How Much Does it Really Cost to Rent a RV?

“That There’s an RV”

– Cousin Eddie, Christmas Vacation


As a child my mom and step-dad would take me on RV trips all across northern California and Nevada during the summer.

I remember it being some of the best memories of my childhood.

I knew that when I got older that a RV trip was in store for the Rose family. I just didn’t realize it would come this soon…..

This summer the five of us (our boys are 6, 4, and 3) hopped into a rented RV for 14 days with the only planned destination being the Grand Canyon.

Everything else was meant to be an adventure and it sure was.

Many people were asking me questions about what it takes to rent an RV and how much it costs so I knew that I had to do a recap post on it.

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So if you’re ready to join me and Cousin Eddie and go off your own RV adventure, here’s what you need to know…

10 Things You Must Know Before Your 1st RV Trip

1. Where Do You Rent an RV?

Great question, because I had no idea either. The first place I went to do research is where everybody does a lot of research nowadays: Facebook. I asked on Facebook where is a good place to rent an RV? I had a few people in my area suggest a local RV dealer. Perfect.

I called them, and on my first attempt I got an answering machine. Hmmm. Trying to figure out why a business in the 21st century doesn’t offer a live person to talk to. That’s okay. I live in southern Illinois. I get it. I leave a message telling them I’m very interested in renting an RV, please get back to me as early as possible.

A day goes by. Another day goes by. A week goes by. Another week goes by.

Nothing. I still have plenty of time before I want to rent the RV, so I thought “what the heck, I’ll give it a try again.”

I call again. Guess what? Answering machine. Really? I leave another message explaining that I called a few weeks ago, was still interested in renting an RV, and I’d love for somebody to get back to me.

I get busy with other things, and forget about it, and realize that another few weeks had gone by. I once again share on Facebook profile, how many chances would you give a business to get back to you? I think I updated the comment to the same feed, seeing what the people would say that knew and had rented from this dealer before.

Once again I got positive feedback that they had great experiences with the individual, not sure what’s going on, but to give it one more shot. Reluctantly, I agreed. I called back a third time and finally get a chance to talk to somebody who I think is the owner. I talk to the guy for about 10 minutes, telling him what I want. He says he’s busy at the moment but he’ll get back to me with some information by the end of the week. End of the week comes, nothing. Monday rolls around. Nothing. Tuesday rolls around. Nothing.

At this point, I’m done. I immediately go to Google and type in “Rent an RV” and I come across www.cruiseamerica.com. I read a few reviews and it seems like what I’m looking for. This is perfect. I call the toll free number, and guess what happens? I get to talk to somebody. Immediately. I tell them what I’m looking for, and they explain everything in great detail.

I’m taking notes, writing down numbers, I’m excited. I’m actually making progress. I tell them the time frame of when I’m looking to rent the RV, and they tell me that starting in June is their peak season, and that’s when prices go up. If I’m able to reserve the RV and actually begin the rental in May, then I would get a cheaper price. It worked out perfectly, since my oldest son would be done with school on Friday, May 30.

I agreed to pick it up May 31. At this point in time, all I have to do is put down a $300 reservation deposit. Since I’m gung ho on the idea of renting the RV, I go ahead and lock it in, and can’t wait to share with my wife the exciting news.

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2. How Much Does it Cost to Rent an RV?

The estimated cost is as follows:

  • 14 Nights $938.00
  • 3000 Miles $1020.00
  • State Tax 5% $97.90
  • Total miles included with rental: 3000 miles
  • Total Charge $2055.90
  • Security Deposit $500.00
  • Less Reservation Deposit -$300.00
  • Balance Due on Pickup $2255.90

Below is the confirmation email that I received from Cruise America that explains their refund policy as well as some additional costs.

  • Your down payment is fully refundable up until  close of business 7 days prior to travel or if booking within a week of travel on close of business on day booked.   
  • Pickup time at our locations is 1-4PM, and drop off time is 9-11AM (Saturdays the times can be different).   
  • We do require a security deposit of $500.00,  separate from the rental cost.  This comes back to you at the end of the trip as long as the vehicle comes back in the same shape you picked it up in.  We also refund unused miles, that were prepaid in the reservation.   
  • Generator use fees are $3.50 per hour most people using generator for their electric average about 2 hours per day.  If you are plugging in at a campground or other area you will not need the generator for electric use.
  •  Insurance for drivers 25 and older and 24 Hour Travelers assistance is included in the rental price.  
  • Please call the location a few days ahead of time to arrange your pick up appointment. 

