Is an RV Rental a Good Way to Save Money When Traveling?

Find out whether renting an RV will cut your travel costs.

A camping trailer is parked by a pristine lake while clouds crowed a rocky mountain scape in the distance.

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You’re planning to travel for a vacation, but the hotel and flight prices are daunting. You could always take a train to your destination and find a campground, but sometimes weather—and comfort concerns—may bar you from pitching a tent once you get to your target destination.

Another option is to rent a recreational vehicle (RV). The advantage of this is that it serves as both transportation and accommodation—you can drive it to a campsite, hook it up to a water and electrical service, and live normally with a bathroom, kitchen, beds, and even heating and air conditioning.

But what may be unclear is whether it will actually save you any cash.

Estimating RV Vacation Costs

The price of the RV rental will vary based on the size you want, as well as the age of the rental. If you want to rent an RV that’s less than a decade old, you could pay as little as $125 per night for a travel trailer, or up to $450 a night for a Class A RV.

A Class C RV typically sleeps three or more people and you don’t need to tow the camper—you can drive it, then park it, and live in it. You’ll also have a dining area to eat and a galley for making meals, a full bathroom, and a separate shower in most cases.

For this comparison, we’ll assume you’ll rent a Class C RV that’s less than a decade old. In that case, the average price would be about $300 per night.

Traveling by RV can also save on meals because you don’t have to dine out. For instance, if you take a family of four to a fast food restaurant, you’ll spend about $6.00 per person, which is $24 per meal. Multiply that by three meals a day and you’ll spend at least $72 a day on meals.

The cost of cooking at home is between $2 and $3 per person per meal, depending on budget. Let’s use the higher number because it’s vacation and we’re likely to splurge (and there’s no pantry to rely on in our rented RV). If you cook for your family in the RV, you’ll spend about $12.00 per meal, or $36.00 a day. That’s half what you’ll spend on fast food. For a whole week you’ll spend $252.

Now what about fuel for the RV? A trip of 2,000 miles will consume 133.3 gallons of gas costing $2.61 per gallon for a total of $347.15.

Finally, it’ll cost you park your RV in a campsite and hook it up to water and other services. Prices depend on destination, but let’s assume $50 per night, or $350 for the week.

To calculate gas costs we referred to the AAA’s National Average Gas Price for mid-August, 2019 and an estimated fuel efficiency of 15 miles per gallon for our Class C RV, based on a survey of several RV efficiency estimates. Your mileage—and your price of gas—may vary.

Add it all up: If you rent an RV for a week, you’ll spend about $2,100 for the RV, $350 on gas, $350 to park, and another $252 on food, totaling $3,052.

Estimating Airfare and Hotel Vacation Costs

The average cost of a round-trip plane ticket for a domestic flight is about $421 per person.

The average cost of a night in a hotel in August, 2019 is $176. If your children are old enough for a room of their own, this cost can double (or even triple!).

Add it all up: A week in a hotel will cost $1,232, plus airfare for four at $1,684, plus a week of fast food $504 (at $72 per day for fast food only), which totals $3,420.

Based on our analysis, a family RV vacation costs $368 less than a family vacation in a hotel room. You can either save that extra money—or spend on it thrilling adventures you find along the road. 

Check Your Own Numbers

Needless to say, these figures are averages, so if you’re considering an RV vacation, take into account the cost of RV rentals near you, the gas mileage your rental RV actually gets (plus the price you pay for gas), and the food you’ll bring along or buy. You’ll also need accurate figures for hotels and flights to your destination, plus any activities. And of course, for both options you’ll need to know the number of days you’ll be traveling.