If you have a big summer road trip planned for the summer, then I have a tip for you. Buy a Camper!! You can use points for stays at Hilton, IHG, Marriott, or use Airbnb, for city trips, but if you are going to explore the open road, you can’t beat a camper experience. Let me explain it to you.
The U.S. has free land to stay on. Yes, there is land out west that is owned by the U.S. government, and it is free to just live on for 14 days at a time. You have to move every 14 days or you could get a fine, but I have heard of people spending an entire summer in the Colorado Rockies and never moving their camper with no one bothering them. It is just like having a beautiful vacation mountain cabin, with better views and less people most of the time. I have stayed in my friends camper for a few weeks outside of Silverton and Quray, Colorado, and it was the best free lodging around. We saw moose, bear, 4th of July fireworks, hiked, climbed, fished and all for free.
Sleeping in a camper is not camping either, which is amazing for non campers. You have a soft bed, heat, A/C, a kitchen, television, a couch, and anything you want if you get the right camper. Some people live in these things year around and just move to where the good weather is. It is not like real camping where you struggle to sleep on the ground in freezing weather and worry about bears eating you. Campers have as much or a little as possible of your home comforts, so think about your must have list before looking.
I always buy my campers used and with cash. I look for a nice, clean, undervalued camper that is usually more than 10 years old. That way the price has already bottomed out, and I won’t loose any money when I go to resell the camper. My most recent pop up camper purchase was listed at $3,850 on craigslist.com and nadaguides.com had it listed at $3,950. I talked with the guy for a week, and finally he needed the money and sold it to me for $3,000 cash. This means that after our month long road trip this summer I could make money when I resell this camper. (I’m going to try to sell it for $3,500, since I can be patient.)
I also look for certain traits on my camper purchase, such as one owner, new tires, upgrades (awning, stabilizer jacks, etc.), clean title, and never buy from a dealer. I also check the roof for any signs of leaking and make sure the trailer has very little to no rust. What sold me on my latest camper was new tires, new fabric, one owner, stabilizer jacks, extension cords, water hose, and everything else I needed included in the price. This was a turn key camper ready to go that very day on my next adventure. The new fabric and tires alone were worth $1,500, so this was truly a deal and a half!!
Now the last part of the this free lodging is finding the right place to camp. I will be sleeping in National Parks, because that is our goal of the trip to see 14 National Parks, and wandering up to Banff in Canada, but I will also know where the public land around the parks is located. We can set up on public land and drive into the parks to explore during the day. This will cut down on camping fees of about $25 a night in the parks. The only benefit of sleeping in the park will be access to running water and electricity hook up directly to our camper. It will be nice to charge our phones and watch a DVD at night. We also have the option outside of the park of running a generator, going solar, or running more things on propane to go off grid, but we are campers anyways and roughing it is a luxury we enjoy. We will just go without electricity and we can bring in our own water.
Again, when we return from our trip we will clean out the camper, post it online for sale, and wait patiently for the right buyer to come along and pay us full price. At the end of the day the extra $500 we make on our camper will cover all our camp fees, and we will end up with free lodging for our month long trip. We will have an opportunity to see some of the most beautiful land, and animals in the world, and live right next to the action, all for free. So, the next time you think vacations are expensive think about campers and how they can change your entire trip and budget. A little purchase up front can save a lot by the end.
- On a side note you can get a free family pass to the National Parks if you sign up your 4th grader up for the every kid in a park program. I have a 4th grader and my wife teaches 4th grade, so we are set for fees getting into the parks also. Go Explore for free!!
UPDATE: Camper sold for $3,000 after a month and it saved us 20 nights of lodging on an epic 28 day road trip across 15 states and 2 Canadian Provinces. It works people, so there is no excuse not to road trip for with free lodging. Make you plans for next summer!