Help - Search - Members - Calendar
Full Version: How Can I Keep Costs Down On Long Trip?
RV Park Reviews Campground Discussion Forum > RV Park and Campground Discussions > General Chat
Hi everyone,

So of course I'm seeking your expertise here again. We're leaving for our first long trip of 8 weeks cross-country in just 18 days. I've been planning and researching as much as possible. We've had our 35' TT for one year, and spent seven weeks in it, for smaller trips. However, this trip is getting expensive. I'm hoping to keep costs down, but know that some are fixed: gas, entry fees, grocery bills, etc. Nevertheless, I'm feeling that the costs are really mounting, and we haven't even left home yet! In an effort to keep campground fees down I've:

1--Joined Passport America. ($50)
2--Purchased a large portable dump tank ($270)

I was going to get a generator, but that's possibly another $1,000 before even pulling out of the driveway, and I'm not sure it's an investment that will pay itself back. Today I went shopping for mobile internet access, and that could add up to another $800!


Any ideas as to how I can keep costs down for the next two months? We won't eat out much at all and won't spend a lot of money on touristy-junk or in convenience stores, so that's not an issue. Am I missing any potential cost savings? Hate to sound like a cheap-o, but I know we are all a cost-conscious bunch, and sure would appreciate any other ideas.
Thanks so much,
You don't need mobile internet access. Most camp grounds or RV parks will have WiFi internet access. some charge a fee, but alot don't. Most of the better RV parks don't charge for WiFi.

Have a good and safe trip. biggrin.gif
We are fulltimers and use campground wifi so i don't have an air card. Passport America is a good idea and if you have a golden age passport from the national park service corp. of engineer campgrounds are good. I also use this site to locate campgrounds and plan my stays accordingly. If you use the passport america campgrounds that will take care of the generator problem.
John Blue
I agree with the other post. I would drop the generator and air card. Stay in parks that have power and free Wi-Fi. Golden Age card is great if you have one at age 62. Remember you can add more toys in your box later as you see what your needs are in RV land. Start out slow and enjoy the travels as you go. Most all parks have a dump station so you will not need the Blue Boy.
Hi m,

If you surf to this web site:

and click on a state and scroll down there is a list of campsites that are either extremely low cost--or even free. Some even include electricity, a few have water and some are "full hook up". Nebraska seems to be the "winner" in that regard.

I'd return the blue tote. You won't need it unless you plan to stay in one location for a week at a time.

Have a wonderful trip!
Florida Native
The best way to save money on a long camping trip is to leave your wife at home, but I suspect that isn't going to work. Use your toad for all exploring. Stay 2 nights per stop and eat at least 2 meals a day in the coach. Avoid the touristty places. When you do eaat out, go to the local places (a meat and 3 veggies). The food is better and more plentiful and you will save money as well as get a feel for the area. Use concrete boondocks at least half the time whccih will cut your camping expenses in half. Use Passport America as hour first choice. Join Harvest Host.
QUOTE(rvmamabel @ Jun 12 2010, 06:29 PM) *

Hi everyone,

We're leaving for our first long trip of 8 weeks cross-country in just 18 days.

8 weeks or 18 days. Whcih??

Passport America is a good deal if you stay at enought of those campgrounds to pay for the card. The PPA campgrounds tend not ot honor the discount on the weekends, tho.

Groceries aren't an issue. You have to eat whether it's at home or in the RV. Gas prices vary because of state taxes. Find the cheaper states to buy in by researching at websites like Get a credit card that offers 5% cash back on fuel at the pump. 5% is a bunch of savings. Get a Flying J RV card. It will provide one cent/gallon discount, but more importantly allow you to use that 5% credit card at "cash price."

You could buy a National Park Pass to save some bucks if you intend for the entire family to visit several of those facilities. Some of the more popular National Parks now charge $25 to get in. It doesn't take many visits with a family to save money with the pass.

If a dump tank and/or generator isn't going to be a long term investment, then why do it?

IF you want to be on the internet for cheap (free), then go to the local library. While you are visiting that small town library, you might find that there is something else in town that might strike your fancy. Like a local mom & pop resturant with great food. Or a thrift store, local museum, etc. You don't have to buy anything, just find out what America is really about.

Go online and check out campsites at for your intended route. Federal campgrounds tend to be cheaper. You won't get the amenities offered by a KOA, but you will save a lot of bucks for a brief stay.

