“We started checking out RV park prices and they wanted to charge us $3 a night extra per kid! Why? And do all RV parks do that?”
This comment - or one much like it - rolls across our Facebook feed about once a week.
The extra per-person fee for kids is so common it has a name in the family RV crowd:
Some of the kid-tax conversations get quite heated and filled with name-calling. What most of them lack, however, is input from the campground owners. I decided to look at the kid tax issue from both sides of the check-in counter in hopes of helping:
- RVing families understand the business side of owning a campground
- Campground owners understand the unique financial strains of being a fulltime RVing family
- Everyone find a compromise
Here’s the plan. I will:
- Define our average fulltime RV family
- Look at some example RV park fees they might encounter
- Show how those fees might be perceived by the family
- Provide the perspective of RV park owners
- Offer our thoughts on the issue
- Make some recommendations for RVing families
- Make some recommendations for RV park owners
- Open up comments for a continuing conversation
And don’t read anything into my use of the phrase “kid tax”. It’s just easier to write than “per person fee for minors”, etc. As you’ll see later in the article, I both understand it and try to avoid paying it.
Fulltime RV families are bigger on average than the typical American family. Our research found that DitchingSuburbia families tend to have four children ranging in ages from newborns up to around age 12.
A lot of RV parks base their rate structures around the typical US family of four - so ditched families end up paying fees more often.
For our purposes let’s assume a ditched family where the kids are ages 6, 8, 10 and 12.
Example Camping Fees
Not all RV parks charge a kid tax. But it’s not uncommon either. The tax might only be for kids older than 4, or age 10. It might apply to all kids under the age of 18. You have to read the rate sheet for each RV park you are interested in.
I wanted to show some real-world examples of RV park fees that our ditched family might encounter on their travels:
Jellystone, Madison FL
I chose this park because it’s close to where I’m writing this post from, we stayed there a few years ago, and because Jellystone is a chain that markets themselves specifically to families.
For one night stay our ditched family would pay:
|Full Hookup RV Site||$55|
|Kid Tax (4 @ $8/ea)||$32|
|Total Per Night||$87|
Atlanta South RV Resort, Atlanta, GA
I have no experience with this park. I just wanted to find something around the big city of Atlanta, GA.
|Full Hookup RV Site||$40|
|Kid Tax (4 @ $3/ea)||$12|
|Total Per Night||$52|
Alton RV Park, Columbus OH
No experience with this park either - I just wanted a sample from the midwest.
|Full Hookup RV Site||$40|
|Kid Tax (2 @ $3/ea)||$6|
|Total Per Night||$46|
As you can see, fees are all over the board even in a small sample size.
Reactions from Families
Fulltime RV Families react to the the idea of a kid tax with everything from understanding to indignation. And all stops in between.
Everything costs a little more - water consumed, waste dumped, TP used, hot water heated, pools cleaned. We have 3 kids and they aren’t cheap!
Kids use more water and create more sewage. They throw rocks on the pavement. They leave toys on the grass. They drop half eaten food trying to feed the birds. The campground has to clean all of this up.
The RV parks just want all the money they can get out of you.
The kid charge discourages large families from staying. People are less likely to stay at a place where they feel kids aren’t welcome.
The campground wants to charge $15 extra for three children who are already asleep?
We should push back on these unfair and outrageous fees by keeping a list of RV parks that charge this penalty for raising a family.
We’re small business owners. And we’ve worked at campgrounds. We have a perspective on the issue that not everyone has. And we got to wondering.
What the RV park owners would have to say?
We found and joined a Facebook group for Campground owners.
RV Park Owners Chime In
We asked if they charged a kid tax and if so, why?
There are only 78 members in this group but we did learn a few things:
We include two kids in the price, but charge for kids after that. It ticks people off but the reality is that every person in our park creates waste (septic, garbage, use of bathroom supplies) and all of those things carry a hefty cost. The only way for us to survive is to charge per person after 2 adults and 2 kids.Shawna Brackley
In Canada every day water must be cycled out of the pool and new water put in. On heavy swim days we have to empty over half the pool and reheat it. That’s a huge cost for water, chemicals and reheating. Brooke Spilchen Foster
Kids use resources and are very hard on our facilities. When was the last time an adult threw a rock through a window or smashed a croquet mallet? There is no way to determine exactly which kid does the damage. We do allow up to 3 of your own children under 18 before we charge. However, we charge for grandkids and friends regardless of number. (We have found they are the worst offenders.) Liz Ste. Marie Fons
We include kids in our prices. But then we have empty nesters who complain that kids are included when they have none and feel they should pay a cheaper rate. No one will ever be happy.Christine Letch
Kids are so destructive. We have to rebuild so much of our playground every year because of the older ones. This past summer, they DESTROYED our Willow maze. It will take a decade to regrow the damage they did in one weekend.Shawna Brackley
We had 3 sites register over 20 guests for one day. One site asked if they could have 15 overnight guests in their camper. Dawn Sullivan
We Understand the Kid Tax
RV parks are a business. The primary intent of any business is to make money. Businesses that forget that are soon no longer in business.
