you have been there for two.

Check out various online bulletin boards and websites for memberships that are up for resale. Be careful of these, because they come with a transfer fee that increases the price considerably.

Discount camping

You are on the road . . . you are a traveller who spends very little time in one place before you move on to another. Discount camping clubs (like Passport America and Happy Camper) offer a 50 per cent discount at certain parks and campgrounds that are in their system. They typically have a large number of parks in their programs and they are scattered throughout Canada and the USA. Each campground or park decides what they are going to offer; some will offer one or two nights at 50 per cent during a specific time of the year, others maybe only one night, others maybe more.

There is an annual fee to join the discount camping clubs, they supply hard-copy directories or software . . . the money you save in a couple nights staying at one of the discount parks, usually pays for the annual fee. We use the discount camping resources to find reasonable places to stay on our way from one spot to another. They don’t have standards for the parks so they can vary from great to not so good.

RV/Camping clubs

If you enjoy rallies, certainly the RV clubs are a good choice. The most widely advertised club is Good Sam. Like all the others, Good Sam is affiliated with an emergency road service and offers numerous products and services including a monthly magazine. A good number of campgrounds and RV parks are associated with Good Sam and offer a 10 per cent discount for members.

There are local Good Sam groups all over the continent and there is always a rally somewhere. The annual fee is reasonable and the Good Sam community is extensive.

The Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) targets motorhome owners and again is affiliated with an emergency road service. We found FMCA members extensively in the USA and the club often caters to higher-end motor coaches. They, too, offer products and services to the motor coach crowd, have frequent rallies and reasonable annual fees.

The Escapees RV Club calls itself a total support network for RVers. Originally set up for full-timers, it now attracts almost every type of RVer. The Escapees have their own parks (rainbow parks) as well as a number of affiliates (co-op parks) where the members of the co-op lease sites and allow the park to rent them out when they are not there. Therefore, other Escapee members can rent space in parks that support Escapees standards at reasonable rates. There seems to be an interest group (Birds of a Feather) for almost any interest and local chapters are located throughout the USA and Canada. A strong community sense permeates the Escapees membership and they tend to seek each other out.
The Escapees have a unique service called the Care Center (adjacent to their Texas headquarters) where RVer who needs care can rent a site and receive the care they need for a very reasonable fee while still living in their own RV. The Escapees parks and services depend heavily on volunteers.

B.Q., this should get you started. It would be difficult to cover all the RV organizations, and they tend to come and go . . . each one has advantages and drawbacks, and the one you choose depends on your style and needs.

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