“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One thing I have learned is that having one of the best travel credit cards is a must-have for trips like these. When you're forking over $3,000 or more for the rental, plus paying for everything else that pops up, it makes sense to earn something in return.
If you're someone who travels all the time, I would probably suggest a top travel card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. With this card, you'll earn 2X points on travel and dining, plus 1X points on everything else. Plus, you'll score a 50,000 point signup bonus worth $500 in cash back or gift cards after spending just $4,000 in 90 days. This is the perfect card to get right before you take off on any journey around the country.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,