Having cabinets above head level: Continuing with the Hobbit theme, I'd love to make it through one day without banging my head on some part of the RV. Sometimes I feel like I should wear a helmet while walking around inside. From the bathroom cabinet to the front area where the TV is located, I've made cranial contact with all of it hard enough to see stars. Not exactly fun.
For a period of time, we also had a gym membership to Planet Fitness. It cost $20/month and we had access to over 800 locations across the country. If you’re trying to stay in good shape while you’re traveling I would definitely suggest Planet Fitness. They typically have really nice facilities for showering and workouts, plus free massage chairs and tootsie rolls. Need I say more?
But no matter what kind of trip you’re taking, whether it’s just a quick weekend, a month-long circuit of the National Parks, or even the foreseeable future, living in a motorhome with a family is a totally different animal than going solo or with a spouse. We want to ensure your family RV experience is a pleasant one, not a nightmare — so here are our best tips for living in an RV or camper with kids without going crazy!
Small electric space heaters are an excellent way to conserve propane burn and provide added warmth to the areas occupied during the day and evening. Be careful to purchase only brand-name, heavy duty space heaters with undamaged electrical cords. Adding a small space heater to the lavatory will help keep the black tank from freezing and is a nice addition for people coming out of the shower.
13. If you have children, you will have to plan for their education. They will have to be homeschooled with the only difference being that their home is on wheels. There are a lot of different online curriculums and education resources to take advantage of and they vary in pricing from free and up. This will take a bit of research, but keep in mind, as well, that life on the road will afford a great many educational opportunities. You will be able to actually visit and teach from sites that many will only ever read about or see in videos or pictures.
4. Skirting as you pointed out is an absolute must: I love the snow piled up, cost effective and highly efficient. What if there’s no snow? Home Depot or Lowes or ? sell the reflective bubble insulation in 15″ widths up to 5′ widths. The narrow widths can be used to skirt the sides and they can be held in place by the basement doors. You may need to make cuts to go over hardware but are very effective.
Well congrats on the upcoming adventures! For an easy “entry” into RVing I would most definitely recommend the New Mexico State Camping Pass. Not only are all the New Mexico parks quite lovely, they’re spacious with lots of trails (very dog friendly) and you’ll get to travel around and see a lot of variety at very low cost. Plus you can test out your rig and dry camping skills. I think it’s an excellent idea! Good luck and good travels!
The average cost we run in to is $1.75/load for washing and $1.25/load for drying. Most campgrounds have low-end but decent enough washers and dryers and you hardly ever have to run a load multiple time. It is important to note that many campgrounds and parks will not let you hang clotheslines so you can’t depend on that as a way to reduce expenses.
While at the dealership looking at the Cougar, we saw the Highland Ridge Open Range Light LT308BHS. I was impressed with all the space the moment we walked in. Although the master is in the front, there is still more room in the master than other travel trailers of the same layout because Highland Ridge adds 4 inches in width over the standard width of most travel trailers. When you are talking space in RVs a few inches can make a HUGE difference. Highland Ridge also comes with a 2 year warranty and is known for its quality build.
So I am curious. Why can you talk about the cost of the RV? You mention you aren’t allowed to discuss the cost of the Windy, and you only suggest you are leasing the new one. My concern is that it may be false representation of the life style. I am sure many people would like to do what you do and can. However, not many people under 30 years of age can drive around in a 200K RV doing what you are doing. I tend to think the RV’s are discounted to you or even loaned to you as part of financial agreements with companies you work for. If this is true, this isn’t something the average person can do. Can you please be more transparent if you are in fact trying to promote this life style. (I am not trying to be a hater, i just want to better understand how you are doing this).
2017 Update – TOTALLY. I still recommend a contract-free approach whenever possible. This gives you the flexibility to sign-up to the best plans (and offers) whenever they became available which has improved our own set-up and saved us many $$ over the years. The whole Mobile Internet landscape has changed dramatically since 2011 (e.g. Millenicom is now caput and gone), but there are still many contract-free options for mobile travelers. You can read about our current internet, phone & boosting set-up HERE.