Since I got a deal for picking it up earlier in the season, I was curious what the cost would be if you book it during peak summer season so I called back.

It appears that they were pretty well booked solid. I wasn’t able to get a quote for 2 weeks, as they didn’t have anything available for that long. If I picked up a standard size RV on July 7, and had it until July 17 going 3,000 miles, it would be $3,055.50.

The nightly rate for the summer in a standard is $189/night, and the large is $199/night. However, in the fall is goes down, depending on the day you pick up. I was told that it goes down to $119-$109-$99/night in the fall (after September 1).

Rates include all taxes, free insurance if all drivers are over the age of 25, and travel assistance.

According to Google Maps, hitting the Grand Canyon and back would be roughly about 3000 miles. I probably should have guestimated that we would use it more, but I thought that was a safe play. Turns out that we actually travelled 3440 miles.

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At .34 cents a mile, that was an additional $149.60. Not great, but really not that bad. We opted to buy the kitchen set, which included a skillet, pots, pans, plates, bowls, silverware, et cetera. That was an additional $100, and the reality is that we didn’t need it. We never cooked in the RV, other than using the microwave, so really that was pointless.

Luckily, we were able to keep the set, so we brought most of the stuff home and donated the rest. Since we didn’t cook we didn’t use a lot of propane. Actually, we only used one ounce of propane, which was $20. The reason we had to use that was that our refrigerator ran on propane, so that’s where that cost came into play.

We only used four hours on the generator, and at 3.50 an hour, that was an additional $14. Why the four hours? Typically, the only time we needed the generator was whenever the RV was really hot and we needed the AC kicked up a bit, especially in the back. We predominantly used this in Texas and New Mexico, whenever the heat was at its highest.

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What about gas?

This was the expense that I was most concerned about. I had no idea what to expect and how much I would be spending in gas. I read that RVs will get anywhere from 6 miles on the gallon up to 12 miles to the gallon, so I wasn’t all that hopeful. We put a total of 3440 miles on the RV, needing a total of 397 gallons of gas. The average price per gallon was about $3.50, and our total fuel bill for the entire trip was $1,400.67.

Ouch.

I knew it was a lot, but didn’t realize it would be that much. I tried to keep our gas tank above or around the halfway mark most of the time, and on average that was about $100 to fill up. A few times it got down to a quarter tank, which was the lowest I ever let it go; and those times it was roughly about $150. I couldn’t imagine doing an RV trip a few summers ago when gas was north of $4 a gallon. The highest that we had to pay was in Williams, Arizona, at $3.89 a gallon, and the lowest that we had to pay was in Tucumcari, New Mexico, at $3.35 a gallon.

3.  What About Other Costs?

In addition to gas, campground fees, generator costs, et cetera, other costs include the random stops that you want to hit while you’re traveling. For example, we hit up a few national parks while we were driving, including the Petrified Forest in Arizona. It was $20 just to drive through there. If we hadn’t done the pink jeep tour at the Grand Canyon, it would’ve cost $25 to get into that national park.

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On the way to Flagstaff, Arizona, I happened upon a sign that boasted about the largest meteor crater in the United States, and of course I had to stop. After we drove six miles off the road in the RV, we get to the place only to find out that its $12 a head to get in. At that point in time, we basically felt stuck, but they did give us a military discount so we decided to see it. I’ll tell you, I definitely think it was worth it, but these are the type of costs that you really don’t anticipate but you know will occur, especially on a road trip.

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4. How Hard is it to Drive?

I have driven a five-ton truck in the military, so I was comfortable driving the RV, but the five-ton was only driven in short distances, never for an extended road trip. The one thing that I was impressed by was that the RV was able to get up and go. In Oklahoma, northern Texas, and also Arizona, the speed limit was 75 and it was easy for me to get the RV in that speed. What I didn’t anticipate was how much the wind coming across the interstate or highway would affect the driving. It almost felt like the alignment was off, because every time I would let go of the wheel it would sway pretty hard.

