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This post is the second installment of our new series on Thousand Trails camping memberships. The series examines the platform that some fulltime RVers use to lower their cost of living. The last one was on money, this one is about how to meet other RVers using this camping membership.
Cut To The Chase (TL;DR)
You can make a lot of great friends that will change your life at Thousand Trails - but you don't have to if you don't want to.
We have only stayed at a handful of TT parks and a handful of Encore parks – all in south eastern states. I’ll refer to all types below just as "TT". This is our experience with Thousand Trails, yours might be different.
Recap On What Thousand Trails Is
Thousand Trails (TT) is a camping membership where over time you can save a LOT of money on campground costs. Though cost cutting is the driving motivator, there are other things you can get out of a membership too.
Sometimes, It’s About The People
There’s more to RVing than just the destinations. There’s more to camping than just going places. Sometimes, it’s about the people. Camping and RVing don’t have to be a solitary endeavor.
Oh the people you’ll meet.Altered (by me) quote of Dr. Suess’ famous line about places you’ll go.
With community and social interaction being a part of our lives, it’s appropriate that an examination of Thousand Trails should include a discussion of “the people”.
How much do you like people?
Think life on the road would be fun but worry about having no social life? Don’t worry, the Thousand Trails system can facilitate you meeting lots of new people - where you could have a very active social life.
Are you the opposite and want to hit the road to get away from a social life? You too can benefit from the money savings of Thousand Trails as you keep your social distance barriers up and camp hermit style.
Some people need social interaction like they need air. For these people, a life in an RV without additional people to interact with is lonely. They need more people in their lives. They like other people and want to be near them.
Thousand Trails is a great place for this personality type.
But it wasn't us. When we hit the road fulltime, we had no interest in the community aspect of RVing. We knew it was a thing for some people, but we had set off to spend time as a family and “community” would just get in the way of that.
Yet, meeting others with similar suburb ditching ideals has been an unexpected highlight for us. We have found others out there who “get it” and “get us”.
With us not valuing the "suburban script", we have felt like misfits. We Mis-fit. It’s nice to fit in finally.
Now our desire for social interaction vs deliberate isolation has reached a healthy balance as it ebbs and flows on the spectrum between the two. Thousand Trails parks gave us an avenue to manage our social intake to what works best for us.
How Thousand Trails “Socially” Differs From State and National Parks
We once exclusively camped at state and national parks as they tend to be cheaper and we love being right in the thick of nature. From a social perspective these parks often have natural barriers between sites resulting in less interaction between campers (unless concerted effort is made).
Thousand Trails parks have a different feel that is more on par with a typical RV “Resort”. You will notice that people:
With all this, TT parks tend to have a much more social, “community” feel. Though each park we have been to has been different, the commonality of “membership” between them creates a sort of club that you belong to with others.
Community, or Suburbia of the RV World?
Lots of people living in a community in close proximity? Sounds a little like the suburbs.
It’s not the suburbs. It’s different. There are no social “rules” you have to abide by. Unlike the suburbs, you don’t have to do anything to meet anyone’s expectations to avoid years of being socially ostracized in your community.
You don’t have to go to any community events (though they have them). You don’t have to go to church (some parks have them too), no sports (shuffleboard is optional).
It’s not the suburbs.
But, there are times when it feels like it is the RV equivilant of the suburbs. Just from a Neighbors perspective, your neighbors in a TT park might have personality types much like the suburbs.
There are the nice neighbors who would do anything for you. There are also the neighbors who don’t know how to mind their own business and just want to be a thorn in your side. We call those bad one’s, “Bonnie and Jim’s”, after our old awful suburb neighbors (no offence to the nice Bonnie’s and Jim’s of the world).
Indeed, being parked so close to your neighbors can either be a great thing, or a terrible thing. But if it’s terrible, you always have to option to hitch up and move.
You Might Make Life Long Friends
Beyond anything I will say below, I have to mention that some of the people we have met at TT parks have made our life better. The membership costs an amount of money, yes. But from a money-to-benefit way of looking at it, I feel that given the depth of friendships we have made, we got a bargain.
Before TT, we’d meet people here and there, but in limited quantity compared to a busy TT park. We’d chat at campgrounds, meet great people at Boondockers Welcome spots, and even attend church and meet the local people. All this is great, but TT is full of fulltime travelers, and meeting and talking to fulltime travelers opens your mind up to new things and new possibilities. You meet incredible people with incredible goals.
Meeting these people won’t just happen. Some of these incredible people are exclusively at TT parks because of their park-to-park membership. There are amazing fulltime RVers all over, but we’ve not seen such a high concentration of families outside of TT.
