How Much Does RV Living Cost? - Full-time RV Life
Since Randy and I announced we were Full-time RVing back in the fall of 2021, we've fielded lots of questions. RVing is a lifestyle that has been gaining popularity in recent years, because of its perceived freedom and flexibility. We have learned that many people we meet along the way dream of chucking all their "stuff" and hitting the road. Once they see that it CAN be done, inevitably, the next question is "What does it cost to live in an RV full-time?" The short answer...... It depends.
In this blog post, I'll explore the varied costs associated with full-time RVing and provide some of our tips for keeping those costs under control.
Initial Costs The initial costs of full-time RVing can vary widely depending on your needs and preferences. Here are some things to consider:
RV: The cost of an RV can vary widely depending on the type, size, and features you choose. A new RV can cost
anywhere from $10,000 for a small travel trailer to over $1 million for a luxury motorhome. However, many full-time RVers (including us!) choose to buy used RVs, which can be much more affordable. We paid $19,000 for our first Class C in 2010 and when we hit the road full-time, we decided fairly quickly that upgrading to a rig with a bit more room and flexibility would make our journey exceedingly better. We searched for just the right Class A and found one that was gently used for far less than it would have cost new. Alternatively, there are many used travel trailers and 5th wheels for VERY reasonable prices. It's such a personal decision based on your circumstances and budget.
Tow Vehicle: If you choose a travel trailer or fifth wheel, you'll also need a tow vehicle to pull it. The cost of a tow vehicle can range from a few thousand dollars for a used pickup truck to over $100,000 for a new heavy-duty truck. Even if you opt for a Class A or Class C RV, you'll likely want a vehicle to tow behind so you can easily run errands or go exploring at each destination. Be sure to research whether you will need special equipment for your tow set-up, for example, a hitch or perhaps a car trailer. We currently use a car trailer so that we have the option to switch out tow vehicles more easily. This paid off when our car was totaled in an accident this past fall. We were able to pick up our truck, which was in storage, and pop it onto the trailer without missing a beat.
Insurance: You'll need insurance for both your RV and your tow vehicle. The cost of RV insurance can vary depending on factors such as the type of RV, its age and condition, and your driving history. You'll want to shop around and be upfront about your intention to live full-time in your rig. The last thing you want is to file a claim and have it denied because of your full-time status. We were very fortunate that our longtime insurance company was able to cover us through this transition.
Campsite Memberships: Many full-time RVers choose to join campsite membership programs like Thousand Trails or Passport America, which offer discounted or free camping at participating campgrounds. These memberships can cost several thousand dollars upfront or you can find great programs that are very affordable. While many RVers swear by them, Passport America and Thousand Trails did not end up paying off for us, Escapees has also not been a great fit. We love our affiliation with Harvest Host and have had some great experiences through their programs. We also benefit at many campgrounds with Randy's Veteran status, AARP and KOA VIP status.
RV Upgrades and Accessories: Depending on your needs and preferences, you may need to purchase additional RV upgrades and accessories such as solar panels, a generator, or a satellite dish. These costs can add up quickly. What you need or choose to add depends on the experience you wish to have. If you plan to boondock, consider whether you'll want to have power for TV, internet, heat, a/c, etc. If so, you'll want a generator or a beefy solar installation. One tip for internet that we followed was to have phone service from one carrier and a jetpack/mifi from another to ensure better cell coverage. This has worked well for us, running two remote businesses full-time. Many RVers are adding Starlink for internet and the reviews are excellent. We haven't done much more upgrading than that, but the possibilities are endless!
Ongoing Costs Once you're on the road, there are several ongoing costs associated with full-time RV living. These can include:
Campsite Fees: Campsite fees can vary widely depending on the location, amenities, and season. In general, you can expect to pay anywhere from $10-$100 per night for a campsite, with an average cost of around $40-$60 per night. A strategy we use is to take advantage of monthly rates vs nightly or weekly as much as possible. State/National Parks/Forest Service are often more affordable than commercial campgrounds. Based on our first year, we budget about $1,000/month for campsite fees. In winter season, we tend to pay much less and in the summer months, because we return to Colorado and need to stay in commercial properties, we spend a bit over $1,000/month. Boondocking is free, so it's all in where you choose to go and the amenities you require.
