According to the RV Industry Association, recreational vehicle vacations are cheaper than other types of vacation travel. Specifically, savings range from 21% to 64% for a four-person trip, whereas two-person trips can be 8% to 53% cheaper.
But expenses can rack up quickly, whether you’re taking a short RV trip with your family or enjoying the full-time RV lifestyle. Fuel expenses, campground fees, and rental costs alone can put your trip over budget if you aren’t careful.
If you want to save money on your RV trip, there are several travel tips that can cut costs while letting you travel comfortably and do plenty of sightseeing.
The Best Ways to Save Money on an RV Road Trip
Many RV travel money-saving methods involve trimming major costs like gas, food, and rental fees. Additionally, some saving tips are general guidelines you should follow since they help keep your trip low-cost.
In combination, these RV hacks ensure your next road trip is on budget without having to change your travel plans drastically.
1. Join RV Clubs
Joining an RV club is one of the best ways to save money on RV trips, even if you only RV two or three nights per year. RV clubs provide members with perks like discounts on various campgrounds and parks. Some clubs also offer deals at various hotels, mechanics, and insurance companies for members.
Several leading RV clubs you can join to score discounts include:
- Boondockers Welcome. This RV club costs $50 per year and lets you find free off-the-grid camping spots from over 2,900 hosts worldwide. Boondockers Welcome also provides members with various discounts for services like RV mobile Internet and additional campgrounds.
- Escapees RV Club. For $49.95 per year, you get 15% to 50% off at over 800 RV parks. Members also get discounts for certain RV mechanics, insurance, and roadside assistance.
- Good Sam. Good Sam’s RV club costs $29 per year, making it one of the cheapest RV clubs. Members save 10% on 2,100 partner campgrounds and gas and diesel at Pilot Flying J gas stations. Members also save 15% on propane at Camping World and Gander RV & Outdoors in addition to enjoying merchandise discounts at these two retailers and other Good Sam partners.
- Harvest Hosts. This RV club costs $99 per year and lets you camp for free at over 2,400 farms, breweries, wineries, and museums across North America.
- Passport America. For $44 per year, Passport America lets you save 50% at over 1,450 campsites.
The cheap annual membership and significant campground and RV park savings make these clubs cost-effective. RV campsites generally cost $20 to $50 per night. Even if you RV once per year, getting 10% to 50% off campgrounds can cover your membership cost after two to three nights.
While planning your RV road trip, check various RV clubs to see if they have partner campgrounds along your route or plan your route based on your membership. RV clubs list campground partners on their websites so you can cross-reference their partners to find affordable camping spots as you drive.
If you’re a AAA member, you can also take advantage of several RV member discounts (which vary by AAA club) and add RV coverage to unlock perks like:
- Free RV towing up to a certain number of miles, depending on your level of coverage
- Flat tire service
- Fuel delivery service
- Vehicle locksmith credits
- Free car rentals
- Discounts on parts and accessories at partner auto parts stores
AAA also has other member benefits, depending on your level of coverage and location, and includes roadside assistance. Plus, members get discounts to partners like Carfax, Hertz, Shell, and various hotels.
Between possible AAA discounts and savings from an RV club, you can reliably save on campground costs and potential vehicle repairs and towing.
2. Travel Off-Season
RVing usually involves sightseeing in the cities you drive through. That means paying for extras like park passes, guided tours, and day passes to various attractions.
But you can save money by traveling off-season. Hotels, parks, and tourist attractions often have cheaper rates during nonpeak tourism season. For example, according to Visit Arizona, lower fall and winter rates for popular attractions include:
- 40% off lodging for the Canyon de Chelly National Monument
- 10% off hotels in Flagstaff
- Lower hotel prices and a better touring experience of the Grand Canyon
Visiting Phoenix or Tucson in the summer can also save a lot of money since the intense heat wards off more vacationers, so accommodations and tours are less expensive.
Arizona is just one example, but the same concept applies in other cities, depending on when tourists typically visit.
3. Shop Around for Affordable RV Rentals
More than 11 million U.S. households own an RV, according to RV Industry Association data. But for new RV enthusiasts who don’t own their own recreational vehicle, renting is likely the only choice unless you can borrow an RV from someone you know.
But RV rentals from dealerships can easily cost hundreds of dollars per day if you opt for larger Class-A or Class-C motor homes. Thankfully, the sharing economy has propelled the rise of several Airbnb-style marketplaces where you can rent inexpensive RVs.
