RV and Travel Costs

Out West RV Resort in Monahans, Texas is right on 1-20 and was where we stayed for a couple of days while our tow vehicle was out of commission!

Travel costs are definitely on the rise.  From the increased cost of fuel to campsite costs, travel is not getting cheaper.  I've reflected back on the previous year as I plan for future camping.  Where did we spend our money last year?  And how will that guide our journey this year?

A clean, level spot right off the interstate is where we try to land when we are just on a quick overnight stop.

I follow lots of other RV enthusiasts and their adventures.  Every group has their own idea of the best spots for camping.  If I were to describe our family, I would sum that up with "variety".  The campsites we book run the gamut.  And this also means there is a greater variance in pricing.  We indulge in RV resorts on occasion and for bigger vacations.  But, we also love the low key and less expensive state parks and Corp of Engineer locations.  It all comes down to what you want out the the experience.

Our friend's farm is another spot we love during the MS Pecan Festival.  It is electric and water only, but it works for that short trip!

What is a reasonable rate for an RV spot?

To answer this question, start with what you actually need or is a non negotiable amenity.  For us, we prefer full hook ups.  In the deep south, you can find this at most State Parks plus more expensive private and resort style camping.  In general, I feel like we can get what we want and just about any location because of where we are located.

Given the desire for full hook ups, I prefer to keep things around the $35 to $45 a night if possible.  If we stay at State Parks this is an easy feat.  However, there are still nicer private campgrounds that still operate in this range or slightly above.  But, it is becoming less and less the case.  

Desoto State Park in Fort Payne, Alabama is beautiful and peaceful.

Corp of Engineer Campgrounds are also another great option for camping.  Some of these offer full hookups, but many that we find are water and electric with a dump station.  This is not a deal breaker for us.  You will need to consider the length of your stay and if you need a portable RV tote for grey water if you don't have full hook ups.

Ultimately, weigh out what you need and how long you need your spot, and you can go from there.  Some RV enthusiasts off set travel costs with overnight stops in parking lots like Walmart, Bass Pro or Cracker Barrel.  There is nothing wrong with that.  I applaud the frugal nature of it all, and it doesn't really work for us.  I would rather spend $40 and have what we need.  But, every camper is different.  You make the decisions and rules here.

The Hideaway Retreat in Navarre Beach is an amazing spot where you can camp right on the sound.

Are more expensive resort style camping worth it?

To me, yes!  All day long!  Our RV is our primary way to travel.  We rarely stay in hotels any more.  So, I am willing to pay more for amenities that you would find a larger resort style properties.  We typically look for amenities for some trips that include:

1.  Water features like pools, hot tubs, lazy rivers or other activities on the water.
2.  Water front sites like at the beach or at the lake.
3.  Access to activities we plan to do like staying on property at Disney.

Clearly water is important to us in terms of our activities and travel.  These places tend to cost more but they don't have to be pricey to have good sites and have fun!

Waterfront sites at Lakeside Landing are only about $50 a night even on a 4th of July weekend.  It is a bargain if you ask me!

We stay at Lakeside Landing on Logan Martin Lake in Alabama.  Depending on the time of year, you can easily have a water front site for around $50 a night.  This is a steal.  

And, I have said this before, look at the campground map when you are booking.  If you want the amenities but don't want to pay for the most expensive sites, look at the campsite location. Try to find something in the middle range that will get you what you want without the added expense.  We did this last year at a resort on the MS Gulf Coast. We selected a site on Labor Day weekend for $98 a night.  We had all of the amenities and same access that campers on sites that were $150+ a night!  Save where you can if you are booking at a more expensive property.  It all adds up at the end of the year.

A hot tub on the bay?  Yes please.  The amenities at this RV resort in Biloxi were spot on!

What was our costs in 2023?