Fuel: RVs can be gas guzzlers, especially if you're driving long distances. Fuel costs can be a significant ongoing expense, especially if you're driving a large motorhome. Generally speaking, most RV's are getting about 9 MPG, more or less. Your budget will depend on current gas prices and how much driving you do. We budget $500/month for fuel. Our plan is to stay in each destination for at least one month.
Maintenance and Repairs: Just like any other vehicle, RVs require regular maintenance and repairs. This can include things like oil changes, tire rotations, and brake replacements or new tires. You should budget for these expenses and be prepared for unexpected repairs. Common wisdom is to have about $10k in reserves to take care of these repairs and/or emergencies.
Food and Supplies: Just like at home, you'll need to budget for food and supplies while on the road. You may also need to purchase additional items like propane, water, and firewood. Propane isn't too much of a concern unless you plan to boondock or camp in winter conditions. Most campgrounds include water with camping fees. Surprisingly, we don't spend too much on firewood. Since this is our "real life" and we are working full-time, it's less vacation mode and fires are more an occasional thing.
Entertainment and Activities: While on the road, you'll want to explore your surroundings and enjoy local activities and attractions. These costs can vary widely depending on what you choose to do, but you should budget for entertainment and activities in your ongoing expenses. You'll figure out your preferences as you go. We generally go more for local culture than touristy adventures. We carry bicycles, our 4-man boat, archery equipment, fitness and yoga tools, fishing gear and Randy's motorcycle and are always up for a good hike.
Tips for Keeping Costs Under Control
Here are a few tips:
Choose a Smaller RV: Larger RVs are more expensive to purchase, maintain, and fuel. Consider choosing a smaller RV, which will be more affordable in all aspects.
Boondock or Dry Camp: Boondocking, or camping off the grid without hookups, is free and can be a great way to save money on campsite fees. Many RVs come equipped with solar panels or generators, which can provide the power you need to run appliances and electronics. You can also conserve water and fuel by boondocking, which can further reduce your expenses. 90% of the time, en route to our final destination, we are boondocking for overnight stays. We've stayed at truck stops, parking lots, public lands, city parks, a pig farm, breweries & restaurants (Harvest Hosts.)
Cook Your Own Meals: Eating out can be a significant expense while on the road. Instead, consider cooking your own meals in your RV. You can stock up on groceries at local stores and cook your own meals using your RV's kitchen appliances. Just like home!
Plan Your Routes and Travel Wisely: Fuel costs can add up quickly, especially if you're driving long distances. Plan your routes carefully to minimize the amount of driving you need to do. You can also save money on fuel by driving at a moderate speed and avoiding unnecessary idling. Our current budget allows us to travel up to 7,000 miles per year. Keeping that number in mind helps us to stay on track with our fuel budget.
Stay in Lower-Cost Campsites: You don't need to stay in high-end RV resorts to enjoy the full-time RV lifestyle. Consider staying in lower-cost campgrounds or national parks, which can provide a more affordable way to enjoy the outdoors. Some of our favorite places have been low-cost or free! Public lands, State & National Parks, City Parks and friends/family are the best places to save $.
Full-time RVing can be super-affordable or a luxury lifestyle, depending on how you design it. It's also a life that provides incredible freedom and flexibility. By carefully considering your initial costs and ongoing expenses, you can create a budget that works for you. I hope you've found some tips here to help keep costs under control, and that you can enjoy the full-time RV lifestyle without breaking the bank. Remember, the key is to be prepared, plan carefully, and enjoy the journey! Or........ just dive in and make it up as you go, it's all up to you!
Hope to see you on the road!