A Cost/Benefit Analysis of the RV Lifestyle
Darrow’s articles about traveling in a Recreational Vehicle (RV) in retirement have been popular on this blog over the years. Pursuing an adventurous RV lifestyle is something many people dream about doing with their increased time freedom in retirement. I’m one!
I invited Mary, who writes at the blog Reflections Around the Campfire, to share her experiences with RV life. She left her original career in 1990. Her family has been traveling around the United States in their RV on a part-time basis for the past fifteen years. She and her husband fully retired about five years ago in their 50’s.
Like many readers of this blog, Mary is a numbers geek who tracks the financial implications of her decisions. She breaks down the costs and benefits of their RV lifestyle over the past fifteen years in this fun and insightful post. Enjoy!
The Appeal of the RV Lifestyle
The COVID-19 pandemic opened the eyes of many people to a fact that countless camping families have known for ages. The RV lifestyle is appealing for a wide variety of reasons.
The appeal during a pandemic, of course, is the social distancing aspect of RVing. You’re traveling in your very own bubble, complete with a kitchen and bathroom, thereby eliminating the need to overnight in an “I-wonder-how-well sanitized-it-is hotel room,” dine in a not-so-socially-distanced restaurant setting, or use a highly trafficked restroom in a plane or at a service plaza on the interstate.
Camping enthusiasts were drawn to the RVing lifestyle long before the pandemic. Why? Because it’s all about options.
- If you want a drivable vehicle that will easily fit in a regular sized parking place, there’s an RV for that.
- If you want to tow some type of trailer so that you have room for your bikes, kayaks, and stand up paddle boards in the back of your pickup truck, there’s an RV for that.
- If you want a luxury ride that can accommodate plenty of visitors (including those precious grandchildren), there’s an RV for that.
There are 10 common types of RVs. I’ll bet you a dime to a dollar that one of them, drivable or towable, would fit the needs of anyone potentially interested in traveling by RV.
Related: Choosing a Compact RV or Camper for Retirement Travel
Where To Go and What To Do
There are also multiple choices for places to park your RV for the night.
Camp at a primitive National Park campground with no electrical or sewer hookups to enjoy stargazing under one of the darkest skies you’ve ever seen. Or camp at an upscale RV Resort to indulge in amenities like swimming pools for the kids, tennis courts and gyms for the sports addicts, and fun-filled games and activities for every member of the family.
If you’re a NASCAR fan, join fellow camping and racing enthusiasts by RVing at Daytona International Speedway and other tracks around the circuit. Or camp at the State or County Fairground while your kids compete in horse shows or 4H and FFA competitions.
Maybe you’d prefer to stay onsite at an RV park owned by a casino, so you’re close to the gambling action. Or tour the country while working remotely and homeschooling your children.
So. Many. Options.
Related: Traveling in a Small RV
RV Lifestyle — The Costs
RVers take their rigs to exceptionally varied places for an extraordinary number of reasons. But is the cost of a ticket to buy into the RV lifestyle worth it? Let’s zip back in a time machine to 2006, and run some real numbers.
In May of 2006 our family purchased a brand new Jayco Jay Flight 27BH travel trailer. At 30’ long (including 3’ for the hitch in front) and 8’ wide, it gave us 216 square feet of living space that included a living area with a kitchen, dinette and sofa plus a full bathroom, a queen bed and a separate bunk for each of our two kids.
We paid $16,008.00 for the travel trailer and spent another $1,825.00 over the course of the summer outfitting it. Included in our summer purchases were, among many, many other things, wheel chocks so that we wouldn’t roll off into the sunset, a surge suppressor to protect our electrical system when we were plugged into a power outlet at a campground, a grill for those fabulous campsite meals and a cover to protect the travel trailer from the worst of the winter elements. Additionally, we spent $96.00 to register the trailer with our state’s Department of Motor Vehicles and $247.00 to insure it.
The RV dealership we dealt with always ordered this particular model in bulk and passed the discount along to its customers. The general public probably paid an additional $4,000.00 for the same travel trailer at another dealership.
If you’re not keeping track, don’t worry; I am. We’re at $22,176.00 and we haven’t even left the dealer’s lot yet. If you have to buy a tow vehicle with a trailering package, let’s add in a conservative $28,000.00. This is approximately what a new Chevy Silverado 1500 LS Extended Cab 4 Wheel Drive was going for in 2006.