Hi Nina, thanks so much for the prompt reply. Follow up question to your comment “couple who had a large 5th wheel last year and they had so much low overhang on the back of their rig that it kept bottoming out on bumpy roads” Are you referring to the distance of the furthest rear axle to the back end of the 5th wheel or simply the ground clearance at the back end of the 5th wheel? I can see it being a problem the greater the distance between the rear axle to the end of the trailer on any bumpy road as being a problem, and I have seen some motorhomes that would have the same issue.
As a blogger and online content creator (my main blog is BabyRabies.com, a pregnancy and parenting site), a book author and photographer, I am able to work full-time from the road. My husband left his job and manages most of the road-schooling and the other moving pieces of, well, moving. It’s nearly a full-time job just booking sites and planning our route!
Diesel can freeze! Make sure you fill with winterized diesel which you can find at most truck stops. If you can’t find winterized diesel you need to purchase an additive that will keep your diesel from freezing (you can find this at auto part stores and truck stops). Before you depart your destination you should plug in the heating element found in your diesel engine (most diesel engines have a heated core that you can plug into a wall to keep them from getting too cold) to warm up your engine at least 4 hours before taking off.
Now… we aren’t full time RV living like most people – we are completely stationary and have no intentions of touring around the United States in our RV! That said, if that’s what you ARE interested, here are some quality blogs, YouTube channels and Facebook groups of folks that are doing such thing… hopefully they’ll be a great additional source of inspiration to you!
We budget $6k per month and usually have a hard time sticking to it. I guess you would have to put us into that ‘upper’ bracket. We track every penny (we use YNAB as our budgeting tool-Google it), but still don’t deny ourselves anything we really need or want. We moved into the rig in July 07 with a nice portfolio and then suffered through the 07-08 market collapse. We dropped about 38%. We slowed our spending down a bit, workcamped for a season (Crazy Horse Monument in the Black Hills) and within a couple of years our portfolio had returned to pre-recession levels. In fact, our portfolio today is actually just a bit larger than the day I retired. And what’s our secret? Low cost passive index funds from Vanguard.
I am fortunate in that my company pays for my cell phone. This includes the grandfathered “unlimited” data plan. However reliable that is though we still look for campgrounds and camping sites that offer reliable WiFi and relish in those moment we get to a cafe or a friends house that will allow us to download a movie or two for future watching. Let it be known though that our call phones and our ‘net connection are essential to our livelihood and therefore our lifestyle. My wife does have a Verizon “Pay As You Go” that we purchase minutes for on a semi-regular basis (every four months or so). For a good look at what WiFi on the road may cost though feel free to check out the expenses of Technomadia.
Now, about emergencies; who ya gonna call? (No! not Ghost Busters) Is there on-site help for mechanical and electrical problems and how do you contact them? What days and hours are they available? Is 911 service available (if you are fulltiming, you most likely are using only a cellphone – cellphones may NOT work with the 911 service since they do not give you LOCATION)? Where are the closest Doctors, Dentists, Veterinarians, Pharmacies and Hospitals?
We protected the water connection coming into the RV with heat tape, pipe insulation and wind barriers — and did not have a problem in that regard. However, we did have the water pump itself freeze. A light bulb in the plumbing bay solved that problem. We added a weather station inside the coach and put the thermostat that reads the external temperature in the plumbing bay. So from then on we could just look at the display to keep tabs on things.
Thanks for the information. It’s funny but I was just contacted by a friend I haven’t heard from in 4 years and they recently sold everything off about three years ago and are enjoying the RV lifestyle. They just spent the summer in Alaska and currently my friend is playing Santa Claus here in Las Vegas. We are getting together tomorrow and I am sure we will have a big discussion on how things have been going so far. He has already recommended I grow my beard in for next year and play Santa. Of course I will have to die the beard as I am not quite white yet. LOL. I will keep on searching your site and thanks again for the update…
We too fish and hunt and eat everything we harvest. Although we have enjoyed the trips we have taken in our motorhome, my husband is reluctant to travel for more than 2 or 3 months at a time. He does not want to miss out on Spring and Fall turkey season and Fall deer season. How do you afford to hunt and fish outside of your home state? Non-resident hunting and fishing licenses are very expensive in many states.
