Many people ask “how much does it cost to travel full time in an RV?” Well, that is a complicated question that requires a complicated answer. In fact, there’s no way I could answer this question for you without digging through your checkbook (do people even use those anymore?). What I can do is give you an idea of what expenses to expect and how you might be able to minimize them. Hopefully using this information, you will be able to figure out how much it may cost you to get on the road and stay on the road. Odds are, there are more expenses than you realize. In some cases, saving money on the road requires spending money before hitting the road.
There are certain costs that you can plan on and budget for. These should stay the same month-to-month with little to no variation. These costs could be monthly, yearly, quarterly, or any other periodic time period. Let’s look into the possibilities here.
- Financed assets- This may be your truck and trailer or your motorhome and tow vehicle. This is probably the biggest money sink of any of the categories you will see in this article. If your budget is tight, you may want to wait to hit the road until you can get rid of some of these loans. [usually monthly]
- Insurance- Insurance for a full timer is different than for a weekend warrior. Both people will need the same insurance on their tow vehicle or truck, but the RV portion of the insurance can be twice as much for the fulltimer. Of course, with the extra cost comes extra coverage, sometimes even including hotel stays if your rig needs repair. You may want to include health insurance when considering the types of insurances you will need. [usually monthly]
- Registration- You will likely pay a yearly fee to your chosen state of domicile for two vehicles. That could be your truck and trailer or your motorhome and tow vehicle. [yearly]
- RV clubs- These can drastically reduce your lodging costs if you are not one who boondocks a lot. They provide discounts on camping at select campgrounds. I would recommend finding a Thousand Trails membership from a third party. They can be found on sites like Craigslist or timeshare sites used for a lot cheaper than buying straight from Thousand Trails. Buying one of these memberships require an up front buy in followed by a yearly fee for park upkeep. The upkeep cost does tend to go up slightly year-over-year, but it is still close enough to be considered in fixed costs. Another membership that complements a Thousand Trails membership nicely is from Passport America. They offer 50% discounts on some nice campgrounds and the yearly fees are cheap. Since it is such a big discount, there are restrictions for using this membership at every park, but it’s a nice membership to use to tide you over until you get to the next Thousand Trails park. [yearly]
- Communications- This would include any communication service you feel you need. All of these are optional and there are ways to get by without them, but in today’s world all of us will have at least some of these services. These include mobile phone service, satellite TV service, and mobile internet service. [monthly]
- Mail Forwarding- Unless you have a family member that doesn’t mind being burdened by handling all your mail indefinately, you’ll need a mail forwarding service. This is espescially important for the RV entreprenuer who needs a steady address. There are many of these services out there, but I have had a good experience with St Brenden’s Isle.
- Maintenance costs- Your vehicles need some love. Your engines need oil changes. Your bearings will need packed. Your roof will need sealed and conditioned. You will need to make a list of these expenses and budget for them. There is NO TRUE WAY so save money in this area. You MUST do this work and do it correctly. On the bright side, doing this will save you LOADS of money down the road in repairs, which I will cover later.
These costs are more easily controlled and moderated by monitoring your spending habits. They are also those expenses that, left unmonitored, can break you quickly. When budgeting these items, don’t assume you will live differently in your RV than you do at home. If you frequently eat out, don’t assume that you will cook in more when you get in your RV. If you are one who frequently enjoys going to the movies, you will probably continue to enjoy the same activity on the road.
- Fuel- This breaks down into 2 categories: gas/diesel, and propane. If you move frequently and travel long distances, you will naturally burn more gas/diesel. This can be mitigated by staying put longer and getting to know each area you visit a little better. Propane is consumed in three major ways: cooking, heating, and refrigeration. You can mitigate propane use by using an induction cooktop, using a convection heater, and limiting your travel so you can run your fridge on electricity.
- Water- This is slightly variable. Very few people want to be consuming RV park water. you will want good bottled water for drinking, cooking, coffee, etc. I choose to avoid this cost altogether and keep a Berkey water filter on hand. Berkey is in a class by itself. You could literally take water out of a cesspool and it would come out drinkable. It’s a great investment.
- Lodging- I mentioned some ways to mitigate this cost above with Thousand Trails and Passport America. If you don’t have any discount memberships and rarely boondock, your lodging could get out of control quickly. Most campgrounds also have discounted rates for monthly stays.
- Laundry- When you’re on the road, you’ll likely be using laundromats. Many campgrounds have them on site, but that’s just for convenience. It still costs money. For larger families, you could be looking at $20 a week! Some of the larger rigs have W/D hookups in a closet, and if yours doesn’t you can still avoid laundry costs by buying the popular Panda portable washing machine.
- Food- Ya gotta eat. Keep in mind, if you are a family who likes to eat out, you should budget to eat out on the road. Even if your intentions are to cook more, chances are you will fall back into old habits.
- Entertainment- You know what you like. If you are the going out to the movies type, I’m not sure I can help you save money on that. I tend to feel like that’s not the average RVer, though. The average RVer will make great use out of a national museum membership or a pass for National Parks. Whatever your flavor of entertainment, remember it usually costs money to go out and do things. Going out to do things is what RVing is all about!
You will need to keep a savings account large enough to take care of these expenses as they come along.
- Repair costs- You will have problems on the road, no matter how new your vehicles are. Trust me. I know. You can mitigate these costs by buying extended warranties, but even then you will have to evaluate if that’s a smart thing to use. Warranties are great if you need a new transmission, but if you need a new fuel pump on your generator, it may not be worth the cost of the hotel room. It’s best to buy a good set of tools and learn how to use them.
- Travel days- These can be glorious days of fabulous scenery and enjoying a leisurely ride. They can also be absolute mayhem. You need to prepare for food costs by keeping drinks, sandwiches, and snacks on hand. That will cut down on food costs. The biggest thing you need to remember on move day is tire pressure. Before you leave on any trip, you should check pressure in all of your tires. Before taking your rig on the road, you should ensure that cheap “chinapop” tires aren’t installed. If they are (and they usually are), replace them with quality American made tires. If you ignore these warnings, you will be spending money on body work from multiple blowouts in the same trip. Ask me how I know.
I hope after reading this, you’ll have a better understanding of how to build your budget and what to expect. Where possible, I’ve given my best advise on how to mitigate costs, but sometimes that’s just not possible.
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