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After a while, I realized it was the wind that was pushing the RV, making it extremely difficult to drive. Predominantly I was driving with my hands at 10 and 2, with my hands clenched because every little wind gust I would come across would push me on the shoulder. Things were always interesting too when a semi-trailer would come up and pass me on the left, creating a sort of a wind vacuum that would also push the RV.

Because of this, I typically didn’t drive more than four to five hours a day, taking the necessary stops. The longest I ever drove was when we were trying to get from Colorado Springs to Topeka, Kansas. It was eight hours of driving, but it took us 12 hours to complete.

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5. Where Do You Stay?

I have a lot of clients who have RVs and will travel all across the U.S. Everyone I polled about where to stay mentioned that they typically stay at KOA Campgrounds. KOA Campgrounds are kind of like the Holiday Inn of RV parks. A majority of the ones that we stayed at always had a pool, a playground, Wi-Fi, laundry facilities, gift shops, and sometimes even food. The one in Flagstaff, Arizona, even had an Elvis Presley impersonator.

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The costs there are anywhere from $35 on up to $45 per evening, depending on what all hookups you needed. If you just needed electricity it was cheaper, but if you also needed sewer and water then it would be a little bit much. We never had an issue getting to a KOA campground where they had no room available.

I could see though, that if you were a near a tourist area like the Grand Canyon, that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to call ahead. We stayed at the Williams, Arizona, KOA campground on a Friday evening, and that was the most packed of any of the KOAs that we stayed at ever were.

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On the way back home we met up with some of my wife’s friends who have stayed at several campgrounds before, and they wanted to stay at the Yogi Bear campground, otherwise known as Jellystone, which is located just outside St. Louis. The campground price was just about the same of $45 per night, but it was definitely a lot more kid friendly.

They had a nice pool and a huge playground, and plenty of activities for the kids. When we checked the map for Yogi Bear Campgrounds, they are predominantly in the Midwest and East Coast rather than more on the West Coast, so we didn’t get a chance to stay in any until near the end of our trip. The only one that we encountered was in Colorado, but we were not at a point where we were ready to stay.

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6. Is it Better to Do a RV or a Camper?

At about the halfway point of the trip, I remember asking my wife “So, what do you think is better? Taking the SUV and staying at hotels, having an SUV and towing a camper, or the RV?” We started talking about the pros and cons of each.

With the SUV/hotel idea, obviously it would be much more expensive, but you could cover ground a whole lot faster. What would probably be the most annoying thing was the number of potty breaks that we had to take with the kids – as every parent knows, your kids are not on the same potty schedules, so there had been multiple stops having to take care of business. Plus, with snacks and drinks, they also become annoying having to furnish our kids with those, especially if we’re trying to cover a lot of ground.

The camper would be also similar. Since you’re not allowed to ride in the camper when you tow it, you’d be subject to all the same potty breaks and snack breaks that you would with the SUV. The only benefit would be that at the campground, you’d be able to unhitch from the camper and tour some areas that wouldn’t be accessible in a camper or RV. With the RV, our kids were able to take potty breaks when needed, and also with the fridge right there, had plenty of juice and snacks whenever they wanted. This allowed us for a lot of uninterrupted driving time.

Driving in traffic was definitely interesting, but wasn’t impossible with the RV. The most annoying thing was parking. Oftentimes, we would have to park several blocks away from our destination if we were trying to eat at a local diner, but overall it wasn’t too bad. If your plan is to stay in a national campground and never really tour, then it shouldn’t be that big a deal.

7. How Much Stuff Can You Bring?

A lot. The one annoying thing about where the RV pick up location was is that it was 2 1/2 hours away. That means we had to load up the mini, including our extra carry-on bag that goes on top of the mini, to get everything packed up and loaded. We were afraid that we might not have enough room in the RV, but by the time we got everything unpacked out of the mini and uploaded in the RV, we realized that we had plenty of room. We had four full-sized suitcases, chairs, toys, food – everything that you could think of – and we still had plenty of room in the RV. Most of the bigger stuff you had to keep stored in the outside compartment of the RV, so you couldn’t access it while driving, but that never really proved to be an issue.

8. Can you really live in that thing?

Ha, ha. I’m pretty sure that this was a question that my wife was wondering before we went to go pick up our new home on wheels. Since we survived the two week RV excursion, I’m happy to say yes, you actually can live in this thing.

