Our next RV destination research led us to considering a Thousand Trails membership. The Traveling Tribe has a blog post where I first found information about Thousand Trails while I was looking through their campground reviews for Texas. Upon further research, a number of fulltime RVers recommend having a membership that covers all the parks across the USA, but they do suggest trying out just a zone pass before you take the plunge, to see if you even like their park system. Most of their resorts/campgrounds, often called preserves, are outside of cities in the wilderness, which we LOVE. The Thousand Trails system seems confusing at first, but after all the helpful RVing blogs and vlogs laid it all out there for us, we felt the long term costs would be the best way to save us money in the short term. RV Love has some posts here, and here, that are very informative for anyone considering any of the memberships. And The Freedom Theory have a video we found helpful. After doing our own research, we called and asked for specific deals on the zone pass to get more bang for our buck. The first guy said he couldn’t make the offer so we hung up and called again, and the next sales guy said he could give us the offer we wanted and got us set up.
The Zone Pass is where you sign up for a membership in their system and choose one zone out of the USA that you want to have access to parks in. We chose the Southeast which includes Texas, over to Florida, and up to the Virginias, since we were already in Texas and had an inkling that we would want to head to Florida for the Fulltime Families’ rally. This kind of yearly membership usually runs in the $400 to $500 range depending on which deal you manage to get, which is about a month’s cost to stay at most RV parks in Texas anyways. We were able to get them to give us a second zone for free (two for the price of one) which was not the offer on their website at the time, so we got the Southwest zone as well. One downside to a zone pass is that the maximum number of days you can stay at one of their parks is 14 days, then you have to stay out of their park system for 7 days before you can return to that park or go to another one. We were ok with this setup while we worked on figuring out if we wanted to go big and get the more expensive membership.
We needed to stay in the Houston area for MadMac’s VA appointments he would be going to, and there were two Thousand Trails parks within about an hour’s drive to Houston, so we made our reservations for the Lake Conroe park just to the north of Houston and made the short trip from Livingston to the Willis/Conroe area. Making reservations through the Thousand Trails (TT) website is stress free and so much easier than calling RV parks and asking for rates and relaying all your personal information every time. Many RV parks charge extra for kids (often referred to as “child tax” by other RVers) or they cater only to the 55+ crowd, and this can become a hassle when trying to find RV parks and make your reservations, but Thousand Trails does not discriminate in either of these ways. When you arrive to most of the TT parks, you pull up to the guard shack to check-in (some will post signs for you to drive to the Welcome Center instead) and they give you a map, a gate code, and whatever other flyers and rules they hand out. Then you pass through the gate and look for a spot of your choosing, which we LOVE….most RV parks assign you to a spot and you have no choice in the matter. Some of the busier TT parks can be more daunting to find a spot you like, but it’s still our preferred method.
The pictures of the Lake Conroe park on the website had us excited about walking their trail it claims to have….getting outside and taking walks around the Escapees park had become a favorite pastime. One picture in particular at Lake Conroe had us envisioning a beautiful nature trail….
Sadly when we got settled into the park we could not find this nature trail anywhere. Their walking trail was the gravel roads you drive on throughout the park. I continued to look for this picture during our stay and eventually found it’s location, hidden away in the trees…..probably for good reason, LOL, as it’s not very inviting any longer.
Ah well, this park is still one of my favorites. They’ve done a lot of work on it, and they have three different long term resident sections. One section is actual tiny houses that you buy or lease, they were pretty cute! It’s very active, people always out and about….the lively feel really helped us want to get outside. Our spot wasn’t right up against anyone else’s spot, as some parks can be crammed together. Weekend campers tend to make all the TT parks busier Friday through Sunday, which is something to consider if coming in on one of those days because there will be less spots to choose from. And of course, holidays have been even busier. They have a beautiful lake view and we took walks around the ponds that had fountains in them, which gave off a relaxing soundscape to our surroundings. But, we never took advantage of the beautiful pool with cabanas….the season just wasn’t quite warm enough for our liking.
We also took advantage of the many amenities available that the kids could enjoy. We shot hoops, played miniature golf, tennis, air hockey, and spent time at the playground (something the Escapees did not have).
This park does have wifi that you can purchase during your stay. We tried it out and it’s fairly good as RV park wifi goes….it had its good days and bad days. The Verizon signal here is good so our hotspot was worthwhile. During this time we also learned about T-mobile’s BingeOn service from How I Wrecked My Life‘s blog post about their internet solutions. All the current cell carriers have drastically reduced their data allowances before you get throttled, except for T-mobile’s BingeOn! You can stream as much Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO, YouTube, etc. as you want, as well as music streaming; as long as the streaming service is on their huge list of available services….and it never eats into your data plan! So, you know we had to go sign ourselves up for a T-mobile hotspot! BingeOn is not available for prepaid plans, but you can sign up for a plan without any contract and can cancel at any time with no cancellation fees. This was great for us, we could catch up on shows and not use up our data!! By this point we had already stopped renewing my phone’s prepaid service since it was a waste of money, and we had become a one phone family.
The cities of Willis and Conroe are short drives away from the park for whatever you may need. Willis has a Kroger the likes of which I had never heard of before….it’s like a Wal-Mart, with the other departments besides groceries! It was so odd, you can shop for clothes at Kroger! HA!HA! I liked Conroe, it’s a nice enough city as cities go. We even drove further past Conroe and went to The Woodlands outside Houston, where they have a pretty cool mall that’s practically a sightseeing attraction all on its own.
