Heading out on a road trip in a recreational vehicle allows travelers an opportunity to explore the nation while enjoying some comforts, too. But RV travel still comes with expenses. Here is how to keep them in check.
Choose a smaller vehicle
RVs range from small campers and towable trailers to grand motor homes more than 40 feet long. Whether you rent or buy, the bigger you go, the more it will cost. "People can opt for a big luxury coach and pay thousands of dollars a week, or they can get a small [one] for a fraction of that price," said Chuck Woodbury, editor for RVtravel.com, who adds that larger vehicles typically offer less fuel efficiency and flexibility. For some, a roomier RV may be necessary to accommodate large groups. In that case, save money by splitting the cost with fellow travelers.
Use fuel efficiently
Prepare to spend more at the pump; RVs get about 6 to 18 mpg, depending on the size and model, Woodbury said. Cars average about 24 mpg.
Hall recommends using AAA's gas-cost calculator to estimate the expense upfront. If the total exceeds your fuel budget, try a few saving strategies:
• Use an app like GasBuddy to identify locations with the lowest prices.
• Pay with a credit card that offers rewards on gas purchases.
• Slow down. "The faster you go, the more you're going to burn. If you're not in a big hurry, then go 60 [mph] instead of 70," Woodbury said.
Find free (or cheap) destinations
While you will avoid the cost of staying in hotels, you could still face fees for camping plus hooking up to water, sewer and electricity. The good news: There are plenty of affordable campsites. With an RV, you can camp free overnight on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands and in Walmart parking lots, where allowed.
You can also save money on RV rentals if you are willing to drive between certain destinations. For example, Cruise America has "one-way specials," which discount fees for travelers who pick up and drop off their vehicles in specific cities. Join a camping or discount club
Memberships and loyalty programs offer a wide variety of perks. A one-year, $44 membership for the camping club Passport America includes a 50% discount per night on stays throughout its network of RV campgrounds. There may be exclusions, though, often during popular travel times. Check availability at each location in advance.
"If a park fills up in the summer, they're not probably going to want to offer half price when they can get full price. But in the offseason, they will gladly take half price," Woodbury said.