Is RVing really cheaper than paying for hotels on vacations? What are the actual RV expenses you can count on when embarking on an RV lifestyle?
The short answer? It depends.
It depends on a lot of factors. Just a few of those factors, and there are many others, include:
- The type of RV you have and what it cost you and how you paid for it (don’t forget interest if you financed)
- How often you use your RV
- How far you go in your RV
- Where you choose to stay in your RV
- Whether or not you have to pay to store the RV when not in use
- How many people travel together in your RV. The more people the expenses are split among, the more affordable RVing becomes.
Enthusiastic would-be RVers need to understand the true costs of ownership, which go far beyond the purchase price.
In every case, you will need to factor the actual hard expenses an RV presents against the intangible amount of how much freedom an RV offers is worth to you and your family. And that answer will be different for everyone.
To help you make an informed decision, I have tried to come up with the things a potential RVer needs to think about BEFORE they jump in head-first to the RV lifestyle. It’s not for everyone, and there are a lot of things and categories of things to consider. Not to mention a seemingly endless array of extra expenses.
No RVer is ever completely immune to this, no matter how good a rig they bought. For instance, when I visited the Airstream factory last year, I met a man there with a brand-new $200K Sprinter van that had a longer laundry list of items wrong with it than my current over-20-year-old trailer has ever had. You just never know.
If you aren’t a DIY type of person, you definitely need to be aware of the ongoing maintenance and upkeep costs. Not only on the RV but also on your vehicle.
Let’s take a look!
RV maintenance and expenses
- Scheduled annual and ongoing RV maintenance is a constant: winterizing and de-winterizing, roof sealing, window sealing, propane detectors, and more need ongoing maintenance.
- In addition, no matter how old your RV is, there will always be a certain amount of unexpected repairs.
- If your RV has to go in the shop, especially if it is a motorhome and attached to your vehicle, are you prepared for downtime on the road? With the current backlog of parts and repair people in short supply, this can sometimes take months depending on the problem. And if you have a large motorhome, even finding a mechanic who can handle such a rig on the road can be a challenge. This brings us to the next point…
- Downtime during maintenance, if on the road, can present significant expenses, especially if you have to stay in a hotel and/or leave your RV and fly home.
- On-the-road towing and emergency services such as AAA RV or Good Sam Club are great to have to cover you in emergencies, but they are not free.
- If you don’t have a place to put your RV when not in use, add storage as an additional expense.
Road expenses for RVers
- Add in annual insurance for your RV and your tow vehicle, if that is separate. If you tow a toad, don’t forget about that.
- Annual RV registration, depending on your rig, can be substantial.
- Ongoing vehicle maintenance like oil changes, tuneups, packing the wheel bearings, etc. Make sure you saved extra for potential breakdowns.
- Tires need to be replaced every four years or so, even if they look like they are in good shape.
- Fuel is one of the biggest ongoing expenses and one that keeps going up.
- Some good apps for GPS, campground reservations, and more can be worth adding depending on how much you travel.
- Tolls, especially in the Northeast, can be substantial. As they charge by length, this goes even more for larger RVs.
- Propane fuels your stove, oven, furnace, and when not plugged into shore power, usually your fridge, freezer, and water heater, too.
- Laundry. Unless your rig has a washer and dryer, you will have extra expenses to keep your clothes clean.
Necessary or highly desirable gizmos and gadgets
- Hitches, if you are towing anything, are another unavoidable expense. You’ll usually also have to pay to have them installed. And don’t forget hitch locks to keep it all secure.
- Awnings, if your RV did not come with one, can provide essential shade.
- Generator and/or solar system if you plan to spend any time off-grid.
- Mobile Wi-Fi will be essential for some folks, but not so much for others.
- Ditto a TV antenna and/or satellite dish if you want to tune in on the road.
- You might need special racks to carry bikes, kayaks, or other toys.
- Beyond that, there is virtually no end to the RV accessories you can buy at ALL ends of the price spectrum, from high-tech automatic levelers to low-tech storage bins and everything in between.
- Budget for the campgrounds you want to stay in. If you like to stay in commercial campgrounds, rent is going to be a big expense.
- You may also opt to purchase a membership in discount clubs like Good Sam, Harvest Hosts, Passport America, etc.
- Or you might opt to stay at membership campgrounds such as Thousand Trails.
The bottom line on RV expenses
These are just SOME of the extra expenses you will encounter as an RVer. I am sure there are many others I missed. If you think of more, be sure to drop them in the comments below.
I don’t mean for this article to be a big downer. I would not trade my RV time for anything. And the good news is there are always ways to save money if you are careful. But I do want new RVers to have a more realistic picture than what an RV dealer or the RVIA might have you believe.