Our family avoided that expense. We already had a tow vehicle with the appropriate trailering equipment before we bought the travel trailer. Otherwise, we would have topped out at $50,176.00.
Drivable RV Costs
If that sounds like a lot of money, keep in mind that a brand new drivable RV of almost any size will usually start at a price that’s $10K to $20K higher than what we tallied. Costs could easily sail upward into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Travel Costs in an RV
Okay, now we’re all set to travel!
In 2007, our family of four set out on what was the first of three cross-country journeys to visit our iconic National Parks. Round trip from the northeast, we traveled to Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Rocky Mountain National Parks and Monuments.
We spent 24 days on the road, logged 5,338 miles and spent a total of $4,373.00. That total included gas and tolls ($2,153.00), camping fees rather than hotel charges ($790.00), restaurant meals and groceries ($916.00), entertainment ($155.00) and souvenirs ($359.00).
At an average of just $35.00 per night (mainly at private RV Parks) our campground fees were much easier on our budget than hotel stays would have been. But, then, you don’t have to buy a hotel to sleep in it. Our average cost per day for 2 adults and 2 kids on that 24 day trip was just $182.00.
Let’s step back into the time machine and fast forward to 2017 and another of our cross-country National Parks camping trips. This time, round trip from the northeast, we traveled to the West Coast to visit Sequoia, King’s Canyon, Yosemite, Redwoods, Crater Lake, Olympic, North Cascades and Theodore Roosevelt National Parks.
We spent 40 days on the road, logged 8,513 miles and spent a total of $7,311.00. That total includes gas and tolls ($3,743.00), camping fees plus one night at a hotel in Las Vegas ($1,261.00), restaurant meals and groceries ($1,642.00), entertainment ($474.00) and souvenirs ($191.00).
Our lodging expense averaged just $31.50 per night, including a very brief hotel stay. (I scored a great deal.) We camped mainly in State and National Park campgrounds, and only stayed in private (more expensive) RV parks occasionally.
Our average cost per day for my husband and I plus our 18 year old daughter was just $183.00 – only $1.00 per day more than the 2007 trip with the two kids at ages 8 and 13.
Costs of RV vs. “Conventional” Travel
We’ve been traveling mainly by RV since we purchased our first travel trailer in 2006. But, for comparison’s sake, let’s talk numbers on our 2019 anniversary getaway to Virginia Beach. In the fall of 2019, we left the pickup truck and RV at home and cruised like newlyweds down the east coast in my husband’s Camaro Super Sport.
We spent 8 days on the road, logged just over 1,000 miles and spent a total of $1,827.00. That total included gas and tolls ($178.00), an ocean view hotel room ($1,002.00), restaurant meals and groceries ($560.00), entertainment ($44.00) and souvenirs ($43.00). Our lodging expense averaged $143.00 per night – 4 times higher than our camping costs when traveling by RV. Our average cost per day for just the two of us was $228.00 – a full 25% higher even without the kids.
If you’re thinking that the RV lifestyle is an inexpensive approach to traveling, think again. We haven’t even talked about repairs and maintenance, storage fees (if you’re unable to keep your RV on your property), interest on a loan, or annual membership in an RV-related roadside service program comparable to AAA.
Related: Maintaining a Small RV for Retirement Travel
RV Lifestyle — The Benefits
Your enthusiasm for RVing may be dimming. You may find yourself wondering why someone would ever throw that kind of money at a home on wheels. Let me assure you that there is good reason why RVs rolled off the production line in record numbers in 2017.
The benefits of an RV lifestyle are intrinsic and go beyond any of its costs. Incidentally, the 2017 production numbers were eclipsed by those of 2020 – despite most manufacturers having endured a two month shutdown and critical shortages of parts due to the pandemic.
Exploring With Comfort and Flexibility
What are the benefits of the RV lifestyle? RVing allows our family of outdoor enthusiasts to spend time doing what we love – biking, hiking, kayaking and exploring – without needing to travel to the outdoors to start the adventure.
We’ve woken up at the edge of the Grand Canyon, paddled on a lake with only a family of loons for company, and watched freighters ply our country’s rivers from our waterfront sites. RVing allows us those spur-of-the-moment decisions. We can pull into the parking lot of a State Park, grab snacks and drinks, change into bathing suits and cool off in the lake – not because it was on our itinerary but because it was hot and everyone needed a break.
