What happens when two people who have no RVing experience try to figure out what it will cost, hit the road, and then live like they’re on vacation? SPOILER ALERT: they spend way too much. So, we’re starting today with what will be the 1st in a series of RV cost videos and blog posts. Starting with what we like to call “living like on vacation.” We’ll share our full 6 month RV trip expenses.
Watch the video below to hear what a 6 month amazing RV road trip cost us. Then continue scrolling down to read more!
What Does It Cost To RV?
“How much does it cost to RV?” is a question that is asked all the time. We thought because we have all this information, we could share it with you. We hope that we can inspire you in your own travels, and sometimes the financial piece of that can be daunting. So we want to show that it is possible. Then maybe this information can help you plan your next steps too.
When we first started RVing, we did our best to make a budget, but we grossly underestimated how much some things would cost. Luckily we overestimated in other areas as well. But we’re going to share the info we wish we’d had when we first got started.
Living Like On Vacation
If you haven’t heard our story before, you can read more and watch the video on our About Us page. In summary, Kevin and I saved up in advance, took a 6 month sabbatical from our jobs in the DC area, packed up all of our things, towed our travel trailer around the US on a whirlwind tour, and then relocated to Denver, CO and restarted work. It was just the two of us, in a travel trailer, checking off bucket list destinations that we’d been dreaming about for some time, and we lived it up.
We left DC in May and we RVed for 6 months through the month of October. Here’s the route for some quick scene setting.
- Northern VA to IN, and on to Arkansas.
- A crazy long drive all the way up to North Dakota.
- Down to SD for some rock climbing in the Black Hills.
Then to WY to Grand Teton and Yellowstone.
- After that it was ID and Craters of the Moon.
- MT and Glacier National Park.
- Next we went into WA, the Olympic Peninsula and down the coast through OR.
- We did take a quick break from RVing to fly back east for a couple of weddings, drive my car to Denver from where it had been stored, and then flew back to the west coast to continue our trip.
- Onward to CA, the Redwoods, Kings Canyon and Sequoia, Joshua Tree.
- Then over to the Grand Canyon in AZ.
- The gov’t shutdown happened and so we headed on to TX to visit family.
- We wrapped up our journey by arriving at our final destination of Denver, CO.
What’s not included in these costs is the cost of our tow vehicle as it was paid off. And even though we were moving, we’re not including fees for storing our things in the moving pod or shipping them to CO. We also had a townhome we began renting out and initially still had a month of the mortgage payment before that took effect. So if you have any of those costs, keep that in mind.
Why RV Costs Can Vary
Also keep in mind that RVing costs vary drastically from person to person depending on the size of your family, how you’re living, what you’re doing, how fast you’re moving, and many other factors. We just want to show you what this kind of trip cost us. It may cost you more or less.
Included RV Costs
The following costs are those we tracked during our trip. We’ll tell you a bit about each category in the bullet points. Then check out the table for average monthly costs and total 6 month costs.
- Costs for our RV: We bought a Skyline Koala 23CS travel trailer. We paid $14,649.50 and we put $5000 down on that. We actually sold it a few years later for $14,500 but also included all of the accessories that we had bought for it.
- Fuel: We covered about 16,000 miles of which about 9,000 of were towing. In addition, we drove Kevin’s car 2,200 miles to CO to park it there for when we actually moved there. Cheapest gas was $2.99/gallon in New Mexico; most expensive gas was $4.29 in North Dakota.
- Vehicle + RV Insurance: We went through USAA for our insurance.
- Vehicle Maintenance Budget: We had some small water leaks in the shower, some re-caulking that needed to be done, and a drawer that needed to be fixed. Luckily small things, but they still cost more than we estimated.
- Propane: We budgeted some cost for this but since we started with 2 full tanks and were RVing in warm weather, we didn’t need to refill them at all. In colder weather we definitely would have used more!
- Laundry: We used RV campground washers and dryers as well as those from friends and family when we could.
- Firewood: We felt like we had a decent amount of campfires during our roadtrip.
- Postage: postcards, mail forwarding service, mailing some gifts, etc.
- Phones: we didn’t need consistent internet or tethering ability from our phones to our laptops for this trip as we were on vacation. So we only used our phones to make calls and browse the net and sought out free WiFi hotspots when needed for getting on the computer.
- Health Insurance: this is one area we recommend you do your research and find good coverage at a good price. We overpaid as we took Cobra coverage between being on insurance through work. We should have done a better job finding an alternative option.
- Groceries: this includes groceries and general merchandise as well as eating out at restaurants. We thought we would reduce our grocery spending and not eat out as much as we did on this trip. We should have known better when we estimated our costs, but we were willing to pay more to be able to enjoy the local restaurant culture in the areas that we were exploring and have that experience.
- Entertainment & Activities: We did a guided climb at Custer State Park in SD which was our biggest entertainment expense. We went to some museums, tours, a gondola ride, had state park entrance fees, and so on. We also highly recommend buying a National Parks Pass if you plan to visit National Parks.
- New Clothes & Toys Fund: We were due for some new clothes, especially because we were doing all this extra hiking at the time. And we needed some additional climbing gear. Be aware of what you might need to buy or replenish.
- ATM Withdrawals: We did a poor job of tracking what we spent cash on. It was things like cash for some events, entrance fees, food and drinks sometimes. Definitely set up a consistent routine of budgeting for and tracking everything so you don’t have a problematic category like this!
- Campground Fees: if we had budgeted $35/night for each night of this trip, our costs would have come in almost right on budget. However, we had the misconception that our RV was capable of boondocking a night or two pretty frequently throughout our trip. The truth was we could barely eek through a single night at Walmart here and there. Our single battery just wasn’t meant for that. We also thought we’d find cheaper campgrounds and use our Passport America and Good Sam memberships more, but we were very set on the locations we wanted to visit. So we didn’t have as much flexibility as would have been beneficial for cost saving. We also moved very quickly, 4 nights was our average stay. We rarely were able to take advantage of full week stay discounts and certainly not monthly stay discounts.
- Our average nightly cost based on a mix of staying in private campgrounds, state and national parks, regional parks, moochdocking on friends’ and family’s property, and lotdocking is as follows, by month:
RV Costs Table
That brings our grand totals to $5,593.72 on average per month for a 6 month amazing RV vacation road trip that cost us a total of $33,562.32.
Now we’ve shown you what it cost for us to live like we were on vacation. We were not thinking about long term costs or any kind of cost sustainability. We had a whole bunch of misconceptions about what our RV could do and really about the lifestyle as a whole.
However, we knew we could enjoy and live like on vacation because we had saved up in advance. We had the safety net of the jobs to return to once we moved to Denver. But now after years of experience RVing and seeing how we can really save costs and spend better in all these categories, it’s a little painful looking back on. However, it did teach us some good lessons. So we’re hopeful that this will help you all as well.
Stay tuned for our next RV cost videos and blog posts where we talk about our subsequent years and much more reasonable costs and a much less scary cost picture of this whole thing.
Free RV Budget Resources
We also post our current monthly RV expense reports that are very in depth. You can check those out monthly and you can even download the spreadsheets and graphs and charts that we use to track our budget.
- RVing Budget and Expense Report – May 2021
- RVing Budget and Expense Report – June 2021
- RV Budget and Expense Report – July 2021
- RV Budget and Expense Report – August 2021
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