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Living in an RV: Travel Costs

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Travel costs of living in an RV

Thinking about full-timing in an RV? Curious about the true costs of living on the road? For those who have never RV’d before it can be difficult to accurately estimate expenses for this entirely new lifestyle. Some articles provide too little information; they give a general overview of things you’ll be paying for, but no insight into how much to budget for each category. Other sites provide too much information, detailing all of their expenses each month, even those unrelated to RVing (like haircuts and coffee).

I’ve tried to strike a happy medium here, giving as much detail as possible about the relevant expense categories you’ll likely encounter if you become permanent rovers. Before we dive in, though, it’s important to note that everyone’s lifestyle is different; I try to make note of where our choices may differ from the majority, but just keep in mind that you could spend significantly less than us… or on the flip side, significantly more. We don’t go to extremes to save money (such as boondocking extensively), but nor do we live lavishly.

Hopefully the following information will provide a starting point that you can use, adjusting for your own circumstances, to get a sense for what it costs to live full time in a motorhome.


You can get away with paying nothing (or next to nothing) per night while dry-camping, or you can pay up to $180 per night for the privilege of staying in luxurious RV resorts with swanky facilities.  Realistically, most people fall somewhere in the middle.

In our experience, a very good price for an RV park with full hook-ups (electricity, water, and sewer) is around $30-$35/night.  When we find a decent and conveniently-located place at that price, we almost always settle in for a longer stay.  We’ve occasionally paid $40-$45/night, and in two locations with limited alternatives (San Diego and San Francisco) coughed up $65/night.

The biggest indicator of cost is location; if the RV park is in a popular city, close to attractions, or nestled in a tropical atmosphere, you’re undoubtedly going to be paying more for the privilege.  New Orleans during Mardi Gras, Key West in the winter, New York with a view of the Statue of Liberty: it all comes at a price.

Travel costs of living in an RV

In addition to RV parks, local, state, and national campgrounds are often a great option.  You can find nightly rates from $5-$35, though these spots often don’t provide full hook-ups (if any at all) and sometimes lock the gate at night. Many campgrounds have a dump station accessible for a small fee (~$5), but be sure to confirm that the water is potable before you fill up your freshwater tank.

Finally, you can often park for free in locations without hookups (e.g. in a parking lot or unused field).  This practice is referred to as boondocking or dry-camping, and while some travelers with solar panels and water reclamation systems have dedicated themselves to never paying for a night’s parking, even exploring this option just a little can make a big difference to your budget.

The most common boondocking locations are commercial enterprises that allow overnight parking (discussed in more detail below), but you can also stay for free on BLM land, in national forests, and other public lands.  If you’re interested in boondocking long-term, Happy Vagabonds has tons of helpful information on the subject (particularly regarding best practices for conserving resources).


Passport America; Travel costs of living in an RV

  1. Get membership in a discount club. There are a number of options you can choose from, but the best in our experience seems to be Passport America; a number of campgrounds and RV parks honor it, the membership fee is fairly low, and you get a 50% discount!
  2. Pay by the week or even month. Usually if you pay for a week in advance the RV park will give you a discounted rate (it usually comes out to seven nights for the price of six).  You can also save WAY more money by paying per month at many locations.
  3. Figure out what amenities you really need and find places where you only pay for those. We’ve discovered that we can live without water/sewer hook-ups for up to ten days (as long as there are shower facilities), but our extensive array of tech gadgetry means we frequently seek out electrical hook-ups.  We’ve been able to use that knowledge to our advantage, booking a number of extended stays in national park campgrounds offering only electricity for significantly cheaper rates than we would have had to pay for full-service RV parks.
  4. Dry camp when you travel. IMHO, there is little to no reason to stay at an RV park (or even a campground) if you’re just traveling through and staying one night.  You’re unlikely to use their facilities, it takes time to hook and un-hook hoses/cables/sewer, and you could be parking somewhere else for free.  Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Camping World, and most truck stops (Pilot, Love’s, etc.) have policies that allow trucks and motorhomes to stay overnight in their parking lots.  However, I would suggest calling first to confirm; while corporate policy may be to allow it, at some individual stores the land is actually owned by the city, which may have different ordinances regarding overnight parking (we’ve run into this issue mainly with Wal-Mart and K-Mart).  In most states you can also park overnight at rest areas along the highway; unless they explicitly have signs that say “No Overnight Parking”, it should be okay for at least eight hours.
  5. Stay with friends and family. As long as there’s adequate space in a driveway, yard, or on the street, staying with people you know is a great way to save money (and hopefully have a great time!).  You can often run an extension cord for power, and your free showers come with abundant hot water and water pressure.  Win-win situation.


