The South Riding RV Travels

271

Budget & Costs

This page covers the approximate costs of the trip and may be of benefit to others in planning trips of their own. Everybody is different with the priorities they put on things so I have tried to explain our thoughts on each element.

1    Flights

    You cannot book airline tickets more than 330 days in advance and even these come with astronomical price tags. Our initial quote for this was over 1000 each plus taxes for a flight from Manchester to Buffalo, NY via New York. We eventually bought one week tickets for this route and threw away the return halves. That cost us 500 for the two of us. We bought one-way tickets to return (some airlines do this on some routes) in America and paid $500 for the two of us. You cannot buy a US ticket without a US credit card with a US address but as far as I can see, you can buy a UK-US ticket in the US and pay in dollars what you would pay in pounds if you bought it in the UK. It is also much cheaper to book the transatlantic bit (say London - New York) and book the internal bit separately. New York-Buffalo cost us $50 each. We flew out Birmingham - New York (JFK) on British Airways and then New York - Buffalo on Jet Blue. Return was Jet Blue to New York (JFK) then to Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic. Jet Blue fly Brazilian-built Embraer 319s - 100 seat aircraft - very nice and more leg room than the 747 on the Virgin long haul back.

2    Travel Insurance

    This was a nightmare since most companies limit you to a max of 31 / 65 / 90 days. What you need is a single trip insurance - you can't do this on a multi-trip. We went with InsureandGo which cost us 461 but did include an option to return to the UK once every 3 months for up to 14 days which would cover family emergencies. They have a rule which says you must have been in the UK for the previous six months. But push it with a supervisor and they will refer it to the underwriters who will probably OK it if you haven't been in the UK for the required time. Just one of those bizarre rules that we have hit everywhere. Our existing medical/travel insurance would not cover us for more than 65 days in any one trip, and wanted 4000 each for US cover. I'm sure there were differences between what was covered in the fine print by the two quotes but I couldn't work it out, and fortunately we didn't need to put it to the test.

3    RV and Scooter Insurances

Another nightmare. The front office cannot cover you. The back office probably can. We went to RV Alliance (now AON Leisure) and they were quite happy to insure us on our UK driving licences providing our base address in the US was NOT New York or Michigan states. We never visited our address in Ohio and never had to show mail or bills from there. But beware because some states like Oregon do require proof of residence. US insurance is quite unlike UK insurance. For a start they load the base insurance after you have an accident rather than give you a no claims discount if you don't. We paid $850 for the RV and about $100 for the scooter. A significant element was "Uninsured Motorist" since about 20% of US motorists have no insurance (some think it is one of their constitutional rights). We were asked dozens of questions about what cover we wanted but ended up with taking the advice of the agent. I'm sure we had more than we needed. Be aware that RV insurance usually only covers you for being on the road part of the year. If you are using it all year then you need 'Full timer' cover which costs more. The break point is around 150 days. Our RV insurance was due about halfway through the year so we covered half in each year. We adhered to the spirit if not the letter. It also appears to cover me for any driver I care to name which leads to some interesting options. We could only get limited cover on the scooter since they didn't know what it was (ie it was not in their lists). In many states there is no requirement to tax or insure them since they aren't regarded as 'proper' vehicles if under 50cc. In others you have to be 'street legal'. So we were covered for damage to others and us but not to the scooter itself.

4    Camp Site Fees

We stayed almost always in formal campgrounds, usually members of the Good Sam scheme. We had a membership card for this which gave us a 10% discount. We also had a 10% card for KOA but we didn't use it much because their sites were more expensive and often not as good. We spent about $7500 on camp sites. It would have been less if we had stayed for longer in any one place - weekly and monthly rates are usually cheaper. Some areas like California and Florida are VERY expensive, typically $70-$100/night, especially in high season, rather than the more typical $20-$30. You can also stay in Walmart car-parks and other similar places for free (with no facilities, and usually very near a busy main road intersection) although we didn't do this.

5    Fuel

We did 27,000 miles and spent over $7,500 on fuel. The cheapest we found was $1.96/gallon (see below) and the dearest was $3.56. There is much more variation in US fuel prices than elsewhere. Garages on opposite sides of a road can vary by 30c/gallon for the same fuel quality, with similar variations from Monday to Friday. There is also a weekly and a seasonal cycle. We also had the 'Katrina' effect when it all just went silly. Prices at the end were about 20c/gallon more than at the beginning. Be aware that most fuel pumps have built-in credit card readers and you have to input the zip code of your US billing address as a security measure. Therefore we're not sure if UK credit cards still work. (One chain only accepts debit cards, not credit cards. They are also often limited to $75 or even $50 of fuel per transaction. (We had a 55 gallon tank!) US gallons are only 3.8 litres. We got about 9 miles to the gallon. Note that fuels in California (and other western states) now have a percentage of ethanol and that mountain states have fuel of lower octane.

