RV Road Trip or Hotel Stay: Which is Better?

Here’s why an RV wins (almost) every time

As a longtime RVer and RV blogger, you may think I’m unfairly biased toward staying in an RV vs. a hotel. But, before you decide to devalue my opinion, let me share with you that I have also traveled to to numerous foreign vacation spots including Barbados and St. Lucia, Mexico and Peru, Tokyo and Hong Kong, United Kingdom and Portugal, London and Paris. I’ve also stayed in hotels at Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.

So, believe me, I’m well-acquainted with both travel options. 

In my experienced opinion, staying in an RV wins (almost) every time. I will tell you the top reasons why and the exceptions when hotels win.

Camping at Padre Island National Seashore, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10 reasons why an RV is better than a hotel stay

RVing is often cheaper, easier, and more comfortable than staying in a hotel. There are always exceptions, of course, which I’ll discuss at the end.

But first, let’s jump into the benefits of RV vs. a hotel stay.

1. Campgrounds and RV parks are cheaper

Campgrounds (especially at state and national parks) tend to be significantly cheaper than hotel rooms. A night at a state or national park usually runs $30-$50 whereas a nearby hotel to such natural attractions usually runs $150-$250 or more. 

Even private RV parks are usually significantly cheaper than hotels. This is especially true near major attractions, like theme parks or other busy destinations. 

Granted, some RV parks and RV resorts with high-end amenities can be about the same price. But campgrounds and RV parks are cheaper than hotels for the most part.

Boondocking along Utah Scenic Byway 24 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Boondocking is even cheaper (and often free)

Boondocking is a self-contained camping style that doesn’t require hookups. So, you can camp anywhere you’re allowed to park. 

When boondocking, you have numerous cheap or free camping options available to you.

Plus, you get to explore more secluded areas and be away from the sometimes noisy campgrounds and RV parks.

3. No living out of a suitcase

Not having to unpack, repack, and lug suitcases around is a big plus.

When you stay in an RV, you can neatly organize and KEEP your stuff in drawers and closet spaces. You don’t even have to repack for every road trip within the same season.

Camping with your dog © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. More pet-friendly

Taking your dog is a huge plus for many RVers. It’s hard to find pet-friendly hotels and vacation rentals which make pet lovers less interested in hotel stays.

You can stock your RV with dog camping accessories and enjoy all the perks of traveling with a dog.

This advantage of RVs over hotels is particularly beneficial to cat owners. While some hotels and vacation rentals do allow dogs, most do not allow cats! In an RV, you can get these purrrfect cat travel accessories and bring your kitty along for the trip.

5. Sleep in your own bed

Every new hotel you stay at has different bedding and pillows. There’s no guarantee of their quality and cleaniness or the quality of sleep you’ll get. When you RV, you take your bed and all your favorite linens wherever you go.

Eating at Boone Tavern Hotel, Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Save money with your own kitchen

One of the biggest expenses of staying in a hotel is not the cost of the hotel itself. Rather, it’s the cost of eating at restaurants.

Traveling with a stocked kitchen in your RV saves a lot of money. Your travel budget will stretch farther and you’ll get to travel longer.

You’re essentially eating the same as you would at home. So, you don’t have to figure food costs into your travel budget other than special restaurant stops and any excess beyond your home food budget.

Driving and hiking the Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. More travel flexibility

RVers have the unique opportunity of adopting their own travel pace.

I like to think most travelers fall into one of three categories: the wanderers, the explorers, the bucket-listers.

First, we have wanderers. They’re slow-moving and thorough in the experience of a place, state, or region. When we’re not rushed for time, I find that my travel style naturally falls into this category. Wanderers enjoy spending anywhere from several days to multiple weeks in one spot (and even call the same locale home for a month or more). They’re generally intentional about building flexibility into their travel plans.

