Cost of Full-time RVing

Every now and then, I’ll receive an email or comment asking what it costs to RV full-time?  I know a lot of people are either curious for the sake of general curiosity or because they have a genuine interest in the lifestyle. Seems folks either think you need to have a lot of money to travel full-time, or they think you’re down and destitute and the lifestyle barely costs anything. With that said, full-time RVing can be as expensive or inexpensive as you choose. It’s all about personal preference.

Lake Havasu State Park Arizona

The first thing to consider when it comes to breaking down monthly costs is the type of  RV you have (or will have), and whether or not you’ll have a  monthly payment or pay cash for the equipment. The next considerations are how often you travel, where you park, and the activities you do in the places you visit.

Budgeting for full-time RVing is a very personal thing with lots of variables, and one size does not fit all. I’ve put together a general list of items most RVers can expect to pay to sustain the nomadic life of full-time RVing.

Budgeting list

  • Camping Fees
  • Gasoline and Propane
  • Groceries and dining out
  • Phone and Internet
  • RV / vehicle maintenance and repairs (perhaps a monthly payment)
  • RV / vehicle Insurance and registrations
  • Mail service – domicile
  • Clothing, shoes, personal items
  • Storage facility
  • Medical expenses and health insurance
  • Membership fees
  • Entertainment
  • Miscellaneous – pets, alcohol, hair cuts, etc. Depending on your interests and habits you might have other costs I haven’t thought of or that don’t pertain to us.

Full-time RVing

Monthly expenses

Camping Fees – Similar to living in a fixed location, you need to consider monthly rent. There are quite a few options available. There are people who boondock year-round and only pay small fees to dump their holding tanks and take on fresh water. A bunch of RVers enjoy workamping in exchange for a free place to park, and then there are others who enjoy all the amenities of a RV Park and budget accordingly.

egretIf you boondock (camping on public lands with no facilities) or you work camp (volunteer at a campground, State Park, National Forest, Wildlife Refuge) in exchange for a free campsite, your camping costs can be zero.

Private RV Parks can range on average between $300 to $900 a month. On the other hand, those looking to splurge might pay upwards of $1,800 or more a month for a fancy resort-style RV Park. Location and amenities are the major factors in such a fluctuation of fees.

Al and I tried work camping once and didn’t find the risk/reward to be worthwhile for us personally. Be sure and do your homework and know what you’re signing up for when you agree to work camp (aka workamp which is a trademark of Workamper News ). The thought of a free campsite is enticing, but do the math and understand the physical demands! Plus ask yourself, “Is this a place we would gladly pay to stay? Is it worth the risk for the reward gained?”

Let’s do the math …. Many state parks now charge about $30 a night (or more). If you were to stay a month, the cost would be $900 for the month (30 days times $30). If you decide working in exchange for a campsite would be ideal, keep in mind these state parks require couples to work 20 hours a week – per person. Thus, between the couple it’s 40 hours a week or 160 hours a month. (Two people for the price of one campsite. A single person would be required to work 20 hours for the same campsite. If you ever wonder why parks prefer couples, you just got your answer. ) So back to the math …. $900 a month divided by 160 work hours = $5.60 an hour per person. For an individual it would be $11.25 an hour ($900 divided by 80 monthly hours).

Colorado wildflowersSome folks love volunteering and don’t care about the numbers, while others are dealing with long-term injuries incurred while work camping.

In lieu of work camping, Al and I manage our monthly rent budget by utilizing a combination of options. When we stay in a private RV Park we go for a monthly stay or at the very least, weekly. The monthly rate is always the most economical.

Daily rates are usually the most expensive unless you’re able to utilize a discount membership rate through an organization like Escapees or Passport America. The nightly discounted rates quite often apply for one night only and are not available on weekends or holidays, but each park is different. So be sure and call ahead for clarification. We’ve actually stayed at places up to three nights at the discounted rate.

