One of my life-long dreams is to travel across the USA in an RV. Needless to say, I’m super excited to share this guest post from Jill of Let’s Travel Family on her full-time RV budget and examples. Enjoy!
The costs to take a family trip or vacation can be budgeted, planned for, and saved up until the day you depart.
However, if you are ALWAYS traveling with your family, then your budget will look so different.
One year ago, our family of 6 sold most of our belongings, bought an RV, and set off to travel full time around the United States.
We have now been traveling as a digital nomad family across the USA, with no end in sight!
How do we afford it? Are we rich? Ha…not even close.
Without a home base, we no longer have the expenses of a house and the bills associated with it. Yet, we do have many expenses that we need to be prepared for each month, and they vary from month to month. We also needed to purchase several RV must-haves before launching.
Our Full-time RV Budget
The trick to budgeting full-time travel is to KNOW going into this lifestyle that expenses will fluctuate depending on WHERE you travel that month, week, or day.
They will vary, but that does not mean that you cannot have a ‘general’ budget to use as a guideline.
General Monthly Budget
My husband and I have our estimated cost for our main expenses figured out, and some months we go over and other months we are way under.
I suggest that if you want to live a traveling lifestyle that you have a savings account to fall back on so that you can draw from it on the months that you go over your budget. Just be sure to replenish your savings on the months that you are UNDER budget.
For you to understand this better, I am going to break down our ‘general’ monthly budget for our family of 6 traveling the USA in an RV. Then I am going to pick a month and give you some ACTUAL numbers to look at.
Monthly Budget Categories For Family RV Travel In The USA
RV Payment (if you took out a loan)
Extra Vehicle Payment (if you took out a loan)
Extra Vehicle Insurance
Gasoline and Propane Used
Vehicle Maintenance (oil change, new tires)
Cellular Phone Bills
Cellular Hotspot Internet Plans (remote work)
Campground Fees (water/electric included)
Tolls and Entrance fees to State and National Parks
Restaurants or Eating Out
General Monthly Budget For Let’s Travel Family
Our General monthly budget includes everything listed above except the extra vehicle loan payment, because we just paid it off! That always feels good. (Editors note: Best feeling EVER!)
Here is our General Monthly Budget with some figures for you to see:
$709 – RV Payment (if you took out a loan)
$84 – RV Insurance
$0 – Extra Vehicle Payment (if you took out a loan)
$68 – Extra Vehicle Insurance
$454- Gasoline and Propane Used
$100 – Vehicle Maintenance (oil change, new tires)
$600 – Medical Insurance
$150 – Cellular Phone Bills
$70 – Cellular Hotspot Internet Plans (remote work)
$11 – Netflix
$600 – Campground Fees (water/electric included)
$1200 – Groceries
$60 – Prescription Medication
$20 – Tolls and Entrance fees to State and National Parks
$200 – Entertainment
$200 – Restaurants or Eating Out
$60 – Laundry
How Do RV Travel Expenses Compare to ‘Sticks n Bricks’?
When we lived in a ‘sticks and bricks’ (a house WITHOUT wheels) our budget was a lot more fixed.
We had expenses that did not change such as rent, internet, van payment, insurance, electric, water, trash, groceries (bought from the same stores so pretty consistent), medical, and a general Restaurant and Entertainment budget that could fluctuate.
We also had a budget for gasoline in our van, that was almost always within budget of about $200 per month.
Overall, we made a shift with the same amount of income to make this lifestyle work.
We do not pay rent, but we do pay for an RV payment, campground fees, laundry, and extra in entertainment.
While traveling, we needed to budget MORE for entertainment, as we are arriving at fun and exciting new places where we want to experience making fantastic memories as a family together.
We no longer pay electric, water, and gas to heat a house….but we do pay more in gasoline to drive our vehicles.
What Expenses Vary While Traveling Full Time In An RV?
Campground fees can change drastically depending on where we are in the country.
Gasoline used by both the Motorhome and Van fluctuates a lot.
Grocery prices change each month as it depends on which grocery store is within a 30-minute drive of our campground, that’s affordable, and has fresh produce and things that our family wants to eat.
Entertainment fluctuates more now that we are traveling fulltime too.