Paying for fuel can be one of the biggest – or at least most unexpected – costs of full-timing.  As we transitioned from an apartment into life on the road we found it was easy to mentally convert RV park fees into rent, but in the excitement of planning our first trips we initially overlooked the cost of actually getting from place to place.  It’s true that fuel eats up a significant portion of an RVer’s budget, but how this affects you depends on your perspective; as one old-timer put it, “well, it may be low for a car, but it gets great mileage for a house!”

Your fuel efficiency may be low for a car, but it gets great mileage for a house!

Realistically, most Class A and C motorhomes get somewhere around 8-12 mpg (towing a trailer or fifth wheel is a different story, as it depends on the fuel efficiency of the tow vehicle).  Dealers like to tell you they can get up to 15, but given anything but ideal driving conditions that’s pretty unlikely.

Our Fleetwood Jamboree Sport, a 32-foot Class C motorhome, gets around 9 mpg.  With its 55-gallon gas tank it can take us around 450 miles between refills, but each trip to the pump dings us for about $150, so roughly speaking the fuel costs for the motorhome are about a dollar for every 3 miles traveled.


  1. Stay in one place. Traveling slowly is the best way to lower your fuel costs.  We started out very much ignoring this concept (as you can see in our monthly analysis below), and as a result we paid dearly in our gas costs.
  2. Drive slowly and ease up on cruise control. Even though it may sometimes feel safe to drive faster on the highway, stick to 50-55 mph if you want to conserve gas. Additionally, be very mindful when cruise control is engaged; using it on even a small hill will have repercussions on your fuel efficiency.
  3. Limit how often you run the generator. Generators run directly off gas, so limiting your usage could have a major impact on your fuel costs. However, sometimes you just can’t avoid using your generator; for example, we use it to charge our batteries so we can power our laptops when we’re not plugged into shore power.
  4. Don’t tow a secondary vehicle. Your motorhome’s fuel mileage will take a beating if you add on the extra weight of an additional vehicle.  Consider using bikes or a moped to get around.
  5. Tow a secondary vehicle. On the other hand, using a vehicle with better gas mileage for day trips and errands in lieu of a gas-guzzling RV might be more cost-efficient — it all depends on your traveling style.
  6. Don’t buy a diesel pusher just to save on the cost of fuel. Coaches with a diesel engine definitely get better fuel mileage than those that run off gas, but we’ve found the difference isn’t worth the significantly higher price of diesel-engine RVs.  These coaches are some of the most expensive on the market, and if you do the calculations you’ll find that an extra 5-10 mpg fuel efficiency isn’t worth the money long-term if you’re just considering it for the savings in gas.  Now, if you find one used, or your great aunt gives you one for free, that’s a different story…..


RV Engulfed in Flames; Travel costs of living in an RV

Most companies that insure personal vehicles (like GEICO) will cover your RV as well, or you can find a provider through sites like RV America Insurance.  After much calling around I found that many insurance companies won’t cover a motorhome being lived in full-time, and those that do often charge exorbitant rates.

We settled on GEICO, where we already had coverage for our car.  A six-month comprehensive policy (just for the RV) costs us $284.70 ($47.45/mo or $569.4/year); this was by far the best price we found.


  1. Get multiple quotes. GEICO ended up being the cheapest we found, but shop around and see what other offers are out there.
  2. Go with comprehensive coverage. It’s tempting to settle on the cheapest plan, but having comprehensive coverage could save you a ton of money if there was ever an issue that needed to be covered (accident, theft, fire, etc.).  Keep in mind that you’re insuring your home; if something goes wrong not only will you have to fix it, but you’ll have to find somewhere else to sleep until everything is resolved.


