This is an excellent post, Nina. People ask us all the time what it costs to RV full time, and we’ve come up with just about the same answer as you —we figure $3500 for a comfortable and varied lifestyle that includes a mix of state and federal parks, some boon docking, occasional expensive RV resorts, and camp hosting. We travel a lot of miles every year driving from the Pacific Northwest to Florida and back, which I realize isn’t typical.
RV maintenance depends on how handy you are and what kind of rig you have. I do all of my regular maintenance on the Airstream, so I usually only have to budget for maintenance parts and not labor. That’s only a couple hundred dollars a year. Since we have a tow vehicle, maintenance of that will also be lumped in I guess. I’m not really a person who has done strict budgeting, but I think a couple thousand bucks a year to put away as an emergency fund is a good idea.
In between the pop-up and Gateway, we had a 35’ Cedar Creek fifth wheel. It was really great but the big boys really wanted more space if we were going to keep full timing and I was kinda tired of the small kitchen counter. The one thing we loved about the Cedar Creek was the shorter length opened up more camping options. Many parks have 35’ length restrictions and we fit in a lot of driveways. The Gateway at 41’ no longer fit in my or Brent’s parents driveway and occasionally we couldn’t stay in some parks because it was too big. We don’t regret purchasing the Gateway and would buy it over again if we were full time RVing but now that we aren’t, we are looking for something shorter so we have more options.
Jay, you have made some very big assumptions here and they are wrong. As for our expenses, they are very accurate and contrary to popular blogging beliefs we don’t all get everything for free. Our meals, fuel, insurance and all of our day to day expenses that everyone else has, are not free. We pay for everything, including our RV. We have actually gotten very little for free over the years and when we do get something in exchange for review, you’ll see it noted. Expenses vary greatly per person. Even within these comments you’ll see others spending way less and way more. We blog, because we like sharing our experiences and helping others. If you don’t find that we are doing that for you, then you are correct, time to move along.
The following is a summary of how the various quotes I received were explained to me. I list the specifics here not so much to suggest one company’s product over another but so you can see just how much you need to press for the exact details if you really want to understand the insurance you are buying. Obviously, the companies mentioned may change their policies, and it’s possible I misunderstood something.
Well thanks for watching! We love RV’ing and it was our full time life for 6 years. So, we definitely want to rent RV’s to travel inland as we hit new countries (no rving in the Bahamas where we are now). So there are more road tripping adventures in our future but the boat is our base camp and where we will spend most of our year. As for what the distant future holds…we have no idea. Maybe a hot air balloon?
Tim, I liked your story,it’s wonderful to see someone living outside the square. I live in Australia and will soon head off to the Kimberleys and beyond in a tiny caravan, just me and my cattle dogs,I will spend the rest of my life travelling Australia. I did it once before in my twenties for 4 years, but now i can’t see the point of rattling around on my own in a big house. I’m a signwriter, so will be signwriting to pay my way. I can’t see myself stuck in one place forever.The older i get ,the more i realise, not what i want, but what i don’t want, like the tv, which i tossed out years ago. I have a little 2001 jeep soft top, and the caravan i will get is a Little Robin Mini, and the smaller version is called a Little Robin Mini Mini. I hope to read more of your adventures.Beautiful dog.
After a few years of messing with the little single-load washing machines at laundromats, we discovered that it is much better to use the biggest machines in the place because they are generally the newest machines, they do the best job, and they hold a heckuva lot. Dryers are usually 25 cents for a set period of time that ranges from 5 to 10 minutes, and we’ve found that most commercial dryers need about 35-40 minutes to get the job done. Washers and dryers at RV parks are usually much cheaper than those in the local laundromat.
Part of living as entrepreneurs means we have to be OK with a level of fear and stress around making sure we are bringing money in. There are no paid vacations or sick days. It has definitely been an adjustment and something we continue to learn how to live with, but it is also really cool and makes us proud that we are living our own life and setting our own schedule.
Just as the more commonly accepted THOW forums go there is always that one question that is asked over and over and over so to does the RV community. It usually manifests itself as some version of “How much does it cost per month to live full-time in an RV?” And as one would imagine there is no standard answer. The answer is highly personal and varies from person to person based upon personal living style and income.
Beginning with my generation and thrown into full swing by the millenials after me, though it seems like we’re living in “the future” we’ve actually decided to take back something from America’s past that the baby boomers through away. Specifically, working for yourself, not a big company. Corporations lured us in with the promise of pensions (then yanked them or learned they could just fire people before they were due to collect), but really all they did was make us dependent on them. 1-3% raises per year while their profits headed into the billions.
