RV park owners say: ‘Wal-Mart campers are cheapskates’

RV park owners say: ‘Wal-Mart campers are cheapskates’

By Chuck Woodbury
editor, RVtravel.com
Originally published in July, 2011 

My original essay back in 2011 sparked more than 100 comments from readers.

The idea was this: Why don’t some RV parks offer $10 a night “no-frills” camping for self-contained RVers (only) who just want a place to sleep — no hookups, no use of the restrooms, pool or WiFi, and no use of their generators? They can stay for one night only, after 6 p.m., and they must be gone by 8:30 a.m. As is, thousands of these RVers stay for free in a Wal-Mart parking lot, a rest area, truck stop or other place.

When I first wrote about this, I received letters from several RV park owners, who said they could not afford to offer a $10 campsite. They listed reasons that basically boiled down to “how could we distinguish the $10 campers from those paying the going rate?” They explained their need to cover their overhead: there were restrooms to clean, pools and a dump station to maintain, WiFi to pay for, etc.

Frankly, their responses were predictable.

It’s a whole lot easier to maintain the status quo than to change. A combination lock on restroom doors would keep the $10 campers out. With no password, they couldn’t use the WiFi. Few of them would want to use the pool anyway: they’d just want to park and sleep. Charge them $5 to dump.

Put the $10, self-contained campers in a corner of the park or overflow area with a self-pay box like at Forest Service campgrounds. I bet 98 percent of them would play by the rules. And some of those folks would return again if they liked the park — paying the going rate next time to stay awhile.

IF I WERE A CAMPGROUND OWNER I would ask myself, “Is it really THAT hard to provide a $10 no-frills service?” I would then address the problems and see if they were insurmountable. If I knew that every night there were 20 RVs down at the local Wal-Mart, I’d try my best to lure some of them my way. I could dispatch an employee there to put a flyer on their windshields: “Next time stay with us in a safe, secure place for $10.” And provide them with a two-for-one coupon for the next time they’re in town.

If five of them stayed a night for 200 nights a year, that would put an extra $10,000 in their piggy bank with no effort. I bet some of those folks would buy a quart of milk at the campground store. And if 10 percent of them came back once a year paying the full rate, that could add another $35,000 to the pot.

Almost all of the comments were in favor of the $10 idea. A few RV parks responded, claiming that RVers would abuse this budget offer. Some said they didn’t want “these cheapskates, anyway.”

One owner said that even if a password were required for entrance to the restrooms — which would only be provided to full-price campers — the no-frills RVers would “just follow someone else in.”

DO YOU THINK ANYONE would ever open a convenience store if they were afraid an occasional customer would steal something? Do you think book publishers would ever publish a book if they were paranoid that someone might borrow it from a friend and, heaven forbid, “not pay to read it?!” Do you think anyone would open a multi-screen movie theater if they thought someone might sneak into a movie without paying?

This “no-frills deal” is not right for destination RV parks where campers come to stay and play. But it will work for some parks along an Interstate or other busy highway where dozens of transient RVers hole up in a nearby parking lot rather than pay the campground $30 or more for services they do not need.

Better than Wal-Mart, hands down, but not worth $30 to $50 when all you need is a good night’s sleep!

There is a golden opportunity here for owners of RV parks by the highway who currently watch the local Wal-Mart lot fill up every night while half their sites remain empty. They don’t understand that $10 is better than zero when there is virtually no extra cost to them beyond setting up a dedicated area with a self-service check-in box. Heck, some of these budget RVers might like what they see and return one day at full-price. Instead, the park owners worry that someone will sneak into a restroom and cost them the price of a toilet flush.

Do you remember when Motel Six opened for $6 a night while everyone else charged two or three times more, and how Motel Six prospered? Or how about Southwest Airlines? It got you where you wanted to go for a whole lot less than the competition and prospered right out of the gate.

Any RV park that sets up a $10 self-service, no-frills area in his or her park can expect that I, for one, will publicize the heck out of it. The other parks can go ahead and ignore this great opportunity and continue to fume about all those freeloaders down at Wal-Mart.

The RV park owners dub the Wal-Mart RVers cheapskates. I call  those “cheapskates” smart: they just saved $30 or $40. And if they put that money in the bank, collect interest, one day it turns into a whole lot more.