We love staying at National Parks, National Forest Campgrounds, and Corp of Engineer Parks, all run by the Federal Government. With Al’s old fart’s card (America the Beautiful Senior Pass), we usually pay half of the nightly fee. There are also special benefits for military personal, veterans, and the disabled. We love those discounts, but not all federal places offer the special discounted rates. As the government turns over the managing of these campgrounds to private management companies, these companies are given free rein to charge what they want and to honor or not honor any special passes. We’ve even noticed these private companies charging higher camping fees for holiday weekends.

State Parks and Regional Parks are always a campers delight, but too many nights at a rate of $30 – $60 a night can really put a crimp in anyone’s budget. This is when a little boondocking (aka dispersed camping) can help off set those monthly expenditures, but dispersed camping is definitely more work and requires much more forethought living off the grid and is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.

As you can see, there are so many camping options with a wide range of fees. It took Al and me well over a year of full-time RVing to find our groove, but that doesn’t mean we don’t change it up on a whim and end up throwing the budget out the door, but we always end up back on track.

Since Al and I enjoy the diversity of private RV Parks, state parks, regional parks, and boondocking, by mixing things up in 2017, we managed to keep our monthly rental expenditure under $400 a month. This works for us, and we feel we handled our campground budget well in ’17.

Next on our list

Gasoline and Propane – Gasoline is entirely dependent on how much we travel and the price per gallon we pay. Obviously this number can fluctuate a lot, and it’s something we have no control over other than to drive less when gas prices sky-rocket. But what fun is that?

gas prices in Death Valley

gas prices – February 2012 in Death Valley …. ouch!

Propane use also varies depending on how cold the weather gets, and thus how much we use the furnace. We also use propane for cooking and our refrigerator when we’re not hooked-up to electric. If the weather is cold and I’m baking a lot, then our propane will need to be filled more often. Propane prices also fluctuate.

Last year, we spent about $125 on propane (for the entire year) and an average of about $325 a month for gasoline. Not too bad, but we did slow our travels in 2017. With the exception of our winter excursion to the Texas Gulf Coast, we spent most of the year meandering around the state of Arizona. In previous years, we traveled further with trips to Idaho, Wyoming, Texas, Illinois and all parts in between. In 2016 we spent around $350 a month on gasoline and in 2015 it was closer to $410 a month.

Farmer's Market

Groceries and dining out – We find these costs to be very similar to what we used to spend living in our sticks and bricks home. We don’t go out to eat very often, but when we do, it’s usually to socialize or learn more about an area. We enjoy looking for local places that offer lunch specials or visit a local brewery or winery.

Part of the fun of traveling is exploring new places which includes local farmers markets, dining out at local restaurants, and meeting new friends. Connecting with fellow bloggers is always so much fun. And not all my blogging pals RV and yet we seem to have a lot in common. One (of many) upsides to a nomadic life is the people we meet.

Phone and Internet – Staying connected is vital to us. I have an iPhone 5, Al has a dumb flip phone, and we have a Verizon hotspot with 30 Gigabytes of data. If we’re not careful by monitoring our daily gig usage, we can easily gobble up those 30 gigs in a couple of weeks. Therefore, we’re currently shopping around for other plans, including the unlimited ones.

This subject makes my head spin and again there are so many variables. I know RVers who spend around $100 a month for phone and internet while others spend well over $300 a month. It just depends on your needs.

To be continued …

In my next post, we’ll work our way down the rest of that budgeting list 🤑

sunset over Lake Havasu

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56 thoughts on “Cost of Full-time RVing

  1. Thank you for the post! Making plans for going full-time for awhile, but hubby will have to work for a bit longer. Trying to get as much info as possible about costs (excluding repairs, of course) and less-expensive places to stay.

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  2. Very informative post on full-time expenses!!
    We are kinda like Laurel, right now we are unable to keep camping expenses at $400. Hopefully we will soon be able to choose differently! Where we had to stay due to medical for me and PT for Mike ( last year) was $670.00 a month. That was for a state park which is what we love!!
    Your post offered great thoughts and advice!!!

