2500 miles

2500 miles in 30 days: How much it costs to travel in an RV

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I know, this is way overdue. And I know I’m way behind on all my posts. I’m going to let you in on a tiny part of a secret. Besides my job, and travelling, and the blog, I’m working on another project too. It takes up a lot of my time. I hope to share it with you soon. But I don’t want to talk about it yet because I want to see how it goes. So that’s why I need to catch up. But I’m working on it! So please see below for our costs to travel over 2500 miles in 30 days.

2500 miles in 30 days…that’s a lot of driving

And my hero of a husband did 99.999999% of it. I think I may have done one hour on our first day, and took over to park a few times. We used to always have me park while he would hop out and guide me over the phone. But I guess even when you drive a rig this large, if you’re doing it every day it becomes easier. He no longer needed me to help him with most of the parking. I may have had slightly more experience driving large vehicles before this trip, but he quickly caught up and surpassed me experience-wise.

Challenges to travelling 2500 miles

Power consumption

Thanks to the upgrades and repairs we did early in the trip, we comfortably boondocked most of the time. When we didn’t boondock it usually had to do with needing to charge our batteries. As I mentioned before, we went through a lot of very cold days, even as far south as we were. At nights it would get to near-freezing or below freezing. The coldest part of the day would be right before sunrise (5-8am that time of year). Of course I was already awake and working, so I had to run the furnace to keep myself from freezing. This took a lot of battery power.

Another battery drain is my work laptop. The battery life on that thing stinks. For a $2000 laptop you think the battery could go more than 4 hours and not take another 4 hours to charge while you’re working on it. This meant every work day I had to plug in a 12V to 120V converter for several hours. We found this 410-watt converter drained the batteries very quickly. Unfortunately, I don’t have a choice about the laptop as my employer chose it and bought it. It’s encrypted so I can’t use my personal laptop to get my job done either.

Ways to keep batteries charged

A few things help to charge RV batteries. The easiest and fastest is driving; usually 1 hour of driving was enough to fully charge our house batteries again. Plugging into shore power at an RV park will also charge your batteries, but I find it usually takes more than an hour. Running a generator helps charge, but this takes even longer.

Generator costs

Our generator is an Onan Marquis 5500. I can’t give you exact numbers but the consensus seems to be that it will use about .6 gallons of gasoline per hour of use. This number may increase with heavy usage (running an air conditioner, for example, or having a lot of batteries to charge). I also can’t separate the number of gallons used exactly, because our generator draws from our engine’s fuel tank. But I can tell you we ran our generator for only few hours that month. Maybe 5 hours total and probably less. But let’s go with 5 hours at .6 gallons per hour. We spent an average of less than $2.00 per gallon on gas, so that’s about $6. Really negligible, and I will wrap it up into our total fuel costs since the generator gas came out of those fill-ups.

You can also use solar panels to charge your batteries, of course. While we don’t have a full solar set-up, we do have a single solar panel. I bought this a few years ago to help trickle-charge our batteries when we parked for months at a time. The manufacturer doesn’t make this particular model anymore, but here’s what it looks like so you can get an idea. It’s made by the company Goal Zero. It’s a single 15-watt panel meant to charge one 12V battery or 2 6V if wired properly.

Our battery compartment is right next to the driver’s side front tire. So I attached the solar panel to our batteries per the manufacturer specifications (I called them to confirm the configuration), ran the cord through the driver’s side window and then set the solar panel on the dashboard to catch some sun. When the sun was out it did seem to help the extensive drainage of the batteries. Also, it required no modification to the RV, such as drilling holes or extra wiring.

I already had this system, so there was no other cost. But the panel with the charge controller cost $90 about 2 years ago. These days, it looks like a similar kit costs between $150 and $200.

Water use

RVs typically have 3 types of water tanks. Fresh water tanks hold unused water. Typically potable water fills these tanks. It supplies all plumbing throughout the RV. Our fresh water tank holds 100 gallons.

Grey water tanks store used water from sinks and showers. Our grey tank is 55 gallons.

Black water tanks are mini septic systems. They hold waste material from toilets and you add chemicals to help break down the waste. I’m not sure how big our black water tank is–probably around 50 gallons. But the black water tank getting full is not a problem.

Filling up the grey tank quickly is the problem. First of all, let me say that if you didn’t know, each gallon of water weighs over 8 pounds. We did not want to drag around over 800 pounds of water, but we also did not want to stop often to get more water, because we found it was harder to find water that was safe to put in our fresh tank than it was to find a dump station. So we opted to fill our tank to about half-full (50 pounds).

Of course it isn’t an exact science. Our old-school RV sensors just tells use whether our tank is 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 or full. So Ryan would eyeball the halfway mark. Nonetheless, you would think that if we put 50 gallons of fresh water and we have a 55-gallon grey water tank then this should work out, right? Because remember, there’s also the black water tank. Not all the fresh water will end up in the grey tank. Some will go in the black tank.

Yet somehow, we continually had a problem with the grey tank filling up while we still had fresh water remaining. And oddly enough, when we stopped using (filtered) water from our fresh tank for drinking and started buying drinking water separately, the problem did not seem to get worse or better. I’m still puzzling this one out in my head.

Anyway, we never really paid separately for water for our fresh tank. The cost was either included in the fees for dumping our tanks, when available, or we filled up while staying at a campground. However, once we started buying drinking water separate from our tanks, we purchased 5 1-gallon jugs (already filled with water) at $0.99 each. Each time we refill the jugs it’s $0.37 per gallon. These days we go through 5 gallons of drinking water per day. We didn’t do this the whole time. But if we had then water would be $58.60 for drinking water for the month, including the initial cost of filled jugs with water. Since this is included in our grocery bills, it is wrapped into the grocery total.

