As someone whoâs traveled extensively by RV, and even lived in a travel trailer, I know exactly how much of a burden RVing can be on your budget. Hereâs what Iâve learned.
If youâre hoping to save at the pump, consider taking a vacation closer to home or narrowing down to a single destination. Not only will you spend less money on gas, youâll also spend less of your time driving.
How to Go RVing on a Budget
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The Vehicle Itself
But all of those accommodations and extras are weighty, which means that all but the smallest RVs are pretty serious gas guzzlers. Case in point: The largest Class A motorhomes get as little as 4-6 miles to the gallon.
Many people think you can load up into an RV, hit the road and just pull off to the side when youâre ready to catch some sleep.
Consider looking at peer-to-peer RV rental marketplaces, like RVshare or Outdoorsy, where you can rent a rig directly from its private owner, which often means lower rental prices. (Think of it like Airbnb for RVs.)
Travel trailers tend to be less expensive than motorcoaches for a comparable level of quality, from entry level all the way up to the top. Keep in mind, though, that you need a vehicle capable of towing the rig around.
Overall, the great thing about RVing is that the expenses are easily modified to fit almost any budget â you may just have to rethink which RV you drive, where youâre going and how youâll be staying once you get there.
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Youâll also want to look into state parks, which often offer RV sites with hookups for prices much lower than privately owned campgrounds (though they may not have a cell signal).
But you can find resort-style accommodations for to per night, often with discounts available for veterans, military members or those staying a week or longer. There are also a variety of camping discount clubs that can help you score lower-cost campground accommodations.
Here, weâll detail the primary expenses associated with the RV lifestyle, with tips to help you reduce them.
The first thing you need to go RVing â¦ is an RV. And depending on how you source it, this first purchase can be very pricy.
Campsite Accommodation Costs
What you may not know: RVing costs can stack up, and even eclipse the cost of traditional car-and-hotel travel, or living in a sticks-and-bricks home.
What you may know about RVing: Itâs a great, cheap way to travel, or even a low-cost alternative for living full time.
The appeal of RVs is simple: You get to bring everything along with you for the trip, including the kitchen sink.
First-timers are more likely to rent than buy, but if you end up falling in love with the lifestyle, you should know that even modest motorhomes cost tens of thousands of dollars. Super luxurious ones go for over million. (Yes, seriously.)
Itâs best if you already have a place in mind to keep it â and the initiative to learn some DIY mechanics. Thereâs a YouTube tutorial for most RV repair and maintenance basics.
If you buy an RV, you should be prepared for costs associated with maintenance â and, if you canât park it on your own property, storage. In Portland, Oregon, I pay a month to keep my travel trailer in an uncovered lot. More desirable, secure storage is almost 0.
But letâs go back to the rental option. Expect to see per-night prices of 0 or more, which can easily outstrip a moderately priced hotel room. Additional fees for mileage and insurance can push your bottom line even higher.
Maintenance and Storage
Then there are the maintenance costs of both the vehicular and household systems of an RV, which need regular upkeep. Doing it yourself may be time intensive, but even a minor trip to the repair shop can mean a major bill.
But in most cases, thatâs not true. Although some rest stops and big box store parking lots allow overnight RV parking, many do not. Besides, do you really want to spend your vacation sleeping under the glare of 24/7 floodlights?
You may also be able to find super-cheap rentals through RV relocation deals, in which you serve as a rental companyâs courier, delivering RVs to destinations where they are in demand. In return, you get use of the rig for a steal â but keep in mind youâll be limited in your ability to personalize your itinerary. Youâll have to stick to the companyâs route and timetable.
As far as buying is concerned, shop around â and consider shopping gently used. RV does stand for recreational vehicle, after all, and although the loan you take out might look more like a mortgage than auto financing, you probably arenât going to be building equity. You donât want to go too old, because maintenance starts to become a problem, but something three to five years old could save you a nice chunk of change.
The most comfortable campgrounds â the ones where you can hook up to electricity, water, and sewer connections â can cost a pretty penny, especially in highly sought-after destinations. Malibu Beach may be an extreme example, but during peak seasons, youâre looking at about 0 per night for a basic site, and up to 0 for a premium location. (Remember, thatâs on top of your rental price. And fuel.)
But you need to check ahead of time to make sure that cool-looking space is actually okay to park in and not privately owned. There isnât always appropriate signage, and if you accidentally end up in someoneâs backyard, you may be asked to move or even ticketed. Some great resources for finding spots include Campendium and FreeCampsites.net.
Finally, there are places you can camp for free (or super cheap), but even in an RV, youâll kind of be roughing it. On BLM-managed land and in certain other wilderness locations, you can do âdispersedâ camping, otherwise known as âboondockingâ or âdry campingâ â basically, camping without any hookups.