2023 our average per night was $78 per night.  There were two big trips that really drove up our travel prices:

  1. We stayed on property at Disney's Fort Wilderness.  These sites are not cheap and are worth every penny.
  2. We also did a fall beach camping trip to Navarre beach and had a site directly on the sound.

Excluding those our average is about $50 per night.  This is more in line with where I prefer to stay price wise.  We don't always have two big trips that rack up top dollar.  So this was an unordinary year in many ways.  But, even with these added costs, both of these trips were far less expensive than if we had rented a condo and had to board our dogs or stayed at a different resort at Disney.  

For us, I feel like it works out because we cook a lot of our own meals and don't have to board our animals.  Both of these are large expenses when you travel.  And, I feel like we are able to save in big ways that allow us to travel more and to locations that we really want to go!

For our average $78 a night, what did that get us?  Well, for our 2023 camping year, we spent 50 nights on the road.  And, our overall camping reservations costs were $3,891.  Over half of that cost was Disney's Fort Wilderness and our beach trip.  Sure, there were gas and food costs beyond that.  And, I also feel like we travel way more as a family because of our RV and it is worth every penny.  

Even state parks offer swimming.  Rickwood Caverns is a small state park and has a large swimming pool.

How can you save money on campsite costs and still get the good sites?

I don't think you have to pay premium costs to get premium amenities.  Here are some tips to help you save money.
  • If you want to go to the beach but don't want to pay for private resort fees, opt for a state park location at the beach.  Mississippi, Alabama and Florida all have campground either on or near the beach.  The key to these prime spots is booking well in advance.  Find out what the window for booking is and try to book at spot as far out as possible. 
  • Call state parks in prime locations for cancellations.  And Florida has an option for you to be notified if someone cancels.  This way to you are in the que to get a spot once one becomes available.
  • Also, there are state parks that have amenities like pools and lots of activities.  Seek these out so that you are still getting access to swimming and other activities you want to do without paying resort style prices.  
  • Try something new!  If you have always camped at spots with full hook ups and lots of amenities.  Get outside of your comfort zone.  Go someone different and see how you like it.  You may discover that you need less that you thought to be "comfortable on the road".
  • Also, if you are one that ventures out a lot and just need a landing pad at night, you may want to stay at a location that is less expensive so that you can spend your money on excursions off property.
You can also save money by using discounts like:
  1. National Park Senior Pass
  2. Good Sam - This is typically 10% discount a night.  This can add up over the year.
  3. Active Military
  4. AARP
  5. Ask for other discounts that might apply to you!
This was another quick, overnight stop where we just needed somewhere to sleep for the night.

More Things to Consider

For us, I take the time is money approach on some decision making.  For example, we stay at spots for just quick overnight stays.  We don't need a lot, but I do want full hookups for those stays typically.  I know, you can park at Walmart and Cracker Barrel parking lots.  We would just prefer to spend the money on an actual spot with hookups.  

However, I do save money by packing snacks and food for tow days.  We rarely buy food on the road when traveling.  I do bento style boxes or PB&J sandwiches in the car.  I also prepare a snack bag that we use.  Plus, I have refillable water bottles and drinks in our RV fridge.  These costs can really add up, plus added stops increase travel time if we have to sort out food and snack options.  

I also do a lot of cooking on the road.  Sure, we eat out some.  We like to try local cuisines and activities.  But, we save it for when we think it is really worth it.  I would rather cook at the campground than pay for an ordinary meal on the road that wasn't worth the money, time or calories. 

Some years we have more travel costs than others.  We find that it is worth it to stay at a couple of resort style properties with a mixture of state parks for variety.  I don't see this changing.  It keeps us happy and looking for the next time we hitch up and go!  Every trip is a little different, and we try to plan something with everyone in our group in mind.

If you would like to use my Camping Plans and Budget Template, I have entered in all of the formulas to help you keep track of it all.  The first time you click on this link it will force a copy into your Google Drive so that you can have your own copy.  

Until next time...happy camping!