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

Warning: Lots of Nuts Inside

This is one really big nut

Two of the largest pistachio tree groves in New Mexico, PistachioLand and Eagle Ranch are destinations that can be enjoyed by all ages. Located in the Tularosa Basin outside of Alamogordo they are easy day trips from Las Cruces and can be combined with a visit to White Sands National Park. With an average of 287 days of sunshine, outdoor activities abound throughout the area. 

World’s Largest Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tularosa Basin has the perfect climate for growing pistachios, pecans, and grapes.  There are numerous wineries and nut farms where you can enjoy delicious wine and nut tastings and beautiful views of the Sacramento Mountains.

McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

PistachioLand is the home of the World’s Largest Pistachio, Pistachio Tree Ranch, McGinn’s Country Store, and Arena Blanca Winery. Experience their motorized farm tour, take your photo with the World’s Largest Pistachio, shop inside their country store, sit on the porch with views of the mountains, try their free samples at the pistachio bar, enjoy the wine tasting room, and grab a sweet treat in PistachioLand ice cream parlor.

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eagle Ranch is the home of New Mexico’s largest producing pistachio groves with approximately 13,000 trees. Wines were added to the product line in 2002. The main store, on the ranch in Alamogordo, offers farm tours that showcase how pistachios are grown and processed. A second store is conveniently located in the historic village of Mesilla.

Related Article: World’s Largest Pistachio Nut

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pistachio probably originated in Central Asia where large stands of wild trees are found in areas known today as Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan. Evidence indicates that fruits of the tree have been eaten for over 8,000 years. The first commercial plantings in these countries were most likely started from seeds collected from the best wild trees.

The tree was introduced into Mediterranean Europe at about the beginning of the Christian era. The elevation and climate in the Tularosa Basin is almost identical to the pistachio producing areas of Iran and Turkey.

McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The scientific name for the pistachio is Pistacia vera L. It is a member of the Anacardiaceae family which contains such widely known plants as the cashew, mango, sumach, and poison ivy.

Pistachio trees grow in dry climates and can reach up to 39 feet in height. In the spring, the trees develop grape-like clusters of green colored fruits, known as drupes, which gradually harden and turn red.

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Within the fruit is a green and purple seed which is the edible part of the fruit. As the fruits ripen, the shell hardens and splits open with a pop exposing the seed within. The fruits are picked, hulled, dried, and often roasted before being sold.

Because pistachios are the seed of a drupe, they are not a true botanical nut. In fact, they’re the edible seed of the pistachio tree fruit. However, in the culinary world pistachios are treated as nuts and they’re also classified as a tree nut allergen.

McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is a deciduous tree requiring approximately 1,000 hours of temperature at or below 45 degrees in order to grow normally after its winter dormancy. Pistachio nut trees are generally suited for areas where summers are long, hot, and dry and the winters are moderately cold. A native desert tree, it does not tolerate high humidity in the growing season.

Related Article: Celebrating all things Pistachio on National Pistachio Day

Although the pistachio was first introduced into California by the US Department of Agriculture about 1904, little interest was generated until the 1950s. Since that time pistachios have become a significant farm commodity in California.

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plantings have also been made in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas in those areas that meet the climate criteria. The tree flourishes and bears well in well-drained soils, but its root system will not tolerate prolonged wet conditions. It seems more tolerant to alkaline and saline conditions than most other commercial trees. The vigor and productive life of the tree is extremely long lasting. In the mid-East, there are trees on record of having productivity of several hundred years.

McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pistachio is a small tree, reaching about 30 feet of height at full maturity. Usual commercial plantings are approximately 120 trees per acre. The trees begin to produce nuts in the fourth or fifth year after planting with good production taking 8 to 10 years and full bearing maturity occurring after 15 to 20 years. Average yield per tree is one-half pound the fifth year increasing to 20 pounds at maturity.

McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A large percentage of pistachios are marketed in the shell for eating-out-of-the-hand snack food. Pistachios are a rich source of essential nutrients, fiber, and protein. Low in saturated fat and cholesterol free, increasing numbers of people are discovering how enjoyable this delicious nut can be.

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun Pistachio Trivia

  • Pistachios are called “smiling nut” in the Middle East
  • Pistachio shells usually split naturally when ripe
  • Pistachios are wind-pollinated and one male tree is required for up to 30 female trees
  • In China pistachios are called “happy nut”
  • Pistachios are said to have grown in the hanging gardens of Babylon and were a favorite of King Nebuchadnezzar
  • The Kerman variety is grown in the US
McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I think pistachios are delicious!

