What is the real budget for full-time travel in an RV?
If you are considering traveling over several months, or even full-time, what are you getting in to financially? What is the travel budget for Rv travel? Is it really cheaper to sell your house and just live in the rig? Well maybe.
The truth is, no one can tell what your expenses will be. They are as personal as your lifestyle and your choices. What we can do is provide a complete list of monthly expenses to consider and some ranges to use for estimates. We will also provide some options that will impact those choices.
I have broken the list into two categories. First, the list of expenses that happen because you are traveling. The second list is a normal monthly expense that you would have whether you lived in a “sticks and bricks” or an RV. We finish with a list of expenses that are eliminated if you travel full-time. That list is not as long as you might hope! Keep reading to start estimating your RV travel budgets.
If you would like to download our free Travel Budget Estimation Worksheet for your own use, click the link below.
SPecific to RV life
If you don’t already own your RV, this is likely to be your largest travel budget item. As with any other lifestyle, it would be wonderful if you were debt free. Your RV could be a truck and trailer, in which case you have two vehicles to purchase. Or, you could be buying a motorhome. But even with a motorhome, you are likely to want to tow a car. In a separate article, we will go into some detail about choosing a great RV to suit your lifestyle.
This is regular vehicle insurance for your car or truck. You will also want vehicle insurance for the motorhome. In addition, your fifth wheel or travel trailer should also be insured. There used to be a myth that you should not tell your insurance provider that you are traveling full-time. First, any claim you make on this insurance is likely to be voided if you have not provided that information. In addition, some insurance providers actually discount full-time insurance because they are aware that you are likely to better care for your home.
We were recently traveling in Alaska, enjoying the mountains and the black bears. After driving several thousand miles, we realized that our brakes were failing. (Not because we were in Alaska, but because bad stuff happens!) The short story is that AAA paid for a 200-mile tow for our Diesel Pusher. This would have cost us nearly $2000. Tow insurance runs us about $50 a month and is worth the peace of mind.
How much you can afford to travel will be directly dependent on your fuel budget. As you determine your travel lifestyle, keep an eye on this budget. Over the years, we have settled into driving 300 miles a week. This means one day a week we move, then we settle in for a week. It varies, but this gives me 1200 miles a month. Given the price of gas and miles per gallon, we come out to about $400 a month for fuel. Your mileage will vary!
Propane is an expense you might easily forget about. It is common for an RV to use propane for heating, cooking and water heat. This is a difficult thing to estimate because heating is quite seasonal. Looking at the reports from RVers who use propane to heat their rigs, estimates are running $30-60 per month in the colder weather. Our rig uses propane for the stove, and for the refrigerator when we are dry camping. But we still only use about $120 a year for propane.
Here is the travel budget item that runs the gamut. Some RV travelers are incredibly frugal. They greatly enjoy the idea of parking in a desert with no connections and enjoying solar power! We enjoy that as well, but it is a limited time for us. If your RV travel budget might include some boondocking, explore our article on great lists of boondocking sites.
We also enjoy Core of Engineer Campgrounds, which are $10 a night with a federal senior pass. Often, we find “rustic” full-service campgrounds in the $30 range. California parks and campgrounds are almost always over $45 and sometimes closer to $60. A weekly rate is the equivalent of 6 nights in many parks. A monthly rate tends to be the equivalent of 2 1/2 weeks.
So how do you budget? Just like the decision on fuel, it is a matter of priorities. I can live on about $400 a month. This would be in a fairly rural area for a monthly rate. I refuse to let my costs go over $1000 a month, except for the month when I live in California next to my grandchildren. I aim to average about $900. Your choices will be different of course.
Eating Out Budgets
For some people, enjoying local restaurants is the purpose of traveling! We are finding that it is a very expensive idea. One problem with eating out a lot is that the groceries you buy tend to spoil. Of course, this is no different from being in a “sticks and bricks” home. In our opinion, this is the most discretionary of the budget lines. If your budget is snug, this is the place to trim.
If you have a washer and dryer in your RV, and if you have a sewer hookup, you can skip this budget item. However, our washer is small so we prefer to do towels, jeans, and sheets in a laundromat. Costs run about $2.50 per load. I usually get out of a laundromat for less than $20 a week. Again, your mileage will vary.
Buying stuff may be part of traveling. But if you live in your RV you may not have much room for cute decorations and clutter. We actually spend very little on souvenirs, except for the occasional ballcap. We build our memories in digital photos. How much will you spend? Well, that’s up to you.
