Campground Crowding: Online fees; and is it easier to reserve by calling?

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crowded campgrounds

Updated weekly

More people than ever are taking up RVing. These newbies have determined that RVing is the safest way to travel in our pandemic times. The result is campground crowding like never before. In this weekly blog, RV Travel readers discuss their experiences. Maybe we can make some sense of this and find ways to work around the problem.

Last week we asked what people thought of reservation systems and asked for your suggestions. People responded with a lot of feeling and a few suggestions.

Here are a few observations from our readers.

MORE FROM LAST WEEK ON RESERVEAMERICA

The comments about ReserveAmerica just keep flooding in. We’d dedicate just one week to them if we could, but you’d be sitting here all day! One of the many complaints about the reservation system is the high booking fees, particularly for one night. Those fees add up and can push the cost of a state campground over the cost of a private one.

Donald C. shares his pet peeve about ReserveAmerica: “My peeve is the reservation fees which make a one-night reservation more expensive. I agree with the writer that complained about same-day reservations. ReserveAmerica does not book same day or in some instances, a couple of days earlier, making it a hit or miss.”

Thomas P. didn’t waste any time getting to the point. He writes, “ReserveAmerica is a cold-hearted site. We have a reservation for a Florida State site. Site cost is $24. ReserveAmerica “fee” is $8. The state is getting ripped off. ReserveAmerica started out as a good reasonable idea; now, it is just a money pig. Each individual reservation is an additional $8. No matter if you are on the same connection and web time. Unfortunately, they love collecting time and time again for the same lack of service level. When, and if, things go back to normal, we will not use ReserveAmerica. I can call an RV park and talk to a real person, get great service without a ‘fee.’ Reserve is just running the back office for State reservation systems, and getting a good return on their investment.”

Eric L. and his wife don’t get to camp a lot due to health reasons and if they do make reservations and need to cancel the cancellation fees don’t make it worthwhile. “My wife and I only got out for one, 3-day RV outing last year. We can’t make reservations ahead of time due to our health conditions. We have to wait until we both feel well enough to go. At that point, everything within 75 miles is usually unavailable. When we get reserved somewhere and can’t go, ReserveAmerica charges ridiculous fees to cancel. Why should there be ANY cancellation fee?”

Bill T. has these suggestions for improving the process. “Government reservation sites need to have better controls for blocking ‘bot’ reservations. I go online right at midnight when the 6-month advanced reservations become available and the system sites are already bogged down and too slow. I have missed out on reservations so many times because of these slow processing websites. They have me wait so long to process my payment that by the time I am able to, it tells me the site is no longer available. A better idea would be for National/State/Provincial parks to have a call center, where the clerk just looks at the board of available spots and completes my reservation, all in about 5 minutes from start to finish with each customer.”

Would you rather call to make a reservation or do it online?
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PRIVATE VS. PUBLIC

A number of RVers are just giving up on booking state and federal parks and going to private campgrounds, where they can reach a real person and book the same day.

Paul G. wrote:We are unplanned travelers and full-timers. If I KNOW I have to be someplace in 6 months (wedding, birthday party, etc) I will book ahead. Otherwise, we normally book no more than one or two days ahead. This means we can seldom use any of the reservation systems which do not permit immediate booking. Commercial parks are usually much easier to deal with since I can call and find out if they have space for me at 2 PM. We just crossed the country from Western NY to Southern California via Virginia and Alabama. There was only one night out of 10 that I could not get into my preferred campground and that was in Marfa, TX! When we do want to stay in a National Park we most often will find a National Forest campsite nearby that is lower cost, less crowded and does not take reservations. Planning to be off the road by 2 or 3 PM almost always guarantees a spot – of course, these are dry camp. Finally, being prepared to dry camp takes the pressure off of finding a campground. If the circumstances are right we can easily stay a week in dry camp.”

BUY YOUR OWN

More and more people are considering buying a spot to call their own and avoid the hassle of finding and booking campsites. The best of both worlds: camping and having a guaranteed spot.

Kevin N. answered the question we ask below, “If campgrounds continue to be crowded and RVing continues to become more popular, will it affect how or when you RV?” He answered, “I’m going to buy a few acres of land. No more reservations, no more rude neighbors, no more generators running all night long. The list goes on.”

Jack P. agrees that buying your own spot is a solution to finding and booking campsites. He wrote in and said, “Another option for those who like to stay in the same place for several weeks or months is to buy a lot in an RV park. We did that knowing we have a spot anytime we want it. Most owner-owned lots allow you to rent out your space thus mitigating some of the costs of ownership. This is not for everyone and there are better investment options but a guaranteed spot at a place you like to be is comforting.”

IS BOONDOCKING THE SOLUTION?

Boondocking, dry camping, seems to be an ever-increasing solution to the overcrowding of campsites. We are seeing more and more comments about the value of boondocking and being self-contained. More people are mentioning solar and generator power as a way to combat the overcrowding and reservation systems.

