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RV or Motel: Which One is Cheaper?

Doing the Math


RV or Motel: Which One is Cheaper?
Mark Kahler, licensed to About.com

Generally, the larger your family, the better your opportunity to save money with an RV. Savings also grow with the length of your trip.

Let's look at two of the major costs in any trip, meals and fuel. Consider the prospect of two weeks exploring the American West for a family of four.

  • Meals: $ 1400 (@$100/day)

  • Gasoline: $ 560 (@3500 miles, 25 MPG, gas $4/gal.)

  • Total: $ 1960

    Now let's look at the same distances with an RV.

  • Meals: $300 (@$150/week for groceries)

  • Gasoline $1400 (@3500 miles, 10 MPG, gas $4/gal.)

  • Total: $1700

    Notice that the savings on meals (which you'd prepare yourself) more than offsets the higher cost of fuel. Diesel fuel could cost even more. Some RVs, such as the Winnebago Via, offer gas mileage of 15 MPG or more, so these figures obviously vary by model.

    The big savings have to come from skipping expensive hotel rooms.

    Studies are all over the board on this important figure. The good ones factor in a variety of costs you might not think about right away: interest charges on the purchase or RV insurance, for example.

    Generally, the savings over hotels significant. But some budget travelers expect the RV option to be far cheaper than reality, perhaps because they associate it with "roughing it."

    If you typically rent more than one motel room for your family, your savings could be greater. But the family of four that can make due with one room might be at the lower end of the savings scale.

    Parking an RV for the night is usually not free. People outside the RV world wrongly assume you can park anywhere you want for the night and pay nothing. That might happen occasionally (usually by prior arrangement) but most nights, there are camping fees of $10-$40 to pay.

    For some, the added money won't matter, because this type of travel is wrong for them. Click "next" to the right and consider if you fit into that category.

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