I’m certainly no expert, but my husband and I have been RVing for a while now. Our years on the road have taught us many important budgetary lessons. Here are our suggestions for ways to cut costs while RVing.
When we first started RVing, we didn’t always stick to our planned route. As we traveled, if we saw a local festival or heard about an event on the local radio stations, we’d leave our planned route to investigate. It was fun!
- Side trips = extra money. It didn’t take long for us to figure out that all our little side trips were costing us money—serious money, once we added it all up. Here’s why: A big expense was fuel. We towed our fifth-wheel RV with a 350 dually truck. The truck’s fuel efficiency wasn’t great, to say the least. Then, too, many of our “side trips” cost extra cash. Entrance fees, food, and other expenses we hadn’t planned on added to the costs.
- Plan and budget. Now, we try to take the most direct route if we want to save money. We try to plan any extras—sightseeing that takes us off the direct route—and budget for the extra costs ahead of time.
- Cook at home. Eating out at restaurants can be expensive. Catching fast food is not always healthy and costs there have also been on the rise. One way we’ve learned to save money while RVing is to cook our own meals. We generally pack a cooler with perishable items and stock our cupboards before we hit the road. If you know you’re near a discount store or a store with great prices, stock up!
- Bulk buying. We also have a Costco membership and while I know our membership is valid throughout the areas we travel, I never know if a Costco store will be close to our RV site. Buying food in bulk means I can separate and freeze it. I’ll leave some of the food in our stix-n-brix home freezer and freeze the rest to take along on our trip. (If you’re curious, yes, RVers can buy in bulk! Here’s how.)
- Make ahead. Another way we save money is to make meals before we travel. Then we freeze them in single meal portions. After a day spent traveling on the road, it’s nice to quickly reheat something in the RV’s microwave and then relax. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to pre-make meals. And sometimes I simply freeze leftovers to make a travel meal for later.
- Careful shopping. If you must purchase food while RVing, always make detailed menus before you grocery shop. Don’t forget to plan how you’ll use potential leftovers, as well. Next, make a list. Chances are good that you won’t be familiar with the layout of the grocery store. Stick to your list! (Hint: If you shop after a hearty meal, a hungry stomach won’t tempt you into making impulse buys.)
- Stay basic. Here’s another tip to save money while RVing. If you don’t need all the amenities of a higher-end RV park, look for sites that are more basic. Consider staying at local city parks, state parks, or national forest campgrounds.
- Boondock. If you’re able, you might consider boondocking. This primitive camping simply means you’ll park your RV in a place without hookups. Make sure to research what you’ll need to boondock and you may find you not only enjoy this type of camping, but you’ll save money, too.
- Clubs. Consider joining Harvest Hosts or other camping clubs. Harvest Hosts is a program that enables you to park your RV for free at farms, wineries, and other locations in exchange for supporting their business by purchasing products. Other discount clubs like Good Sam, Escapees, and Passport America offer member discounts on campground fees and other travel expenses. You’ll want to investigate each club to compare them. That way you can choose the club that works best for you.
- Avoid peak times. If possible, plan your travels for the off-season, when rates may be lower. Camp during the week, rather than the weekend, to avoid crowds and potentially find reduced rates.
- Against the flow. Go against the flow when you can. If most RVers are heading south, try going north. We’ve bucked the system in this way and not only enjoyed our stay but saved money as well.
Choose activities wisely
- Free is best. Look for free activities and attractions near your RV site. Hiking or biking trails, beaches, and historic sites are usually free or low-cost. Don’t be hesitant to ask for discounts, like senior rates, member loyalty perks, etc.
- Go local. Investigate local fairs and special events as well as local “watering holes” near your campground. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of free events sponsored by local community groups or Chambers of Commerce. You never know what can happen. We’ve made lasting friendships by visiting a local restaurant-bar during their karaoke nights.
Here’s what I’ve found. If we fail to review our spending/money situation regularly, we can run into trouble. I remember having to miss a concert we really wanted to attend. Why didn’t we go? We hadn’t kept track of our funds and failed to prioritize our “extras.” We couldn’t justify spending money on tickets just when fuel prices were escalating. So, we skipped the concert.
Now we review our spending weekly. It helps us keep closer track of our expenses and enables us to stay on budget. If you continue to struggle with keeping to a budget, review your spending more often.
There you have it! 13 tips to save money while RVing. If you have additional tips to share, please do so in the comments below.
We agree and want to add several places to stay for free, like casinos or Camping World locations
Motorhome (23-25 ft)are alot easily to traveling in.. and doing BD,, HH.. planning accordingly to the Trip.. sure do some side trips along the way
Last year, we stayed at free city park cgs. with W/E hookups and a dump in Kansas and Texas. But in past years, we have stayed in other free city park campsites with electric hookups in NE, TX, KS, and CO; a free casino cg. with 30/50A electric in ID; and free state or Federal cgs. with electricity in CO and NM. Compendium is a good website for finding these bargains.
Combining these free campsites with boondocking, bargain NM state park cgs., and use of our Federal Interagency Senior Pass, we generally keep our average campsite costs under $20/night. And we LOVE those $9-14/night FHU Corps of Engineers parks! They are fantastic for nights between boondocking stays. Just wish CO, WY, AZ, NV, and UT had COE campgrounds, but there are none.
The states you named were considered deserts and The Bureau of Reclamation (BoR) was in charge of “reclaiming” these deserts by damming up rivers and diverting water for agricultural purposes. These states also have a large portion of the states designated as public lands. If you are more curious about why no COE in these states read a book called The Cadillac Desert it goes thru the history of BoR and even explains the COE BoR relationship.
COE mandate is flood control and is focused on areas where there are little public lands. This coming from a retired fed who has connections to the BoR.
If, like me, you’re a full-timer more interested in wildlife and beautiful scenery, consider small town RV parks in the general area with no fancy amenities and a monthly rate. Then you can explore the beauty of the area, get acquainted with the local food store bargains, and take day trips to enjoy nature. Typically, I only eat out at lunch time on long travel days or perhaps enjoy a pot luck gathering at the park.
Gail has a lot of good tips but for us, it’s all about the side trips, local food, and interesting places. This is why we RV so we expect our trips to be on the pricy side but, we plan for it as well. Each must decide for themselves what the budget can stand. In the end, you have to enjoy the journey. Happy Travels!!
I agree with much of what Gail says about saving money but it also depends on why you might be full timing. We full time for 2 primary reasons 1. Visit with family and friends that are spread across the US. and 2. The interesting side trips. We have been known to stop for a few hours during the day for an interesting side trip and then continue on to our destination. We find other ways to save.
We also endorse Gail’s recommendation for Harvest Hosts.
That’s why we chose to full-time in a motorhome instead of a fifth wheel.