Hello I am considering hitting the road now that we are bill-less. Tell me how do you have a permanent address? For your drivers licenses, tabs and things like that. I ask this because I will be traveling with my special needs child and I will need monthly supplies wherever we are at. I have gotten most everything on line now but supplies are are different matter. Do you think I will be restricted in our travels? If we get to travel at all? I am also getting a 40′ because I can’t do it in anything smaller, not that I have a lot of stuff but because of what I need. I have lived in a 37′ fifth wheel when we were younger and we both loved it, had it for 4 years of living. I am going motor home this time around. I have done a lot of research on it and although there aren’t very many parks that can handle 40′, more and more are popping up. I found your postings just today and sucked up most everything. Your blogs also confirmed my research and also made me aware of things that I did not know. Even if I can’t travel because of this, I will still be buying a motor home for us to live in. Please be blunt if you choose to respond on whether you think I should or not do the travel part. Thank you.
Magnetic Car Phone Mount Holder – I’m always surprised when someone gets in my car or truck and says something about my cell phone holder. Maybe it’s because after living for four years on the road and still not knowing our new city very well, the first thing I do put the address of where I’m going into my phone. What do people do when they have to use the navigation apps on their phones and don’t have a holder? Hold it in their hands? Lay it on the center console? When it comes to safety, I’m super uptight conscientious and this little contraption is wonderful. We put a magnet inside our phone cases and the phone effortlessly sticks to the mount that is in our truck’s cd player. We also have one that mounts in the air vent in our other car. Love these things. They are convenient and make using a navigational app safer.
It also takes a long time to let go of old living patterns and establish new ones. When we first started fulltiming we were accustomed to one- and two-week vacations, and we lived as though we were on vacation. It was only after a few months on the road that we began to realize, deep inside, that we didn’t have to see all the sights in three days. We could stay three weeks and see them only when it was sunny and when we were in the mood for sightseeing.
never stayed at RV park & I never put fresh water in my old camper in winter. I bought several 1 gallon water bottles to use. I would NEVER put water in black tank in winter, only “flush” with RV antifreeze, poured out of the bottle, (the toilet kind, not the automotive engine kind fyi). pouring out of the bottle allows for fine control of amount of liquid you are pouring in your very limited black tank as well as antifreeze. I would always seek other places to use restrooms whenever possible, but would use mine in a pinch. preferably guys, can recycle the water bottles as well, to save room in black tank for what is really important, but you still need some antifreeze else will get frozen. I find putting 1 gallon antifreeze in when empty is a good start and then add about 12 oz each time #2.
For the past year, we felt the wind shifting but we were in denial. We tried to continue on course against the wind hoping that things would return to what they were. However, in the quiet of night, I knew the change I was hoping for wasn’t going to happen. In those silent moments of raw honesty with myself what I wanted, as ridiculous as it sounds, was for the older boys to quit getting older. I wanted them to stay my babies forever and shelter them from life’s hardships. Living in the RV seemed to slow down time and kept them close. Kept them safe.
I grew up in a travel trailer for many years. And now my husband and I are going to do it with our three kids. We looked into it financially and found out, it was a very good option the storage unit, truck, trailer and our land payment would add up to be less than the rent we pay. So when we build, the house will not be such a financial burden, if any. Your post has helped me believe it will end up being the best option even with all the kids.
Our highest month was August in Cocoa Beach, FL. We both went on a bioluminescence kayaking tour which was $84. Also Julie got the deluxe adventure package at the Brevard Zoo which included an aerial adventure obstacle course, zip lining and kayaking for $57. We discuss how much fun we had on the Space Coast in our inaugural podcast episode. Our least expensive month was again at Fort Belvoir because there are so many free activities in the Washington DC area (i.e., Smithsonian museums, monuments, and hiking galore).
Yes, Craig and I still find time at night for each other when the kids are sleeping. But throughout the day, everyone is up in each other’s business. We are okay with this. It works for us and we are all used to it by now. And everyone has found ways to find their own little space either in their bed, outside at the picnic table, or wherever they can find it.
“Variable costs” are lifestyle expenses that are essentially optional — at least for a while. They can be deferred to a later month, foregone all together, or can make a fun splash in the current month. The great thing about these expenses is that they are controllable. If fuel costs skyrocket or you are short on funds, then stay put and save money! If you’ve got a more modest budget, consider staying in each location for a month or a full season to take advantage of the monthly or seasonal rates at RV parks. If you really want to skimp, boondock or at least stay in the dry camping sites at any RV park or campground that will allow it and has them available.
Like many others who have responded.. Thanks for posting your Top 10. The wife and I are in the planning stage for full time RV’ing and you have answered many of the things we were questioning and listing other web sources of information is extremely helpful. We hope to be full timers in a year or so. One question you did not address in this blog was the question “Gas or Diesel?”. I realize it “depends on where you are going” but, in your opinion what has been your experience? We are leaning strongly to diesel because we do plan to go west of the Mississippi.
Since our business is cutting edge technology, this is pretty essential stuff to our livelyhood and keeping up to date is what allows us to be mobile. We upgrade our tech early and often. Our computers are rarely more than 3 years old and we usually have the latest iGadgets released (we are app developers and need to test on the latest and greatest after all).
