The cost of a year-long RV trip

Below are some stats and figures from our trip. Was it almost a year? Was it over a year? Depends on how you look at it.

The timeline:

Just 6 weeks into our travels, my dad died. We spent about two months back in Indy living with my mom before resuming our travels.

The stats:

RV miles 15,689
Car miles 13,031
Total miles 28,720
Photos taken 17,293
Campgrounds camped at 111
Average campground fee $19.43/night
Highest camping fee
(Los Angeles, CA)
Lowest camping fee
(manure hill at Hell’s Canyon, ID)

The financial breakdown

I remember when we first got the hankering for some RVing, the first question we had was “how much would it cost?” To help any readers that stumble upon our humble blog wondering the same thing, read on. I’m not saying that this is what it would cost you, this is just what it cost us.

The RV

1999 29’ Coachmen Leprechaun Class C RV
Our first RV, purchased in 2010 on a home equity line of credit at a ridiculously low rate of 3.25%. Some months we would only make the minimum monthly payment of $180 and other months we would pay more.

Start-up costs

Below are the additional RV items that we purchased in the first half of 2011 in preparation for our year-long trip:

Towbar (used)
This is what connects the back of the RV to the front of car for towing
This is a near-permanent modification to the car’s frame and provides a place on the front of the car to attach the towbar
Supplemental brake (used)
This is like a mechanical foot that presses the brake in the car when it feels the RV braking. Thou shalt not tow a car without supplemental brakes.
Taillight wiring kit
More modification to the car that allows the cars brake lights and turn signals to work in tandem with the RV’s.
A rather expensive device and one that requires a complex modification of the RV’s electrical system. We never installed it, but if we had it would have converted electricity from our bank of batteries into AC power and powered the RV’s AC outlets even when not hooked up to electrical service. We thought this would be a requirement for living full time on the road, but we made do without it. I will, however, be installing it in our current RV before we start our next trip.
Hitch Adapter
This was a special hitch thingy that allowed us to attach both the towbar for the car AND a bike rack to the back of the RV.
Bike rack
A bike rack for 5 bikes (note: I regret taking the bikes)
Total expenses for RV “stuff” $2,968.20
Income from selling other crap ($3,046.49)
Net gain ($78.29)

I was very surprised that the “expense” number was that low. Even though we were being as frugal as possible by buying what we could used off of eBay and Craig’s List, I remember feeling like we were hemorrhaging money.

In the months before we left town, we donated and pitched as much stuff as we could. There were a few items, however, that made it worth the hassle of selling online to make a few bucks. Having recently downsized my office, I had several computers, monitors and other high-ticket electronics that I was happy to part with in exchange for much-needed cash. Selling stuff online was a total pain in the butt, but I’m glad we did it; it more than paid for all of the stuff we had to buy for the RV.

This would be the last time, however, that RVing would be any kind of money-making endeavor.

RV trip expenses:
Below are the total “trip-related” costs for the 50 weeks we traveled. I use that term loosely, as I am trying capture all of the expense even remotely related to living on the road.

Camping fees $6,800.51
Gas: RV $8,146.04
Maintenance: RV $3,668.75
Propane $511.03
Gas: car $1,566.13
Maintenance: car $106.24
Groceries $13,515.69
Admission fees
We managed this very carefully by purchasing annual park passes and avoiding expensive touristy things 
We don’t even eat out that much, but it apparently adds up.
RV payments
We purchased a bigger RV halfway through the trip. I’m extrapolating our current monthly payment ($394.41/mo) across the entire 50 weeks to derive what we would have paid if we had the current RV from the start. This makes this figure both simpler and more conservative.
Car payments $3,480.00
Insurance (RV and car) $1,536.00
License plates $456.65
Home-school stuff
Curriculum, books, online classes
This is hardly a required expense, but it was part of the traveling experience to send stuff to friends and family from the road
Amy’s races, yoga classes, hiking shoes, bike repairs, etc.
Miscellaneous Expenses
Mailbox forwarding, firewood, parking expenses, toll roads, ferry fees, stuff like that.
Total RV trip expenses for 50 weeks $53,080.97
Average RV trip expenses/month $4,600.35/mo

Fixed, non-RV-trip expenses:
Apparently, one still has to pay one’s mortgage even when one is not living in one’s house.

Home mortgage $10,376.88
Home maintenance
Ouch. We had to replace the AC.
Home insurance $861.00
Property taxes $1,029.34
Total fixed non-RV-trip expenses $17,467.97
Average fixed non-RV-trip expenses/month $1,455.66/mo


Total RV trip expenses $53,080.97
Total fixed non-RV-trip expenses $17,467.97
Total gross expenses $70,548.94
Average gross expenses/month $5,879.08/mo
Rental income ($13,400.00)
Net expenses (The Grand Total) $57,148.94
Average net expenses/month $4,762.41/mo

So there you have it. We had a few other business and personal expenses that fell well outside the scope of our RV traveling, but otherwise this “Grand Total” represents the cost of a family of five to live, laugh and love for a year in an RV.

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