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RV Snowbirds on Shoestring Budgets use Free and Low-Cost Camping

Every fall, hundreds of thousands of northern RV enthusiasts drive south to Florida, Texas, Arizona and Southern California to spend the season in the sun. Most of these motorhome and travel trailer and fifth wheel owners are retirees.

For many of these "snowbirds," the cost of getting and staying there is an obstacle. With gas prices still above $2 a gallon in most places, the cost of fuel coupled with campground fees can make some RVers think twice about leaving home.

One way they can cut their expenses is to stay overnight in free camping areas, says Chuck Woodbury, editor of ( "There are literally thousands of places where an RVer can stay for free or very inexpensively," he says. "A surprising number of small towns offer complimentary camping in their city parks. Some include hookups, typically water but sometimes even electricity."

Woodbury says that most Wal-Mart stores allow RVers to spend a night in their parking lots. "About nine out of ten permit stays," he says. "My guess is that most of the migrating snowbirds will stop a night or two at a Wal-Mart along their route." Some, says Woodbury, will plan their travel itinerary to end up each evening at a Wal-Mart.

Other RVers hole up free in truck spots, where they are most often welcomed. "It's often noisy, but the price is right," says Woodbury.

In the Southwest, RVers can stay on millions of acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) desert lands. Many choose primitive areas in Arizona and Southern California, where they can camp in one location at no charge for up to two weeks. In several Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVA's), RVers can pay $140 to stay in a campsite for up to seven months. "That's less than 70 cents a day, a real bargain," says Woodbury. LTVA's have water, restrooms, trash bins and even active social communities. The most popular of these areas are in the Yuma and Quartzsite areas of Arizona. Quartzsite is famous among RVers for its huge, ongoing flea markets and gem shows. provides a searchable directory of more than 1,250 free or inexpensive places to stay in the United States. Listings are provided by RVers who have stayed at the locations, and comments and updates are added by others which keeps the information fresh. The popular website also includes a forum, where members discuss budget RV camping and other subjects about RVing on a shoestring.

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