Florida Native
That confused me too. I think he meant in 18 days from the writing, he was leaving on the 2 month trip,
Okay Lindsay, you and I have been down this path before....I AM the wife! You are so guy-centric. I'll forgive you, as you post good advice. Remember, my DH is just along for the ride on the RV! Sometimes I even let him drive smile.gif and I will say he is getting better at hooking and unhooking.

When you say 'concrete boondocks' is that like a Walmart, or am I missin something else there?

To others: good advice. I think I'll keep the tank, as I hope to be Rv'ing for many years to come, so it is an investment. Also, we went two weeks without sewer last summer, and it seemed like every two days we needed to dump. DH isn't great at water conservation yet.

The trip is for 8 weeks. We leave in 14 days! The gas card is a superb idea. Probably not enough time for me to get one, but I can put all the charges on a credit card that offers 5%, and then just pay the credit card off. Thanks for that idea.

I blocked out the first half of the trip, and looks like we are staying at PA campgrounds or national parks for at least the first four weeks. I'd guess there will be some Walmart layovers in there as well. Only two 'resort' campgrounds thus far, and even then just for a few days so the girls can enjoy a pool.

Keep the ideas coming! I appreciate it.
Depending on how important reliable internet access is to you (or your daughters) you may want to reconsider an aircard. With a contract cards are free and cost is about $60/month. Someone told me service could be suspended when not in use, also. There are, I think, plans that do not require a contract. We have found depending on campground WiFi to be a major PI*. Finding free hotspots means you have to drive there - was in a Starbucks the other day that was charging for access.

We find that campgrounds along highways, near small towns, and away from lakes, rivers, amusment parks and other attractions tend to be less expensive, and more available when we travel. In other words, places where vacationers do not wish to stay. We are not real big on concrete boondocking and find county/city parks a question mark - some are hidden gems, some are kind of cheap havens for some scary people. Many are far from major roads so unless you have the time and are willing to explore they may not work well - I think west of Mississippi river you will have better success. When we travel into a new area, we typically find a less expensive PA park, then use the towd to explore and find perhaps a better place to stay for a longer time.

Sometimes if we want to eat out but do not want to spend a lot of money, we check the local paper for a community dinner - churches, fire departments, etc. Have had some great chicken, spaghetti, fish, etc. and met some really nice people. We also save a few pennies shopping for produce at roadside stands. Sometimes we will save some dollars by using in town laundromats instead of the more expensive cg ones. Depending on what your interests are, there are some inexpensive specialty museums and other attractions near small towns and medium sized cities. We sometimes will ask the waitress or store clerk where they go for recreation. We have found some killer free beaches and hiking trails, etc. this way.

Good luck on your trip.
Avoid any campground close to an interstate as their prices will be higher. Many campgrounds have pools without the Resort classification and will be cheaper. We are a small campground with a really nice pool and our rates are cheaper than the resort prices. We don't have lots of fancy stuff here but we are quiet, clean and safe. You will find there are many like us out there.
Florida Native
We donít have a black tank. We have a gray tank and a yellow tank. The yellow tank is labeled black tank, but we always use another facility for what makes it black if possible. (emergencies sometimes happen of course). Wash dishes in a plastic tub in the sink and dump it down the toilet is a great way to conserve the gray tank. Concrete boon docking to me is overnight on a parking lot Wal-Mart, Cracker Barrel, Home Depot, rest stop, church, or whatever. It is opposed to boon docking like at Quartzite or in a BLM area. Several purist have corrected me for calling Wal-Marting boon docking, so I call it concrete boon docking. To use, the gray tank is usually the limiting factor. A Navy shower doesnít take hardly any water at all.
Oh, I never would have thought of the idea of putting grey water in the black tank...super idea. And the campgound near the interstate price difference...also wouldn't have anticipated that, but it does make sense. Keep the good ideas coming...I'm still collecting them!
Bud in Florida
We just bought a Palm Pre Plus phone from Verizon. It will crate a mobile wi fi hot spot. Verizon is giving you the service for life free-usually a $40 add on. It works great. We have internet where ever we go and the bill for the phone and the wi fi service is less than we paid before. I had one of those blue dolly tanks and used it ONCE. What a pain-- you can only dump gray water. If you are doing a long trip, you will never be more than one place a long time. So use the dump station or sewer and be on your way. You should be able to go two or three days w/o dumping the gray water tank and you will be heading out in that amount of time. It takes up space and you will never use it! Forget the generator. Unless you are planning a lot of dry camping or staying in a lot of parking lots.
The other advice I have seen is all good. Have a great time. Oh, make sure you tell your credit card companies you will be on the road. You might get challenged if they start seeing lots of charges from different places a long way from home. Also, when you leave home turn off the hot water heater, raise the A/C temp, shut off the water to washing machines, cancel paper. You will be surprised how much you save right there. Also, take a load of quarters and those all in one sheets for laundry
John Blue
We also use the same plan as Lindsay. This way you have two tanks to fill up over one. You need to keep a lot of water in the black tank. At the dump station it all goes out the same hose. We have done this for years with no problems. We also use the same plan as Bud at home. Shut down AC power to everything you can. Shut off water, if you have a leak and are gone a long time like we are what a mess that will make in a short time. Leaking water hoses on washing machine are the number one insurance claims for water damage in homes. Make out a check list on everything you need to do before you travel and this will cut mistakes down to zero.
John S.
I think you have had some good ideas here. I do have wifi when I go but then again that is how we all stay in touch. I have wireless for my regular internet so that makes it nice. You could also get your cell phone and pay the 10 bucks a month to tether it to the computer.

