Which is better: a hotel or an RV? Which is more affordable these days? If staying in campgrounds is so expensive, why not just stay in hotels? These are some of the questions that have come up in some of my recent weekly Crowded Campgrounds columns. Many commenters say they’re thinking about hanging up their RV’s keys for good and will travel by car instead. They mention that it would be easier to get a room at a hotel than it is a campsite, not to mention hotels are less expensive in the long run. Do you agree?
Forced to hotel it
As some of you may know, we were recently in Red Bay, Alabama, getting our motorhome repaired. We weren’t able to stay in it with the paint and fiberglass work being done, so my husband and I were hoteling it. One time we stayed at a cute boutique hotel in Red Bay. We were traveling in the area and stayed at an upscale hotel in downtown Tupelo, Mississippi, and then in a nice Holiday Inn.
They are easy to book but more expensive than campsite
We hadn’t stayed in a hotel in years and had the same kind of sticker shock that I got as campground fees began to rise. The prices for boutique, upscale and mid-range hotels run from three to five times more expensive than moderate RV sites. In one week we spent the equivalent of a month’s rental in an RV park!
One nice thing about booking hotels is that it’s just one easy click online and we’re done and booked. Only one hotel was running out of rooms, but that was okay—it was too expensive anyway. The time-consuming part was reading hotel reviews. We decided against the one that had bugs crawling up the walls and against the one with train noise. We can get train noise at a campground.
Gas is less
My tow car gets around 40 mpg, whereas the RV gets a “whopping” 9 mpg (11 mpg with a wind at our back). We have been traveling by car now and there is no contest on gas. The gas price round-trip from Red Bay, Alabama, to Jackson, Mississippi, was about $40. If we had come down in the RV, as planned, it would have been at least $250.
When we factor in eating out and hotels, traveling is surprisingly less expensive in the RV, but that doesn’t count the cost of the RV, soaring interest rates, fuel, cost of a tow vehicle, maintenance or the huge repair bill we will face when we pick the RV back up in Red Bay. Travel might be less costly in an RV, but overall the expenses are more.
Hotel vs. RV: Which is better?
I sometimes consider not having an RV and making travel easier. Sometimes I think about just drastically downsizing. This trip was a good test for that.
There are pros and cons on both sides. But what I learned is that the RV pros, for us, outweigh the hotel pros.
- Our own bed! Our own bathroom, towels, soap and couch
- No lugging stuff in and out of a hotel room
- Eating in RV is cheaper than eating out
- Excitement of pulling into a new campground, setting up and enjoying nature
- Meeting people—folks in a hotel just don’t talk
- No dubiously clean hotel rooms—thank goodness for Lysol spray and wipes!
- Walk more, sightsee more
- Readily available
- Easy to book
- Gas in the car is cheaper
- Free breakfast (at some)
- Someone else cleans
- No RV investment, maintenance, insurance, storage
The hotels are fine, more than fine, and yet… there is no place like home, our RV home.
Everyone has their own preferences. What are yours and why?
We boondock a lot but even staying in a campground, with or without hookups, is still my preference. It’s just more relaxing to be in your own environment.
Agree with your pros and cons, our RV wins for us also. We travel with our dog and will be adding our cat this year. We spent a weekend at an upscale ($500/night) dog friendly resort hotel in MD last summer. Curtains had been torn/chewed, stained carpet, spiders in the bathroom along with hair that wasn’t any of ours. A quick look in the emergency stairwell found trash and cigarette butts everywhere. We did have an enjoyable weekend stay at a dog friendly ($250/night) hotel in ME last fall. My wife attended a convention in MA last month and again found hair in the bathroom that wasn’t hers. A bright spot is that we’ve never found bed bugs. Needless to say, we much prefer our home on wheels, cooking meals inside or outside, sleeping with the fur babies, and a clean, private bathroom steps away.
In the past 30 years of dragging trailers and now with my Class B Roadtrek, the ability to never have to use those filthy and creepy Interstate rest area bathrooms is worth all the gas, maintenance, and insurance payments.
We have a small toy hauler that we pull behind my F150 Ecoboost. Figuring the differences in gas when pulling the toy hauler, we have discovered that any trip less than 4 days duration is cheaper to stay in a motel/hotel and carry our motorcycles on our small 10ft trailer. Anything over four days the gasoline and RV spot pulling the trailer is cheaper.