RVing provides the opportunity to gather around an evening campfire with friends and family and share the adventures of our day while enjoying a hot cup of coffee or an ice cold beer. We can grab the marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate bars from the pantry and make the messiest, tastiest s’mores on the planet. Or we can greet the rising sun from the comfort of a camp chair while soaking up the solitude.
My husband and I traded up from tent camping when our aging bodies began to protest a bit too much about sleeping outdoors on the cold, hard ground. I must admit that we’ve been spoiled by the RV lifestyle and have come to embrace it fully.
No matter what journey we’re on, we’re towing our home behind us, packed with our own kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. Our preferred games are in one drawer, books and DVDs in the end table, and our favorite foods in the fridge. We have all the comforts of home.
Related: Living Efficiently in a Small RV
Counting Dollars vs. Measuring Experiences
You can run all the numbers you’d like regarding the cost of RVing as compared to alternative modes of travel. My guess is that some will be less expensive, some more so.
But there is no comparison for the unimaginable pleasure derived from RVing, the camaraderie that exists among RVers, the amazing nights spent in the most magnificent places or the unforgettable experiences and memories that the lifestyle engenders. The value of RVing lies not in its numbers, but in the spectacular opportunities it provides.
Hit The Road — Practical First Steps
GoRving.com is a great place to start for anyone interested in exploring the RV lifestyle. If you decide to give RVing a try, do consider renting an RV for your first trip. Alternatively, opt for a less expensive test drive by booking a reservation at an RV Park that rents on-site travel trailers.
Thank you Mary for sharing your extensive experience and transparency with the financial aspects of RV life. As someone who is gradually getting more serious about pursuing this lifestyle, this provided a lot to think about.
My family is following Mary’s advice to test drive this lifestyle. We rented a camper van for a trip later this year to dip our toes in the water. I’ll be sharing more about that experience when the time is right.
If you want to dive deeper into this topic, leave your questions and comments below. And be sure to check out more of Mary’s writing at Reflections Around the Campfire.
* * *
- The Best Retirement Calculators can help you perform detailed retirement simulations including modeling withdrawal strategies, federal and state income taxes, healthcare expenses, and more. Can I Retire Yet? partners with two of the best.
- New Retirement: Web Based High Fidelity Modeling Tool
- Pralana Gold: Microsoft Excel Based High Fidelity Modeling Tool
- Free Travel or Cash Back with credit card rewards and sign up bonuses.
- Monitor Your Investment Portfolio
- Sign up for a free Personal Capital account to gain access to track your asset allocation, investment performance, individual account balances, net worth, cash flow, and investment expenses.
- Our Books
- Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence
- Can I Retire Yet: How To Make the Biggest Financial Decision of the Rest of Your Life
- Retiring Sooner: How to Accelerate Your Financial Independence
* * *
[Chris Mamula used principles of traditional retirement planning, combined with creative lifestyle design, to retire from a career as a physical therapist at age 41. After poor experiences with the financial industry early in his professional life, he educated himself on investing and tax planning. Now he draws on his experience to write about wealth building, DIY investing, financial planning, early retirement, and lifestyle design at Can I Retire Yet? Chris has been featured on MarketWatch, Morningstar, U.S. News & World Report, and Business Insider. He is also the primary author of the book Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence. You can reach him at email@example.com.]
* * *
Disclosure: Can I Retire Yet? has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Can I Retire Yet? and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Other links on this site, like the Amazon, NewRetirement, Pralana, and Personal Capital links are also affiliate links. As an affiliate we earn from qualifying purchases. If you click on one of these links and buy from the affiliated company, then we receive some compensation. The income helps to keep this blog going. Affiliate links do not increase your cost, and we only use them for products or services that we're familiar with and that we feel may deliver value to you. By contrast, we have limited control over most of the display ads on this site. Though we do attempt to block objectionable content. Buyer beware.
Join more than 18,000 subscribers.
Get free regular updates from "Can I Retire Yet?" on saving, investing, retiring, and retirement income. New articles weekly.
Chris, thanks for allowing me to share my passion for RVing (and numbers!) with your readers. Combining a love of outdoor adventures and activities with the RVing lifestyle has enriched our lives in countless and amazing ways. It’s exciting for me to hear that you’ll be test driving this mode of travel yourself; you can bet that I’ll be looking forward to your report on your family’s epic journey!
