Cross-Country RV Trip: Rent vs Buy

This post may contain affiliate links. For more details, please view our full disclosure.

I never thought about this before! Rent vs buy an RV---which one is truly cheaper for a cross-country road trip?

One of our dreams is to take a cross-country RV trip with our family. Preferably, we’d take some of our extended family along. We’d want to take our time, especially since we have kids. While I’ve driven almost across the country in 3 days before, I know there’s an additional day of driving I didn’t do, and a lot of sights I didn’t see along the way. Plus, that was only a one-way trip.

With kids and all the extra time they take, it would be super cool if we could do two months. This is not in the cards for us this summer as the husband is taking a summer course that he actually has to take in the classroom as opposed to online, but maybe next year.

Rent vs Buy

We’ve done some research and found that on average, it would cost about $800 per week to rent an RV. That includes the actual cost of the rental plus mileage surcharges. It doesn’t include things like gas or insurance. (I’m pretty certain we’d be covered under our current auto insurance policy, though when the time comes I’ll have to double check because it is a larger vehicle than what we normally drive.)

Eight-hundred dollars per week over the course of eight weeks is $6,400. That’s a ton of money. Like way-more-than-our-rent money.

So we started looking into alternative options, like purchasing our own. We found some trailers for $6,400. While many of them need a little love, we’d get to have them for keeps. Investing a little extra to make them prettier doesn’t seem like too big of a deal, and some of them are livable as they are.

While the best option would be to pay in cold, hard cash, we were surprised to find that financing wasn’t such a bad choice, especially if you plan on making future summer road trips. For example, a 5-year loan on a $6,400 RV financed through PenFed would have a monthly payment of $124.18 per month and only incur $1,050.61 in interest if you assume a $0 down payment and pay it off as scheduled. That’s like paying for 1.31 extra weeks of renting, except you get to keep it for the long haul.

Which Way is Best?

The absolute best option would be to buy an RV or trailer in the $6,400 range in decent condition with cash.

Short of that, it would come down to if we thought this was something we were going to do again. Even if we plan on only taking one additional, shorter trip of two weeks, financing would still put us ahead financially. If, however, the two month trip was the only time we’d use the RV or trailer in the next ten years, renting may be a better bet.

Have you ever been on an RV trip before? How did you handle the rent vs. buy debate? Where did you go? Here are some of my top to-see destinations when we finally make this happen.


This post is in collaboration with PenFed Credit Union.


10 thoughts on “Cross-Country RV Trip: Rent vs Buy

  1. Amanda @ centsiblyrich

    You’re talking my language now! We’ve owned a camper for years and have taken multiple trips with our kids. Camping is definitely our “thing”. My husband and I borrowed my grandparents’ pop-up camper when we were in college and then tried their 5th wheel after we had kids. After trying it out, we knew we were hooked, so buying was the best option for us.

    If I were you, I’d try at least a weekend of renting (maybe locally?) prior to making your decision.

    We go everywhere! Last year, we spent over two weeks in Yellowstone and camped in an RV park near Glacier National Park. Though it costs in gas, the camping trips do cost less than staying in hotels or airbnb. Don’t forget to figure in the cost of your campsites, though. They can range anywhere from $20-$100/night, depending on where you are.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Great tips! I wonder if there’s an app to find the cheapest/safest campsites. Where are you headed this year?

  2. Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor

    That’s kind of a tough choice. I’ll just mention that RVs are very expensive to repair. My brother works at an RV repair center and said the parts are crazy expensive, and then there’s the cost of labor. Renting would avoid that ongoing cost which I think at some point would be inevitable.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Another awesome point that I didn’t know about. Will have to factor that in, too, when we eventually do hit the road!

      1. Abigail @ipickuppennies

        I was going to say something similar: Look into extended costs. How much more is it to repair, insure, etc.? If you have an HOA, will it have a conniption fit when you park it outside? Or will non-HOA neighbors make your life difficult about it?

        And now that you know the approximate age of the ones you’d be looking at, talk to other RVers about when things started going wrong so you know what to expect. And/or find an RV repair center that would over any prospective purchase (assuming you’re buying from an individual) to be sure everything doesn’t break as soon as you buy it.

        If all of that checks out, then buying is definitely a better option. Just make sure you’re also realistic about how many people can *comfortably* fit into the thing without any murder taking place.

  3. NZ Muse

    Campervans are very expensive! We did a 2 week trip in one a few years back – but we did it in winter so it was literally like half price compared to summer. Like a boat, I personally wouldn’t buy one – where would I put it and how much would it be to maintain and how much would depreciation be? But it all depends on your use case. I really loved travelling around in it but I can’t imagine spending much more than a couple of weeks in it at a time.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      With my kiddos, I can’t imagine doing more than a couple of months, and even with that…I’d need sitters to come along with us to keep my sanity! It is a pricey proposition, but might be nice for longer vacations just for the savings over hotels. Those are all great questions to ask before buying, too. Again, more things I’ll have to look into before making a final decision!

  4. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe

    I’ve never done an RV trip, so would be much more likely to rent for a trial run of a week or so. Maybe I’d love it, and the $800 would be extra spending. But maybe a week would have me rethinking my decision and I would have saved money long term.

  5. Vickie @Vickie's Kitchen and Garden

    I love the thoughts of renting an RV then the upkeep would be theirs – not sure about the camper because then you would need a big truck to tow it. More money! You know the either way would be a great experience for your children. They would have quite a memory.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *