Midwest via Travato

New found road wisdom and some useful travel economics.

Alan Heymann Alan Heymann  |  08.26.2016

After a week on the road in the Midwest, we’ve got some amazing stories to tell. We’ve learned a lot about RVing and more than a little about each other. And yes, we saved some money.

Our Midwest trip was a vacation adventure unlike any we’ve had so far. It featured loads of family time. We stayed in new places and did new things. And of course, we had Roxanne.

While it’s true that we are newbies to the RV scene and only took our first trip this spring, we’re veterans of the two activities RVing combines: driving and camping.

We’ve been driving to the Midwest in back in cars, both ours and rented, for the better part of two decades now. And we’ve definitely spent plenty of time in campgrounds, usually in tents until this year. So in learning and getting better at this whole RV thing, we weren’t taking on new skills so much as refining and combining old ones.  Still… plenty of lessons learned.

Lesson 1: Your conveyance is your home base

In an RV, you’re combining your driving machine with your sleeping quarters and your kitchen. This is a great thing! But it takes a little getting used to.

Roxanne CampingLeaving a campsite for the day really doesn’t look any different from leaving a campsite for good. You want to pack up any chairs, mats, scooters and the like. When we went to catch the ferry to Put-in-Bay in Ohio, we cleared out camp like we’d never been there before. We needed to take showers before we left, so we drove the van to the shower building. I got done first, so I prepared lunch for the day and got some reading done in the parking lot. Then we drove our kitchen and bedroom-on-wheels and parked it in a regular parking lot in town. That’s something you can’t do in a tent, or even in a larger RV.

This freedom of mobility is amazing. There’s no scrambling to find a bathroom after a long day of wandering around town, and you can brush your teeth without leaving your campsite too.

On the flip side, you don’t want to lull yourself into thinking you can just unplug the van and hit the road. You have to check the cabinet drawer doors. Wash and put away the dishes. Stow any snacks and loose clothing. Fold up the beds. Oh, what a nice segue into…

Lesson 2: Odors must be destroyed

So, let’s not discuss the wisdom of feeding your 7-year-old refried beans for lunch two days in a row and then going out for Mexican food for dinner. But needless to say, life in a tiny home on wheels, especially one that’s parked in the sun, can get a little smelly. Here’s a little advice and wisdom from those who know.

First, keep the air moving. The rooftop and bathroom vents don’t require AC power and work well. All of the side windows have screens in them. Use these, and you’ll be fine with three humans living in close quarters. Stay away or at least upwind from campfires if you can.

Alan RunningGonna do this? Think about where you’re putting that shirt afterwards.

Second, and much more importantly, remove things that could develop a foul odor early and often.

We had an incident with a Chinese food smell, which led us into pine tree “new car smell” air freshener territory until one of us had the wisdom to take out the garbage. Problem solved.

Remember that nice 6-mile run I took during our last morning in Illinois? It came with a soaking wet running jersey. I was perfectly clean when we left, but I had to hang up my shirt in the back before we hit the road. It wasn’t a few minutes into our hours-long drive before all three of us realized this was going to be a problem. I stopped for some fabric freshener at a local drugstore and sprayed it down. The smell of artificial fragrance filled the van, until it dissipated, and the shirt still reeked. Lindy was actually considering a moonwalk to the back while we were driving, but I was concerned about her safety and didn’t want her throwing my shirt out the window!

We eventually stopped, and I used an empty plastic takeout container to seal the offending garment away. We were able to wipe down some counters and run the fans for a little while before all the aunts, uncles, cousins and grandmas at dinner outside Toledo popped in for a look at Roxanne.

Roxanne on DriveAlways hang your smelly workout clothes outside the van. Then burn them. Or something.

The finances of our trip

Let’s dispense with the obvious: buying an RV is expensive. Nobody ever does it as a way to save money. We’ve had a couple of Outdoorsy rentals that have helped with the cost a bit, and look forward to more in the future. But it won’t help Roxanne come close to carrying her own weight.

That said, once you’ve taken the plunge, your ongoing vacation expenses are likely to be lower. For starters, I was stunned to learn how inexpensive RV insurance is. For personal use, on an occasional basis, the cost is much lower than insuring a car of the same age. It also includes protection for the contents, and coverage for medical expenses when you’re on the road.

