RV Trip Budget Breakdown: Beach Vacation

A bird walks on the beach

Michael and I were in Red Bay, Alabama, hanging out with our fellow Tiffin friends when we decided it was the perfect time for a beach vacation. We had heard really great things about Gulf State Park, and were lucky enough to book nine nights at a campground there. Gulf Shores, Alabama, is the ideal place for a beach vacation—it has beautiful, white sandy beaches and so many different activities and amenities. We spent most of our time at the beach, and were able to ride our bikes to and from our campsite. You can also park at the nearby beach for free if you are a campground guest. We went out to dinner a few times and toured a local historic site, but there is just so much to do at the campground and in the park that we didn't really feel the need to leave.

Our Trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama

Our Trip Budget Breakdown

Below is a breakdown of the various expenses for our 10-day trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama. We've provided a comparison of what we estimate the same vacation would have cost without our RV (including hotels, food and entertainment).

Our RV Trip

Without Our RV

  • Fuel




    The drive from Red Bay to Gulf Shores is about 370 miles. You could do the whole drive in one day, but we decided to break it up into two. It costs us just over $138 in gas to make the trip.

  • Campground



    Micheal and Tiffany's RV parked at their campsite near the beach

    On the drive down to Gulf Shores, we stayed one night at Benchmark RV Park in Marion, Mississippi, which cost us about $34. We then stayed nine nights at Gulf State Park, which cost us about $464, including taxes and resort fees.

  • Food (Eating in and out)


    Food (eating out)


    On travel days, we prefer to make and eat our own sandwiches during the drive. Once we got to Gulf Shores, we ate almost every meal at the RV. We would cook breakfast in the morning, pack sandwiches and snacks to take to the beach for lunch, and then cook fish or burgers on our Blackstone grill for dinner. We did eat out two different times—once at The Flora-Bama Yacht Club and once at Fresh Off the Boat in Orange Beach. We opted to have a late lunch or early dinner at both places, which helped keep the price down.

  • Entertainment



    Tiffany Dunagan posing next to a campground trail map

    We took a tour of Historic Fort Morgan, which has an $8 per person entrance fee. All of our other activities were completely free—hiking, biking (we brought our own bikes), hanging out at the beach, and enjoying the pool at our campground.

  • Total RV Costs


    Total Cost Without RV


Total Savings: $1,968.62 (67%)

By owning an RV, we have been able to cut down on traditional vacation costs—allowing us to travel more, stay longer and create more memories together. *"Without RV" trip costs are estimated based on current national averages for airfare, lodging, fuel and food unless specified by contributor. "Without RV" estimate assumes entertainment costs would be identical to what was provided by contributor. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Total Savings: $1,968.62 (67%)

Tips and Tricks for Budgeting for Your Own RV Trip

  1. Key Factors and Considerations for Trip Preparation and Budgeting

    One of the biggest factors was comparing the price of the campground to the activities we wanted to do. Gulf State Park is really close to the beach, and the campsites are wide and fairly private, so we knew this would cost more. However, we also knew that the campground offered a ton of great, free amenities and would help us save money on rentals and activities. Another factor was the location of Gulf Shores. We were already planning to drive from Red Bay down to Florida, and stopping at Gulf Shores was right along our preferred route. We didn't have to go out of our way to stay here, which helped us save money on gas.

  2. How RVing Helped us Save Money

    The biggest money-saver on our trip was the ability to cook as many meals as we wanted in our RV. There was plenty of room for groceries, so we could buy larger quantities on sale. Not everyone wants to cook on vacation, but we like to make it as easy as possible. Some of our favorite, easy meals include omelettes in a bag and grilled foil packets full of whatever meat and vegetables you like. Some critical supplies for a beach RV trip are umbrellas, bathing suits, towels, coolers, floats, fishing poles, and beach chairs. We recommend buying these items before you get to the beach, as you'll likely have to pay premium pricing once you get to a more touristy area. And just like with any RV trip, be sure to pack an air compressor, tool kit and first aid kit.

  3. Elevating the Experience

    Traveling in the RV allowed us to take everything we needed. If you're traveling with a family, sometimes your car can't fit all of the passengers plus luggage, coolers and beach gear. But we didn't ever have to worry about that with our RV—there is always plenty of space. Being in the RV also allowed us to stay close to a beautiful beach at a reasonable price. Hotel rooms nearby were three and four times as much as our campsite, so we were able to stay in the area for longer and be closer to the water.

  4. What to Avoid When Planning Your RV Trip

    An unexpected breakdown on the road can derail a vacation and cost a lot of money. Before you leave, be sure to check all driving systems, tire tread, tire pressure, and hitch connections. And when making campground reservations, always read the cancellation policy very carefully. Most of the RV parks close to the beach are usually full and don't have flexible cancellation policies.

    Another expense that can add up quickly is food. You don't have to cook every meal at your RV, but it helps to buy enough groceries that will last the length of the trip so you have some options. Be sure and budget for extra water and snacks—being out in the sun and on the water can make you extra hungry and extra thirsty. You can even install a water filtration system in your RV so you always have plenty of clean water and can avoid buying plastic water bottles.

  5. Our Top Tips for RVing on a Budget

    First, decide what is most important for your vacation. Is it proximity to the ocean, is it good restaurants or is it fun activities like water parks and mini golf? Choose your RV resort or campground based on those factors. You don't want to pay for amenities you won't use, or you may be willing to pay a little more to get what is most important. Second, be sure to check out the surrounding area for free activities. At Gulf State Park, there were so many things to do, we knew we didn't need to budget much for entertainment—the trails and the beach were our entertainment! And lastly, budget for a rainy day activity. You may or may not have rain, but it's better to be prepared and then not need it.

  6. How To Book Your Beach Vacation

    If you want to camp at a state park that is near or right on the beach, be sure to check that particular state's reservation system. In order to get the best campsite, you'll want to book right when the reservation window opens, and that can vary by state and by park. People do cancel their reservations, so even if you don't see availability right away, keep checking every few days. We were able to secure our campsite at Gulf State Park only two weeks before the trip and that was due to a last-minute cancellation. Keep in mind that private RV parks near the ocean will be more expensive, but they typically offer lots of amenities and close proximity to the beach. Some even have sites right on the sand. To find the best rates at places like that, try to book during the "off season." Again, this will vary by place and region. We've found that the South has better oceanfront campsite rates between early April and early May, and between late September and late October.

the Crew family hanging out in chairs in front of their RV at a boondocking campsite

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