Thanks Mary and Chris! As more and more people are getting into RV travel they need to understand it’s not exactly cheap. IMO if costs are a concern, a small popup for shorts trips makes the upfront and maintenance costs minimal, compared to that of an RV. After 20+ years in popups I finally moved to an RV and I don’t regret it because of the long distances I’m traveling. Dry camping can save a bit a money, but it’s not ideal for everybody, and is mostly out west. It would be see so cool to see Mary’s thoughts on all the parks her family visited. Thanks again informative post!
Ed, you’re absolutely right about pop-ups providing a relatively inexpensive way to camp. They’re great for shorter trips or weekends and can fit in just about any campground out there. We looked at pop-ups before we purchased our first travel trailer. One of the reasons we didn’t buy one is that we knew we were heading out west to some locations where soft-sided campers were precluded due to wildlife issues. As for our opinions on National Parks, I will say that each and every one has its own personality and attributes. Our family of four (our kids are now 26 and 21) has differing opinions when it comes to our favorites. My husband would vote for Glacier, Grand Teton and Redwoods. My favorites include Yosemite and Acadia. Notice I said “include.” Honestly, we haven’t had a bad experience in any of the National Parks, and I really feel like you can’t go wrong no matter which one(s) you choose to visit.
To those who may not know what “dry camping” means . . . Some campgrounds, especially those in State and National Parks and on other other public lands, don’t provide water, electric or sewer hookups for your RV. Camping without those amenities is known as dry camping. When we first started camping with a travel trailer, our kids were younger and we frequented private RV parks with full hookups. Private RV parks typically offer more amenities like a swimming pool and activities for the kids. Our first dry camping experience was at the Madison Campground in Yellowstone during our first cross-country National Parks trip with the kids in 2007. Waking up right in the Park surrounded by the magnificent natural scenery caused an immediate shift in our camping style. We’ve favored State and National Parks ever since. That’s the kind of camping that speaks to our family but, truly, there’s a camping lifestyle to fit many different interests and perspectives.
You have a great perspective and experience. I’m happy to be able to share it with others.
I wholeheartedly agree. RV ing is the best lifestyle. When we retired we sold the house and bought a 5th wheel. It was the best decision! We had10 years of travelling. We saw amazing places and made wonderful friends. Living full time in a small space teaches you how to prioritize your consumption of goods. Although we no longer have the RV we still live by the rule if something new comes in something old leaves. Our decisions to buy something new always take this into account. We certainly consume a lot less than we did when we had a house.
Anyone considering full timing in an RV I would say go for it you will have so much fun and learn a lot of new skills. But don’t store your furniture in case you don’t like it.
Wow! Ten years is an impressive, long run for full-timing, Christine – good for you! It continues to surprise me just how many RVers are on the road full-time. I’m sure the shift during the pandemic toward working remotely has only increased those numbers. It’s true that you need to be mindful of purchases when RVing. Usually everything has its own special place and buying too much (food, clothing, books, souvenirs, ANYTHING) can lead to a chaotic mess and safety issues if you exceed your RV’s weight limits for cargo. RVing tends to highlight the simple pleasures of life, and one of them is the heartwarming fun of sharing a campfire with friends and family.
Thank you for the great post! We have really enjoyed our RV adventures and soon in retirement it will pick up significantly.
So glad you enjoyed the post, DJ! You can’t beat this retirement gig for traveling. It makes it SO much easier to visit popular places in off seasons and off times. Plus, you get to stay as long as you want, whenever you want. Just be prepared: Some people go into retirement intending to check off every item on their bucket list. What happens, though, is that for every destination you check off, you find yourself adding one or two more. It’s a never-ending battle to whittle down our bucket list, but it’s a problem that I’m delighted to have. There are SO many incredibly magnificent places to see and enjoy in this country!
This is a great post! Last summer I was serious about buying a travel trailer and taking off for a couple of months, but one thing led to another and we realized we didn’t have enough tow capacity for the type of travel trailer we want with our tow vehicle.
And then when I crunched all the numbers it was looking more and more that it would come out comparable to other vacations, but likely take away some of our flexibility in terms of traveling internationally etc.
But I really appreciate your points at the end, driving home that it’s more about the experiences the family time in those serendipitous moments. I really suspect that that is what was missing from my childhood, was enough quiet moments to really bond with my parents and siblings.
So anyways long story short this is definitely something that I want to revisit in the coming years. We are taking a road trip this year and staying at Airbnb‘s so it’ll be a good sort of test drive to this type of vacation/lifestyle!