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    • Thanks Gerri. Actually $670 a month for a state park is a deal. And yes, when there’s medical issues, we have to find available places to park long term which isn’t always kind on the budget, but at least you found a place that you enjoyed. We’ll stay at private RV Parks even though that’s not usually our preferred, but the location and price make it worthwhile…. plus we do enjoy those full hook-ups.

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  3. Yes, the expenses of RVing are enormously variable!
    I’m impressed that you kept your camping fees to around $400 a month last year. We stay mostly in state parks/county parks/national parks, but unfortunately, those often aren’t the cheapest option (well, national parks are a deal with the senior pass). As you mentioned, staying in a private park for a monthly fee would be less expensive. That doesn’t work with our travel plans at this point, but someday…

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    • We love staying in state parks, county and national parks as well, and do so when we move around a fair amount. 2017 and again in ’18, we’re not traveling as much, partly by choice and partly due to obligations. So that’s when we utilize those monthly rates… not nearly as fun as moving around exploring 😊

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    • Anytime you have a question or are curious about something, please feel free to email me. We had intended to live in the RV a year or two and then move back into a sticks and bricks house. Well, here we are five years later and still meandering about in the RV. It can be an addictive lifestyle.

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      • Yes, we’re doing great. I spent so much time going places last year I didn’t really get much time to work on the project house. So I am putting in lots of time this year on the house and haven’t been blogging. Sadly we had two hard frosts and all,of the landscaping I did last year died. For now, we’re focusing on the structure. One of these days, I’ll do a quick update on where we are on the house 😉😜

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  4. A great post Ingrid, and interesting to see both the differences, and the similarities to travelling full time in an RV in Australia. Originally only I read your posts, now Paul often opens your posts from the email alerts before I’ve even noticed the email. If you knew Paul, you’d realise how much of a compliment to both your writing and your content that is. Anyway I digress – looking forward to this article being continued…..

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    • Well, thank you for the compliment. I’m humbled. I would imagine there would be similarities to RVing around the world. I think the major difference would be land availability. It’s awesome and entertaining following folks like yourselves RVing on the other side of the world.

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  5. What a helpful post for those considering the lifestyle. I often wondered what you did about internet access. I chuckled at the flip phone description. Haven’t seen one of those for a while I admit!

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    • Believe it or not, Al’s flip phone is less than two years old. He had to replace it when his ten year old flip phone finally died. We were surprised he was able to get a similar phone at Verizon. Yeah, internet is probably our most frustrating aspect to full-time RVing. We make it work though!

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  6. Very good one! I’ll be sharing. One thing, I think the “Gone with the Wynn’s” posted before we went full time, that it costs about the same – life in a sticks and bricks to on the road – unless you decide to take some drastic cost cutting measures. Such as lots of boon docking or work camping. That has been about true for us. We might be living a teeny bit cheaper because we do try to keep our nightly stays to around $20/night average. We’ve never boondocked – but we’re mainly east coasters. We use Passport America (which is popular on the east coast) when moving between sites when our future locations are beyond our preferred 200 miles. And we do weekly to monthly whenever we can to save as well as use our America the Beautiful Senior pass (and in Florida State Parks, Bill’s old age driver’s license for 1/2 price).

    Also, want to add in about Verizon. Someone else told me they did this so I did and now I have passed it along to others. We had the 18 GB plan which was not enough. It was painful. So I called them and said, “AT&T is hounding us to switch over since we have DirectTV. How will you keep us as a customer?” They said would you like an unlimited data plan? So this is how we ended up. I now have unlimited LTE on my iPhone which has an unlimited hotspot! It never throttles back. BUT I have a MIFI and it is also unlimited LTE but it throttles back at 15 GB (or MB?). My husband uses the MIFI for his Chromebook and I pretty much just use my iPhone for my Macbook. It’s been working great for us now for about 5 months. But it’s still about the same cost. Somehow I haven’t been able to find the time to keep our blog more current. Oh well, that’s a good thing, means we are having too much fun to blog!

