How to live the RV life for cheap

Posted: September 29, 2020 in General
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rvMore Adventure, Less Money

RVs aren’t cheap to buy and they’re pricey to maintain, but that doesn’t mean you can’t afford a life of leisure and adventure on the road. The key is to save money in ways big and small wherever you can. Here are some tips, tricks, and strategies direct from experts who have learned from real-world experience in their campers, trailers, fifth wheels, and motorhomes.

Plan, Plan, Plan

As all great money-saving ventures, RV living on the cheap is a whole lot easier if you plan ahead. The more time and energy you invest in research, the less you’ll be forced to invest in money. "Conducting research and planning ahead is crucial, especially when it comes to saving money," said Luca Sumberac, category manager at RV parts and accessories supplier CAMPERiD. "If you’re a new RVer, it’s helpful to explore all of your options to see what’s out there. You’ll learn as you go along, but researching free campsites and deals is a great start. When you map out your trip, think about your gas mileage, which can help you budget when it comes time to refill your tank. Use technology to your advantage and download an app that can help you find the cheapest gas prices in your area."

Ask For a Deals — You Just Might Get One

Although this concept is certainly not exclusive to RVing, sometimes a simple phone call can land you an unadvertised discount or the chance to get in on a deal that recently expired after hitting it off with whoever answers the phone. "It might go without saying, but you should always ask if a campground has seasonal sites and special rates for extended stays, veterans, groups, etc.," said Dean Geracimos, chief operating officer at Blue Water Development, a developer of campgrounds on the East Coast. Geracimos pointed out that his properties offer special deals and discounts, and although they keep them updated online, "double-checking never hurts."

Go Smaller

It’s natural to want to buy as much RV as you can possibly afford, but big floor plans come with big ongoing expenses. "Trailers tend to be cheaper than motorhomes," said Kelly Beasley, co-founder of RV education and product review site Camp Addict. "Go small. A smaller trailer will likely cost less to purchase, maintain, and drag around. A smaller trailer means getting by with a smaller truck. Smaller truck means less gas. If you get a motorhome and you want to have a toad (towed vehicle) to get around in, that’s two engines to maintain, two pricey insurance payments, etc. The larger, more complicated rig you buy will cost you more in every department. So keep it simple for true savings."

Monetize Your RV

There are two kinds of RVs — the ones that make money for their owners when they’re idle and the ones that do nothing. "Your RV likely sits in storage for about 90% of the time you own it," Beasley said. "Why not rent it out for some extra income? There are RV rental companies out there that make it very easy for you to list yours and find people to rent it. It’s like an Airbnb for RVs. If you rent it out enough, it could help you with your RV payment, and maybe even fund your trips." Beasley recommends, which gives owners 80% of the income on rentals, up to around $30,000 annually.

Play Host During Long-Term Stays

Brooke Baum is the co-founder of TrailingAway. Baum and her husband, Buddy, are full-time travelers who spent a full year exploring the U.S. and Canada in a 25-foot motorhome. She recommends asking about hosting at campgrounds that are willing to barter with site fees. "If you will be RVing long-term and want to explore an area in-depth, some campgrounds provide ‘host’ opportunities in exchange for a free site," Baum said. "This is different for each campground, but will often include helping check other campers in and out, cleaning up the campground sites and amenities, or being available for certain shifts in case of emergencies. Some campgrounds even give a wage in addition to the free camping."

Get Creative With Refrigeration

When you’re on the road, little expenses can add up quickly. One of those expenses is refrigeration. "Use freezer packs to keep your fridge cold while driving," said Grant Sinclair, who along with his wife, Bonnie, runs the blog Our Wander-Filled Life, which documents their time on the road with their travel trailer. "While there are some folks who run their fridges using propane while driving, we do not. Instead, we use reusable freezer packs to keep the fridge cold on long drives. It saves money and allows you to keep more food in your fridge."

Cook Your Own Food

If you make the leap to free refrigeration, you might as well pack your fridge with food you can make yourself to save even more money on the road."Cook your own food instead of eating out," Sinclair said. "Also, don’t forget to bring home leftovers. You are traveling with a fridge, after all."

Rough It During Short Stays

For all but the most hardcore, boondocking can get grimy and tiresome relatively fast. But for shorter trips, you should consider going without amenities to save some cash for when it counts. "Make use of campgrounds with limited hookups for short stays to save money," Sinclair said. "There are tons of campgrounds out there, like state parks and Corps of Engineers campgrounds, which only have electric or electric and water. While you are limited by your water holding tanks, they easily allow you to save money on short stays. Indeed, knowing it was 90-plus degrees out and we didn’t want to boondock, we found a fairground in Nebraska with just electric hookups. We could run our AC to get cool but only needed the site for one night. Cost? $7."

Rough It During Long Stays

Beasley agrees with the concept of no-frills RVing, but in her mind, there’s no sense in limiting boondocking to quick jaunts. "Campgrounds are likely to be your biggest RV living expense — aside from a very large RV payment," she said. "Therefore, the biggest savings that can be made is on campground fees. Save the most by boondocking full-time, which is easiest done out West. If you want to go to places that have zero to little boondocking, join discount camping clubs such as Passport America, Boondockers Welcome, Harvest Hosts, or Thousand Trails." Camp Addict maintains a page called Boondocking Without Fear that can help you get over any low-amenity RVing anxiety.

Park in Big-Box Lots

"There are plenty of ways to save money while RV living," said Megan Buemi, senior manager of customer experience for the RV rental marketplace RVshare. "One way is to find free or affordable camping. Parking in a retailer parking lot is free, just be sure you have permission to be there."

RVshare offers a list of places to camp for less than $25 a night.

Join Membership Clubs

You can save real money every time you travel by signing up with clubs that cater to the RV lifestyle. "Get Good Sam and AAA memberships," Sinclair said. "Many campgrounds offer a 10% discount for those groups. If you are a veteran, sometimes you can get a discount for that. Good Sam will also get you 5 cents off per gallon at Pilot and Flying J."

Slow Down

Although you’ll be eager to get to the site, remember that RVing is about the journey, not the destination — also, driving fast equals burning more gas. "Take it easy on the gas pedal," Sinclair said. "You will find speed will cost you in terms of fuel. Most travel trailers are not rated to be towed faster than 65 mph anyway." Bob Hamilton, founder of RV Dream New Radio, concurs: "Gas can be a huge part of the expense of being on the road," he said. "Staying at a reasonable speed and using your air conditioner sparingly are important. And, every RVer should have the Gasbuddy app to find the cheapest gas nearby. Gasbuddy also offers discounts for shopping with stores like Walmart and many others."

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