Outrageous Gas Prices, RVs, and Redwood Trees

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April 29, 2008

Recently, while towing our travel trailer back from the Sunshine State, I fueled up our tow truck SEEMORE. A thirsty beast, SEEMORE ingested $99 of diesel into his belly before I finally released the pump trigger. He could’ve swallowed even MORE of the costly stuff, but I wanted to keep the final tab beneath that symbolic Ben Franklin note.

Fuel costs are skyrocketing. If you own an RV of any kind, you can’t help but wonder what these prices mean for your camping future. Last year my wife and I traveled more than 15,000 miles with our RV in tow. We get about 12 miles per gallon. If you do the math, at current prices ($4.20 per gallon) that equals about $5250 of fuel. Factor in expenses like campground fees, maintenance, and smores, and you’re approaching the GNP of Grenada.

What’s an RV owner to do?

There are many recession-survival tips, but today I’ve got an unusual one: consider the redwoods.

“What on earth do redwood trees have to do with gas prices?” you may ask. Allow me to explain.

Last summer, Kristy and I camped in California’s redwood forests. Our time there was extended by a flat tire. We spent some unplanned time in a small town called (I kid you not) Myers Flat. For a couple of days, our Airstream was nestled in the shadow of ancient giants.


Airstream RV Blog – Myers Flat from Sean Michael on Vimeo.

These trees are among the oldest living things on earth. Some have stood since Roman times. Over thousands of years, they’ve witnessed human foibles like crusades, wars, revolutions, Milli Vanilli, and yes — high gas prices. They are survivors.

Redwoods offer perspective. It’s impossible to stand amidst these magnificent trees and not be humbled. Compared to redwoods, our human presence on this planet is temporary. Unlike redwoods, who are truly long term campers, we only get to enjoy a few dozen seasons. And that’s if we’re lucky. Our time upon this stage is brief. We’ve got to make the most of it.

The Latin phrase “carpe diem” springs to mind. Literally translated, it means, “pluck the day” — but we generally interpret it as “seize the day” since you don’t go around talking about “plucking” in a polite society. As RV’ers, we must seize the opportunity to enjoy yet another summer of camping. We must weather the storm.

Now, I’m not saying that we should throw all caution to the wind, and pump diesel like there’s no tomorrow. But we should keep on RV-ing. We can find ways to enjoy RV-ing that are less costly.

A few obvious suggestions come to mind, like don’t drive 15,000 miles. Drive less, and camp more. I’ve noticed that Kristy and I have a great time with our RV regardless of where we are camping. We’ve enjoyed camping across town at a park that is no more than 10 miles from our home. Heck, we’ve even had fun in Wal-Mart parking lots (though I don’t suggest taking your next vacation there).

In a future post I’ll consider the economics of RV-ing in more detail. But for today, I’m just thinking about the redwoods. A few hundred years from now, when people are enjoying their interplanetary teleportation RVs, those same redwood trees will be standing watch in California. We’ll all have moved on, but the redwoods will know — we enjoyed our time here while it lasted. We seized the day.

My wife and I honeymooned aboard our RV! For more RV travel videos like this one, check out our website: www.thelonglonghoneymoon.com.

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28 comments

  1. Eric Young

    Amen!!!!

  2. Nice article; especially driving less miles to closer spots. We live in the wonderfully cool, coastal area of Ventura, CA. and are fortunate to have 6 super camping areas, the farthest is 52 miles one way, 2 of the closest are under 10 miles. We save quite a bit with short distance trips, then plan one long journey a year.

  3. Maggie

    Amen:
    Last year,summer, we hauled 9,000 miles from Florida throughout the far West in search of cool. We never found it.
    Our plans this year, with diesel approaching $4.50 a gallon, is to head for a campground in Maine, where we will spend at least 1 month. From there, we haven’t a clue. But wherever we wind up in New England, it will be for extended stays — a heck of a lot cheaper than moving every few days. Unhooked, our diesel fuel usage plummets, allowing us to do day trips all over the landscape. Who knows what treasures we will uncover?
    Cheers,
    Maggie

  4. Robert Mahon, P. E.

    Despite the soaring fuel costs, my Lady and I will be making a cross-country & return trek this summer. Sure, it’ll be expensive. Much more so than to my liking.

    But, prices next year will probably be even higher and I’m not getting any younger. With a little luck, I’ll be here to complain about fuel prices then too.

    In the meantime, we’re gonna “Seize the Day”, which are becoming shorter and shorter .

    God bless and be careful out there.

  5. You picked a beautiful spot to park for a few days- or it picked you!

    To put in perspective, are you spending more than you would have had you stayed in your sticks and bricks house? As you point out, we do have some control over our expenses and slowing down and staying put for a while is one of them.

    You could also consider working or volunteering in a location for a season. Not only would you save on fuel but you could get a free- or reduced-rate RV site and maybe even some extra money!

    Jaimie Hall-Bruzenak
    Author of Support Your RV Lifestyle! An Insider’s Guide to Working on the Road

  6. Eileen

    I just want to thank you for such a beautiful film and commentary on the Redwoods. They are magnificent, having once seen over 30 years ago.