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The 25 footer ended up being the perfect size for a family of five. The wife and I took the Queen (it felt like more like a twin) bed in the rear. Our two oldest boys slept in the converter bed that was above the driver and passenger seat.

Our youngest son slept by himself on the converted bed that also served as the dining room table. He easily could have fit up top with the two older brothers, but we did have a fear that he may roll off and fall, which actually did happen to both our youngest and our middle son during the trip. Don’t worry; they’re okay. One of the things that helped the most, at least for me going to sleep each evening, was running the air conditioning/heating unit.

Why is that? Because the noise of the unit would drown out our kids giggling or any other noise outside our campground. Whenever it would shut off, you could hear absolutely anything, including our neighbors talking, and that would generally wake me up. The AC unit served as a nice white noise background that would let me sleep through the night.

What about eating?

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Our RV came equipped with a propane four burner stove and also microwave. The refrigerator was a little bit larger than a mini-fridge, but was able to fit plenty of milk, juice, bottled water, Gatorade, and other snacks for the boys. Every time that we would visit a new town, we liked to find the local eatery, so we actually never used the stovetop. One time one of the boys accidentally turned the knob to the stove and the RV reeked of propane. I read another review of another family that stayed in the RV and tried cooking, and they said it was like cooking in an oven. I could definitely see that being in such cramped quarters.

The bathroom. I think everybody always wants to know, okay how big is the bathroom? Great question. I’m six foot, 210 pounds, and I could barely squeeze into the bathroom. I never took a shower in the RV, but my wife and boys did. Each campground that we stayed at had showering facilities, so that’s typically where I would take my showers.

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 9. What about your doo-doo?

Oh, yes. Where does the doo-doo go? When we picked an RV, the guy at the rental place, gave me a very brief overview on how to empty the pooper. I thought I understood, but I do remember asking him the question, “do you think I really have to empty it if we’re only going to be there for two weeks and we only use it when we have to?” That basically meant that if I could avoid emptying the pooper, I was definitely going to try. The RV has a gauge that shows you different levels, different tank levels. After the fourth day I realized that eventually it would have to happen. I was going to have to empty the pooper. Luckily, we met a nice couple at the campground in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the husband showed me how to do it. The next morning I had my first test, and it was a success.

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Fortunately, I didn’t get sprayed or dripped on, thank goodness. Emptying the sewer is definitely one of the less glamorous aspects to using an RV, but it’s definitely not that difficult. I’m not sure how I pulled this off, but for the entire two week rental, I never actually used the RV bathroom for the number two purpose. Might be a bit too TMI, but I felt much more comfortable with using the campground facility versus the RV. Our boys, of course, had no shame or issues taking care of business inside the RV.

10. What will you miss the most?

Going on a two week RV trip, you tend to wonder the things that you would miss while you’re gone. Here are the 10 things that I missed the most.

  1. Two ply toilet paper. Do I really need to explain myself on this one?
  2. Loofah. At first I felt like I could just carry the loofah to the campground showers, and then carry it back, but then it was just another thing to carry on top of a change of clothes, toiletry bag, shampoo, soap, et cetera, so I stopped. The loofah was definitely something that I missed when I got back to take my first shower after being in the RV for two weeks.
  3. Decent Wi-Fi. We got spoiled at the first campground in that we were able to stream Netflix on our boys’ iPads, and we had fast enough internet for our laptop. As we got further on our trip, every campground offered Wi-Fi, but the speeds were questionable. I felt like it was 1996 again – worse than dial-up.
  4. Kids’ bedrooms. I love my boys, don’t get me wrong. But having a little separation is nice. We typically put our boys down around 8:30 p.m., which gives mommy and daddy plenty of mommy and daddy time. When you’re in an RV, there are no kids’ bedrooms. You’re literally 15 feet from each other. Our boys like to wrestle, play and giggle, which often kept us up late at night. This video shows you exactly what that’s all about.
  5. Cross fit. I don’t like to run, but I knew I needed to do some type of workout while I was gone, especially with the amount of food I was consuming. I missed my cross fit gym and throwing my Olympic weights around.
  6. Barbell pull-up bar. I love doing deadlifts and power cleans and I missed the set I had at home. Every campground had a decent playground, but only one of them had one where I could have done pull-ups. A nice pull-up, pushup, running workout would have been great.
  7. Small group. At our church, we have a monthly Bible study, and I love the couples that are in our Bible study. We have great discussions and share our struggles and triumphs in trying to be a better Christian. Being apart from them for two weeks was definitely something that I missed.
  8. A juicer. I love my juicer. After watching the documentary Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, I have been using it at least once, if not twice a day. I tried to tell my wife that I was going to bring it with me on the RV trip and she just laughed. I remember her saying something like where the heck are you going to put that thing? Without a garbage disposal in the RV, bringing the juicer definitely would have been a pain, so I didn’t bring it, but I definitely missed it.
  9. A toaster. We could have brought a toaster and it would have been fine. One of my favorite easy snacks is peanut butter and jelly, but I like mine toasted. Not having a toaster took away from my favorite treat.