6    Food & Drink

We spent about $5,700 on this as we mostly cooked for ourselves. Most shopping was in one of the supermarket chains, some of which were more upmarket than others. We liked Safeway, Kroger, Topps and Albertsons, but different ones appear in different regions. Always get a store card (free) when available since the savings are substantial. We generally got 20% off wine. We ate and drank quite well.

7    Eating Out

We spent about $2,200 but ate out relatively infrequently, usually reserving this for lunches while out sight seeing and for taking out friends as thank yous. One of the problems is that the meals are often so large that we felt uncomfortable with them, although we did find some excellent places with sensible sized meals. Some of the chains provide quality meals and good value. We are not snack or burger eaters. The concept of free refills for drinks is really very civilised.

8    Entrance Fees and Entertainment

This covered all the parks, museums, trips, etc, plus things like the very occasional visit to a cinema. We spent $1,500 some of which was outstanding value. Pride of place must go to a National Parks Pass at $50 with a Golden Eagle extension ($15) which got us into all the National Parks, Historic Sites, Forests, etc. for free. Individual states have their own parks and museums, and you can get passes to cover these, but on this trip these were not economic for us. Many of the museums were really good value too, notably the museums pass for Balboa Park, San Diego. Generally the more multimedia and IMAX presentations, the more expensive and worse value they were.

9    Repairs

We had little trouble with the RV although we spent $1,000 in the end. This went on replacing all the disc pads at 55,000 miles on the clock, and replacing 5 tyres in the last 1,000 miles. We know they had covered at least 26,000 miles and probably much more. There is a little work needed on the RV mainly to adjust the slide-out (normal periodic maintenance) and possible repair the top awning for it. This is not thought to be a significant item. We had a few minor repairs to switches and drawer catches but these were odd dollars. Even the skylights smashed in the hailstorms in Montana were only $15 each.

10    RV Contents

Although we had kitted out the RV last year, we still managed to spend $1,200 on odds and ends. Most of what we bought was Chinese in origin. In hindsight it is hard to remember where it went since it was all relatively small items. We did buy a grilling machine which proved very useful and some more cutlery which didn't bend.

11    Telephone

We took out a contract with Verizon Wireless for cell phone service. This gave us 450 minutes per month at local call rates anywhere in the USA and free calls evenings and weekends, with a 256kb internet connection and service all for $40 plus taxes (under $50/month). The only problem was getting the service in the first place since you need a Social Security Number to prove your credit-worthiness and we didn't have one. We managed it in the end but you have to push it at a major business store with the manager - they used the passport number instead. Ordinary shops and mall kiosks just don't cut it. We had to pay a bit for the phone because we didn't take a two year contract. However you can suspend a contract for up to six months which looks like it will work for our future six month trips each year. Oh that we could get anything remotely as good over here!

12    Books & DVD/CDs

We severely limited our purchases of books and travel DVDs. Even so we spent over $800. Most have remained in the US for return at a later date. We could not afford the weight. Most of the non-travel DVDs are non-regional coding so will play worldwide. Beware VHS tapes which were almost exclusively NTSC.

13    Scooter

Our Chinese Geeley Scooter with its 6.5hp Yamaha engine cost us $1,000 including airfreight from Texas to Buffalo. We bought crash helmets although they are not required in many states and we plated and insured the scooter. We also bought a lightweight carry-platform which plugs into the 2" tow socket on the RV. This all cost us about another $500. We did over 2,500 miles on it but I don't think Jan was entirely happy with it, as we didn't feel entirely safe going out on it at night with such big trucks and SUVs on the roads at all hours. She wants a car next time but the economics look rather daunting. Rough estimates are $6,500 for the car, $3,000 for the towing equipment and $500 for insurance.

14    Other

We had personal expenses and gifts and money that just got spent amounting to a couple of thousand dollars. It is never worth budgeting and monitoring everything, and sometimes it is better not to enquire. We bought a few clothes but not significant amounts.

15    The RV itself!

In 1998 we were advised to spend over $25k to ensure we bought something which didn't need work on it during our travels. In the end you buy what you can find that you can afford. The exchange rate at $1.91 to the pound was good to us and we bought a 2002 vehicle with a slide-out for $36k (plus taxes of around 9%). As we leave after a year we are advised that it is now worth $31k. So it has depreciated at around $500/month

Overall

So in total the year cost us comfortably under $40,000 (around 22,500) including capital purchases (other than the RV itself) and depreciation. This was offset by income from the rental of our house and my pension enabling us to pretty much break even with not too great a hit on the savings.

We still have the RV and plan to use it again next year. When it was rented out in an earlier life it was $175 per day and 27c/mile plus many of the costs we had. I don't think we did too badly.