RV

Road Trips On A Budget

By Broadry Newsroom

As attractive as it may be to get away from it all, vacationing can also be expensive — even if you skip the airfare. Fortunately, there are some incredible, road-trippable destinations that are both highly sought-after and budget friendly. 

To help you decide where to travel this year, we worked up some price estimates for a few of the best destinations in each region of the United States of America with our data partners at RVshare.com. These numbers are based on the average nightly cost of a peer-to-peer RV rental, a combination of restaurant and grocery-store-bought meals for two adults and two children, and campground fees, all of which vary by region. You’ll also find some helpful tips at the bottom of the article to help you save even more money, no matter where you are.

Because fuel prices directly depend on how far you drive to get to your destination — which we obviously can’t predict — we’ve left this cost out of the equation. Other costs can also vary widely based on vacationer choice and circumstance. Always be sure to factor in an extra cushion for gas, entertainment, and other unforeseen costs! 

Here are some of the best road trips to take if you’re on a budget.

East Coast

The shimmering Atlantic beckons visitors from both coasts and everywhere in between — and plenty of its destinations are surprisingly affordable.

The Outer Banks of North Carolina

A seemingly endless strip of beach with not one, but two waterfronts, and a whole lot of history: it’s no surprise the Outer Banks are so popular. 

Average Cost for a 5 Day Trip: $1,365
RV Rental: $750
Food: $315
Campground:$300

Campground Suggestions

There are plenty of campgrounds in the Outer Banks to choose from, both public (on state-owned land) and private.Camp Hatteras is both affordable and well-reviewed, and offers oceanfront, full-hookup sites for less than $60 in the off season.

What to Do There 

Perhaps the biggest draw to the Outer Banks is Cape Hatteras National Seashore, a NPS-managed stretch of more than 30,000 seaside acres. During the summertime, visitors can watch sea turtles partake in their annual nesting ritual, and the park is also home to three historic lighthouses, two of which are open for self-guided climbing tours. There is no entry fee for the park, though some activities (such as climbing the lighthouses) do come with nominal fees ($10 or so).

The Outer Banks is also home to the Wright Brothers National Memorial, which commemorates the two young men who first took our species to the skies. This park costs $10 to enter.

Bar Harbor, Maine

A rambunctious ocean crashes into dramatic granite cliff sides in this far-north hidden gem of a destination.

Average Cost for a 5 Day Trip: $1,470 
RV Rental: $875
Food: $345
Campground: $250

Campground Suggestions

With a variety of Bar Harbor RV Parks located both inside and in close proximity to Acadia National Park, there are plenty of affordable options. For example, Blackwoods Campground offers sites starting as low as $30 per night, and Mount Desert Campground features water-view sites for less than $65, even during peak season.

What to Do There 

Doubtless, visitors to Bar Harbor will want to visit Acadia National Park, which is known for its stunning north Atlantic Ocean views as well as forests, lakes, and towering peaks, including Mount Cadillac. A one-time private vehicle fee of $30 gets you and your family into the park for seven consecutive days.

The Jersey Shore

A glorious span of more than 140 miles of the Atlantic coast, the Jersey Shore offers a classic beach vacation at less-than-South-Beach prices. 

Average Cost for a 5 Day Trip: $1,630
RV Rental: $1,000
Food: $330
Campground: $300

Campground Suggestions

Which Jersey Shore campground — or campgrounds — you stay in will depend which part of the shore you explore. That said, Frontier Campground is conveniently located in Ocean View, New Jersey, halfway between Ocean City and Sea Isle City. High season rates start at just $80 including full hookups with Dish TV service.

What to Do There 

If you make it all the way to the southern end of the Jersey Shore, Cape May Lighthouse is a must-visit: it’s been aiding navigation for sailors at sea since the mid-1800s, and admission is only $12 for adults and $8 for children 3-12.

Six Flags is another popular option just a short drive inland, though an amusement park is sure to drive up your total vacation price. When in doubt, simply hit the beach — which is both free and phenomenal.

West Coast

California’s just the beginning — and yes, you can explore the west coast without paying San Francisco prices. 

Central Coast California

From Big Sur to San Luis Obispo, Central Coast California offers the best of the state at lower-than-big-city prices.

Average Cost for a 5 Day Trip: $1,595 
RV Rental: $1,000
Food: $345
Campground: $250

Campground Suggestions

You can find plenty of campgrounds along the way from Monterey Bay to SLO, including low-cost public options like Washburn Campground in Hearst San Simeon State Park. Luxurious, full-hookup accommodations are available at locations like Carmel By The River RV Park.

What to Do There 

When it comes to a drive as beautiful as the one along Highway 1, the obvious answer is simply: look around. (It also has the benefit of being free.) 

But there are plenty of other affordable diversions to catch your attention along the way, including a bevy of California state parks as well as urban attractions like San Luis Obispo’s famed Bubblegum Alley.

