Which Is More Economical? An RV Trip or a Car Trip? [CASE STUDY]


In the summer of 2014, I took my family on a 3-week RV trip. 3 weeks on the road with a family of 4. Not exactly the cheapest thing to do, right?

Well, as we were camping on the side of the Atlantic Ocean on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I thought I would tally it up and actually answer the question…

What is most economical?

Even though the RV sucks down fuel like a drunken sailor downs the booze, are you really coming out ahead?

Is RV travel really just about the lifestyle, or does it actually SAVE money?

Well, from that campground in North Carolina, I sat down and penned a Facebook update. I went back and dug it up. Here’s what I said at the time…

So, we’re about to wrap up a 3 week trip in the RV. Just out of personal interest, I thought I’d look at the cost of it compared to not using an RV. Some people might think that driving around this 8 mpg gas guzzler would make no sense, but perhaps not.

Total cost out of pocket for this trip is going to come in right at about $3,500. That includes food (which we would be buying if we were at home anyway).

During this trip, we went to multiple places. Stone Mountain, the mountains, Mammoth Cave, Gettsyburg, Philly, DC, Jamestown, the Outer Banks. So, trying to do a trip like this by plane would be absolutely impossible.

Then, there’s the option of using a car. Now, we have a Prius, which is awesome on gas. At around 3,100 miles this trip, we could do that in the Prius for about $220 in gas. In comparison, the RV gets (on a good day) 8 mpg, so we’re spending probably $1400-$1500 just in fuel.

But, of course…

If we traveled by car, we would need to pack MUCH lighter (we can literally bring almost anything we want with us in the RV. After all, its huge). We would be sleeping in hotel rooms, which would average $80-$100/night (probably far more in places like DC). We would have to eat out every meal, so we could EASILY drop $100/day on food. And it would be shitty food.

So, $200/day on logistics (room and board), traveling by car, for 20 days (the length of our trip), we’re looking at about minimum $4,000. And, that’s estimating lightly (3 meals out for a family of 4… it would be TIGHT trying to do that for $100/day).

Not to mention, most hotels are in urban settings, and certainly don’t compare to sitting in a campground where it is quiet and you can have a fire.

As I type this, I’m sitting literally about 200 feet from the Atlantic Ocean. This location, were I to get a hotel room or a beach rental, would probably cost a minimum of $200/night. I’m paying $75.

So, I think it is safe to say that this trip is at *LEAST* $1000 cheaper than it would have been had we traveled by car. Plus, it was much more fun. We visited better locations that wouldn’t have been possible had we needed to find hotel room every night, or eat in a restaurant.

And we had a toilet with us on the road, and anyone who has traveled with young kids knows how freakin’ ANNOYING it is to stop every time a kid has to take a piss.

Gas guzzler or not, RV traveling rocks. And it saves money like crazy.

Looking back at it, I was being generous. To put room and board into $200/day for a family of 4 would be pretty much impossible. And for food to be that cheap, we’d have to be eating at McDonalds. So, we’d spend most of the trip feeling like crap.

We like to eat healthy at home. We buy a lot of organics and we cook on our own. In the RV, we can eat exactly the same way.

On a car trip, we could potentially save some money by packing lunches, or carrying a cooler (which really wouldn’t fit in the Prius), or getting hotel rooms with kitchenettes and cook. But, then you’d have to be very strategic not to have any leftovers since you couldn’t bring them with you.

I mean, the logistics are enough to make me want to stay home. 🙂

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that RV travel for a family is significantly cheaper than taking the same trip by car.

The only exception would be if the trip were very short, but had some distance involved. The ROI of an RV is found when you’re camping in it. Actually driving it just burns cash because of the fuel consumption.

But, so many people hear that crappy gas mileage of an RV and automatically think it’d be super expensive to travel that way. But, they tend to forget that you make up for it by not having to get hotel rooms and not having to eat out.

Sure, it costs more to drive. But, you are driving a house. 😉

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