It used to be that RVing was a travel style specifically chosen because of its affordability. And in many circles, that’s the reigning perception: that cheap camping is, well, cheap and easily accessible, and that traveling or living in an RV is a great way to see the world on a moderate income.
Of course, anyone who’s spent more than a few minutes in an actual RV knows that’s not always actually the case, especially if they’ve had to visit a gas station during their tenure. And along with fuel, there’s also food, campground accommodation fees, and of course the ever-present issue of maintenance and repairs to take into consideration.
In other words, camping actually isn’t cheap unless you go out of your way to make it that way. But fortunately, there are some very simple ways to keep yourself from breaking the bank while you’re wandering around the country.
In this post, we’ll walk you through some of the best money saving tips for campers, from easily finding half-off campsites to saving oodles on necessities like groceries.
Camping on a Budget Doesn’t Have to Be a Drag
We can already hear some of you groaning and rolling your eyes. After all, the whole point of a vacation is to enjoy it, right? Saving money is great and all, but if it turns your camping trip into a chore, you may as well just stay home.
Well, we’re here to tell you that you can actually enjoy a cheap camping trip without it feeling like you’re cutting corners. It’s all about finding the small ways that can really add up to save you some dough.
5 Easy Ways to Save Money on the Road
Here are some of the most creative ways to save money we’ve found.
1. Sick of paying for costly campsites? Try boondocking.
If you’re used to staying in the kind of campground where you and your neighbors are packed in like sardines on the broiling-hot tarmac of a glorified parking lot, boy, do we have news for you.
You could instead find yourself waking up in some of the most beautiful countrysides imaginable, all for an extremely low cost, or even free. You will, however, have to forego shore hookups and those “extras” you’re shelling out $75 per night for. (But let’s face it: when’s the last time you actually found yourself schlepping down to the campground pool?)
Boondocking is the term campers have given to the act of finding free or low-cost spots out in the wilderness and setting up camp there, whether it’s just overnight or for as long as you’re allowed to stay. (Most wilderness areas have a cap of 14 days or so.) You won’t have electricity unless you’ve got solar panels or a generator, and you’ll have to pack your water in, but it’s a great way to significantly lower your campground accommodation costs. Sites may cost just a few dollars per night, and many boondocking spots are absolutely free!
That said, if you’re used to the amenities of a modern, developed campground, you could find boondocking lacking in the luxury department. And no matter what kind of camping style you’re accustomed to, it does take some skills to become a boondocking pro — check out this guide to boondocking if you’re a first-timer.
2. Or, if living in the lap of luxury is non-negotiable, grab a Passport America membership.
Now, some of you are probably thinking, “Boondocking is all well and good for a weekend. But most days, I need electricity to function. And I don’t want to have to think hard about every last drop of water I use.”
Well, in that case, we have an alternative suggestion: how would you like to stay in some of the nicest campgrounds in America, all for a full 50% off the price advertised to the masses?
With a Passport America membership, that’s exactly what you’ll get, and in case you’re worried you’ll only have a limited selection of participating campgrounds, think again. There are almost 1900 campgrounds across the U.S. that honor the deal, including some locations in Mexico and Canada. In short, there’s probably one where you’re going!
What’s more, a Passport America membership costs less than $50 per year… and since it immediately knocks a full 50% off the price of resort-style campgrounds, that cost can pay for itself in a single weekend. We know there are lots of discount camping clubs out there to choose from and it’s easy to become overwhelmed, but we have to admit that Passport America is one of our favorites. (And yes, they’re also an affiliate. 😉 )
3. Stay longer.
For those of you who are full-timers, or travelers who take to the road for weeks at a time, here’s one of our best frugal living tips that will also keep you saner: stay longer at each of your destinations! Week-long and month-long campground site rentals tend to be much cheaper than per night prices, and you’ll also have a better opportunity to actually see and experience the place you’re visiting. No more driving yourself crazy making sure you’ve got some touristy activity planned for every moment of the day. Instead, just sit back, relax, and see it at your leisure… all while saving money at the same time.
4. Your RV probably comes with a kitchen… so use it!
Cooking at home rather than going out to eat is saving money 101, and it continues to be one of the best ways to save money in 2019. Since your RV probably came with at least rudimentary kitchen equipment, there’s no reason you shouldn’t take advantage of that situation and cook the majority of your meals at home. That way, you’ll have the budget left over to splurge when there’s something special you really do want to taste.
Breakfasts and lunches are simple to whip up at home; some eggs and bacon or cereal suffices for most of us, and sandwiches are cheap and easy. But when you’re traveling with a stove and oven on board (not to mention the grill that’s probably available at the campsite), you can whip up gourmet dinners, too! Here are a few RVshare blog posts to help get your saliva — er, creative juices — flowing.
- Tasty and Easy Meals to Whip Up In Your RV
- Around the Campfire: Recipes for RVing
- The Grillmaster’s Guide to RV Cooking
5. Looking for the cheapest gas? This app is your friend.
Anyone who’s traveled by RV for even a few miles knows that one of the biggest budget items is what goes into your gas tank. Even modestly-sized motorhomes can be guzzlers, getting as little as 6 miles to the gallon, and the largest Class As sometimes see as few as 4.
When you’re talking about putting hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars into your tank, every spare cent counts. That’s why we always check GasBuddy to be sure there’s not a station that’s significantly cheaper within an easy drive. You’d be surprised how often you can save a full quarter per gallon, or even more, just by going an extra block or two!
How Do I Find Cheap RV Parks and Campgrounds Near Me?
Still wondering, “How do I find cheap camping near me?”
It’s important to understand that not every open space of land is actually an acceptable boondocking location — and indeed, not every campground honors Passport America’s amazing deals.
But if you can’t find a cheap place to camp, there is another factor under your control that can help: the price of your RV rental!
Because the motorhomes and travel trailers available for rent through RVshare are offered by regular, everyday people just like you and me, they’re usually offered at a fraction of the price you’d find at the big, nationwide dealerships. After all, RV owners don’t have to foot the expensive overhead costs of running a business, and the marketing is all taken care of by, well, us!
And along with getting a cheaper rig, you may also get a cozier one, too; most of the rental vehicles available from the big box stores are straight off the factory floor, which may sound like a good thing, but often leads to a totally character-free camping experience. When you’re traveling in someone’s actual vacation vehicle, you’re in for some coziness and comfort!
The good news is, either way, you’ll soon discover that camping doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Who knows? Maybe you’ll save up enough to take on the lifestyle full time. It’s happened to quite a few of us!
This post may contain affiliate links.