The number one thing you can do for your RV during winter is skirting! Anything you can find: snow, dirt, foam board, insulation, plywood, anything you can place around the exterior of your RV will help keep the heat inside. I cannot tell you how important this step is for keeping your RV pipes from freezing. Also if your tanks are exposed under your RV you can wrap a heated blanket around them to keep them from freezing. The small space heaters will be helpful, and keep your propane heater set to 55-60 degrees if possible (a $30 propane bill is better than a $500 water pipe/pump issue).
Hello, I’m a retired mechanic at age of 55, my wife is a stay at home/retired CNA….we have adopted 2 children now 11 and 12 yrs. We have been tossing around the idea of RV lifestyle for a while. Looking to find other Christian based RVers. Ideally we would like to travel small town and help along the way in the fashion of helping with folks not as blessed as we are. Believe me when I say this will be a HUGE change for us. I was planning to travel when I retired….just had not planned on doing it with children,(what do ya do?). so with that in mind how would a family make contact with churches and possibly fill some needs as we go.
These were all things we did before we hit the road. But the costs are different now – as we’re frequently finding out about events fairly last minute and sometimes paying late entry rates and sometimes able to pay less for a last minute ticket to an unsold out event. And, sometimes we end up needing to forfeit event fees that we had to sign up for in advance, but routing plans changing to make it unrealistic to attend. Be sure to know the ticket transfer/re-sell policy before you buy.
You are going to need a set of solar panels. Forget a generator. I don’t know why almost every RV I ever come across is running a generator. I’m here to tell you that a gas-powered generator is almost completely unnecessary. A good set of solar panels placed properly on your roof (you want at least 60 watts, I’d like to have more one day) will give you enough power every day (even cloudy days) to charge your cellphones, power your lights all night, power the propane furnace for increments when the wood stove isn’t running, and watch movies.
2017 Update – TOTALLY. In 8 years on the road our expenses have actually been flat to slightly down every year despite increasing health care costs. We keep camping expenses low by volunteering in summer and boondocking (= free camping) in winter, and we manage gas costs by how we travel. The point is there is lots of flexibility on the financial side, and my viewpoint on this hasn’t changed. Earlier this year I finally updated our cost posts, so you can now read a detailed account of our RV costs (including tips for budgeting & saving) for the past 7 years HERE and HERE.
Last but certainly not least there is always the option to winterize your RV before you hit the cold weather. Whether you’re lazy, cheap, or you just plain don’t want to deal with all this crap I’ve rambled on about above, this option works like a champ. Before you hit the road purchase a couple 10 gallon jugs of water for drinking. Shower & use the toilets in the facilities at the campground (they’re usually heated during the winter). Of course this means when nature calls you have to high tail it through the freezing weather to use the Jon, but at least you don’t have to worry about your pipes freezing! If you decide to go this route make sure you stay in the site located closest to shower and bathroom facilities, you’ll thank me later.
I wanted to know all these things before changing so I hope this helped anyone with any different doubts or thoughts. One thing to add; no matter where you go there will be people with their own thoughts on how you should raise your kids, their own huge judgements and this will not help that. I feel this area is really good to be in for that; there are many full time rvers in Fl-young and old. That was a huge concern of mine but actually there was always judgements on what kind of parent I was no matter where we lived. Not much of a difference. What makes your family happy is really what is best for all of you. Most here are not even surprised and when we told the local librarian she showed us a couple of really great fulltime rv living books. There is a retired older man that does a puzzle each week there and my daughter has gotten to be a helper and friend to him and they are there with the kids in the after school programs. There are also kids at the rv parks here.
A suggestions to lower your costs. 1. Passport America 50% camping and/or America the Beautiful Pass. We average about $8-$10 a night camping at these parks, while camping in some of the most beautiful locations. As well as hitting many free camping locations. State parks can be obscenely cheap and nice. 2. Plenty of farmers markets on the east coast, you just have to look for them as many of them are in small towns outside the cities you have traveled to. 3. I forget the name right now, maybe one of the other Rvers can chime in, but there is an alternative to Verizon that uses Verizon infrastructure that gives you unlimited phone and internet. We don’t full time right now so it’s not a concern. 4. Stay longer which lowers your fuel and camping fees. 5. REWARD POINTS, pay with everything with a rewards credit card.
