The Secret to Driving Across the Country for Next to Nothing

A little-known type of deal enables you to traverse America for well under $100 a day — transportation and lodging included. Here's how it works.

The Secret to Driving Across the Country for Next to Nothing Photo by Viktor Loki / Shutterstock.com

Summer vacation planning is underway for many Americans, and there are few better ways to see the country than driving along U.S. highways and byways.

While most of us automatically choose to drive our own car on a road trip, another option that can save a bundle of money by serving as both transportation and lodging is the all-American recreational vehicle. RVs can be rented for cheap — sometimes as little as $1 per day — if you know where to look.

Yes, it’s true. They’re called relocation deals.

The basics

Relocation deals are when, in exchange for allowing you to use a vehicle at a rock-bottom rate, RV and car rental companies make use of you as cheap labor to deliver their vehicles to specified destinations.

Rental companies sometimes need to balance out their inventory, because they end up with a glut of vehicles in one area and too few somewhere else with seasonal demand. You get the screaming deal because you’re helping them get vehicles to where they are needed.

So, to get one of these bargains, you have to be flexible about when and where you travel.

The time frame the rental company allows for delivery of the vehicle can be as short as a few days or as long as a few weeks. Also, the deals can pop up with just a few days’ notice, so be prepared to jump on one.

These deals aren’t only for U.S. travel, though. There are similar programs in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, for example. (If you want to try it, bone up on driving rules in those countries, check on whether you need a business visa and make sure your license will be considered valid there.)

The actual $1 rentals can be fairly rare, but you’ll find more deals if you can pony up, say, $25 per day.

If this sounds like an adventure you’d like to take on, check out some options. All of these companies offer relocation deals:

Other costs to weigh

Even if you get a dollar-a-day deal, be sure to factor in other costs before pulling the trigger. Since relocation deals are one-way, you will face additional travel arrangements — either getting home from the end point, or getting out to the starting point.

Some companies renting RVs don’t care about the mileage you put on the vehicle, as long as you get it to its destination within the allotted time frame. But in other cases they may add mileage costs.

Insurance is another wild card. Company policies vary, but generally they include some level of insurance embedded in the rental price. Also check whether your existing auto policy, or even your credit card, might already give you some coverage.

Be sure to ask about fuel consumption. RVs get as little as 6 miles per gallon, according to Changin’ Gears, though efficiency varies. The website notes:

“RV fuel consumption is affected by vehicle weight, engine size, fuel type, driving habits, gear ratios, wind resistance, topography and numerous other factors.”

One of the great advantages of traveling by RV is that it provides relatively cheap lodging at campgrounds or RV parks — which typically charge modestly for the parking space, electrical hookups and water service. Plus, RVs often come with a kitchen, so you can save money by cooking your own meals.

You can also have at least as many travelers as you have bunks — and the possibility of splitting the costs.

Have you ever gotten a cheap rental with a relocation deal? Share your experience in the comments or on our Facebook page.

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