And from our experience of working 3 different campgrounds? They aren’t exactly a get-rich-quick scheme. Consider that every campground has:
- Costs of the land
- Taxes on the land
- A plumbing, electric, and septic system to install and maintain
- Maintenance and repair on any piece of equipment availble for use by guests
- A constant turnover of residents
- Labor costs of maintenance people, cleaning people, and office help
- A limited season to make money
Think about the primary target market for an RV park. Here’s a tip:
It’s not fulltime RVing families.
It’s retired couples living fulltime in their RV or vacationing families.
While we think the numbers of fulltime RV families are growing, there’s no way to tell for sure. Our experience - even six years in - is that we are usually the only fulltime RV family in any RV park we are in.
We are the exception.
It’s unrealistic to expect campgrounds to base their pricing structures around a market that represents only a fraction of their income.
So - as business people - we get it.
But We Try to Avoid Paying It
But we are also consumers of RV parks. We try to minimize our costs of RV Park consumption just like we do gas, food, or internet service.
When we are evaluating RV parks in a specific area we take any extra fees into account. We want to be able to compare apples to apples.
Given the option between two RV parks that are similar in appearance, location, amenities, and ratings/reviews we will choose the less expensive option.
We’ve also cut our camping costs by:
RV parks are a free market in a competitive economy.
If a given RV park sees their occupancy rates slipping and notices their costs are higher than their competitors, they will find ways to lower their rates to increase occupancy.
Conversely, if a given RV park is running full or has a waiting list, they can raise their rates and improve their profitability.
In neither case is the campground “evil” or “good”.
They are simply a business trying to stay in business.
Recommendations for Fulltime RV Families
Are you a fulltime RVing family reading this? Here are our recommendations around the kid-tax:
- Be Realistic
If you have a job, it’s because somewhere a business is making money. Don’t complain about RV parks trying to do the same.
- Use Neutral Language
When you use words like “unfair”, “outrageous”, and “penalty” you kill any conversation and understanding between you and the RV park owner before it can even start.
- Check Your Entitlement
The world doesn’t owe you a cheap RV site just because you chose to live in an RV. If the prices/fees surprise you, then you didn’t do your research. Own that.
The kid tax isn’t law. It’s a choice the RV park owner made. They could choose to waive it. Ask if they will. The longer your stay the more bargaining power you have.
- Use Discount Camping Programs
That $87/night Jellystone in Madison? We didn’t pay anywhere near that to stay there. It’s part of the Passport America discount camping program. We paid half their normal rate because we were there off season and mid-week.
- Favor Government-Owned Parks
City, county, and state campgrounds have far fewer fees for extra people. Look at them before private RV parks (but you can often still find cheaper options with the fees at private RV parks).
- Consider FulltimeFamilies Membership
One of the benefits to joining FulltimeFamilies is access to a list of campgrounds that don’t charge a kid tax.
- Consider Thousand Trails Membership
We’re not fans of the Thousand Trails system for ourselves, but they allow 10 people on a campsite. If you have a big family the financial savings might make it worthwhile for you.
Recommendations for RV Park Owners
Are you an RV park owner reading this? Here are some recommendations for you:
- Be Realistic
How many families are going to pay $87/night to stay in your park in the offseason and mid-week? Consider revamping your fee structure or joining discount progams like Passport America. Better to get 1/2 price for a site than have it go unused.
- Work With UsThe community of fulltiming RV families is small, but tight. Treat us right and word will get around.
- All Inclusive Pricing
Many families we talk with understand the added costs of their kids being in your park, but just don’t like being “nickel and dimed” with extra fees.
- Or, Separate Camping Prices Out
If your fees are to cover pools, mini-golf, and other non-camping costs consider offering a nightly rate that doesn’t include access to those areas of your park.
- Have a Cutoff Time
If a family is rolling into your park in the late afternoon and will only be there one night, consider waiving the fees for them.
- Empower Your Help
In many parks the fees have to be enforced by hired help or workcampers. Give them the authority to waive the fees when they feel it’s appropriate.
- See the Unseen
You might think your fees are fine because no one is complaining, but you aren’t hearing from the people who aren’t coming to your park after seeing the fees mentioned on your website.
- Trade Chores for Fees
Consider keeping a chore jar at check-in with tasks around the park that older kids could do to “earn” the fees. The kids will feel valued and parents will appreciate it too.