Why This Couple Decided to Buy a Camper For Retirement Travel – Their Personal Story


This article is a guest post written by my dad. My parents are now both in retirement and are gearing up to do some serious retirement traveling. Lucky for us, they’re going to document their travel experiences here on the Wallet Wit blog. He used to be a CPA too. So, you’ll get a lot of financial insights from him as well. Enjoy! – Brandon Vagner, CPA, Ph.D.

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Why We Decided to Buy a Camper for Retirement TravelI retired several years ago, and my wife, Toni, retired last December. We have been married 39 years, and early in our marriage we knew we liked traveling. When everyone always asked what we would do after we both were retired, it was an easy answer…Travel!

Our plan has always been to travel the great USA and abroad after we both retired. That day is finally here, and we’re ready to roll. Some of our top destination picks are Maine, Nova Scotia, Texas, Michigan, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Florida. The big question for us then became, how to travel and see all that we want to see at an affordable cost? That’s when we started looking into campers. All that said, Toni is not much of a camper, and camping is the last thing she thought we would be doing as we travel in our retirement.

As there is certainly a cost advantage to camping, we also had another motivation for choosing a camper as our mode of transportation in retirement. Last October, our dog, Sandi, was diagnosed with diabetes. Due to the diabetes, she must eat every 12 hours, and receive an insulin shot within an hour after eating. So, we had to decide how we were going to travel and accommodate her medical needs.

One Crazy Factor for Us – Traveling With a Medical Needs Dog

Sandi Picture-Traveling With Dog in RetirementFirst, the idea of not giving Sandi a shot every day, and letting the disease take its course was simply not an option. Sandi is 13 years old, smart, lovable, a great companion, and the best dog we ever had the pleasure of living with us in our home.

The dog we had before Sandi got sick after we kenneled her as we traveled for a week. Shortly after being kenneled, she became ill, which required several medical procedures and medication. Unfortunately, that dog ended up passing away within three months of that illness first being noticed. Toni is convinced she got sick from her kennel stay, and that is why my wife wants to significantly reduce the amount of kennel stays each year. Preferably, she doesn’t want to kennel our current dog, Sandi, at all.

Another factor here is that most kennels do not administer insulin. We would have to find a kennel associated with a hospital, and the daily cost to kennel can be as much as twice the standard kennel cost. All things considered, we made the decision not to kennel as we travel. So, we started to look at all modes of transportation.

Deciding if We Should Travel by Plane or an Automobile

Before Sandi was diagnosed with diabetes, we had decided that our first trip would be to Maine and Nova Scotia. In the past, we have traveled equally by plane and automobile to a lot of places in the USA, including Dallas, San Antonio, Chicago, Las Vegas, New York City, Boulder, Breckenridge, Milwaukee, Naples, Marco Island, Orlando, Smokey Mountains, Branson, San Diego, New Orleans, etc.

Over time, we have found that taking a plane is generally a higher cost for us than taking an automobile. After you factor in the plane tickets, parking, rental car(s), Ubers, etc., it can get way up there in price. It would especially be so if were traveling with children, but that’s no longer a worry of ours in retirement.

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The flip side to the financial cost is your actual travel time. Yes, on certain trips, we could have made it to our destination in less time in an automobile due to us living two and half hours from the nearest airport; having to arrive two hours prior to the flight to make sure we get through security; and dealing with connecting flights and possible flight delays. It always seemed like flying took more time than just getting in the car and going, and I have to say that we always see so much more when driving to our destinations as opposed to flying.

When taking a plane, you can generally plan in advance, and get a place to stay using VRBO or Airbnb instead of having to stop at random hotels along the way, but there is usually a pet and cleaning fee associated with those rental apps. So, you’re forced to stay in one place several days or a week to make those VRBO’s or Airbnb’s cost effective. All that said, the advantage of staying in another person’s home instead of multiple hotels is that all the appliances and utensils needed to cook your own meals are there. This definitely helps us save money and is better for your health than eating in restaurants all the time. Yes, you have the convenience, but it is generally at a higher cost than a hotel. It also requires planning well in advance of the trip.

If we traveled via a standard automobile, then we would be staying in hotels with our pet, Sandi. The average daily rate for hotels is $129. However, not all hotels allow pets. If they do allow pets, many times there is an additional fee, and this adds to the cost. Some hotel pet policies can be very restrictive. For example, pets can’t be left in a room alone. In that case, we would have to have food delivered, go through fast food, or try to find a pet friendly eatery. Not to mention, when staying in a hotel, we don’t have the ability to cook our own food.

Some days, I get up really early, and Toni doesn’t get up for two to three hours after I get out of bed. She doesn’t sleep well. So, therefore, she generally sleeps later. When staying in a hotel, I try really hard not to wake her in the morning. This means no TV for me. I usually get on my computer or go down to the lobby as soon as I know there is coffee. I think many hotels have wondered why I’m hanging out in the lobby for a couple hours in the morning. I must also say, It’s really not enjoyable for me to do this morning hotel routine for an extended period of time.

So, due to the added costs and considerations associated with traveling using these typical modes of transportation when accompanied with pet, it really did not seem feasible for us to travel for a month or longer with Sandi in a standard automobile or plane. So, enter the decision to explore a camper as an option.

Why We Ultimately Decided to Buy a Camper

A camper provides freedom! We can stay at or near most any town in America or even outside of America like Nova Scotia, for example. We have the choice to cook our own meals or go to restaurants if we want. We can also enjoy the beauty and sounds of the outdoors more with the comforts of still having air conditioning or heat in the camper. Sleeping in our own bed every night is another huge perk for us. It’s extremely comfortable and no bed bugs! Everybody can get excited about that!