Some popular RV rental websites include Outdoorsy, Rvezy, and RVshare, though there are many other popular RV rental companies.
The most effective way to save money on an RV rental is to stick with smaller vehicles like camper vans, travel trailers, and Class-B motor homes. On person-to-person RV rental sites, you can usually rent Class-B motor homes for around $100 per day (or even less if you find a deal), and travel trailers can be as cheap as $50 per day.
It’s one of the most effective ways to save money on rental fees.
4. Save Money With RV Relocation Deals
RV dealerships and websites like Cruise America sometimes offer relocation deals. Relocation deals are essentially cheap one-way RV road trips. For example, you might find a relocation deal that asks you to transport an RV from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Seattle, Washington.
Many relocation deals cost $1 in rental fees or are significantly lower than paying the standard daily rate for the vehicle. Deals also often include a free daily mileage limit and reimburse you for gas. Some deals even throw in free extras like cooking and bedding kits or a meal stipend.
Several websites where RV dealers list relocation deals include:
The catch is that you have to reach the drop-off point by a specific date and time. That doesn’t allow for much sightseeing, and you can face late penalties and pay full price for any additional miles and time you spend on the road.
Some relocation deals let you extend the time you’re driving if you want to move at your own pace. But it’s uncommon, and extending your trip usually means paying full price for each additional day you drive. Plus, since you’re not driving the RV home, you have to find another way home, like booking a cheap flight or hopping on a train.
Ultimately, relocation deals are the cheapest way to take a speedy RV road trip. But if you want to travel slowly and create your own itinerary, it’s not the right travel choice.
5. Book Your RV Early
The last thing you want is to plan an incredible road trip only to find the available RV rentals are all more expensive than you thought. You also want to avoid not being able to rent an RV and having to drive to another city to pick up your rental.
Start researching RV rental options as early as possible and contact the dealership or RV owner to confirm availability for your travel dates. Booking earlier also helps you lock in lower pricing and gives you time to shop around for cheaper RVs. When you call an RV dealer, also clarify mileage limits and ask questions about what’s included in your rental.
6. Only Rent Add-Ons You Need
Buying your own camping supplies or tent is a significant upfront expense, so renting sometimes makes sense if you only road-trip once every few years. But if you’re a frequent RVer and camper, buying your own supplies makes sense. And they sell more than tent add-ons.
RV dealerships and rental marketplaces often let you rent basic personal supplies. For example, you can rent cooking and bedding kits that come with basic kitchen supplies and necessities like blankets and pillows. The kits are convenient, but they’re also a waste of money.
For example, a kitchen kit from Cruise America, a popular RV dealership, costs $110. Similarly, personal kits cost $60. If you rent four personal kits, that’s $240 alone in additional fees for your trip.
Instead of renting, prepare DIY RV kits at home. You can buy inexpensive kitchen and travel supplies from any dollar store. Similarly, bring blankets and sheets from home or purchase extras from Amazon. If you RV multiple times over the next few years, it could result in potentially hundreds of dollars in savings for very little effort.
You can also buy used camping gear on Craigslist or the Facebook Marketplace to avoid paying full price. Or check Nextdoor to see if a neighbor can loan you some supplies or sell you their secondhand goods.
Other rental options you can skip if you plan ahead include:
- Campaign chairs
- Camper stoves
- Lawn games
7. RV Insurance Research
If you’re renting an RV, you usually pay a daily RV insurance fee alongside the daily rental price. But some companies let you choose how much coverage you have, which influences costs.
For example, Outdoorsy offers multiple levels of insurance for renters with deductibles depending on the value of the vehicle. Typically, deductibles range from $1,000 to $4,000 for physical damage and comprehensive and collision coverage.
Similarly, RVshare insurance plans start at around $10 per day for towable RVs with basic collision, weather, and theft coverage. Renters can also upgrade to have additional broken glass and falling object protection for towable RVs starting at $18 per day. Large motor home insurance starts at $20 per day for collision, weather, and theft coverage, but renters can upgrade for broken glass and falling object protection starting at $41 per day.
When researching RVs to rent, factor in the size of the vehicle and what deductible you’re comfortable with. An otherwise affordable RV trip can become a financial nightmare if you’re suddenly on the hook for a $4,000 deductible because of vehicle damage.
As for RV owners, finding affordable insurance is also essential. Popular RV insurance companies include National General and Progressive, so start your insurance search by using the online quote tools to compare premiums for your class of motor home.
