Tips for Finding Free or Low-Cost Activities While RVing

Fun, free, and cheap

You can save a substantial amount of money by finding cheap or free things to do wherever you travel in your RV. And, it’s easier than you think. Several go-to activities and strategies will help you tighten your purse strings.

Every dollar you save is a dollar you can put toward your next road trip. Granted, you still want to enjoy your current trip to the fullest. 

But, thankfully, most free activities are worth good money. Here are ways you can find inexpensive or free things to do on your next RV road trip.

Jekyll Island (Georgia) Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Head to the local visitor center

Make the visitor center or chamber of commerce your first stop. They’ll be happy to tell you about their city and give you an event schedule and suggest things to do in the area. Concerts, craft shows, farmers’ markets, fairs, and other events are fun, interesting, and often free.

Arkansas Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I’m a BIG FAN of visitor centers. They are packed with useful information including brochures and self-guided tour maps. Plus, there is always a helpful docent itching to tell you about their local knowledge and wisdom. If anyone is going to know about the best free and cheap things to do, it’s the visitor center staff.

Superstition Mountain Museum, Apache Junction, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Visit museums

Both the United States and Canada take pride in making history and knowledge available to the public. The U. S. is packed with FREE museums that are operated at the city, county, or federal level.

Museum of Appalachia, Clinton, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Smithsonian Institute is the best example with incredible museums, galleries, and a zoo. While it is surely the grandest, it is by no means the only one. 

Most cities and even small towns have a public museum you can enjoy, often for free. Many do ask for a donation but in most cases, you’ll be more than happy to give it.

Texas State Aquarium, Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Use reciprocal memberships

If you don’t know what reciprocal memberships are, you’re not alone. Reciprocity programs offer access to many places to visit including historical museums, zoos and aquariums, and science and technology centers.

So what is reciprocity? It’s an exchange of benefits between two locations such as two zoos or two art museums. Except that the program participants are more than just a couple of locations; they typically span hundreds to thousands of locations nationwide and in some international locations.

Corning Museum of Art, Corning, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Five great examples of reciprocal memberships for travelers are:

  • Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)
  • Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC)
  • North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM)
  • American Horticultural Society
  • Time Travelers (reciprocal membership network for historical museums, sites, and societies throughout the US)
Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. National and state parks

National Parks and Monuments offer wonderful visitor centers, free ranger-led tours, and informative talks. You can purchase an annual America the Beautiful pass for $80 which offers entrance access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. This includes National Parks, National Monuments, National Recreation Areas, National Memorials, National Historic Sites, National Wildlife Refuges, National Forests, and the Bureau of Land Management. You can learn about medicinal plants in the Arizona desert, birds in Florida, and the gold rush in Alaska—all free at National Parks.

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State parks are also fun to explore. If you’re going to visit several parks in one state, it might make sense to purchase a state parks pass for that state as that covers entrance fees for all parks in that state.

5. Google “free things to do in…”

Include your destination and the search engine will take care of the rest. You’ll get plenty of lists to explore. 

Another great search resource is Tripadvisor. Users rank the best things to do in any place which you can easily skim through.

Cape Cod Potato Chips Factory Tour, Massachusetts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Check for local factory tours

Local business or factory tours provide not only a unique experience but also a great way to connect with a local community. It gives you a real insight into the area and often a glimpse into the local history. Many of these tours are free with the unspoken expectation that you make a purchase. For instance, many local breweries offer a free tour and end it with a sales pitch to buy their brews. Some wineries waive their tasting fee with a purchase.

If not free, most factory tours are reasonably priced. In many cases, you can take the tour for less than $10 each.

Walking tour of murals in historic Denham Springs, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Free walking tours

Many cities across the U.S. have guided or self-guided walking tours for free or cheap. You can simply google “walking tours in…” and fill in the space with your destination.

There are also a few apps and websites dedicated to walking tours. A popular one for U.S. destinations is GPSMyCity. It has thousands of self-guided walking tours.

Hiking Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Hiking

Go for hikes on the nature trails of wildlife refuges and BLM land. National Wildlife Refuges are wonderful places to see migrating birds and learn about native animal species. There are often loop drives with stops along the way where you can photograph wildlife from a safe distance. Many state and county parks have great hiking trails too. Visiting can show you all the hiking trails in the area. Not only is hiking usually free but it’s great exercise and a great way to see the area from a different point of view.

Galt Farmers Market, Galt, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Flea markets, farmer’s markets, and festivals

Local flea markets, farmer’s markets, and festivals are wonderful ways to check out local produce and crafts. Some farmer’s markets also have entertainment, places to picnic, and a variety of fresh foods to try. In the Northeast, you’ll find Maple Festivals, Apple Festivals, and Lilac Festivals. Or look for the Potato Festival, Rattlesnake Hunts, and Chili Cookoffs in the south and west.

Placerville Historical Society, Placerville, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Visit the local historical society website

Most cities, big or small, have some kind of historical society. If you visit their website, you’ll often find visitor guides to historical sites in the area. In many cases, you can visit these historical sites for free, with a donation, or a small entry fee.

Simply google your destination with “historical society” and see what pops up in search results.

I hope these tips for finding cheap or free things to do while RVing has helped. I have one more recommendation for you.

The Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bonus tip

RVing with Rex has posted a series of Ultimate Guides to…

These resources were written for RVers who wish to explore a location in depth and often highlight cheap and free things to do while traveling in the area. Having a tried-and-true itinerary can save you from wasting time and throwing money at something, anything to do. Selected guides include:

The Ultimate Guide to Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More cheap travel tips

To save even more while RVing consider these final three tips:

  • Eat in: Have a meal plan and stick to it. Cook in your RV kitchen, pack lunches if you’ll be out, and avoid spending tons of money on fast food.
  • Stay close to home: RVs are fuel guzzlers. Save on the cost of gas or diesel by choosing a destination close to home.
  • Set a strict budget: Before you start planning, decide on a budget and stick to it. You may be surprised how far you can make your money stretch using the above tips.

Worth Pondering…

Because the greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your destination. It’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way.

—Emma Chase