Hitting the road without a care in the world is a fantasy shared by those of us with wanderlust in our hearts, but the truth is that a successful road trip begins before we ever turn the key.
You’ll find that fun RV getaways are more likely to occur when your bank account isn’t taking a beating so here’s a few frugal RVing tips that will help keep your costs down and your happiness level up.
Buy a Rig You Can Afford
RV dealers make it easy to buy the rig of your dreams but can you really afford to live like that? Before you sign up for RV financing, remember that the larger the payment you take on, the less money you’ll have to spend on fun RV vacations. First do the math and see how much rig fits within your income abilities. If the money isn’t there, keep in mind that you’ll get more bang for your buck by paying cash for an affordable, pre-owned RV that may have lost its initial value but not the ability to do take you to the same places that a more expensive, financed RV can.
Keep Up with RV Maintenance
Ongoing RV maintenance is an expensive chore but keeping up with it can save you thousands of dollars when you incorporate it into your getaway plans. Before your departure, allow enough time to give your RV a careful work-over to check mechanical, electrical and house systems. Get necessary repairs made before you hit the road so your trip doesn’t end before it really begins.
Know Your RV Fuel Costs
Whether you have a gas or diesel RV, fuel is a major road trip expense. For a general idea of how much you’ll spend on fill-ups, know these three things:
- your vehicle’s miles per gallon
- the number of miles you’ll drive
- the fuel costs at locations along your driving route
Enter this information into a fuel cost calculator to learn how much money you’ll spend at the pump.
Watch Your RV Weight
Keep a close eye on what you pack so you don’t come close to exceeding your RV’s gross vehicle weight ratio. Maintaining a comfortable weight your RV or tow vehicle means it won’t have to work so hard to pull you and your stuff along the highway, thus saving you more in fuel costs.
Cut Food Costs
Plan on cooking in your RV kitchen more than you eat out and you’ll dramatically cut your food expenses when you hit the road. By following this tip, you can use your usual weekly food expenses as a baseline for vacation food costs.
- Create a meal plan that incorporates pantry items you already have on hand.
- Go grocery shopping with a specific list geared toward simple “one-dish” meals like large casseroles that can make enough for left overs.
Once you’re on the road you can save even more by participating in your campground’s group potluck events, dining out only during the lunch hour or when taking advantage of happy hour and mid-week restaurant deals.
Vacation During the Off-Season
Plan your road trip around peak vacation times and you’re likely to find off-season rates at RV parks and other attractions. If you must get away during popular seasons, midweek stays can sometimes offer small savings.
Learn to Go RV Boondocking
The number one way to save money on RV lodging costs is to utilize your RV to its maximum potential by dry camping, or “boondocking.” Going off-grid and learning how to live on less electricity and water takes practice but it’s a fun way to bring you closer to nature and help you save on camping fees, since many recreation areas charge little or nothing at all to camp. If you find that you enjoy dry camping, investing in a good RV solar system will boost your comfort level when you’re in the outback.
Join a Discount Camping Club
Spending money to join a club seems like a losing proposition but here’s how one club can help you save. Passport America is a discount camping club that can save you 50 percent off campground fees. Passport requires no hefty upfront fees or long-term commitments and it’s not a timeshare. For about $50 annually, Passport members get half-off rates at hundreds of campgrounds in the network. Many of these spots are within an easy driving distance of major attractions and you’ll have a wide range of park environments to choose from. A Passport membership is good for one year and requires no commitments other than the annual fee (which pays for itself in just two nights at a park). Just be sure to time our visit so it coincides with the campground’s Passport use rules, since many locations impose length of stay and seasonal restrictions.
Choose Public Campgrounds
Public campgrounds usually cost less than privately owned ones and some cost nothing at all. Many municipalities around the country (especially in America’s Midwest states) have city parks with RV facilities and are oftentimes located adjacent to scenic bike paths, trails and other fun amenities. While most city parks aren’t located in popular destinations, they’re a great way to save money while en route to somewhere else.
Choose RV Resorts Carefully
Any RV park that has the word “resort” attached to its name means it costs more money to stay there. Resorts are great for RVers with children who need daily entertainment and activities but unless the RV park resort is your ultimate destination, if cost is a concern choose more basic accommodations in order to save money for entertainment and other activities.
Commit to Your RV Dreams
Learning how to save money on the road is an ongoing education that begins the day you buy your RV and re-starts each time you hit the road. By making an ongoing commitment to live within your means you’re guaranteeing that the open road will be filled with good times instead of constant worry. Stick to these frugal RVing strategies and your dream of a carefree vacation will become a reality every time you turn the key.
To learn even more, jump into a conversation in the IRV2 Discussion Forums and talk to other campers for fun and practical budget-saving tips.