The Cost of Camping


We really enjoyed sharing our experiences at the Full Time Wannabes Seminar at the FMCA Indio rally. One of most asked questions is how does the cost of living full time in your motorhome compare to living at home.

Many think it will be much cheaper as you don't have all the expenses of a home. And it can be, but it depends on many factors. The majority of your costs will be Fuel, Food, Fun, Camping/RV Parks, Maintenance and Medical.

Each of you would spend differently in these areas. Let's look at each.

Fuel: Obviously more on the road. However, we follow Craig's Rule. We travel at most three times a week and only 200 miles each travel day. We have averaged 833 miles per month. Cost per month in 2018 is 833 miles / 8 mpg x $3/gallon = $313.00. At home, we averaged 15,000 miles per year. 15,000 / 12 / 25 x $3/gallon = $150.00. So we spend $163 more than at home.

Food: If you eat in, food costs will be the same as home. We mostly do, so our food costs are similar. Many RVers eat out a lot, so this could really increase your costs.

Fun: We ARE fun, we don't have to pay for it. As you travel North America you can spend hundreds of dollars each day on really cool activities, e.g. Hells Canyon Jet Boat, $350 for two. Canada's Capilano Suspension Bridge Park: $82 for two. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway: $50 for two. We rarely do any of these. They are really cool but it's just not who we are! At home, we might spend a hot day at the water park. So are fun dollars are about the same.

Camping/RV Parks: There are endless opportunities to spend nothing or a huge amount. We average $18/day. More on this later.

Maintenance: Driving your motorhome on North American roads is like constantly experiencing a earthquake. It shakes, rattles and rolls more than Elvis. Our first RV salesman, Jeremiah, said "Mr. Mattson, do not buy a motorhome unless you have a tool box and sense of humor." He is so right. We carry lots of tools. If you aren't handy with tools, your maintenance costs will be huge. Overall you will spend more on your motorhome than your house, if you don't count the constant improvements you love to make on your home. We don't make motorhome improvements; it came beautiful and complete.

Medical: Now, like many full time travelers, we are on Medicare. We get services everywhere. We don't drive back to California to get our favorite doctors. As such our medical costs are the same as home. If you must have "your doctors", then your medical travel costs could be substantial. And, you might be forced to remain "home" for extended periods of time.

Now for more on Camping/RV Park costs. We have averaged about $18 a day for last 12 years. An average RV park costs about $35 in the West (a little less in the Midwest and East). You can stay at Slab City for free or Motorcoach Country Club for $114 to $211 per night.

One of our favorite parks is Palm Creek Golf and RV Resort in Casa Grande, Arizona. Prices vary per month with February being the highest fees at $67/night. You can get the cost down by staying for multiple months. For example, you can stay Jan, Feb and Mar for $2,962 or $33/night.

And yet, we average $18. How? We have learned all (or least many of the tricks). We first learned about the RV memberships. FMCA, AAA and Good Sam members save 10 percent. Escapees can save 15 percent and they own some parks with low daily rates. Passport-America gets you 50 percent off with restrictions you must follow. Being an Elks member has saved us over $15,000 in the last 12 years. Many Elks lodges have RV hookups and ask for a donation. Many have dry camping with little or no fee.

And there is free boon-docking (pulling off the road anywhere) in states or areas where it is legal. We have stayed at over 150 free locations. Walmarts, Cracker Barrel restaurants, truck stops, service centers, deserts, homes and many road side stops.

Always be on the lookout for RV park specials. When you find a park on an Internet search, check for rates and specials. If you see no specials, call and ask. Recently we have heard from fellow travelers that they were granted the Passport America 50 percent rate even when the Passport park notes stated "not offered during this time period". So? Ask!

Find park specials at RV rallies. In January we attended the Indio, California FMCA rally and visited the The Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show in Quartzsite, Arizona. RV Park booths at both shows offered discounts.

Acquiring these special coupons, we adjusted our path to take advantage. Leaving the FMCA rally, we stayed at Lake Cahuilla Recreation Area (Passport-America).

Then a short visit at the home of our good friends Clint and Jackie.

Heading to Quartzsite we stopped over at Lake Tamarisk RV Resort (Good Sam).

At Quartzsite we revisited a nice free stop in the desert just a few miles from town. No, we did not pose Mandy on the ScooterShip. She is just letting us know "you're not leaving without me!".

From Quartzite we were headed to Silver View RV Park in Bullhead City, Arizona. A nice park with one week for only $119 ($17/day). However, it was a bit out of our way as we were headed next to Desert Hot Springs, California. At the FMCA rally, Catalina Spa RV Resort in Desert Hot Springs offered us 14 days at 50 percent off. We re-routed.

Next we will head to Two Springs RV Resort, Desert Hot Springs, which is 8.5 miles from Cat Spa.
Photos from the Two Springs web site.

Then off to one of our favorite parks, Golden Village Palms, in Hemet, California. At both Two Springs and GVP we will be with our good friends, Steve and Susan, from Paso Robles.

Saying goodbye to Susan and Steve, we will be taking care of grandkids. However, it will be five weeks before meeting Emily and Chad in Long Beach. We might head to Yuma, Arizona with a choice of five resorts offering discounts. One, a week for $100, two others with half off for a month and other specials. Whee! We get to be at decent parks with pickleball and spas for a low daily price.

So, don't do what we did our first year. We just pulled into a park and paid the price. Do your research online, check out the 400+ parks on our site BigRigBible or contact us for suggestions.

Happy travels, on your own or vicariously through us.

Written with love, Pete, Ellen and Mandy

The Full Time Motorhome Living Guide

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