Economical RVing: Outdoorsy’s Guide to an Affordable Camping Trip

Amelia ArvesenJune 20, 2024

Economical RVing: Outdoorsy’s Guide to an Affordable Camping Trip

Everything is getting more expensive, from groceries to gas to summer camp registration fees. The jump in prices is enough to make you question whether you can swing a family vacation at all this year—or at least one where you’re not wincing every time you get the check or step up to the cash register. Affordable RVing is the way to go for a family vacation that won’t bust the wallet.

Instead of dropping hundreds on a plane ticket for every member of your family, buckle into the seat of an RV for an outing that will give you the chance to unwind, spend quality time together, and help you pinch the purse strings. 

In this article, we’ll break down why RVing is still the most budget-friendly kind of vacation and dive into a few ways you can keep costs low and stretch your dollars during your travels. 

RVs For Rent Near You

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Are RV vacations still affordable? 

The short answer: Yes. The long answer: Also yes. Research commissioned by the RV Industry Association and Go RVing shows that RV vacations are the most affordable vacation type. 

The independent firm, CBRE Hotels Advisory Group, identified an average cost savings of up to 64% for a party of four and up to 46% for a party of two. Here are a few more compelling stats from their study:

  • 20-43% less than comparable car/hotel vacation for a couple; 21-50% for a family
  • 34-53% less than comparable air/hotel vacation for a couple; 43-64% for a family
  • 23-46% less than comparable air/rental home or condo for a couple; 28-54% for a family

Other ways RVing can save you funds

  • You can bring your pets with you, cutting down boarding costs 
  • Nightly rates at campgrounds are much cheaper than hotels
  • Your vehicle is also your home—no need for a hotel
  • No unexpected baggage fees or lost luggage
  • Gas for a rig is less expensive than airfare for a whole family
  • You have your own kitchen and dine out less
RVs on the beach

Filter RV rentals by price

When you’re browsing for RVs to rent, not only can you filter by location, rig type, drive vs. delivery, and amenities, Outdoorsy also has a handy button for setting your price range. It automatically sets to $0 to $500+ per night, but you can easily scroll the toggle bar to align with your budget. We also wrote up an article 3 Road Trips For 3 Different Budgets to help you plan for affordable RVing.

RV delivery, specifically the stationary delivery option, can also save you money if you stay in one place. You’ll pay less for Outdoorsy’s required insurance because you’re not paying to cover the rig over the road, and you won’t pay for gas since you’re staying parked. All you have to do is show up—everything is already set up for you. 

Wallet tip: If you sign up for the Outdoorsy newsletter, you’ll be the first to know about discounts. And if you rent out your family RV with us, your vacation can pay for itself.

Affordable RVing: Boondock and find free camping

Boondocking sites—or those without hookups—are almost always free, first come first serve, and rarely require reservations, but can be diamonds in the rough when you come across a good one. Save it in your maps forever, in that case. You can find these spots on National Forest land, Bureau of Land Management areas, family and friends’ driveways, and more. 

By relying on your onboard water, electrical, and sewer systems rather than plugging in at an established campground or RV resort, you can save funds on campsites. Sometimes they require a bit more searching, but you’re in luck: Our guide will help you navigate to one.

Pack what you already have

It’s easy to get caught up in the cycle of wanting new things, but whatever is already in your cupboards, closets, and garage is better than anything you’ll find at the store. Hiking shoes, swimsuits, camp chairs, beach towels, blankets, dishes, silverware—and even that Coleman stove inherited from Grandpa. RV camping is about making use of what you already have, just in a new setting. You don’t need new gear to get outside, as tempting as it seems.

If there’s something you’re missing from the list of camping essentials, ask a friend if you can borrow it for the weekend and return it when you’re back. Or, before you drain your budget on something new, check to see if you can borrow or rent the item from a community-based gear lending library or your local gear shop. Rentals can range from bikes and skis to sleeping bags and backpacks, and if there’s a borrowing fee, it’s most definitely smaller than the price tag.

Wallet tip: Some hosts offer add-ons like bikes and SUPs at accessible costs. It also makes planning and logistics easier because these amenities are integrated with the rig. 

Make simple family-style meals

Cooking your own meals remains about 50% more cost-effective than dining out, and that also applies to your affordable RVing vacation. Sure, trying new restaurants can be an enjoyable part of traveling, but there’s always the risk of not liking a place that costs you. Restaurant dining is up 30% since 2019—and if you don’t remember to plan for meals in the vacay budget, receipts can drastically add up and catch you by surprise. Instead, save some funds and splurge big on family time by cooking meals together. A few ways to make it easy—and cheaper—on yourself: 

  1. Buy ingredients from the bulk food store
  2. Pack Tupperware so you can store leftovers
  3. Load up on bulk snacks like trail mix and fruit bars
  4. Rent a rig with a full kitchen and fridge
  5. Give everybody in the family a job at mealtime

Some of our favorite campfire cooking recipes include quesadillas and ramen bowls, Dutch oven chili and cornbread, homemade hot chocolate and chai tea, and these All-American potluck-style meals. Pastas, rice bowls, green salads, and soups are also filling and affordable.

Wallet tip: If you have no choice but to eat out—like when you’re famished after a hike or bike ride—go for lunch or happy hour, split an entree, or order appetizers instead of main dishes. 

Camp cooking for affordable RVing
Camp cooking. Photo by Fresh Off The Grid.

Find free activities

Going outside is still mostly free. Exceptions include parking fees at trailheads or entrance charges at the National Parks (unless you visit on free entry days). But a little research ahead of time can help you suss out free vs. fee things to do as a family. Here are a few:

Hiking: Unless you’re paying an entrance, permit, or parking fee, many trailheads are open for use. Pack water and snacks, lace up your boots, and head down one of these trails.

Biking: Bring your own bikes or book add ons through your hosts. Same rules apply to biking as hiking: many trailheads don’t have fees. Here are 6 RV getaways around biking.

Picnicking: Make some sandwiches, pack something crunchy and something refreshing, and find a nice spot to lay out in the grass. Bring a frisbee or yard games if you’re feeling energetic.

Visiting parks: Stretch your legs during a drive or plan a whole day at the park. Most towns and cities have greenspaces worth checking out. Some of our favorites: Forest Park in Portland, Oregon; Riverside Park in Salida, Colorado; Washington Park in Denver, Colorado; Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California; Torrey Pines in San Diego, California; St. Albans Bay Town Park in Georgia, Vermont; Zilker Park in Austin, Texas; and Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park.

Birdwatching: Grab some binoculars and bird identification book, and wait for something to fly by. While you’re at it, see if you can identify the plants and trees, too. 

See what we mean? Vacation is still totally possible this year even as prices soar. Affordable RVing might be just what you and your family need to relax and reconnect. No island destination can outweigh precious time together. Start the journey by picking out a rig everyone can agree on.

RVs For Rent Near You

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Amelia Arvesen, Outdoorsy Author

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