Whether you own a recreational vehicle (RV) or plan on renting one for your next trip, there are several tips and tricks all RVers can use to spend less and see more. This article offers some common, and some lesser known ideas for the budget-conscious camper to stretch their dollar further.
1. Save Whether Renting or Owning
Whether you rent or own your RV, there are some cost savings you can take advantage of to minimize your budgetary impact. Before the online marketplace, owning an RV would cost you money whether it was sitting at a campground or in your driveway. Today, if you own your RV, you can make money on it when you’re not using it.
If you keep it hooked up at home, consider renting it out as a property on Airbnb, especially if you live in a highly desirable vacation destination.
2. Save on Fuel
RVing is all about hitting the open road, and there’s no way to get around spending a large chunk of change on fuel. However, you can reduce how large that chunk is by following a few simple guidelines.
First, whether you’re towing or driving your RV, don’t go over 60 mph. Sixty is the magic number at which you go from using your fuel to wasting it. Leave early, enjoy the drive, and don’t worry about people passing you.
Download these three apps to save on gas:
- Roadtrippers helps you plan your route, including the best stops and attractions along the way.
- Gas Buddy helps you find the cheapest gas nearby once you’ve reached your destination.
- Waze will help keep you out of traffic. Sitting in traffic burns a ton of gas, so try to avoid it whenever possible. If there’s a bad traffic jam you can’t avoid, take that time to pull off, walk your pets, and enjoy a snack instead of idling on a highway.
3. Save on Supplies
It may be tempting to buy brand new gear and supplies to stock your RV. Instead, repurpose things you already own, like old towels, linens, rugs, kitchen supplies, and stolen hotel toiletries. Make sure to thoroughly dig through your existing household items for anything you can “donate” to the camper before making a supply run.
Try to avoid buying last-minute necessities at travel stops and repair shops, which offer high-demand goods at a premium. If you’ve planned properly, you should already be fully stocked up with RV supplies you’ve bought online.
Camping World offers some great tips on the essential supplies you’ll need on your RV trip and how to stay organized in a small space. When it comes to your budget and your sanity, less is more in an RV!
4. Save on Campsites
Boondocking, also known as dry camping, is one of the cheapest ways to camp. When planning your trip, look for public lands that offer cheap or free camping by searching for Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Wildlife Management Area (WMA) properties. You can also find dry camping opportunities in National and State Forests. Make sure to check permitting requirements before camping on public lands.
Another way to save on campsites is simply to park at a business or public parking lot overnight for free. If you’re only staying for a day, parking lot camping is a great way save money on the road. Many big box stores and truck stops allow RVers to stop for the night.
Boondockers Welcome lists private properties that allow you to set up camp for free. These properties are often found in secluded private forests, remote hideaways, and waterfront retreats. In exchange for the amenities, you’ll get to enjoy the great outdoors the way that Mother Nature intended.
You can also join the Harvest Hosts website, where you can find wineries, farms, and breweries that allow you to hook up your RV overnight. It’s good practice to show the host your appreciation by supporting their business. While not completely free, your RV will always be stocked with delicious wine and fresh, local produce.
5. Purchase a Club Membership
Campgrounds with all the amenities, including showers, clubhouses, pools, and volleyball courts, are the most expensive. If you plan on camping at a private campground or a fully-equipped park, look for campsites that offer only partial hookups for savings. Buy an annual pass to your favorite state parks and campgrounds if you plan on coming back frequently, and take advantage of resident savings programs.
For the greatest savings on private campgrounds, purchase a club membership. Perhaps the most recognized is the Good Sam Club membership. Not only do you save at over 2400 participating campgrounds, but a Good Sam membership offers discounts on fuel, propane, and even camping gear. With memberships starting at just $29, it’s easy to see how these savings can quickly add up.
Camping clubs often host events and rallies across the country, where you can join seminars and meet other members. Memberships usually come with access to exclusive directories and discounts at partner organizations. Plus, some even offer a help line to call if you’re in a bind. Not only can you save money by joining a club, but you get to reap the rewards of being part of a nationwide network of savvy RVers.