We have camped at Tiger Run also and the temps got down to -9 F. We got the extended propane tank rented from the campground. We had all the issues and made a cardboard skirt and put a ceramic space heater underneath. That worked, though we left our sewer hooked up and only drained once a week and used the built in facilities during the day. We wrapped the exterior drain pipes with heat tape and insulation. We added hot water to the grey and black water tanks before flushing. Didn’t have a problem. Also made the heated water supply hose with heat tape and insulation. That never froze either. This year we are going back (in 2 weeks! YAY!) and are having a custom skirt made. Combined with the ceramic heater underneath, this should keep the whole thing warmer as well as stop any freezing of the water bay and plumbing. There is one weak link in our trailer, the water lines run through a cabinet, then back out behind the toilet, then under the bath tub, and then into another cabinet where the pump is. This froze twice. I rerouted one of the heater vents to heat the first cabinet by removing the vent exit and setting the vent tube to blow half of it’s air into the cabinet. Ugly but effective in an emergency. This year we are going to try running an LED rope light along that pipe run. This will double as a night light. They use very little power, and don’t get as hot as incandescent bulbs. Allegedly, the skirt and ceramic heater should fix everything but you never know! We’ll follow up as things progress. We agree that winter camping allows us to enjoy snowboarding and skiing places like Breckenridge Aspen, and Jackson Hole and actually afford it! And of course you can bring your doggie or kitty too.
Then there are state parks, which run sometimes $15 / night, typically closer to $20 / night, and that often includes electric & water, but no sewage at your site (you have to drive over to the dump). They typically have a 2 week max stay at any given park, but are almost always more beautiful than private RV parks, with each site tending to have much more space.
A little more on internet: If you’re planning on working on the road, never plan on “just using the RV park wifi” to accomplish anything. They are notoriously slow or non-existent. You cannot RV full-time with purchasing a jetpack or planning on using your phone’s hot spot. You can also buy wifi boosters and other expensive techie products, but a jetpack is going to be your most affordable, easy-to-use option.
When you first hit the road, you’re going to want to see it all. You might log thousands of miles the first year in a race to see Seattle, the Everglades, and everything in between. The constant go-go-go of new full-timers is a common trap. Of course, it’s a trap that we fell into as well. But, you might ask, isn’t seeing the country the whole point of full-time RVing?
Wow!!!! have I ever enjoyed your written article,I will tell you you have a gift of writing.stay at it and enjoy your life style ,not too many folks have the kahoonas to do it ,me included, I do build some awesome custom traveling campers &wagons of Aluminum,spray foam sip insulated,wood facade rustic looking,lightweight . My product we call Woolywagons & Woolycabins. We also welcome tiny house dwellers here at our woodsy central Indiana lazyaa B&B Guest Ranch home of the Woolywagons custom built RVs I am 62 and love building and people and traveling with my horse.I have done some whitewater canoeing but Man you are one radical kayaker too too cool If ever in Indiana I would sure appreciate chewing the fat with you at our campfire.This invite is good for all of you
On the other hand, it’s a VERY individual thing. After 7 years on the road I can honestly tell you there’s a very good reason why no-one ever gives you an exact number. That’s because many of the big fulltime RV expenses are totally flexible! What kind of rig you buy, where you decide to camp, how much you drive, whether you decide workamp, whether you eat out (or in) etc. -> ALL these are flexible costs that can vastly alter your spend numbers. There are ranges (and I’ll go through them below), but there is quite simply no one single number for everyone.
I am currently looking for suitable stories to feature in the series and we’re keen to contact people who may be interested in taking part. I came across your website and thought I would contact you as I’m trying to find Expat British/Irish families attempting to live self-sufficiently in wilderness locations overseas and I was wondering if you’re aware of any British expats that could be interested?
After many years of Singapore math I realized I couldn’t keep up with Thing 1 so began the search for a new math curriculum that required less parental involvement. We tried the Art of Problem Solving which would be amazing for the right kind of kid. It was a horrible fit for us. After a few more weeks of research, I narrowed math down to Math-U-See, Teaching Textbooks, and Life of Fred. Thing 1 looked them over and chose which one he wanted to study. He chose Life of Fred and after two years I can’t say enough good things about it. (The Kahn Academy was used as a supplemental resource for extra practice when needed and not as a stand-alone program.)