Additionally, check your current auto and homeowners insurance provider to see if you can save by bundling motor home insurance with your existing policy. For example, Allstate and Nationwide offer insurance discounts for having multiple policies. Allstate also provides discounts for retirees, and Nationwide becomes cheaper if you pay your policy in full and remain accident-free for 36 months.
You can also get RV insurance and additional perks like extended roadside assistance if you’re a AAA member and insure your RV through AAA.
You shouldn’t skimp on RV insurance to save money if it means taking on a higher deductible than you can comfortably afford or risking being on the hook entirely if your RV suffers damages. But like any insurance policy, it pays to shop around and leverage discounts when it makes sense.
8. Plan Inexpensive Driving Routes
You’re always going to spend money on a road trip, but the route you take heavily influences how much you spend on things like gas and overnight stays.
One of the most crucial things to look for when planning is free or cheap campsites. Spending $20 per night versus $50 means hundreds of dollars in savings over your road trip. You still want to find pleasant campsites with electrical, sewage, and water access, if possible, but compare prices to locate the cheapest campsite in each area.
Other considerations you should have when planning an RV route include:
- Points of interest along the route
- Cheap gas station availability
- Avoiding areas of congestion and toll roads
Factoring all this data into a trip that spans hundreds or thousands of miles isn’t simple. But you can use RV trip-planning tools to find affordable routes instead of manually researching routes.
RV Trip Wizard is one planning tool that has over 10 million data points for campgrounds, state parks, and points of interest. The planner also lets you estimate fuel and campground costs. It’s $49 per year, but considering how much time and money you save, it’s worth it.
RV clubs like Good Sam also let members use a trip-planning tool comparable to RV Trip Wizard. If you’re already a Good Sam’s member, it’s your best choice.
Finally, Roadtrippers has a free trip-planning tool that lets you create a simple route with five waypoints (overnight stops). It doesn’t let you save many points of interest, but the map still highlights campgrounds, parks, restaurants, and attractions along the way. If you want to save up to 150 points, have offline map access, and view live traffic, Roadtrippers Plus costs $29.99 per year.
If you don’t want to spend money, you can create your own road trip itinerary using Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel. RV Leaguers has a free RV itinerary template you can use to record the campgrounds you’re stopping at each night, daytime stops, campground costs, and points of interest to see.
Regardless of your trip-planning tool, account for mileage limits. Most RV rentals only let you drive a certain number of miles per day before charging mileage overages. Once you know how many miles you can drive per day, create your road trip plan and map out where you’re stopping each night to stay within your limit.
9. Book Free Campsites
Campsite expenses can derail an otherwise inexpensive RV trip if you book multiple sites. But one advantage of RV living is that you can set up camp for the night without much notice.
That flexibility means you can leverage free campgrounds along your route to avoid staying at more expensive parks. Websites like Free Campsites and FreeRoam have a directory of free campgrounds and parks, though the latter focuses on sites without hookups for water, electricity, or your sewage system.
Additionally, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) maintains information on camping on public land, including info on permits and fees and tips for campsite selection. You can also search BLM partner site Recreation.gov for free spots along your road trip.
Similarly, you can search the National Forest Foundation’s website to find free public forests to camp in. Some forests require a national park pass from the National Park Service. The pass costs $80 per year, but there’s plenty of free land to camp on.
In general, if you’re road-tripping across a popular route, you can find free camping spots. Some Walmarts also allow free overnight parking if you have an RV. According to Walmart.com, you should contact store management to ensure the store allows overnight parking. You can find a specific store and phone number with Walmart’s store finder tool. Rest stations along highways are another free overnight RV option.
10. Try Boondocking
Boondocking refers to RVing without having hookups to water, electricity, or a sewage system. When you boondock, you’re usually camping overnight on free public land. But even staying overnight in a Walmart parking lot is technically boondocking.
Boondocking is generally free, so it’s an immediate way to save money on RV travel. In some cases, you must pay an overnight fee if you’re boondocking at a campground, but it’s still cheaper than staying at a campground where you hook up to an electrical, water, and sewage system.
Just remember to keep an eye on your gray water tank (water waste) and black water tank (regular waste) before boondocking. It’s illegal in most instances to dump gray or black water on the ground, so you need to find a dump station before boondocking if you’re close to full. Truck stops sometimes have dump stations, as do RV parks.
Being off-grid isn’t for everyone, and if you need a shower at the end of the day or want access to electricity, boondocking isn’t for you. But to save money and potentially enjoy more wilderness during your RV trip, boondocking is a frugal travel trick worth trying.
