For those of you who don't know, we bought an RV in September. It is a manual-transmission 1986 Toyota. The motorhome is smaller than most, but for the two of us it is just perfect. We found out on our second trip that it will still comfortably sleep four to five people, and carry all of our cumulative baggage halfway across the country. So far we have had no major mishaps with the RV, which is a blessing. After we first bought it, Hubs made a few repairs in order to get the lights, fridge and stove working properly. Though we do have running water, there is a leak somewhere that still needs to be fixed. Because of this leak, the bathroom still has some flushing issues so our use of that is limited.
In addition to Hubs' functional repairs, I'm planning to do a few aesthetic repairs over the winter. Right now the RV has almost-finished curtains that I made to replace the noisy, ugly blinds that were there before. I am also going to reupholster and re-stuff the bed/table cushions so they are nice again. Right now the fabric on the cushions is worn literally threadbare in some places. I'd also like to do a few cosmetic things like painting over the wallpaper and putting a new back splash behind the counter, but those projects are not mandatory.
Tent camping is great if you like pretending you're homeless. Just kidding. Some people really enjoy tent camping, and I think that is a very frugal option, too. I've just had too many cold/rainy tent camping experiences to enjoy that kind of thing. Plus there is not a lot of privacy in a tent. In addition to that, my left leg tends to cramp up on long car drives. This makes travel- something Hubs and I generally enjoy- very uncomfortable for me at times.
We are hoping that the RV will pay off in several ways.
1. It will make long drives (and cold nights!) more comfortable.
2. It will make overnight lodging cheaper and easier.
3. It will make spontaneous trips occur more often.
This year we have used the RV on three separate occasions. "RV living" is an art that we are learning little by little. Last weekend our new adventure was "boondocking", or parking for free overnight. Generally this means finding a rest area or Walmart parking lot- both of which are pretty common. You can also stay on private property by contacting the owners through various boondocking sites online.
Over the weekend we stayed at two rest areas and two Walmart parking lots. The only problem we had was the bright lights shining in our windows and preventing somebody (it wasn't Hubs) from sleeping. By choosing a secluded spot, parking the RV in the opposite direction of the light and covering one window with a hoodie, we were able to keep it pretty dark.
Both areas had pros and cons. The rest areas were nice because bathrooms were close by. The Walmarts were nice because... well, we could buy whatever we needed. One night it was a dress shirt for Hubs, and the other night it was a pair of boots for myself... because somebody (it wasn't Hubs) left their tennis shoes with the in-laws and didn't want to hike trails in high heels.
Campgrounds are nice, but they often cost between $20.00 and $30.00 per night. By boondocking, we were able to save at least $80.00 on our trip. By not staying at hotels, we were able to save at least $80.00 per night.
During the entire five-day trip, we made two stops at McDonalds (under $8.00 per stop) and the last night we did eat dinner at a Big Boy restaurant in St. Ignace. When we got there, the line was SUPER long! We wondered what in the world was going on, but I really wanted to have the salad bar, so we waited. After a while, we realized that they were having an all-you-can-eat crab buffet that night. The special crab buffet was $19.00 per person and we are not big seafood lovers, so we decided to still just go with the regular buffet.
When we were finally seated, our waitress apologized for the long wait, and also apologized to us that the crab was almost gone. However, the buffet price would go back to normal because there was not a lot left. So we both got the buffet as originally planned. There were actually quite a few crab legs left, so we both got some to try before heading back to the table. I thought they were very good. So, that was kind of cool.
Apart from not eating out for breakfast, lunch and some dinners, we saved a lot of money by not purchasing gas station food. Sometimes one of us (it isn't Hubs) has a "food scarcity" mindset when they are away from home, which makes them want to buy food everywhere they go. Weird, I know. However, with the RV I know that we always have food stocked in case I get hungry. Hubs has also been known to buy gas station food because it's easy, so the RV "food stash" is beneficial for both of us.
For breakfast, we had fried eggs and/or instant oatmeal. I picked these foods because they are easy to make and don't require refrigeration (eggs are fine un-refrigerated for a few days).
For lunch, dinner, and snacks, we basically just ate junk food- chips, candy, organic cheese crackers, organic oreos, cheese puffs- all things I got at the bent 'n' dent or dollar store. We did buy a pound of cheese curds at one of the gas stations, along with two bananas. We decided not to use the refrigerator for this trip, which meant I didn't bring any meat, dairy, or produce. By the end of our trip, we were both craving "real" food.
I know I could have made some pasta/canned meat meals over the stove, while Hubs was driving. I didn't, though, because the thought of hot liquids and an open flame in that bumpy RV scared me. I am going to do a little more research before our next trip, so we can eat healthier while on the road. I know many people use a pressure cooker for RV meals, which would be a lot safer than cooking in an open pot.
The Motorhome Makes Planning A Breeze
Neither of us are great travel planners. Having an RV is nice because we don't have to worry about finding lodging. It also helps in the meal planning/shopping department, because I can stock an "RV pantry" (when we are NOT camping) that is all ready to go at a moment's notice. Lastly, I can keep the RV permanently packed with a lot of our camping gear (mosquito spray, matches, flashlight, etc.). This will save time when we do decide to go somewhere.
One thing I would like to do, as mentioned before, is make an RV menu plan (or at least a list of meals) that we can use while on the road. This will save a lot of money and also keep us healthy and functioning at our best.
RVing as Long Term Frugality
If Hubs and I can eat for our normal $2.00-$3.00 per day and park the RV at night for free, all of the travel money can be spent on gas and/or sightseeing. Because the RV gets an impressive 13-14 miles per gallon*, $75.00 will take us anywhere in the state and back. As for sightseeing last week, most of it was done at state parks. There are a LOT of really cool state parks in Michigan! They are all free to visit for anyone who has the $12.00/yr "passport" sticker on their license plate.
Earlier in the year, we did an overnight getaway. By the time we added up the cost of a decent hotel ($100.00) plus dinner ($40.00) plus gas ($20.00), the trip cost us $80.00 per day. That did not count costs of sightseeing or buying snacks. With the RV, we could have made the same trip for $20.00 per day. Of course the lodging wouldn't be quite as nice (and no cable TV!), but we are talking about saving 75% by using the RV. You could take FOUR motorhome trips for the price of one car & hotel trip.
We are hoping that our little Toyota will allow us (and force us!) to do more traveling and less forking over of cash. We'll see.
*Note: The only personal vehicle we use for long-distance travel is a large truck. As you can imagine, this burns almost as much fuel as the motorhome. In the past year or so, the truck has been used much more for business purposes, and sometimes it is not available for Hubs and I to use. Because of the gas mileage and business, in the past we have rented cars to take on road trips. Driving the RV instead will cut out this cost entirely.