Next, we have explorers. Explorers are the travelers who aren’t on hard and fast timelines but also don’t stick around long enough for folks to start asking if they’re locals to the area. Explorers are either on the move (or planning to be) at least once a week. These travelers are driven by adventure and are firm believers in sticking to an itinerary and often have seasonal interests (such as leaf peeping) or hobbies like hiking or birding that help shape their travel schedules. They also tend to leave room in the schedule for the potential of sticking around for an extra day or even another week.

The last category of travelers is what I call bucket-listers. These are the folks who have a mission and a plan and rarely deviate from it. These folks may stay in one spot for a week or so at a time but not often. They’ve got a bunch of places to be and a whole lot of motivation to get there.

Camping at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona/Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. No bed bugs

There’s been a lot of chatter about bed bugs in recent years and it’s more than just social media gossip. Bed bugs have been on the rise globally for the past decade. They are now found in every U.S. state with Washington DC, Baltimore, Chicago, and Los Angeles being the most plagued.

With an RV, you don’t have to worry about other people bringing bed bugs into your sleeping space. You can maintain a high standard of cleanliness and more easily avoid a bed bug infestation.

This is something to consider, as well, if deciding whether or not to rent out your RV.

Las Cruces (New Mexico) Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Better entertainment

Staying in an RV is more enjoyable than a hotel. For one, you get to take your favorite entertainment with you without being limited to a suitcase. Instead of flipping through channels on a hotel TV or paying exorbitant fees for pay-per-view movies, you have your own TV, DVDs, etc. You can even have your own outdoor movie theater.

You can also easily bring varied entertainment with you such as board games, hobbies, and arts and crafts. And, you don’t have to fret over which books to lug around. There’s more room for your favorite books to read while camping. And many RV parks offer a book exchange.

And let’s not forget about sitting around the campfire or putting your stargazing kit to use! Both those activities sure beat sitting in a hotel room at night.

10. You meet more people (or avoid them entirely)

I know some people might consider being around more people a con rather than a pro. But meeting other travelers and learning about where they’re from and where they’re headed can add to your travel experience.

You don’t have to meet other people while camping, but if want to, then you easily can. Campers are, by and large, a friendly and helpful lot. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to make friends while camping if you so desire.

Check this out to learn more: 11 Ways RVing Beats Flying

However, the opposite can also be true. If you don’t want to be around other people then RVing is still the better option over a hotel. If you boondock, you can stay in remote locations where there are NO people. Just you and nature! You can’t get that at a hotel.

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The exceptions (when hotels are better than RVs)

There are, of course, exceptions to RVing being better than staying in an RV. In some cases, it is better to stay in a hotel than in an RV.

Let’s take a look at a few of those cases…

1. You’ve on a short timeline

It may be better to stay in a hotel if you’re traveling to a destination that’s far away for a short duration. Driving to a distant destination takes longer than flying, of course.

So, if you live in Idaho and want to go to Boston or San Antonio on your one-week vacation from work, you better fly.

Fly or RV to Boston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Your destination is far

If traveling far, fuel may cost more than airfare. At time of writing the national average price for a gallon of gas was $3.57 and diesel was $3.85 per gallon ($4.81 in California). If you drive a diesel pusher and get 10 mpg (which is generous) and you drive 300 miles in one day, that’s up to $144 a day.

The average domestic flight from a major airport is around $300. Depending on the number of plane tickets you need to buy, flying may be cheaper. Although, don’t forget to account for local transportation costs and additional fees.

Now, keep in mind, that the journey is usually as important to RVers as the destination. But if you drive straight through without enjoying sites along the way then flying is probably better especially if you don’t plan to stay long.

3. You don’t want to clean

Another exception is when you don’t feel up to doing cleaning and maintenance. Having maid service is certainly a big mark in favor of hotels. 

Sometimes, you can get really great deals on all-inclusive hotel resorts. This type of full-service can be comparable cost-wise to RV resorts with similar amenities. 

Fly or RV to Mobile, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. You don’t want to risk breaking down

RVs run the risk of breaking down in the middle of a road trip. Granted, if you do preventative maintenance and check your tire pressure every travel day, you’re far less likely to encounter problems.

