One of the big questions about living full-time on the road is “How much does it cost?”. When I was researching RV living, this was one of my biggest concerns. Would I be able to afford it, and would I actually end up saving money over living in an apartment? I spent hours trying to find an exact budget and breakdown, but back in 2017 when I hit the road, I was only able to find one blog post with this information.
That post was from a couple who traveled in a very large RV and stayed in RV parks. Their budget was much higher than I wanted to spend. It made me quite nervous that between nightly stays, maintenance, gas and regular living expenses, I wouldn’t be able to afford full-time RV life, even with a full-time job.
In 2017, I decided to take a different route and lived in AirBnBs for 8 months (more on that budget in a later post). After that, I purchased an Airstream Basecamp and jumped into RV life. Both ways of travel have their pros and cons, and both can either be quite expensive or rather affordable.
So in answer to the question, RV life can cost, well… it varies greatly. There can be fewer fixed expenses when traveling, which is an amazing benefit as it provides the opportunity to spend as little or as much as you want. Some months I tend to focus on saving and spending less. Other months I’m ready to take tours, drive across many states, go to events, stay at RV parks, and just watch those dollar signs rack up.
Below is a sample budget worksheet of all the expenses that I have from living on the road. Keep reading past the worksheet for details of each category. Depending on how you decide to travel, the type of RV, used vs. new, etc. will all impact your overall RV budget. Overall, RV life costs me between $2,000-$4,000 per month.
Whether you are staying in an RV Park, boondocking out in nature, or camped in a parking lot, every night you need to find a place to park the RV and lay your head. This can be one of your smallest or largest expenses, depending upon your travel lifestyle and preferences.
If you plan to stay in RV parks, prices range from $15 up to over $100 for a night. These prices depend on the location as well as the amenities at the RV park. If you stay for longer periods of time, you may be able to get a weekly or monthly rate. For example, when I visited Austin, I stayed at a park on the south side of the city for a month. I was able to get a monthly rate of $750 versus paying $60 per night (that’s a $1,050 savings). You can also find RV parks in more rural locations for even cheaper monthly rates.
I also use discount clubs such as Passport America, to receive nightly discounts. With their membership card, you will save 50% off certain campsites. My first two nights in a RV park paid for the membership itself with the savings.
Personally, I enjoy boondocking for the peace and quiet as well as for how cheap it is. Many National Forests and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) areas have free dispersed camping. I use a few different apps to find these spots, and spend majority of my time there. (See how I find campsites here).
In 2018, I spent most of my time boondocking, with an occasional RV park stay. This totaled $1,669 on campgrounds for the entire year. To give an example, I stayed at the Bozeman Hot Springs Resort for about a week, and spent $500 on just that one site.
If you are able to travel debt free, or purchase your RV in cash, that’s great! Otherwise, there are financing options out there to purchase your RV or vehicle. Make sure to include any monthly payments into your budget.
Insurance & Registration
You will need to pay for insurance and registration for both your RV as well as any vehicle you may bring along. Each state has different costs and requirements. Some states even charge an annual vehicle tax which would need to be taken into account.
In regards to insurance, if you are living full-time in your RV, it may be beneficial to look for a “full-timers” insurance package. I have one, as this provides additional coverage beyond that of a regular RV insurance policy. Some examples are further property coverages to protect my belongings, as well as liability coverage in the event someone is injured near my RV. This type of insurance does cost more than regular RV insurance, so be sure to call around for different quotes.
Maintenance – RV & Truck
Each of your vehicles will have a regular maintenance schedule. Whether this is oil changes on the truck, or repacking the wheel bearings on the RV, maintenance costs will come up. Thankfully, each vehicle has a maintenance schedule associated with it, so you can estimate out what this may cost.
Repairs – RV & Truck
Oh the dreaded repairs! You never know when these will come up, or how much they will cost. I purchased the 4Runner and Airstream Basecamp brand new, partially to take advantage of the warranties that they came with and in the hope of reducing overall repairs. In 3 years on the road, the 4Runner has yet to need any type of repair (outside of regular maintenance). The Basecamp has needed a few items (full details here), but thankfully majority of that was covered under warranty.
It’s good to budget a certain amount for “repairs”. I started my budget out at $200 each month. If you end up not having to fix anything, just take the extra money and put it into your emergency savings fund to tap into later. If you ever run into a large repair, you will be thankful you did!
Fuel / Gas
This is another highly variable, and potentially either low or very high budget category. When I first hit the road, I wanted to see as much as I could, as quickly as I could. I traveled over 30,000 miles in just the first year on the road. At 14-18 MPG, this adds up very quickly!
