One of the most common questions we got asked as full-time RVers was, “how much does it cost?”. People often wonder if it’s more expensive than stationary living. In fact, they usually assume it is––because, let’s face it, travel can be quite expensive these days.
Our response to this question is simply that RVing can cost as much or as little as you’d like or need. You can find the style of RV travel that works for your monthly budget. Full-time RV life can look differently for everyone for a variety of reasons, and money is often a big factor in the decision-making that comes along with the adventure. But the important thing is that you are entirely in control of designing your RV lifestyle.
After five years of RVing, both full-time and now part-time, we have a pretty good idea of how to budget each month and plan our travels in a way that allows us to stick to our budget. In this post, I will share the costs associated with full-time RVing and I hope to show you how affordable it can be so that you can achieve the RV life dream, too.
Before I start, I want to remind you that this information is based solely on my own RV experience. Each RVers budget will vary greatly depending on family size and many of the following costs can fluctuate and change over time. A solo RVer’s budget is going to be very different from a family of six – you get the point.
The following is a list of items that are, what I would consider, the “bare necessities” for RV life. In other words, they are expenses that may be different from a stationary lifestyle that you will need to account for to determine if you can afford to full-time RV. Under each item, we’ll share our average costs so you have a complete and authentic budget breakdown from experienced full-time RVers.
This is the full-time RV expense that will be the most variable. You can find everything from free RV parking up to $100+ per night. The cost of RV sites will depend on the area in which you’re staying, as well as the amenities that are available. If keeping RV costs as low as possible is your goal, you can certainly find free and discounted spots to stay.
There are boondocking, or dry camping spots, on public lands all across the country; although some states have more than others. You can typically stay in these spots for at least a week, sometimes two. There are several other ways of finding free spots, such as finding a work-camping job where you exchange a helping hand for a free campsite, or memberships where you can stay on other RVer’s or even business properties, or perhaps you have friends and family around the country with land or a driveway big enough to park on.
Just remember that even if you primarily find free spots to park, you’ll still need to find places to fill your tanks with fresh water and dump your grey and black tanks, which you can sometimes (but not often) find for free at gas stations. Otherwise, you can pay an RV park to use their dump and water station. This can range from $10 – $30, from our experience. How often you need to fill and empty your tanks will depend on your RV’s tank sizes and your usage. We typically can go about a week if we are careful to conserve our water.
If a free spot isn’t accessible where you are, you’ll surely find an RV park or campground that fits the bill. If you’re willing to do without full hookups or partial hookups, you can typically find a spot for $30-40 a night, sometimes even cheaper if you’re in less touristy destinations. We’ve found state parks to be pretty affordable in comparison to most RV parks. On the flip side, you can also find luxury RV resorts all across the country. With the added costs come added amenities like pools, larger sites, on-site restaurants, and entertainment, etc.
Another great way to save money on RV sites is by signing up for a Good Sam membership. For only $29 a year, you can save 10% on 2,100 parks and campgrounds all across the United States. You’ll also have other exclusive benefits like retail discounts, fuel savings, and more.
As I mentioned, RV accommodations have been difficult to budget for because they can be all over the place each month. Not to mention, over the years, the nightly costs of RV parks and campgrounds have increased considerably. But our requirements and travel style have also changed over the years with the addition of our son.
In 2017 when we first started full-time RVing we were able to average about $30 per night and therefore would budget $900 for the month. In more recent years, we’ve dry camped a lot less and find ourselves paying for sites more often, mainly for the convenience of having full hookups. For that reason, along with rising costs of accommodations, we now average $45 per night and $1,350 a month.
Gas & Propane
Your gas and propane expenses will obviously depend on your usage. How often and how far you travel will greatly influence how much you’re spending on gas. Likewise, how much propane you’re going through will depend on factors like your particular RV, the temperatures, how often you’re using your stove, etc.
It’s safe to assume you’ll go through your entire propane tank every four to six weeks, again depending on usage. For gas, you can easily calculate how much it will cost using this formula:
# of miles you plan to drive / how many miles per gallon your RV or tow vehicle gets = ____ x national average cost for a gallon of gas = total cost
In addition to the gas you’ll need to get from destination to destination, you’ll also want to factor in at least one additional tank of gas each month for driving around town, running errands, and exploring. It’s not uncommon to have to park your RV 30-60 miles outside of major cities or tourist “hot spots” due to a limited number of RV parks and campgrounds to stay at. We’ve also found that national parks require lots of driving since most of them are very large. We’ve been to parks where it takes two or more hours to drive through the entire park.
We typically travel to a new destination every seven to ten days. When we travel, we will usually drive between 200 and 300 miles. This averages to about 1,000 miles of driving a month, not including the driving we do once we arrive. Based on the national average cost for a gallon of gas today, we budget approximately $500 a month for gas.
