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RV vs Hotels: Which Is a Cheaper Option to Travel?


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Hillary Anne

Beach vacation in a hotel
@Photo by Alexander Kaunas on Unsplash

Hotels and Recreational Vehicles (RV) used to be deemed as a luxury option for travel. We always picture hotels with gigantic chandeliers surrounded by huge carpeted spiral stairs. While RVs look like a mobile hotel suite, they are equipped with all the basic necessities and give you the best of both worlds by doing staycation and traveling simultaneously. With this, a lot of travelers are hindered by its connotation of being expensive.


But calculating all your trip expenses, is it cheaper to rent an RV or stay in a hotel?


A woman taking photo of the hotel signage

A photo by Thought Catalog from Unsplash


Is it Cheaper to Stay in a Hotel?

When you are traveling, accommodation is the next important thing to plan for after booking your flights. With the extensive choices available, travelers can choose to either spend their night in a hostel, Airbnb, hotel, or even in an RV. If you’re torn whether to rent an RV or stay in a hotel due to budget concern, it’s safe to say it’s possible to score cheap accommodation deals.


Typically, the prices for a night stay in a hotel is dictated by the number of star ratings, the room category, and the season you’re traveling. So, you should expect to pay more if you’re planning to stay a night in a five-star hotel and travel during school holidays. Perhaps, a good way to get the best travel deals is by making price comparison via Booking, Agoda, or Expedia while considering these amenities to make your stay more memorable.


All in all, if you are the type of traveler who likes the comfort of waking up to breakfast or returning to a squeaky clean room, then you would probably prefer a night stay in a hotel over renting an RV.


Pros of Staying at a Hotel

Either you are looking for a luxurious five-star hotel or a fitting three-star hotel, you may prefer a hotel accommodation because the rooms are spacious enough for a specific number of people allowed per room, and it’s also safer since it has 24/7 security. In addition, most hotels offer cleaning services, daily breakfast, and airport transfers that most travelers find more convenient.


Sometimes if you’re lucky, you can find a three-star hotel that already includes recreation facilities like a gym, outdoor pool, boutique stores, spa, or a bar and restaurant. Unlike in RVs, you have to go to an RV campground to do laundry or swim in an outdoor pool which means additional expenses.


Cons of Staying at a Hotel

There are also travelers, especially family travelers or groups, who don’t prefer a hotel because most big rooms can only accommodate up to four people. So they have to get additional rooms or pay for the excess guests. Also, most hotels don’t have a kitchen in the room, so you will have to eat at a restaurant multiple times a day. If your hotel is far from the restaurant where you want to eat, you will also have to take a cab or Uber.


Which when these are all added up, it will make your stay in a hotel more expensive.


A vintage RV attached to a vehicle

A photo by Tania Miron on Unsplash

Is it Cheaper to Rent an RV?

Recreational Vehicles or RVs for short was the answer to the constricted mobility that trains offer in 1910. In the 1950s, more RVs were manufactured to replace the ones that looked like a carriage attached to a vehicle and produced bus-like trailers with improved automation. The upshot? A better interior RV with flexibility for customization is the result.


Perhaps, similar to the people in the early 1900s, you also want to have more opportunities to travel by buying an RV. But, before you commit to buying an RV. You might want to consider renting one first to experience different types of RVs and find out which RV works for you.


Types of RVs

Types of RVs

A photo from This Old Campsite


There are different types of RVs that will suit your travel needs. Whether you are planning for a weekend getaway or a month-long getaway, there is a Popup trailer or Motorhome for you. Or, if you want to bring your ATVs, there is a Sport Utility RV for you. Whatever type of vacation you would like to embark on, there is an RV suitable for you.


    • Motorhomes are the most expensive ones. They could cost up to around US$ 500,000. Many prefer this type of RV because it allows you to drive the RV itself, and inside you get to enjoy an interior that is similar to your home.
    • As for the Travel Trailers, they are towable. You can attach them to a van or a car. Many people who are just starting RVing would try the Travel Trailers first because they can detach the trailer, and leave it in an RV campground as they roam the city with the car.
    • For the Popup trailer, they are also towable. It looks like a hybrid of a camping tent. It’s lightweight, elevated, and is usually made up of poly-cotton that allows more ventilation.
    • For the Truck Camper, it’s for beginners and budget travelers. You just need to put it on the pickup truck, park beside a lake, detach it from your pickup truck, and voila! Welcome to your first RVing!
    • Lastly, the Sport Utility RV. The concept of this is to allow you to bring other vehicles that could fit the built-in garage. This kind of RV is for adventurous travelers who want to bring along some recreational equipment to make their vacation more worthwhile.


Where to rent an RV?

