RVing is a convenient and affordable way to travel. Paying for flights and hotels on a traditional vacation can really add up, especially if you have a large family. With any type of travel, staying within your budget requires foresight and creativity.
Fortunately, there are many ways to plan and execute a budget-friendly RV trip, from dipping your toes into the exciting world of boondocking to enjoying membership discounts at luxury campgrounds. Plus, there are ways you can change your RV habits to keep extra cash in your pocket.
Here are five ways to save money on RV trips:
1. Plan Ahead
Choosing your destination and season wisely can significantly lower the costs of any RV road trip. Certain tourist locations, such as New York City (yes, you can RV to the Big Apple!), are much more expensive than others.
Plan your RV trip during shoulder season if your dream is to visit a more costly destination. Many RV parks and tours offer a discounted rate during their low season, saving you a lot of money.
Leading up to your trip, set a savings goal to reach before you set out. Whether you use that money for activities, souvenirs, or keep it set aside as an emergency fund, having a goal will help you budget for your trip. As you inch closer to your goal and your trip dates get closer, it’ll also help to build anticipation for your adventure.
You’ll also want to avoid too much spontaneity with your RV travels. Planning your route and knowing where you’ll stay each night eliminates overpaying out of convenience or desperation. Staying longer in one place can also lower costs. You’ll pay less in gas if you stay put for longer and many campgrounds offer discounted weekly rates.
Here are some of our best articles to help you plan your RV trip:
- The Best Resources for RV Trip Planning
- How to Plan a Family RV Trip
- How to Plan a Dog-Friendly RV Trip
2. Enjoy Free Activities
Having fun doesn’t have to cost money. In fact, it’s usually the free activities that end up being the most memorable anyway. Go for a hike or a bike ride to explore the area around your campground. If you’re close enough to local attractions, walk around and explore instead of paying for transportation.
If you can, bring your own adventure gear to avoid rental costs. This is why so many outdoor lovers prefer toy haulers, as they have ample storage space for fun toys, including larger ones like ATVs and dirt bikes.
Volunteering is another great free activity that will even have a higher reward. Many of the national parks have volunteer programs that allow you to explore the park, learn more about it, and give back simultaneously.
3. Prepare Your Own Meals
If your RV has a kitchen, then use it! That’s one of the many perks of RV travel, right? Eating out at restaurants for every meal really adds up. Plus, part of camping fun is grilling out or cooking your food over the campfire.
Many great camping meal ideas and recipes make cooking in a small kitchen easy and convenient without sacrificing health and taste. It’s a good idea to bring food and other items from home—it’s not uncommon for groceries to be more expensive in popular tourist destinations.
You’ll save your precious vacation time and money while spending quality time with your family or partner preparing meals together. Check out some of our favorite camping recipes:
4. Save on Fuel
How much you spend and budget for gas is completely up to you. You can budget for fuel expenses and plan your trip accordingly. Most cell phones offer a map function that can search for gas stations in your area and display current gas prices. If not, there are several apps dedicated to that exact purpose.
If you are a Good Sam Member, there’s also a vast network of Pilot Flying J gas stations around the country. As part of your membership, you can save up to five cents per gallon on gas and up to eight cents per gallon on diesel fuel in the US.
Another way to save on fuel is by checking your tire pressure, doing routine maintenance on your RV, and ensuring you aren’t carrying any unnecessary weight. You’ll also want to avoid rush hour traffic, drive at slower speeds whenever possible, and plan ahead to avoid getting lost or taking a longer route.
5. Camp on Free Public Lands or in Discounted RV Parks and Campgrounds
If you’re traveling full-time, you can find free places to dry camp or “boondock” in almost every state (here are 5 states with incredible boondocking camping spots). There are a number of apps and online resources out there to help you locate free dispersed camping in your area.
If you prefer RV parks and campgrounds, there are ways to save on campground fees. Being a member of Good Sam and other RV memberships can offer you a percentage off of your nightly stay at select parks.
Or, if you’re looking for a long-term stay, consider work camping. In exchange for help with various tasks around the property, work camping hosts provide free parking spots for overnight camping and, in some cases, hourly pay. If you’re interested in work camping, check out this story about an RVer WWOOFing Across America for (Almost) Free!
It’s a lot easier to enjoy the benefits of the RV lifestyle when you’re not constantly looking at a dwindling checking account. With these money-saving tips, you’ll be able to enjoy a more stress-free journey on your next RV adventure.
If you have other tricks for lowering costs while camping, we’d love to hear them in the comments below. How do you make your money go further on your RV travels?
Lindsay McKenzie travels full-time in her Winnebago Navion with her husband Dan and their 2 dogs. Originally from Colorado, they have been seeking adventure together for 10 years now and have done a lot of international traveling, including living in Costa Rica. They took the leap into full time RVing after experiencing life-altering news. They viewed the news as a life “detour” and started a travel and inspirational blog called Follow Your Detour. Lindsay has grown more passionate about pursuing her dreams and a leading a fulfilling life, while inspiring others to do the same. She loves that RVing allows her to be in nature and do more of what she loves. You can usually find her on the river fly fishing, hiking to sunset spots, or at a local brewery. (All photos by Lindsay McKenzie, except where noted.)