If they only stay in TT parks, and if you never stay in TT parks, then you will never cross paths with them. In other words, there might be an entire subset of RVers that you would get along famously with … but you have to be where they are to actually meet.
What about all the Covid stuff (March to May 2020)? From what we saw, TT followed health guidelines when closing and re-opening amenities. When things are closed down you can expect your TT social life to be more on par with what you might get at State and National Parks. You still have to get your garbage to the dumpster, and there’s still other people in the park, but you won’t be making new friends in the hot tub.
But – social distancing or not – we learned that if a potentially catastrophic weather event comes to town during a lockdown, then social distancing goes to about 6 inches between you and the next person crammed into an underground tornado shelter.
“I Just Don’t Like People”
If you want to social distance even when things are all clear and there are no health guidelines about any of that – go for it. Thousand Trails is a great way to save money and you don’t have to talk to anyone socially if you don’t want to.
Perhaps the reasons you left the suburbs were anti-social and “getting away from it all” means getting away from people too. Understand that you will encounter other people unless you are vigilant about staying in your site.
You go to the pool – people; take out the trash – people; go collect your packages – people; and some of them will try to talk to you. If you hate people, stand your ground and say something nasty or egregiously political … that should help you not get sucked into a social interaction (or you might have a new best friend).
Right Place At The Right Time
Sometimes the TT parks aren’t all that busy, or there are a lot of RVs but they are full of hermit types. Sometimes circumstances play out that there really isn’t much “community” to speak of. For example, from our experience if you stay at the TT in Alabama when it’s summer – your options to be social are limited. Not gone completely, but limited.
Conversely, if you winter in Florida and go to the park in Orlando (TTO), you will experience a very busy Thousand Trails park.
I would call it Hyper-Social!
Don’t plan to get a lot of work done. And yet – that park is so huge that if you aren’t parked in the right place you might be surrounded by people and still be lonely.
If you feel compelled to get a feel of what a park is like before or while you are there, look for Facebook groups or chats specific to that park or region to see what’s happening. Ask the group members about which sites are best. There are also more generalized Facebook groups for all TT parks you can join.
You Might Need A Break From All The Community
If you have found yourself at a hyper-social park, you might long to boondock in the middle of the desert with 30 miles between you and anyone. When pulling away from the over-socialized park you might quote Shakespeare’s Juliet that, “Parting is such sweet sorrow”. Sorrow to make friends and then part ways, but “sweet” because you need the break badly!
Maybe you’ve experienced this, or you’ve been next to a few people that their parting was “sweet” to you.
If you have kids at one of these hyper-social parks, don’t expect your time there to be one of “closer family”. They might spend all day with new friends and if they are anything like mine, it will take a day or two to get them back to normal when it’s all over.
Family-Type Demographics You Will See In TT
It’s not all “old people” like perhaps it once was. Like everywhere else in life, all these “family types” are found in Thousand Trails campgrounds.
In the “no-kids camp”:
In the “with-kids camp”:
Why do I bother saying any of this and making all those distinctions?
I do so to dispel any preconceived notions about what you will encounter. But be aware, by far the largest demographic is retired people – that goes for all RVing. Also, I want to give my two cents on the social benefits or drawbacks these family structure types will find as members of Thousand Trails.
Additional distinction regarding kids. I think there are two factors that will change the TT experience for you and your kids.
Anyone Without Kids
Your life is less complicated. There are lots of people within TT for you to interact with. If you get invited over for a campfire, you can just talk and enjoy the moment with no side concern about anyone else.
To make friends and be social, honestly all you have to do is go for a walk around the campground (early evening is a good time), look for people outside and say, "hey neighbor". That's it, that's all you have to do.
If you don’t have kids or don’t care about any of that, skip these next sections and scroll down to “Lastly, Some Realities”
Kids and Friends
If you have only one child, or if your kids don’t interact with each other, then TT has a stronger likelihood to be a way for your kids to find someone to play with than what you would encounter at a random state park. Families with an “only child” are often struggling with keeping that one kid busy because they have no one to play with. Enter TT – find some kids to play with and you are set.
If your kids’ ages are spaced out, TT is great for having a higher probability to find someone for everyone. Things can get lonely for kids who get left out in social scenes. If you have 3 kids and you are at a state park and there is another family there with 2 kids your kids’ ages – then you have one kid that has no one to play with. That’s always rough. At a busy TT park, your odds go up – it’s a probability factor.
If you are a large family like ours, where all your kids are close in age, then other families at TT parks LOVE you because you bring the party everywhere you go. But, and here’s the thing that only families like this understand, you don’t “need” them because you bred in a social structure so your homelife is never dull or lonely.
