How to Save a Ton of Money on Your RV Road Trips
There are many ways for people to reduce the increasingly high costs of RV travel.
Some relate to what you spend when you're on the road, but others deal with what you do before you ever leave home.
Most people concentrate on the "on the road" cost cutters, but using a combination of those along with the things you do to prepare for travel is the best way to save.
- When my husband and I vacation in our motor home, we rarely pay more than $20 per night to camp and often pay less.
- We use a variety of information sources to find great deals as we go, too.
- Sometimes we accidentally find ourselves in situations that are more than we ever expected to have in terms of saving.
The result is that we often get to see and do for free or very little money for which other people pay plenty of money.
Here are some of the things we do to make this happen and a few true stories to let you see how we work the system.
Lesson #1: Keep the Right Mind Set
What makes the difference between paying too much or very little when you are on the road is attitude.
- If you automatically assume that you must pay high prices to camp, buy gas, and dine, then that's what you'll do.
- On the other hand if you expect pay as little as possible and plan to do s),you will!
Far too many Rvers pay more than is required because they think this is just how things are when you're on the road, but the truth is that how much you spend is a choice you make every time you have to hand someone your credit card!
Obviously, if you want to have the best of everything, you'll likely pay more for it, but if you are realistic you will understand that
- no matter where you camp, your living quarters will always be the same,
- being on wheels gives you the option of driving away and
- if a restaurant charges too much, you can always eat in your coach!
So, unless you have very exotic tastes or must have every luxury, you can find that you'll be just as comfortable paying $15 per night as you will paying $60.
For example, my husband and I just returned from a two month RV trip.
Our basic costs for gasoline, dining out and camping totaled less than $25 per day.
- If you follow the advice I provide here, you can do the same.
- If not, you’ll be paying much more, but you won’t be having any more fun!
Lesson #2: Plan Ahead
People who take the time to plan their trips in advance have a much better chance of saving money than those who think they can just "go".
Friends of mine found a nice campground in Durango one year that wanted $45 per night for a site. Since they had done their homework ahead of time, they knew that there was a national forest park just down the road where they could stay for $15.
- If you pay $45 per night for 30 days, your camping fees will add up to $1350.
- If you pay $15 per night for that same amount of time, you'll only pay $450.
If you do what my friends did, you can save yourself $900 simply because you took the time to do a little research before you left home.
The best methods for saving money when you travel in a recreational vehicle are to
- forecast trip costs,
- search for deals,
- arrange for the least expensive travel routes,
- time your trip and
- do whatever you can to cut costs.
Doing this takes time and effort, but the amount of money you save will make you happy that you took the time to organize your vacation.
Estimate Your Travel Costs
Good planning includes doing some realistic travel cost forecasting.
How to Estimate the Cost of Your Next RV Trip shows you how to do this.
- If you want to save money, this is one of the best ways of doing so because forecasting allows you to get a true picture of travel costs.
- If you don't like what you see, you can go back and adjust your travel plan until you are happy with what you will have to pay for your vacation.
If you analyze costs in advance and do so correctly, you'll get a fairly clear picture of what you'll be spending.
This will protect you from having any financial surprises once you're on the road!
Look for Deals
There are a number of things you can do to greatly reduce costs.. You would be amazed to learn how easy they are to do and how much fun you can have doing them.
Below are a few of my favorites.
One of the best things you can do to save money while you're traveling is to join a good discount camping club. I say "good" because not all clubs are equal in the benefits they provide.
The one my husband and I use, Passport America, allows us to save up to 50% (sometimes more) at their 1900 affiliated parks.
Some of these facilities have limits on the days when you can use the discounts, but if you plan carefully, you can get the full financial benefit of staying in them.
The membership is very inexpensive, $44 per year, and quickly pays for itself, so it’s worth the investment.
These articles will show you how to save even more by making use of national park discount passes and taking advantage of free and inexpensive parks.
In addition, you can use your negotiating skills to obtain discounted prices for many campsites.
For example, the trip I mentioned earlier was inexpensive because my husband and I found a campground owner who worked a deal with us to stay in his park for $14.50 per night if we promised him a month.
He was located close to a big tourist area and offered full hookup, 50 amp service with free cable and WIFI. In addition, he gave us free coffee and snacks twice each day!