But RVs are vehicles and vehicles do break down. It’s a risk you have to be willing to take, a risk you can weigh based on the age of your RV, the age of your RV tires, and how well it’s been maintained.

5. You don’t want to set up camp

RVers have to setup and tear down camp which can be more work than some people are willing to do. Experienced RVers get it down to a science and can quickly do both.

But, if you’re new to RVing, it can take a couple of hours to set up and tear down. It can really eat into your fun time until you get the hang of it. Here are 11 tips for getting started.

It helps to use a departure and setup checklist.

There are other exceptions, of course, but the above tend to be the main reasons people opt for hotels over RVs. And some are hesitant to to make the leap into the unknown, a new and different lifestyle.

Worth Pondering…

No matter where we go in our motorhome, that sense of independence is satisfying. We have our own facilities, from comfortable bed to a fridge full of our favorite foods. We set the thermostat the way we like it and go to bed and get up in our usual routine.

12 Dog Friendly National Parks

More than 300 million nature lovers head to a national park annually, many with their four-legged friends. Not all parks, however, welcome them. Which parks are the most pet friendly and which should you avoid when accompanied by a furry friend?

Although most of the 63 national parks don’t allow dogs so as not to disturb the wildlife, a few permit dogs on leash and in designated areas (except service dogs who are allowed to move around more freely).

A tour of America’s national parks is on many RV bucket lists but bringing your pet to these destinations can be a challenge. It’s important to know pet restrictions in the national parks you’re hoping to visit to minimize your impact on these sensitive environments. But an easier alternative is to target the most dog-friendly national parks in the US. Some of these parks offer miles of pet-friendly hiking trails as well as boarding services if you plan a hike to a location where your pups can’t go. 

So let’s check them out!

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

Stunning sandstone cliffs naturally colored in brilliant orange and pink hues leave visitors amazed in this 229-square-mile national park including a 15-mile-long narrow canyon popular for hiking through. Dogs must be on a leash no longer than six feet at all times and are allowed on the Pa’rus Trail. All other trails and wilderness areas are off-limits. Pets are allowed along public roads and parking areas, in developed campgrounds and picnic areas, and on the grounds of Zion Lodge. No pets, other than service animals are allowed on shuttle buses.

Get more tips for visiting Zion National Park

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

One of the newest areas under the management of the National Park Service is also one of its most dog-friendly parks. Dogs are welcome on all park trails which provide spectacular views of the gorge. 

Several trails lead to spectacular waterfalls where you and your pup can cool off during the summer. There are also several pet-friendly campgrounds down in the gorge if you’re looking for a beautiful place to camp right along the river. 

Get more tips for visiting New River Gorge National Park

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Explore miles of ever-shifting dunes with your pup by your side in this unique New Mexico national park. Your pup has to remain on a leash with a maximum length of six feet but dogs are permitted everywhere in this park aside from public buildings. 

Be aware that there is very little shade out on the dunes. So your best bet is to explore first thing in the morning or take your pup out for a sunset stroll if you’re spending the night in this otherworldly national park. 

Get more tips for visiting White Sands National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Petrified Forest is a unique stop just off Interstate 40 about two hours east of Flagstaff, Arizona. At one time, the environment here held the ideal conditions for preserving (well, petrifying) vast stands of now-extinct conifers. 

You’re allowed to bring your dogs on all park trails and along paved roads as well as into official wilderness areas off-trail. Just be aware that the park can be hot, offers minimal shade, and contains many fossil deposits that dogs should be discouraged from gnawing on. 

Get more tips for visiting Petrified Forest National Park

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

In a park that boasts more than 500 miles of hiking trails only 20 miles are off-limits to our four-legged friends. Dogs are also welcome in park campgrounds, picnic areas, and pull-outs along the park’s famous Skyline Drive. 

