Heading out on a road trip in a recreational vehicle allows travelers a unique opportunity to explore the nation while enjoying some of the comforts of home, too.
"It's not so much about just getting to where you're going and stopping when you're there, but you really get to enjoy the journey," says Julie Hall, a AAA spokeswoman. "It's also a cost-effective way to travel — or it can be."
But RV travel still incurs some expenses. Here's how to keep them in check.
Choose a smaller vehicle
RVs can range from small campers and towable trailers to grand motor homes that are more than 40 feet long. Whether you rent or buy, the bigger you go, the more it'll cost.
"People can opt for a big luxury coach and pay thousands of dollars a week, or they can get a small [one] for a fraction of that price," says Chuck Woodbury, editor for RVtravel.com, who adds that larger vehicles typically offer less fuel efficiency and flexibility.
Use fuel efficiently
Prepare to spend more at the pump; RVs get about 6 to 18 mpg, depending on size and model, Woodbury says. Cars average about 24 mpg.
Hall recommends using AAA's gas cost calculator at gasprices.aaa.com/aaa-gas-cost-calculator to estimate the expense upfront. Also:
- Use an app like GasBuddy to map out gas stations along the route and identify the ones with the lowest prices.
- Pay with a credit card that offers rewards.
- Slow down. "The faster you go, the more [fuel] you're going to burn. If you're not in a big hurry, then go 60 [mph] instead of 70," Woodbury says.
Find free or cheap destinations
While an RV road trip eliminates the cost of staying in hotels, you could still face fees for camping and hooking up to water, sewer and electricity. The good news: There are plenty of affordable campsites. For instance, with an RV, you can camp free overnight on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands.
Ellie Quinlan and Brad Hartland, who have been traveling and living out of their yellow VW van for the past several months, search for free spots on websites like iOverlander.com and FreeCampsites.net.
"They include everything from campsites to free public land to truck stops," Hartland says.
Bring your own food
Many RVs come equipped with refrigerators and cooktops, making real meals possible on the road. Stock up on fresh produce and your favorite fixings for sandwiches for a cheaper — and healthier — alternative to eating at diners and fast-food joints.
If you want a restaurant meal, research your options. Plan where you might eat and see if discounts are available, Hall says.
Join a club
Memberships and loyalty programs offer a variety of perks. A one-year, $44 membership for the camping club Passport America includes a 50 percent discount per night on stays throughout its network of RV campgrounds. There may be exclusions, though, often during popular travel times like the Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends. Check availability at each location in advance.