6. Save on Food
It goes without saying that eating out costs more money than staying in. If your RV comes with a kitchen, use it! Aside from cooking all or most of your meals in your RV, take advantage of meal prepping and planning.
When cooking at home before an RV trip, make extra food and portion out meals in freezer bags. Easy freezer meals include chili, stir fry, beef stew, spaghetti and meat sauce, pot roast, casseroles, and soups. Take the freezer bags with you for quick and easy meals that don’t dip into your road trip budget.
When stopping at a campground, take advantage of the provided grills to prep a few meals for the road. Make vegetable foil packets, and grill hamburgers, steaks, and sausage for meals that are full of flavor and easy to reheat the next day.
Being on the road is an opportunity to learn about new cuisines and try out fresh, local produce. Keep in mind that you don’t have to eat at a restaurant to do so. Shop for groceries at farmers’ markets and small neighborhood stores, and buy seasonal produce whenever possible. When you do decide to eat out, check for Groupon deals, early bird dinners, and happy hour specials before choosing a restaurant.
7. Explore Your Home State
The easiest way to RV on a budget is simply to stay local. Start out by exploring your home state and cross off all the must-see sights in your own backyard before heading to faraway places. Visit free or cheap parks, beaches, museums, and lakes before falling into high-costs tourist traps.
As a resident, you may be eligible for savings at state parks and attractions that wouldn’t be available to out-of-state visitors. By staying local, not only will you save on gas, but you can save on tolls, too, by taking advantage of your state’s discount programs.
Exploring your own locale means not having to pack as much, since you’ll probably take shorter trips. Packing light means less gear to purchase, less things to worry about losing or damaging, and the added perk of saving on gas because your RV is lighter.
8. RV During Off-Season
Most RV destinations have a well-defined off-season, and you can save money by visiting during less popular times of the year. During off season, you’ll have access to more campgrounds and attractions that are normally full during peak times. Many places offer discounts and perks when they don’t fill up.
Not only is RVing during off-season quieter, but you can access premium waterfront campsites, enjoy shorter wait times at attractions, and sit in less traffic. Restaurants that are usually crowded run specials and promotions during off-season and shoulder seasons, allowing you to enjoy local cuisine at a reduced rate.
An added bonus of RVing during off-season is that rental rates are cheaper, allowing you to take longer trips for the same price as peak season. If you own your RV, you’ll get more use out of your investment.
9. Perform Regular Maintenance
Emergency maintenance is costly and unavoidable, but you can decrease your chance of having to perform repairs on the road with a bit of planning.
Just like a vehicle, RVs require services and preventative care at regular intervals. This helps you avoid issues and find small problems before they become big ones.
If you need to do a repair, try to do it yourself before looking for a professional. You can find detailed videos online explaining how to do simple repairs, like fix leaky sinks, reseal windows, patch a rubber roof, change tires, and replace indicator lights.
If you aren’t comfortable with doing your own repairs, find a quality RV mechanic close to home to work on your rig. Ask them to regularly service your RV, usually at the start of each camping season, to look for issues before you hit the road.
Finally, do your research on parts before ordering them through a dealer or repair shop. Ask your mechanic for a list of what you’ll most likely need. Then order the most common RV maintenance items before your next service and just pay for labor.
10. Have a Budget
The most important tip for RVing on a budget is to actually have a budget. That doesn’t just mean saying “I can spend $500 on this trip” or “I’ll put it on a credit card and pay $100 a month for 6 months.” To truly save money while RVing, you have to itemize every expense. Before heading out on your next RV adventure, account for the following:
- Cost of renting (per trip) or owning (monthly or up front costs)
- Maintenance costs
- Insurance fees
- Park and recreation area fees
- Membership clubs
- RV supplies and replacement cost
- Activities and entertainment
- Souvenirs and gifts
Budgeting may not sound like the funnest part of RVing, but RVing on a budget means more trips, more time on the road, and more fun! What’s your best tip or trick for saving money on RV trips?