Travel costs of living in an RV

The two most popular ways to stay connected on the road are satellite internet and 3G mobile broadband.  We choose the 3G route because it’s cheaper, less of a hassle, and you can use it on the go (whereas you need to be stationary to use a satellite dish).

We pay $60/month for 20 gigabytes of data through Verizon (actually, it’s through a reseller that lets us increase Verizon’s default cap, but the signal still travels over Verizon’s network).  Our start-up costs came to $290: $100 for the mobile broadband device, a $50 set-up fee, and $140 for our Cradlepoint CTR500 3G/4G Router (turns the 3G signal into normal wireless that we can share between our multiple laptops).  You can check out our travel guide for more information on our set-up and the various mobile internet options available for RVers.


Free WiFi Hotspot; Travel costs of living in an RV

  1. Use the free wifi offered at many RV parks. If you anticipate staying primarily at RV parks and don’t mind being without internet on occasion, you may be able to get by with the public wifi offered.  To ensure the best reception, request a site in close proximity to the access point (where the signal is being beamed out).  Even then the signal may not be strong enough for heavy lifting (like streaming videos), but browsing should be fine.  If you rely solely on this option you’ll find yourself sans internet while in transit or whenever the park’s wifi is spotty, and you’ll definitely want to call ahead to confirm the network is up (and still free — more and more parks are moving to a paid service) when you make your reservation.
  2. Use the 3G internet on a smart phone. Whether it’s a Blackberry, iPhone, or Android, you can use the phone’s wireless to check your email, browse the internet, or download a plethora of useful travel-related applications.  If you don’t use the internet frequently, having a smart phone as your sole internet access may be an option (or you could pair it with the park’s wifi if your needs are only intermittent).


In most RVs the stove, hot water heater, and central heating systems will be run off propane.  If you’re just using propane to cook with, you’ll probably forget anyone ever has to refill the tank — it’s amazing how little fuel the stovetop uses.  If you’re using your propane in a heating capacity, however, that’s another story entirely.

When we were in San Francisco we had to refill our LP tank twice in three weeks because we repeatedly forgot to turn off the hot water heater after showers (yep, learned that lesson) and used central heating almost every day to combat the incessant foggy chill.  Once we became more conscientious of the “off” switch and got an electrical space heater, however, our propane stretched much further.

Now, we only use propane for cooking and hot showers a few times a week, and we refill our tank about once a month.  The tank holds 14 gallons, and propane averages around $2.50/gallon… so each refill costs us about $35.


  1. Turn off your hot water heater!! So simple, yet so easy to forget.  For us, repeatedly forgetting to flip that switch after a shower ate up almost as much propane as BP spilled in the gulf.  Almost.
  2. Invest in an electrical space heater. If your internal heating is run off propane, and you’ll be plugged into shore power relatively frequently, definitely buy an electrical space heater.


Travel costs of living in an RV

If you’re full-timing, you’ll need your mail sent somewhere.  There are actually a number of different mail forwarding systems that’ll set you up with a mailbox and then forward the accumulated mail to you at regular intervals (or, for life on the road, whenever you contact them with a new address).

Many fulltime RVers set up their “permanent address” in South Dakota, Florida, or Texas (due to those states’ being more tax-friendly).  In South Dakota, probably the most popular of the three states, two well-known mail-forwarding options are Alternative Resources and My Dakota Address.

While these can be some of the cheapest options, we were unable to establish legal residency in one of those three states due to our business being registered in California.  Given our limitations, I found that a local UPS branch was the most accommodating and affordable option for us.

They offer mailboxes (not P.O. boxes – it’s an actual street address, which can be important in some circumstances) in a variety of sizes, starting at about $20/month (plus an initial $20 set-up fee) for the smallest personal-use boxes.  (We use their business option, which is about twice as much).

In addition to the monthly fee, you’ll also need to pay to have your mail actually forwarded.  We usually have ours sent about once a month, and the postage cost is around $20 each time.