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    • Interesting info on your data. I’m still kind of conflicted on what to do which is why we haven’t made any changes. I’ll be doing more research. I’m so surprised you’re able to find parks at $20 a night because you stay at some nice places, places I would like. Thanks for your input!

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      • Just call Verizon and ask if that deal is available for you! You don’t have to accept but I will say I was skeptical.
        The last two beach locations on the Gulf of Mexico we blogged about were 1/2 price discounts. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park is $45/night but with our Florida residency and Bill’s old age ID, it was $22.50/night. Florida also doubles their winter prices, except state parks. Theirs are year around prices. The next place was in the National Seashore Islands Park, Fort Pickens. That price doubled from last year! It’s now $40/night but with our America the Beautiful Senior Pass, it was $20/night. But no sewer which is a bit irksome! It was worth $10 without sewer. Oh well, it was still fabulous!

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  7. Always enjoy your blog! You may remember we have the same pickup (only it’s an extended cab) and RV as you and were in the same campground in Idaho a couple of years ago 🙂 I would love to hear some tips on space saving in your RV as we have the same exact RV. We do love it, it is the perfect size for two people. I love those command hooks, but in the extreme heat where we live in northern California (when the RV is just sitting until our next trip) the command strips tends to become less sticky. I have gone through and minimized our kitchen items. Where do you keep your laundry, in the wardrobe, in the closet where a TV goes or below….or in the shower. I’m always trying to find the right place for it. And shoes?? I keep our linens to a minimum. Did you put additional shelving in your pantry? I don’t think you answered these questions in another blog cause I did look around. We want to take a chair out and replace with a small desk as you did. I feel the corner cabinet above the TV has a lot of wasted space, did you do something there that is more functional? So many questions, sorry.

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    • Thanks Kathleen, and yes I remember we have the same RV. We use the bedroom TV cabinet as our ‘laundry room’. Below that cabinet is our shoe (and my purses) cupboard. We put a free standing shoe shelf in there. Above the TV in the living area, hubby added a shelf – huge help with storage. In the pantry, Al added a shelf for my spices. I LOVE my rear desk and we closed off the side narrow window and have a rack for files and books. Hmm, perhaps this is blog worthy. Ok, you convinced me to do a photo tour and post on our RV. Guess I got some serious cleaning in my future 😄

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  8. Great post, useful info for those who are considering the rv lifestyle. Sometimes I can’t believe I’m fortunate to live this lifestyle. The friendships we’ve made, the sites we’ve seen, the food we’ve tasted have made for the best times in our lives. I can’t imagine living any other way for years to come.

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    • It is an addictive lifestyle. That’s probably why Al and I can’t commit to finding a home base … probably cause we don’t want one 😄 Here’s to many more years of fun, food, and friends!

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  9. Very interesting post, Ingrid. I like reading about how other people “budget”. It sounds like you found a nice balance when it comes to where and how to spend the nights. Your fuel prices, is that for one truck or two? I seem to remember you had two cars, but maybe I’m wrong. Great lifestyle! 🙂

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    • Last year, my little truck was in our sons garage for two months, other than that, the fuel costs were for both vehicles. When we’re sitting stationary like we’ve done in Phoenix and Prescott, the diesel truck doesn’t get driven much and we use the more fuel efficient Toyota Tacoma for daily use. I know a lot of people don’t like to budget, but I find it a challenge and hope to get our expenditures down even further this year. We’ll see how I do as I compete with myself 😃

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  10. Ingrid, thanks for another great post for RV’ers! Love the gas prices from 2012. When we traveled to Alaska in 2013 the Canadian dollar was worth more than the US dollar and diesel costs were sky high. We paid $6.00 a gallon in Dawson City, Just our luck, we picked an expensive year to go to Alaska. No regrets, though.

