Our first month full-timing was packed with unexpected stops and detours, but ultimately we made it to our first major destination: Alaska.
The big question I’ve had in our two years of planning this trip is how much it’s going to cost.
On the plus side, we don’t have a monthly rent or mortgage payment. We do have payments and insurance for our truck and fifth wheel ($880 per month combined), but those pale in comparison to what we were paying in Honolulu, HI.
But what about staying in RV parks? What about our souped-up cell plan? And most of all, what about gas?
I’m an analyst by nature, so I’m excited to answer the big question:
“How much does it cost to full-time in an RV?”
My goal with these monthly recaps is to be as transparent as possible about the costs associated with life on the road. And of course, I want to document all of the amazing things we did! As I finished writing this post I found it hard to believe we crammed so much stuff into just 30 days.
So, let’s start with an obvious question.
Where did we go?
Our Month 1 plan was to make it to Fairbanks, AK by June 21, 2019 for the Midnight Sun Baseball Game. We failed. By June 16 it became apparent that we had too much ground to make up–we needed to average 450 miles per day–so we pulled the plug on the original plan and decided to slow down.
We spent a few extra days in the Yukon (seven nights total), did some routine maintenance on the truck (oil change and tire rotation), and caught up on sleep.
Though we were late to Alaska, we finally made it to Fairbanks on June 28.
How To Use This Map: The map above shows our approximate route for the month. Click on any marker for more information. Red markers are our overnight stops. Blue markers are sites and highlights. Orange markers are breweries.
How much gas did we use?
Too much. Originally I had budgeted about $2,000 for gas from Massachusetts to Alaska. Then we detoured south to Nashville, TN and threw estimates out the window somewhere on I-65 South.
All told we drove 6,947 miles in 30 days. Here are our travel stats for June 2019:
- Miles Driven: 6,947
- Fuel Used: 868 gallons
- Fuel Cost: $2,964
- Average Price Per Gallon: $3.41
That’s a lot of driving and a lot of fuel. The vast majority of the miles we covered were highway, where I kept speeds around 60-65 MPH. Including gas stations, bathroom breaks, and other stops, I estimate we averaged about 50 MPH driving.
To cover 6,947 miles at 50 MPH we spent about 139 hours in the car. That’s 231 miles (4.63 hours) per day and 1,617 miles (32.4 hours) per week. For June, driving was basically a full-time job!
A Word About Gas Prices: Fuel costs in Canada are ridiculous. Their gas stations operate on Canadian cents and liters, meaning you’ll see something like 119.9 cents per liter on the signage. Adjusting for the exchange rate (about 0.76 CAD per 1.00 USD right now), the average cost of fuel in Canada was $3.88 per gallon compared to $2.72 per gallon in the US. That’s 43% higher, though we did pay more reasonable prices (around $3.45) in large towns. Remote fuel stops on the Alaska Highway ran us upwards of $5.31 per gallon.
Where did we sleep?
We teched up our RV so we could live off the grid as much as we’d like. So far, so good. In Month 1 we paid for just nine nights at RV parks while boondocking cost-free for 21 nights.
Here’s the breakdown:
- RV Parks: 8 nights ($330.36 total, $36.71 per night*)
- Walmarts: 9 nights
- Other Parking Lots: 7 nights
- Harvest Hosts: 2 nights
- In The Wild: 4 nights
*Technically we paid for nine nights at RV Parks, but we left a day early at one to make up some ground.
RV Parks (8 nights)
We stayed at four different RV parks, three of which were part of the Good Sam network where we saved 10%. A Good Sam membership costs $29 for one year. We saved $27.44 in our first month.
Here are the parks we stayed at:
- Field & Stream RV Park in Brookline, NH (2 nights but stayed 1)
- Miami Whitewater Forest Campground in Harrison, OH (2 nights)
- Clarksville RV Park and Campground in Clarksville, TN (2 nights)
- Hi Country RV Park in Whitehorse, YT, Canada (3 nights)
We usually stopped for a couple nights each week to empty our tanks and stock up on fresh water. We also took these opportunities to safely detach from our fifth wheel and explore the surrounding area.