Have magazines and catalogs recycled instead of forwarded. The more junk you cull, the less weight you pay for.
  1. Be careful what you have forwarded. Whenever we call with a new forwarding request, we ask them to recycle all the magazines and catalogs that come in.  They’re also more than willing to sift through the pieces of mail over the phone and ask which ones we just want tossed.  The more junk you cull, the less weight you pay for.
  2. Cancel paper statements. Almost all checking, savings, and credit card accounts provide the option of electronic statements. There is even online tax software available when tax season rolls around.  Sign up!  Do the same for your health insurance, car insurance, car loan, student loans, phone and internet bills, etc.
  3. Put yourself on the “no junk” lists. For the first few months (or, ideally, the few months before you leave), look at every piece of mail that comes in and consider whether it’s worth the cost.  For junk mail, you can often call a number provided to request removal from their list.
  4. Have packages sent to the address you’re staying. Most RV parks are very amenable to receiving and holding packages for guests.  Don’t buy stuff online and send it to your mailbox (only to pay to ship it again); wait and buy anything you need online when you can ship it directly to where you’re staying.


Even if you purchase a new or high-quality used coach, you’ll undoubtedly still need to make repairs.  The inside of a motorhome is typically designed with space and weight as primary considerations, so they aren’t nearly as durable as most of us are accustomed to in our living arrangements.

To give you an idea, here’s a list of the repair and maintenance costs we encountered during the first six months of owning our 2010 Fleetwood Jamboree coach (purchased new from a reputable dealer):

  • Out-of-pocket repairs @ service center (~$300): re-wiring AC outlets to better handle inverter; reinforce bumper to hold weight of bike rack.
  • Out-of-pocket maintenance @ service center (~$100): regular engine maintenance; oil change; tire check.
  • DIY (~$35 for parts): replace vent cover cracked by hail; replace blown fuses; track down and fix two minor leaks.
  • Covered under warranty (no cost to us): replace cracked shower head; re-seal outside storage compartments that had minor leaks; minor cosmetic fixes to outside molding.


  1. Take advantage of your warranty if you have one. Keep note of every single (even seemingly minuscule) problem that emerges and see if you can get it covered under warranty.  For most things the answer is likely to be ‘yes’, and even if it’s not it doesn’t hurt anything to try.
  2. Fix as much as possible on your own. Even if you don’t consider yourself particularly handy, you’ll be surprised at how well you rise to the challenge when there’s necessity!  Keep a small toolbox on hand, stock up on spare fuses, and see if you can address any problems on your own before taking it to the professionals.  For instance, neither of us are the “fix-it” type, yet with a little persistence and a screwdriver we solved The Mystery of the Leaking Wall when a service center couldn’t find the source.
  3. Take care to keep things in good condition. Didn’t someone popularize the phrase “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”?  I’d like to credit my Grandma, but Google tells me it was apparently some bloke by the name of Ben Franklin.  In any case, take care to wash the outside of your RV periodically, clean all surfaces regularly, keep counter-tops free of water, avoid excess moisture inside to prevent mold, and protect the flooring and carpets.


There are a lot of other items you’ll likely need to purchase when you’re just starting out.  Some are necessities specific to RV living (like hoses), while others provide comfort or convenience in the tight living quarters.

Here is a sample list of some things you may need to purchase:
RV Sewer Hose; Travel costs of living in an RV

  • Necessary Supplies: sewer hose, white hose for potable water, green hose to flush black water tank, special RV toilet paper (breaks down and doesn’t stick to tank walls).
  • Suggested Supplies: durable extension cord, cable line (at least 25-ft), kneeling mat for emptying tanks, seat covers and floor mats to protect the cab or driving area, chemical compounds to clean and deodorize the black tank, small traveling tool-kit, Brita drinking filter, sticky mats to line the cabinets and keep everything in place when you’re on the move.
  • Other potential one-time set-up costs: towing system,mobile internet gear, extension pedals (if you’re a short driver), bike rack and cover, outdoor grill, collapsible table and camping chairs, storage containers, non-breakable dishes.


If you buy your RV (either new or used) through a dealership, you’ll likely finance and have a monthly payment.  It’s important to factor this cost into your monthly budget.  In the next few weeks we’ll post tips on how to negotiate the best price for your RV (and we’ll include details about our own buying experience), but for now we’ll just say that our monthly payment is $460.


We’ve kept track of how much we’ve spent each month.  Our traveling style may be vastly different from yours (and in fact it’s pretty inconsistent from month to month), but hopefully these real-world RV budgets will help give you an idea of what you’re likely to be spending on RV-related travel costs.