We try to keep our restaurant budget the same as when we were in the sticks and bricks, because we travel with our kitchen.
It’s so nice to have that in our motorhome while we travel.
Here is a list of our most varied expenses:
The price per gallon of gasoline is very different depending on where we are in the country.
For example, the gas prices in California last September were $3.25 per gallon, while they were $2.15 per gallon in Minnesota.
Our RV gets about 8 miles per gallon, while our minivan can give us 22 miles per gallon.
The price itself really affects our budget, however, how many miles we plan to drive that month is also another HUGE factor.
If we decide to stay in 1 state for a longer period of time, we save on gasoline expenses.
However, we may end up traveling in snow, if that state is coming into winter and we need to leave. Or, if campground fees in that state are much too expensive.
How much does it cost for camping reservations? It all depends on the type of ‘camping’ you want to experience while traveling fulltime in an RV across the states.
Many fulltime traveling families sign up for a campground membership in order to cut down on expenses.
We have a Thousand Trails membership, and it helps keep our campground fee down.
The membership costs and levels vary, but basically we pay about $700 for the entire year.
Then we are allowed to camp inside any Thousand Trails campground within the 3 zones we paid for (Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest) for 1-14 days in a row for free, then we have to be OUT of the Thousand Trails system for 7 days.
Many fulltime families will stay 2 weeks in a Thousand Trails campground, then 1 week at a state park or private campground, then go back to another Thousand Trails campground for 2 weeks.
However, the TT campgrounds are not always where we want to travel to, so we do not limit ourselves to this way to camping.
We have found that State and National Park campgrounds cost between $15-$30 per night, often much less expensive than the private campgrounds. So this is a way to save on camping fees.
Lastly, our family is set up to ‘dry camp’ or ‘boondock’. Meaning, we have a generator on board that we can run to generate electricity.
Therefore, we will look for BLM land to camp on for free and run our generator. This cuts down on expenses A LOT!
You also can only book 60 days in advance, and sometimes they get booked up!
Groceries – Why Our Spending Changes Each Month
As the main cook in the family, I have learned to have favorite brands of food. Favorite stores to shop at.
Items that I know are healthy, affordable, and our family will eat. (Tip: Use Ibotta to save more on your groceries)
Yet, as a full time traveling family, we must find a NEW grocery store each time that we shop!
Often we are staying at a campground that is 35 miles from the nearest grocery store, and that grocery store is a Walmart, we have learned to get by.
There are a few factors that come into effect.
When we lived in a house, we would shop for a full week of groceries and use our large freezer in our ‘sticks n bricks’ to hold additional food.
Well, living in a motorhome with a MUCH smaller refrigerator and freezer requires us to shop every 4-5 days.
The more often we enter a store, the more we spend. Even without trying!
Another factor that limits our family to ‘easy’ food is that our youngest daughter has a dairy intolerance.
She cannot consume any dairy at all. It wasn’t until I began to REALLY read the back of packages such as bread, cereal, chips, and even some juices to find out that dairy is found in SO many prepared foods in America.
Which, to be honest, is not as bad for our family as one might think.
We have been working hard at cutting out the ‘junk’ food and eating only ‘whole’ and ‘fresh’ foods.
The problem with that is, that is can be difficult to find in same parts of the country. When you do find it, you’ll be spending over your grocery budget.
Fruits, Vegetables, meat, eggs, basic bakery bread…it all costs more in the USA than ‘junk’ food.
So it ends up affecting our grocery bill.
Lastly, the COST of groceries fluctuates depending on the region you are visiting.
For example, I found the same brand and package of sandwich meat at Walmart in California cost us $4.25 per pound, while in Texas it cost us $2.99 per pound.
Our Take On Expenses For Full Time RV Travel
Traveling the states full time with our kids has been a dream come true for our family. I highly recommend taking a year and doing it yourselves, if you have the chance.
Making a budget ahead of time and understanding the variable costs will help you explore and make memories with the added worry and stress of not having enough money.
I hope that taking a look at a snapshot of our budget and expenses helps you understand what it might take to make this lifestyle a reality for you.
Jill and her family are full-time RV travelers and love to share their life on their blog Let’s Travel Family.
All images shown are the property of Let’s Travel Family.