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  11. On the internet front, we finally switched from our 30 gb plan to unlimited with Verizon last fall. Best thing we ever did. With a hotspot, and two phones we can hotspot, we pretty much have 45 gbs of unthrottled 4g for the same amount of money. The phones may or may not get slowed after 22gbs depending on tower usage. I like to listen to Spotify radio and can easily do that with my phone hooked up to the speakers in the RV. Do you have an iPhone? They will hook directly to the TV through an HDMI cable and you can stream that way. With an adapter. We ended up getting an iPad for cheap and adding that to the plan so we could stream with it. That type of usage doesn’t get slowed unless you maybe hit the 22gbs and are on a crowded tower.

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    • Ah, thank you so much Mary for this information. Extremely helpful! I do have an iPhone and iPad. I had heard rumblings early on (when Verizon first introduced the unlimited plan) that Verizon was throttling at about 10 gigs. Glad to hear that isn’t the case. I see a change in our future very soon. Thanks again 😊

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    • If you’re unlucky and get throttled down to 22 GB on your “unlimited” 45 GB, it appears to be a worse deal than your previous 30 GB plan. The term “unlimited” is more a marketing gimmick than reality, unfortunately. Also, with any T-Mobile plan, Spotify, YouTube, Netflix, Pandora, … are free (not using your data), so streaming doesn’t cost you anything.

      While Verizon’s coverage used to be so much better than T-Mobile in the past, this seems to have improved, as we have had coverage in most boondock places we stayed at this month. We spend $20 a month for an “unlimited” 5 GB plan with LTE. We only have one phone. Note: this plan is not available anymore.

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  12. What an informative post, Ingrid. Your logic, organization, and answered questions are a joy, and I had a few little giggles too (dumb crossover especially). Full time RVing has a romantic appeal to so many of us, thank you for laying out the budget and your experiences. I look forward to the rest.

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    • For any nature lover, RVing is a fantastic way to travel. With the kind of travels you and Athena have done and enjoy doing, I think you two would really enjoy it. You should consider renting a RV for your next epic adventure. I even know someone who’d be more than happy to point you in the right direction 😉

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  13. We have been asked this many times. We compare it to living in a house…pros and cons. Many people like the idea of no property tax or mowing a lawn. Good job Ingrid.

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    • Yep, there really is very little difference between RVing full-time and living in a stationary dwelling … pros and cons to both. There’s no perfect scenario in life. I do enjoy my ever changing backyard!

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  14. Excellent summary. My husband and I switched last year from going home in a few days to taking a very long time heading home to Canada (from Florida) and staying two nights at national campgrounds that are cheap and nice and only traveling 200-300 miles on traveling days. We found not only is the trip a lot less stressful, plus on the no travel days we can do fun stuff, but it spreads all the gas costs involved in travel over a much longer period of time. It doesn’t really cost us any less, but it is spread over two pension pay periods instead of one so it feels like a lot less. Plus moving every two days means dumping at just the right spacing for our unit if we are showering in to. It took us six years of RVing to figure that perfect rhythm traveling (for us) out. You never stop learning I guess.

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    • No, we never stop learning OR changing for that matter. Totally agree with keeping those travel days under X amount of miles. Makes the journey that much more enjoyable and is a tad easier on the budget. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. 🙂

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  15. We like to boondock a lot and our average cost per night has been right around $5 for the last couple of years. You are right when you say boondocking is not for everyone but we really enjoy it. The rest of your categories seem right in line with our expenses. The “miscellaneous” category is the one that really get us buying hunting and fishing licenses and other toys!

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    • Yeah, those miscellaneous expenses can really bust a budget, but this lifestyle is all about fun and experiences making it all worthwhile. We may start boondocking more if we once get solar. It’s a subject we’ve been tossing around more and more. I enjoy boondocking more than Al probably because of photography. I love immersing myself in nature.

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    • Hopefully the post will be helpful to those friends considering the lifestyle. It certainly isn’t for everyone, and I’m so glad we spent two years part-timing before going full-time.

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        • A week here, a week there and then a six week road trip. The deciding trip to go full-time was a 4 month winter southwest (we lived in Colorado at the time) excursion and when we returned ‘home’ we didn’t want that trip to end. The next day we made plans to move into the RV full-time.

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