Cost Savings of RVing

Posted by | All About RV’ing, RV Culture

If looking at the cost of new RV’s has you running for the exit of the dealership, stop and get out your calculator. Break down the actual costs and look at the facts and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you find. Studies have consistently shown that RVing is hundreds, if not thousands of dollars cheaper than traditional vacations where a family flies somewhere, rents a car, stays in a hotel and eats out.

Ever since the 1980’s PKF Consulting, an international consulting firm specializing in tourism and travel, has done studies to compare the cost of RVing versus non-RVing. Their 2008 study results showed that RV’ers save an average of 27 to 61 percent more than non-RV vacations. Even when factoring in RV ownership and fuel costs typical RV family vacations were significantly less expensive than other types of vacations studied.

“This study re-affirms what RVers have long known, that RV vacations deliver greater economic value compared to other types of vacations,” said Richard Coon, president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). “RV vacations continue to be the most affordable way for a family to travel because of the tremendous savings on air, hotel and restaurant costs. And these savings offset the cost of fuel.”

The Study

The PKF Consulting study analyzed a variety of costs a family would face during a three, seven, 10 or 14-day vacation. In their theoretical schedule a family of four went to popular destinations like Napa Valley, Calif., Cape Cod and the Grand Canyon. The research team looked at the top four expenses over the course of each trip.

Don’t worry. The PKF study compared apples to apples, or rather costs to costs. In a comparison of transportation costs, lodging, and the food, the numbers were surprisingly different. For instance, the study averaged the cost of hotels along the route – finding that a hotel room for four averaged $122 a night versus the $33 a night for a stay at a campground. Fuel rates for airfare compared to gasoline for a car was also significantly higher, and food – the cost of eating out at restaurants compared with fixing meals in an RV were also higher.

Fuel Cost

Believe it or not, fuel is not the biggest expense on a road trip. Lodging is. Food, vehicle payment and maintenance, are the top three expenses. Even when fuel rates increase for RV’ers they do so for the non-RV’er as well since airfares and hotel rates also go up when fuel surcharges are added to those bills.

The study was conducted in 2008, when fuel costs were averaging $3.63 a gallon. Even so, the study discovered fuel prices would have to almost triple for trips in lightweight travel trailers or folding camping trailers to be more expensive than the least expensive non-RV trip.


When hotel rooms average $110 to $120 per night, it’s hard to beat a comparative cost of $25 to $35 dollars a night for a place to stay. So, assuming an average cost of $33 a night for campground fees, a family of four traveling for 10 nights, staying in campgrounds with a folding camping trailer would save 52 percent or $2,379 over the same trip taken by car and staying in $122 a night hotels and eating out. Even if the family moved up to a Type C motorhome and a lower mile per gallon/liter average, they’d still save $1,704 or 37 percent than if they went by car.

Green to Go

Not only do RV’ers save more money, they save more waste and are better able to recycle their waste better than their non-RVing study mates. Today’s space-age technology, lightweight materials and fuel-efficient RV’s means you don’t have to have a heavy-duty truck to pull a lightweight travel trailer. Since the average RV’er travels with 2-7 other people they get more people per kilometer mileage out of their trip as well.

Hidden Value

Not only does the cost of traveling to and from a destination location cost less in an RV as compared with airline tickets, but there’s more value. There’s more time together as a family, less stress getting to and from the airport, renting a car, keeping track of luggage and eating meals out. The pace is more leisurely and you get to see more along the trip since you can pull off and spend the night on your way to your vacation destination.

Meals are eaten in, saving on food costs, and most importantly, there’s more opportunity for togetherness and family activities. You make happier memories gathered around a campfire roasting hot dogs than you do sitting at a strange fast food restaurant or airport café.

With the money you save on food, fuel and lodging you can do more on vacation. You can see more attractions, buy more souvenirs, pick up more deals on camping gear, or save for a larger RV or take another trip. Winterize your RV and spend your savings on ski-passes or equipment rental.

Even if you pocket the financial savings you can’t buy the kind of memories you have from traveling, living, camping and enjoying the great out-doors as a family.

Study Facts

In a typical 14-day or two-week vacation a family traveling in personal car, towing their folding camping trailer, staying at campgrounds, and preparing all meals in the folding camping trailer or outdoors at campsites spent $2,994.

  • A family traveling in light-duty truck/SUV, towing their travel trailer, staying at campgrounds, and preparing all meals in the trailer or outdoors at campsites spent $3,449.
  • A family traveling in a personal motorhome (Type C), staying at campgrounds, and preparing all meals in the motorhome or outdoors at campsites spent $3,937.
  • A family traveling in a personal motorhome (Type A), staying at campgrounds, and preparing all meals in the motorhome or outdoors at campsites would spend $7,038 – the only RV vacation more expensive than a non-RV trip. Researchers learned that people traveling this way felt the luxury and convenience (RV maintenance/cost) of the Type A motorhome offset the added expense.
  • A family traveling in personal car, staying at hotels/motels, and eating meals in restaurants spent $5,358.
  • A family traveling in a personal car or airline (as appropriate), staying at a rental house/condominium, and eating the majority of meals in the rental unit spent $4,884.
  • A family traveling by airline, renting a car at the destination, staying at hotels/motels, and eating meals in restaurants spent $7,187.

You don’t have to accept the study’s word for it. Do your own research and compare airline flights, hotel and the cost of fuel, food and related expenses for yourself. And don’t forget to factor in the “wow!” factor of your family gathered around a campfire rather than stranded in an airport layover for 8 hours. RVing. It’s definitely the way to go.

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