RV Lifestyle: RVing on a Budget—Part 1

RVing can be one of the most budget friendly ways to travel. In fact, a 2016 study by PKF Consulting USA for the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) found that RV travel is 23% to 59% less expensive for a family of four, compared to car or airplane travel, renting a hotel or guest house, and eating meals in restaurants. Similarly, a 2015 report in Money Magazine showed that a road trip for two people in a small RV could cost as little as $55 a day, including the cost of RV ownership and maintenance, gas, campground fees and groceries—a full 30% to 40% cheaper than a traditional vacation with car travel, hotels and restaurant meals.

In order to get the most savings and make your RV vacation truly budget friendly, however, you’ve got to plan ahead and do a little research to find the best deals. In this two-part blog, we’re going to talk about tips and tactics for RVing on a budget. This week we’re looking at ways to save while you’re camping or road-tripping, including saving on campground fees, food, gas and more. Next week, we’re going to talk about how to save the most on an RV purchase, so that you can enjoy your RV without the stress of overspending.

The Least Expensive Campgrounds

Full-time or long term RVers are a great resource when it comes to finding the least expensive camping spots. Whether you’re thinking about campgrounds, boondocking or overnight parking, you can find all kinds of people online who’ve already done a lot of the legwork for you. Take a look at Freecampgrounds.com for excellent resources. Also Stephanie Henkel is a full-time RVer who shares valuable information over at AxleAddict about ways to save money with Discount Camping Membership Directories, BLM camping on public lands, camping in national parks and more. And be sure to check out the “ Find Low-Cost Places to Park Your RV” blog over at Trip Savvy.

Two books to check out on this subject are Guide to Free Campgrounds (published 2014) and Camping with the Corps of Engineers (published 2015) by Don Wright. The Guide to Free Campgrounds is a guidebook to 12,000 U.S. campground with overnight fees of $12 or less. It includes national parks and forests, BLM campgrounds, state parks and forests, wildlife areas, and more. *Note: be sure to get the newest edition—there is an older edition that is out of date.

Dumping Your Tanks on the Cheap

Finding free dump stations to empty your holding tanks has gotten harder over the years. They used to be readily available at campgrounds and interstate rest areas, but abuse of the dump sites made them too expensive to maintain and clean up; thus we’re seeing less and less free or cheap options. The best way to find the least expensive options is to plan your route and map out where the dump stations are ahead of time. You’ll find an online RV Dump Station Directory and a U.S. dump station directory over at Sanidumps.com. You can search by region, ZIP code, city or state. Be sure to also check out their new smartphone app while you’re there!

Pay Less for Gas

Fuel is obviously one of the most expensive items to chip away at your RV road trip budget. And gas prices are different all over the country, so it can be hard to predict how much you’ll spend when you’re in different regions. Fortunately, there are apps that will help you find the stations with the lowest prices. Take a look at Gas Buddy and Gas Guru for information while you’re on the road. Also, an app like Gas Cubby can help you track your fuel economy.

The other way to save in this category is to maintain and drive your RV for the best fuel efficiency. We’ve talked about this important piece of RVing on a budget before, so we won’t go into a long diatribe here, but remember that properly maintaining your RV will help it perform at its best, and you can save yourself a lot of money with little things like staying at a consistent speed, utilizing your cruise control and not over-packing the RV.

Cook Your Own Food

Using your RV kitchen instead of eating out can save you a LOT of money. A 2015 study reported in Business Insider broke down the costs of eating at chain restaurants. The cheapest of the restaurants studied reported that the average check per person was $12.17. Even if you subsisted on a fast food diet that cost you $5 per person per meal, it adds up quickly and isn’t a healthy choice. Cooking in your RV is both healthier and more economical. Even if you only have a 2-burner stovetop and a microwave in your RV, there are better food options for you. Check out our blog “ Rving for Foodies: Cooking on the Road” for great ideas and tips. Also there are a number of “camp cooking” apps you can turn to, like Coleman’s Classic Camping Cookbook & Meal Planner or the Trail Chef Camping Menu Planner app.

Of course it’s also important to give yourself those special meals out, so plan them carefully into your budget, and remember that you can often get discounts at certain times or on certain days. Take advantage of happy hour specials or Tuesday margarita discounts.

RVing on a budget doesn’t have to be hard. Little things add up to big savings. If you’re in the market for an RV, check in again next week when we’re going to look at the most economical way to purchase the RV of your choice and an up front cost that can save you money in the long run: Solar.

If you have any questions, give us a call.

Photo credit: Little island

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