No, staying in a parking lot is not “camping.” But we’re not talking about that here. We’re talking about sleeping in a self-contained RV without paying $5 an hour to do it.

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21 thoughts on “RV park owners say: ‘Wal-Mart campers are cheapskates’

  1. Susan Callihan

    With the campground associations putting the cabosh on property even for one night, the overcrowded campground issue will keep on escalating. What’s next? Hotel owners associations lobbying for legislation to keep people from allowing friends/relatives to stay in their guest rooms? RVers need places to park and if campgrounds are full, or charging as much as a hotel room, or are simply unfit, where are we to go?

  2. Robert Alexander

    Chuck, I think that this is a much bigger issue than what you present. Being a full timer, we have seen campground prices increasing as fast as health care prices , food prices and college tuition. Supply and demand is growing out of balance. In their effort to maximize $$, cramped campgrounds are starting to have a negative experience on their customers which will be their eventual downfall but they will take the rest of the RV industry with it. I believe we are seeing this in Canada now in negative RV sales. It may behoove us all if the RVIA and the ARVC started talking to each other concerning this issue.

  3. Cowcharge

    I believe it’s a matter of limited land more than anything. It’s not like these parks have 10 acres of land sitting there idle to convert to spots for Walmart parkers. Every campground I’ve ever stayed at is so crowded already that you can’t spit out your door without hitting the neighbor’s camper. Every spot they convert would be a full-price spot lost. That’s losing money, not adding it.

  4. Jim

    Great conversation – we have all seen the Motel 6 digital signs with changing room rates. It’s called “yield management” – airlines and hotels have used it for years. It’s the best “mathematical” process for making the most money on an “inventory that expires every day. It would be wise for campground owners to explore ways to get the most $$$ (and offer a much needed service to RVers) each day. Models like ride share and AirBnB are coming to the RV industry …. get ready.

  5. Ron Orgis

    My wife and I are full timer and have ben wondering if any one else was having this problem with high rates to camp.We belong to passport America and love it.We wouldn’t be able to afford to do this without it.We have found most of the parks have ben taken over by younger people and now they say they bare business people and no one is going to tell them how to run it when I try to explain to them we have to work together . We need you and you need us if we don’t work together neither one of us will be able to do what we are doing.I always ge too What would yo be paying for a motel room and I say like Comparing apples to a train NO comparison are you going to come clean my mh. in the morning and wash my towels and linnens because they do in a motel. You would think someone like Good Sams and the other RV providers would try nto help but I guess they think $40to$50 is ok but $0 a night for a month is $1200.00 a month way more than the mortgage on my new house that I sold to be able to do this.

  6. Silvia

    We have often wondered why there aren’t $10 or $15 quick and easy in and out no frill overnight rv spots available. We would certainly prefer that to Walmart, but Walmart sure beats taking half an hour to check in and paying $30, $40 or often more to arrive after 6pm, not use any services, and be gone by 8am. I won’t even get into the extra person charges!

    1. Virginia S Vess

      and a walmart parking lot comes with it’s own entertainment. and the home depot next door (or parking lot over) has better wifi than a $40/night campground generally

  7. Randy Morris

    I see two issues here , rest stop camping and destination camping . If I owned a campground I would provide a couple free spaces with a stipulation that I would be provided the opportunity to give the campers a tour of my facility the next morning

  8. living.boondockingmexico

    Lots of options for rv park owners. They need to think out of the box. In Mexico, several rv parks have gone to metered sites where you pay for your electric that you actually use. New Mexico state parks offer a yearly pass for non-residents, $225 a year for camping that includes water. Electric is $4 more per day. That works out to $138 a month with electric and water. You can’t beat that. With the advent of solar power, more and more rvers are turning to boondocking. Parks need to accommodate the changes that are coming. I’m all for the rv park owner, I’m not their enemy but they just don’t offer the services I need.

  9. John Candler

    We use Walmart’s – rest areas traveling from point A to point B – then in normal campgrounds

    If along the way – I only had to pay $ 10 for a night without any normal privileges – I’d Love it – we would use this as often as it fit into our travel route

  10. Mike

    Spent a night at the Walmart in Cody Wyoming on our way to Yellowstone last year. Bought $150 in merchandise in the store. It would have been cheaper to stay at a campground.

