RV trips are an affordable way for families to vacation, but will rising fuel costs put your next adventure on hold?
RVers know the impact paying for fuel puts on their wallet, so what’s the best way to keep camping when fuel prices are high and not bust your budget?
To help you plan a fuel-efficient RV vacation, I put together this guide that will provide the tips and tricks experienced RVers use to travel when fuel prices rise.
Don’t park your recreational vehicle until gas prices come down. Use this guide to plan a budget-friendly RV trip and have some fun!
How Fuel Shortages Affect RV Travel
Every RVer feels that pinch when they need to fill their motorhome or tow vehicle with fuel in the best of times. So, the idea of trying to plan an RV trip with the current high price of fuel can be downright scary, making many recreational vehicle owners put their travel plans on hold.
To show you an example of how the price of gas is hurting RVers, let me share a story. My Class C motorhome has a 22-gallon gas tank. When gas prices were $1.52 in my area a scant 18 months ago, it cost me less than $34 to fill my tank, while currently, it’s now $90, and I expect it to keep climbing.
The pinch is even more significant for owners of large Class A motorhomes or those with heavy-duty trucks who tow a fifth wheel or travel trailer, often costing hundreds of dollars per fill. With most RV trips requiring numerous tanks of gas, you can see why owners are hesitant to drive their camper.
As a full-time RVer who hit the road in 2014 when gas prices in the northern US were around $4 a gallon, I remember how much it changed our approach to the rest of our RVing budget. Thankfully, gas prices fell continuously after those first few months on the road, and we could relax when it was time for a refill.
When gas prices rise, RVers start to rethink their travel plans to offset the money they need to spend on fuel. But unfortunately, most find the cost of gas too prohibitive and leave their RV in storage or even sell their camper and start traveling in other ways.
Right now, all RV owners feel the trepidation of fuel costs continuing to rise to record levels coming into peak travel season. Most wonder what, if anything, they can do to enjoy the RV lifestyle under the current fuel shortage conditions.
Luckily, there are ways for RV enthusiasts to continue traveling and still save money, so keep reading to learn how to RV during a fuel shortage so you can continue to make incredible camping memories!
Top 8 Tips to RV During Rising Fuel Costs
1. Choose RV Parks or Campgrounds Close to Home
The most obvious way to afford RV trips when fuel costs rise is to stick close to home.
The fewer miles you need to drive or tow your recreational vehicle, the less you’ll need to spend on gas or diesel to get you there and back. Map out just how far a single tank of gas will take you in your RV for a round trip to get an idea of where to start looking for a place to RV camp.
The wonderful aspect of looking nearer to your home base for a campground or RV park is that you’ll discover many places right under your nose that offer plenty of relaxation, amenities, and fun activities that you may have otherwise missed.
Small mom-and-pop RV parks still exist, and they have a feel unlike corporate or franchise RV campgrounds like KOA or Sun Outdoors.
Most smaller campgrounds have little online presence, without a website to help customers find their park outside of a Facebook page or roadside signage. However, most have very reasonable camping rates because these parks tend to be older.
You may also find private property owners who rent out campsites for RVers. These locations may be off the beaten path in a rural area or even within a metropolitan area close to museums and other attractions.
To find these hidden gems, ask RVers in your local area or through online RV forums for suggestions of places to camp within 50 miles of your home. Hipcamp is another great resource to find unique camping opportunities near you.
Another excellent option for nearby RV camping trips is to try out any national, state, or county campgrounds. Many of these public parks offer a campground that accepts RVs.
Do expect most public park campgrounds to only offer electric and water hookups, but there are more and more RV parks of this type that have upgraded their facilities to include sewer as well.
The best part about choosing to camp at state, national, or county campgrounds is the nightly rates are generally about half of what a private RV park charges, saving you even more money on your camping trip.
2. RV to a Single Destination
Another way to save money on RV travel when gas prices are high is to switch from staying at several campgrounds on your vacation and choose one for a longer time.
Remaining at one campground for a week or more will significantly reduce fuel expenses. In addition, you’ll be able to enjoy the discounts most RV parks offer on weekly or even monthly reservations.
I almost exclusively book month-long RV park stays when I travel to save money. Aside from not moving my motorhome for weeks and therefore not needing to waste fuel, I can have plenty of time to explore the area and still enjoy relaxing days at the campground.
Many new RVers don’t know that if you have the time, it’s incredibly budget-friendly to book RV campsites by the month (or season). For example, a weekly rate at one of my favorite Florida Gulf Coast campgrounds during peak season is $500. The monthly rate is $950, essentially giving me two “free” weeks.
Even if I choose to cut my trip short and only stay three weeks, I still get quite a discount versus paying weekly. In addition, campgrounds don’t care if you vacate early. They get to keep the full fee and often rebook the site to increase profits.
Start to look at your RV trip as a whole, and not only the high cost of paying for fuel to get around. Staying in one location doesn’t get boring. I’ve been doing this for years, and once you see how much money it saves, you’ll most likely make this practice part of your usual RVing plans, even if fuel costs come down.