Read Next: The New Mexico Green Chile Peppers Guide

 Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

Tabasco Hot Pepper Sauce is Produced on Avery Island

Louisiana’s Cajun Country is home to the world’s favorite hot sauce

Avery Island, the birthplace of Tabasco Brand Products including TABASCO pepper sauce, has been owned for over 180 years by the interrelated Marsh, Avery, and McIlhenny families. Lush subtropical flora and live oaks draped with Spanish moss cover this geological oddity which is one of five islands rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes.

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 2,200-acre tract sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt thought to be deeper than Mount Everest is high. Geologists believe this deposit is the remnant of a buried ancient seabed, pushed to the surface by the sheer weight of surrounding alluvial sediments. Although covered with a layer of fertile soil, salt springs may have attracted prehistoric settlers to the island as early as 12,000 years ago. Fossils suggest that early inhabitants shared the land with mastodons and mammoths, giant sloths, saber-toothed tigers, and three-toed horses.

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A salt production industry dates back to about 1000 AD, judging from recovered basket fragments, polished stone implements, and shards of pottery left by American Indians. Although these early dwellers remained on the Island at least as late as the 1600s, they had mysteriously disappeared by the time white settlers first discovered the briny springs at the end of the next century.

Related Article: The Fiery Appeal of Hot Chile Peppers

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After the Civil War, former New Orleans banker E. McIlhenny met a traveler recently arrived from Mexico who gave McIlhenny a handful of pepper pods, advising him to season his meals with them. McIlhenny saved some of the pods and planted them in his in-laws’ garden on Avery Island; he delighted in the peppers’ piquant flavor which added excitement to the monotonous food of the Reconstruction-era South.

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around 1866 McIlhenny experimented with making a hot sauce from these peppers, hitting upon a formula that called for crushing the reddest, ripest peppers, stirring in Avery Island salt, and aging the concoction he then added French white wine vinegar, hand-stirring it regularly to blend the flavors. After straining, he transferred the sauce to small cologne-type bottles, which he corked and sealed in green wax.

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“That Famous Sauce Mr. McIlhenny Makes” proved so popular with family and friends that McIlhenny decided to market it, growing his first commercial crop in 1868. The next year he sent out 658 bottles of sauce at one dollar per bottle wholesale to grocers around the Gulf Coast, particularly in New Orleans. The public responded positively and soon McIlhenny had introduced Tabasco sauce to consumers in major markets across the United States. By the end of the 1870s, McIlhenny was exporting Tabasco sauce to Europe. So began the fiery condiment that is now a global cultural and culinary icon.

Related Article: I’m going to Cajun Country!

Tabasco Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Avery Island remains the home of the Tabasco Factory, as well as Jungle Gardens and its Bird City waterfowl refuge. The Tabasco factory and the gardens are open to the public.

Tabasco Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the original red pepper sauce, other hot sauces available for purchase in the TABASCO Country Store include green jalapeño, chipotle pepper, cayenne garlic, habanero pepper, scorpion, sriracha, sweet & spicy, and buffalo style. TABASCO hot sauces can also be purchased online.

Tabasco Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the history and production of the world-famous hot sauce during your visit to Avery Island. The Avery Island Fan Experience includes a self-guided tour of the TABASCO Museum, Pepper Greenhouse, Barrel Warehouse, Avery Island Conservation, Salt Mine diorama, TABASCO Country Store, TABASCO Restaurant 1868! and the 170-acre natural beauty of Jungle Gardens. Admission is $12.50 with a 10 percent seniors and veterans discount.

The Buddha, Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jungle Gardens

E.A. McIlhenny created a 170-acre garden, in 1935 he opened it to the public to enjoy his collection of camellias, azaleas, and other imported plants. You may see wildlife such as alligators, bears, bobcats, deer, and other wildlife as you walk or drive along man-made lagoons that trail Bayou Petit Anse. The over 900-year-old Buddha sits in the Temple he created. And visit “Bird City”, home to thousands of egrets, herons, and other birds!

Related Article: History and Culture along Bayou Teche National Scenic Byway

Bird City, Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved


US 90 Exit 128A on LA 14 toward New Iberia approximately three-quarter-mile then right on LA 329, 7 miles to Avery Island

Read Next: Cool-As-Hell Louisiana Towns You Need to Visit (Besides New Orleans)

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a fillet gumbo
Cause tonight Im gonna see my machez a mio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh
Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou.
Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou.
Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou.

—Hank Williams, Sr.