We are one month into our full-time RV traveling today, and though we could stand to improve in some areas of spending money while on the road, we have definitely observed a few things that have helped so far:
1. Pack lunches – This may seem obvious when visiting a national park as there aren’t too many alternatives, but even on travel days or other excursions, it really does pay to plan ahead and bring easy to eat lunches, plenty of snacks and refillable water bottles. It is easy to be caught unprepared or not feel like venturing into the camper at a rest stop to cook a meal and be tempted to buy fast food along the way. Our standbys recently have been frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (which defrost by lunch and John is currently making two loaves worth of now), individual hummus pack with fresh veggies and other easy to eat snacks.
2. Costco – Related tip, but even with the limited storage that comes with living in an RV, it still pays to buy in bulk. It may take some strategic packing, but we have been able to fit everything in our pantry and under our dinette benches so far. It saves us money and time going shopping less often.
3. Passport America – There are a lot of discount camping clubs out there, but this one seems to have the lowest amount of commitment with the biggest savings for those of us who don’t like to go without hookups for very long. Though there are sometimes limitations on which days of the week or times of the year the discount is good on, we have found a good number of full hookup sites for around or less than $20/night so far and the cost of yearly membership is a mere $44. We made our investment back in our first week on the road! And sometimes you can ask if the campground will extend the discount another night or two if they know they will have empty spaces if you leave. The Passport America app also makes it easy to find and contact campgrounds in the areas you want them.
4. Good Sam membership – Besides the primary benefit of having a AAA-type service that will handle your RV as well as your tow vehicle, we have made pretty good use of the 10% discount on gas at Pilot/Flying J gas stations. It also can give you a discount for using their dump stations and on propane as well.
5. National Parks Membership – For $80 per year, you can purchase a membership card that will get you admission to all national parks and monuments (except things like Mount Rushmore, where it cannot be used for a parking fee). We have also already gotten our money’s worth on this in one month’s time as most parks range from $15-$30 for admission.
6. Google is your friend – Doing a quick search or asking around about free or low cost things to do in your area can broaden your horizons as much as save you money. We have certainly spent some money doing the big attraction things we absolutely knew we wanted to do, but have also had some great tours, taken some scenic hikes, seen some interesting museums, and tasted some delicious local products that we would not have known about otherwise and spent very little doing it.
7. Keep track of expenses – We have been keeping a daily log on what we have spent money on so that we can review where we have been doing well and what we might be able to cut back on and still enjoy ourselves. Having a visual representation and setting goals really can help keep you on track, we have found.
8. Slow Down – Our biggest expense so far has been gas because we have covered a lot of ground in one month, wanting to spend the majority of our time this summer and fall out West. We realize that we will start to spend a little less as we start staying in one place longer and when we find places to stay close to where we want to explore. Many campgrounds also offer discounted weekly or monthly rates, which can be helpful. If you are really looking to slow down for several months, we have been told by fellow campers that many campgrounds, local farms, and Amazon facilities also seem to offer seasonal or short-term employment, or at the very least, work in exchange for free camping and facilities.
9. The Big One – Go Without Hookups – Though we have yet to really try it other than in a Walmart parking lot, it is obviously the most sure fire way to save money when RV’ing. Stocking up on fresh water, using disposable dishes and public restrooms where possible, using a generator as needed and possible, charging electronics while driving or with an external charger are just some of the ways we are learning to prepare. We are also headed today to a campground just outside Yellowstone for $7/night with no hookups and found that the hotels in the park (the one in Mammoth Hot Springs appears to be 15 minutes away from the campground) will allow anyone to take a shower for around $3. The alternative was $50/night minimum for campgrounds elsewhere with tight spaces so we figured we’d give it a shot! People also seem to enjoy camping on Bureau of Land Management land to get the most scenic sights, and perhaps we will try this on occasion. It might take convincing for me to go very far out there for very long, but we shall see! Bottom line is, depending on your comfort level, you can be creative if you really want or need to be!
If you have any other suggestions on how to be careful with money while RV’ing, please feel free to add in the comments! 🙂