I understand your point precisely. It took a long time for us to save enough on hotel fees to “pay for” our first travel trailer. We actually put over 40,000 miles on it by the time we took it off the road; I don’t recall what our break-even point was. I had heard people say, “it’s a lifestyle,” but I never quite got it until we bought our first RV. Then it clicked. While we certainly wouldn’t have gotten into any lifestyle we couldn’t afford, we quickly found that our experiences and memories outweighed any of our financial costs. But, for us, it was the right place and time. And so it may be for you a little further down the line.
Your Airbnb trip will give you a taste of life on the road. (We LOVE road trips of any kind!) Another option that might help you dip your toes in the camping waters would be to try renting a cabin at a campground to see how you take to the camping angle. That would be less expensive than renting an RV, so there’s not a huge financial commitment, but it might help you determine if the RV lifestyle is a good fit for you.
A round of applause for backing off on your purchase when you realized your tow vehicle wouldn’t handle the travel trailer you were looking at. Too many people fail to take the weight limits of their tow vehicle into consideration and end up being a safety risk to themselves and others on the road. When the time is right, I think you’ll know it. Enjoy your road trip and travel safely!
If I looked at the financial cost of camping with the family over the past 20 years it was a terrible decision, but like with most of you, the experiences were priceless. I wouldn’t trade those times for a million dollars and I wish I could do it all again.
Eddy, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said that our family camping trips generated some of the best memories of my life, so I’m with you 100%. The photo at the top of this post was taken at the North Rim Campground in Grand Canyon National Park. Our campsite was right at the edge of Transept Canyon and, to tell you the truth, if our kids were younger I would have been pretty nervous about it. To wake up literally steps away from the Grand Canyon was both humbling and inspiring. Besides the advantage of waking up in the stunning beauty of the natural world, setting up and breaking camp teaches kids about work before play, teamwork and the simple pleasures of life. Even though our kids have aged out of traveling with us on a regular basis, every year they make it a point to join us for our annual summer camping trip to “our lake” where biking, kayaking, boating, mini-golf and ice cream are the priorities for the week. We bought a new travel trailer in 2017; it’s known as “The Lodge.” Which reminds me of one of my favorite sayings, “A crowded camper is better than an empty castle.”
So happy that you are able to do the annual pilgrimage. My kids are just out of college and we haven’t been able to reconnect back to camping yet. It is so true that the best things in life are not money itself, but the memories and experiences we can have with it. I can think of no better way to build memories than camping.
Best of luck and happy trails.
I started to look into this a bit. Some thoughts on a couple of things not brought up in the article:
– The gas costs are higher towing an RV. Let’s say a truck towing an RV gets 12 mi./gallon and the Camaro gets 24 mi./gal. On a 240 mile per day trip, that’s an extra 10 gals per day, or say roughly $30/day in extra gas costs.
– There’s the trouble of maintaining the RV, cleaning it and having to lug around a big vehicle vs driving a more nimble car. Less of a problem on the open highway and big RV parks but not so much if you want a mix of park and big city visits combined in your trip
I don’t doubt that certain RV experiences can’t be beat but are still leaning towards hotels/Airbnb (at higher cost per night) and perhaps an occasional RV rental for certain national parks.
Phillip, you raise a couple of good points. The gas mileage can be dismal. We tow with a 2017 GMC Sierra 2500, our current travel trailer weighs roughly 7,000 lbs and we average about 10 miles to the gallon. Just today, we ran the Camaro to an out-of-state appointment and got 28 mpg on the highway. The $30 or $40 extra per day we spend in gas when we’re traveling by RV is offset by lower campground fees – but that’s because we stay primarily in public campgrounds. We make out even better at federally operated campgrounds because Alan’s Lifetime Senior Parks Pass allows a 50% discount on the already reasonable camping fees. However, there are some private RV parks that charge $100 per night or better depending on the location and amenities. Personally speaking, our higher gas costs are offset by lower lodging fees and savings from stocking groceries and eating many of our meals in the RV. It’s easy to camp frugally, but it’s just as easy to camp extravagantly. That’s where personal preferences factor in.
There are definitely trade-offs when traveling by RV. It’s difficult to find good places to camp in urban areas, so you end up driving into the cities or taking public transportation. We’ve had trouble finding urban parking garages that will take an oversize truck. And whenever we drive through Chicago, we always try to time it for 8:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning. On the other hand, when we fell in love with Tillamook ice cream in Oregon, we were able to use up our frozen food before heading for home and packed the RV freezer chock full of Tillamook. Best souvenir EVER! We all have our travel priorities – and great ice cream is one of mine.
