How Much Does It Cost Us To Motorhome Tour? The Cost Of Our Motorhome Adventures Compared

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Thursday 21 January 2016

How Much Does It Cost Us To Motorhome Tour? The Cost Of Our Motorhome Adventures Compared

We often get asked the question "how much does it cost to tour in a motorhome?"  We've written about this elsewhere but we strongly believe the answer is "it will cost whatever you want it to".  Everyone has different preferences so how much it costs will depends on what you like to do, where you want to go, how far you want to drive, where you want to stay, what you want to eat etc.  Alternatively if you have a strong desire to travel but have a budget to keep to this will obviously determine some of those lifestyle choices.  To highlight this I have updated our 2014/15 adventure costs as well as worked out our average costs so far on this second adventure in 2015/16.  Although the total cost has been very similar, we have had two very different types of motorhome adventures - our lifestyle preferences have just naturally equilibrated to our budget.

We posted our average monthly costs based on our first 6 months of travel in December 2014.  I posted again in February 2015 to show how this compared to the average costs during our 2 month winter bungalow stay in Cabo de Gata.  We actually saved money during those two months despite the rental cost of the bungalow and once again this highlights another possible way to travel which we had never considered before touring around the Southern coast of Spain and finding out about the winter stay deals - see additional note 1 below.

Below I have updated the average costs for the 10 months of our first motorhome adventure and compared this with the first 9 months of our second adventure.  I have also included some notes to highlight the main difference between our two adventures and the impact on the average costs.

Within each of our spending categories the exact spending has differed from month to month depending on our activities.  For example, in a month where we spend more time on a campsite our campsite fees tend to be a little higher but as we don't move as far our diesel expenditure is lower. Writing a detailed description of each month's activities with associated costs to show these fluctuations didn't seem that useful because it is our adventure and is only one way of touring.  Instead I have presented our average monthly costs below in case it is useful as an indication of possibilities.

Some costs do also vary from country to country - food, diesel prices, meals out etc. which again aren't highlighted by the averages below.  But we believe that our costs haven't varied that much between different countries because of the strategies we have developed to save money on our adventures (we will be adding a post about this shortly).  One example of this is that we were almost put off visiting Switzerland because of it's expensive reputation but it ended up being one of our less-than-average months and the scenery was stunning and we're very glad we tried it (read more about this experience and how we saved money in Switzerland).  But again this is just our experience and the extent that costs will vary between countries will depend on activities, lifestyle/travel preferences etc.

In the first 6 month cost review post I outlined all the things which are included in the different category headings below so I won't repeat that again - if something has changed a lot this year then I will add a note below.

So our costs for our 2014 and 2015 adventures - how do they compare - here are the illustrative numbers....

Ave Monthly Costs (10months - 2014/5)
Ave Monthly Costs (9months - 2015/6)
Campsite & Parking fees
Travel Insurance£35.41£32.53
Motorhome Overheads£299.71£299.71
Ferries, Tolls & Trains£43.58£11.88
Food and Toiletries£493.61£539.82
Total average monthly spend£1196.91

Main differences? Not much in the numbers but a different story.....

1.  Camping & Parking Fees - In 2014/15 being new to motorhome touring and at first a little wary of stayng on motorhome aires we chose to spend more time on campsites, particularly in Spain.  Over winter we hired a bungalow but we believed that overall this saved us money.  Our second adventure has been very different.  Other than the first 5 weeks where we mostly stayed on campsites using the ACSI out-of-season scheme, since mid-July we probably have only stayed 3 nights on a campsite.  Over the peak summer months we stayed on mostly free motorhome aires in the French Alps after which we spent time on an organic farm, then toured using free aires again, visited family in Holland and recently we have had our first experiences of wild camping on Spanish beach parkings.  We are now renting an apartment in Spain but this has been paid upfront so it has been included in the average above - without which the average for 2015/16 would have been closer to £33pcm.

2. Diesel - Like the exchange rate diesel prices vary quite a lot. We use this Europe Fuel Prices site to check current averages for a country and then fill up when we see a price less than the average.   In 2014/15 the fuel prices tended to be higher than in 2015/16 over all countries we visited.  But the main differences is that we toured more miles in 2014/15 - other than when we stayed in the bungalow over winter on average we moved every 4 days.  In 2015/16 we chose to stay put and explore a particular area in more depth - sometimes staying for 2-4 weeks in the same place.  In 2014/15 we drove 5892 miles and in 2015/16 to date we have driven 3970 miles - however we do still need to get back to a ferry port from the Southern Coast of Spain so this average diesel cost may change slightly when we update the figures at the end of the trip. This year we did also use our motorhome to return back up to Holland in Nov 2015 to visit family instead of taking a flight which Google maps estimates was a 1288 mile detour, so a to-date-total of 2862 miles might be more accurate representation to highlight our different adventure style.