Portland, Oregon

Locals invite visitors and transplants alike to “keep Portland weird” — and fortunately, they’ve kept Portland fairly affordable, too.

Average Cost for a 5 Day Trip: $952.50 
RV Rental: $600
Food: $322.50
Campground: $300
Campground Suggestions

With both urban and out-of-town, in-the-forest Portland RV park options, this vacation is a customizable one. Portland Fairview RV Park is one conveniently located option that offers fast access to both the city and the Columbia River Gorge, and offers generous, full-hookup sites at affordable prices.

What to Do There 

Aside from simply meandering around Portland and taking in the sights, visitors should make a note to spend some time perusing Powell’s Books, which occupies a full city block and offers discounted, used titles. A trip east on I-84 leads to the picturesque Multnomah Falls, which is free to visit, as well as a plethora of other hiking options. 

The Olympic Loop

A breathtaking 300-mile drive that winds adventurers through rainforests, beneath alpine peaks, and past rock-studded beaches, the Olympic Peninsula is an incredible west-coast vacation with the added bonus of small crowds.

Average Cost for a 5 Day Trip: $1,265 
RV Rental: $700
Food: $315
Campground: $250

Campground Suggestions

From public campgrounds tucked deep into the rainforest to private RV resorts, the Olympic Peninsula has it all. For the former experience, we recommend the Hoh Campground, which offers dry camping for small RVs; for a jazzed up option, check out the Crescent Beach RV Park, which offers seafront sites for as little as $50 per night.

What to Do There 

This loop circumnavigates (and in many places meanders through) Olympic National Park, an epic wilderness that’s filled with outdoor recreation and wildlife spotting opportunities and which charges only one $30 fee for seven consecutive days of entry. 

Twilight fans will also want to add a stop in Forks, Washington to their itinerary; non-fans will enjoy one of Forks’ Logging & Mill Tours, an affordable way to get more familiar with this area’s history and economy. (The tours are free, though donations are accepted!)

South

Vast, varied and mysterious, the south has lots to offer for the budget-conscious traveler. 

Orlando, Florida

Considered by some to be the vacation capital of the world, Orlando isn’t the least expensive place in the world — but if you play your cards right, it’s doable. 

Average Cost for a 5 Day Trip: $1,360 
RV Rental: $750
Food: $360
Campground: $250

Campground Suggestions

Orlando offers both nearby state park campground access as well as more developed, resort-style options. Wekiwa Springs State Park is known for its affordable on-site campground, which starts at less than $30 nightly, and Encore’s Winter Garden RV Resort offers amenities like playgrounds, swimming pools, and shuffleboard courts as well as full hookups. 

What to Do There 

Although there are plenty of theme parks to pick from, if you’re looking for the best excitement-to-expense ratio, it’s hard to do better than Universal Studios, which is also well known for its Harry Potter themed zone. Nearby cold springs also offer a relaxing experience of what locals call “the real Florida;” Blue Spring State Park is a favorite. 

Charleston, South Carolina

An important city in our nation’s history, Charleston is chock full of fun things to explore both ancient and modern.

Average Cost for a 5 Day Trip: $1,477.50 
RV Rental: $875
Food: $352.50
Campground: $250

Campground Suggestions

Given its reputation for southern hospitality, it’s no surprise that Charleston RV parks tend to offer lots of amenities at low prices. Jolly Acres Camp and Storage, for instance, features full hookup sites starting at just $34 nightly, and it’s located only 45 minutes from town in the heart of the beautiful South Carolina countryside. 

What to Do There 

While there are plenty of present-day attractions in Charleston, it’s hard to ignore the town’s historical significance. Get more familiar with this land’s legacy by visiting Charles Towne Landing, a state historic site that offers plenty of educational entertainment, or take a trip to Fort Sumter National Monument to see for yourself the place where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.

Asheville, North Carolina

Tucked along the Blue Ridge Parkway and known for having one of the highest per-capita numbers of breweries in the United States, Asheville is a one-of-a-kind destination — and an affordable one. 

Average Cost for a 5 Day Trip: $1,415 
RV Rental: $875
Food: $315
Campground: $225

Campground Suggestions

Asheville’s campgrounds range in price and luxury level, but it’s very possible to find campgrounds that offer great amenities at bargain prices. For example, Cullasaja River RV Park has been hosting visitors for decades and features year-round, full-hookup campsites at rates as low as $35 nightly.

What to Do There 

While the Biltmore may beckon, it’s certainly not an inexpensive option — but there are plenty of other low-cost things to get into. For example, Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers a lifetime of outdoor recreation opportunities and is located right around the corner from Asheville proper. If you’re looking for an affordable urban adventure, why not sit and sip a spell at Dobra Tea?

