Full-time RVers and weekend warriors alike know that some areas of the country are more expensive than others. Food, gas, campground, and entertainment fees all vary widely from state to state and region to region. We try our best to keep the budget balanced by hitting up both the cheaper places to RV (New Mexico has an amazing deal on state parks) and the more expensive (ahhem…I’m talking about you Colorado).
Recently we spent two months in the Florida Keys where things are a bit on the pricey side. A blog reader asked us on Facebook for some tips on how to RV in the Keys without breaking the bank. Well Kevin, we’re doing you one better with an entire blog post filled with Money Saving Tips For The Florida Keys.
We had the advantage of a private driveway to park in which saved us a considerable amount of money. But we wanted to camp near the water so we mixed things up by spending a few weeks at some of the wonderful Florida State Parks where the nightly fee is $38 + tax.
After eight weeks in the Keys (30 nights free + 36 nights paid) our camping fees were 9.2% higher than average.
» Go in The Off Season
Like many popular tourist destinations, the campgrounds in the Keys are much more expensive during the busy season (~ December – April). While the summer months – when the temps climb into the 90s and the humidity is up around a thousand percent – are probably not the ideal time to visit, early spring and late fall can be quite nice in the Keys. And you can expect to save big bucks by visiting during non-peak times.
» Save at State Parks
With the average per night prices for private parks running over $100 (during the winter months), the state parks are by far the best deal going in the Keys. At $38.50 per night you get a spacious site, lots of nature, and at some parks like Long Key & Bahia Honda, an amazing water view.
» Go for the Monthly Rate
If the state parks are too rustic for you (or if you need full-hook ups) than the best way to get a deal on camping in the Keys is by paying the monthly rate. Most RV parks offer a significant discount off the daily rate if you pay for a month at a time. Just be sure to reserve early! Those spots fill up fast.
» Consider a Thousand Trails Membership
There are several RV Parks in the Keys that are part of the Encore/Thousand Trails Network. We are personally not members, and have never stayed at a park that is part of the network (we tend to prefer public parks with more space & nature), but if you’re really looking to save money it would be worth looking into.
» Find a Work Camping/ Camp Host Job
If free camping sounds good to you, and you don’t mind doing a little work on the side, then consider a work camping or camp hosting job at one of the state parks or RV parks in the keys. A few resources to get you started…
Workers on Wheels
Florida State Parks Volunteer Page
RV Parks in the Keys that charge under $100/night even at the height of the season:
This list is in order from the top to the bottom of the Keys. In general, the closer you get to Key West, the more expensive the RV parks.
Riptide RV Resort – Key Largo
Key Largo Kampground – Key Largo
Kings Kamp – Key Largo
Pelican RV Park – Marathon
Jolly Roger Travel Park – Marathon
Knights Key – Marathon
Royal Palm RV Park – Big Pine Key
Big Pine Fishing Lodge – Big Pine Key
Boyd’s – Key West
Leo’s Campground – Key West
We expected food prices to be higher in the Keys. After all it is a chain of island where everything needs to be trucked in. There are also not a lot of grocery store choices (Winn Dixie or Publix )which always drives prices up. During our first visit to the grocery store in the Keys I noticed that most of the things we normally buy were a bit more expensive. Naturally I assumed that would lead to overall higher food costs. What I didn’t count on were the awesome deals on fresh produce at the weekly Big Pine Flea Market. Giant papayas for $2, mangos & avocados for $.50, a massive bag of oranges for $4, a box of 5 cucumbers for $3, zucchini for $.25 each….and on and on. We were also able to save a bit by signing up for a Winn Dixie card and taking advantage of the deals on some of the things we buy every week (large tubs of plain yogurt, english muffins, bottles of seltzer).
Eating out is where you can really blow the budget in the Keys. There are lots of options and we worked hard to limit ourselves to no more than one meal out per week. This is a practice we try to follow all around the country. It can be difficult when you’re in a place with awesome restaurants and breweries (the latter of which seems to be missing from the Keys), but we’ve gotten good a picking one restaurant a week and sticking to it.
Surprisingly, our per month food cost (grocery store & eating out combined) was a tiny bit lower than average. Not much, it only came out to about $35 less per month. But since we were sure it would be higher, we’re pretty pleased with that number.
