Evelyn Pless and I retired from our boutique accounting practice in late 2018 and began RV travel. For real.
What pleased me the most was the comment from one of Evie’s sons-in-law, who said he was proud of us – we were the first people he knew who actually did what we promised when they retired.
We bought a new Class C 25 foot Tiffin Wayfarer with a Mercedes Sprinter chassis and set it up from our home base in North Oxford, Massachusetts (birthplace of Clara Barton) with some short trips in New England and upstate New York. I-90, known locally as Mass Pike, runs 50 miles east to Boston or you can choose to head west and be in Seattle in 2,989 miles.
“It is a dangerous business, Frodo, to walk out your door. You step onto the street and if you don’t stay on your feet, you have no idea where you might be swept too.– JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
We visited 46 of the lower 48 states in four major tours and numerous short trips. We made 163 stops for a total of 516 nights. We’ve visited 27 national parks and too many state parks and historic sites to count. Evie kept a blog – Peter and Evie go with the camper — if you want our trip details with lots of photos.
Evie leans towards the majestic sites of natural beauty
Don’t get me wrong, I like these, but I like weird attractions a little bit more, like this sign in Newport, Oregon.
We sold the motorhome in the summer of 2022. So it’s time to close the books and take stock.
Property – $61,916.74
We bought the RV for $132,532.44 (including sales tax and extras). We deposited $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 deposit amounted to $153,499.50.
There were other ownership costs such as insurance and some costs in our unsuccessful attempt to secure a private sale. All in all, that was $10,816.05. We ended up selling it to a dealer for $102,000. When you do the math, the cost of owning the RV for four years is $61,916.74.
For what it’s worth, the interest was deductible as residential interest.
Repairs and Maintenance – $13,081.69
An RV is essentially a home that is regularly exposed to a hurricane and an earthquake. And it’s also a vehicle – in our case, a Mercedes. We also included the cost of changing the oil in our car in this number, 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 pipes, hoses and some kind of canvas garage. We were fortunate that a relative had a very large property where we could park the RV when we weren’t traveling.
Gasoline – $11,160.84
If the purpose of your trip is sightseeing, then in addition to the trips to each stop, you will have to drive around a lot. There are three ways to deal with this.
One is having an RV that you can go just about anywhere with. We have met people who travel like this. A major downside is that you have to level, connect, and disconnect more often this way. Another option is a fifth wheel so you can drive your tow vehicle around. And then there’s the use of the RV to tow a car.
Of these three common methods, we have chosen the fourth. Evie drove the camper and I followed in the car. It felt like a flying formation. The petrol is for both the motorhome and the car. So it may be on the high side. We put 30,000 miles on the RV and well over that on the car. The camper got 16mpg and the car about 25mpg. There was a period of incredibly low petrol prices during the Covid-19 pandemic which was included in the trip.
If we hadn’t travelled, we would have eaten anyway. We probably ate more along the way, but not that much more. This is one of the great advantages of motorhome travel. You have your house with you. After a few weeks, we called the RV home. Your clothes are hanging, your things are in the medicine cabinet, etc. And there is a kitchen and a refrigerator, which we have supplemented with a cool box.
Visitation Cost – $4,250.52
This includes entrance fees, bus tours and the like. It doesn’t include the huge t-shirt collection I’ve amassed. When it comes to touring the United States, whether you’re most moved by history or nature, the best things are free or nearly free, especially if you’re caught up in the senior craze. We’re probably missing a few hundred dollars in cash outlays in this category. As we auditors say, when we conduct audits, it is not essential.
Campgrounds – $17,391.11
These include various memberships, most notably Thousand Trails, and nightly fees that have ranged from $0 to $50. An exception to this area 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 free. Turns out there were fewer drive-ins from friends and relatives than I had hoped. We have generally not stayed in places with many amenities.
You could probably spend a few weeks on YouTube learning about the ins and outs of Thousands Trails, as well as many other aspects of RV life. My favorite site is RV Odd Couple.
We bought a used Thousand Trails membership to resell at a loss when we were done. We could have saved a lot here by boodocking more, but Evie was pretty much against it.
This has paid off at $33.70 per night. Our plans have been seriously disrupted by Covid-19 so we would have done better here had it not been for the pandemic. You’ll also find that the cheap nightly rate is overwhelmed by the running costs in our case.
We’re probably missing some things that we paid for in cash, particularly the viewing cost. We have propane for heating, and those costs are buried in gas and camping. Sometimes we filled the propane tank at a gas station and sometimes at a park. As we say in the financial audit, it is not material.
Total – $107,800.90 or $208.92 per night
This is more of a case study than a recommended model of sorts.
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 came from a lady who was next to us on the site. You could almost see that she had a hard life. The story was much more difficult.
She grew up in foster families and struggled with dyslexia. She was separated from her siblings and lost contact with them. One of her brothers did fairly well with a military career followed by security work. He was determined to find his sister. And he found her.
He bought her a fifth wheel, a pickup truck to tow, and a membership to Thousand Trails. All in all it was about $30,000. She stays at a TT camp for 21 days and then at a nearby casino for seven days based on their respective memberships. I like the story mainly because I admire the brother, who of course I never met. But it also shows how affordable motorhome living can be.
To tell the truth, I was quite shocked at the more than $200 a night it ended up costing us. Then I compare it to what it would have taken to travel that much with Road Scholar and it’s not that bad. Were it not for Covid-19, we might have volunteered at national or state parks, earning you a free connection.
In the end, frustration over repairs that are collateral damage from the pandemic got to us. On a lighter note, we’re also interested in seeing some other countries.