As to being cheaper. I have found that camping is not as cheap as a fuel efficent car and a midrange motel. So, with that in mind you are going to spend more and it is worth for me. No unpacking and packing etc..

Also if you are going up in altitude it may be colder in the evening and you will not need a genset to dry camp even in the middle of the summer. I was driving through Rapid City SD a couple summers ago and it was 110 degrees and I woke up to 28 degrees a couple hundred miles further down the road.

Also, I do not carry a tote. It is something else to lug. I just go dump and come back. If you are traveling that much you will not be in one spot more than a couple days. It is not that hard or that big an issue to use a bit less water. Heck I had only a 13 gallon holding tank on my last Bornfree.
Bud in Florida
John S's comment is interesting. For years I have run the same comparison and usually found the camping route a bit cheaper. Many years ago, I wrote an article for an RV publication on the subject and said "even if gas hits $1.50/gal you still save" Like I said it was a long time ago!. Just got back from a trip to the beach here in Fla. Stayed at a nice campground with full hook-ups right on the sound. Spent $270 for the site and $140 for a rental car and about $270 on gas. Hotels in the area were charging over $175/night on the water. Would have spent $100 for gas round trip. So would have been at about $950 not counting extra for eating out. Spent about $700 on the camping trip. Ate all dinners at the camper, one big lunch out. So I feel I came out ahead still. If the rooms had been cheaper, might have saved there. Still not a bad deal and I had my own stuff and the refridge and potty along for the ride!
Florida Native
I forgot to mention that a great way to save money is to use a crock pot. You can use a lower quality of meat and make enough to last many meals. We use our Wal-Mart inverter and set it up in the sink. With the top bungee corded down. Works very well for a cheap price. You can cook just about anything in one. We sometimes set it up to cook while we are out exploring the area. If this scares you (due to fire), you can set it up outside.
Traveling man
Lot's of good ideas. I find the Passport America, and city campgrounds can save you money. Don't overlook the public chamber and tourist info offices that you pass by. There are a lot of "free" attractions and festivals that you might discover along the way. For example the visitor info center in Santa Fe saved me about $15 in museum and art gallery admission fees, as Friday afternoon is free admission. Gas is a big expense. I use Gas Buddy too, but discovered long ago gas prices can vary quite a bit in the same city. Worst is Needles CA. The "tourist" gas stations on the main freeway off-ramp after coming out of the desert are all 55 cents a gallon more than those a mile away! Usually the truck stops, casinos, Walmarts, chain supermarkets, and stations in locations with a lot of nearby competition are the best bet.
Elvis RV
Wow 8 week trip - I'm jealous.

Ok on the WiFi front consider MiFi from Verizon or Sprint. Their cheapest plan is $39.99 a month. Verizon has better national coverage than Sprint.

On saving money at campgrounds, consider State Parks. State park campgrounds have improved a lot over the last 5-10 years and are comparable to private campgrounds. They tend to be a bit cheaper.