- Seal the areas around plumbing and electrical openings to the outside. If possible, use caulk for small gaps and expanding-foam insulation for larger areas. Use caution because foams can expand and damage certain areas. Low-expansion foams, typically used around doors and windows, are available. Remember that fiberglass insulation does not stop air movement, so simply stuffing fiberglass into openings will be effective only if the air leaks are sealed.
Sure we considered the this-is-our-life-and-sorry-it’s-not-what-you-want-but-try-to-appreciate-and-learn-from-it approach. As parents we have that right to make the choices we think our best for our kids and family. The road may be “best” for Brent and I but, God willing, we have many years left as a couple to explore and experience life as we want but the older boys only have few years left as kids. They didn’t want to spend their teenage years living in an RV full time.
There is little risk in joining these programs, as they are cheap to join and you do not have to renew if you don’t like the program. Sometimes they even offer a money-back guarantee for the first 90 days. However, because the member parks are independently run, RV parks join and abandon the programs as suits their individual business needs. When you make your reservation, double check that the park is still a member of your program.
For the year 1 monthly budget I hope to cut it down to $1,900 per month average as Marvin is in Arizona for the solar power installation so I would not be going to Florida and therefore the campground and gas will decrease accordingly. Before that my campground and gas expenses were 32.7% of the budget. I had done the year one destinations before Nina wrote about the solar power upgrade, but obviously will have to make an adjustment.
I wish everyone who has run into bad times could read your story. There are certainly people who cannot help themselves and need assistance. But there are too many who find themselves in debt who could do what you have done – cut expenses and live frugally. But they don’t and just complain, asking for handouts as they place an order for the new iphone. Good luck with your new house and homestead, although I know you don’t need any. It’s apparent you make your own luck. 🙂
I hope you don’t mind me contacting you out of the blue. I am a researcher working for major independent production company Optomen Television in London. We are currently producing a new documentary series for Channel 4 in the UK about people who have quit the rat race and moved to live in remote locations the world. It will be an inspirational series following the incredible stories of ordinary people who are living a unique way of life in some of the most beautiful and breath-taking places. The presenter, Kevin McCloud, best known for presenting the hit TV series ‘Grand Designs’ will visit people in their wildness homes and get to experience first-hand the wonder of life in these stunning locations.
Emily, you have done an absolutely fabulous job of compiling tons of useful information and we avidly read your blog and go back over things as we prep to hit the road full-time. We love the way you think, your personality and just everything we read. You have been so kindly open with your budgets etc but there are two things we are just curious about being of similar ages and not able to get pensions or SS at this stage in our lives.
Hey Bill, keep working on the wife! As for your questions, please remember we are travelers, not banking or financial experts and definitely don’t feel comfortable advising anyone on the subject. So, what works for us, may not be best for you. We have a permanent address in Texas (our home state) and have a CPA that handles our taxes. There very well could be some deductions for you, but you will need to talk to a CPA to find out.
Although some people cover their windows with Reflectix, I have to have light in winter, so last year we covered our windows with a combination of bubble wrap and shrink plastic, and this year I made storm windows out of plexiglass and removable Velcro covers for the screens from clear vinyl. I wrote a separate blog post about my experiences with various cold weather window protection methods; you can read it here.
We are now the proud owners of a 2004 Fleetwood AX6 Wilderness Advantage w/4 slides. And we continue to work on getting it fully ready to be compatable with existing off grid in the future. Its been a long road for us, but I am glad we took it. We own our rig free and clear, and there is no way wed ever own a conventional home in 3 years preperation in todays world.
$600 RV Camping – The largest savings compared to our 2011 expenses. The main reason for the change in camping fees: We’ve stayed at several parks that have comped our stay and paid us to shoot a video on their parks. It’s not great money, but it’s saving us money and helping us pay some bills while extending our travels on the road. We haven’t shared many of the campground videos on our site yet, but we’ve just launched a new tab aptly named campgrounds. You’ll find the videos to be pretty happy since we were paid to shoot the parks, but in the text you’ll find our personal take on these RV Resorts (not all the reviews are paid, and we won’t lie and tell you a place is great when clearly it’s a piece of crap). Also we’ve saved lots of money by Driveway Surfing at our follower’s homes; and special thanks to my mom for fitting the bill when she joined us in Montreal Canada.
