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How to Estimate the Cost of Your Next RV Trip

Updated on July 27, 2017
TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

I am an avid RV enthusiast who has traveled, lived, workcamped and volunteered nationwide for more than 50 years and am still going strong!

Planning for a vacation in your recreational vehicle is fun, but it is always a good idea to forecast expenses before you actually leave home. This is easy to do and can save you money.

This article will tell you how to take a peek into the future so that you will get to see and do more, and pay less for doing so.

Planning ahead for pricing can save you hundreds of travel dollars..
Planning ahead for pricing can save you hundreds of travel dollars.. | Source

Can I Figure Out The Cost Of My RV Vacation in Advance?

It is always a good idea to figure out approximately how much you will have to spend on an RV trip long before you take it. A technique called forecasting helps you to do this.

To calculate potential expenses, you need good information as well as the ability to set up a simple spreadsheet on your computer. These tools will help you plan a great trip and will also save you a fair amount of money.

The following formulas will provide the answers you need.

Formula for Forecasting RV Gas and Diesel Fuel Expenses

If you know how many miles per gallon your travel unit gets and the average price of gasoline (or diesel fuel) you can use this information to figure out its average cost for your entire vacation.

  • You can learn about mileage by reading your manufacturers' brochures as well as talking to owners of coaches similar to your own.
  • You can find the average price of gasoline nationally by checking internet websites, calling the highway patrol or asking AAA.

You can then use the following example as a guide for figuring out your approximate expenses for a specific trip:

  1. A motor home or camper gets 10 miles per gallon.
  2. Gasoline costs $3.00 per gallon.
  3. The trip distance is 2000 miles.
  4. In this case, divide 10 into 2,000 and then multiply that figure by $3.00.

In this example, the gas or fuel expense will be approximately $600.

Although prices vary from one geographical area to the next, this formula will give you a fairly accurate price estimate. It is a good marker for letting you know whether the trip you are planning is one your budget can handle.

Forecasting helps you to plan routes that save you money on gasoline and fuel.
Forecasting helps you to plan routes that save you money on gasoline and fuel. | Source

Calculating Camping Fees

To figure camping fees, plan your trip using online route planners and camping guides like the one published by Good Sam Club. This guide is the least expensive and best on the market, and it will help you a great deal when it comes to figuring out camping costs.

My husband and I have used for many years, and have found it to be invaluable on many levels. What I like most is that it provides direct contact information so that we can call a park, find out their current fees and ask questions about the local area. We never travel without it.

However, since prices change often, you should physically call RV parks to see if fees are as stated and/or ask if the managers plan to raise rates anytime soon.

Since some facilities charge considerably more than others, the location of the parks you choose, even within a given geographical area, can be very important. You do not want to pay $40 per night when you can be paying $20!

There are many roads to choose from that will take you to your desired destinations, so knowing camping costs ahead of time will help you to choose the ones that are money savers.

Friends were traveling in the Durango, Colorado area awhile back, and the only campgrounds people directed them towards wanted $35 per night. Fortunately, they had done some research ahead of time and knew that there was a National Forest Campground in that same area where they could stay for about $15 per night. They saved enough to pay for an extra night of camping and more!

2016 Good Sam RV Travel & Savings Guide (Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory)
2016 Good Sam RV Travel & Savings Guide (Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory)

This guide is the least expensive and most informative of all that I know of that are on the market today. It is a must have for every RV traveler.

 

Forecasting Based on Trip Length

Unlike other means of travel, vacationing by RV, if done correctly, can cost the same amount of money (or even less) for a long trip as it does for a short one because gasoline is your biggest expense. If you use a calculator , it is easy to figure out the pricing of various scenarios.

  • If I get 10 miles per gallon and take a 1000 mile trip and pay $4 per gallon, the gas for my vacation will run me $400. That will not change, no matter how long I camp.
  • If I take that same trip for two weeks and stay at a different campground each night and pay an average of $25 per night, my camping costs will be $350, but if I stay at one site for a month, and negotiate a rate of $10 per night, my camping cost will be $300.

Thus I have had two extra weeks of camping fun and have saved $50!

These figures may seem unbelievable, but they actually are realistic because park managers often give price reductions to people who stay longer. Furthermore, some parks charge far less than others, so if you stay in them, you pay even less!

Plan Ahead for Entertainment Expenses

What you will pay for entertainment is another area for you to consider.

People who want to hit all of the big tourist areas, especially in high season, should plan on spending a lot of money, but those who are content with smaller pleasures, can save a bundle.

Some internet research and a few phone calls can tell you exactly what visiting major attractions will cost, and if you plan to visit them, you should include these expenses when making your calculations.