If your kids make a lot of friends, until someone hitches up and moves, your life has the potential to become the polar opposite of “peaceful” as your kids marinate in social circles. You start getting knocks on your door at 6:30 AM from other kids anxious to play with yours. It’s a good thing, and a bad thing, all at the same time.
That’s one reason we like the camping pass – we go in to the belly of the social beast for two weeks, then we get out, go to a state park (or better yet, a Harvest Hosts) and return any wayward focus back to our family.
Tell Me Straight, Will My Kids Have Someone To Play With?
Probably. The reality of living on the road is that you and your kids have to be adaptable to social situations. Kids and teens on the road learn to adapt beyond social societal norms - because they may have no one else to hang out with.
TT is a little hit and miss on the social scene for kids. They may or may not have anyone their age to play with. As such, they often learn to play with others who may be older or younger than them. I feel this makes kids more well-rounded.
The ‘other kids’
Lots of kids around raises the possibility of bullies. We haven’t experienced it personally, but we have heard and read stories (particularly at Thousand Trails Orlando [TTO]) of kids encountering all sorts of “bad kids” with parents who adopt a “boys will be boys” flippant excusing-bad-behavior parenting style.
In the back of your head there is also “what are your kids learning from peers”. Are those ‘other’ kids teaching yours about topics you don’t want them learning from peers? Topics like the birds and the bees or a jolly fat man that comes around on Dec 25th?
This scenario (of your child’s ‘social education’ being administered by some random kid) is a regular thing in public school. I was public schooled, and I learned all sorts of stuff from peers that my parents would have been appalled by.
But for those of us who have always homeschooled (sometimes expressly to avoid the teachings of "other kids"), encountering it at a campground can be upsetting. At a busy TT park, the sheer number of kids (raised in households with varying parenting styles) raises your probability of encountering that blabber mouth ‘random kid’.
What about other religious beliefs? We are of the persuasion that exposure to other people/cultures and understanding their religious beliefs is a good thing for our kids. But if that is not you, and you are at a busy TT park, your kids who are out ‘playing with friends’ might be exposed to something you might not approve of.
We once heard of this so that’s why I bring it up.
Reminds me of a great movie, “Son of Rambow” where a boy from a fundamental Christian family makes an off-beat friend, accidentally watches the movie Rambo and has all kinds of adventures. You should watch it, it’s great (and yes, that spelling of Rambo is correct for that movie).
We don’t see many teens on the road when we are not at busy parks. I think most fulltime traveling teens like to do their own thing and usually sequester themselves in their RVs. They spend time talking to their friends online and such and are less likely to be dragged around to every “lets go on a hike and then to Walmart” whim of their parents.
But – at busy TT parks, there are teenagers walking around and spending time together – in real life. None of this fake online stuff. The first time I saw it I thought it was weird. Like I’d stumbled on some awkward extinct animal. The Dodo Bird? For them, it’s probably a great social break from their stupid parents who don’t know as much about the world as they do.
Lastly, Some Realities
If we all live in an RV and are at TT we are all friends right? Right?
From a family perspective, we found that a busy Thousand Trails can feel a little like “all the social complexities of high school” and “Instagram” had a camping baby. I re-read that sentence after I wrote it and I don’t like the way it flows – but it actually describes it really well.
Don't yell at my toddler! Talk to me. If you yell at my 4 year old, you and I will have a big problem!
I hate to belabor this much, but it's true. Families will go to the pool, kids will jump in, make noise, and retireds will YELL at small children right in front of their parents. They have no qualms with bringing a child to tears. It's very upsetting and it happens way too much! It's almost as if they think the families haven't earned the right through a lifetime of work to be there.
These type of people hate kids, hate families, and frankly hate anyone under 55. They think that by reaching a certain age, that they earned the right to not have to see children. I don't know what world they think they are living in where they can pretend and omit an entire group of people from existance. They give dirty looks, make mean comments, yell, and practically pick fist fights in the worst cases. They suck! This demographic does exist at TT parks (at least they do in winter in Florida).
I bring this up for one reason – if you think you will get a TT membership and then magically you will be plugged into the RV social pipeline you see on Instagram … just think back to High School and trust me – TT’s inter-family social scene is high school. Even if you are a family and there are families all around, that doesn’t mean you will be plugged into it and it will be an Instagram post come true. There are still personalities – and some of those just won’t mesh with yours.
Sorry to burst the bubble with realities, but someone had to say it.
A Good Way To Buy
If you decide that TT is right for you, we suggest reaching out to our guy at TT who told us he would get you the best deal they have with any discounts available. We feel this is a good way to review Thousand Trails – by honestly reviewing it and sharing our go-to guy with our interested readers. He created a contact form specifically for us when I called him to fact check a few things (he also set us up with a finder’s fee at no additional cost to you).- Matt
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