Vacations come at a cost, and RV vacations are no different. Although RV vacations can be 40 to 60 percent less than a hotel vacation (RVIA) – especially when it comes to lodging and food expenses, not to mention method of travel – it’s important to remain cognizant of your spending. Here are several budgeting tips to help you extend your dollar so that you can further enjoy your trip.
Create an RV travel budget — and stick to it
Talk with other RVers who are well experienced and ask for money-saving tips as well as what you can expect to spend on certain line items in the budget; however, real-life experience and the type of RVing you like to do will help you better understand this with time. The largest items in an RV budget are camping spots, gas, and food.
Prioritize the items in your budget based on what’s important to you and your family. For instance, gas is a big-ticket line item. Figure out your expected mileage during your vacation and your expected miles per gallon for your RV or tow vehicle to get your baseline. Then, increase that by 20% for some buffer. However, if you love to travel around most of all and see different things, you might be okay with your gas budget being higher than, say, someone who prioritizes eating out more often as more important. There are ways to offset various areas of the budget to make the overall budget make sense. Do you need full hook-ups every time you camp, or can you go without them and save on site fees occasionally? You have choices. And yet, maybe reasonably expect a couple “splurges” – after all, it is a vacation.
Find affording camping spots
Research and planning ahead will help you secure the best deals when it comes to camping spots, as well as a few additional techniques. For one, sign up for campground discount memberships, such as those available through Passport America. There are discount programs through insurance providers, such as AAA and Good Sam. Some business chains, such as Cracker Barrel and Cabela’s, among others, offer free overnight parking, which can be a lifesaver during long driving trips. If you are a resident of the state you’re camping in, a senior, or active military, there are typically discounts you can take advantage of when it comes to reserving a camping spot.
Another thing to keep in mind when you’re making your vacation plans is that popular destinations are popular for a reason, and that popularity increases the price of everything directly around it, including camping spots, which can quickly blow up your budget if you move from one hot spot to another. Think about finding a campground that’s farther away but still within easy driving distance of your chosen destination or attraction that you don’t want to miss. Alternatively, plan to see certain things along your drive instead of trying to stay near them overnight. And of course, follow our next couple tips…
Avoid peak season
Save on campground fees by choosing to camp outside of peak season or during weekdays instead of weekends. Peak season in Michigan is typically May through August, but September and October are becoming increasingly popular because of the wineries, fall colors, reduced crowds, and reduction in campground prices. Try to avoid holidays as well, especially around popular destinations, which could mean increased rates at campgrounds. Not to mention the increased crowds, so you’ll have a louder campground and more competition surrounding nearby activities.
A lot of private campgrounds (including parks and resorts) offer discounted rates if you choose to extend your stay. This can include weekly and monthly rates. There are often seasonal rates as well. Extending your stay also helps to keep precious fuel in your tank, helping you to better stick to your budget or allow for some niceties you may not have been able to have if you were using that money on gas. If you have a toad or tow vehicle, use that instead to explore the surrounding area and take day trips, instead of taking the RV everywhere. Not only will that save on gas purchases, but you’ll be better able to maneuver and park in historic Michigan communities.
Cook simple meals
Although you can whip up relatively fancy meals while you’re camping, there really isn’t a need to be elaborate. There’s not a lot of prep space, the appliances are usually smaller, and you may not have everything you need as you do in your home kitchen. Stick with straightforward meals, such as stews, foil packets, grain bowls, Dutch oven bakes, and camping favorites such as burgers and hot dogs. Overall, there will be less waste and you won’t be overspending on groceries. Cooking in also helps your food budget because you won’t be eating out and paying restaurant prices. Pack lunches and snacks ahead of day expeditions, too. That way you have food ready when you get hungry, instead of searching out an eatery to pick up these items – and end up spending too much on an empty stomach.
Pick free tourist attractions
Museums, music concerts, festivals, aquariums, zoos, sporting events, and other like attractions can come with hefty ticket prices, especially if you’re traveling as a family and need to purchase tickets for several people. These attractions are a lot of fun and should be enjoyed, and yet you can lengthen your budget by prioritizing free or low-cost attractions. For instance, many military museums are open to the public. In Michigan, there’s a plethora of parks, fishing piers, hiking trails, bike paths, and waterways to choose from to be enjoyed, especially if you have the appropriate gear along already.
Maximize your gas mileage
To enjoy RV camping and all its diversions, you first need to reach your destination(s). Gas is one of those big line items in the RV budget, and there are ways you can better Speed can be your friend, or your enemy. The recommendation from AAA is to not exceed 60 mph when driving or towing an RV because otherwise you’re wasting fuel. Don’t worry about going as fast as everybody else; simply take the time to enjoy the drive. Slowing down also helps manage better control of the RV, whether you’re driving or towing. You can also maximize your gas mileage by staying closer to home. It’s simple math: driving more miles means more gas station stops, which means more money out of the vacation budget. Another way to save at the pump is to use a credit card that offers points back at gas stations. Signing up for a loyalty program at a gas station chain can also have its rewards, so that you can benefit later from your current purchases.
The time you spend traveling and camping in your RV will be time well spent, whether you choose to wine and dine and hit every top museum, or choose to hike and bike and cook over a campfire, or anywhere in between. You already have an advantage with your budget compared to taking a flight or staying in a hotel. Your RV is your own space, uniquely yours, and you have a lot of flexibility to do things and explore – and still be able to return to “home.”