August 2010

Nightly Fees $636 (15 nights @ no cost, 1 @ $30, 6 @ $35, 5 @ $42, 3 @ $62)
Gas $395 (drove San Francisco to Seattle: ~ 1,100 miles)
Propane $42
Repairs $300 (re-wire outlets, reinforce bumper)
Mail $65 ($45 monthly fee + 1x forwarding @ $20)
RV Insurance $47.45
Internet $60
Loan Payment $460

September 2010

Nightly Fees $588 (14 nights @ no cost, 12 @ $35, 4 @ 42)
Gas $1014 (drove Seattle to New York: ~ 2,900 miles)
Propane $28
Repairs $0
Mail $70 ($45 monthly fee + 1x forwarding @ $25)
RV Insurance $47.45
Internet $60
Loan Payment $460

October 2010

Nightly Fees $768 (7 nights @ no cost, 5 @ $19, 2 @ $31, 9 @ $35, 8 @ $37)
Gas $643 (drove NY to VT to Cape Cod to TN: ~ 1,800 miles)
Propane $45
Repairs $0
Mail $68 ($45 monthly fee + 1x forwarding @ $23)
RV Insurance $47.45
Internet $60
Loan Payment $460

November 2010

Nightly Fees $772 (9 nights @ no cost, 1 @ $12, 14 @ $35, 6 @ $45)
Gas $355 (drove TN to Savannah, GA to Tampa: ~850 miles)
Propane $36
Repairs $100 (engine serviced; oil change and tire check)
Mail $60 ($45 monthly fee + 1x forwarding @ $15)
RV Insurance $47.45
Internet $60
Loan Payment $460

December 2010

Nightly Fees $839 (6 nights @ no cost, 25 @ $33)
Gas $161 (drove Tampa to Miami: ~250 miles)
Propane $30
Repairs $0
Mail $60 ($45 monthly fee + 1x forwarding @ $15)
RV Insurance $47.45
Internet $60
Loan Payment $460

January 2011

Nightly Fees $1095 (4 nights @ no cost, 12 @ $30, 12 @ $34, 3 @ $112)
Gas $373 (drove Miami to Key West to Miami: ~323 miles)
Propane $38.50
Repairs $0
Mail $45 ($45 monthly fee)
RV Insurance $47.45
Internet $60
Loan Payment $460

February 2011

Nightly Fees $514 (9 nights @ no cost, 7 @ $23, 1 @ $27, 7 @ $29, 3 @ $39)
Gas $533 (drove Miami to AL to MS to New Orleans, LA: ~1000 miles)
Propane $0
Repairs $160.47 (check propane & batteries)
Mail $68.09 ($45 monthly fee + 1x forwarding @ $23.09)
RV Insurance $47.45
Internet $60
Loan Payment $460

March 2011

Nightly Fees $420 (15 nights @ no cost, 17 @ $24.70)
Gas $726.35 (drove New Orleans to Austin to Albuquerque: ~1300 miles)
Propane $26.42
Repairs $0
Mail $59.20 ($45 monthly fee + 1x forwarding @ $14.20)
RV Insurance $47.45
Internet $60
Loan Payment $460

April 2011

Nightly Fees $395 (16 nights @ no cost, 1 @ $18, 2 @ $49.70, 11 @ $25)
Gas $1100.70 (drove NM to CO to UT to Phoenix to San Diego: ~1800 miles)
Propane $0
Repairs $652.60 (bought towing supplies we lost, fixed black tank issue we caused)
Mail $45 ($45 monthly fee)
RV Insurance $47.45
Internet $60
Loan Payment $460

May 2011

Nightly Fees $42.70 (30 nights @ no cost, 1 @ $42.70 in Sacramento hotel)
Gas $193 (drove San Diego to southern Oregon: ~830 miles)
Propane $0
Repairs $0
Mail $62.50 ($45 monthly fee + 1x forwarding @ $17.50)
RV Insurance $47.45
Internet $0 (canceled internet when we sold RV)
Loan Payment $0 (sold RV in San Diego!)


Example RV Fulltiming Budget (includes costs per day for multiple months)
Secondary Example RV Fulltiming Budget (extensive, multiple budgets and categories)
Further Information on Boondocking