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7 Unexpected RV Expenses (and How To Be Prepared)

We all know RVing isn’t cheap, but have you considered any unexpected RV expenses?

We’ve had unfortunate financial surprises pop up occasionally during our travels. And so has every other RVer we’ve met!

Today, rather than sharing only our experience, we’ve asked other RVers what expenses have caught them off guard.

Let’s dive in.

Mobile Internet Expenses

Whether you RV part-time or full-time, having reliable internet is essential. However, it’s not as simple as calling the local internet provider.

For RVers, cellular internet is the only way to go. This can include your cell phone plan, but those usually have severe limitations.

Julie & Sean Chickery, from Chickery Travels, says the cost of the internet was their most significant financial surprise when RVing.

Sean says, “We thought we’d use campground wifi, but we found that to be pretty unreliable.”

They invested in mobile hotspots, upgraded cell phone plans, and cell boosting devices.

“All of that is a little pricey,” Julie adds.

Boondocking With Rooftop Cell Booster
Boondocking With Rooftop Cell Booster

Short Term RV Park Reservations Add Up Quickly

Here’s one of the first RV secrets we learned, if you stay a month at an RV park, you can save more than 50% of the nightly rate fee.

Daily RV park rates are high! Weekly and monthly rates can save you a lot of money.

The YouTube Channel “Little Trailer Big Adventures” says this lesson was one of the most surprising.

They also recommend Passport America. It’s an RV membership program that offers 50% of RV park nightly rates (with many restrictions).

Gas Can Add Up

If you’re used to driving a fuel-efficient vehicle, the RV MPGs will shock you! Forget about 20 or 30 miles per gallon. RVs will typically get around 10 MPGs.

Angie from That Florida Couple says, “three months of my gasoline budget went out in a month.”

Fortunately, gas prices are relatively low right now. Keep this unexpected expense in mind when you’re planning your RV budget.

Pro Tip: Even with cheap gas prices, certain areas may have 3x the average national price. In Death Valley, for instance, gas is priced at a premium.

white and pink gasoline station near ocean

Activities Add Up

If you’re on an RV vacation, this isn’t an issue. However, for full-time or seasonal RVers, remembering you’re not a tourist is an important lesson.

Taking part in the guided tours, wine tastings, and watersport rentals can add up! 

Here’s the good thing – hiking is free and plentiful!

Maintenance of the RV

Tom & Cheri, from the popular YouTube channel, Explore The Journey, say that RV maintenance was the most unexpected expense they encountered.

Tom says maintenance costs can be thousands of dollars each year. He adds, “I would recommend having an emergency fund.”

RV oil changes and new tires cost substantially more than standard vehicles.

Cheri says, “driving your RV for 8 hours is like putting your home through an earthquake.”

Pro Tip: We recently interviewed an RV mechanic and he said these RV systems are the first to fail.

There are many systems inside every RV, but some are much more likely to fail first.

RV Storage is Expensive

Once you invest in buying an RV, it’s essential to protect it. Proper RV storage will prevent leaks, keep rodents away, and minimize regular washes.

It will also cost a lot of money.

There are different types of RV storage – here are the decent, better, and best options.

Everything is (Unexpectedly) More Expensive in an RV

YouTubers, The Path To Less, say everything is more expensive in RV life. They say, “what we’ve budgeted before we left, we’ve exceeded in every category.”

They chalk this up to living like tourists!

How To Be Prepared for Unexpected RV Expenses?

Don’t let these RV expenses worry you. Simply, take a few steps to be prepared.

Here’s how we learned to expect the unexpected:

  • Have a large emergency fund. Whatever you think you need, double it!
  • Try free camping. It’s a great way to connect with nature and avoid high campground fees.
  • Join Harvest Hosts. Like free camping, Harvest Hosts provides free overnight stays at vineyards and farms.
  • Research, research, research. Use other RVers experience to learn about a realistic budget.
  • Slow down. The faster you travel, the faster the money flows out.
Free camping in the Arizona desert.

Discover the Best Free Campsites in the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers that love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below:

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  1. Ohhhdear says:

    Passport America is a joke. Campgrounds are very reluctant to accept it. If they do, you’re given the worst spot; not level, too small, water or electric not working. Save your money.

  2. Dave says:

    My biggest pet peeve is crappy made RVs.
    Thor motor Coach seems to come to mind, the slide outs in the drawers, why does Thor think that only one screw is sufficient to hold the bracket to the back of the wall?
    After opening and closing several times the brackets fall apart so naturally the drawer falls out.
    After three drawers falling out completely I decided to redo all the brackets myself with more screws.
    The second biggest pet peeve is the in-house battery box underneath the RV. It’s just a metal open cage, there is no protection to the batteries from road debris.
    We found this out one night running the generator and smelled something burning, and then all the power went out and the generator died. Apparently one of the batteries had been broken open by road debris it was only running on three cells that were holding water.
    Now this caused the inverter to burn out. So $300 later for the inverter and another $180 for a battery.
    Does not make a happy camper..
    Come on Thor would have hurt you to spend a few more bucks to keep these things from happening considering all the money we paid for the damn thing?

  3. Edna Yacks says:

    WE are retired and have just travelled from Michigan to Arizona and back. We stopped a few places and did some sight seeing. Can’t get it thru a trucker head that more miles a day isn’t better. We are settling in Arizona this year and just doing local traveling.
    We have a Redwoods Sequoia 2016, 38’. 5th wheel. One of the top of the line when we bought it. It has a Lippert hitch and frame. The whole iron frame welds under the closet and bedroom has broken. Yes Lippert is going to send a portable welder to weld it back together. Now the question: will it be stronger after being fixed, if it can be fixed, it is it going to be weaker? The hitch is falling out so we can’t move it at this time. If they get it where we can move it, do we peddle it or do we pursue the company for a “new” unit? I wouldn’t except anything but the top of the line 2024 unit.

  4. Ivor & Gail Cohen says:

    We are Ivor & Gail, we have been full time for 6 and a half years now.
    Yes, we did our research, especially regarding fuel, so we expected that to be a big part of our travels, BUT we never envisioned the enormous jump in fuel prices! This has made actually traveling almost impossible!
    To combat the cost of travel, we embarked on a Volunteer service with State Parks and Corps of Engineers for the last 2 and a half years, this has given us a good lifestyle and cut our costs enormously.
    In this time, while we had set aside what we thought would be enough, our repair/maintenance budget has worked hard! We have had to repair the first 2 items, Water heater and Furnace, as well as replace the water pump.
    Just last month, with the extremely excessive heat, we had to replace our main A/C unit. Ouch!
    Otherwise, our only regret is that we didn’t start this adventure sooner.
    Oh, and after only one year we gave up our Passport America membership, too many restrictions – no discount if it’s a holiday, and generally not over a weekend either – total waste of money. (actually think it’s a scam).

  5. Ron Anderson says:

    I’ve been boondocking full time in the city for 3 years. One of the biggest unexpected expenses I’ve budgeted for are tickets.

    Mostly cited for being oversize on the street.

    Most locations in city are $70 or more per night. Tickets are $65 if cited and can be paid annually with registration. (Usually under $300) totally worth the risk to save the money.

    Love your channel keep posting