Apples and oranges. The big picture is that owning, operating and maintaining an rv is gonna cost more than staying in moderate priced hotels ($100-$200 nightly) we average $40-$80 a night for fhu so unless your boondocking every night.. Having and using an RV is a lifestyle choice. It’s like asking whether you’d rather go on a cruise or stay at a luxury resort? You can’t really compare the two. We average 10,000 miles a year traveling around this great country on several small and long trips a year. Sometimes we stay at a hotel for a night while doing that for various reasons, we also have to travel with our 18 year old mutt so hotels when we do stay are usually best western. I love the mobility and comfort of traveling with the rv. Hotels are for a different type of travel really.
I love that I can pull over and take a break and/or nap. I can have food and drinks at my finger tips. I also travel with my baby, (dog), so I can run the generator and a/c if I need to go someplace he can’t go. And I always have a bathroom available! I often stay at Walmarts or truck stops with RV parking when I’m traveling between destinations, more for convenience than cost, I’m often not close to camping and dont want to travel miles out of my way to find a campground. Over the years I have gone from a diesel pusher with tow vehicle down to a 29 ft. Class B+, I no longer tow a vehicle, but I still have all the comforts. Hotels are great, but I prefer the RV life.
Travel with two dogs…hotels are getting more friendly toward dogs but they are few and far between and sometimes not the nicest places! I had to travel by car to MT from NV and back twice last year and stayed at the same hotels that would take dogs around SLC, one nice one and one sketchy.
When reading the calculations of members on hotel vs. RV, one thing I did not see accounted for was opportunity cost. When my RV is sitting, I am still paying loan, insurance, storage, taxes, and that hidden depreciation figure! If I calculate those total ANNUAL expenses, divided by the number of days actually used, I get better picture of the cost of use. Then I can compare my hotel bills.
As children, we would go to the beach for a week. Rented a small cottage or hotel room with kitchenette. Somehow we managed not to starve or go out to expensive restaurants every night Some RVs have about as much kitchen space as that hotel room.
It is difficult to put a price tag on things like convenience, stress, safety, etc. Whichever way you calculate it, one thing seems to be consistent: we human creatures will usually find a way to justify those things that are important to us. Just different strokes for different folks.
We used to camp in Florida from January-March. This year we found a great condo right across from the beach for about $50.00 per night. The campgrounds here in Panama City Beach are on the average of $85.00 a night. That is just for the spot with full hook up. We have a class B and these places have very limited bathroom/shower facilities. We are already booked at a condo for next year right on the beach at only a slightly higher per day price. Campground pricing for the most part has gotten out of control
Admittedly this is a biased group to weight in on this question. I have owned various RVs for 40 years. Before retirement I drive a RV to attend various horse, sheep and dog competitions year around. Of course my year long retirement trips still include my retired and competing dogs. It can be hard to find a RV park that will let me stay with my very well trained dogs, almost as hard as finding a motel. But I prefer to travel with the RV. Yes it is slower, less flexible and costly. Also a depreciating asset. But it is comfortable for me and easier for the dogs. It is my choice, because I like it.
My 40 year career required me to stay in motels an average of 70 nights a year. I have no qualms about staying in motels, but then I have a level of motel that I seek.
Overall, I do not think it is significantly cheaper to travel by RV. (Good economical meals can be found on the road, no cooking/no wash up) so you are preaching to the choir. This is a group of people who have already voted
I figure my motorhome costs around $2.50 per mile, that’s the all-in cost including fuel, maintenance, repairs, insurance, taxes, interest on the loan, and depreciation based on the cost of the RV itself. My car is about $0.35 per mile. It’s getting hard to find hotels for less than $100 a night, but campgrounds are still a lot less, and we occasionally boondock or moochdock. The biggest savings is probably meals – even the government rates allow $60 a day or more per person for meals, and that doesn’t allow for alcohol. Bottom line rule of thumb for us is the motorhome is cheaper if the trip is less than 100 miles a day, i.e. if we go coast to coast and back, about 6,000 miles, the RV is cheaper if we are gone for more than 60 days.
We travel with a dog and 2 cats and that would be next to impossible in hotels! We love having our tiny house with us, being able to cook our meals and sleep in our own bed. And, as someone said, not lugging your stuff in and out of a hotel room at every stop is the best! I think, if you kept track of all the expenses, it might come out cheaper with the car and hotel but having your “house” with you is golden!!
