A little Research Can Save You Big Dollars.

Garth Cane is RV Lifestyle’s resident technical expert

One of the major advantages of RV vacation travel is the affordable cost of your trip. Whether you prefer the rustic camping experience or enjoy the full facilities of an RV resort, the family RV vacation can be substantially more economical than many alternatives where the family flies to a destination and stays in a motel or resort.

If you spend some time planning your trip before you hit the road, you can not only save extra money, but you can learn all about the areas you plan to travel through – on many trips, you might be surprised at how many interesting stops there may be along the route. The old adage: “getting there is half the fun” certainly applies to RV travel!

Get the whole family involved in your RV trip planning. You can go online or visit the library to find maps and guide books, and then decide on an appropriate route that allows you to visit the places and events that will add to your family’s enjoyment.

Along the route, be sure to check out the display of brochures for local attractions that you can find at rest areas and information booths. Each night, when you check into your campground, take a few minutes to ask the staff if there are any cool attractions in the area – you may decide to extend your stay to visit some of these spots. Most families return home and find out that they missed seeing something because they didn’t know it was there.

You can often save on your campground fees. There are many organizations that offer discounts on camping fees, like KOA, SKP, FMCA, and CAA. Veterans, police, fire and EMT personnel, and retired campers often receive a discount for camping through the week instead of on weekends. Here are some more tips that we’ve learned over the years:

17Do You Need Full Hookups?

If you are just stopping overnight as you travel from place to place, you probably will not need all the facilities that are provided by a destination campground, so you might save a few dollars by “dry camping” in an unserviced site.

16Entertainment on the Road

If you enjoy reading or listening to music on your RV trips, there are many campgrounds that have lending libraries in the office, “take a book-leave a book.” Before each trip, I often load up my iPad with a few books, it is cheaper to download than to purchase a book. Even paying modest prices for music downloads via the Internet saves major dollars as opposed to purchasing traditional CDs.

15Save at Campground Chains

There are membership campground organizations like Parkridge, Thousand Trails, Coast to Coast, Resort Parks International, NACO, Western Horizons, CRA and others. Do a bit of research and ask your friends if they know of any good deals for RV travelers. Passport offers 50% off at many campgrounds in their system, others like Escapees have member-owned parks across the country. Harvest Hosts is a program where you can barter for a campsite while you do some chores on a farm. Many Provincial and State Parks offer sites for Campground Hosts who can work in the office or maintain the grounds during the season. Just remember that Canadians are not allowed to work in the United States. A free campsite is considered payment for services.
National, State and Provincial Parks fill up early due to a reservation system. If these are on your schedule, be sure to obtain a Park Pass in the early spring. During the National 150 Celebration in Canada, many campgrounds were booked early.

Most campgrounds have different rates for camping sites depending on the season. Try the shoulder season for a great camping experience in the spring or fall instead of touring during the busy summer season. Campgrounds are usually very busy over holiday weekends and the cost is often higher.

14Focus on Events

Attending an RV Rally is often less expensive than paying for individual nights in a campground. You will have the comradery of meeting old friends and making new ones. Organizations like FMCA, Good Sam, and Escapees often plan rallies for four or five days, with entertainment, ice cream socials, seminars, exhibits of new coaches and accessories. These are often paired with a local event, such as the Calgary Stampede, New Orleans Mardi Gras, or NASCAR races.

13Pick your Site

Do you really need to park close to the lake? These campsites are often more expensive and may have facilities that you do not need every night, like a sewer connection and fifty-amp power. The average camper does not need to dump the contents of the black and grey tanks every day, you can dump your tanks on the way into the campground, and again when you are ready to hit the road after a four-day visit. Experienced RV’ers do not dump the tanks after the RV has been sitting overnight, because the effluent can settle to the bottom of the tank and it will be harder to flush out – sometimes it is better to wait until you reach the next campground along your route.

12Dining on the Road

Eating in fast food places like truck stops may be convenient when travelling on the super highways, but you can save quite a bit of money by eating in your RV at rest stops. You might try using paper plates for lunch and dinner. Not only are they lighter, but you don’t have to wash them. Don’t forget that eating before noon in restaurants is often less expensive than later in the day when it is busy. Many restaurants offer senior discounts if you are over 55.