Our TV provider is Dish. Others use DirectTV. Some RVs have a satellite receiver on the top of the rig. We spent about $300 to have an external receiver. The bill will range from $30 to $150 depending on your channel selections. Lately, we have been using our cell data plan to stream an evening show (see below) so we rarely hookup the satellite. You may decide you don’t really need a TV service after all.
XM Radio Plan
XM radio allows us to keep the same channels, no matter where we are. We have a subscription for the car and one for the motorhome. This service runs us about $30 per month. Our news channels are also on XM so we listen to the news in the morning rather than turning on the TV.
Cell phone/data plan
Because I run a business from the motorhome, my internet connection is very important. We have an unlimited plan with 5 devices. The five devices include two phones, two tablets, and a MiFi hotspot. Total subscription is $150 per month.
Rig Maintenance Costs
Like any other aspect of life, if you maintain your RV well, you will have fewer emergencies. Some routine expenses should be budgeted just like you budget for fuel. Tires, batteries, oil changes and brakes are all required maintenance items. Your budget will depend on the type of vehicle. Tires should be replaced every seven years regardless of tread. (I know people argue about whether it is five years, seven or even ten. But it does need to happen.) Batteries tend to last from 2-4 years. Oil changes might be every 3000 miles or every 10000 depending on your vehicle.
Find your owners manual and estimate the maintenance costs. Plug them into your budget. If you neglect this, you will spend more
money (a lot more) in the next budget category.
It seems that this is the category that is most likely to kill a travel budget for RVs, and most likely to stop our travels altogether if we are not prepared. Some people choose to purchase a new RV in order to have adequate warranty coverage. Others buy older vehicles and add long-term warranties so they spread out their monthly payments and do not get surprised by a major repair. This is probably more expensive than just paying for it yourself. But, if you hit a bill that is more than you can swing in cash or credit, your travel days are over.
Over the years our approach has evolved a bit. We started out with “a wish and a prayer”. In the beginning, we assumed that all is easy in the universe and bad stuff doesn’t happen. Of course, we didn’t actually say that because it would sound like we were 10 years old. But effectively, we did not plan for rig repair.
But we have an older motorhome, and actually, bad stuff does happen. And when it does happen it is rarely less than $1000. We finally started saving for the inevitable cost of fixing the rig. We try to keep a fixed amount in the bank for this purpose. Estimate what a maximum repair bill might be: 1000? $5000? Keep that much in the bank. When you have to use it, re-fill it over the next several months. This is not so much a budget as it is an “Oh-s#&t” fund.
Mail service is the last of the budget expenses that are caused because you are traveling in an RV. Most full-timers select a state where they “officially” live or domicile. You can set up a mailing address in that state. We use Escapees in Texas. The decision of which state to choose as a domicile is beyond the scope of this article, but our choice was mostly based on the lack of state income tax.
Once you choose a state and find a mail service provider, you will pay an annual cost for them to sort and re-package your mail. You will also pay for the actual postage to send it to you, wherever your travels make take you. In our case, we pay $80 per year and about $15 when we ask for a mailing, which is roughly once a month. We do not receive a lot of physical mail, so this works for us.
Storage Room for Extra Stuff
If you are considering moving out of a “sticks and bricks” home, you will undoubtedly own more stuff than you want to take in an RV. Of course, everyone’s recommendation is to sell, give away, or discard as much as you can. We found, though, that we were unsure if or when we would want to be less mobile in the future and buy another house. And of course, there were some sentimental things that we could not let go.
Depending on where your storage is located, you spend somewhere between $50 and $100 on a good sized storage room. If you want temperature control (air-conditioning) for your stuff, you might double that. Therefore, anything you are storing because you might need it in the future needs to be worth more than the cost of storing it. Of course, the sentimental stuff is “priceless”.
Same costs as home
There are several costs that run the same as they would at home. They are not really RV travel budget items, but they are still part of your budget. These include:
- Health Insurance
- Dental Insurance
- Any other bills you carry
Things you can drop if you are full time
There is some good news out of this long list of expenses. There are a few things you can stop paying for. The home mortgage or rent will probably be replaced by your campground costs, and possibly RV payment. But the rest of these just go away!
- Property taxes
- Home upkeep (but you will have rig upkeep)
- Newspaper delivery
Is it time to get a handle on your RV travel budgets? Even if you are just starting out, or just considering whether to buy that new travel trailer, get out a pencil and scratch out some numbers. For most people, full-time RV travel budgets are lower than owning or renting a fixed property. Many people do both and own a home, but travel many months of the year.
Your decisions will be based on your what you can afford of course. But it is also based on understanding why you travel. If you keep moving every couple of days, your expenses go up. If you park for a while, your expenses go down. Your RV travel budgets are up to you!