Full-time RV travel sounds like a lot of fun, but if you're not careful it can turn into a pricey venture. In this post I'll share the top 7 ways to save money while traveling full-time in a RV.
The largest full-time travel expense for many - including us - is lodging. This is the main area to save money while traveling full-time, and is the reason we chose to live and travel in our Cyclone fifth wheel toy hauler. For starters RV site fees can be significantly less expensive than hotels. Notice I said "can be" because there are many variables in where you choose to park your RV.
- Hook ups or Not? We like full hook ups which means water, electricity, and sewer. We also like amenities like swimming pools or shuttles to nearby cities. Although this means boondocking is out for us, many national, state, and even municipal park campgrounds have full hook ups and are less expensive than RV resorts.
- Length of Stay: Many commercial RV resorts and campgrounds offer discounts for weekly and monthly stays, and we like to take advantage of these not only to cut back on expenses, but to reduce travel fatigue as well. These can be significant. For example, we booked a one-month stay this winter in South Florida. The daily rate is $49, but the monthly rate was $746, which comes out to $25 per night, saving 50%. Please be aware that some places charge for metered electricity when offering a monthly rate.
- There are many membership type discounts and you have to decide if the cost of the membership will be worth it to you. We use Passport America for our shorter stays in particular. It only $44 a year, and a 50% discount on a single 2-night stay in a place like Florida pays for it right away!
- Others discount clubs include Escapees and Good Sam. In addition, some fraternal organizations like the Elks offer sites at their lodges around the country for nominal fees. Finally, if you are a veteran, always ask if there is a military discount.?
- Campground Memberships. There are also campground memberships like Thousand Trails. They have 86 campgrounds divided among 5 camping zones: Northwest, Southwest, Midwest, Northeast and Southeast. You can choose to join one or all of them. We're not members so I can't give you a review. I've heard both good and bad and there is even a Facebook group called Thousand Trails Likes/Dislikes.
Our next greatest expense and opportunity for saving money while traveling is food. This includes two separate line items on our budget:
- Eating Out: First off, we save money by not eating out very often. It also helps save a few pounds as well. We save our eating out allowance for the places that are unique to an area, and we try to stay away from overly touristy places. In my experience, the best local places to eat are the mom and pop hole-in-the-wall places. The food is usually better and more authentic, and costs far less. When we're going to be spending a day out, we will usually eat a hearty breakfast before heading out, take a picnic lunch and snacks with us, and try to get back to the RV for dinner.
- Groceries: One of the easiest ways to save money on groceries is by using coupons. You can go old school and pick up a Sunday paper in virtually any city to get coupons, or you can use websites like coupons.com that let you select and print coupons. Also, most chain groceries stores have online coupons you can link to your shopper card and save at the register without ever having to cut any coupons. Another great way to save money and eat healthier is to shop at local farmer's markets. [Editor's Note: check with the local newspaper, chamber of commerce, or visitor's bureau for information on farmer's markets in the area you're staying.] The produce is generally fresher and less expensive than at the grocery stores.
For RV-friendly recipes from Heartland owners, visit the Food & Recipes section on Heartland RV's Blog.
Another big expense and opportunity for saving money while traveling is fuel. The best way we've found to cut down on this expense is to slow down. Shorter distances between moves, and longer stays at each location reduce the amount of fuel we use. Also since we have a fifth wheel with a large dually as our local transportation, we use our bikes, public transportation, and RV park shuttles whenever we can. Ride share apps are also a good option for getting around.
We also save money while traveling by living a simpler life and trying to be kinder to the environment. For example, we use our dishes instead of paper plates. Also, we have a rule on clothing that if we buy something new, something old has to go. In other words, replacement items only. This saves space and money.
Perform Your Own Preventative Maintenance
One way we've recently started saving money while traveling is by performing some of our own preventative maintenance on our RV. We were looking at a copy of an RV service center's pricing list, and Sean thought he could do much of the items on his own. For example, they recommended annual Water Heater Service for $67.50.
Sean read our owner's manual, did a little research, then felt confident enough to complete the maintenance tasks on his own. Another preventative maintenance task he recently completed that was also listed for $67.50 was annual Battery Service. Subscribe to our YouTube channel to follow Sean as he learns about more simple maintenance tasks you can do to save money.
Finally, we save money while traveling by enjoying as much free fun as we can. This includes hiking, biking, visiting beaches, and other nature spots. Many cities have a free days, or often evenings, to visit museums. When we have to pay an entry fee, we'll look for discounts on Groupon when we're visiting a new area. We also always ask about any military discount. There are also museum discount programs that are reciprocal. For example, I purchased a membership with the Southeastern Reciprocal Membership Program. The family membership is $72.75. The admission for the Ringling Museum in Sarasota for a family of four is $60 (2 adults, 2 children). If you go to just one other museum on the list, you've saved money! There's also the North American Reciprocal Museum (NARM) Association® which has 924 member institutions. At every stop in our travels, I write about how I save money. Recently we visited Washington DC, and I shared some ideas for Budget Friendly Fun in our Nation's Capitol.
Stick to a Budget
This really should have been the first tip because it is the most important. Really, the only way to be sure you're saving money is to have a budget and stick to it! It is way to easy for all the small things you buy to add up. I use the free EveryDollar budget app to create a budget and track my spending right from my phone. By tracking my expenses and spending, I know exactly where my money is going, and then I can apply the other techniques I talked about earlier to try to reduce a specific item. I use a method called zero-based budgeting and you can learn more about it here.
*A version of this article was originally published on chickerystravels.com. It is published here with permission. All opinions expressed are solely those of the author.*