Sunday, July 31, 2016


A friend asked me this morning about the comparison of the cost and convenience of an rv versus traveling and staying strictly in motels.  She knows we have chosen rv life, but wondered if it was the right choice for her.  She asked me for my input.

I told her it was a long and complicated process to make the choice so I would do a blog post  to help her, and hopefully others make the decision as to what was best for them because no two families are alike.

My husband and I have camped all our lives so we automatically lean toward camping, but there is a lot more to consider in making the big choice. I’ll break it down by categories to hopefully make it simpler for her and you.  Please remember these are my opinions based on my own experiences.


With traveling via car or airplane and staying at motels you have really no expenses in the beginning in the initial investment stage.  All the cost on that comes later in ongoing costs.

As far as an rv there are all sorts of upfront costs depending on what type of rv you go with and your transportation once you get your camp set-up.

Gary and I have camped in just about every type of equipment and conditions imaginable.  From simply throwing a blanket on the ground to staying in a friends motorhome for a long weekend.  So we have some experience in this territory. 
We have personally owned a pop-up (tent trailer), a bumper pull and three different fifth wheels.

For ease in pulling the pop-up and the fifth wheels win hands down.  Gary drove the motor home and my father’s cab over pick-up truck camper and said he preferred driving our pick-up with the fifth wheel over both those units.

Another consideration with those two styles of rvs is ground transportation after you set camp.  Both the motor home and cab over, unless you have a towed vehicle, require you to completely break camp to go anywhere.

You can go, as woman said she does with her motorhome, rent a car at the location for ground transport.  She says that is actually cheaper than towing a travel vehicle and maintaining it.  But that is a subject for another time.

What type of rv you purchase and what you want in it will definitely make a difference in how much you pay for the unit naturally.  Just like purchasing a car or truck with or without luxury features.

You also need to look at the cost of new vs used.  When looking at a travel trailer or motorhome the argument on this is pretty much the same as when trying to decide on new vs used on any vehicle or appliance.  All the same arguments apply.

There is one thing to consider with used rvs that I have never had to consider when purchasing a car.  I have never been to a parking lot that has said you can’t park your car here because it is too old.  I have been to campgrounds that have age limits on rvs. 

Generally it is if the rv is older than 10 years old they aren’t allowed.  Although at these same campgrounds I have never been asked for proof of age of my rv. It is just something you need to be aware of if you are looking at older rvs.

So you decide the type of rv you want, what luxuries you want (washer, dryer, automatic levelers, slide toppers, awnings, etc), ground transportation and if it is a towed vehicle the costs of the equipment to tow it and then you start considering other things. On the upfront costs of the rv vs motels route.

You also need to seriously look at your tow vehicle for trailers of all sorts.  Do your research, know your vehicles TRUE pulling and STOPPING power.  Don’t take the word of the salesman at either the car/truck or rv dealership.  Remember they make their living by selling you the most expensive unit they can, whether your vehicle can really handle that big rig or not. Do your research away from the sellers.

Time after time we have seen and talked to people who have been told their half ton pickup will pull a huge fifth wheel with no trouble and they have ended up with all sorts of vehicle trouble, or worse, wrecks because of it. 

You need to take into consideration not only the weight of the empty trailer, but the weight of everything you put in it.  Be aware a simple gallon of water weights 8.4 pounds so if you fill a 30 gallon tank you are adding over 250 pounds to that trailer not only to pull, but to STOP in traffic, going downhill in the rain….

Do your homework on this for certain before putting a large rig on a truck.  Our fifth wheel is a 37 ft.  Montana with an aluminum frame.  We pull it with a one ton diesel dually Chevy Silverado and there was recently an event that our trailer brake assist failed and we came within inches of rear ending a vehicle in what would have normally been a very reasonable stopping distance.  Trailers PUSH hard when going downhill and they pull hard going uphill. Trust me we stopped and fixed that problem immediately.

If your vehicle won’t handle it and doesn’t have a tow package on it I highly recommend a different vehicle or a smaller trailer.  By the way, we personally prefer a dually for a tow vehicle because it, to us, gives more stabilization by having those extra wheels on the ground.


Just like your car you have to have insurance on your rv. This can be as simple or as complicated as you deem necessary.  We have our fifth wheel insured in conjunction with our pick-up and therefore it is a lower rate and has the same coverage as the truck does. 
However, you need to be aware that if you are doing full time rving some companies will not cover your rv in this manner. Make sure you are carrying the proper insurance.