Walmarts (9 nights)
“Let’s see if there’s a Walmart nearby?” That’s become the unofficial slogan of this trip. In our first month we spent nine nights in seven different Walmart parking lots from New York to Missouri to Alaska.
It’s up to each Walmart to decide whether they allow overnight parking but most do, especially as you move west. The Walmart parking lot in Fairbanks, AK looked like an RV dealership.
How did we find which Walmarts to park at? Here’s my process.
How to find the perfect Walmart to boondock overnight
Step 1: Wake up, stretch, and try to remember where you are.
Step 2: Figure out how far you want to drive today and see approximately where that takes you.
Step 3: Pull up the RV Parks and Campgrounds app to see which Walmarts are in the area. The app tells you which allow overnight parking, and some Walmarts will have reviews from people who have stayed there.
Step 4: For each Walmart you’re considering, pull up Google Maps Street View to see what the parking lot looks like. Is there easy access? Is there a good section in the lot for us to park out of the way? Are there other RVs or semi-trucks parked there when looking in street view? If you still can’t decide if they allow parking, call.
Step 5: Pick a Walmart and set your course.
Some people will tell you not to put your slides out or jacks down in a Walmart parking lot. We usually do. I just try to park with my slide facing away from the lot so it’s more discreet, and I don’t put my steps or rear jacks down unless there are a lot of other RVs.
Other Parking Lots (7 nights)
We spent two nights parked in a dirt parking lot in Watson Lake, Yukon across from the Sign Post Forest. There were two other RVs and one semi-truck parked as well. We had our slide out and jacks down. No one bothered us.
We also spent one night at Fast Eddy’s Restaurant in Tok, AK. There were multiple other RVs in the lot overnight.
In my experience, Canada isn’t as strict about overnight parking. As long as you aren’t bugging anyone, you pretty much can park wherever you want (unless otherwise posted).
If you’re traveling on an RV-heavy course (like the Alaska Highway) there are a lot of RV-friendly places to stay.
We also spent four nights at rest stops. Some states allow overnight parking at rest stops. Others do not. This guide is a great resource for local laws, but in all honesty, it’s hard for those laws to be enforced. We spent about seven hours at a highway rest stop in New York despite the law prohibiting stays over four hours.
Three of these four rest stop nights were in Canada, including one in a visitor’s center parking lot off the highway and one in a dirt turnout off the Alaska Highway.
Harvest Hosts (2 nights)
For a one-time annual fee of $80 (save $12 by using the link below) you get access to a network of 800+ breweries, wineries, museums, and farms that will allow you to park overnight for free.
However, there’s a catch: You’re supposed to stop inside and purchase something from their bar, gift shop, produce stand, etc.
We spent one night at a winery in South Dakota and one night at a brewery in Montana. We spent a little money at both establishments so these nights weren’t free in the same way a Walmart is free, but we like sampling craft beer and wine from places we’ve never been!
Realistically, we probably would have bought the beer and wine somewhere else if not there, so it’s still a great deal. A typical no-hookups site at an RV park runs about $20-$25, so if we use Harvest Hosts just four times it’s paid for itself. Halfway there!
In The Wild (4 nights)
“In The Wild” is basically any kind of boondocking that wasn’t in a parking lot or on a road. Our favorite In The Wild location last month was Badlands National Park.
We also spent two nights at a free, unmaintained campground in Saskatchewan, Canada, and we spent one night in a friend’s yard!
Highlights from Month 1
Driving was a full-time job this past month–about 32 hours per week–so I’m behind on posting photos and recaps of the amazing things to do across North America. Here’s a shortlist of our favorite stops. I’ll update links to more robust recaps as they’re published in Month 2.
Niagara Falls State Park, Niagara Falls, NY
Spent a day at Niagara Falls State Park exploring everything the park had to offer. The highlight was taking the Maid of the Mist directly into the bowl where 68 Olympic-sized swimming pools rush over the falls every minute.
For more information, check out The Ultimate Guide To Niagara Falls: My Up-Close, Eye-Opening Visit To This Unforgettable Natural Wonder
American Sign Museum, Cincinnati, OH
The first of hopefully many quirky collections of antique Americana, the American Sign Museum is the quickest way to travel back to the 1950s. With over 500 restored signs, there’s no better place to learn about America’s advertising history.
