How to Camp on the Beach

And Make Your Friends Jealous
Michael and Tiffany Dunagan's Tiffin Allegro RV parked at a waterfront beach campsite.

Not that long ago, we lived in a beautiful house with a pool in the backyard. One day, as we were floating in our pool, Michael turned to me and said, “Why don’t we sell the house, everything we own and buy an RV to travel around the country while we chase 50?”

Without hesitating, I said “Okay, why not?”

I’d never camped a day in my life. Okay, once: when our son was in Cub Scouts, we went on a family camping trip. The temperature took an unexpected nosedive and dipped below freezing, and although we survived the night, the mom next to us got up and left at 2 a.m. A memory best forgotten. 

And suddenly Michael was proposing we buy an RV––this coming from the man who’d never driven anything larger than an SUV!

But we had just come out of one of those difficult years in life, when everything goes sideways and each new day makes you think hard about your life and where you want it to go. So the question wasn’t totally out of the blue. I just have no idea what made me agree to it. I just know that we’ve never regretted our decision once.

Living full-time in our RV has allowed us to live debt-free and given us the flexibility to do our jobs from nearly anywhere. We love taking the motorhome to new destinations, bringing our most cherished belongings with us. One of the first questions a lot of people ask us is, “Are you retired?” Not yet! But after a long day of working, we get to live like retirees, stepping out of our RV and into an awesome new location. One of our favorite locations is the beach.

The beach recharges our soul. There is nothing like a little “Vitamin Sea.” The smell of the salty air and the sound of the waves is like medicine. We joke that the ocean is the only salt that actually lowers our blood pressure. Both of us grew up in beach communities, so being near the beach is familiar, joyful and nostalgic all at once. When we got our RV, we knew we wanted to hug the coast and stay near the ocean.

But reservations for beach campsites can be hard to find if you haven’t planned in advance. They can also cost a pretty penny. So in the time we’ve been full-time RVing, we’ve come up with some clever tricks to help us be creative, find the best campsites near the beach, and make our friends back home wildly jealous. Now we want to help you make your friends jealous, too.

Expand your definition of “beach town.”

When people think of beach towns, many of them often picture larger cities and tourist destinations first. Those can fill up fast and anything geared toward tourists will charge a premium, since many of those towns run on tourist dollars. Look instead for smaller towns in out of the way places along the coast. You’ll have an easier time securing reservations and you’ll get more bang for your buck. For instance, we were recently in a remote area of the Gulf Coast. As we made our way to our RV park, we noticed three other campsites close by that hadn’t appeared on any of our planning apps. I quickly added them to my notes for later. Small campgrounds not geared towards tourists often don’t spend much money on marketing, which can make them hidden gems you’ll only find through firsthand experience or word of mouth.

Be creative searching for destinations.

Most people know about the state park reservation systems. State parks can be some of the most affordable campgrounds that have beach access from a boardwalk or the back of your campsite. But the real hot tip is to look for county or city campgrounds. They often have campsites even closer to the beach and are less expensive than state parks. Often, county or city campgrounds are not listed on state websites, and can be tricky to find. You’ll have to do your homework, but the reward is worth it. Sometimes we find them accidentally when we’re looking at maps, other times we hear about them from friends or other campers. Another great way to find them is by joining RV-related groups on social media, search through hashtags from the area you’re targeting, or search hotel travel sites.

Be flexible when trying to book campgrounds near the ocean.

One of our family sayings is to focus on the goal, not the plan, because plans do and will change. The goal is to camp on the beach. Plans may need to be flexible. Check beach campgrounds in the off-season. It may be a little cooler, but you can still breathe the ocean air, walk along the beach and enjoy unrivaled sunrises and sunsets. Winter at the beach is a perfect time for campfires, S’mores and cooking outside. Another plus: no bugs.

Once, we snagged a prime spot at a beachfront RV park, but we could only secure two nights. There were other spots available at the park, but we decided that although it wasn’t ideal to have to pack up and move two days later, it was worth it to stay within the park.

When you’re searching online reservation systems, be sure to play around with the dates and number of nights. Better yet, pick up the phone and call. Everyone we have ever talked to has been so willing to help find the information we need. Florida even has a website dedicated to state park campgrounds with available spots for the upcoming weekend.

Find ways to hack your budget.

Nothing beats drinking your morning coffee while you watch the sunrise over the vast, blue ocean. Although beach camping can be expensive, it can also be incredibly budget friendly if you plan well. And more money in the budget means getting to visit your favorite spots more often.

One thing we love about the beach is that it’s an activity in itself. You can spend all day there with just some sunscreen, water to drink and sandwiches to eat. To save money, we also love to cook most of our meals outdoors and enjoy them while we take in the view and talk to new neighbors. Many of the smaller coastal communities also have unique experiences that are free or low cost. My first stop in any new town is usually the local grocery store. I love asking them what to do and where to eat. One time the cashier gave me so many ideas she started writing them all on the back of my receipt. Next, I’ll check the website of the town for activities. No matter what size the town is, there is usually tourism and historical information included along with upcoming local events. In Carabelle, Florida, we found the World’s Smallest Police Station! Who knew? In Punta Gorda, we took a self-directed tour we found on the city’s historical society website that led us around town and taught us the city’s history. We finished off that day with ice cream and a walk along the beachfront park for a full day of activities that cost less than $10. Look for events like the Shrimp Festival, art fairs or gallery crawls that let you soak up the local atmosphere for free.

Lastly, think long-term.

If you and your family have your heart set on a specific area at a busy time of year, just be sure to make reservations well in advance and save up for that beach vacation budget. There are many different ways to camp at the beach and there is something for everyone’s budget when you are creative and flexible. You can stay at a luxury RV resort, a state park or car camp on the sand. You can cook over a campfire, eat fried seafood at a local joint or splurge on a nice dinner. The ocean is free for us all to enjoy, so get out there, “seas the day,” and make memories that will last you a lifetime.

Michael and Tiffany Dunagan travel in a 2020 Tiffin Open Road Allegro 36LA.


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