    Also I enjoy your blogs and don’t blog myself so this is a big step. But you guys deserve all the compliments so let me just add mine!

    Happy Trails
    Eileen

  7. Thanks everyone for taking the time to respond. Usually my posts are of a lighthearted nature, so I was a little unsure about posting this more thoughtful piece. Now I’m glad I did! I love the redwoods, and I certainly mean everything I wrote about them, and our time in Myers Flat. It was a highlight of the journey for me. With a little luck, we’ll make a return visit someday.

    Thanks again, and I hope everyone is gearing up for another great camping season!

  8. Yes, diesel is high but I just paid over $400 for two ONE WAY tickets from Sacramento to Denver We are taking the grandkids for a trip and then putting them on a plane back home. I can remember when $200 ROUND TRIP was a normal price, so then, in comparison, diesel isn’t any higher than many other things.

  9. Dennis Barnhoorn

    That’s a beautiful place to visit, we visted Klamath on the river last year for 2 weeks. There is so much to see up there and it’s so green. The only thing I didn’t care for was the constant overcast…. Yes and we all have to cope with those high gas prices……

  10. Professor95

    A few years back my wife and I wanted to go to Disney World in Orlando – a long trip from Central Virginia. Gas was around $1.40 a gallon. We decided it would be too expensive and stayed home. The following year gas prices were hitting $2.00 per gallon. We really stressed on the cost of fuel and almost stayed at home again. Looking back, I am thankful we went when we did. It was a fantastic trip and we have many great memories from the experience. With gas now at $3.69 a gallon we are planning shorter trips and longer stays. Don’t let the higher cost of fuel ruin your current RV experiences – next year it will undoubtably cost even more. You and your children/grandchildren will most likely not remember the vacation you spent at home – but the RV vaction will be remembered with fondness.

  11. Professor95

    One more comment on rising gas prices: My tow vehicle is a ’99 GMC dually, 7.4L engine. We pull an ’05 Prowler Regal with a GVW of 11,000#. Mileage has consistently been in the 7-8 mpg (gas) towing range with the exception of mountains where it drops to 4-6 mpg (upgrade).

    I recently purchased an accessory called the Scan Gauge II. It plugs into the vehicles OBD2 computer port, which was standardized in 1995. The cord is long enough to mount in any convenient location (left side of dash for me). I have real time visual readouts of Manafold Absolute Pressure, Throttle Position, MPG and many other engine functions. Having the gauge and the ability to see what is actually happening to fuel mileage at any given moment has drastically changed my driving style. While it is still early in the RV travel season, the few trips that we have made are showing improved gas mileage as a result of watching the gauge (don’t worry, I still watch the road too.) IMHO, it is a “must have” accessory for those who want to improve mileage. OBTW, the cost is “around” $170 thru internet suppliers. At $3.70+ per gallon for gas, it can easily pay for itself before the end of this years camping season. Sorry, it is not compatable with diesel engines since they are not OBD2 compliant.

  12. Professor95

    Opps, looks like I made an error on my post about the Scan Gauge II not working with diesl engines. Apparently it does, on some models. Check the Scangauge website to see what diesel vehicle is or is not compatable.

    Sorry

  13. Thanks, Professor… I will check out the Scan Guage II. Our truck has an onboard computer that displays MPG and other basic stats. It probably serves a similar function.

    Your comments remind me of the quote attributed to Mark Twain: in 25 years, we’ll regret the things we didn’t do more than the ones we did!

  14. Farmhand

    Interesting. I have a class A RV posted for sale right now, just because we finally built a permanent cabin in the woods and just don’t use it enough to justify us hanging on to it. So I have had the opportunity to talk to a few potential buyers, and of course, high on the list is “I don’t think we can afford the fuel”.

    I don’t have the math with me right now, but I did a quick comparison of the costs you incur traveling across country in the RV at 10mpg, versus your Ram or Expedition that might get 14mpg. Based on traveling 350 miles a day and a gas cost of $4.00 gallon, if you factor in the economies of buying groceries and making your own breakfast and lunch (everyone wants to eat dinner out); and staying in the RV vs. a hotel (I think I figured $90 a nite), the RV still costs about $50 per day less. That’s to say nothing of the fact that you’re traveling with almost all the conveniences of home, and it’s your own private bathroom and bedding- a little hygenic security there.

    Someone will challenge, I’m sure, because they’ll be driving a Civic or Prius that gets 42mpg, instead of a Ram. Well, yes, the math no longer works at that point. But you have leg cramps and a stiff back and I don’t, and I watched Family Guy for a couple hours to boot. Point is, even at $4.00 a gallon, it’s not unreasonable- just not as cheap as it used to be.

  15. Another consideration is the possibility of boondocking (camping without electrical, water, and sewer hookups). I really enjoy boondocking (it feels like true camping!), and have found the state/national park sites to be some of the prettiest in the US. They are cheap too, ranging from 100% free to under $20 a night in the parks.

