Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Thousand Trails - Our First Year in Review

Adorable Cabins at the Narrows Too in Maine, June 2018

It's a good time for a Thousand Trails review, since I just paid our first annual Thousand Trails renewal. It's been a good program for us, and it should work well for most roaming full-timers.

Our campsite at Lotus, near Placerville CA, May 2019
The view of the American River from my office window, May 2019

We shelled out a grand total of $824 to get started in June 2018 - the basic Thousand Trails membership came with one zone (we picked the NorthEast since we were sitting in Maine when we signed the paperwork). Since we had plans to return to the Florida Keys we added on the SouthEast zone and also purchased the Encore program which opened up the higher-end resorts across the nation (Encore are the blue dots shown below, they are not tied to zones).

Within the first 6 weeks of camping the program had almost paid for itself, then we had to high-tail it to Colorado and from there on to California to deal with emergency medical stuff so there's a big blank spot on our schedule between New York and California while our travel plans were put on pause.

Thousand Trails has a big blank spot too, right in the middle of the country. There are no Thousand Trails parks in Colorado, the Dakotas, in fact it's a blank slate pretty much between Washington and Wisconsin. If you plan to spend significant time there this program might not work for you.

When we resumed traveling we added the zone covering CA/NV and by the time the membership year closed out we had turned our  initial $824 investment into $1504 of free camping, despite the months of limited mobility.

A little hang time in South Lake Tahoe, CA, June 2019
Thousand Trails parks vary widely in amenities but can always be counted for at least the basics. Some of the fancier parks also have cabins, pools, clubhouses, and nightly activities. Lake George NY offers kayaks to paddle the slow river that bends around the park and South Lake Tahoe CA offers live music and movies under the stars.

Not familiar with the program? Here's the breakdown from our renewal bill July 2019. The prices went up a little this year, I expect small increases are likely with each renewal.
  • Annual dues include one zone and cost $585/yr
  • You can buy as many additional zones as you want for $54 each. This $54 is good until the end of your renewal year only, so if you add one in May but your program renews in July your extra $54 gets you only two months. You cannot switch existing zones mid-plan-year, only add new ones.
  • The Encore program is a separate program you can add on for another $214/yr, we find these locations tend to be on the swankier side. Encore resorts are not tied to zones, so this membership gets you into any Encore resort across the nation.
  • You may only book your reservations 60 days out. You are limited to a 2-week stay at any particular park, then you must stay elsewhere for a week before your next reservation can begin. I heard that there's a loophole here - you can stay up to 4 days, leave the park and move directly to another park within the system for another 4 days, and continue doing this indefinitely but we haven't tested this theory yet.
  • You can reserve over the phone or online. The website is easy to work with and the reservation phone hold times can sometimes be quite lengthy. On one occasion I struggled to get a reservation through the website and did get one by calling instead, so now that's my backup plan.
Thousand Trails has been around for a long time and the program has morphed quite a bit over the years. There are some folks whose stays are not limited by 2 weeks or who can book reservations further out, either because they have older plans that were grandfathered in or because they bought a more expensive plan than ours. Our plan is the base model.

Here's the breakdown for our first year ending 6/30/19:
6/12/2018Program Dues ($575 program + $49 zone + $200 Encore)($824)($824)
6/12/2018Discount on existing stay @ The Narrows Too, ME$287($537)
6/23/2018Patten Pond, Ellsworth ME, 6 nights @ $0, rate $67$402($135)
7/23/2018Lake George, Diamond Point NY, 1 night @ $0, rate $68$68($67)
1/15/2019Added an additional zone - CA/AZ($55)($122)
1/24/2019Lake Minden CA, 2 weeks @ $0/night, rate $41/night$574$452
2/7/2019Lake Minden CA, 2 nights @ disc rate of $30/night vs $41$22$474
5/7/2019Ponderosa CA @ $0/night, rate 2@$73, 3@$68$350$824
6/5/2019South Lake Tahoe 8 nights @ $0/night, rate $85/night$680$1,504
Lance practicing his 4-part cast at the Narrows Too in Maine, June 2018
We are hoping for no new medical drama this year and have sketched out a full, fun year of camping across the country. If all goes according to plan, the renewal math this time next year will be even more to our advantage.

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