Evelyn Pless and I retired from our boutique accounting practice at the end of 2018 and took up RV travel. Really.
I was most pleased by the comment of one of Evie’s sons-in-law who said that he was proud of us — we were the first people he knew to actually do what they said they were going to do when they retired.
We bought a new 25-foot Class C Tiffin Wayfarer with a Mercedes Sprinter chassis and we broke it in with some short trips in New England and Upstate New York from our home base in North Oxford, Massachusetts (birthplace of Clara Barton). I-90, known locally as the Mass Pike, runs 50 miles east to Boston or you can choose west and be in Seattle after 2,989 miles.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.—J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Fellowship of the Ring”
We visited 46 of the lower 48 states in four major tours and numerous short journeys. We made 163 stops for a total of 516 nights. We visited 27 national parks and too many state parks and historic sites to count. Evie kept a blog — Peter And Evie Go RVing — if you want our travel details with lots of photos.
Evie leans toward the majestic sites of natural beauty
Don’t get me wrong, I like those, but I tend to like oddball attractions a bit more, like this sign in Newport, Oregon.
We sold the RV in the summer of 2022. So it is time to close the books and do an accounting.
Ownership – $61,916.74
We purchased the RV for $132,532.44 (including sales tax and extras). We put down $40,000. Total interest was $20,568.25. When we decided to sell, we owed $80,000. We used home equity to pay it off to make the sale smoother. Total payments including the down payment came to $153,499.50.
There were other ownership expenses such as insurance and some costs in our fruitless attempt to achieve a private sale. All told, that came to $10,816.05. We ended up selling to a dealer for $102,000. Netting that out brings the cost of owning the RV for four years to $61,916.74.
For what it is worth, the interest was deductible as residence interest.
Repairs And Maintenance – $13,081.69
An RV is essentially a house that is regularly in a hurricane and an earthquake. And it is also a vehicle — in our case a Mercedes. We also included in this figure the cost of oil changes for our car, but not other wear and tear.
I was surprised at the repair requirements for something brand new, but one mechanic told us that Tiffin is better than most RV brands.
There were also things like leveling blocks, sewer tubes, hoses and a sort of canvas garage. We were fortunate that a relative had a very large lot where we could leave the RV when not traveling.
Gas – $11,160.84
If the purpose of your trip is sightseeing, there will be a lot of driving around in addition to the journey to each stopping point. There are three ways of dealing with this.
One is to have an RV that you just go everywhere with. We put people who travel like that. A big disadvantage is you have to level, connect, and disconnect more often that way. Another option is to have a fifth wheel so you can use your tow vehicle for running around. And then there is using the RV to tow a car.
Of those three common methods, we chose the fourth. Evie drove the RV and I followed behind in the car. It felt like flying formation. The gas is for both the RV and the car. So it may be on the high side. We put 30,000 miles on the RV and considerably more than that on the car. The RV got 16 mpg and the car about 25 mpg. There was a period of freakishly low gas prices that was included in the trip during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Food – $0.00
Had we not been traveling, we still would have been eating. We probably ate out more on the road, but not that much more. This is one of the big advantages of RV travel. You have your house with you. After a couple of weeks we were referring to the RV as home. Your clothes are hanging up, your stuff is in the medicine cabinet, etc. And there is a kitchen and a refrigerator, which we supplemented with a cooler.
Sightseeing Expenses – $4,250.52
This covers admissions, bus tours and the like. It does not include the vast T-shirt collection I accumulated. When it comes to touring the United States, whether you are most moved by history or nature, the best things are free or close to free, particularly if you are in on the senior citizen racket. We are probably missing a few hundred dollars in cash outlays in this category. As we accountants say when doing audits, it’s not material.
Campsites – $17,391.11
This includes various memberships, most notably Thousand Trails, and nightly fees, which ranged from $0 to $50. One exception to that range was Liberty Park in Jersey City, NJ, which gave us access to PATH trains or ferries to Manhattan. That was $100 a night.
Because of our membership, the Thousand Trails camps were no additional charge. There turned out to be fewer driveways of friends and relatives than I had hoped. We generally did not stay in places with a lot of amenities.
You could probably spend a couple of weeks on YouTube, hearing about the pros and cons of Thousands Trails along with many other aspects of RV living. My favorite site is RV Odd Couple.
We bought a used Thousand Trails membership, which we were able to resell, at a loss, when we were done. We could have saved a lot here by boondocking more, but Evie was pretty much opposed to that notion.
That worked out to $33.70 per night. Our plans were seriously disrupted by Covid-19, so we would have done better here, but for the pandemic. You will also note that the bargain nightly rate is overwhelmed by ownership costs in our case.
We are probably missing some things that we paid in cash, particularly in the sightseeing expenses. We heated with propane, and that cost is buried in gas and campsites. Sometimes we would fill the propane tank at a gas station and sometimes at a park. As we say in financial auditing, it is not material.
Total – $107,800.90 or $208.92 Per Night
This is a case study of sorts rather than some sort of recommended model.
One of the things I enjoyed the most was the people I met and the stories I heard. Of the stories, one of the best was from a lady who was in the site next to us. You could almost tell from looking at her that she had had a hard life. The story was much harder.
She grew up in foster homes and struggled with dyslexia. She was separated from her siblings and lost touch with them. One of her brothers did pretty well for himself with a military career followed by security work. He was determined to find his sister. And find her he did.
He bought her a fifth wheel, a pickup truck to tow it and a Thousand Trails membership. All in it was about $30,000. She stays in a TT camp for 21 days and then boondocks at a nearby casino for seven days based on the particular membership she has. I mainly like the story because I admire the brother, who of course I have never met. But it also illustrates how affordable RV living can be.
To tell you the truth, I was kind of shocked by the more than $200 per night that it ended up costing us. Then I compare it to what much travel would have cost with Road Scholar, and it is not so bad. Were it not for Covid-19, we might have volunteered at national or state parks, which scores you a free hookup.
In the end, frustration with repairs, which is collateral damage from the pandemic, wore on us. On a brighter note, we are also interested in seeing some other countries.