    Of course, when we boondock we usually use some fuel in the form of our generator — but not usually too much. It really depends on whether we need to run the A/C.

    If, on an extended RV trip, you can boondock on a regular basis, the savings can be substantial.

  16. Tye

    Sean, my wife and I LOVE reading (and watching) your blog!

    Tye Warren
    2004 28′ Airstream International CCD

  17. silverado75

    In my opinion I still think even with the ever rising cost of fuel you still get a better bang for you buck when you vacation with you RV as opposed to Air travel. With the RV you have everything you need and you CAN TAKE WHAT YOU WANT with you. With Air travel you pay to be abuse by the TSA, cannot take what you want on the plane pay extra for a second piece of luggage ECT. Now you arrive at your destination and rent a car to get to your hotel. Now you have to eat out at restraints and such. Then you have the option of renting a house or cabin for your stay at prime rates. You can find many enjoyable locations to take the family in your RV and have a great time and save a buck or two.

  18. Tye, thanks much. Nice to see a fellow Airstreamer on here. 🙂

    Silverado, you make a great point. One of the major upsides of RV-ing is that you are hauling your OWN stuff — including your own kitchen. You can save a lot of money (not to mention calories) by dining at home. And really, there’s nothing better than dinners by the campfire. Just don’t forget the fixin’s for smores!

  19. Hi Sean, just wanted to let you know how much I love your articles and videos!! We are new RV’ers…just purchased an 06 Four Winds 31′ I am in the process of reading anything and everything I can get my hands on and yours are my favorite videos on youtube! Thanks for all of your terrific contributions for us newbies!!

  20. Hi Bichonpawz, thanks much for your post! You made my day. I’m happy to hear that you’ve found our articles and videos enjoyable.

    A little over a year ago, I was in the same newbie boat as yourself. A new RV’er has many questions, and we are still learning every day. The good news is that you’ve found the right place. RV.net is a veritable treasure trove of information. Between the expert blog and the forums, you are in good hands.

    Just continue to soak up information, and enjoy your RV while putting safety first. Before long, you’ll be dispensing advice yourself!

    😀

  21. always wanted to do this in an RV .trailer beautiful area

  22. Paul, our campground in Myers Flat was called “Giant Redwoods RV & Camp.” It is a privately run campground that has a long history. Back in the 1940s it served as a Boy Scouts campground. The park management was ideal, a nice balance between being efficient and being laid back. Highly recommended!

  23. Stan Campbell

    I too am enjoying your presentations. I am just beginning with the RV experience. Here is the stand I take on RVing: I just recently retired and when people ask me where I will live now that I am retired I can answer, “Anyplace I want to.” I can move anywhere that I fancy and moving my home (or even my household items) to Denver (for example) for $300 is a tremendous bargain. And I am not there permanently I can decide next week that I would like to be someplace else and move again.

  24. Thanks Stan, and I agree. RVing is really a great bargain when you look at it in those terms. I sometimes refer to our RV as our “vacation home on wheels.”

  25. Jim Martin

    There are several ways to look at the costs of RVing. Yes, it’s expensive, but what isn’t these days? A trip to Europe for one or two weeks use to cost between $1200 and $2000 for one person, this is doing your own scheduling and booking. But I wouldn’t go now with what is going on over there. I agree with Farmhand about it not being unreasonable. Is an expensive dinner unreasonable if the less expensive selection is garbage?

    I don’t mind paying a little more if it is better. And there are RVers who can’t dine out due to special diets, which require cooking at home. Simple meals like fish and steamed veggies can be prepared quickly and made special when you invite guests. The day’s catch!

    One thing I read here earlier, a blog poster said he owns an RV parking space in a California RV park but rarely uses it. One wonders if RVers could start a trend, trading the use-of-space, with other RVers? Since they are in campgrounds.

    Downsizing is the trend in homes and RVs will follow suit quickly, smaller trailers will start taking the spotlight and the first manufacturer with a truly small motohome will get the lion’s share. It is no longer what you can take along, but what you can do without and still have a great time.

    On trips to Europe I took one carry-on bag with clothes for two weeks. Mixing and matching was the trick. Lean to pack! You don’t need half of what you are dragging around. I’ll bet you wear the same clothes every time you hit the road!

  26. Jim, I agree.. If you do the math, an RV trip is less expensive than flying & staying in hotels (and eating most meals in restaurants).

    And you make a good point about everyone hauling around too much stuff! Just earlier today, I mentioned to my wife that “we should get rid of half the stuff in our cabinets” to free up some storage space. It’s reality that we end up using about HALF of what we pack…

  27. With the soaring fuel, I must confess that I sold my RV camping trailer, and converted a brand new cargo trailer to save fuel and get around a lot quicker.

    Have taken it to the redwoods a lot for hiking and photos:

    http://www.mdvaden.com/grove_of_titans.shtml

    In fact, the trailer is handy at home. My son and I just watched a movie in it an hour ago, so the rest of the family could sleep.

    Cheers,

    M. D. Vaden