Not long into our stay at Lake Conroe we decided we did want to get the more expensive membership that covers the entire USA instead of the zone pass (and even one in Canada), but the recommendation of some RVers to buy a resale membership to save money was more time consuming than we wanted to deal with then. There are soooo many different types of memberships being resold that include or don’t include so many different options, it just wasn’t the avenue we wanted to take. Lake Conroe was having a meeting for people like us to learn about their memberships, so the hubster went and had a listen and got all the deets for us and we decided to sign up. Our contract includes lots of other things like RPI and Encore Resort discounts, and some free weeks in cabins each year….there was a lot to it that I can’t recall off the top of my head anymore. I’ll have to pull out our contract and reacquaint myself with our “extras” included. But, I do remember that our membership is something that we can pass on to our kids, or even share with family.
This membership is called the Elite membership, and we decided financing the cost was the way to go for us and our zone pass cost turned into our membership dues. With the Elite membership you can stay up to a maximum of 21 days at a park and then go directly to another park, without having to stay 7 days out of their system (just 7 days out of the park you just left) and there is no $3 nightly charge. There is no electric or water fees, although some parks charge a $3 or $5 daily fee for 50amp usage, but we have a 30 amp system so we never have to worry about that. Not every state has a TT park in it, but there are enough of them available that we are ok with that, and when we are staying in the Thousand Trails park system it saves us lots of money!
So, we ended up staying 21 days at Lake Conroe and spent Thanksgiving, as our little family has often done while living states away from the rest of our families….we went to Golden Corral! The food was great, and I didn’t have to cook any of it! HA! Our waitress was very attentive and sweet, and we let her know how much we appreciated her working on Thanksgiving for families like us.
After enjoying our stay at Lake Conroe we trekked on over to the Thousand Trails (TT) park to the west of Houston called Colorado River TT. This one is in Columbus, Texas but it’s a bit of a drive to the H-E-B grocery store and the small Wal-Mart there since this park is more out in the wild. This park is pretty amazing, because it’s over run with deer! They are everywhere! And they are not afraid of humans! The park does have signs up everywhere telling you not to feed them. However, the grove of Pecan trees seemed to be a tasty alternative for them.
There were a few times when MadMac took the trash out at night and they would startle him just standing there right outside the RV, LOL! This park is a bit more on the rustic side in comparison to Lake Conroe, as a lot of Thousand Trails parks seem to be, and people who prefer really nice resorts tend to view these as being run down. The park sits right at the edge of the Colorado River and in fact some of the land there has slid off down the ridge into the river. Only a few spots were available when we arrived and not as many people were out and about. The kids really liked the playgrounds here because they had tire swings, and our oldest daughter enjoyed sitting on the porch swing they had set up by the playground where she would spend her free time reading. This park does have a nature walking trail that actually takes you out into the woods, which we enjoyed very much!
They do not have WiFi, however, and our Verizon hotspot did not get service, but T-mobile did. We only spent 10 or so days at this park before heading back to Lake Conroe for another 21 days to be closer for MadMac to go to some more VA appointments. They had a small library to enjoy, and the kids played some pool.
**UPDATE: Upon our return to this park in 2017 we discovered that our Verizon works very well with 4 bars of 4G LTE. Not sure if there is a new tower nearby or if our old hotspot was just lousy when we were here last (we have a better MiFi Jetpack now). But, it’s a nice surprise. 🤓
We later learned (when we read their blog update) that a RV blogging family, the Lundy5 (that was one of the very first fulltime families we ever discovered) pointed out the need to always check the mini-golf holes before sticking your hand in to get your ball, because they discovered scorpions inside! Yikes! Thankfully we didn’t play any mini golf while there, so we didn’t accidentally find that out for ourselves!
After our short stay at Colorado River TT we went back to Lake Conroe and stayed there for Christmas. We are used to Christmas away from extended family while in the Army, so being somewhere new during the holidays wasn’t anything new for us. We got a small tree and set it up in our tiny living room-kitchen and enjoyed our first minimalist Christmas. The weather was also nice since the Houston area doesn’t get too cold.
We went back to Colorado River, a second time, on New Year’s Eve, for another short stay, and then back to Lake Conroe again for the hubster to finish out his VA appointments through January. Maybe a hobbit was writing this part of our journey…..there and back again….and again…. To some all the moving back and forth might seem like too much trouble, but we’ve found it helps feed the wanderlust beast 🙂
We had realized when winter was setting in, that we would need to avoid areas that actually get down into freezing temperatures, especially at night, because our grey and black tanks would freeze….they aren’t heated or covered like some RV’s have. It was around this time that it was getting cold enough at night that we needed heat, so to avoid running through all the propane too fast as most RVers say you will, we picked up two small electric heaters that has worked out really well for us. We set one up for the kids’ room and one for our room. The temperature difference inside compared to outside did cause condensation on the windows so we also picked up a dehumidifier to eliminate that problem.
During our third stay at Lake Conroe we learned more about the Verizon unlimited setup and decided to go that route. We stopped using our prepaid phone service completely, and started testing out the voip app services like magicjack, google voice, and hangouts. As long as the Verizon hotspot was getting a signal, or the T-mobile backup, we had wifi available for the voip phone calls; sometimes neither service works and if the RV park doesn’t have wifi either then we just don’t have any connectivity, LOL….but we’re ok with that. We also made friends with another fulltime family, the D20Nomads. The kids noticed their awesomely painted and decorated RV as we were driving around looking for a spot to set up in, and we had to check out their blog. We got together a few times and played some cool board games we hadn’t played before, and had a lot of fun just hanging out with other people like us. Our youngest son also got two new friends to play with. We were sad to see them go when it was time for them to check out and head to their next destination, but we had a strong feeling we’d get to see them again one day. MadMac was finishing up his VA appointments so we were finally thinking about where we were going to go as well! Where were our adventures going to take us next?