Roxanne gets servicedOn maintenance, we’re still almost in new-car mode because Roxanne has fewer than 10,000 miles on her. We got our first oil change when we had a few extra minutes in Illinois. The crew at the quick-lube had never seen anything quite like our camper van, but they did manage to get it a few feet up on the lift. Aside from an extra quart of oil, the service wasn’t any more expensive than it would be for a car.

When traveling, as a general rule of thumb, we’ve found: gas is more expensive, food and lodging are less.


We drove about 1,700 miles on our trip. We had a full tank of gas when we left, and returned with a full tank. We spent $192.84 on fuel, at prices ranging from just under $2 to $2.30 a gallon. Lindy’s Ford C-MAX hybrid gets 2 or 2-1/2 times better gas mileage than Roxanne. So we probably spent about an extra $100 on gas because of the RV.


On food, all of our breakfasts were in the RV. Lunches were on the road or out and about, using food we’d prepared ourselves. Even our snacks came from the van. We probably spent less than $20 the whole week on outside snacks, such as a pretzel at the zoo or our lemon sorbet at Put-in-Bay. We ate dinner out three times in six nights — once by ourselves, and twice with family. Dinner the night we got home was leftovers from the trip. Our grocery budget covered us for the week even though we weren’t home. With the meals and snacks out, we probably spent $150 on food.

What if we didn’t have the RV? We tend to stay in hotels that include breakfast, so there’s no extra expense there. If we’d gone out for lunch and dinner 7 times, and had to buy more snacks on the go, we would have spent at least $500. So we probably saved $350 on food because of the RV.


On lodging, I can tell you exactly how much we saved because I booked this trip before we owned an RV. We were planning to stay in hotels in every location, but I had the foresight to book refundable reservations that I ended up canceling when we bought Roxanne. Some of these were hotels we knew, but most weren’t. With an RV, you know what you’re getting.

Leaving aside the comfort of sleeping in our own beds every night and not having to haul luggage, there’s significant savings in campgrounds instead of hotels. And if you can boondock, as we did for one night on my mom’s street, you’re comparing a zero expense to a hotel expense.

Put-in-Bay (two nights)

Original: Comfort Inn Sandusky ($259.00)

Actual: East Harbor State Park ($70)


Northern Indiana (one night)

Original: Holiday Inn Express Schererville ($105.28)

Actual: My mom’s street ($0)


Schaumburg (two nights)

Original: Hyatt House Schaumburg ($248.52)

Actual: Camp Reinberg ($120)

Camp Reinberg was the most expensive, in part because we’re not Cook County residents. But it was still a nice place to stay and a big savings over the hotel option.


Toledo Area (one night)

Original: Staybridge Suites Maumee ($104.26)

Actual: Maumee Bay State Park ($35)


So we saved $492.06 on lodging, with a bottom line total savings of $742.06 for the trip. Not bad!

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  1. Gar Salzgeber Posted on 03.05.2017

    I think laundromats are a waste of time. We bought a flat top ice chest. It can be used as an extra seat, step or Washing Machine!
    As we travel we put dirty clothes in it. At about 1/2 full we add 1 small squirt of Tide laundry detergent and 1/3 ice chest of water.
    After driving 20 miles of agitating the laundry or more, we look for a water faucet. Usually at a City Park. We rinse and wring our all our cloths at their faucet. Damp clothes go back in the ice chest until we find our campsite. We rewring the clothes and hang them out in back of our motorhome using a Coleman Bungee Clothes Line.
    During rainy weather we hang them from door or drawer knobs or handles. Extra wet clothes can drip in the shower… This works even better as we drive and laundry moves around with our vehicle.

  2. charles d. Posted on 01.04.2017

    m.p.g.?lucky to get 15 on view. transet diesel might do better.probably better to go gas. can not get a shower I in travato.