Since then, I have started to stay in one state for longer, and spend more time thoroughly exploring the area. Not only do you tend to find hidden gems this way, you also save a lot more on gas.
To add gas into your budget, estimate the number of miles you are thinking of driving in the year, and divide that figure by the MPG rating of your vehicle (make sure to use the MPG while towing). Then multiply this by the average cost of gas in the area you will be traveling in. State to state varies greatly. For example, I just crossed the border from New Mexico into Colorado, and gas jumped up by $0.80!
In 2018, I spent $2,590 on gas, or an average of $216 per month.
Propane costs will vary greatly based on your RV, what weather you are in, as well as how much you spend in RV parks versus boondocking. Depending on your RV, certain appliances will run off of propane. In my Airstream Basecamp, the two burner gas stove, fridge and heater/hot water unit all run off propane. Since I boondock majority of the time, I rely on propane to run these appliances instead of electric, in order to save my battery life.
Therefore, I go through propane much faster boondocking than if I was staying in a RV park with full electric hookups. In addition, when I camp in cooler weather, I run the heater a lot more. If you plan to cold weather camp, make sure to budget even more for propane.
The Airstream Basecamp has two 5-lb propane tanks which I fill once to twice per month depending on the weather. It typically costs between $35-40 each time I fill both tanks.
The other expense that comes with boondocking is paying for RV dumps. If you were to camp in full hookup RV parks all the time, you wouldn’t need to worry about this extra expense. However, as a boondocker, I must find either a public dump or pay a private RV park, such as a KOA, to let me dump and fill my tanks there.
I dump and fill my tanks every one to two weeks. The cost to dump ranges from $0-$25 depending on the location.
Internet Hot Spots
Working full-time, I must have reliable and constant internet. My setup (full details can be found here) contains a wifi hot spot from both Verizon and AT&T.
My Verizon hotspot is a plan through FMCA in which I receive 25GB of data each month for $50. The last time I checked, that deal was still available.
My AT&T plan is, unfortunately, no longer available. I have one of the grandfathered unlimited plans. However, AT&T still has a wide variety of hot spot plans that are available. You can find great information on the different options through the Mobile Internet Resource Center.
Don’t forget to build the cost of your monthly cell phone bill into your budget. If you are able to get a cell phone with a higher data allowance, this will help cut down on the data need in your internet hot spot plans. This may allow you to get a lower GB hotspot data plan, and save some money.
Mail Forwarding Service
In order to get your mail on the road, you’ll need to sign up for a mail forwarding service. There are a variety of options out there, so you can shop around for the best deal. I use a company based in Austin, TX. Their service is great, as they scan all of my mail in each day. I receive it via their app, and can request it to either be shredded or forwarded on to the address of my choice (for an additional fee).
This service costs me about $200-$300 per year, depending on how much mail I have forwarded.
Thankfully I don’t run into tolls very often. However, if you plan to travel near major cities, you’ll definitely want to think about the cost of tolls. I average only about $30 per year in tolls. However, when traveling near places such as NYC, this would be much higher.
Clean laundry requires a trip to the local laundromat, or using the laundry machines available at RV parks. In both cases, each load of laundry will cost you money. This can vary based on how often you wash your clothes (hint: wool clothing goes a lot longer without smelling!), and how quickly the pet hair piles up on your sheets requiring a good wash.
Some laundromats are also quite expensive, and I can walk out of a laundromat spending over $20 to just do my laundry.
For this expense category, I average $20-$40 per month.
While on the road, I find that I spend about the same on groceries as I did when living in an apartment. I still cook majority of my meals in the Airstream Basecamp, and only eat out a couple of times a week, if that. This helps to keep costs down, as going out to eat can be much more expensive.
When I’m in a new town, it’s always great to step out and try some local cuisine. I typically lean towards the food trucks or small family restaurants. For me, that means a meal out can be between $15-$30 for just myself. There’s also some nights where I just don’t feel like cooking, and those are the days we may end up with Pizza Hut to-go.
I really try to keep this to a minimum, but do find that on travel days I tend to eat out a lot more. Therefore, when I’m traveling at slower speeds, I also tend to spend less money on eating out.
Jasper and Napoleon eat… a lot. Once I started paying attention to my monthly budget, I realized just how expensive dog and cat food are. Jasper eats about 4-5 cups of food per day, and Napoleon goes through about a bag of food per month. Overall, their food costs me typically $100 each month.
Another pretty large pet expense is the cat litter. When I used traditional litter, I tended to change it every week or so, in order to keep the smells down in the RV. At about $14 per box, that adds up quickly over the month. Recently I have switched to the Breeze litter system, which costs a lot less to maintain.
