RV travel costs: real and imagined
by James K. Sayre
No longer being of the age and condition where I could imagine camping out or youth hostelling on a cross-country trip, I started investigating the notion of owning and traveling in a recreational vehicle (RV). Although I still have a traditional antipathy towards large gas-guzzling vehicles, such as SUVs, I tried to keep an open mind about RVs.
RVs come in three separate styles: Classes A, B, and C. There are also several styles of travel trailers that can be pulled by pick-up trucks and more rarely, by regular automobiles. RVs are also commonly called motorhomes.
Class A is the biggest and longest RV, having the body put on top of a large truck or bus chassis. The driver has a high unobstructed view of what is ahead of him and must depend on side view mirrors for a view of what is behind. The driver has direct access to the rest of the RV.
Class B RV is the van-conversion. Class B is the smallest RV and is the closest in size, handling and gas mileage to a standard sized automobile or van.
Class C RVs have a separate and isolated front cab. Access to the rest of the RV is through side doors.
New RVs are quite pricey, ranging from about $40,000 to $100,000 and up. Used RVs can vary in price from a couple of thousand dollars for old very used near-junkers that need lots of expert mechanical work to good used models from $20,000 to $30,000 up to much much more for lightly-used high-end models.
Costs of traveling in a RV vs. costs of driving a car and staying in motels:
RV: initial investment of $20,000 to $30,000. Also, insurance (collision, comprehensive and liability), gasoline (lower mpg than cars), commercial RV campgrounds ($20 to $30/night), state parks and national parks, much less, a kitty-reserve of say #5,000 for unexpected RV repairs while traveling and when you get home, a RV storage lot fee of around $200/month, unless you live in the country or suburbia where you have a large driveway or can legally leave the RV parked on the street for long time periods.
Car: a complete checkup by a reputable mechanic before leaving on a long trip, will probably run a couple of hundred dollars.
All in all, it sounds like a very pricey investment. $20,000 will cover about six months of traveling in car with nightly sleepovers in motels. The least expensive chain motels charge about $40/night for a single. This would leave about $60/day for food, gas and other expenses. Plus, at the end of you travels you won't have a big RV cluttering up your driveway or the neighborhood.
Also, if one of the points of traveling is to have new and different experiences, how is sleeping in the same RV bed night after night and cooking on the same RV stove and showering in the same RV shower enhancing the new and different experiences. It's kind of like bringing your kitchen sink when you pack for traveling, but with an RV you have an RV kitchen sink along with you instead of you home kitchen sink.
Of course, some folks sell their houses and live inside of an RV and travel around the country and become "snowbirds" in the winter and north-bound birds in the summertime. Full-timers can them amortize the RV costs vs. home mortgages and home repair costs and may even come out ahead.
If you have pets, it may be much easier to travel with them in an RV rather than try to sneak them into a motel or even a campground.
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Web page last updated on 17 April 2006.