The quickest way for an RV trip (or lifestyle) to turn stressful is when RV trip costs get out of control. For budget-friendly traveling, it’s important to know your costs upfront and be mindful of your route planning.

In recent months, when the gas prices spiked, the first thing people wanted to ask about is how the price of gas was affecting us.

But this article isn’t about gas prices – those will always fluctuate, and we want to give you lasting advice.

This article is about the larger thought process behind budget-friendly trip planning, and how to estimate your RV trip costs to pick the best route for you.

Where are we going?

Choosing a Budget-Friendly Route

As full-time RV’ers, we have lots of choices about how quickly we move, how thoroughly we explore an area, and what route we decide to take.

We can choose to move quickly and switch campsites every week as we make our way on a designated route OR we can sit still for a month at a time and choose to explore a state a bit more.

You have a lot of options in the RV lifestyle.

(To see more about how we plan trips, you can check out RV Trip Planning for Full-Timers – Part 1 andΒ RV Trip Planning for Full-Timers – Part 2.)

So how do you choose the best route to keep your RV trip costs down?

Let’s set the stage first with an example so we’re not talking in hypotheticals.

I’m not one for a lot of math. I liked math until geometry – then it just seemed excessive.

But there IS a bit of math when it comes to planning the best budget-friendly RV route – whether it’s a weekend trip or the next leg of your full-time life.

So much math

Trip A vs. Trip B

We were staying in the Palm Springs, CA area for the winter, mostly at a Thousand Trails campground ($0 nightly fees).

We weren’t trying to do or see anything special, we just wanted a warm place to stay in the winter. But then they didn’t have availability for a 3-week period.

We had to decide what to do next.

Here’s the information we had to consider:

  • The closest Thousand Trails campground ($0/night) with availability was Las Vegas, NV, which wasΒ 4 hours away (280 miles)
  • Gas was at about $5.85/gal
  • Our truck holds 24 gallons of gas
  • With the trailer, we get ~11 mpg
  • Vegas only has 2 weeks available so we’ll have to pay for 1 week out of network – a campground halfway between Palm Springs and Vegas for $400/week
  • To make Vegas worth it, we planned on paying for experiences while we were there
  • We were traveling back to Palm Springs after Vegas

The Math of RV Trip Costs

The question is – is it more budget-friendly to stay in Palm Springs for 3 weeks at $400/week OR travel 4 hours to Vegas to get a campsite for free for 2 weeks?

Since teachers taught us to show our work, here’s what it looks like:

  • 280 miles to Vegas/11 mpg = ~26 gallons of gas
  • 26 gals x $5.85/gal = $152.10 [x2 for return trip] = $304.20
  • 1 week at another campsite in the middle of nowhere = $400
  • 3 Vegas-only experiences = $300
    (We consider a “Vegas-only” experience something that we could only do in Vegas)

With these costs, here are the totals for Trip A vs. Trip B.

Trip A: Las Vegas
(A trip we didn’t necessarily want to make)
~$1,005

 

Trip B: Palm Springs
(3 weeks at a campsite with 9 pools)
~$1,050

Was it worth it to go to Vegas instead of paying to stay in Palm Springs? It depends on which experience you’d prefer!

Could we have cut out the Vegas-only experiences and saved the extra $300? Totally. But when we look at the quality of the trip, would we have wanted to cut out the fun we paid for? Not at all.

There’s no right or wrong answer here – we just want to encourage you to think about the holistic cost of an RV trip, not just in terms of campsite prices and gas.

But speaking of the cost of gas and campsites, those do play an important role in choosing the best budget-friendly route for you. Let’s get into how we estimate the cost of both on any given route.

How to Estimate Fuel Costs

Now for my favorite party trick.

We use RV Life Trip Wizard to plan our trips, which we mention every chance we get for good reason.

One of the awesome features of RV Life Trip Wizard is that it gives you a place to enter the cost of your campsites and fuel costs. You can broadly estimate the costs, or fill in the actual costs.

In the example trip below, you can see the symbol for where we’ll need to fill up on gas based on the info we gave Trip Wizard.

As you can see, there’s a pretty long haul from Eastham, MA to Pittsburgh, PA and will require multiple gas stops.

So we turn on the RV-friendly gas stations filter on RV Life Trip Wizard and choose our first gas station to add to our route.

Once we add the gas station to our route, we can fill in the specifics of our stop. In this case, we stopped at this gas station with 10 gallons left in our tank, and we told Trip Wizard we wanted to top off our tank at $5/gal. This fills in the cost of fuel for this leg of the trip.

If you don’t want to go stop-by-stop, choosing the gas station to add to your route (which is how I like to do it so I know exactly where I’m stopping), you can also just broadly apply a price per gallon for fuel in the trip settings. Trip Wizard will then generally calculate fuel costs for the rest of your trip.

Now that we have our fuel costs estimated for our entire trip, time to estimate our campsite costs.

How to Estimate RV Trip Costs

If you want to estimate campsite costs quickly, head to your Trip Settings, go to the Expenses tab, and add a general per night camping cost. For us, we try to stay around $40-$50/night with our camping memberships. After you enter your per night cost, make sure you check “Yes” to Recalculate Expenses for All Stops and click Save & Finish.

Trip Wizard will calculate the estimated cost of your entire trip by multiplying your “per night” cost you entered by the number of nights in your planned route.

As you actually book the sites, you can enter the exact amount per stop to get a more accurate look at the costs for the trip.

But even with generic estimates, you at least have a ballpark of how much your trip (or this leg of your trip) will cost you. As you can see in the total row – you’re looking at 2,377 miles over 42 nights and a rough estimate of $2,948 for fuel and campground costs.

Comparing Route Costs

Using the steps above, you create multiple “Tentative” trips in Trip Wizard and decide which route fits your budget (and your interests!)

Remember, the most budget-friendly route isn’t always the best route – you want to make sure you’re also seeing and experiencing what you want to as well as you travel across the country.

Hopefully this article has been insightful as you look to estimate the costs of your RV trip!

Obviously, we’re smitten withΒ RV Life Trip Wizard – and you will be too. If you don’t already have it, go grab it. It’s the easiest money you’ll ever spend, especially if you’re a full-timer. Use code “BETHANDCOURT” (from a web browser) for 20% off your first year.