Budgeting Tips for Your RV Trip

Study-after-study on vacation cost comparisons confirms RVing is the most affordable way to vacation with families getting 50 to 80 percent more for their money than other means of travel. This should come as no surprise. Since RVs provide transportation, lodging, and meals in one package, you control most costs and seldom find hidden surprises. Planning Pays Off Planning the details of your RV trip in advance is always wise. That way you know the location of quality restaurants, top notch RV parks and campgrounds, and interesting attractions in a given area. You'll know if there is a special festival or event that you might want to attend. Since northern area parks sometimes close during winter, and attractions' hours of operation may vary throughout the year, planning ahead ensures that you won't turn up at a place that's closed, wasting precious time and money. State and Canadian provincial tourism departments are eager to let you know what their area has to offer vacationers. Most have booklets providing descriptions of attractions, accommodations, and restaurants found in all corners of their state or province, plus phone numbers of city chambers of commerce. Guides to hunting, fishing, state parks, and calendars of events are other freebies. Most states and provinces will send their official highway map. Calls to most tourism departments are toll free, and you can find their numbers in every Woodall's Campground Directory. While on the road, always stop at welcome centers. You'll find friendly hosts eager to hand out tons of information. After contacting the state or province you want to visit, write to the cities you'll visit for more detailed information. Address your request to a particular city's chamber of commerce. Tell them specifically what interests you and ask for brochures on attractions and campgrounds. Are you into museums, theaters, natural wonders, history, zoos? Do you enjoy industrial tours or attending special events? Let them know so they can help you plan. Be sure to inquire if they have a city map they could send you. Contact states and cities a few months ahead of your trip since they usually send material via third class mail. If you're headed to the national parks and monuments, write to their superintendents several weeks in advance. Advise them what type of activities you prefer such as hiking, camping, or listening to ranger talks. Tell them when you'll visit and request a special events schedule. Ask for brochures on any attractions they have. Budgeting For Rental Fees The biggest investment in your RV/camping rental vacation is the price of renting an RV. Depending on the season and dealership, most motorhomes rent from $70 to $170 per day. Truck campers and travel trailers average $50 to $120 a day. Costs vary from dealer to dealer including cleaning and sanitation fees, generator rental fees, propane usage fee, insurance, and mileage charges after your free mileage allotment. Depending on what type of RV you choose, your trip can be a very affordable vacation. The best way to save money on these charges is to do a cost comparison between dealers. Ask each dealer what the basic charges and any miscellaneous charges are. Compare apples with apples instead of apples with oranges. How many free miles does each dealer supply? What is his basic charge? If a dealer gives 100 free miles in a week but charges substantially more than a second dealer who doesn't provide free miles for a similar unit, figure out which is the better deal. Planning Your Food Budget The easiest way to save on food on an RV trip is to use your well-equipped galley for at least 75% of your meals. You'll find ovens, refrigerators, three or four burner ranges, and often microwaves in today's rentals making cooking easy and convenient. Many dealers offer livability kits including everything from pots and pans to cooking and eating utensils. While eating out in restaurants is a necessity when vacationing in a hotel or motel, it can be viewed as a fun "once in a while" treat when taking a RV/camping vacation. Further cost savings options are to purchase cooking supplies from the local discount store, take them from home, or if you vacation near friends or relatives borrowing from them. If you want to shop smart for your groceries, shop at discount grocery stores or large supermarkets. Convenience stores are just what their name implies -convenient when you run out of something. Their sometimes higher prices are the cost of that convenience. Make a list of what you need to purchase so you don't waste miles running back to the store for forgotten items. Everyday common sense prevails when grocery shopping away from home. Most grocery stores run specials and print coupons in newspapers on Thursdays and Sundays. Many markets also have racks of discount coupons. Since stores vary widely in pricing on the same foods in a single area, ask campground management the best stores at which to buy food. Check unit pricing on grocery shelves to see what brand and size is the best deal. Part of the fun of any RV/camping vacation is picnicking after purchasing fresh foods in season. Local roadside stands sell everything from farm raised fruits and vegetables to honey, syrup, plants, and juices-all at great prices. Many towns have farmers' markets at least once a week selling delicious home baked goods and fresh produce and meats. In some areas, you can visit farms and pick everything from strawberries to apples. Local chambers of commerce can tell you where these farms are located. Remember to try regional specialties. Maine is known for its lobster; Wisconsin for its cheese. Who can forget Virginia's hams, crab in Maryland, or pasties from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan? You can provide a cultural experience for your children if you expose them