3. Phone and Internet - we have stayed in touch with home more in 2015/16.  We also decided that we weren't that happy and as patient using free but slow restaurant wifi all the time and so have invested in both Spain and France in local pre-paid internet sims which we put into a mifi device.  We may write about this more but just some quick examples of costs are - in France, after paying 9.95E for the Orange sim registration and 500Mb. Later we topped up the sim with 5Gb data to use in 6months for 40E.  In Spain there was a special offer with Orange (although Vodafone was almost as reasonable and had a longer validity period of 3 months) where we bought 2.6Gb for 15E with no registration fee, but which had to be used within one month.

4.  Food and Toiletries - although the monthly costs are very similar in both adventures, in 2015/16 we have strengthened our commitment to buying mostly organic and from non-supermarket sources.  The average monthly cost has come out a little higher but by using some simple strategies, we don't think this commitment to buying organic has cost us more. The 2015/16 figure does include more spent on bottled water and we have also had a much more varied and exciting diet this year trying many more new things than last year, because we were a little less experienced with the budgeting, we would have maybe passed up on trying certain higher-priced local delicacies.

5. Tolls, Trains and Ferries - This is a little different mainly because 2015/16 include our return ferry home - I will update 2015/16 when we are back in the UK.  In both 2014/15 we bought the Swiss Motorway vignette.  We used only one toll road (Pau - Bordeaux) in 2014/15 (38.5 euro) and put our motorhome on two trains in Switzerland (see here).  On both adventures we took the ferry from Harwich to Hoek van Holland but in 2014/15 returned using the more expensive overnight sailing from Amsterdam to Newcastle (however we decided this would save us money over driving back home to Durham).  In 2015/16 we haven't paid for any tolls or trains.

1. We were in the UK for around 2 months between adventures, visiting friends, family and sorting our administration and paperwork so I didn't feel it was representative to include those 2 months in this average as we weren't really 'motorhome touring in Europe' and we had expenses like dentists etc. The costs of our second adventure are an average of 9 months so far from (although I intend to update these figures when we go back to the UK).

2. Exchange rate.  In our budget I always convert everything into pounds sterling using the exchange rate we receive at the time (see additional note 2 below).  Obviously the rate varies, sometimes a lot, for example for the majority of 2014 it was around 1.25 but in early 2015 it started to rise peaking somewhere around 1.43 and then staying around 1.40 for the year.  More recently in early January 2016 the exchange rate has dropped quickly to 1.29 (as of this morning).  For the 2014/15 adventure the average exchange rate used to work out our monthly average was 1.288 where the average used for the 2015/16 figures has been 1.372.  We have obviously benefited from this 6.5% favourable exchange rate shift this year so if you adjusted our 2015/16 average monthly cost in line with this for comparison with 2014/15 the total would be £1161.79. 

3. Not Included?  For 2014/15 averages this was explained previously.  During this year's adventure (2015/16) Dan took a flight to the UK from Amsterdam to visit his family (approx £175 as it was booked at short notice) which hasn't been included. Unlike in 2014/15 we haven't continued with any additional insurance policies other than the travel and the motorhome insurance.  We've bought a few gifts for friends and family at home on special occasions and Christmas and again these haven't been included.  

4.  Motorhome Overheads.  Actual motorhome repair costs aren't included in the costs as we have continued using our estimated motorhome overheads.  Insurance, road tax, MOT and service costs didn't differ much from last year.  However the majority of this cost is what we have budgeted (£2500 p.a.) for repairs and depreciation - once again this is only our estimate and whether this is right or wrong will only be seen over the long term and really only if and when we eventually sell Homer.  Currently the repairs we have had to make have only been minor (less than £400 over the two adventures) so by putting £208 aside every month we are building up a healthy 'motorhome emergency fund'.  We like this because we'd prefer not to have unexpected costs even if this means overestimating at this point in time.     

Additional Notes
1. We have met people who have a car, not a motorhome and travel long term from bungalow to bungalow over the winter months and then return back to the UK during the summer months or go car camping in a tent.  This means they don't have the expense of a motorhome overheads and better fuel efficiency when they do travel but it does mean they stay at least 1 month in one area before moving onto another.  There are also many campsites which will offer really good discounts for pitches in the winter months as well as some places offering very reasonable apartment rents as well.  We are currently renting an apartment in San Jose.

2.  As I have recently written one of the important reasons we feel we can afford to continue our motorhome tours is our record keeping.  We record every euro cent and penny spent. We also convert everything spent into pounds using the exchange rate received on our card transactions and cash withdrawal rates.  We get very close to the Bank of England exchange rate at the time (see our post about how we access our money abroad).  We know this record keeping isn't everyone's cup of tea but for us it means that when the exchange rate is varying we are buffering ourselves from going over budget.  Every few days we enter receipts into a simple spreadsheet and then have a quick look at what's left in the budget for the month.  This strategy has been working really well for us.  In 2014/15 this strategy did at first influence some of our purchase choices towards the end of the month so that we stayed in budget but as we have written elsewhere as we have become more comfortable with the month-to-month fluctuations, it doesn't affect our choices any more- it's become a bit more intuitive now and we are confident knowing that things just seem to natural balance out.

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