You can see some amazing things on a driving trip to the Grand Canyon. Even on the freeway, you run into stuff that just takes your breath away, such as the image below:
Now, I’m all for people spending their money in whatever ways make them happy. However, my financial brain just could not let go of this one. (Yes, I had a lot of time to kill driving from Phoenix to San Diego, so my brain started running the numbers.)
We drove 1,500 miles in our Prius from San Diego to Las Vegas, on to the Grand Canyon, then back to San Diego. We averaged about 42 m.p.g. With a large RV towing a Hummer, I reckon the guy above was probably averaging 7 m.p.g. At $4.00/gallon, that works out to about $850 in gas expense for the RV versus $150 for the Prius. (Difference: $700; Cost advantage: Prius.)
Assume about $30 per day campground fees for the RV vs. the $70/night we spent on 4-star hotels through our Priceline bids. For 7 nights, the RV guy paid $210; we paid $490 (Difference: $280; Cost advantage: RV; Comfort advantage: 4-star hotel. However, note that this number ignores the daily rental expense or the monthly payment if the RV was financed. That obliterates any savings pretty quickly. More on that below.)
So, when you add up the gas and overnight expenses, we paid about $400 less. We brought supplies for our breakfasts and lunches in a cooler, so food was pretty cheap for those meals. Maybe we made it up on dinners out at restaurants — the RV guy likely didn’t have restaurant expense for dinner.
But here’s the real shocker: A large RV like the one in the photo costs about $100,000. The Hummer is another $50,000. That’s $150,000 that’s depreciating in the driveway most of the year. Yikes! In normal times, you could earn several thousand dollars a year interest on that money, which would pay for a pretty nice vacation every year. And you’d still have your original principal. (In contrast, we paid $22,000 cash for our Prius.)
If the RV was rented, that’s about $150 per day rental expense, which is twice the amount we paid for a 4-star hotel each night.
So, if you want to see the country in an RV, go for it and have a blast. Just make sure you are prepared to burn a large wad of cash in the process.