North

Whether to enjoy a winter wonderland or to luxuriate in its warm summers, the northern states offer plenty of worthy recreational opportunities.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Anyone from Michigan (or anywhere in the midwest) can tell you that the UP is its own thing: an undeveloped wilderness just waiting to be explored.

Average Cost for a 5 Day Trip: $1,105
RV Rental: $625
Food: $330
Campground: $150

Campground Suggestions

The UP is lucky to have a multitude of inexpensive campgrounds, with $30 nightly charges not uncommon. For example, Coyote RV Park & Campground in Stephenson, Michigan offers sites as low as $25, and the Munising-Pictured Rocks KOA features generous sites and a well-developed campground at prices starting at $50 nightly.

What to Do There 

The Upper Peninsula is another place where you can find a lot of joy simply by looking around — but be sure not to miss Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, a gorgeous stretch of Lake Superior’s southern shore that’s managed by the NPS. Tahquamenon Falls State Park is another low-cost must-see that also makes for a great photo opp. 

The Black Hills of South Dakota

Most of the state may be plains, but western South Dakota rises up in a series of shimmering peaks.

Average Cost for a 5 Day Trip: $1,480 
RV Rental: $875
Food: $330
Campground: $275
Campground Suggestions

Rapid City is the biggest local metro to scout for campgrounds, but there are also plenty of camping opportunities in the countryside itself. For instance, the Custer Crazy Horse Campground offers generous, 50-amp full hookups starting at $50 per night right in the heart of the hills. 

What to Do There 

The Black Hills are teeming with affordable things to see and do, including Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and Wind Cave National Park, just to name a few. For the opportunity for some cheap souvenir shopping (and delicious donuts), check out Wall Drug — don’t worry, the highway signs won’t let you forget. 

Glacier National Park, Montana

Visiting Glacier National Park — and its surrounding communities, like Whitefish and Kalispell — truly feels like walking into a desktop background: it’s so pretty, it shouldn’t be real. (But it is!)

Average Cost for a 5 Day Trip: $1,470 
RV Rental: $825
Food: $345
Campground: $300

Campground Suggestions

You can choose from numerous campgrounds both inside of and surrounding Glacier National Park — such as NPS-managed St. Mary Campground, which offers dry sites for RVers at prices as low as $23 per night during the summer, or Moose Creek RV Park and B&B, where rates start at $50 nightly and many amenities are offered.

What to Do There 

Glacier National Park itself is a sprawling wilderness with a million acres of stunning countryside to explore — more than even the heartiest adventurer could get to in a lifetime. For rainy days (or those when you just need a break from hiking), head down to Montana Coffee Traders in Whitefish to grab a strong cuppa before you meander the town’s shops and art galleries. Looking is free!

General Budgeting Tips 

Regardless of where your travels take you — even at home! — there are some easy habits to cultivate that can help you save money on everything from food to utilities. For example, meal planning and meal prepping can help you hone in on both your grocery budget and your nutrition goals. Similarly, getting serious about saving water is good not only for Mother Earth, but also for your wallet, and if you’re boondocking, it can even help you enjoy your destination longer. 

As mentioned above, fuel costs are one of the biggest variables when it comes to figuring out the total cost of your RV vacation, not only because drive times and distances vary, but also because the cost of fuel itself can swing wildly, too. Calculating your gas mileage ahead of time can help you prepare for costly gas expenditures, and among other RV friendly apps, tools like GasBuddy can help you find the cheapest fuel around, even if it means driving an extra mile. 

Money Saving Tips for RV Trips

Saving money on road trips specifically takes a little bit of planning, but the extra cash you can stash may make it all worth it. Plus, RVs can make it a little bit easier!

For one thing, most trailers and motorhomes come equipped with some kind of kitchen facilities, which means you can save money by cooking some (or even all) of your meals on board, as opposed to solely relying on expensive restaurant fare. 

RVs also make it easier to visit popular destinations during the off season, or shoulder season, when the weather may not be as nice, but campgrounds and other attractions may be cheaper. Since you’ll have your own little cozy, private bungalow on wheels, some extra wind and rain won’t seem as dire as it would if you were tent camping. 

Booking campgrounds in advance can also help you find the most affordable prices, as well as ensuring you won’t end up camped out in a Walmart parking lot for the night (although that’s doable — and free! — in a pinch). Finally, we recommend searching for public campgrounds, such as those in state parks, as opposed to private campgrounds, which generally charge higher prices (though often offer a more complete suite of amenities, such as laundry facilities, hot showers, etc).  

Renting an RV always comes at some expense, but you can save a bundle by using a peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace like RVshare. Unlike the big box franchises you might be familiar with, this platform connects renters with real people with privately-owned RVs of their own, which they offer for rent at low prices. The company takes care of all the logistics, like insurance coverage, communication, and cash transactions, so all you have to worry about is enjoying your vacation.

Fortunately, an enjoyable and cost-effective vacation doesn’t have to mean limited fun and adventure. Happy trails!