In our home state of Oklahoma, because we still own our sticks and bricks home our homeowners insurance covers the contents of our rv for theft, fire, storm etc, just like our house is covered.

Individual states and companies will vary, so be sure and check the costs of this and add that into your equation.

We also have AAA rv insurance coverage. Do not be tempted to think just because you have AAA your trailer and tow vehicle are both covered, because at least with the Oklahoma policies your card MUST say you have rv coverage on the front of it to even get a flat changed on your tow vehicle if your trailer is hooked up to it.


RV’s have to be tagged separately and if your state requires excise tax or other transfer of ownership taxes that needs to be added into your equation as well.  When we purchased our current fifth wheel I was able to find an pretty good estimate online as to what those costs would be before I ever purchased the fiver.


Yes, accessories, now there are a few for a motel stay that if you don’t already have you might need to consider.

Luggage something to consider. Yes, you can motel stay using Wal-Mart sacks, but is that is asking for loss of important items to happen and if you are flying they won’t let you check those.  Spring for good quality luggage if you are going to travel a lot, especially if that travel includes flying.

You can often find good luggage at thrift stores for far cheaper than retail.  Check zippers and clasps thoroughly if you are doing this. 

You might also want to consider an ice chest for picnics and snacks on the road.  If you go with an ice chest you have two options to consider.  Electric or normal ice chests.  

Our experience with the electric was it didn’t keep things as cool as we liked (generally only about 5-10 degrees below the current ambient temperature in your vehicle (including when your car is locked in the sun meaning it will drain your car battery and only cool it to around 100 or more degrees in a locked car in August and it will, on occasion, blow the fuses of your vehicle.

If you do the regular type, then you have the cost of ice for it.  There are of course all sorts of ways to cut that cost both in motel camping and rving.  Another post for certain.

Believe it or not you MAY in some instances want an overnight bag each in a camper as well.  On more than one trip in the past we have traveled to a location, to park our rv in the motel’s major parking/storage lot and stay in the motel.  Generally this was done for business travel, and we could have done it with Wal-Mart bags, but we choose to take overnight bags.  We own some nice collapsible ones that take almost no space to store in the camper for such use.  We have also used those bags for taking laundry to the laundromat. There may also be occasions that you will have to stay in a motel or a friend’s house while rv repairs are being done.

The rv has its own set of accessories.  Some are necessary, some are simply nice to have.

Necessary: pots, pans, plates bowls and other meal preparation items.  You can either outfit your camper with items for your camper kitchen from your sticks and bricks home, from thrift stores, or all brand new.  How you do it will affect your upfront total as well.

Then of course there are your linens, be aware some rvs have “short” beds.  This is generally due to how slides must come in on the unit.  A regular mattress will not work on these beds, but regular sheets will.  The beds are the same width as standard mattresses, but are shorter by x amount of inches. 

Our bed is a queen short.   I use regular queen sheets on it and just tuck the extra length under the mattress.

If one of your family members is taller in stature and you fall in love with a short bed camper you can, once you are set-up pull the mattress down at the foot of the bed slightly and add a few inches to the length because you don’t generally sleep with your head right smack up against the wall.  It does get to be a bit of a hassle doing this every time you set up or tear down and does narrow your walkway at the foot of the bed, but if that is the only deciding factor on the purchase then don’t let it stop you. Me, I don’t have that problem, I am only 5’1”.

Set-up accessories: leveler blocks/boards, chocks, sewer hose, sewer connector, sewer hose support (can simply be a sloped board), drinking water hose (one actually made to use for drinking water), separate water hose to use for sewer clean out, water regulator and I am certain there are more I am forgetting.

Pets: if your pet is traveling with you campgrounds require that you keep them on a 6 ft. leash, in a crate, tied out on a 6 ft leash, or in pet fencing at all times when outdoors.  If you do not already have these that cost will need to be added.  Of course for strictly auto travel you will need a leash anyway and possibly a crate.

Unnecessary, but nice to have for various reasons: wheel covers (these extend the life of your tires), ground cloth/rug to put in front of your steps to help prevent tracking ground debris into the camper, outdoor table cloths, table cloth clips, lawn chairs, lawn tables, a sunshade or screen porch/canopy, tiki torches, awning lights the list goes on and on.