11Grocery Shopping

We all know that food is expensive today. Many campgrounds have a store where you can buy essentials, but if you shop for your weekly groceries at convenience stores or roadside gas stations, prepare to spend more. After you set up your campsite, go for a drive into town, see the sights and save money by filling up your shopping cart where the locals shop.

10Water System Tips

Shower in your RV instead of feeding the coin slot is the campground shower. Remember when you are showering in the RV, you will get more water pressure if you are hooked up with a water hose. Campgrounds often have higher water pressure than the 40-psi provided by your water pump. Use the washer and dryer in the campground to clean your clothes after a day at the beach or walking in the woods, it’s amazing how many interesting people you meet while waiting for the clothes to dry. If you are using your built-in washer/dryer to clean your clothes you need to be hooked up to water and sewer connections in the camp.

9Staying in Touch

Everyone has had the experience of receiving a large cell phone bill after you return home. Before you leave be sure to contact you cell provider to ask about roaming costs and packages that will allow you extra talk and data minutes. Consider purchasing a basic phone when you are in the U.S. instead of using your smart phone. Many campgrounds have free or low-cost Wi-Fi service, so use e-mail or Messenger instead of calling. With modern television transmitters, you can usually get several stations without the cost of a satellite system on your RV.

8Save Gas

The faster you drive, the more fuel you will use. The best fuel economy is achieved at 55 mph (90 km/hr). You can lose 1 mpg for every 5 mph that you drive faster. When you are driving in the mountain areas, the road is often at an elevation of 3000 to 5000 feet. You will lose 3% of your horsepower for each 1000 feet that you climb since the motor cannot get enough oxygen from the thinner air.

Pulling a heavier load requires the engine to work harder, so it may be time to put your RV on a diet. Have you weighed your RV? Think about all the stuff that you have loaded; do you really need it all? If not, get rid of it. How much gear are you carrying that you don’t use all the time?

7Check your Tires

Correct tire inflation depends on how much weight each wheel must support. Every pound of tire underinflation causes an 0.8% loss in fuel economy and cuts tire life by 25%. Low air pressure in your tires is the greatest cause of blow-outs. Consider a membership in one of the many roadside service plans, the cost per year is much less than having to pay cash for a tow truck when you are sitting on the side of the highway.

6Gas or Diesel?

If you drive long distances and tow a heavy load, it may be worth your while to invest in a diesel-powered tow vehicle. There is a premium price to pay when you buy it, but it consumes less fuel and climbs hills easier. This will be a vehicle that you intend to use for many years. Just remember that the savings can be offset by higher costs of maintenance (like expensive oil changes). People own diesel motorhomes because they want one – not to save money. They can be expensive to service and sometimes difficult to repair when you are away from home. Gasoline engines may not be as powerful, but they will still get you there on time. Trailers seem to last forever since they have fewer things that can go wrong.

5Tow a Car

Do you need a new vehicle to tow behind your motorhome? Check to see if the car you have in your driveway can be towed – this is often possible with slight modifications. There are many used cars that still have plenty of mileage in them and will not set you back financially.

4Shop for a Gently Used RV

There is nothing wrong with purchasing a used trailer or motorhome. Good roadworthy vehicles are available from your local RV dealer. Ask your dealer about storing the RV until camping season starts, and see if they can throw in a few accessories with the purchase. When you are outfitting your new RV, think about how many times that you will use each item. Is it worth the cost of owning?

3Don’t Tell the World you are Travelling…

Digital cameras are a godsend. No longer are you restricted to 36 images on a roll of film – but wait until you get home to post your photos. Remember that posting all your photos on Facebook effectively tells everyone that you are not at home. Use email or Instagram to send the pictures off to your jealous friends instead of printing out every picture of your kids. Be sure to put your newspaper subscription on hold while you are away, and have a neighbor remove any junk mail that would wave a flag telling nosy people that your house is empty.

2Save on Souvenirs

Many museums offer free visits, but they cash in big time at the souvenir shop on the way out.

1Some Bottom Line Tips

Leave the electronic toys at home, remember that this is a family trip – a great time to spend time with your kids. Go for a walk along the shore, but enjoy a free swim in the campground pool when you get back to your campsite.

The best advice I can give to help keep the cost lower is to think about taking a shorter trip instead of a long dash across the country – spend more time in the campgrounds instead of fighting the traffic on the highway. You will spend less on fuel and be able to relax, and after all, that is why you decided to take an RV holiday!  W