  3. franchot Posted on 01.03.2017

    I live in NYC and this TRAVATO has been nothing but a blast !! To the Navy lady check out MWR the military has Rv sites thru out the USA save and cheap and you can use the army, air force and the uscg . Enjoy

  4. Pat S. Posted on 12.31.2016

    Nice article. We purchased a 2015 Travato in January of 2015 and have traveled a little over 35,000 miles. My husband called it our “home away from home.” Many of you are younger travelers but I want to share that it is also a way for handicapped Seniors to travel when otherwise it might be difficult or impossible. We carried oxygen for my husband and strapped a walker on the back ladder. We traveled twice across the U.S. stopping at parks every night from Washington to Maryland, back through Texas and up the West Coast once and the second time back through New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Idaho. I agree with the others, it is just the right size for two people and it is so easy for a woman to drive, park, and service. We are fortunate to live in a beautiful, scenic country!

  5. Pat Caldwell Posted on 12.31.2016

    Thanks for your informative and entertaining article. I am a senior female who just lost my hubby 2 months ago. Prior to passing, he bought me a View so travels could continue. I’m a little nervous about going it alone, but after being a Navy wife for 20 years, I probably have more confidence than most. Your article was encouraging. Happy New Year!

  6. David Lago Posted on 12.31.2016

    We love our 2016 Travato. We got it in May and already have almost 15k miles including a 4 week trip to all the national parks out west with my wife and two boys. I rigged up a full size spare using the bike rack as well as a 5 gallon jerry can.

  7. David Kannas Posted on 12.31.2016

    My wife and I bought a 2006 Winnebago View at an RV show six months after my retirement. It’s still going strong with about sixty thousand miles on it. We have had three incidents of a failed turbo charger and one failed transmission. All were inconveniences, but readily fixable with the service of Mercedes-Benz. Although it has not been the least expensive way to go, it has been a lot of fun. After putting on six new tires in the near future, we plan to drive from Seattle to MN with a stop at Glacier Park on the way back. I would like to trade it on a new Travato, but my wife likes the space in the View. RVing is a great way to travel.

  8. marilyn s Posted on 09.15.2016

    We love our 2016 Travato and just completed a fabulous 1,200 mile trip from Lake Tahoe to Portland OR.
    We have roadside assistance but are a bit unnerved with the fact that the 2016 model doesn’t come with a spare tire.
    Any ideas about how to rig one up on our Travato?

  9. Dean C Posted on 09.11.2016

    Interesting and VERY informative . My wife and I are considering getting our very first rv and are trying to decide between a micro Minnie travel trailer or maybe a smaller motorhome . Articles like this are helping us to become more informed about the lifestyle and our options . I’m leaning towards a motorhome my wife likes the trailer . . . the debate goes on .

  10. Jim O’Brien Posted on 09.10.2016

    Really fine comments on a very nice trip. Thanks for breaking down costs as you did. It’s been years since I’ve owned MH, but I really have the bug for one your size. Working on spouse every day! LOL
    Thanks again and happy motoring, Gents…..jim/louisiana

  11. Harold Rowen Posted on 09.10.2016

    I just brought a 2014 Travato with fewer than 13,000 miles. We took it on a 622 mile trip to Arlington Tx and was very satisfied with the power of the 6 cylinder engine. It was a nice convenience to be able to catch a nap in a rest stop and take my time in driving to Arlington.
    With its own generator, bathroom, refrigerator, stove, A/C, TV, microwave and furnace what more can you ask for? Not to mention you can park on the street and not have to worry about being told to move your RV. Yes it’s a little small, but it’s only my wife and myself. Prefect for two people.

  12. Joe Lehman Posted on 09.10.2016

    Entertaining and informative article. Well done!

  13. Ken Colloton Posted on 09.10.2016

    Thanks for the terrific article. We just finished a 3 week trip from the east coast to Colorado in our new View and enjoyed it in the same way.
    On the return trip east we downloaded gas buddy and gas guru. It was surprising our gas spend savings by planning via the apps and traveling just a few miles from the busy interstate exits. At times the savings were 20-30 cents per gallon. And, we got to see some neat areas and towns that we otherwise would have missed- at the same time spending seemingly more ‘local’ dollars. The interstate exit facilities are for sure convenient, but I recommend these apps to offset the higher gas prices if you have some extra time to explore.