  11. Patricia

    With that opinion of RVers, who’d want to stay at their park?…just because they don’t understand the needs of those who would like s no frills spot in expensively, doesn’t mean they ought to be verbally abusive..

  12. D&D Gallant

    Hello there… We just got back from a sixty eight days roadtrip from NB.Canada to Florida to California and back… We would stop one night every four at a rv park to dump take a shower and fill up with fresh water…the rest of the time we stopped in at walmart ,truck stop.marinas, boondocked at houses that we contacted ahead of time at a app called boondockers welcome…great app… This to say that if we would have paid to park every night the trip would have been much shorter… But ten dollars a night to be in a secure place would have been reasonable and affordable… Thanks and check the web for boondockerswelcome …

  13. Donna

    We would gladly pay a reduced rate to stay at a camp ground but not the rates they are charging. I don’t want to use their washrooms, or even their power,so why should I pay the same rates as someone that does? As long as these campgrounds continue to charge $30.00 and more for me to stop and rest for 5-6 hrs. I will continue to park at WalMart and give them my business.

  14. Bob

    We tend to take longer trips that take a few days to get to our destination & we stop at a Walmart or similar when we get tired. We do not need anything more & usually fuel & get supplies for the next day.
    Like the campground owner I do not spend more than I have to to meet my needs. I can no more see spending $30 to $50 for a campground with “stuff” I don’t need, than the campground owner can see spending money on something that he doesn’t need for his business. Economics 101!
    Who needs more government to interference in what we do? If you want my business, have the better value for money.
    There will always be the cheapskates but there are a lot more that are value conscious & would spend money at your campground if you had what they were looking for.

  15. Phillip Seaman

    This is a great idea. I just paid $45 for a dry night. They didn’t have a dry space and charged me for a full hook-up space… and the park was not so great after all that!

    In by 4:30pm (just before their office closed), out by 9:00am (just before their office opened)

  16. Thomas Becher

    when we leave Wisconsin in January for the south there are NO campgrounds open so Walmart becomes a necessary evil to stop overnight. Cheap we are? I spend plenty of money at Camp Wal Mart. Two nights will get us south enough to have campgrounds open but even then I wonder why I pay them for the few services I need or us. I like a ez in ez out level spot and electric. All of a sudden $40 or more is gone. I’ve stayed twice at a “camping” gas station/burgerking for $20 with water sewer and electric. Drive in/drive out. Perfect. I wish there were more of them

  17. Jerry

    When you want a few hours sleep either Walmart or a large truck stop are the ideal place to stop. I always buy something to help the store. The RV parks are getting to expensive and have far to many rude campers.

  18. Marianne Edwards

    Hi Chuck,
    I’ve long thought that an advocacy for this exact thing might be my next big project but I know your reach into the RV community is much broader than mine. Is there any sign of campgrounds that have reacted positively? I’m on board for helping to publicize the heck out of any that have. I’ve just shared your article again on my sites: http://www.frugal-rv-travel.com/ and at https://www.facebook.com/BoondockersWelcome
    If there’s more I can do to help, please let me know.

    1. Chuck Woodbury

      Thanks for sharing the article, Marianne. I sent you an email. Let’s talk about this. — Chuck

  19. Brian Templeton

    In the future there is going to be very more “RV cheapskates” on the road, because like myself, we cannot afford the charges for RV parks. I am a 74 year old single male with a gross monthly pension income from the Canadian government of about $910-00 U.S. On this money, (Which has not increased since I retired at 66 years.) I can no longer afford to rent an apartment and meet the expenses, food, clothing, transport, etc., etc., 14 years ago, I went through a divorce from my older wife, and the judge just about gave her everything I owned including the house, my retirement savings, my car, my rental properties, even the boat, plus I had to pay her up to the time she passed away 8 years ago, half of what I earned. Going “on the road”, with an older RV, and spending 6 months below the border, and doing a little driving most days, averaging about 5000 miles yearly, is going to be my way of surviving, and possibly the way that many other pensioners will have to live, as the baby boomers retire.

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