I really like the idea of being able to grill, have a campfire every night, fish in nearby lakes or streams, make my own coffee out in the wilderness, and still be able to watch the morning news outside the camper while Toni sleeps. That would mean no more hotel lobby’s for me! Not to mention, Sandi can stay at any campground, and she would have a place to potty within feet of the camper.

Speaking of watching the news outside, that reminds me. We have the same channels we have at home with Dish Network. So, there is no hassle getting to the right stations.

In addition to all that great stuff I just mentioned, it’s hard to ignore the financial benefits of camping. First off, one can easily find many places to stay for free with a camper. If it’s not free, the cost is generally in the $30/day price range, but can be upwards of $50/day or higher on the coast or high demand tourist destinations.

Many towns have a city park that allows camping. Sometimes it’s free or there is a minimal fee. I camped at a beautiful city campground in Iowa for $5 a person. Also, did you know you can stay in a Walmart parking lot for free? You sure can, but it’s not where we would stay unless there was no other option. You can search for “free camping” at freecampsites.net or using Campendium.

Other Important Factors to Consider When Buying a Camper

We can’t forget about the cost of camper. Some would argue never to buy a new camper. It’s kind of like a car in that they depreciate very quickly. Within a relatively short time, the value drops considerably. When you compare it against the cost of hotel rooms and all other expenses that go along with other modes of transportation, it’s really not bad if you buy a used camper and travel a lot. You can get a good used camper for under $15,000. You just have to know what you’re looking for. I’m going to put together a separate article just on our camper selection. So, stay tuned for that.

You also have the cost of gas or diesel. However, you would have this cost too if you drove your own automobile and stayed in hotels. The cost is higher though when pulling a camper due to the reduced miles per gallon.

Toni would not have even considered camping if it not for our trip to Gulf Shores last year. We traveled on motorcycles with a group, stayed at very nice campgrounds, and slept in tents at primitive campsites. I love that kind of thing, but it’s definitely not for everybody. I’ll be doing another article here on Wallet Wit coming up soon on one of my longer motorcycle trips out West. I’m gearing up for that later this summer, but that’s just with my buddies. Toni is sitting that one out.

It didn’t start out all that well for Toni. The first night on that Gulf Shores trip, a huge spider was on the tent door as we went to bed. The thought of all the critters that could possibly get into the tent caused Toni not to sleep the entire night. That was bad, but, to make things worse, a day or so later, we arrived at another campground at dark and in the pouring rain. Luckily, they allowed us to sleep in the park pavilion, but that evening wasn’t fun for Toni either.

Then, when we got to Gulf Shores, biting yellow flies just happened to be in season. Yes, that is a thing, and you never want to experience it! Those biting yellow flies came out at dawn and didn’t go away until dusk. Even though it was 90 plus degrees with high humidity, every inch of your body had to be clothed during the day or you would get bit like you’ve never experienced before. One person in our party even had to go to the doctor after we arrived home due to infected bites. Those things are no joke.

Sleeping in a tent has airflow drawbacks too. It can be very hot at night and there is no air conditioning. So, your sleep quality goes way down. At almost 60 years old, getting in and out of that small tent on an air mattress is quite difficult as well. I’m sure it would be amusing to watch us try.

The last thing we aren’t fans of in terms of pure tent camping is the fact that If you have to use the restroom, then you’re trekking to the community bath house.

All that said, Toni did actually enjoy the Gulf Shores trip, even though it was miserable at times. Ultimately, Toni decided she could camp, but just not in a tent. That’s when we made the decision we were going to buy a used camper and just dive into the camper world. Pictured below is the camper we bought at one of our first campsites with it.

Buying a camper for retirement

How to Rent a Camper

I recommend testing out a few campers before you commit to buying a new camper. I wish I would have known about the camper/RV rental website Outdoorsy before we made our purchase. Outdoorsy is a nationwide website that makes it possible for you to rent other people’s campers. Click here to check out campers available to rent near you via Outdoorsy.

Final Thoughts on Buying a Camper

We plan to travel by camper for a month or more at a time as we see the USA and Canada with our diabetic dog in tote. At the end of the day, we both just can’t image staying in hotels every night. We immediately think of four walls with a bed, limited and uncomfortable seating, having to hang in the lobby in the mornings, eating in restaurants or constantly having food delivered. All those things just don’t sound appealing to us at this stage of our life. Those factors and everything we discussed above, including high daily costs and inconvenience, is why we chose to go with a camper instead.

A camper gives us freedom, and we can find a place to camp most anywhere close to our destination or while in route. The camper has most all the amenities of our home, including a full-size oven, stove, and microwave to make our own meals. Yes, we will go to restaurants as well, but definitely not every night. We want to explore very unique local restaurants. Our plan is to checkout as many of the highlighted restaurants we’ve seen on the food channel.

Yes, there is the upfront cost of the camper, but we will save money daily from not having to stay in hotels. For us, it seems like the best mode of travel with a diabetic dog. Regardless of having a medical needs pet and really needing the camper to accommodate that need, many people will tell you that a camper is the best mode of transportation when exploring the USA and Canada.

To prepare, we have been taking our camper on test camps for just a couple of nights here and there to make sure we have everything we need for a long trip and that we are very familiar with the camper. Our trip to Maine and Nova Scotia is planned for later this summer, and we are very much looking forward to the adventure, but only time will tell if we made the right decision. Come back to Wallet Wit to read about our upcoming retirement travel experiences.