While many Americans dream of hitting the open road with their family in a bus-sized recreational vehicle, the thought of the gas bill and loan payments as high as a traditional mortgage can dampen the enthusiasm of actually giving it a go.

Yet if you’re willing to think outside the box with regard to vehicle size and related camping expenses, you just might find it costs less than you think. Here are a handful of ways to make the ultimate road trip more affordable.

Go smaller

The traditional approach may be to tow a camper or go for a larger motor home, but a growing number of people are opting for minivan conversions. Not only is the mileage significantly better than standard RV options, but the maneuverability is much easier as well.

Similar to the camper-vans popular throughout Europe, modifications can be accomplished through hiring an independent contractor or taking on the task yourself.

One vehicle that’s gaining popularity for camping use is the Ford Transit Connect, thanks to its good mileage and decent size. Small beds, chemical toilets and more can be installed.

Rent a camper van

Prefer to keep it simple and rent? JUCY Rentals, the camper-van rental company popular in Australia and New Zealand, has set up shop in the United States.

With branches in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas, they make an easy drive-and-camp option for international visitors as well as locals interested in an affordable alternative.

The compact size of their vehicles allows travelers to combine their accommodation and transportation costs into a single bill.

Offseason rates start at $35 per day and include a pop-up pod tent on the roof, DVD player and television, sink, stove and even a small fridge. High-season rates average closer to $100 per day, with unlimited mileage packages starting at $25 per night plus tax (jucyrentals.com).

Location, location, location

Thinking creatively about where you park your recreational vehicle can save you significant cash.

Just ask Michael Boyink, who has been living the RV lifestyle with his family full time for more than three years.

When he and his wife decided the children would benefit from gardening experience and do-it-yourself knowledge, they arranged to park their rig on a farm in Texas in exchange for an agreed-upon number of chores. The experience also allowed Boyink’s daughter to learn some horse-riding skills. Boyinks4adventure.com
has the full details of their RV odyssey.

Go off the grid

Forgoing electrical access for more primitive sites can also save money. Jeff Wilson, HGTV host and author of “The Greened House Effect,” puts this strategy into play nearly every summer when he takes his family camping.

For starters, he has two marine batteries that charge while his tow vehicle is moving. This allows him to arrive at a site fully charged and ready to skip the more expensive spots in the campground.

He also travels with a small solar panel and a portable windmill to generate power with the support of Mother Nature.

Cut campground fees

Amy Burkert of gopetfriendly.com
travels in a recreational vehicle throughout the year with her husband and two dogs.

Figuring out how to get campground access for less has helped her family maintain their travel habit in a financially sustainable way. And how you arrange your stay can make a huge difference.

Her top tip? Discount-membership organizations. Organizations such as Good Sam, Escapees and Passport America provide savings as high as 50 percent on RV sites at campgrounds across North America.