Any experienced RVer knows that camping trips need to be reserved pretty far in advance these days. We start making our own plans about a year in advance. Now, if you’re making campground reservations the year before you are actually traveling, it helps to know how much money these RV trips will cost. Then you can start to budget and save for all the amazing adventures in your future.
But how much do RV vacations cost?????
This is a tricky questions because there are so many variables in RV travel. It’s much easier to estimate the cost of a cruise or all-inclusive getaway. However, the cost of an RV vacation will vary greatly depending on what kinds of campgrounds you reserve, how far you travel, and what kinds of activities you plan.
A quick note: this is not an article about saving money while RVing. That’s a great topic, and we’ve talked about it before. This is an article about how to estimate the cost of your RV vacations in advance, and then save for those trips throughout the year.
Everyone spends different amounts of money of RV trips, and that’s okay. It doesn’t matter what anyone else’s budget is. The trick is to figure out how much your dream trips will cost, and get the most out of your time on the road and at the campground.
How to Budget for RV Travel: What are Your Biggest Costs?
When we estimate our RVing costs for the year, there are four main categories that we pay attention to: campground fees, gas, food, and activities. You can get much more specific and itemize things like souvenirs, but we prefer to stay pretty high level and work with nice, round numbers.
How to Budget for RV Travel: Campground Fees
Campground fees vary widely depending location and amenities. There are gorgeous state parks in the west that cost about $12 per night. And then there are off-the-hook resorts in the northeast that cost $150 per night. If you already know the campgrounds that you will book, it will be easy to estimate your camping fees for the next year and save accordingly.
However, if you aren’t sure of your exact camping destinations yet, try to figure out the average per night that you spend on campground fees from past years. For example, we stay at a mix of private and public campgrounds. Most of the public campgrounds cost between $30 and $40 per night. But we also stay at resorts that cost up to $100 per night. Over the last few years, our average comes out to about $50 per night on campground fees. So all I do is project the amount of nights we plan on camping (say 40) and multiple that by our average cost ($50). Then I’ll make a plan for saving $2,000 for campground fees in our travel budget.
How to Budget for RV Travel: Gas
It usually surprises new RVers how much they end up spending in gas while traveling. If you haven’t planned for that cost in advance it can be a real budget buster. Find out your average miles per gallon while towing to get a ballpark figure for how much you will spend on gas over the next year. If we get 10 miles to the gallon and plan on traveling about 3,000 miles total, then we’ll budget for about $900 in gas expenses. And then we’ll round up to be safe.
How to Budget for RV Travel: Food
One of the best things about RV travel is the ability to bring along your own groceries. This means you have so much more control over the cost of food than when traveling without your RV. We spend about the same amount in groceries when traveling in our RV as we do while at home. So we don’t have to budget for a huge increase on our RV vacations.
However, we do like to eat out a couple of times on vacation, especially when traveling to foodie destinations like Charleston, South Carolina or Austin, Texas. So we plan for those expenses in advance. A typical lunch out will cost our family of five anywhere from $50 to $75. We may budget for an extra $200 in food costs on a week long RV trip. Or an extra $75 on a long weekend getaway.
How to Budget for RV Travel: Activities
We enjoy a lot of free activities like hiking, biking, and kayaking. This helps us keep what we call ‘ticketed events’ to a minimum. However, if we are traveling somewhere with a special experience like a chuck wagon dinner, we think it’s usually worth a splurge. Try to research these special activities in advance, so you can have a better idea of the cost and plan ahead. We also purchase an America the Beautiful pass every year for $80, then we know our park fees are accounted for!
We usually plan for one or two of these spurges on our longer RV trips. It may be horseback riding, rafting, or a Red Bus Tour depending on the location. We have found that no matter the activity, many cost about $50 a person. This means it usually costs our family $250 to do most types of guided excursions. So this is our very loose way of budgeting for those special treats far in advance.
How to Budget for RV Travel: Saving Up the Money
Planning RV trips is really fun. Paying for them…not so much. We’ve come up with a system that helps us spread out the cost of our RV vacations throughout the year. We basically do the RV version of the old Christmas Clubs. Remember those?
Last year we opened up an online checking account with a debit card. We linked the account to our main household checking account. Then we figured out how much money we would have to save every month for our forecasted RV vacation expenses. Starting in January, we began socking the money away.
Then we used this designated debit card for all our camping reservations, activity reservations, gas stops, and extra food expenses. It was so helpful to easily see exactly how much we were spending on every RV trip. We also knew if we splurged more on one trip, it would have to be made up somewhere else. This system has worked so well for us, and we are already restocking the fund for next year.
We would love to hear your strategies for planning and saving for RV trips! Head over to our private Facebook Group to share your own, or ask any questions about RV travel costs.
See you at the campground,
Stephanie + Jeremy