We were lucky in that both of us liked to camp. Couples don’t always agree on the value of the expenditure. Usually, it’s about the high entry-level cost, but mostly it about maintaining all the household chores. Some want to have others do the cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, while on vacation. Also, a lot of people fear pulling a travel trailer or driving a big rig. They see recreation vehicles as just more work, expense, and danger to drive. I think these people like the luxury of inner-city hotels and the splendor of the metro area.
Travel definitely falls under the “To Each His Own” category. There are certainly enough modes of travel to make us all happy. I think people who own RVs accept the maintenance and any added chores or expenses as worthwhile tradeoffs for the pleasure of traveling with your own home and sleeping close to nature. While we keep the campgrounds in business, our counterparts keep the hotel and Airbnb’s in business. It’s all good and we’re all happy.
I definitely agree that couples need to be on the same page in reference to RVing. It’s a significant commitment of time, energy and financial resources. As with so many other facets of relationships, honesty, communication and compromise are the keys. We’re fortunate that both Alan and I have enjoyed camping together since we were young adults. He drives, handles the maintenance and does all the grilling. I plan our trips, make the reservations and stock the camper. We split camp chores between us, tag-teaming it until the work is done. Our RVing adventures wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if we hadn’t both bought in 100%.
We are in our 14th year of RV retirement.
Tried to drop a pic of our rig here, but it wouldn’t take it. Here’s a dropbox link to it…
Ah, another happy camper. Nice wheels, J.C. – all of them!
By the way, Chris, thanks for letting me hijack your comment section!
I’m having fun just reading through them!
JC, when I had the idea to feature different reader stories, I had no idea that 2 of the first 4 would have such a focus around the RV lifestyle. For readers who enjoyed this post and didn’t see JC’s post about retiring before a market crash (AND as I later learned living in early retirement in an RV), it is a great read as well. Check it out here: https://www.caniretireyet.com/case-study-retiring-before-a-stock-market-crash/.
One suggestion I have is to budget $150 a month into an RV “sink fund”; your number may vary. I started it shortly after we bought our used RV in 2017 (after reading Darrow’s posts and going to the place where he bought theirs!) for the purpose of saving up for new tires, which age out on RVs as opposed to wear out. I continue to contribute monthly, and as the total grows I have less concern about coming up with $ for unexpected repairs, or the next set of new tires! Thanks for info on Mary’s blog, to which I have now subscribed.
Good point, Janey. There will always be regular maintenance items and then the occasional emergency repairs. Hopefully, the emergencies are few and far between, but a rainy day fund is always a good idea. Thanks for stopping over at “Reflections” – and welcome to the subscriber list!
We’re older and now enjoy RV-style camping. We were fortunate to buy a Coleman pop-up when first married as my new job was in the region of the country with great camping. Kept that camper for 34 years and enjoyed many spring-fall camping weekend adventures with kids. That camper was a good compromise for keeping expenses low and still occasionally getting back to nature with kids. More convenient than packing up for tenting given the trailer was loaded with everything except food. We did fall in love with the camping experience and knew we wanted to do even more in retirement. Our MO is to keep it simple, buy used, modify travel trailer to max effective two-person setup, and avoid peak season popular destinations. We like the lifestyle change up when camping. Most enjoyable when limiting the experience to a couple of months max. Still, nice to get back home especially during the summer months.
My husband and I tent camped for the first 17 years of our marriage then took 10 years off mainly due to a family situation. We bought our first travel trailer in 2006 – a bunkhouse model that allowed each of the two kids some private space. In 2017, once the kids had aged out of traveling with us on a regular basis, we bought a rear living travel trailer – our “retirement home.” Our first RV was a Jayco Jay Flight, pictured in the photo at the top of the post. Our current rig is a Creek Side, made by Outdoors RV Manufacturing – a small company in Oregon that builds trailers for outdoor enthusiasts. The current RV is a four-season RV which extends our camping season. It provides Alan and me with more living space when it’s just the two of us (we love the recliners and the BIG back window), but has a sofa bed and a convertible dinette so that there’s room for the kids and our son’s fiancee whenever they can join us. I loved tent camping all those years ago, but I REALLY appreciate the fact that the RV remains packed and ready to go. We just load up fresh food and clean clothing and we’re done.