Boondocking is also a good option although without a generator it can be tough!

Seems like you have the discount clubs covered for private campgrounds.

I read some articles recently that may help. I haven't tried them all, but they seem sensible:

Ways to save money on your next camping trip

How to save fuel when RVing

Good luck and have fun on your trip!

FL Camper
We just did an 8 week trip. For the entire trip journal check here:

Some of our tips: we unplugged everything at home, set AC really high (95) while gone. DH came home twice during trip but found he didn't use more than lights AC and TV since he was working most of time.
Get a National Park passport. It will save you money. Sometimes even give discounts at the gift shops or free tours at the parks.
We have a blue tote but didn't use it even while camping at Yosemite for a week. I just made sure I booked near the bathroom and we used it more than our RV.
We DID use the generator while at Yosemite and Yellowstone(no power right now). But you have a TT so that's different for you.
We did have the verizon mobile aircard. We used it up in the first week (we have a pre teen). Most of te campgrounds had wi fi even if it wasn't good so we used that as much as possible.
Groceries were actually our second biggest expense after gas. We did many crock pot meals and skillet meals. After touring parks all day no one wanted to cook up a big meal so this made it easy.

Have a great time and take lots of pictures to remember it by.

Carry as much food with you as your weight and refrigerator will allow. We cook up a lot of meals at home, put them in sealed containers, and freeze them. When we are ready to leave, we load up the RV refrigerator with the frozen meals and we can have a decent meal in a matter of minutes on the road.
We also buy stuff in large quantities at Sam's Club. We draw from this inventory to stock the RV before each trip. This minimizes our stops at the local grocery stores and has saved us a lot of money and time.
If you are going to be on the road long enough, we will usually plan ahead and stay at least one night at an RV park with free laundry facilities. We also start looking for fuel at 1/2 tank which allows us to pick the place that we want to use based on price instead of being so low on fuel we have to use a more expensive station. There are websites that will give you fuel prices for any area that you may travel in the USA. We also use a Pentagon Federal Credit Union Rewards credit card which gives us 5% off of ALL gasoline purchases at the pump, 2% on groceries, and 1 1/2% on everything else. On a long trip, the fuel discount adds up to a large rebate.
Use common sense and take advantage of the internet. At some of the attractions you can buy tickets online for a discounted price compared to buying them at the attraction in person. Of course you will have to carry a printer with you to print out the ticket. We purchased a new HP small printer off of eBay for about $30, including shipping, which was less than the printer cartridges would cost.
plan your route ahead of time and know where you can stop for fuel ahead of time and were not to go as well. you can do all this and then some for free by using they provide an overhead view and a street view so you can see if it is easy in and out plus basic info of each stop to see if it fits your criteria for the stop. Like i said its completley free and has been a huge help to me and my family while traveling.
Here are some tips;

1. get a Golden Age Passport, if applicable.
2. avoid club affiliated camp such as KOA, Good Sam, AAA, AARP and others. You are paying minimum 10% over for no value to you. No value-add to customers, but tons of rules & regulations.
3. stay private, owner operated camp. They care for you and understand what a "customer" is.
4. mix dry camp and private camp alternatively.
5. use state parks and BLMs.
6. minimize eat-outs.
7. slow to 65 mph, saves gas and it is safer.
Hi everyone,

Just want to report that we had a wonderful trip! We were able to keep expenses down in many ways, but I can see how we wasted money in other ways. So, here is an overview:

Saved Money by:
--shopping at Walmart before entering tourist towns...groceries are so much more expensive in or near the parks.
--Passport America campgrounds: membership paid for itself within a week. Too bad there weren't more options near the National Parks.
--eating in. I found that on days when we traveled, I needed to plan dinner ahead of time, as we were too tired to cook. We went out about 1/week, which wasn't too bad, but definitely an expense.
--dump tank: this did enable us to stay at several state parks we wouldn't have otherwise considered, so we were very glad to have it. It didn't pay for itself in one summer, but I'd guess that it will within another summer or two of travel.
--boondocking: tried to do this in the middle of long drives, and I'd say we spent about 7 out of 42 nights this way.