Always ask about hidden fees such as those for parking, special exhibits and food. You can spend plenty at popular venues and events such as

  • Disney World,
  • Universal Studios,
  • Six Flags,
  • Albuquerque's Balloon Fiesta and
  • The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally,

and just about all of them charge a great deal for extras.

For example, if you go to a big RV show, it can cost you $5 to park, $5 or more per person to enter and another $20 or more for lunch for two people. Although expensive, this is much less than what you will pay at a place like Disney World.

I recently wrote an article about "Visiting the 4 Most Popular US National Parks", and some people were shocked to learn that they would have to pay to visit them!

The good news is that by forecasting, you allow yourself the luxury to enjoy the type of vacation you prefer without having to deal with any last minute financial surprises because there are many wonderful things to see in the United States that are totally free.

In fact, going to some of the more expensive places off season allows you to enjoy all of the same goodies but with much greater savings.

Special events like hot air balloon fiestas are fun but can be expensive.
Special events like hot air balloon fiestas are fun but can be expensive. | Source

Plan Food Costs to Be What You Normally Spend

You do not have to forecast food expenses because, just as you do at home, you can totally control where and how you eat.

  • You can choose to cook all of your meals in your coach,
  • eat all of them in restaurants or
  • combine the two eating plans.

Since most people follow the same eating patterns as they do when they are home, it is common for them to use the combination method.

Because of this, there is no necessity for estimating food costs. Just plan on spending whatever you normally do, and it is likely that will be enough. However, make sure you include that amount in your travel budget.

You might want to add an extra amount to cover the likelihood that you will dine out a bit more than you do at home just to be safe.

How to Set Up Your Spreadsheet

The best way to set up your forecasting spreadsheet is to enter

  • gasoline costs,
  • daily mileage and
  • names, locations and prices of RV parks you plan to visit.

Include free stays as zeros.

Set up a formula that adds these numbers together to calculate total basic vacation costs. If you do not like that figure, make adjustments as desired.

The goal here is to average prices so that if you plan to stay in an expensive area for a few days, you can balance what you must pay by planning to spend an equal or greater number of days in a cheaper area.

Manipulating this information allows you to see how various scenarios will work out long before you actually head out for your vacation. Doing this also puts you in a better position to negotiate because park owners want your business and are easier to deal with when they know you "might" come if they are willing to negotiate!

A Sample RV Travel Expense Spreadsheet

Here is an actual spreadsheet from a short vacation that I took a few years ago. I carried a laptop with me and adjusted the figures as I went, so these are the true numbers.

My RV was getting 10 mpg, and diesel fuel was $2.50 per gallon. I used this information to forecast my fuel costs, and I added in the actual camping costs.

Notice that while two campgrounds were more expensive, the others were cheap. Since we spent more time in the cheap campgrounds, the average per night cost came out to less than $12 per night.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
NOVEMBER
DAY OF WEEK
DAY
PLACE
CAMPGROUND
FEE
MILES
26
H
1
BEVERLY HILLS, FL
SANDY OAKS
17.00
85
27
F
2
BEVERLY HILLS, FL
SANDY OAKS
17.00
0
28
S
3
QUINCY, FL
BEAVER LAKE
20.00
288
29
SUN
4
OCEAN SPRINGS, MS
GULF ISLANDS
8.00
217
30
M
5
OCEAN SPRINGS, MS
GULF ISLANDS
8.00
0
TOTAL
 
 
 
 
70.00
590
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
DECEMBER
 
 
 
 
 
 
1
T
6
OCEAN SPRINGS, MS
GULF ISLANDS
8.00
0
2
W
7
OCEAN SPRINGS, MS
GULF ISLANDS
8.00
0
3
H
8
OCEAN SPRINGS, MS
GULF ISLANDS
8.00
0
4
F
9
OCEAN SPRINGS, MS
GULF ISLANDS
8.00
0
5
S
10
QUINCY, FL
BEAVER LAKE
20.00
288
6
SUN
11
BEVERLY HILLS, FL
SANDY OAKS
17.00
217
7
M
12
LARGO, FL
HOME
0
85
TOTAL
 
 
 
 
69.00
590
TOTAL CAMPING COST
139.00
 
 
 
139
1180
TOTAL GASOLINE COST
$295
 
 
 
 
 
TOTAL TRIP COST
434
 
 
 
 
 

Forecasting RV Travel Costs Saves You Money

While you are on the road, some of your normal household expenses can be cut out or pared down to save you some money. My article, "US RV Travel Costs | How Much Should I Expect to Pay?" will give you further insights into this issue.

For example, you can put your electric, phone and internet services on vacation rates for the period of time you are away. If you do this, you can add the savings into your calculations.

With careful planning and forecasting, you should be able to take those long road trips you have always dreamed of enjoying. My article, "The Best RV Road Trip Destinations In America" will whet your appetite for doing this!

Good luck!

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© 2012 TIMETRAVELER2

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