Because we own a couple of rental properties and because Alan is the kind of guy who always needs to have a project of some type, I don’t see us ever full-timing. We typically enjoy a few one or two week get-a-ways each year plus extended trips in the spring or fall. We like the off-season, too, Forrest. My husband and I are both introverts, so the smaller crowds and quieter attractions appeal to us.
When I was younger, if you had asked me about retirement plans, my wish list would have included a log cabin retirement home in the mountains somewhere. Now, Alan and I consider our RV our retirement home – one that easily be moved from lake shore to beach to forest on a whim. Dreams come true, but sometimes not in the way you imagined,
I was wondering about the costs of living in an RV ever since I learned about the van dwellers. Thank you so much for expanding my knowledge about this subject!
So glad you found it helpful, Ellen! I’d like to emphasize that RVing can be frugal or extravagant. Of course, it can fall anywhere in between, too. The type and size of RV you choose coupled with the kind of campgrounds you enjoy are two factors that significantly impact the cost of this lifestyle. Additionally, RVers who travel fewer miles and stay longer in one place reap the benefits of monthly rates and spend less on gas. Those who shop locally for groceries and eat in will spend less, overall, than those who enjoy dining out on regional foods, for example, as they travel. Outdoor activities like hiking, biking and fishing are generally lower in cost, but RVers who travel to casinos, NASCAR races or exclusive camping resorts may spend more on their preferred excursions. As I mentioned in the post: So. Many. Options.
I was expecting this to include some environmental cost/benefit analysis. Climate change and all that. I do appreciate the article, as like most people, to me this looks alluring, but every time I’ve thought about it, I come up against how irresponsible it feels environmentally. Not being a nag, this is an honest concern. (I live in a city where I walk and bike everywhere and haven’t owned a car in years; I rent one a couple times a year.)
K.R., I do understand and respect your concerns. It is not without some level of guilt that I’ve embraced this lifestyle. As with any major decision, the advantages and disadvantages must be weighed against an individual’s beliefs, values and resources. In recent years, the RV industry has, at least, attempted to address costs and environmental impact by marketing smaller, lighter-weight options that don’t require an enormous tow vehicle. But I’m sure there are many people who, understandably, avoid the lifestyle for the very reasons you mention.
I do take heart in the fact that RVers provide an economic boost to big cities and small towns all across the country. RVing allows us to explore the history, the natural beauty and the diversity of the United States in a way that would not be possible or affordable for us via airlines, hotels and rental cars. It taught our kids that there is more to life than the small, rural town in which they grew up – a lesson that Alan and I believed was important for them to learn so that they could and would dream big.
The driving force behind our RV travels is the desire to visit the spectacular public lands that have been set aside for the enjoyment of the American people. In getting to know these National Parks, Monuments, Seashores etc. over the past four decades,, we have become supporters and protectors of our public lands, and we have passed our love and respect for them down to our children, the next generation of protectors. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about the future of our public lands. With fewer people engaged in the outdoors, there are fewer voices speaking in support of them. If there is a silver lining in the COVID cloud, it may be that the return of many to the great outdoors will lead to a greater appreciation of and support for our amazing public lands.
My wife and I have both camped all our lives. Out of cars with the parents and mostly tenting for those early times 60 or so years ago. Then camping while touring on our mid sized motorcycles… talk about packing light including tents, kitchen necessities, clothes, and you really know what ‘essentials’ are. Eventually as Mary said the ground got harder, the body less fond of ‘roughing it’ and that we could afford a trailer camper. My wife’s family had a pop up for a number of years and it was great too for much less investment, etc, etc.
We particularly like the towable models because once dropped off at the campground, you have your truck to wander around with. We love genealogy and so our camper becomes our base for a few days at a location of interest and then on we go.
Another consideration is reservations since camping has become so popular! It might be wise to set that reservation as early as possible. Holiday weekends and popular areas fill up fast! There are rest areas on some major roads that you could catch a nights rest in a pinch as well as Walmart I think. We try do do more camping during the week when there are lots of vacancies and often less expensive costs per night.
Lastly, I met my wife camping in 1975 and we have been aficionado’s ever since. I might also recommend doing lots of research before jumping in, including RV shows (often in the winter months), talking to people who do RV camping, and realizing the aspect of setting up and tearing down to prepare for going on down the road is (to some folks) more like work than fun. Yikes.
Thank you for a great article and I hope this encourages others to try it out or see if it might be a fit for their inner ‘wanderers’.
