Evelyn Pless and I retired from our accounting firm at the end of 2018 and started traveling by motorhome. Really.
I was very happy with the comment from one of Evie’s sons-in-law who said he was proud of us — we were the first people he knew to do what they said they were going to do when they would retire.
We bought a new 25ft C-Class Tiffin Wayfarer with a Mercedes Sprinter chassis and rode it with a few short trips to New England and upstate New York from our base in North Oxford, Massachusetts (birthplace of Clara Barton). I-90, known locally as Mass Pike, travels 50 miles east to Boston or you can choose west and be in Seattle after 2,989 miles.
“It’s dangerous business, Frodo, to go out your door. You enter the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet there is no telling where you might be swept away.– JRR Tolkien, “The Fellowship of the Ring”
We visited 46 of the lower 48 states on four major tours and numerous short trips. 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 blogged — Peter and Evie go in a motorhome – if you want our trip details with lots of photos.
Evie bends over to the majestic sights of natural beauty
Don’t get me wrong, I like those, but I tend to like the quirky attractions a bit more, like this sign in Newport, Oregon.
We sold the RV in the summer of 2022, so it’s time to close the books and do some accounting.
Property – $61,916.74
We purchased the RV for $132,532.44 (including sales tax and extras). We deposited $40,000. The total interest was $20,568.25. When we decided to sell, we owed $80,000. We used the equity in the house to pay it off to facilitate the sale. The total payments, including the deposit, amounted to $153,499.50.
There were other property expenses such as insurance and some costs in our unsuccessful attempt to achieve a private sale. In total, this amounted to $10,816.05. We ended up selling to a dealership for $102,000. Offsetting that brings the cost of owning the RV for four years to $61,916.74.
For what it’s worth, the interest was deductible as residential interest.
Repairs and maintenance – $13,081.69
A motorhome is basically a house that regularly experiences a hurricane and an earthquake. And it’s also a vehicle — in our case a Mercedes. We have 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 a mechanic told us that Tiffin is better than most RV brands.
There were also things like leveling blocks, sewer pipes, pipes, and some sort of canvas garage. We were lucky that a relative had a very large lot where we could leave the motorhome when we weren’t travelling.
Gas – $11,160.84
If the purpose of your trip is for sightseeing, there will be a lot of car travel in addition to the drive to each stopping point. There are three ways to deal with this.
The first is to have a motorhome with which you go everywhere. We have met people who travel like this. A big downside is that you have to level, log in, and log out more often this way. Another option is to have a fifth wheel hitch so you can use your tow vehicle to race. And then there’s using the RV to tow a car.
Of these three common methods, we have chosen the fourth. Evie drove the RV and I followed behind in the car. It was like flying in formation. The gas is for the motorhome and the car. So it can be high. We put 30,000 miles on the motorhome and considerably more than that on the car. The motorhome got 16 mpg and the car about 25 mpg. There was a period of incredibly low gas prices that were included in travel during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Food – $0.00
If we hadn’t traveled, we would still have eaten. We probably ate more on the road, but not that much. This is one of the great benefits of RV travel. You have your house with you. After a few weeks we were referring to the motorhome as 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 cooler.
Tourism expenditures – $4,250.52
This covers admissions, bus tours and more. This does not include the vast collection of T-shirts I have accumulated. When it comes to visiting the United States, whether you’re most moved by history or nature, the best things are free or nearly free, especially if you’re into old age racketeering. We are probably missing a few hundred dollars in disbursements in this category. As we accountants say when we do audits, it’s not important.
Campsites – $17,391.11
This includes various memberships, including Thousand Trails, and overnight fees, ranging from $0 to $50. An exception to this range was Liberty Park in Jersey City, NJ, which gave us access to PATH trains or ferries to Manhattan. It was $100 a night.
Due to our membership, the Mille Sentiers camps were at no additional cost. It turned out that there were fewer aisles of friends and relatives than I had hoped. We generally don’t stay in places with a lot of amenities.
You could probably spend a few weeks on YouTube, hearing about the pros and cons of Thousands Trails as well as many other aspects of RV living. My favorite site is RV Odd Couple.
We bought a used Thousand Trails subscription, which we were able to resell, at a loss, when we were done. We could have saved a lot here by blocking more, but Evie was pretty opposed to that idea.
This was equivalent to $33.70 per night. Our plans were seriously disrupted by Covid-19, so we would have done better here had it not been for the pandemic. You will also notice that the overnight rate is exceeded by the costs of ownership in our case.
A few quibbles
We are probably missing some things that we paid for in cash, especially in the tour fees. We heated with propane, and that cost is buried in gas and campsites. Sometimes we filled the propane tank at a gas station and sometimes at a park. As we say in financial audit, it is not significant.
Total – $107,800.90 or $208.92 per night
It’s kind of a case study rather than a kind of recommended model.
One of the things I enjoyed the most was the people I met and the stories I heard. Among the stories, one of the best was that of a lady who was on the site next to us. You could almost tell by looking at her that she had had a difficult life. The story was much more difficult.
She grew up in foster care and struggled with dyslexia. She was separated from her siblings and lost contact with them. One of his brothers did pretty 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 van to tow her, and a Thousand Trails membership. The whole thing was around $30,000. She stays at a TT camp for 21 days and then boondocks at a nearby casino for seven days depending on her particular membership. I especially like the story because I admire the brother, whom of course I never met. But it also illustrates how affordable life in VR can be.
To tell you the truth, I was a little shocked at the over $200 per night it cost us. Then I compare it to what so many trips would have cost with Road Scholar, and it’s not too bad. If it weren’t for Covid-19, we could have volunteered in national or state parks, earning you a free connection.
In the end, the frustration with the repairs, which are collateral damage of the pandemic, wore us down. On a more positive note, we are also interested in seeing other countries.