Whether you and your pup are looking for some wilderness solitude, picturesque views, or cooling waterfalls, you’ll find them here. Plus, you’re even welcome to explore sections of the famed Appalachian Trail. 

Get more tips for visiting Shenandoah National Park

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

While a swampy sanctuary in South Carolina might not be your first thought for a pet-friendly vacation, Congaree permits leashed pets on all hiking trails and campsites. The fall and winter months are the best time to visit after the summer heat dwindles and flood waters recede. 

Plus, you’ll avoid the height of mosquito season. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even rent a kayak or canoe to explore one of the most diverse ecosystems in North America so long as you don’t mind catching the occasional sight of an alligator. 

Get more tips for visiting Congaree National Park

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Heading down into the canyon with your pup is not an option here but walking on a leash along the paved South Rim Trail is permitted. So you can enjoy the views down into the canyon while your pup gets some exercise. 

The 13 miles of trails along the South Rim give you a chance to get away from the park’s most crowded areas but the South Rim Kennel is an option if you want to board your pup and explore a little further. The Mather, Desert View, and Trailer Village campgrounds are all pet-friendly as well. 

Get more tips for visiting Grand Canyon National Park

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Pets are allowed on leash in the developed areas of the park and on the trail from the visitor center to the Fruita Campground. Pets are also allowed on the Fremont River Trail from the campground to the south end of Hattie’s Field in unfenced and/or unlocked orchards in the Chesnut and Doc Inglesby picnic areas and campgrounds. The apples were certainly unexpected treats.

Pets are allowed within 50 feet of the centerline of roads (paved and dirt) open to public vehicle travel and in parking areas open to public vehicle travel. Pets are not permitted on other hiking trails, in public buildings, or the backcountry.

Get more tips for visiting Capitol Reef National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, dogs are allowed in campgrounds, picnic areas, and along roads but must be kept on a leash at all times. Dogs are only allowed on two short walking paths—the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail. The Gatlinburg Trail is a perfect hike for dogs and it leads right into the town of Gatlinburg. Streams, creeks, little bridges, and friendly folks will all be found along the way. You may see bears during your time here, so if your dog is reactive, just keep that in mind.

Get more tips for visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

You’ll love Joshua Tree National Park! Pets are allowed within 100 feet of roads, picnic areas, and campgrounds. Pets are also permitted on the paved Oasis of Mara and Keys View trails. Be aware of hot sidewalks and pavement that will burn your pet’s feet and walk only during the cooler parts of the day.

Unpaved roads offer spectacular scenery and a chance to immerse yourself in the desert landscape with your pet while following park regulations and protecting the park. Anywhere you can drive your vehicle you can go with your leashed pet. Some unpaved roads require 4-wheel drive and/or high clearance.

Get more tips for visiting Joshua Tree National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Can you say prairie dogs? So cute and so plentiful in Theodore Roosevelt National Park! Leashed pets may be walked along roads and road shoulders, sidewalks, parking areas, and in campgrounds and picnic areas. Seeing your dogs looking at the prairie dogs from the car will be so memorable. The sidewalk at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center (I-94, exit 32) is a good place to walk dogs and has fantastic views of the badlands all along the way. Pets are not allowed on trails.

Get more tips for visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Visitors take a trip to the prehistoric past when visiting Badlands National Park known to contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Ancient rhinos, horses, and saber-toothed cats once roamed the area that’s now home to bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorns, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets in the 244,000 acres of protected grass and prairie lands.

Dogs must be on a leash no longer than six feet at all times and are only allowed in developed areas such as campgrounds, picnic areas, and other areas open to motor vehicles. Pets are not allowed on hiking trails, public buildings, and backcountry areas.

Get more tips for visiting Badlands National Park

Your Dog Can Become A B.A.R.K. Ranger!

The Bark Ranger program was introduced by the National Park Service as a way to encourage responsible national park travel with dogs.

Visit a park. Take the pledge. Get a badge.

Worth Pondering…

The dog lives for the day, the hour, and even the moment.

—Robert Falcon Scott