11. Save Money on Gas
One of your most significant RV expenses is fuel. While it has less of an impact on local RV camping or short drives, saving money on gas is a must if you’re planning a major road trip.
The simplest way to save on gas is to downsize. Class-A and Class-C motor homes consume more fuel than smaller vehicles like Class-B motor homes or camper vans. But even if you need a large RV, you can do things to reduce your overall weight and fuel consumption, such as avoid towing.
Smaller tricks also help cut fuel costs. For example, using less air conditioning, driving slower, and regularly emptying your waste tank reduce gas consumption.
You can also refuel at cheaper gas stations along your route. Apps that find low-priced gas include:
- GetUpside. The GetUpside app lets you save $0.25 per gallon. The primary difference is that your savings don’t apply directly at the pump like with GasBuddy. Rather, you earn cash back that’s redeemable for PayPal cash and free gift cards. You can also earn cash back on groceries and restaurant purchases, which is useful for food shopping during your road trip.
- GasBuddy. Like GetUpside, you can save up to $0.25 per gallon on gas by using GasBuddy’s gas card. Additionally, the free app helps you find cheap local gas stations along your route. GasBuddy also has a gas cost calculator so you can estimate your fuel costs while planning your trip.
- Waze. Waze helps you save money on gas by highlighting traffic and accidents so you can avoid congested areas and unnecessary idling. The app also highlights tolls, police, and speed cameras to help you avoid toll fees or potential tickets. Additionally, Waze users can report local gas prices to help other members find cheap gas stations, and the entire app uses real-time feedback from users to help you drive more efficiently.
GasBuddy and GetUpside are the best apps for finding the cheapest gas and earning cash back for refueling. But you should always drive with Waze to avoid traffic, accidents, and road closures, provided you have unlimited data on your cell plan.
12. Watch Your Gas Mileage Limits (if Renting)
When you rent an RV, there’s usually a daily mileage limit you can drive. If you go over that limit, many rental companies charge around $0.35 per additional mile.
That means going 50 extra miles can cost an additional $17.50 in fees, plus gas. If you go several hundred miles over your limit during your trip, you’re looking at $100 or more in mileage fees.
13. Use a Cash-Back Credit Card
Gas rewards cards let you earn cash back at the pump, which is useful for expensive RV refuels. And if you open a card before your trip, you usually benefit from a welcome bonus of extra points for spending a certain amount within the first few months of opening a card.
And they’re not just useful for gas or RV trips. In addition to getting cash back on regular driving, such as your daily commute and running errands, many come with perks like cash back on groceries and dining, which can also lower the cost of both daily living and your RV trip.
Some popular gas rewards credit cards include:
- American Express Blue Cash Preferred® Card. Get 3% back on gas and transit costs and 6% cash back on groceries (up to $6,000) and dining plus cash back on everything else. This card also comes with a hefty six-month spending bonus and 20% cash back from Amazon for the first six months. The $95 annual fee is waived for the first year. Read our American Express Blue Cash Preferred card review for more.
- Citi Premier Card. This card lets you earn 3 points per $1 spent on dining, gas, groceries, and travel. You also get 60,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 within the first three months of becoming a cardholder, so it’s wise to open this card right before heading off on your road trip and spending on road trip preparations. The primary downside is that there’s a $95 annual fee. Read our Citi Premier card review for more.
- U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card: Get 4 points per $1 spent on travel and gas plus 2 points per $1 spent on groceries and dining purchases. There’s also a 50,000-point bonus for spending $3,000 within your first four months, so open this card before your trip. This card waves the $95 annual fee for your first year. Read our U.S. Bank Altitude Connect Visa Signature card review for more.
Depending on your shopping habits, more specific gas credit cards you already have can also help you save during your road trip. For example, the Costco Anywhere Visa® card by Citi lets Costco members earn 4% cash back on gas on their first $7,000 in gas spending at Costco gas stations and other qualifying stations. You also earn 3% cash back on travel and restaurant purchases, which is useful for road trip dining or occasional hotel stays. Read our Costco Anywhere Visa card review for more details.
Similarly, the BP Visa credit card lets you save $0.10 per gallon at participating BP and Amoco gas stations. Cardholders also get 3% cash back on grocery store purchases, so it’s a well-rounded card to have on your road trip if your route passes numerous BP and Amoco gas stations.
As you plan your trip, think about how you can use your current credit cards to maximize savings for travel costs like fuel and food. If you don’t have a cash-back credit card, choose a card that helps you save on your road trip and regular purchasing habits. For example, there’s little point in getting the BP card just because there are savings opportunities along your route if you don’t have a BP or Amoco station near your home. Other cards can provide similar benefits.
14. Prepare Your Own Food and Drinks
One of the fastest ways to turn a cheap RV trip into an expensive vacation is to eat out for your meals. For example, daily restaurant spending for a family of four quickly adds up (prices approximate).
- Breakfast at Dunkin’: $11.80 (two medium coffees, two apple juices, and four doughnuts)
- Lunch at Subway: $21 (four 6-inch subs of the day plus drinks)
- Dinner at Cracker Barrel: $50 (four daily dinner specials plus nonalcoholic drinks)
Total Cost: $83
Even if you make breakfast in your RV and occasionally cook lunches and dinner, eating out gets expensive quickly.
It’s easy to cook your own meals if your motor home comes with a kitchen. But even if you’re in a smaller vehicle without a kitchen, you can buy an affordable two-burner camping stove for under $80 on Amazon. You can also buy bundles of firewood for around $5 at most campgrounds or find dry kindling and logs in the woods and cook the old-fashioned way over an outdoor campfire.
When you’re set up to cook yourself, daily food costs for a family of four get much more budget-friendly.
- Breakfast: $2 (two instant coffees with creamer, two juice boxes, and four packets of instant oatmeal)
- Lunch: $8 (ham, lettuce, and cheese sandwiches with two water bottles and two juice boxes)
- Dinner: $14 (pasta with sausages, a side Caesar salad, and fruit juice)
Total Cost: $24
The same premise applies to alcohol. For example, if you go out at night for drinks, you’re likely spending around $5 or $6 for domestic beer and $8 for import beer, depending on where you go. In contrast, a 24-pack of Heineken from Walmart costs around $27, or just over $1 per beer. That’s around 500% to 600% less than paying for drinks at a bar or restaurant.
Desserts and snacks are other areas to save on food. Rather than going to Dairy Queen and spending $18 on four medium Blizzards, buy ingredients for s’mores from the grocery store instead. A package of marshmallows, graham crackers, and a chocolate bar is around $7 at Walmart, and you can use the ingredients for several nights of snacking before running out.
By dining in, you can likely save 50% to 75% or more on food and drink costs for your RV trip. Additionally, if you use various grocery saving tricks like shopping with reward apps like Fetch Rewards or Ibotta, you can trim costs even more. Plus, if you’re traveling with kids, RV cooking is an excellent bonding and educational experience.
15. Save Money on Maintenance and Repairs
One way to derail a cheap RV trip is to let simple repairs force you off the road and into a mechanic’s shop. Like all vehicles, RVs inevitably experience wear and tear and need repairs. But that doesn’t mean you should spend a fortune.
If you’re an owner or rent frequently or long-term, learn how to maintain your vehicle properly to prevent damage. For example, you should apply RV roof sealant once per year to reduce the risk of leaks. Similarly, many RV generators suggest changing the oil every 100 to 150 hours (around four to six days) of usage.
DIY repairs also let you save money on your RV. Examples of DIY RV fixes include tasks like fixing clogs in your plumbing system with a plumbing snake, replacing a flat tire, or even break repair.
But stay within your comfort zone. Don’t tackle a problem if you don’t know what you’re doing since with certain tasks, such as electrical fixes, you risk worsening the situation and self-injury.
If you break down on the road, your only real option is to tow your RV to a local mechanic for repairs. That’s why having roadside assistance or complimentary towing with a company like AAA is beneficial. According to RVshare, it’s a smart move to shop around at RV mechanics if you encounter serious issues, so if possible, call several mechanics and get preliminary quotes before towing your RV.
But maintenance is still the best preventative measure, so a resource like “The RV Handbook” by Dave Solberg is a must-read for RV owners. If you don’t know how to do DIY repairs, take your RV to a local mechanic before departing to get an inspection and possible tune-up. That’s especially crucial for older vehicles and vehicles you haven’t serviced regularly.
RV life isn’t for everyone, and for many, an all-inclusive vacation on a Caribbean beach probably sounds more fun than driving across the country, camping in the wilderness as you go.
But for RV enthusiasts, RVing can truly become a way of life. But it’s always important to stick to a travel budget and find ways to save on your vacation where you can.
At the very least, focus on the most impactful cost-cutting areas, like saving on food costs, gas, and campgrounds. As long as you can trim most of the fat from your RV travel costs, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy the RV lifestyle without harming your finances.