Summertime is perfect for packing up the family and hitting the open road. And whether you want to camp or simply travel in style, renting an RV (recreational vehicle) adds features to a vacation that you just can’t get anywhere else.
Like a portable “tiny house,” most RVs feature ample room for sleeping, full or partial kitchens, and space for games and fun. If you’re going to traverse the country, doing so in an RV is a lot more comfortable than, say, cramming your kids three-deep in the back of your Toyota Corolla.
How Much Does It Cost to Rent an RV?
Before you rush out to rent a RV for your summer trip, however, it’s important to know that comfort comes at a cost. While renting an RV helps you avoid many of the spending pitfalls of traditional vacations (like hotel charges, airfare, and dining out constantly), renting an RV isn’t exactly cheap.
First, you have to pay for the cost of your rental, which can vary dramatically depending on a variety of factors.
When I searched for a 10-night rental out of Indianapolis for late summer dates, a standard RV that sleeps five rang in at $1,000 for 10 nights. A larger RV that sleeps up to seven people was a bit more at $1,100.
Paying $100 per night isn’t bad at all, but you have to remember the extras, too. Not only will you have to pay for gas for a giant vehicle that might be getting less than 10 miles per gallon, but you have to pay for campground space, too. And that can vary dramatically (more on that in a bit).
How to Save Money When You Rent an RV
The bottom line: Renting an RV can be as cheap or as expensive as you make it. If you want to spend a week in a luxury rental at a campground with lots of amenities, you can. But if you want to save money, cheap RV rentals provide an extremely authentic way to see the country and spend less than you would at a resort or staying at hotels along the way.
To find out the best savings strategies for families to use, I spoke to Kevin Broom of GoRVing.com. Here are some of Broom’s best tips for families who want to score a cheap RV rental this summer:
#1: Shop around for the best RV rental deal you can find.
Flexibility is the No. 1 rule of budget travel, and RVing is no different: Renting an RV at off-peak times has its perks. “Typically, the best deals are during the winter months and during the school year,” he says. “But some RV rental companies offer hot deals and one-way rentals to move their inventory around the USA.”
The best way to save on a rental is to shop around among dates that work with your schedule. At GoRving.com, you can also compare RV rental types to search for the right size rental for your family. You can usually get away with paying a lot less for a smaller RV. Larger vehicles that sleep more people tend to cost more.
Compare options until you find the best rental with the lowest price on dates that work for your family, and you’ll be good to go.
#2: Choose your campground carefully.
The price of campground rental space can vary dramatically depending on the locale. Luxury parks with awesome amenities can be a lot of fun, but you’ll pay out the nose to stay there.
The best way to save on rental space is to shop around and plan your trip ahead. If you wing it and go wherever the road takes you, it could very well lead you to a luxury campground where you’ll pay $150+ per night for a Jacuzzi site. Yes, those exist.
State and national parks offer some of the most affordable camping in the country, on the other hand, though it’s smart to book ahead since they can fill up fast. Most states have their own websites set up to direct you to camping opportunities. You can also explore federal campsites on the U.S. National Parks Service website.
Related: How We Plan Frugal Family Vacations in National Parks
#3: Prepare your own meals in your RV.
Cooking your own food instead of dining out at restaurant is a money-saving travel idea that transcends all vacation types. But, with a rental RV, this strategy becomes especially simple. You’re basically living in your car, which is also a small house on wheels. Most rental RVs have either a full or partial kitchen with plenty of room to cook and a refrigerator to keep things cold.
You can make freezer meals ahead of time and cook them on the road. Or, you can stop at the store (park in the baaaaaaaack of the lot!) and buy ingredients as you go.
Eat all your major meals in your RV and pick up snacks for the road, and you’ll save money no matter what.
#4: Bring your own ‘extras.’
Broom says some RV rentals tack on charges for “kits” that help you avoid bringing too many supplies from home. “The RV can be equipped with a kitchen kit (pots, pans, dishes, utensils). The fee varies, but it’s normally about $100 for the rental period,” says Broom. “If you want to add in personal kits (sheets, blankets, pillow, and towels), the fees vary, but are normally about $50 per person.”
Save money and bring your own, he says. RV rentals offer these kits as a convenience, but adding them on isn’t necessary.
#5: Bring your pets along for the ride.
Boarding your pet while you travel can be extremely costly, ringing in at $25 to $50 per day or more in some parts of the country. Whether you check your dog into a pet hotel or hire an in-home dog-sitter from a service like Rover.com, those costs can add up quickly over a longer trip.
This is one reason why renting an RV can be such an affordable option, says Broom. “Sixty-three percent of RVers travel with their pets – dogs, cats, and even birds,” he says.
Instead of boarding your furry family member, bring them along for the ride. Not only is it frugal but, depending on your pet, it could make your trip extra fun.
While renting an RV isn’t as cheap as tent camping, it can be a smart alternative for families who want to experience the great outdoors without the hassle of a tent. Not everyone wants to sleep on the ground or forgo luxuries like a microwave while they travel, after all.
With a rental RV, on the other hand, you access the fun side of camping with the comfort of a hotel. And that’s what people like.
Whether you’ll save money over staying in a hotel really depends on the type of trip you choose and how many savings strategies you employ. But no matter what, you and yours will have a boatload of fun.
Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of Zero Down Your Debt. Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at ClubThrifty.com.
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Have you ever rented an RV before? Did it help you save money?