RV Maintenance & Repair
Yes, you guessed it, another variable expense. Hopefully, by now, you can see that RVing full-time can truly be as expensive or inexpensive as you make it. As for maintenance, again, this will depend greatly on the year and condition of the RV you choose to travel in. But regardless of whether you buy brand new or remodel a twenty-year-old used RV, you’ll need to make room in your budget for maintenance and repairs.
RVs of all makes, models, and years will always need continual maintenance. Just like a house or car (which RVs are technically both), there will be things you’ll need to do regularly to keep it in good condition. It’s also inevitable that something will break. Especially if you’re planning to live and travel in it full-time and put a lot of regular wear and tear on it.
Oil changes, tires, or major issues like engine problems or electrical trouble, the important thing is that you are prepared for situations big and small. Nothing can ruin a road trip like a costly bill at the shop. Camping World Service Centers are usually never too far away if we’re in need of a repair.
When we were living and adventuring in our first RV, a 2005 fifth-wheel, we were finding that we’d have a new issue come up about every 6 weeks or so. We would always try to do repair projects ourselves (thanks to tutorials on YouTube) to avoid the higher costs of paying an RV mechanic but we’d try to set money aside each month for emergencies. After purchasing a brand new RV, and now in a gently used RV, our repairs and maintenance have been much less frequent but when things do go wrong, they seem to happen all at once. By having a little emergency fund, we don’t have to stress as much when those things come up. We recommend budgeting a minimum of $50 a month, even though some months you may not spend anything.
If you’re not used to doing laundry outside your home, this might be a budget item you would overlook. Sure, some RVs have washers and dryers, but most likely you’ll need to set aside those quarters for a few hours at the laundromat. RV parks often have laundry facilities as well, but with only a few machines, you’ll have better luck and save time heading to the laundromat. Laundry costs will vary depending on how many clothes you are able to store in your RV and how often you feel the need to wash items like your bed sheets and towels.
With all three of our RVs, we’ve been able to bring quite a bit of clothes. We typically can go two weeks before needing to do laundry, but usually have four or five loads between our own clothes, our son’s clothes, and linens. We’ve found that you can usually count on a load costing $5 – $7. So, we budget about $50 a month for laundry costs.
While you are probably already paying for car insurance, if you’re planning to full-time RV, you’ll want to budget for a good full-timers insurance plan for your home on wheels as well. You can typically bundle these plans to get a lower rate. You may also want to include add-ons like roadside assistance.
What kind of traveler are you? Do you like to try new restaurants, go on tours, and visit museums, or do you prefer to stick to free activities like hiking and enjoying the great outdoors? Perhaps you’re like us and you love a good balance of both. It’s tough to predict exactly how much you’ll spend in each new place you visit, but this is an area that you’ll have to be diligent about setting an amount of money that feels comfortable and sticking to it. Or, if you’re trying to minimize costs, plan your travel route based on places you can primarily find free or inexpensive activities to do.
For us, this is the hardest part of the budget because it’s hard to balance the desire to “live it up” with everyday life. We want to indulge and enjoy the experiences that RV travel can offer, but our wallets can’t afford to live like we’re always on vacation. Fortunately for us, we find much more enjoyment in nature than we do in shopping or tourist attractions. We cook in the RV as much as possible but we’re always up for trying a local brewery or experiencing something that is unique to the area.
We do our best to stick to $300 a month for entertainment. Sometimes we’ll splurge and other times we’ll split a meal or try to find a boondocking spot so we can spend the money we would have used for accommodations on entertainment instead. You’ll make it work and find the balance for yourself, too.
Regardless of whether you’re retired or working remotely from your RV, it’s almost impossible these days to live without good, reliable internet. You may see Wi-Fi advertised on many RV park’s websites but trust me when I say that you cannot count on getting a strong enough signal from them. Even if they have a strong signal, if too many people are trying to use it, it will likely be frustratingly slow.
There are definitely options to get free Wi-Fi if that’s one way you’re hoping to lower costs. You can find local libraries or coffee shops, or if you don’t need it that often, your phone’s hotspot will work just fine if you have a good signal. But there are also several solutions for mobile internet.
We pay for an AT&T hotspot with unlimited data for our internet. This plan costs us $105 per month. Our jobs rely on good internet so we can’t risk it. We prefer to work from our RV rather than noisy coffee shops and libraries that aren’t always in close proximity to where we are staying. This solution works well for us.
Total Monthly Full-Time RV Costs
Adding up all the above RV life expenses, we personally budget about $2,500 a month for full-time RVing. As a reminder, this total is only taking into account the RV-specific costs, but not additional personal expenses that we, and you, may have. Don’t forget to consider the additional costs you may have each month for expenses like health insurance, groceries, cell phone, medical supplies, debt (car payment, student loans, credit cards), etc.
Overall, I hope this budget breakdown has shown you that RVing can be a very affordable way to travel and live on the road. It may surprise you to see that the monthly costs can be very comparable to living in a house or apartment. But the experiences you’ll gain from the road will be priceless.