It’s a lot cheaper for us to stay in our RV in Las Vegas than it is to stay in a room at a casino because of their resort fees. plus our dog gets to go also.
We travel with 3 big dogs so rving just makes sense since boarding them is so costly these days, 2 take meds and 1 is an old boxer. We love to walk trails and cook our own food when traveling. But the BEST thing is that I can buy all the souvenirs that I can haul home lol.
Well, I’m very glad you wrote this article and I think you raised some great points.
I’d like to add that you can save a lot of time and money booking hotels through Priceline the morning of the day you want to stay and often within a few hours of your anticipated location. Plus, we’ve found that staying in smaller towns will definitely give you the lowest price. If you are traveling, you just need a hotel room for the night.
As far as the RV repairs….on average, unfortunately, I’ve found that maintenance, upgrades and repairs are $1 per mile….it might be a little less…. but, figure at least 75 cents per mile and you’ll be in the ballpark. That’s VERY expensive…..of course, I’m driving a diesel which costs more to maintain. Your costs will vary, but, breaking down on the road is never fun.
When you factor in all the cost, I don’t think you’re saving any money with the RV, especially if you have financing plus interest and depreciation costs.
We’ve preferred camping for years while we explore. My husband won’t retire for a few years, so most trips are 8-16 nights.
The bed is good for my creaky joints and bad back; the last time I stayed in lodgings, I was tempted to move to sleeping on the floor. (Next time, I’m taking my therm-a-rest camping mattress just in case.)
We much prefer to eat our own food. I hate hauling my bag in and out of a hotel.
In some of the places we go, hotels rooms aren’t exactly close, plentiful, and/or affordable.
Overall, counting extra gas, upkeep on the trailer, etc., we still save money and are happier in our own space.
We prefer our RV overwhelmingly because we travel with our dog. However, we learned that leaving the RV at home makes sense some of the time. Last spring we took 4 days to drive to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and back. We got a nice shoulder-season rate at a campground for several days and only had to walk over a dune to reach the beach. Unfortunately, the wind typically was so strong that we had to keep our slides retracted. Had we driven our toad and rented a house (almost all accept dogs), then travel days would have been halved and we would have enjoyed the entire rental house — no slides to worry about. We thereby would have had two additional days at the beach.
Hotels are just “out” for me, for several reasons. I’m scared stiff of bedbugs. Unsanitary carpet, bedding and bathroom are intolerable. I really dislike restaurant/fast food and microwave food. I can’t stand the nagging paranoia of having my vehicle broken into out in the parking lot/garage. And I always feel hotels are confining and stuffy, and views are rarely enjoyable. Elevators and hallways just give me the willies… no thanks.
Talk about paranoia!
We decided to do a long trip in the car w/o the MH 2 years ago. Cost-wise it was a wash. Some of the cheaper motels were dumps, and some towns gave us little choice. We missed sleeping in our comfy bed, hated moving stuff in and out of the room, hated “covid” breakfasts in some places, and, due to staff shortages, often small town restaurants were closing early (if not permanently closed) and the food was meh. But, we traversed some lovely roads we wouldn’t have taken in the RV, didn’t have to hitch and unhitch the TOWD, had more time to sightsee, and less driving fatigue. We are taking another long trip this year—and we will drive the MH! East—West, home is best.
I do not leave my dog anywhere. My trailer is so small, it causes no extra gas usage. I would not have seen many places without the trailer, and it goes where most others cannot. I do not care to eat out alone unless it’s a drive through. The last hotel I stayed at made me stand around and wait while they checked to see if I stole anything which took a half-hour for them to find someone to check. It was not a cheap place. I was amazed. It’s hard to find good camp spots, but I’m not doing motels or hotels with dirty rugs and bugs! Some campgrounds have cabins and yurts, but those are a bit spendy and dirty also. I’ll keep my dinky trailer.
Unless it magically avoids the laws of physics, your trailer decreases your gas mileage.
Not necessarily .. Ford e350 with 460ci got 10 mpg totally empty except 2 people and 180# of dogs. Added a 7800# 24′ toy hauler and got … 10mpg
Had a ‘93 GMC 454 4.10:1 rear axle got 12mpg by itself 10.5 mpg pulling a 10,000 lb 5th wheel. Gas was $.69 9/10 then.
My 460 ford gets 10mpg loaded or empty. The Chevrolet 454s were the same loaded or empty