Spent more money than anticipated on:
--gas. The mileage to travel there and home had been budgeted, but we spent so many more hours driving to and from attractions than I had estimated. From our central location in Yellowstone to any attraction was about a 40-minute drive. I got pretty sick of being in constant motion.
--truck expenses: we overheated twice and had to get the truck serviced, and needed new brakes and rotors mid-trip. I don't think we over-paid for these services, but didn't budget them in.
--an iPad. I ended up getting an iPad with a data plan instead of trying to deal with an iPhone. My whole family loves it, the GPS is amazing and absolutely beats out the dashboard GPS, and it was great to have wifi via a data plan and not have to pay extra in the campgrounds. I recommend it highly, but didn't pre-budget the expense.

We certainly learned a lot about towing, traveling, and our gorgeous nation. No major mishaps, so that is good. Wonderful photos that I get to scrapbook with all winter. And already planning next summer's trip...staying local. I'm still tired from all that travel! Biggest lesson: don't try to be busy and/or driving every day. We needed 1day/week to do nothing but sit in the CG, 1day/week for laundry and groceries, and the other 5 were for driving/exploring.

Florida Native
Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Tips from other travelers really can make a difference. Especially you mentioning the "down time."

I would also agree staying away from the camp store. We have two kids, so we can sucked into the novelties they have to offer. One thing they really love are the light sticks. We always try to buy those ahead of time.

I think the biggest thing we learned on our "maiden voyage" in 2010 (almost four months, 16 states, 10,000 miles) was how much we underestimated how much gas we'd be using. We had accurately predicted the amount we'd use to get from cg to cg, but serious under-predicted what we'd use for sightseeing. For instance, from our campground in Cody, WY, it was 52 miles just to the maingate of Yellowstone and a total of 102 miles to Old Faithful (one-way, at that!) Take a few of those trips and you've busted the budget. We have an F250 to pull the fiver and that thing uses diesel like it comes out of a hole in the ground. I can only say it was a "learning experience". Now we're planning to take off again in May and hope to stay out six months this time (or at least until we run out of money or kill each We're going to be a lot more savvy this year and plan to pick cg's that are lot nearer the attractions and sights. Unfortunately, we're just too big to get into a lot of state parks, etc., without having to worry about tight turns, small sites and low-hanging branches. Maybe this year, when we're a little more confident about backing up the BATmobile (BigA$$Trailer), we can try some of the parks.......
Some great advice here! My trips are not as long as ya'lls but I am working towards longer trips. My next big trip I hope to take about 31 days with a TT.

I usually travel with my mom and aunt so I do all the driving and setting up, etc. I found taking the tours instead of driving at places like Yellowstone and Moab (National Arches) gave me a chance to rest from all the driving. Plus it was more enjoyable for me as I did not have to figure out what was what and I found the tours very informative. Less wear and tear on the truck too. The National Park Passes are great too. The benefit of traveling with those two ladies.

In addition, a lot of times we have one place as our main destination so I try to have a layover day or two every third stop so I am not exhausted when we get to our main destination. On these stops I try to choose a place where there is something we want to see or do so my co-captains are not bored while I recoup from the driving. Our last trip was about 4,000 miles.

I agree with a lot of the other suggestions: 1/2 tank fill up is the best way to go. We cook some of our food ahead then seal-a-meal them and freeze. Then when you are tired you have a meal ready. Just need to remember to thaw it out. My co-captains sometimes forget this important step smile.gif Walmart shopping for groceries should be less expensive, but somehow those two always come back with too much. What is that saying eyes bigger than... I use a PC Card for internet, already have it and find it is more reliable than a lot of the free Wi-Fi. I use the laptop to book some of our stops along the way and double check my route.
I know you'll be watching for fuel costs for your engine and trying to find the cheapest possible, but also try to find the cheapest propane costs as well. Where I live, propane costs fluctuate drastically depending on where you go. One place will charge $2.82/gal whereas another place will charge $4.56/gal or more. When you realize you need to refil your tank(s), just call around and find the best price. More than likely, it will be in an industrialized area that usually doesn't cater to RV's.
For Internet Access - Instead of a national chain air card - consider looking into Millenicom. They offer great plans - the 20G plan is less expensive than what I was paying Verizon for 5G but uses the Verizon footprint. The unlimited plan uses the Sprint footprint. It has no contract and I have heard you can put the service on hold and restart it with little additional cost.
This is a "lo-fi" version of our main content. To view the full version with more information, formatting and images, please click here.