» Eat at Home
I know, I know, not everyone is interested in cooking. But the fact is that there’s no way to eat out often in the Florida Keys without spending a boat load of money. Remember, this entire area is built on tourism which leads to high restaurant prices. One of the things we really saved money on by eating at home was seafood. There are fresh seafood markets all over the keys where you can buy your very own fresh fish, lobster, clams, crabs, shrimp and so much more for a fraction of the cost than you would pay in a restaurant.
Key’s Fisheries Market & Marina – Marathon
Mr. Lobster – Islamorada
Key Largo Fisheries – Key Largo
Fanci Seafood – Cudjoe Key
Eaton Street Seafood Market – Key West
» Seek out Farmers Markets
The Keys are not far from Homestead, FL which is undeniably the produce capital of Florida. Every weekend the growers from Homestead bring down trucks of produce and sell them at the local Farmers Markets. The produce at these markets is far cheaper than what you will find at the grocery store, and probably much fresher as well.
Big Pine Flea Market – Weekends 8-2
Key West Green Market – Thursdays 9-2
Islamorada Marketplace on 90 – Friday 12-6
Islamorada Green Market – Monday 9-3
» Eat out for Lunch Instead of Dinner
Unless you’re on an extremely lean budget, then you’re going to want to eat out while in the Keys. There are some really great restaurants serving fresh seafood, Caribbean cuisine, locally inspired dishes. Lunch is always cheaper then dinner, so if you can tear yourself away from the beach for an hour or two go get some lunch.
» Expensive Does Not Always Equal Better
Some of the best places we’ve ever eaten have been the cheapest. We love nothing better then discovering a tiny restaurant with barely any seating, but a fantastic menu of fresh food with a local flair.
Best Cheap Eats in the Florida Keys
Key West Budget Friendly Eateries
Budget Restaurants in the Florida Keys
We have a separate category in our budget for entertainment. It includes everything from renting a movie at a Redbox (also known as how to entertain yourself while overnighting at a Walmart) to museum entry fees, kayaks rentals, and anything else that we deem as a “fun” expense. During our time in the Keys we didn’t even come close to using all the money that we allocate each month for entertainment purposes. To be honest this came as a surprise. Probably because at the end of our stay we felt like we did so much. But the truth is that you don’t always have to spend money to have fun.
When I think back on all the great thing we did in the Keys, I realize how many of them were either free or very inexpensive. We also saved ourselves a lot of money by skipping all of the museums, house tours, and other touristy stuff in Key West because we couldn’t bear to deal with the crowds. In the end the only thing we spent a significant amount of entertainment funds on was our amazing snorkeling adventure.
We spent less than average on entertainment while in the Florida Keys. Almost 50% less in fact.
» Set Limits
If you’ve never been to the Keys chances are you’ll want to do it all. But if you go on the glass bottom boat tour, the sunset cruise, the snorkeling outing, the guided kayak trip, the deep sea fishing excursion, visit all the museums, swim with the dolphins, and rent that jet ski…you’re gonna spend a LOT of money. For that reason you need to set some limits. Do the research ahead of time and pick one or two things that you really want to do and stick with it.
» Seek out Deals
It’s easy to find coupons and discounts on the more popular activities in the Keys. If you want to rent kayaks, bikes, or jet skis look around for the best deal. With so much competition most of these places offer great deals and specials to make you pick them over the guy down the street. Before you go to a museum check their website for coupons, or visit one of these websites.
Keys Cash Saver
Key West Chamber of Commerce
Mile Marker Coupons
» Free can be fun too:
You don’t always have to spend money to have fun. There are plenty of ways to entertain yourself for free in the Keys. Go to one of the free public beaches, take a stroll on the Old 7 Mile bridge, ride your bike (if you don’t have a bike you can rent one in the Keys for around $10/day), walk down Duval Street, enjoy free entertainment at the sunset celebration at Mallory Square, tour the Wild Bird Center, go for a hike in the Key Deer Wildlife Refuge, or just sit outside and enjoy the warm weather!
As you can see, RVing in an expensive area such as the Florida Keys doesn’t have to break the bank. My best advice is to set a budget, and stick to it. Whether you use the tried and true Envelope Method, or digital budgeting software such as Mint or You Need A Budget (also know as YNAB – the one we have used for many years and swear by) setting limits and and allocating funds for your different needs and wants makes it much easier to not go overboard while still enjoying your time in paradise.