Oh, quick side note–if you don’t count our drinking water (which is for us plus 4 pets), we needed to empty our tanks every 4-5 days. That means our waste water production was 11-14 gallons per day. For two people. Of course, more seasoned RVers probably know how to use a lot less than this (RVers, feel free to comment!). But in comparison, according to the USGS, the average person uses 80-100 gallons per day. So I think we’re doing pretty good, and we’re still learning.

Dumping tanks

Most places charge $10 to use their dump station. In case you’re not familiar with the term, this is a place to hook up your sewer line and empty your black and grey tanks. There is usually a spigot at the dump station, but the water is not always potable. Sometimes, it is “rinse water only.” This means it should only be used to rinse off your sewer hose before you put it away. You do not want to add rinse water to your fresh water tanks. It’s always best to ask, and if the person you ask seems unsure, assume the water is not safe to go in your tank. Doing a tank flush is a pain and is expensive if you have to pay someone else to do it.

Dump stations are found at many travel centers (think truck stops, like Love’s or Flying J), some highway rest areas, and many state parks that have campgrounds. Some, but not all, private campgrounds have dump stations for those who are just passing through and not staying the night.

During our trip we found a free dump station in Tucson and at a few rest stops. The rest of the time we had to pay. Twice we paid at travel centers at $10 each and once at a private campground for $13.50. Total for dump stations: $33.50.

Food

We spent $605 on groceries. Hooray! This amount is much improved. It’s still a lot in my opinion, but we’re not buying a ton of super-expensive items and everything is getting eaten. Also, this amount includes whatever other things we need from the store. This could include cleaning supplies, paper towels, allergy medicines (I take 2 different ones at the same time), and whatever else we need to buy. We also pull out cash to do laundry, which runs $10-$20 per week. So I guess it isn’t horrible. But I’d still like it lower.

We didn’t eat out much, but sometimes when you’re on the move so much you’re just too tired to cook. Plus we found a few vegan restaurants and couldn’t pass those up. We spent $87 at restaurants.

That brings our grand total for groceries and other food to $693.

Propane

Even though we used the propane more than usual to power our refrigerator and help run our furnace, we only had to fill up $47.38 worth of propane during our trip.

Campgrounds

Going east, we actually got to spend some time in a few state parks. This was very exciting because we had not been able to do so before. On the west coast, the state campgrounds either could not fit our large RV, or they were fully booked. We stayed at one park for $12 for a night, and another for $20.

We also stayed at a private campground, mostly because we were trying to slow down our journey. The campground was attached to an amusement park (more on that when we get to the post(s) on Alabama!) and the cost was $29.99 per night for 2 nights.

Our total camping fees came to $91.98 for the month.

Gas

This was a big expense, of course. At an average of 7-9 miles per gallon, the only way to save money is to drive fewer miles. Adding extra weight can reduce mileage, which is another reason we did not fill our fresh water tank to the top. Even so we averaged about 7.5 miles per gallon. We spent $635.96 on gas during that month. For 2500 miles of travel that’s an average gas price of $1.91 per gallon.

Bottom line: how much 2500 miles of travel in 30 days cost us:

$1501.82

If you look at past months, this number is actually very similar to what we’ve spent being stationary at an RV park. This is because we travelled that 2500 miles in such a short period. That one month put us at roughly the same amount of miles for our first 6 months on the road.

Since then, we’ve slowed down considerably and we’re hoping these costs will go down further. March was sort of anomalous because we had wedding-related costs, but I will go over those in a different post.

I thought you said the trip would only be 2200 miles?

Yes, I did. But here’s what happened. If we went straight there at the pace we were at for the first half of the trip, we would have arrived in Augusta in about 3 weeks (maybe less). We would have stayed in that area for about a month. But, none of the campgrounds in the area were close to groceries or any services, and many of them were full. So we would have hopped from one spot to another from week to week, and spent a lot of money on campground fees. It might have cost the same, but it might have cost more.

Instead, we chose to take detours from our route to check out interesting things and spent more days in each place.

Quick tip for automatically logging your own travels

If you have the Google Maps app on your phone, you can give the app permission to follow your location and create a timeline for you. I access my timeline by going to Google Maps on my desktop while logged in to my gmail account (the same one my app is attached to). Then I open the menu sidebar and find my timeline:

Now I never have to remember which day I visited somewhere. Someday, I hope that the timeline can be translated into a map I can place on the website, but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.

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2500 miles

Would I do it again?

Would I travel cross-country again…yes, with caveats. I would prefer not to travel cross-country again in this RV. It’s just too much. Ryan keeps saying it isn’t that bad, but as you’ll see in later posts, the size continues to hinder us. I want more freedom, and I can’t get it from this rig.

Would I travel at that pace again? I would rather not. If it’s an emergency, we know we can put up with it for a month. But that’s really my maximum. By the end I was exhausted and burned out. I decided that I want to commit to being somewhere on a certain date as little as possible from now on. I just don’t like feeling constrained.

Right now, we’re by the beach. We’re rambling around in the area with no particular plan in mind, and I love it. I don’t know where I’m going to park tomorrow night, and that’s fine.

However, I do know where I’m going to sleep. At home. =)

Don’t worry…

I’m not skipping over the rest of the states between Texas and Georgia. I’m going to try to post them as quickly as possible, and then we can finally move on to more of the present. Thanks for hanging in there!

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