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Renting a RV – Trip of a Lifetime

On Day 11 I remember that both my wife and I were a bit homesick and we missed our king size bed and down comforter. Despite that we can both say that we and our kids had a blast. This trip was about making memories and the hundreds of pictures that my wife took is a testimony of how many memories we created.

I asker her if she was ready to go on another RV trip and for now she needs a 365 break to think about it. I’m not sure if we’ll go on a RV trip next summer and I can confidently say that we will go again.

Have you ever rented a RV? What was your experience renting a RV?

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Comments | 11 Responses

  1. says

    Jeff-

    Very cool post.

    I really enjoyed stalking you guys online during your trip. It was fun.
    It’s cool to read about the ups and downs of going on a trip like this.
    This is something I would like to do someday.

    -Derek

  2. Jim Munchbach says

    Great article! My wife and I have been wanting to take a vacation like this forever. We want to rent an RV for an Alaskan vacation. Article helped me understand some of the costs and so forth. Thank you!

  3. says

    Thanks for sharing such a thorough review of your RV trip. Our family has always wondered what costs were associated with going RVing. I think your article covered the topic well. I definitely think we will try it one day but probably not quite yet since our kids are only 2 and 4, I think it would be more trouble than its worth.

  4. says

    The RV trip is definitely on our list of things to do, but I’ve always worried a bit about the cost, the hassle of emptying the pooper, and driving that huge thing around everywhere. I think you’ve answered a lot of the questions I might have had – and you gotta love the cousin Eddie tribute photo!

  5. says

    Great review! We have been thinking more and more about possible renting or even buying an RV or a pop-up camper. We went on a 2 week road trip around the same time as your family did and we took our Wrangler everywhere. It was cramped!

  6. michelle says

    The lack of potty breaks and easy access to snacks seems attractive, but I can’t imagine how hotels would be “obviously….much more expensive.”

    If you used a basic hotel site such as hotwire/priceline I’m certain you could find quality hotels in most any locale for under $150/night, probably less than $100 in many places.

    Also consider the gas consumption in your SUV would be much, much lower.

    I enjoy camping with my family and realize the experience you’d get at a campground vs. hotel are much different, but you also have to factor in the cost that you paid to stay in the RV most nights. IMO this trip would have been much cheaper via hotel.

    It most likely would have been not nearly as much fun, but I can’t imagine how using your personal vehicle and mid-priced hotels could be overall more expensive.

  7. Cheryl says

    Campsites do not have to be quite that expensive. If you can do without some of the amenities (wi-fi, pools) you can typically stay at state parks for $15 to $35 per night. The higher end usually gets you waterfront sites.

  8. says

    This is really interesting! I had been thinking about this – or rather, my husband had been bugging me about it – but was curious about the costs! Not going to lie, I expected the fuel bill, but no the rental costs. It seems like there might be better vacation value elsewhere.

  9. FBIV says

    I just don’t see how this is cheaper than staying at a hotel. I guess if you are getting two rooms perhaps.

  10. Chris says

    We would like to get an RV one day and I had thought about renting one in the meantime, at least once. From your post, it would be very expensive for us. One thing we like to do, is to rent a house, like we did in Florida. We had kayaks and bikes and the owner waived the $100-$150 (sorry I can’t remember the exact figure) cleaning fee because we cleaned it ourselves. It was a beautiful home, with tile flooring and its own private pool. I think the cost for the whole week was $600 or $700 something. Also, when we stay in motels, we usually pay less than $100 a night. We also like bed and breakfasts when it’s just my husband and me. Just thought I would pass along these thoughts.

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