How to RV Across America on a Budget

Everyone loves a good vacation. However, not everyone can afford extravagant vacations at all-inclusive resorts. Luckily, there are other options. One of the best of these options is the RV road trip.

RV road trips are among the least expensive ways to travel, and because you’re free to go wherever you please in an RV, a cross-country RV trip is not out of the question. Of course, it is good to know how exactly you’ll afford such a trip.

Fortunately, RVing on a budget is fairly simple, and we can tell you exactly how to create an affordable travel experience you and your family will never forget.

Finding a Budget RV

The first step to taking an awesome budget road trip is finding a budget RV. For some, this might mean purchasing a pop-up camper or small campervan that can be used time and time again. However, many will instead choose to rent an RV to drive cross-country.

Either of these options is completely fine, and the one that works for you will depend on your unique situation. Either way, there are a few tricks you should know about finding a rig within your budget:

  • Think small. A huge, elaborate RV is generally unnecessary and increases the price you pay, as well as the amount of gas your rig will use. A pop-up or campervan is perfect.
  • Old can be good. There’s no reason you need a brand new RV to travel across America by RV. A well-taken-care-of older RV is usually a much better investment.
  • Sometimes you can find a better deal if you’re willing to drive a few hours out of your way.
  • Renting or buying during the off season will almost always bring better prices.

Inexpensive Lodging for RV Travel

The next thing you should know when it comes to camping on a budget is how to find inexpensive campsites. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to go about this.

Dry Camping

The first option is to do some dry camping. Dry camping (sometimes referred to as boondocking) simply involves camping without any hookups. While this isn’t the most comfortable or glamorous way to camp, it is almost always free, making it an excellent option if you need to save a few bucks. Even if you don’t want to dry camp for your entire trip, you can always use boondocking to fill in any gaps.

Wondering where to dry camp? Many people will stay one night in a Walmart parking lot or at a rest stop. In fact, there are numerous parking lots that will allow this. Just make sure to check with the manager and clear out first thing in the morning.

If you’re looking for longer-term boondocking, try government-owned land such as Bureau of Land Management or National Forest Service property. Another option is to invest in a Harvest Hosts or Boondockers Welcome membership for access to boondocking on private property across the country.

Camping Memberships and Clubs

For discount camping with hookups, we recommend looking into campground memberships and discount clubs. Those who plan to camp often might find value in something like a Thousand Trails or Coast to Coast membership.

Meanwhile, those who will only camp occasionally might prefer something that requires less of an investment, such as Passport America and Good Sam Club. Escapees is another excellent option.

State Parks

Finally, we must throw out the option of state parks. These will vary greatly from one location to the next, but in general, state park camping is very low cost. In many cases, state park campgrounds include some hookups as well as bathhouses, and some even feature full hookups, laundry facilities, and more!

Affordable Entertainment on Your Cross-Country RV Trip

The final key to learning how to RV on a budget is figuring out how to sightsee without spending a fortune. Obviously, you can seek out free activities such as hikes, local festivals, and community events. We also highly recommend taking advantage of events offered by your campground for free and fun entertainment.

As far as actual attractions go, it’s hard to beat the value of reciprocal memberships. These memberships can be purchased at one attraction and used at many others across the country.

We especially love the following reciprocal programs:

  • Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) — Science and children’s museums
  • Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) — Zoos and aquariums
  • North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM) — Art and specialty museums
  • Merlin Pass — LEGOLAND parks, Sea Life aquariums, wax museums, and more
  • Six Flags — Six Flags amusement parks
  • Cedar Point — Cedar Point amusement parks
  • America the Beautiful — National parks

More Budget Travel Tips

Looking for even more budget travel tips? Below are a few more helpful hints to lower the cost of your great adventure:

  • If you own your RV and are able to work on the road, consider slower travel to spread out the cost of gas and entertainment.
  • Slow down on the highway. A speed of 55mph will help you save gas and avoid a speeding ticket.
  • Speaking of gas, you can also save a bit of money on fill-ups by using Gas Buddy to find the cheapest gas station in any given area.
  • Always cook in your RV. You have a kitchen, and you may as well use it rather than blowing money on restaurants.
  • If electric is included in a campsite, opt to use that over propane. For instance, you might use an induction cooktop rather than the propane stove, electric heaters instead of the RV furnace, and only the electric side of the water heater.
  • Travel during the off season. This will help you save on RV rental, lodging, attractions, and more.

What do you think?

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How much can you make renting your RV?

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