Are you thinking of the RV Lifestyle when you retire? Or maybe an extended road trip? It can be a wonderful experience but one we should carefully make a list of expenses long before we completely commit. It can be more expensive than you think!
Now, let me say this. If your goal of travelling full time involves parking your van in a remote area and using it as a home base for hiking, backpacking, and “roughing it” out in the sticks with little interaction with towns and city life, you can probably RV full time and save money. But for those of us who do need a few creature comforts, enjoy tasting local foods, museums, galleries, gardens, and other activities which require entrance fees, the RV lifestyle can take on a financial life of its own. It’s not impossible to do some fun things on the cheap, but it is important to be realistic. Most of us want to travel to see and experience things we’ve not had time to do during our working lives. It makes no sense to travel to locations and then spend the whole time in the RV because you don’t want to spend $25 dollars to enter a museum you want to go to.
Here are a few expenses that need to be considered before embarking on your travels. Let’s start with the obvious.
The upgraded truck. If you were already a truck owner and have this covered, then you either already are making payments on it or it’s paid off. So this expense may or may not be on your radar. However, you will still need to calculate in more repair costs, since you will be driving more.
Fuel. What you can bet on at the very least is that since you’ll be driving more, you will have extra fuel costs. Being on the road is exciting and it is natural to want to go far and see as much as possible. Be aware that fuel costs can vary widely from place to place. In California, the tax on fuel is extremely high. Prices can easily chew your travel budget down. Always plan for the worst gas price scenario and do your homework. To keep costs down, commit to taking your time and stopping for at least 10 days to one month in every location. Consider buying some mid-grade trail bikes to tour around instead of jumping in your vehicle every time you want to go somewhere. That way instead of chewing up your gas budget, you’re getting some exercise, saving your budget, and getting to see the sites. Leave no stone unturned and don’t forget the bike locks! You will need a bike carrier with lock for the bikes on the rack, a lock for the rack itself so someone can’t take the entire rack off, and portable locks for the road so if you want to stop and have a meal or go site seeing on-foot, you will have a way to secure your bikes and leave them.
RV Expenses: If you already have an RV that is paid for, then you may experience some repair costs. You’ll want to re-seal seams, make sure the AC unit is up and running, and probably stop in for a complete check up every 6 months, especially if you have a slide out. You can save on repair costs by learning how to do some of these things yourself, such as lubricating the slide out, flushing the water tank, cleaning the hot water heater, and checking for seam leaks and applying sealant.
Food: Food can be more expensive, or the same. I love to cook but I also enjoy going to interesting local restaurants. At home, I rarely indulge in restaurants. But when I travel, I do because I want the experience of tasting something that may be different from my own local cuisine. You can guard against going overboard with your food expenditures by simply deciding, in advance, how much you want to spend in restaurants each week. It doesn’t matter what dollar amount that is. It could be enough to cover breakfast once a week or dinner three times a week. It doesn’t matter just as long as you stick to it. When you budget is gone, it’s gone. Don’t indulge further until the following week.
Entertainment: Entertainment can add to your budget as well. If you and your partner are movie buffs, are you really going to take off for years at a time and never go to another movie? Probably not. For local entertainment though, consider choosing to attend events and activities separately. For instance, If I want to go to the quilt museum but my husband wants so go to the history museum, there is no reason to waste money on two tickets to both museums. I’ll go to the museum I want and he’ll go to the museum he wants and then we’ll meet back at the RV for lunch and have fun sharing our experiences over a meal. I’ve also learned that for me, I’d rather read about history or people on the internet or in books than attend a history museum. Even at the famed “Mob Museum” in Las Vegas, which was incredibly well presented, I found myself taking photos of names I wanted to look up and read about later rather than standing there reading a script on a wall. When choosing a museum, I will only go to ones that I really need to see the objects inside, such as paintings or other artworks, textiles, industrial museums filled with machinery I’ve never seen before, etc. I also can’t say no to a $45 ticket for a train ride through a beautiful canyon that I can’t hike on my own or rental fees for a boat to fish on a beautiful lake. Local festival entrance fees? I’m in. Food festivals? I’m in. And if you’re outside of a large city, you’ll want to get a week subway pass to get around inside the city. Trust me you will save more on gas and parking fees than you will on the subway pass.
Healthcare on the road can be tricky because when making travel a permanent way of life, you need access to your plan anywhere. But most health insurance programs require you to choose a primary care physician and get referrals from that physician to other specialists in that particular state. Make sure you really read the fine print of your current healthcare plan before you leave state lines. Some RV trekkers use health share programs instead of health insurance. They are definitely worth looking into, however this will take a lot of time on your part to research the pros and cons of each.
If you are unsure whether or not you want to RV permanently but still want to travel affordably, consider a home swap. Just let your fingers do the on-line research, google scams that might be associated with a particular property, and use verified and trusted companies to help you out with the process.