Both Jasper and Napoleon require annual vet visits, for a regular checkup as well as rabies vaccines. In addition, it’s good to budget for accidents or illness for the pets as well.
For example, last year when I was near Phoenix, AZ, Jasper’s stomach got very upset. I was taking him out to the bathroom every hour. After a day of severe diarrhea we visited the local vet. With the cost of the vet visit, tests, and prescriptions, we walked out the door with a bill of over $100.
I pay monthly for health insurance for Jasper in the event of any large injuries, such as pulled muscles or broken bones. Since I’ve paid for it since he was a puppy, he also has coverage for hip dysplasia.
This costs me $45 per month.
Tours & Events
Since you are out traveling, fit some tours and events into the budget. I’ve found that it’s great to be able to jump on a white water rafting or boating tour without having to worry about the cost. I also enjoy going to Xscaper convergences, so ensure those are added into my budget.
Sometimes the pets can’t always come along. Once in awhile I do need to fly into the office for work. Other-times, I may be on an all day hike or tour, and need someone to check on the animals. I use Rover to find pet sitters with great reviews in the area I’m visiting. When I was in Charlotte, I even hired a pet sitter to come to the RV park to walk Jasper during the day while I was at work in the office.
Just as you would go to the store to buy new clothes or products, you’ll also do this on the road. The benefit of living in an RV, however, is that you have less space to fit more items! I did find when I first hit the road, I spent a lot more in the shopping category than normal. I ended up learning I needed different items on the road, such as headlamps and camping gear. Once I stocked up on everything I needed, the monthly shopping budget did level off to a point which was much lower than when I lived in an apartment. I found I would shop for clothes and new items a lot less than before.
Even on the road, there are monthly subscriptions to pay for. I have a Garmin InReach Explorer+ which provides satellite communication when I’m out of signal. This is a $11 monthly subscription plus an annual fee.
I am also an Escapees member, which allows me to go to the Xscaper convergences. This is $40 annual fee.
Some apps I use also require annual subscriptions, such as AllTrails.
One subscription which is common for RVers is a gym membership. I used to be a member of Planet Fitness. This is a great tool if you want to head into the gym to workout or take nice long hot showers. I paid for the membership for a few months but then found that the places I camp typically aren’t close to Planet Fitness locations. Therefore, it wasn’t worth the cost to me and I canceled it.
I receive health insurance through my full-time job, and the bi-weekly cost comes directly out of my paycheck. Therefore, I don’t budget for health insurance since it is taken out prior to my take home pay. However, if you are planning to leave your job to travel full-time, shop around for health insurance quotes. This can be a very high monthly expense that you need to build in.
Although annual appointments may be covered under health insurance, those extra trips to the doctor or urgent care may not be. While traveling you never know what you may encounter. From animals to poisonous plants to different flus and illnesses, there’s potential you may need to call a doctor.
Thankfully in the three years on the road I have not needed any additional visits. However, I do deposit each month into my Health Savings Account in order to have a safety net in the event something does occur.
Prescriptions / Vitamins
Don’t forget to budget in any monthly prescriptions or vitamins that you regularly take.
As mentioned above, you never know when an unexpected maintenance or healthcare bill will pop up. Budgeting a certain amount every month to put into an emergency fund is a great way to prepare for those unexpected bills. Hopefully you won’t have to dig into the fund, but if something bad happens, you’ll be thankful that you have some money set aside.
Investments / 401K
Even while traveling, it’s great to plan for retirement. Whether you use a company sponsored 401K plan or create your own 401K or IRA, it’s beneficial to save for the future.
Although I’m traveling full-time already, I’m looking forward to retirement so I don’t have to balance work + travel!
Finally, include any outstanding monthly debt payments into your budget. This could include student loans, credit card debt, etc.
Another thing to keep in mind, is that there could be a lot of one-time costs while traveling on the road. For example, I purchased the WeBoost OTR Signal Booster to help boost my internet hot spot signal. That was a $500 antenna that I hadn’t budgeted for, but decided it was important to ensure I could work.
I also upgraded to lithium batteries, installed a 2000W inverter, and upgraded the battery and solar controller in order to make boondocking easier. This was several thousand dollars in upgrades in order to support staying off-grid and saving money while boondocking.
When you are first hitting the road, do some research on the larger items you may need to purchase or upgrade in your RV. Whether you build this into your initial cost of the RV, or save up for these overtime, they are an important item to budget for.
Overall, RV life costs me about $2,000-$4,000 per month. It all depends on what type of events I decide to partake in, how far I decide to travel, and if I’m staying in RV parks or out boondocking. RV life can be adapted to fit a wide variety of budgets and lifestyles, all with the right planning and budgeting.