For more information, check out A Colorful Trip Through Time At The American Sign Museum.
Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace, Hodgenville, KY
An unexpected stop on our way to Tennessee, we pulled off the highway in Kentucky to walk around Abe Lincoln’s birthplace. It’s actually a U.S. National Park, so get your National Park Passport book ready! Walk around the property and see a log cabin symbolic of the one Lincoln was born in.
Country Music Hall Of Fame, Nashville, TN
We spent a few hours walking around this combination museum and Hall of Fame. Country music fan or not (and I’m not a huge fan), this is a must-stop on any trip to Nashville.
One-Day Street Art Tour, Nashville, TN
Finding street art is Dawn’s favorite thing to do in a new city. We walked and drove around Nashville’s various neighborhoods to snap pictures of the city’s best street art.
Our list of 71 stunning Nashville murals is a must-read for art lovers.
Only Town With Population 1, Monowi, NE
Mayor, librarian, restaurant owner, line cook, server, bus girl, bartender–Elsie Eiler does it all. Monowi, NE is the only incorporated town in the United States with a population of one, and it’s led by the toughest lady we’ve ever met.
Check out our Monowi visitor’s guide for more information on this amazing little town!
Badlands National Park, SD
The first “wow” moment I had on this trip was at Badlands National Park. We boondocked overnight on park property about six miles south of Wall, SD and then toured the park the next morning.
Mount Rushmore National Monument, Rapid City, SD
It’s a hilly drive through Rapid City, SD to get to Mount Rushmore, but it’s totally worth it. The granite carving took 14 years to make, and it was actually abandoned before it was finished. Do you know what it was supposed to look like?
Our Complete Guide to Mount Rushmore is packed with info and pictures of this monument to American history,
The Sesula Mineral & Gem Museum, Radisson, SK, Canada
This is why you always walk around small towns. If you aren’t paying attention as you head through the endless grass fields of southern Saskatchewan, you might miss the town of Radisson.
With a population of just 500, it’s a sleepy town that’s easy to miss. But if you do, you’ll also miss The Sesula Mineral & Gem Museum, owned and operated by 15-year-old Judah Tyreman. He owns the largest hands-on collection of minerals, gems, and fossils in North America!
This Kid Curator, as Rock & Gem calls him, has acquired the most densely packed collection of anything I’ve ever seen, but it’s organized amazingly well. This gem museum is the definition of a diamond in the rough.
Alaska Highway Mile 0, Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
The start of the Alaska Highway! We toured this small town on the border of Saskatchewan and British Columbia and picked up our official Mile 0 certificate.
Liard River Hot Springs, Northern Rockies, BC, Canada
We dipped our toes in these naturally occurring hot springs, which aren’t for the faint of heart! The heat from the hot springs gives rise to a unique ecosystem: a near-Arctic swamp. The ground here never freezes, making it a haven for flora and fauna including moose.
Sign Post Forest, Watson Lake, YT, Canada
With over 88,000 signs left by tourists over the last 70 years, the Sign Post Forest is one of the most unique stops on the Alaska Highway. It takes hours to walk through the endless rows of completely covered posts, and at the end, we left a sign of our own.
S.S. Klondike National Historic Site, Whitehorse, YT, Canada
The king of the Canadian sternwheelers, the S.S. Klondike is representative of the time when riverboats were the Yukon’s only way of connecting with the outside world. It’s free to board the refurbished ship, and make sure you talk to one of the knowledgeable guides.
Santa Claus House, North Pole, AK
It was Christmas in
July June for us as we stopped in North Pole, AK. The town has a Christmas-all-year vibe with street names such as Mistletoe Lane and light posts painted like candy canes. But the real attractions are Santa’s House and the Antler Academy, where you can pet Santa’s reindeer. You couldn’t spend a whole day here, but it’s a great stop for an hour or two as you venture up to Fairbanks.
Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum, Fairbanks, AK
Founded by a local car collector, the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum boasts 73 cars dating from the 1890s-1930s, and 70 of them are still in working condition!
Ice Museum, Fairbanks, AK
Oh man, what a terrible museum. It was so bad it was funny, and it was so funny that Dawn and I consider it both the worst and best thing we’ve done on this entire trip. It starts with a 20 minute video of winter in Alaska, except the video is so pixelated you can’t really see anything. Then the tour guide comes back and releases you into a freezer filled with ice sculptures, which is actually kind of fun. We rode a sled down an ice slide! But after five minutes of that you’re ready to go. Not worth the $15 per ticket, but also the best $15 I’ve ever spent.
15.5-Mile Angel Rocks Trail, Fairbanks, AK
We couldn’t let Month 1 pass without doing one serious hike. Right now Alaska is being ravaged by some of the worst wildfires in the last 20 years, but we were able to complete a 15.5-mile round trip hike through the Alaskan mountains that had a 2,000-foot elevation climb on the way to the Chena River Hot Springs. Summer is the time for long hikes here as the sun basically never sets.
Thinking of undertaking this monster hike? Check out our full-writeup on the Angel Rocks to Chena Hot Springs Trail complete with 51 pictures from our adventure.
Breweries from Month 1
We stopped at eight breweries in four different states/territories in Month 1 of our full-time RV adventure.
MadTree Brewing, Cincinnati, OH
With 32 beers on tap spanning most of today’s popular styles, there’s something for everyone at MadTree. Get the Coffee Table Coffee Blonde.
Rhinegeist Brewing, Cincinnati, OH
A cavernous beer hall that’s perfect for bar games like cornhole, Rhinegeist brews a lot of pale ales and IPAs. Get the Cobbstopper Nitro Sour Ale.
Urban Artifact, Cincinnati, OH
Located in the basement of an old church, Urban Artifact specializes in sours brewed with tons of real fruit. Get the Parfait (yes, that’s a beer).
Check out my full recap of our one-day, self-guided Cincinnati brewery tour.
Beaver Creek Brewing, Wibaux, MT
A small-town brewery on the Montana-South Dakota border, Beaver Creek is a great spot for a local beer and some great food. However, the beer here was just OK. Get the Rusty Beaver Wheat Ale.
Yukon Brewing, Whitehorse, YT, Canada
Beer worth freezin’ for! Canada is strict about their liquor and I didn’t see any other breweries in the country, though admittedly I wasn’t looking too hard. We stumbled across Yukon Brewing in Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon, and enjoyed a flight from their somewhat limited selection of five beers and one alcoholic ginger ale. Get the Midnight Sun Espresso Stout.
HooDoo Brewing, Fairbanks, AK
The top-rated brewery in Fairbanks, HooDoo has seven beers on tap, each a different style, which makes it fun getting a flight. Plus, there’s an eastern European food truck outside where we had some great lamb dumplings. Get the Mosaic Pale Ale.
Black Spruce Brewing, Fairbanks, AK
A newcomer to the brewery scene, Black Spruce Brewing opened in 2018 and is in a smaller building with a very homey feel. I was impressed with the styles they brew, including a dark mild ale, a barleywine, a brut IPA, and an oatmeal pale ale. Get the Vernal Buzz Milk Stout With Coffee & Vanilla.
Silver Gulch Brewing, Fairbanks, AK
A little further outside the center of Fairbanks is Silver Gulch Brewing. This place is more of a restaurant that brews their own beer, but they have an impressive list of bottled beers as well as 10-12 beers they brew themselves. I got a porter I really liked while Dawn had an Apple Ale. Get the Weird Beard Barleywine.
What’s planned for Month 2?
We’re slowing down big time and staying in Alaska. We’ll spend a couple weeks in the Fairbanks area catching up on both sleep and work, and then we’ll head south to Anchorage to see what’s happening there.
The Fourth of July is in just a couple days, and it’ll be interesting to see how Alaska celebrates it–the sun sets for just three hours every day and it never gets dark!
Our next major milestone is a wedding in Salt Lake City on September 1, 2019, so we have some time to plan things outs.
If you have any suggestions for things we should add to our list, comment below!