David, I just love your camping history and the fact that you use RVing to support your genealogy research. I know people camp for all kinds of reasons, but that’s the first time I’ve heard that one – very intriguing! You made some good points and offered some excellent advice. Due to the recent uptick in the popularity of RVing, I think even travelers to who prefer spontaneity will be forced to make reservations at times, especially for more popular destinations in season.
We, too, prefer towing an RV because it allows us to travel with our bikes and kayaks in and on the pickup truck. Taking our outdoor gear with us allows us to not just see, but to actively enjoy our many gorgeous destinations. Later this year, we hope to focus on the amazing bike trails in Idaho – an adventure we’re very much looking forward to!
Would love to do some RV’ing one day. It is unfortunately not safe at all to do where we are (crime at any stops and unsafe road conditions from other poor drivers and bad quality roads), but perhaps when we vacation in a developed market. I’m surprised that the camp site costs are so low, it seems they’re more affordable than in our market which is nice! And an abundance of RVs too, maybe we’ll go to the US or Europe for a month or 3 of RV’ing at some stage =)
Charlie, campground fees run the gamut from truly inexpensive to well over $100 per night. It really depends on the kind of RVing one enjoys. I recently booked a site at a U.S. Forest Service campground that cost just $10.00 per night after Alan’s Lifetime Senior National Parks Pass discount was applied. I also recently made reservations at a KOA in one of the western states so that we would be near friends who live nearby. I booked a plain ol’ back in site for $54.00, but larger sites with a patio were going for $102.00 – and that’s in the off season. So, truly, there’s a wide variety of campsites available and a wide range of costs associated with them.
There is one additional resource I’d like to share that may prove helpful to new, prospective and experienced RVers. iRV2.com offers over 80 forums related to camping and the RV lifestyle. There are forums for each type of RV and forums for the owners of RVs made by a specific manufacturer. You’ll also find forums on gear, technology, towing, RVing with pets, camping locations and routes, full-timing, hobbies – there is just a ton of info out there. The forum has rules and a solid group of administrators that monitors the discussions. You don’t need to register to view the forums, but you must be a registered member (there’s no cost) to post. Safe and happy travels to all!
Thanks Chris and Mary, for your reflections! My husband and I bought a Leisure Travel Van on a Sprinter platform a few years ago. We’ve traveled some, and completely agree with Mary’s ideas around memory creation and complete freedom to go wherever and whenever we desire. The simplicity, peace, and pace of living on the road can’t be beat. As we fully retire, we can’t wait to travel much more! We found that although the initial output on the vehicle is expensive, the daily costs of actually living on the road are no more than we would spend living at home. And because our vehicle is set up for stealth, we don’t even have to pay to stay in campgrounds, and often don’t, especially if we know that we’re just getting up the next morning to drive to a new location. Since our intent is to explore and see new things, we don’t spend much time in our van, so we don’t have a need for a lot of space. In fact, we’re selling our current vehicle to downsize to a smaller one for even more versatility. If anyone is interested in seeing what our current home on the road looks like, you can see pics at bit.ly/2014LTV. Happy travels!
Tracy raises a good point. It isn’t always necessary to stay in a campground. Several companies are very supportive of RVers (and the business they bring in) and will allow overnight stays in their parking lots – IF it’s not prohibited by local laws. In our experience, Cabela’s has proven to be the most RV-friendly, followed by Cracker Barrel Restaurants and some Walmarts. Because we live in the northeast and our travels often involve National Parks in the western United States, we’re used to cross-country road trips and traveling for steady days at a clip, just to make time. When we’re on the move like that, these free and easy overnights come in handy. Most often, though, we just make a reservation at a nearby State Park, since we prefer to be well off the highway and may need an electric hookup for A/C if we’re traveling during the summer.
Please know that proper camping etiquette dictates that travelers call ahead or stop in at the customer service desk of these establishments to gain permission to overnight and to find out if there is a particular area of the lot that management prefers to have RVers park. It’s also considered good camping etiquette to thank these companies whenever possible by stocking up on groceries, enjoying a meal in their establishment or buying supplies for your camping trip. Whatever you do, don’t set out your grill and camp chairs, play your TV loudly or leave trash behind for the staff to pick up. Inconsiderate practices like these have resulted in a number of businesses closing their lots to RVers wishing to overnight. Just like we explained to our kids when they were young . . . If you behave well, you get privileges; if you behave poorly, you lose them.
Comments are closed.