Brent D. said, “We boondock almost exclusively. We generally do our traveling in the late summer (August) through early winter (November). Do your research where you have planned to travel. We live in Florida and travel the Southwest. On our way west we use rest areas and commercial locations like Walmart, Bass Pro Shop, etc. We’ve not had any problems with State parks in New Mexico and Arizona, but still choose to boondock as much as possible. Our best advice is to go prepared and be flexible. A change in plans can bring unexpected surprises and fun. Also, go slow and enjoy what this country has to offer.”

Denise G. writes, So far, we are waiting to see when we are going to be able to travel, starting in the spring to the fall. We are planning to boondock more, especially on the weekend. We are going to use Harvest Hosts, Boondockers Welcome, and other sites to find safe places to stay overnight.”

Jesse C. says, “We have a 40′ diesel pusher with a Wrangler toad. We don’t use campgrounds as we go to a site specifically for an event – dog trials. The sites are usually private farms, county parks/agriculture centers or equine centers. We can boondock for up to 5 days with no problems. The toad enables us to go out and get whatever we need such as food, propane, parts, or just a meal out for pleasure. The only issue is if the trial is further than we can drive in 1 day.”

The operative word is BOONDOCKING. If you set up your RV with solar, a good quiet generator, and large water capacities, you rarely need to make reservations. 11 years of full-timing in a 34′ 5th wheel to every state and Alaska twice and rarely made reservations. We boondock rarely out of necessity (no park space) and frequently because it’s usually quieter, more peaceful, and much more scenic. Still planning on another 10 years of the same” writes Fred B.

Now, some questions for you:

• Are you finding more and more campgrounds booked up? Or are you having no problem finding places to stay?

• If campgrounds continue to be crowded and RVing continues to become more popular, will it affect how or when you RV?

• Do you have any tips or secrets you’d like to share about finding campgrounds that aren’t as crowded?

Please use the form below to answer one or more of these questions, or tell us what you’ve experienced with campground crowding in general.

Click or drag a file to this area to upload.

Read last week’s Crowded Campgrounds column here

##RVT981

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Vicky
17 days ago
Would you rather call to make a reservation or do it online?" Read more »

Yes!
It would be more factual.

Ken S
23 days ago
Would you rather call to make a reservation or do it online?" Read more »

Call, without a doubt. Prefer putting people to work, and want/ need to learn if my 45 long, 13 high coach will fit the camp, approach roads, etc.

Richard Chabrajez
23 days ago
Would you rather call to make a reservation or do it online?" Read more »

Call

TJ
23 days ago
Would you rather call to make a reservation or do it online?" Read more »

Online 100%

Kevin Coughlin
24 days ago
Would you rather call to make a reservation or do it online?" Read more »

I always try to reserve online. It should be the most cost effective method for both the customer and the RV Park.

Marie
24 days ago
Would you rather call to make a reservation or do it online?" Read more »

I’d much rather call. I’m fairly old school!

Thomas D
24 days ago

Buy your own. Sure it sounds great. Im in a park right now where it costs me 4600. Bucks a year for my lot plus electric. The place is pretty empty because of covid but the lots still need to be paid for. A lot kf our neighbors are Canadian so they are not here but the rent goes on. Rethink that.

Joan
24 days ago
Would you rather call to make a reservation or do it online?" Read more »

I would rather call for a reservation

Goldie
24 days ago
Would you rather call to make a reservation or do it online?" Read more »

I call…unless the park requires an online reservation.

wanderer
24 days ago

Yes, I’ve gotten locked out of public sites often, I can’t reserve a year in advance. Thought private parks were the answer, but increasingly they don’t answer the phone at 10 or 11 or 2, the small ones go out to do yard work or whatever all day and let the phones go. Sure, some answer or call back, but it’s getting iffy. In addition to high fees, you’re supposed to play phone tag.

In Quartzsite I ran into locked office doors at 3 and 4 p.m., with an Open sign out. FIVE different parks. Folks, if you can’t cover the phones 10 to 4 pm, and you don’t like holding down the fort afternoons, sell the park!

Janef
24 days ago
Would you rather call to make a reservation or do it online?" Read more »

Call

Donald N Wright
24 days ago

Interesting, there is a Reserve America office in Dallas. Maybe I should visit them and learn their side of the story.

Calvin Wing
24 days ago
Would you rather call to make a reservation or do it online?" Read more »

I’d rather call to make a reservation.

Tom
24 days ago

Off Season, best spot finding tip. Stay out of Florida in the Winter season. Lower Alabama, Lower Mississippi, Lower Louisana (all RV parks South of I-10) and South Texas would love you to show up.

Sharon Boehmer
24 days ago
Reply to  Tom

Absolutely agree!!!! Traveled FL late, late fall 2019 and saw a big difference in attitudes when we headed to TX for a couple of months. Not in any hurry to get back to FL, especially gulf coast side.