Hopping in an RV to motor across the country can be an invigorating experience, with stops at every attraction imaginable, nights spent at luxurious RV resorts, and trying new bistros in every town you travel through. It’s a dream come true, but at this rate, your dream could become a nightmare. You begin running through your travel nest egg more quickly than a hot knife through butter. You are discovering that RV life can be an expensive one. Can you save money on a road trip?
With a little planning and a bit of self-control, you can enjoy the RV trip of a lifetime. You can still have money to show for it at the end of the journey. Let’s look at a few ways you can save money and experience the road trip you have always imagined.
Plan Your Route
Some travelers like to fly by the seat of their pants. Impulsively darting in various directions with no plans for a specific destination or how they will arrive there. This can pile up extra fuel and campground costs, lost time, and wasted effort.
Why not plan out an overall view of your trip with a website called RV Trip Wizard, and leave some room for serendipity? RV Trip Wizard allows you to plot your journey, marking specific campsites, gas stations, attractions, and more, keeping track of their costs, as well. It’s much more useful than special standalone RV GPS units. Those can set you back about $400.
Your route is easily changeable, in case your plans change. You will find everything from state park campgrounds to private ones, camping supply businesses to stock up on propane or tent poles, gas stations for fuel, and dump stations for ‘off-loading.’
You can input your RV specs (like height and how many miles per gallon you average). RV Trip Wizard will let you know where you will need to stop for gas. It also tells you how much money you will spend on it and campground fees. It’s a great way to keep all of your travel info and budget figures in one place, with little work from you!
Save Money on Campgrounds
There are a few RV discount programs available that can save you serious money on campground fees:
Passport America has more than 1,600 participating campgrounds across the country. Purchasing an annual membership for $44 is a great deal when you realize you can save half the price of a campsite fee at each. Your 50% discount is usually good for at least 4 consecutive nights at each campground, too.
Harvest Hosts is an innovative way to travel for “free”. Your initial investment is $79 per year. This allows you to book one-night stays at over 1,440 locations across the US. These destinations vary from vineyards to farms, museums, and orchards, where you are welcome to stay overnight in self-contained RVs (no tents).
Most do not have hookups but are usually outstanding locations with great scenery and stimulating attractions. You are expected to join in the festivities at each (tour a museum, purchase a bottle of wine, buy some fresh veggies, etc.), and overall enjoy your host’s hospitality. More than 360 golf courses are also available for overnights for an added $40 annual fee. Morning tee times should no longer be a problem!
Find Free Campgrounds to Save Money on a Road Trip
If you would like to save even more on campsite fees, utilize the website Campendium.com. You will find free and low-cost campgrounds, dispersed campsites, and government land on which to camp.
Campendium allows you to filter by cost. You can search by city, state, or location name, making it very easy to navigate. Amenities available at each campground or site are listed, along with ratings on accessibility, noise, site quality, cleanliness, and location.
Another great feature is all of the reviews by previous campers. Not only will you learn about small spaces, rough roads, and the most scenic sites, but for those who want internet access, there is a rating for cell service availability and strength. A great way to save money on a road trip.
Pack Lunch to Avoid Overpriced Food
Part of the allure of travel is trying new things along the way, and that includes restaurants. But eating out even once a day can add up quickly, with even the simplest of meals costing $12 and up.
The best way to avoid emptying your savings account is to limit your outside dining budget. Make many meals in your RV. After all, you have a kitchen that travels along with you!
Many RVers prepare meals at home, then bring them along for their journey. You can freeze a variety of foods, or put pieces of your dinner together once you get to your campsite.
Mix the evolution of your meal by making spaghetti sauce before you leave, and freezing it. Prepare the pasta on the night of your meal. Purchase fresh vegetables for a salad from a local farmer’s market that you find on the road. Plan a night out when you come across a restaurant that really captures your attention once or twice a week.