to some regional foods that they might not otherwise get to try back home. Even though your family enjoys cooking in your RV galley, or around the campfire, it may be fun to eat out periodically during your vacation. Restaurant prices vary quite a bit throughout North America. Restaurants in small towns often provide the best buys, while providing some real down-home cooking. Resort area prices usually run higher, but can provide more variety in the fine dining class. Midwest restaurants tend to be less expensive than those on the coasts. You can save some valuable vacation dollars by eating your large meal at noon at a restaurant, then eating light at night at your RV campsite. You'll find many luncheon menus offer similar food to that on their dinner menus, but somewhat smaller portions, and lower prices. If you're in the right age group, ask for senior citizens' specials. If you're traveling with children, many restaurants have children's menus. Go before five or six to many restaurants, and you'll discover early bird specials. If your waitress doesn't volunteer that these exist, just ask. Smorgasbords and restaurants with large salad bars are becoming increasingly popular. These can also save money. Participating at your park's pot luck supper is a great way to make new friends, while enjoying a meal. Watch the bulletin board at the park you are staying at, or ask for their activities calendar. Community fund-raising meals from pancake breakfasts to fish fries are ideal for mingling with local citizens. An added plus is they just might tell you about a little known attraction or local fishing spot. Local festivals honor just about everything from peanuts to pumpkins, and are a wonderful way to sample local and regional food specialties. Fees At RV Parks or Campgrounds The average campground costs about $19 a night including water and electric hookups. In a recent study done by PKF Consulting, this rate compared to $84.82 a night for hotels/motels in 32 cities. Remember campground prices vary widely. The higher site fees are found at well-known RV resorts, especially those near major attractions. Usually, the lowest rates are away from the big cities and popular attractions. Campgrounds located close to interstates tend to be more expensive than those a few miles off. But if you're paying for mileage on your RV rental unit, consider if the cost of gas and mileage is worth the difference. One of the best ways to budget for your RV/camping vacation is to use your Woodall's Campground Directory. Plan in advance and compare prices. Even the more pricey RV resorts offer a reasonably-priced vacation when compared with hotels/motels. Stop before the day gets too late so you can stay at the campground of your choice. If you're headed for a busy area where you know a special event is taking place, reserve well in advance. Planning For Gasoline Costs The amount you spend on gasoline is another of the major costs for your RV rental vacation. Mileage differs from one type of RV to another. Towing a fold-down camping trailer provides the best miles-per-gallon costs. You'll spend a bit more on gas for a motorhome and for the tow vehicle needed to pull a large trailer. But there are ways to save money here, too. When using interstate highways, watch for exits where at least three gasoline stations exist. Competition usually means lower prices. Observe carefully to see if it's the same price for you to pay cash or use a credit card. All drivers know of ways to save on gasoline but here are some reminders. Going 55 MPH saves 8 to 9 percent on gasoline versus traveling at 60 MPH. Pass wisely. Avoid stop-and-go driving and idling excessively. Use cruise control except on grades. Plan your trips wisely to avoid back tracking, making sure you get everything accomplished in one trip. Budget For Visiting Attractions Knowing the price of attractions is one of the areas where you can best control your budget. Use the information you obtained from states and cities or local guidebooks to estimate your costs. If you belong to AAA, obtain their free guidebooks for complete description and prices of many attractions. You'll find many free and low cost attractions during your travels and visiting these can save you money, while still providing a good time for the family. Ask campground owners for ideas or check the entertainment section of the local newspaper. Check to see if there are any factory tours. Often college campuses have free museums. Visit game farms and fisheries, wildlife refuges, state capitols and museums, historical museums and sites, and missions. Sometimes military bases give free tours. Hiking, bicycling, canoeing, fishing, and just relaxing around the campsite can provide fun alternatives to visiting an attraction each and every day. Use the money you have saved by enjoying these simple outdoor activities, and really splurge on one or two of your family's "must visit" attractions. You'll enjoy them all the more (especially if you are the keeper of the budget!) when you know you have planned wisely and saved for them. Save On Film If you're interested in photography, it's easy to spend a lot on film. It's cheaper to buy 36 exposure film rather than 24 or 12 exposure film. Buy in bulk. Usually you can get a discount at a local camera store by purchasing a ten roll minimum. Ordering twenty rolls from one of the New York camera stores can save up to 30 percent. Buying film at tourist attractions adds to costs. Store your film in the refrigerator and take it out two hours before usage. This allows longer film life. By using common sense and a little preparation, you can control your travel costs and have an affordable vacation. To cut costs and have fun at the same time - rent an RV or plan a visit to a RV park/campground that provides on-site rentals. Browse RV rentals by state or province.