What does it really cost to camp in a year?

Piney River Resort was a great place to camp and worth every penny for the pavilion site! 

Once you buy that RV and are ready to set sail, there are wonderful adventures to be had.  And each one of those adventures has a price tag attached to them.  Have I lost you yet?  Don't stop reading here.  I want to be real honest with you about annual RV costs.  I know lots of RV'ers out there are budget conscious.  And it helps to have a plan, a budget, and to keep track of it all.  If you plan wisely you can stretch that travel budget farther and do more.  But, what does it really cost to camp over a year?

We like a mixture of private campgrounds and state parks.

Annual camping costs are really up to you.  After all, you are in the driver's seat with where you go and how far that is from home.  Every campground has a different rate and the farther you drive the more you have to plan for fuel costs.  It all adds up, but you can keep a watch on your budget and have a great time camping!  

First, start with a plan and a budget.  I keep an annual camping spreadsheet.  This helps me to organize:

  • Campground reservations, including the site number, any notes, and the costs for each stay.
  • Plus, on my campground worksheet, I average the cost of our camping trips per year.  
  • I like to rate the campgrounds where we stay to determine where we might like to go again and how they measure compared to other stays.  It also helps me determine if the extra cost is worth the money in some instances.
  • Food costs so that I can determine how much we spend on meals and dining out.
  • Fuel costs to determine how much we are spending overall.
  • I have some added categories to keep up with things like propane costs, camping gear, etc.
In my spreadsheet, there are directions on how to use it.  Simply make a copy of this using your Google Drive.  You can plug in your numbers, and it is designed to calculate the totals of everything for you.  Give it a try and let me know how it works for you!

Private campgrounds don't have to be expensive.  We stayed at this campground in Terlingua, TX for the same price as many state parks where we have stayed! 

Campground costs

In 2020, we spent far less than we are spending this year.  And there are two big reasons for that.  
  1. We had to cancel several trips last year and didn't travel as much.
  2. The types of trips we took last year due to availability, social distancing, etc. are far different from the ones we are taking this year.
Last year, we spent $1,074  on campground reservations.  For 28 nights of camping, that averaged out to $38 per night.  Not too bad if you ask me.  And this was a variety of state parks and private camping.

This year, we are doing a lot more trips.  We have a Labor Day Weekend at a Jellystone Campground with a waterfront site and golf cart rental.  This 3 day weekend alone is $594.  And, we have a big trip planned at the end of the year, and campground costs for this trip are double what we paid in Texas last year.  Therefore, our annual costs for this year will end up being a little over $2,100 and averaging $54 a night for 39 nights.  Plus, we may add a weekend or two here and there.  

Sound like a lot?  This year it's about $175 per month just for camping reservations alone.  However, you can greatly reduce this amount by staying at a Corp of Engineer Campgrounds, State Parks, and other locations that are much less expensive.  You could even try out avenues like Boondocking, Hip Camp, and Harvest Hosts.  If you are a Good Sam Member, you can save 10% at campgrounds all over with this membership.  We saved quite a bit using this last year and are using it again this year!  Those savings add up over time!

It all comes down to the types of experiences that you want to have.  We enjoy state parks and stay at them often.  We also really love private campgrounds on long trips because of the amenities and convenience.  And sometimes we like a resort-style experience for swimming and other fun opportunities.  The costs are totally in your court, and you are in control of what those are.  For our family, a variety of experiences is what keeps us happy on the road.  

I like cooking meals for our family and planning ahead always helps with our budget.

Food Costs

This can also be as hefty as economical as you want it to be.  We cook most of our meals and don't eat out often when camping.  But, we dine out some.  Regardless, food costs are real no matter where you are spending the money.  

Obviously, you can save money by planning in advance for simple meals that you will actually eat.  I make some things ahead of time and freeze them to be prepared in my RV oven at the campground.  I also like soup and sandwiches for quick meals at lunch or dinner.  And every meal is not a production.  

The key to keeping food costs down in planning.  If you plan for those meals on days where you are driving and traveling and make it easy on yourself, you aren't tempted to dine out when you could be eating at your RV.  I travel for work all of the time, so eating out is not at the top of my travel list.

Sometimes I make a nicer meal at the campground with steaks and all of the fixings!

I like to save our dining out experiences for places where we want to try a new meal or a special camping trip in a place with really great and unique options.  I choose wisely so that we make the most of our time together as a family and our money.  Plus, who wants to tow an RV all day, unhook, set up, and then drive to a restaurant?  I don't!

I didn't keep up with our food religiously last year.  So, it is hard to estimate those costs.  But I would say that it probably averages out to $100 to $150 per trip.  Sometimes it is more.  Other times it is less.

One final thing to consider about food costs is that you would be eating if you were at home or at the campground.  Sure, it is an expense, but it is not out of the ordinary.  So, you are eating if you are at home or camping.  And that cost is relative to me unless we eat out every meal or cook fancy meals that we wouldn't ordinarily eat at home.

Fuel costs can really add up on a long trip.  Look for ways you can save at every stop!

Fuel Costs

Fuel Costs is where you can really rack up the dollars!  Depending on the size of your rig, you can have that fuel meter running at a breakneck pace.  On our 7 night trip to West Texas and back last year, we spent $605 in fuel costs alone.  Now, this was a 2,500-mile trip.  So, we knew it was going to be expensive.  This year, we have a trip planned in December that is about 1,500 miles round trip.  And, I'm banking on $400 in fuel costs.  And this could fluctuate based on gas prices at the time of travel.

With that being said, the farther you go, the more you will pay for fuel costs.  And when you are at the pump, be smart.  If you can use tools like Gas Buddy to save some money here and there, do it!  Also, use programs like the Good Sam reward program to save 5 cents per gallon on gas and 8 cents per gallon of diesel at Pilot and Flying J locations.  The Good Sam discount will also save you 5 cents per gallon on propane at Flying J and Pilot locations.  

If you budget wisely, you can hit the open road and go farther.  

Look for ways to save money.  It will all add up even it is a few dollars here and there.  Eventually, it will add up to a whole tank of gas, and that is money in your pocket!

Additional Costs

Campers can be gear hogs.  We love the gear.  And to me, that adds up quickly in the expense column.  So, if you are buying lots of camping gear, add that to your expenses too.  It adds to the overall costs.

The cost of propane and maintenance also add up in terms of expenses.  But after saying all of that, is it worth it?  Absolutely!  We love camping as a family, and we love the time we spend together on the road.

We love camping as a family!

I think that we travel more because we camp as a family.  I didn't calculate our costs super close last year except for our big trip at the end of the year and our overall campground reservations totals.  This year, I'm trying to watch this a little more closely.  I would say as a whole last year, we spent around $3, 500 for the whole year.  That includes food, fuel, and campground reservations.  And over a 12-month span, that is about $300 a month.  This year, that cost will be more, but we are camping more.  

For some, that may seem like a lot.  For others, this is a fraction of what they would spend somewhere else.  It is all about what you love to do and where you prioritize your budget.  

One reason I encourage you to keep a budget and look at the numbers to help you plan better.  You may feel like you have to go cheap every time.  If you have a budget, it may seem more feasible to make the RV Resort splurge once in a while.  Or, you might want to offset your camping expenses by renting out your RV through Outdoorsy.  

Owning an RV is an expense.  Having any hobby or activity that you enjoy is an expense.  We all spend our money where those priorities and love of activities lie.  If you plan wisely, you can travel more and farther.  We have really started to push our limits and enjoy our RV in totally new ways by doing things we had only dreamed about doing before.  And that alone is worth every dime.

Until next time...

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