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.
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.