Plan For the Worst to Avoid Unforeseen Costs on a Road Trip
No matter how often you travel, pack your RV with an emergency kit. Have items for medical and mechanical emergencies on the road. This would include first aid items and apps on your phone. Also small replacement parts for your RV like special engine belts, oil, flares, fuses, etc.
Part of your emergency kit should also include a roadside assistance plan like those sold by Good Sam, Family Motorcoach Association, and Coach-Net. These policies can cover anything from towing to changing a tire and much more, saving you a great deal of money, depending upon the assistance needed. They also offer help in finding repair shops and RV mechanics. Some plans even help you return your RV to your home if the driver is impaired by injury or illness.
Save Money on Fuel
The biggest expense for all RVers is the cost of fuel. Even with fuel prices at an all-time low, our big rigs can eat up gasoline on any trip. There are a few ways you can mitigate some of those dents in the budget. The first being learning to drive economically to save money on a road trip.
It’s very easy to have a heavy foot, especially on interstate highways, many of which have a maximum speed of 75 mph. But consider that (1) most RV tires are made for speeds of 65 mph and (2) your miles per gallon goes down exponentially the faster you go. Run a test on your rig, finding the “sweet spot” for the best miles per gallon you can get. It might be at 56 mph or 64 mph – it is different for every RV. Once you discover it, try to keep your speed steady and watch your fuel consumption go down. In some cases, that may mean getting an additional 100 miles out of a tank of gas!
For those RVs that run on unleaded fuel, there are a few discount gas programs, one of which is GasBuddy. Accepted at thousands of gas stations around the country, GasBuddy can save you $.05 per gallon on any type of fuel, without any work on your part. Use their app and you will also find special “sales” offered if you check on stations you use before you arrive. It’s a no brainer that can save you a bit of change at the gas pump.
If your rig runs on diesel, there is an amazing discount fuel program through TSD Logistics. The TSD fuel card can save you more than $.50 per gallon on diesel, and it’s all brought to you by a company that negotiates fuel rates for their truckers.
They opened the program up to RVers recently and it has taken on a life of its own. After you submit your application, you should receive your fuel card in 3 – 4 weeks. Good at truck stops across the US, drivers of diesel-driven vehicles are finding the savings quite remarkable.
Save Money Sightseeing on a Road Trip
One of the big reasons many RVers hit the road in the first place is to visit attractions, parks, museums, and destinations that they’ve only dreamed about. But stopping at every off-the-beaten-path location can get costly, with entrance fees and tickets. That is where some planning can make a difference.
If touring every national park is on your bucket list, don’t get caught in the trap of paying full price park fees. Instead, order an annual National Park Pass before you ever begin your travels. The cost is $80 and you will recoup that fee with 5 or 6 park visits (or 2-¼ visits to the Grand Canyon at $35 a pop!). If you are 62 years or older you can purchase an annual park pass for $20 or get a LIFETIME pass for $80. There are also discounts for veterans and those with permanent disabilities.
When you find yourself enjoying state parks, look into the possibility of purchasing an annual pass, rather than paying a daily entrance fee. Depending upon your usage, you may save a good deal of money, and many state passes can be used for campsite discounts, as well.
Do some research ahead of your trip regarding attractions along your route that are free of charge. You will be surprised at how many museums and roadside destinations are available to you without any fee at all. The easiest way to discover them is to type in Google “Free attractions in _______” (fill in your destination).
Finally, consider traveling during “the off-season” in the location of your choice. It’s a great way to save money on a road trip. Fees can be much lower, travel is much easier and your journey could be much more enjoyable at a time when there aren’t as many people. These venues work hard to capture your business with attractive rates, offering quieter, in-depth experiences.
Find Even More Ways to Save Money on a Road Trip
As you can see, there are numerous ways to enjoy RV life without spending a fortune. We’ve listed just a few to get you started. Once you hit the road, you are bound to uncover even more tricks to getting the most out of your travel budget without limiting your pleasure on the road.