The Cost of Vacationing by Motorhome

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I am often asked about the cost of owning a motorhome. The concern being the purchase price is high and it only gets eight miles per gallon, so many people automatically assume vacationing in a motorhome is too expensive for them. Then they go on a trip where they buy four round trip airline tickets, stay at an upscale hotel and end up spending more money than I do on a trip in my motorhome.

Last summer we took the motorhome on a 4,000 mile trip that took 20 days. We drove from our home in Southern Oregon to a family reunion in Northern Oregon. We then continued on through the Columbia River gorge to Glacier National Park in Montana and on to the eastern edge of South Dakota for another family reunion. On the way back, we visited the badlands of North Dakota and followed Lewis and Clark’s path back to Oregon with multiple museum, forts, plays and live entertainment stops along the way.

This was the first year we ever needed to have reservations to park for the night. Usually it is only needed on summer weekends, but this year we needed reservations every day. Seems like everyone wants to go camping right now. We prefer parking in a campground with full hookups in order to have use of all our amenities. 

We had the following expenses during our trip. 

The biggest cost was fuel. We spent $2,428 on gasoline. The next largest cost was the campground fees of $742. We tend to stay in nicer, more expensive campgrounds, but there are also a lot of less expensive and free camping options available. We spent $303 eating out and $102 for groceries. We started our trip with the motorhome freezer full of dinners and we were given a lot of leftovers from the first reunion. Our entertainment cost us $411, which consisted of plays and entry fees to parks and museums. We have an annual pass for national parks. 

The total cost for our three-week trip was $3,986. Which works out to a dollar a mile, $1,328 a week, or about $190 a day. Most of the time when we stay at a hotel, we tend to vacation at nicer hotels, I often pay more than $190 a day for the lodging. Look at your last vacation and see how $1,328 a week compares with the total expenses spent on your vacation. Remember, adding more people to a motorhome trip doesn’t change the gas cost, may increase the campground fees slightly and of course the food and entertainment bills will increase a little.

If we factor in the cost of buying and maintaining my current motorhome, assuming I own it for 17 years, our annual cost works out to about $4,000 a year no matter how much we use it. You can certainly get a cheaper one than we have. In a typical year of retirement, we use the motorhome 12-15 weeks. So, the cost of owning our motorhome works out to about $333 per week of travel. When I worked, we took a three-week summer vacation and one weekend a month throughout the year and often another week or two as well. And back then the motorhome was much less expensive. We have paid nearly double the price for each successive motorhome we purchased.

Our overall cost per week of vacationing in the motorhome is actually lower than the figures above. Our trip last summer had high mileage and gas is the biggest factor in the expenses, so that was probably the most expensive trip we ever took. When we go to the lake and only drive 150 miles for a week of vacation, the cost plummets. Now we are talking about $65 in gas and about $200 for campground fees and some food we took from home. That works out to a nice week long vacation for less than $300 additional cost above the ownership cost. Our kids and grandson often join us for no additional cost.

Following are some of the benefits of having a motorhome that we enjoy.

1: We add our kids for almost no additional cost. 

If we were flying, or cruising, their tickets add substantially to the travel cost. 

2: We eat better. 

We cook our own food in the motorhome but when we fly or drive somewhere, we eat most of our meals in restaurants.

3: Getting to our destination is more enjoyable. 

We have large seats to sit in, we all can listen to the same audio tape and discuss it, the kids can watch a movie in the back, the bathroom is quite handy and can be used in transit, we can stop to eat anywhere at any time, and we can carry a lot of fun toys to use along the way.

4: We are always unpacked. 

There is no lugging our bags in and out of hotel rooms and there is never a suitcase to unpack when we arrive and repack when we leave. This is especially tiresome when making multiple overnight stops while traveling by car. When we arrive in the motorhome, I go outside, plug in the power, attach the water hose, and we’re all set to enjoy our stay.

5: Naps! 

When our kids were little, we would park our motorhome in the amusement park parking lot. When it was lunchtime, we would eat our own food in the motorhome followed by naps. Then when everyone was refreshed, we would go back in and enjoy the rest of the day at the park. The rest of the little kids, having not had a break from the amusement park, became fussy in the late afternoon and are taken home. So, in the evening, we would have the kid sections of the park all to ourselves. 

6: Skip driving during rush hour. 

When the kids were small, we often played hard all day, ate dinner, got the kids ready for bed, put the kids in their car seats and drove to the next destination while they slept. We would often drive from around six to midnight. So peaceful.

7: Conveniences. 

When we were bike racing, we often took the motorhome to have a nice place to change clothes, shower and eat. All the gear and tools we needed to tune up the bike were at our fingertips, and we were able to have a place to relax before and after our races. It was also a great place to warm up after a cold, wet race. At a lot of the mountain bike races, we parked the night before at the site of the race in the woods and woke up refreshed and ready to race the next morning.

Up until just recently, we hadn’t pulled a car. We used the motorhome as our car, stopping at attractions or grocery stores before stopping for the night. If we planned to stay at a location for a few days where we needed a car, we would rent one in that town or use an Uber. Now that we are retired, we have begun snow birding in the winter. We drive to a spot and park for a month, so having a car with us now makes sense. Although we could just rent a car for the month, like we would if we had taken an airplane to the warm destination.

We bought our first motorhome in December of 1994. Our third motorhome was purchased three years ago, and if we keep it 14 more years, like our last one, we will have it until I’m 74 years old. 

If you are thinking about buying a motorhome, the overall cost is very reasonable if you use it several weeks a year and keep it for a long time. A trailer or fifth wheel is a less expensive option but doesn’t travel as nice as a motorhome. If you do buy one, and use it often, you can look forward to making a lot of wonderful memories.

One of the most memorable times for me was on the last day of one of our three week summer trips. As we pulled into the driveway, one of the kids recognized the house and realized we were home. He was so disappointed. He cried out “NOOOOOOO…I don’t want to go home; I want to go to another campground.” 

Make some memories with your kids. 

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