3. Travel During Off-Season
Typically, fuel costs across the nation rise during peak travel months, namely from April through August. After that, you generally see prices at the pump go down the rest of the year, but the current fuel situation may not allow that to happen this year.
What will help you save money, even if gas prices remain high, is to RV during the off-season when you can at least enjoy lower campground rates at private RV parks.
Using the example of my favorite coastal campground above, the weekly off-season rate is $470, while the monthly is $770, which would give me nearly $200 extra dollars I could use to offset the higher fuel costs to get me there.
Consider this option as another way to reduce overall camping costs while still enjoying the nicer weather found in the shoulder season from September through early November. However, don’t discount the joys of winter camping, where you not only save on campsite rates but don’t have to fight the typical summer crowds.
4. Rethink RV Activities and Outings
During road trips, another large chunk of RV expenses is visiting local restaurants and attractions, where the meal costs and entry fees add up quickly.
If you take time to plan, you can bring enough food to prepare your meals while camping instead of eating out, saving you a bundle. You can also research all the free or low-cost activities to take part in at your RV destination.
Hiking and biking are excellent for the body and mind and give you a glimpse of the local wildlife, landscape, and geography. In addition, many museums and zoos offer free or discounted days each month.
A walking tour through a historic town doesn’t need to cost a cent. Likewise, a campground that offers a pool or organized activities can provide a way to have fun without adding stress to your wallet.
Make a game of finding options to have fun without spending money on your RV trip, and the higher cost of your fuel won’t be as problematic.
5. Trade Your Current RV for a More Fuel-Efficient Camper
I won’t ignore the fact that some RVs may be just too expensive to fill with fuel to take camping, no matter how much you try to save money in other ways.
Suppose you still want the ability to RV during a fuel shortage. In that case, you should consider trading in that gas-guzzling motorhome, heavy-duty tow vehicle, or massive travel trailer or fifth wheel for something lighter and more fuel-efficient.
Many lightweight travel trailers on the market can fit a family but are towable with an SUV or crossover that gets much better gas mileage. An RV couple or solo traveler can swap out a Class C motorhome or bigger travel trailer for a compact teardrop you can pull with many sedans.
A Class B campervan has a higher initial price tag, but they get much better fuel economy than other types of motorhomes. Switching a travel trailer to a truck camper can also reduce RV costs.
The joys of camping come from seeing new places, enjoying the outdoors, and taking part in new adventures. While a fancy recreational vehicle is nice, you can have just as much fun in something more manageable on your wallet and the environment.
6. Use RV Trip Planner and Gas Finder Apps
There are many apps RVers can download that can help you plan a more fuel-efficient vacation. Utilizing these memberships and app information is worth the time and expense it takes to add them to your RV planning portfolio.
Getting an RV trip planning membership, such as the RV LIFE Trip Wizard can provide you with the best travel routes to reach your destination with the fewest miles. Many also offer an array of other features such as:
- Locations of fuel stations with current pricing
- Free or low-cost attractions along your route
- Campground information
- Free RV parking locations
- Safe routes that can accommodate your RV size and weight
- Estimated fuel or travel expenses for each leg of your trip
- Reviews of RV parks, restaurants, and other points of interest on route
Apps such as GasBuddy can quickly guide you to the nearest gas station with lower fuel prices so you can save on your RV fill-ups.
7. Lighten the Load in Your RV
You may be surprised at the gain in mileage you can get from reducing the overall weight of your RV before your next camping trip.
Go through your camper and remove all items you do not need, even those “just in case” items you stash in the backs of cabinets. In reality, you’ll never be far from a store or a fellow camper who will have such emergency supplies, so you don’t need to waste gas by dragging them along.
Look through all your clothing, kitchen supplies, and camping gear and reduce the amount as much as possible. Then, get out the scale and weigh these items you’re removing to get an idea of how much load you’re taking off your RV.
Instead of heavy canned goods, choose lighter-weight versions packed in paper, foil, or plastic. Powdered drink mixes are great, and you can wait until you reach your destination to stock up on gallons of water or cases of beer.
Just think that for every 50 pounds you remove from your camper, you are gaining “free” miles to take you to more fun places!
8. Tune-up your Motorhome or Tow Vehicle and Slow Down
Another way to help extend your gas mileage is to ensure you maintain a motorhome or tow vehicle engine, giving you the best performance. Pay special attention to the air filter and oil condition that most affect mileage.
Low tires also create friction that lowers fuel economy, so keep RV tires at the correct pressure and check them often throughout your trip.
Lastly, all recreational vehicles will burn less fuel if you move over to the slow lane and keep speeds below 65 MPH.
For camping trailers, reducing speed will also increase safety as there will be less sway or movement of the RV that can quickly lead to fishtailing and accidents.
If you love to RV, don’t let high fuel prices discourage you from taking trips this year.
With a bit of planning and using the tips in this guide, you can increase your gas mileage and save money on other camping expenses so you can still afford to travel.
RVers are the best at learning how to adapt and think critically about ways to lower trip expenses, and you too can become an expert at RVing during rising fuel costs.
I hope you use the tips above so you can keep exploring new locations or enjoy relaxing at your favorite RV campgrounds this year, no matter what price you see at the fuel pump!
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