There are many other RV companies that offer RV rental. But here are the recommended ones:


    • Outdoorsy – A platform similar to Airbnb. They connect RV owners who have RVs stranded in their backyards, to RV renters who want to experience the RV lifestyle. In this platform, you can choose from a wide array of RVs ranging from an average of US$ 81 per night for Popup Trailers to US$ 209 per night for Motorhomes.
    • RV Share – This platform is similar to Outdoorsy because they also connect RV owners to RV renters. If you’re still thinking of buying an RV, they also have an inventory of new RVs from the RV Dealership that will let you experience how it is driving brand new and sleek RVs. RV Share also offers a rewards program that entices its clients to be frequent renters by giving them discounts or perks on their next booking.
    • El Monte RV – Unlike Outdoorsy and RV Share, El Monte RV doesn’t connect RV owners with RV renters. El Monte RV has a roster of RVs that you can choose from, and they also have various RV rental locations for the renter’s convenience. Their company is also pet friendly so you can skip the separation anxiety with your fur friends, and you can bring them along on your vacation. Furthermore, since they have a lot of RV rental locations, you no longer have to go to your pick-up point to return the RV. You may proceed with your route, and return them into the nearest RV rental location.


Requirements to Rent an RV:

Now that you already know where to rent an RV, it’s now time to check the requirements to rent an RV. Is there an age requirement? Do you need to have a special license to rent an RV?


To start off, most RV rental companies require the renter to be 25 years old and above. But there are U.S. states that allow renters below 25 as long as they pay a small daily fee.


As for the special license, in everyone’s surprise, most RV rental companies do not require a special license or a commercial driver’s license when driving an RV. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), you will only need a Commercial Driver’s License if you’re driving the RV for commercial shipment and the like.


However, some states require a Special Non-Commercial License for RVs with Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of more than 26,001 pounds. You may refer to this article to see the summary of U.S. states requiring either a Commercial Driver’s License or a Special Non-Commercial License for RVs.


But usually, when you rent an RV, the RV rental companies will only require you to present the following:

    • Valid Driver’s License
    • Major Credit Card
    • Insurance

If your insurance doesn’t cover the rental of an RV, they will offer you a third party insurance policy that you will have to pay together with the rental fee and miscellaneous fees.


An RV parked in the cliff

A photo by Stijn te Strake from Unsplash


Where can I park my RV?

As previously mentioned you cannot park your RVs anywhere. Here are your options:


Staying at an RV Campground

If you’re just starting the RV life, you would probably consider going to an RV Campground to meet other RV Campers and also take advantage of the services they offer. To name some these are the basic hookups (water, electricity, and sewer), laundry, picnic tables, and swimming pool.


There are military campgrounds spread all over the U.S. that also serves as an RV campground for active military personnel, military retirees, and U.S. Department of Defense Civilians, and their immediate families. Staying here for a night only costs around US$ 20-50. You just need to call the Army’s Paths Across America office to reserve. You may find the location per state, and their contact numbers here. Don’t forget to bring your military ID card, vehicle registration, and insurance upon arrival.


If you are not eligible for the military campgrounds. There are many RV Campgrounds in the U.S. You can sign up for membership clubs like Escapees RV Club, which is the oldest RV club. When you’re a member of this club, you will get to access almost 1,000 RV campgrounds with a 15% discount. The annual membership here costs US$ 39.95.


Another membership club is Passport America. The annual membership costs US$ 44, but it allows you more savings by giving you a 50% discount. Some RV campgrounds only give a discount if you’re staying on weekdays, or sometimes they limit it to one time discount per month.


Cheapest RV parking

If you still want to save up on your travel, Boondocking or Dry-camping might work for you. Although these types of RV parking do not have amenities like hookups. They are just plain parking lot or a piece of land so you can rest for a while before you continue driving.


In boondocking or dry-camping, you will be parking your RV either on a Walmart, Casino, Federal Public Lands (unless restricted), or Truckstop.


Just be reminded that there are some Walmarts that no longer allow overnight parking, but to be sure you may speak with authorized personnel to ask for permission.


For the Casino, you may refer to CasinoCamper to see the list of Casinos that allow overnight parking.


For the Federal Public Lands, these are unused public lands. The policies vary per state, but as long as it’s not restricted, then you may stay there. Also, depending on the state’s policy they may require you to pay US$ 20 per night, or maybe free. In addition, most of the time you’re only allowed to stay for 14 days, but in some cases like in INYO National Forest of California, they allow you to stay up to 42 days.


Finally, parking at a Truckstop is the last option for you. Although it’s okay to park your RV here, it’s usually loud in this place and the area is specifically made for Truck drivers. It’s the only place they’re allowed to park, so if you will be sharing a parking spot, bathroom, and laundry with them, it might be unfair for them.


In general, which is cheaper depends on your priorities

Deciding on which is a cheaper option to travel depends on many variables. What kind of vacation do you want? How many you are traveling with? And, how much is your estimated budget? Renting an RV may be a cheaper option in terms of your accommodation and food expenses. But the money that you saved would probably go to your gas and RV parking expenses. Staying at a hotel may be a better option. It saves you the effort of driving, fixing all your meals, and cleaning the entire RV.


So, before you decide on which option you’re going to go for. Make sure to settle first on what are your priorities when you travel.