We are all electric with no propane, now what? Hydronic heating (Aqua Hot) can rely upon a diesel burner for furnace instead of propane. As you correctly pointed out diesel additive is necessary to keep the fuel liquid. We have learned that even though we treat our fuel it remains very cold. Cold diesel doesn’t completely burn and the exhaust can be very smokey and very smelly.
I found living in our Airstream (31′) in winter, in places in Ontario, Vancouver B C, Whitehorse Yukon, back in 1972 to 77; very comfortable. Airstreams have windows with double glazing, so that was a big help. Furnace worked fine. Hot water heater worked fine. Used more propane which was expected. When we were plugged in to AC power we had water (had a heat line) and sewer hook ups. I closed the bottom in with snow. We managed the humidity issues, and everything was fine. Traveled up the Alaska highway with snow and glare ice, the trailer towed perfectly with our rear wheel drive Chevy Suburban.
People enjoy the full-time RV lifestyle on all kinds of budgets, and the money full-timers have to work with comes in all kinds of forms. Some retirees have big pensions but not a lot of savings. Others have a nest egg of savings but no pension. Many younger full-time RVers work while they travel, either to cover all of their living expenses or to supplement other income streams.
Yes the kids still want toys and yes we still buy them some. However, they are also good at when they are done playing with something they pass it on to someone else or donate it. By April they were already donating some of the Christmas presents they had gotten. And when we left friends we had made in Miami they were giving them their toys as presents before we left. They aren’t attached to many things anymore either.
Well, that depends on how long they want to full time. Let’s say the RV travel costs are $2,000 per month. That’s on top of whatever other costs they have (Insurance, repairs, clothing, cell phone, etc.). Then a person needs an income to support that level of spending for as long as they’ll be full-timing. If they want to try it for a couple of years, don’t want to work while traveling, and have no other source of income, then my guess is a couple needs around $100,000 saved up to live off.
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As for our tanks, they stayed plenty warm, having the warmth from the storage bay radiating through the floor on one side, and because our skirting kept them warm enough on the other side. For people who need extra protection against frozen tanks, tank heaters are an option. However, it’s important to make sure that pipes in addition to tanks are protected from freezing.
Love you guys! You have such great energy and enthusiasm and are ready for an adventure! We have been on the road for a year now and have discovered Corp of Engineer’s parks. They are lovely, well kept and reasonable. (for us older folks they are half off too… usually have elec. And water and run $14-20 a night. We do have solar and AGM battery so have boondocked on BLM land too, which is definitely a money stretcher. You probably know all this already. Best to you, Cathy
When you trade your home address to live on the road in an RV, you need to decide how to receive mail and what to call “home” on your tax returns. Some of the full-time RVers we meet retained the state of residence where they were living before they hit the road. Most of them still own property in that state, and they often have a relative or friend who forwards their mail.
Of course, at $500 per month this is a sparse life, but I am just showing you that it can be done. In fact I personally know dozens of people who live in their vans and make much less than $1,000 per month, so I know for a fact that it can, and is, being done right now. That still leaves us with the question, where will the money come from? Let me show you some simple strategies for living the cheap RV lifestyle.
Hi! My husband and I want to go from living in a home to rving around America. Mostly because we want to find where we want to settle down to have and create a sustainable farm but we really would love to have adventures and explore as well. We have three kids 7,4, and seven months. Our goal is to have an rv and sell all our things or most by July of next year. The only thing we are wondering about at the moment is how you fund living this way? Do you have a business that allows traveling? Also do you ever set up a tent for your older kid to be able to get away and have a quite place? One more question is schooling. I do unschooling but was curious what you do for school? Thanks!
Everyone has heard the age-old packing tip for a trip – “pack half the clothes you think you need – and then get rid of half of them.” When you are preparing to live on the road you need to amp up those percentages even more, way more. Only you can make the determination of what is truly “essential” but come be prepared to attack your first “must have” list with an arsenal of scissors and black pens.
And beyond RVers, we have met many interesting people living all over this nation. We've watched artisans work their magic in New Orleans and listened to teachers in small towns describe what it's like teaching in a school of fewer than 10 students. Traveling has shown us different perspectives. Moving around the country, we realize that people are more alike than different. They all have their individual struggles and are just trying to get by the best way they can. What brings us together is a sense of community and we love to help foster that.