Rv maintenance, tires, greasing the wheel bearings, and other things quite similar to that of an auto, only they often cost a little more to pay to have or you can do them yourself.

Then of course there is the extra tag to purchase every year and in some states an rv is tagged as a luxury item and therefore costs more.

Fuel, the more you drag/carry the lower your fuel will drop.  Usually by ¼ to ½ if you are pulling a big rig.

So after reading all the upfront and maintenance costs you might wonder why in the world anyone would think rving would be better.  Let’s look at that.

Nightly rates: Unless you want to stay in the roach and bedbug motel you are looking at a minimum of roughly $70 per night.  Even with loyalty cards that can be a major chunk of money.  5 nights at such a motel is $350 plus taxes and you have to eat at least 2 of your meals out daily (many hotels have a free breakfast of sorts).

Many campgrounds have weekly and monthly rates and many that same $350 will buy you a month’s stay that includes water, electric, sewer and sometimes wi-fi (albeit slow) and limited cable tv. 

We camp at many places for $9 to $10 a night, and many times free.  The highest we have ever paid was $69 per night, that was at Walt Disney World’s Ft. Wilderness and includes all sorts of free entertainment, transportation and atmosphere you won’t get staying elsewhere.  Their value resorts average $100 to $150 a night on season, so even there you save around half by camping.

With just this factor you can quickly see that if you camp much at all you will save a lot of money and that doesn’t include the free movies, ice cream and other goodies that camping fee often includes.

Then there is the matter of hygiene.  I personally like KNOWING who slept in my bed last and when the sheets were last changed.  That there are no bed bugs in the bed and furniture. 

No grungy fungi hiding in my shower and when the toilet was last scrubbed, but that is just me.

I also like knowing my dishes, pots and pans are truly clean. So health consequences and peace of mind you will have to put the value on yourself.

If you want to take your pet with you most campgrounds now not only allow you to bring your animals, as long as you obey the rules, but have dog run areas as well without an extra fee for Phydeaux.  Hotels often have pet friendly rooms, but also charge extra per pet.

As they sang in the musical Oliver, “Food, glorious food!” If you can cook it at home you can cook it in a camper.  You can even get full size residential appliances if you want to pay the price and haul that extra weight around.  We find the small appliances that come with the camper work just fine for us.

I do however carry a crockpot, a toaster oven and a Griddler with me for convenience in cooking.  We like to explore every new area we visit and it is so handy to throw dinner in the crockpot before we leave and come back for dinner.

We do try new places as we go.  In fact we have been on the lookout for the places featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives to try the ones that looked yummy to us on the show.  But for the most part a quick fixed meal at the camper is tasty and far cheaper than a constant diet of fast food and questionable restaurants.

Discounts, just like hotels campgrounds often have discounts for area attractions so they break pretty even right there.

Ambience at a campground is extremely different.  If you enjoy bird watching, deer, the smell of a campfire, sometimes hearing a campfire singalong these are things you will miss motel staying.

If you prefer nightclubs, shows, movies and that sort of thing you can still go to them from the campground, it is just a little more of a commute.

Let’s talk storage.  You are soooooo limited on what you can take with you when traveling via motels.  Just what will fit in your car/truck.  You have many times that amount of space in your rv, but you need to remember extra weight puts extra strain on your tow vehicle and will affect your fuel mileage.  But it is nice to have spare underwear when you need it.

Speaking of fuel economy.  Plan on your fuel usage to go up when rving.  Our diesel dually fuel usage when pulling the fifth wheel is about 6 mpg less than without it.

Fueling up also has its own set of concerns.  Not all fuel stations are rv friendly.  I cannot tell you how many rvs I have seen with the tell tale crease from the ballards (those yellow pillars at the gas pumps) because the driver over estimated his safe distance.

You also need to plan your exit route as well.  Big rigs don’t jump fast out into traffic.  Traffic lights are your friend!

Unfortunately the trend in many fuel stations now is to have all sorts of curbs surrounding the station to help slow down the number of drive-offs they have.  This trend also makes it close to impossible to purchase fuel at these stations when traveling with an rv.  There are several ways around this problem, but you need to know it exists.

All in all if you are planning on a lot of traveling then I highly recommend an rv, if you are only going out for 2 weeks a year, well... we did it, but then we love camping.
I hope this helps all of you make the decision. 

Jan who is really enjoying rv life in and away from OK

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