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Higher gas prices are motivating RVers to cut costs, including staying overnight in parking lots instead of patronizing private campgrounds, according to an Associated Press report.
Charlotte Pinick, who owns an RV park with her husband in Emporia, Kan., recently viewed five recreational vehicles parked in a nearby truck stop parking lot and a few more up the road at the Wal-Mart.
That’s more than $120 the owner of Emporia RV Park won’t be bringing in this day as travelers choose free parking over the campsites with water, electricity, dump station and wireless Internet service Pinick and her husband are offering for $22.50 a night.
“We don’t like it, but it’s one of those things,” Pinick says of the RVs that could have been filling the 20-some empty spaces in her RV park.
With $2 gas prices making their hobby more expensive, RV enthusiasts are trimming their travel costs any way they can, whether it’s taking fewer and shorter trips or spending a few nights in the local Wal-Mart parking lot, experts say.
They’re also looking for convenience, security and familiarity as they drive their travel trailers or $100,000-plus motor homes from one end of the country to the other.
“There are those nights when you’re forced to drive in the dark to find someplace to park, and you just don’t know what you’re going to find,” said Chuck Woodbury, who publishes RV-related articles on the Internet. “You say to yourself, ‘There’s a Wal-Mart over there. I’m going to make life easy for myself.’ ”
“Boondocking,” also known as primitive camping, is the RVer term for camping without the use of such conveniences as electricity and water. Critics of the practice – especially campground owners who feel they are losing money because of it – argue that people who can afford to drive vehicles worth hundreds of thousands of dollars across the country surely can afford to pay the $20 or $30 nightly fee for a campsite.
But RVers say it’s not always about saving money. Most Wal-Marts are easy to find, the lots are lit up at night and usually have security cameras. Campers can restock their supplies, get something to eat and be back on the highway with ease – which is important to people who have someplace else to be.
Pinick said most transient campers she sees – the ones who are just passing through, rather than the “snowbirds” who park there for extended stays – alternate between parking in campgrounds and overnighting in places where they don’t have to pay.
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Christi Gallagher said there are 3,167 Wal-Marts and Sam’s Club stores scattered across the U.S. in communities of all sizes. The company whose founder, Sam Walton, was said to be an RV enthusiast, encourages RVers to park in its lots wherever it’s allowed, she said.
Yuma, Ariz., is one of those places where overnighting at Wal-Mart is not allowed. James Stover, public affairs manager in Yuma, said the city has a 20-year-old ban on any overnight camping without a permit. Campgrounds are big business in Arizona, he said, and allowing travelers to camp overnight for free does not help the business community.