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Camping vs. Hotels

One of the first things to decide in planning a road trip is how to spend the night.  Specifically, one needs to decide whether to camp, take an RV, or stay in a hotel.  There are advantages for each type of overnight method. 

For a family, cost is often a key consideration.  If you take and RV, you have the cost of buying or renting it. The gas mileage for an RV is also lower than driving a family car.  However, taking an RV has some very significant cost advantages.  It is almost always cheaper to park your RV than it is to stay in a hotel room.  You also get the benefit of having a place to store food, keep it cold, and cook it, allowing you to avoid the expense of eating out. 

While planning for our 48 state trip, we did some research on campground, hotel, and food costs to help us make the decision about whether or not to get an RV.  The table below is based on that research, fine tuned with our actual experience while traveling.  The cost estimates are scaled to a family of four. 

 

HOTEL

RV

Difference

Expense

Lodging

Food

Food + Lodging

Lodging

Food

Food + Lodging

RV Savings per Day

City

$120

$80

$200

$50

$30

$80

$120

Rural America

$80

$65

$145

$20

$25

$45

$100

 

Disney World

$150

$100

$250

$70

$40

$110

$140

*Estimates Based on our costs while traveling on 48 state trip, and Hotel prices from travelocity.com and expedia.com

 

Traveling with an RV can easily save you $100 or more per day, a significant savings.  If your family is larger than 5 people total, it is important to keep in mind that many hotels have maximum occupancy limits on their regular rooms.  When considering the option of staying in hotels, we thought we would go cheap and have some of us sleep on the floor.  What we found is that most hotels wonít let you do this.  The cost for a family of four to stay in the Disney World resort at the least expensive hotel is about $150 dollars per night after taxes and fees.  The cheapest hotel room I can get in Disney World for my family of six was $400 per night. 

The cost to park our RV in the Disney World campground was $70 per night.  For a 5 night stay in Disney World, we saved $1600 by having an RV.  This cost difference was one of the things that drove us to the decision to make the trip with a RV in tow.    

There are other factors besides cost to consider.  Lodging style that can significantly affect the nature of your trip.  One of the great things about traveling with an RV is the ability to stop whenever, and wherever you want to eat or use the bathroom.   This is especially helpful when traveling with kids.  We got stuck one early morning on a long drive eastward away from Eureka California.  It was a very rural area, and the kids got hungry.  A few needed to go to the bathroom.  The noise from the back of the vehicle was starting to get hostile.  Rather than telling them to wait until we got to a town or gas station, we just found a turn-out on the side of the highway and pulled off to the side of the road.  We all piled into the trailer, had our breakfast, and got everyone comfortable.  Problem solved. 

An advantage of RV parks for families with young children is that there are usually playgrounds.  These are useful for kids needing to expend some energy after a few hours in the car.  They would often meet some new friends that way as well.  It seemed better than flopping on the bed in front of the TV. 

Of course staying in a hotel has its advantages too.  The beds are softer than you will generally have in an RV or tent, and you donít have to make them when you are done.  It is nice to not have to clean up after yourself when you are ready to leave the hotel.  On the flip side, in your RV you donít have to pack or unpack your clothes, you simply keep them in your own closet. 

We learned that while driving with an RV, there is sometimes an accessibility issue.  There were a couple of times on our trip when we could not stop and see something conveniently because we did not have a place to park our long rig.   In the city or popular tourist attractions, you generally have more options of places to stay in a hotel than you do to camp.  However, in the national parks and other parts of rural America, the opportunities for camping are usually more diverse and interesting than hotel rooms.

Conveniences of Hotels and RVs compared

Hotel Advantages

Camping/RV Advantages

Better maneuverability, sometimes RVís canít go every place, especially large ones

Always having your kitchen with you

Donít have to store it when you get home

Everything you need can be already in the RV ready to go

Higher quality beds, RV beds can be a bit hard

Always sleep in a familiar bed with your own bedding

Other people make your bed and clean up after your mess. 

Not having to unpack and pack each time you stop

In populated areas, there are more hotel choices than campground/RV park choices.

More places in rural areas or national and state parks.  In some cases, you donít even need a campground to stop for the night

Always have a TV

Take your bathroom with you (especially useful for those emergency stops)

Regular sized bathroom

Hotel rooms for large families can be difficult to find or very expensive

 

Can take more stuff because you have more room to store it

Taking all of the above into account, decisions about vacation lodging style often come back to cost.  It is the cost of renting or purchasing and storing an RV vs. the additional cost of staying in a hotel on days that you travel.   Frequency of travel and family size are the key factors in deciding whether the return on investment is worth it for an RV.  Because we go on road trips frequently purchasing an RV was an easy decision.  We spend more of our trip out in the countryside than we do in the cities, so an RV gives us more flexibility for places to stop overnight.