Everyone can use tips for saving money, especially those who travel. You might be a RVer who wants to make the most of vacation travels without breaking the bank or maybe you are considering a big lifestyle change and want to know how to afford full-time RV living. Whatever type of RV traveling applies to you, there are definitely ways to spend less and still have a great adventure. After spending three years on the road, here are my eight tips and tricks my husband and I have learned for saving money during our travels.
Guest Post by Robin Buck
The first and most important tip for saving money is knowing how much you are spending. Just as tracking the food you eat helps when you are dieting and trying to lose weight, tracking your expenses is the way to control your finances and cut down on expenditures. You need to know where your money is going and the best way to do that is with a written budget.
We started by writing down all of our bills and expenses for one month—I mean every dollar! Once you see it written on paper, you really get a much better picture of where your money is being spent. After you have an accounting of your expenses, you can make a budget and plan where your spending will be most beneficial. There are many budgeting sites online that can help you get started. By using the tips below, we were able to save enough money to do some special activities like purchasing an experience to swim with the dolphins in Florida and buying a special artwork memento of our trip to Yellowstone National Park.
BUDGETING RV MEALS AND GROCERIES
One of the best things about traveling in your RV is that you have all of your stuff along with you….and that includes the kitchen! It is so convenient to cook your meals at home, and it is always cheaper than eating out. It’s surprising how quickly eating out can take a “bite” out of your budget. Cooking at home also tends to be healthier, since you know exactly what ingredients you are using. Using a crockpot allows you to have fun all day and have a delicious meal waiting when you get home.
Now I am not saying you can never eat out—that would take some of the fun out of visiting a new area. We certainly like to indulge in the cuisine and culture of places that we visit, but we try to limit our restaurant meals to once or twice a week. By researching the options and looking at places that are highly rated or recommended, we can make the most of our special meals out. That allows us to still experience an area without busting the food portion of our budget
It’s easy to feel like you have to go-go-go when you are RVing. We all want to get the most out of our travels and we don’t want to miss anything. One good way to do that and save money is to slow down and spend more time in each area. When you stay longer in a place you save money on gas verses driving to a new place every few days. Many campgrounds offer discounts when you stay a week or month at a time.
You might be thinking that your whole reason for RVing is to see new places and have fun adventures. Well, you can still do that even if you take your time in an area. We spent a month at one RV park in central Florida last year and it really opened our eyes to the benefits of slowing down. Instead of just seeing a few key sites and attractions, we were able to spread out and explore throughout the surrounding region from our home base. And we still had days that we could take it easy and relax.
When you are traveling between places, using a gas card or app can save you lots of money. Gas Buddy is a free app that helps you locate gas stations near you. It tells you the gas prices of each station so you can choose the store that will save you the most money. Our EFS card is a separate debit card that we use exclusively for buying and saving on diesel fuel. It is accepted at most major truck stops and gives you discounted rates on diesel like truckers get.
RV CAMPGROUNDS ON A BUDGET
Besides staying longer at a place, you can also save by joining one or more of the many discount clubs that cater to Rvers. Many like KOA, and Escapees offer special member savings for each nightly campground stay. Other organizations like Passport America or Thousand Trails have their own campground system where membership can get you free or discounted rates for designated stay lengths. Then there are memberships like Harvest Hosts that grant you access to unique camping locations such as wineries, farms, and museums. Most of these organizations have apps and online tools to help you find the right spot for your stay.
Another option is to try boondocking or dry camping. That’s where you camp on public lands without the hookups or amenities of a campground. You provide your own power and water, so it’s a little more rugged, but you do save on camping fees. We boondock mainly when we are just stopping for the night as we pass through an area. It saves money on a campground since we would not use any of the amenities anyway on a quick overnight stop.
LOCATION AND TIMING
Speaking of campgrounds, location can drastically affect the prices you pay. If you want to visit a big city, the cost of everything is often very expensive. When you have the option, it is much more cost effective to stay in an outlying or suburb area. You can pay less for your campground and drive or take public transit into the city to explore.
Another way to save money is to visit an area in the off season. Many places that are packed during the busy summer months are pleasantly open in the spring or fall. If your schedule allows for flexibility, looking at different times of the year can mean more money saved. In the off season, prices are lower and crowds are fewer, making traveling during the off season a win-win for RVers.
BUDGET FRIENDLY ACTIVITIES
Once you are at your destination, finding things to do does not have to be expensive. A quick online search of the area will show you that most towns offer a host of interesting and free things to do. You can also check with visitor centers and chambers of commerce for brochures and advice on attractions. Many times they also have discount coupons as well.
We love outdoor activities, which is a great way to stay active and save money. Go on a nature walk, visit a local park, browse a farmer’s market, or visit the beach for no-cost fun. If you bring your bikes along, you can explore an area using its bike trails (exercise and fun all in one!) During our travels we love to stop at national parks. You can buy a cost-saving annual pass for entry into any of the 423 sites in the National Park System and enjoy as many as you can. We found it was definitely worth the initial expense and it paid for itself with just a few visits.
WORKING WHILE RVING
If you are on the road for a longer period of time, you might even consider options to make money while you travel. There are numerous organizations that cater to helping Rvers find jobs to match their skills. Camp hosting, traveling nurse, or digital assistant are some common jobs RVers do. Workamper has a variety of resources that help connect Rvers to potential employers and Volunteer.gov offers job listings with places like fish and wildlife service, forest service, or national parks.
We have volunteered at a national recreational area as well as a community college and really enjoyed the learning and serving opportunities they provided us. While we did not earn wages, we did get a free RV parking spot including all utilities. That was a significant savings for our budget. The “cost” of volunteering was only two days of work per week, which left us lots of time to explore the area and have fun.
BUDGET FRIENDLY RV UPKEEP
RV repairs can add up and become very expensive. Just as with car maintenance, keeping up with your RV maintenance can help prevent problems on the road. Making sure you do regular oil changes, check tire wear, and keep tires properly inflated are just a few of the things to keep up with. Check out our guide to Preventative RV Maintenance to stay up to date on easy ways to keep your RV in top shape without breaking the bank. Remember that old saying: an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.
There are so many ways you can travel in your RV and still save money. Living in a smaller space naturally lends itself to minimalism because you don’t have room to buy a lot of extra stuff. By being conscious of your spending habits, you can make sure you stick to a budget that allows you to both save money and still enjoy your travels. These tips and tricks can help you hit the road to savings and fun on your next adventure.