So while other people were paying $45 per night to stay in campgrounds in that area that had similar amenities we were saving $900!
We found this park because it was listed in our Passport America camping guide.
If you want to know where the free and inexpensive campgrounds with hookups are located, you need only buy a copy of the by Don Wright. It's the best book of its type that I have found because the information is accurate and the listed prices are what Mr. Wright says they are. Guide to Free and Low Cost Campgrounds
We have used this excellent guide for years, and have spent many happy hours camping for practically nothing in beautiful parks with hookups all around the US.
You can find additional information by searching "free campgrounds" on the internet. There are literally hundreds of them, but not all have hookups so read the details carefully.
The trick to finding most of these deals is to do your research before you leave home, use the the resources I just mentioned and make a few phone calls.
Reduce Food Costs
Food is the second biggest expense for RV travelers, but you can reduce costs by
- cooking and eating most of your own meals in your coach,
- eating breakfast or lunch in restaurants (instead of dinner) or
- taking advantage of dining specials.
Many restaurants have certain days or times of the week when you can enjoy some of the meals they serve while paying less for them.
For example, every Thursday one place in Florida gives away free BBQ wings, and on Wednesdays, another gives away free pie!
You can also choose to "double down" on certain deals if you eat a late lunch in place of your dinner.
For example, a local Gulfport, MS casino runs its mid week buffet lunch until 3:30. The price doubles after that, but the food is mostly the same. Thus a couple who is seated before the meal service changes can save as much as $25 and virtually eat the same food!
Another example is when husband and I stopped by a local visitors center to see if anybody was offering dining specials. As a result, we ended up eating a fantastic buffet with wine at no charge!
Seek Out InexpensiveTravel Routes
Most RVers don't "get" that they can save money traveling from one destination to another simply by taking the time to seek out routes that allow them to go from point A to point B using the shortest, best, least expensive and most efficient roads and highways.
The best way to do this is to use trip planners that estimate mileage to help you compare options.
It takes some time to come up with the right plan, but once you do, the savings can be huge.
- If I am getting 8 miles per gallon and want to drive from Tampa, Florida to Louisville, Kentucky, I can choose routes that take me 878 miles, 912 Miles or 1088 miles. At two dollars per gallon, the first one will cost $220 for gas, the second $228 and the third $272.
- The difference in dollar between the first and third routes is $52, but if I return home using the same route, I've saved $104. Yet, I've ended up in the same spots!
- I've also saved myself many hours of driving and have reduced the wear and tear on my equipment.
You should also plan to route yourself through as many states as possible that charge less for fuel because doing this can be a big money saver.
Using the information from internet sites such as Gasbuddy lets you know how much gas and diesel fuel cost nationwide on any given day.
Thus, if you try to pass through the areas that charge less, you can take advantage of their pricing and equalize your fuel costs.
Time Your Vacations
If you are watching your dollars, one of the best things you can do is to time your vacations carefully.
You will often pay twice as much for camping, food and entertainment if you travel to popular places during their busy seasons. However, if you go to the same places just before or after the season, you'll pay much less.
The same is true when it comes to visiting areas when they are having special events. For example, you can enjoy all of the beauty and excitement of the Black HIls at reasonable prices if you make sure to stay away from that area during the first three weeks of August when the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally takes place.
Also, if you have the time to do so, try to stay for longer periods of time in various campgrounds because doing this will give you big savings. Staying in one spot for as long as a month can even cut your camping costs in half.
I just spoke to a park owner of a park in the Black Hills who charges $28 per night plus tax but was willing to give me a site for one month for $15 per night. I found out about this great price reduction simply by calling and asking what he would do for us if we decided to stay at his park!
This is the same deal I spoke of earlier that was made with a different campground that was located elsewhere, so you can see that making deals like this is fairly common.
The More You Save, the Better!
I can honestly tell you that it really feels good to come home from an RV trip knowing that I had a great vacation and spent relatively little money to do so.
It does take some time to do the research and set things up, but the payoff is huge.
If you follow the advice in this article you'll quickly learn that you don't have to spend a ton of money to RV in order to have a great vacation.
Would you use any of these methods to save money when RVing?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Do you have suggestions about RVing with dogs?
There are too many to list here, but the most important one is to do all you can to keep your dog safe and well nourished. It's also important to keep him calm and comfortable.
© 2017 Sondra Rochelle