Yes we have a washer and dryer in our RV – but it is mini! So when you see one with industrial size washers and dryers that will dry everything in 25 minutes (instead of 2 hours like the RV one) you get really excited :)! It really does become about the little things you took for granted in a house when you live in an RV. And yes there are times I REALLY miss my large washer and dryer that we had in our house . . .
So without any more rambling let’s talk travel trailers. It seems to us there aren’t as many bunkhouse floorplan variations for travel trailers as there are for fifth wheels. Also there aren’t as many slideouts presumably to keep the weight down since slideouts are heavy. So we have been trying to prioritize and figure out our needs for RVing. While we aren’t full time RVing we do plan on taking a 2 month trip every year and want to be comfortable. So here is what we are considering so far.
Did you have any trouble passing a home study while living in the camper? We are currently full timers while we save up money to pay cash for a house. We are wanting to adopt but I worry about the homestudy. Our camper is 34 feet and right now its just the hubby and me. I know we can make it work, but how to I prove that? Would love your advice! Thanks!
Brrr!! It does sound like fun, though. Reminds me of the four winters I spent on a 36′ sailboat in Boston Harbor years ago. In November the dish detergent would solidify. We knew it was spring when it liquefied again until April! Every morning the edges of our sheets would be frozen to the hull because the condensation had iced up and we’d have to peel them away from the hull! Crazy but fun memories!!
I was raised on a farm with not much but we didn’t mind. We were warm, clothed,sometimes used, and not hungry. I don”t think it is a bad thing to not have much money… it teaches us a better way of life, and how to treat others. ( I’m 62) take your time and get it the way you want it… but if you find that it just wasn’t quite what you thought… change it. It is a real good thing you both are on the same page!! I am still learning…I guess that doesn’t ever stop. I will keep following you. One thing Doug and Stacey have that you don”t and I just got is a “sun oven”..
I’m a christian and the more I learn about and from God the more I realize we aren’t supposed to be living so that we can work. I feel like a prisoner in my home because the utilities control my ability to enjoy my home and then I feel like a prisoner at work because if I want those bills paid I have to work those 12hr shifts. So I appreciate your information on finding your land and your list of needs…. I’ve considered an RV for a temporary place between the selling and buying time after seeing it on your site.
Further, the outdoor and active lifestyle means lots of hikes through mountains and ball chasing on beaches. Nothing brought Ella (and us!) more joy than ripping around sandy beaches in San Diego, Nova Scotia, and everywhere in between. Lastly, the purchase of a relatively cheap pet camera helped alleviate the fear of leaving them in the RV park alone. It allows for monitoring them on our phones while we’re out and about for a few hours on our own.
2017 Update – YES. We still feel the same way. Clubs are only useful IF you make use of them. There are RV folks who love their club memberships (e.g. Thousand Trails members who do nothing but stay at Thousand Trails), but for our type of camping (mostly public land, lots of State Parks etc) they simply haven’t made sense. The only membership clubs we currently have are Harvest Hosts, Escapees & Passport America. I always recommend that newbies wait on joining any camping clubs until they’ve spent some time on the road and figured out how they like to travel. Read more about my take on Camping Clubs HERE.
Great article and right on IMO…I think what you have written is not only true for full time rving but living in general…the key words here are what you wrote in the beginning… that you are providing a formula not necessarily the details….and it will be different for everyone depending on what is important to them…and we always budget for travel, food, wine and fun….:)
Note: Although many or even most cold weather RVers use electric heaters, some people say it’s not safe to do so, and there are horror stories surrounding their use. I am comfortable with our setup and willing to accept any associated risk, but please do your own research and get to know your camper or motorhome’s electrical systems before making the decision to use one.
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.
The days after doing each of these things, I really felt it in my muscles: shoulders, arms, abdomen, etc. But the soreness felt good. I can’t really explain what I mean by that. I think it has something to do with finally being back in shape after so many years of living in limbo. I’d let myself go physically (and mentally) while my future was delayed, waiting for a partner to fulfill promises he never meant to keep. Losing weight last year, getting back into outdoor activities, feeling good about myself again — that’s only part of my reward. The other part is the ability to do hard work again, to get a job done without waiting for someone to do it for me. (Not to mention the ability to make decisions without having to debate them with someone who seems to prefer arguing over getting things done.) The aches and pains were a reminder of how good independence really is and how great it feels to be physically fit and healthy. I love it!
I just love reading about your experiences. This question is for Paul assuming he does most the wrenching? Paul, when do you decide to take your rig in for “fix-it’s” compared to do it yourself. Some basic things I have tackled have been very stressful (trying to save a buck) yet rewarding when accomplished. And what is your tool box situation? Huge weight factor as I have a huge roll around at home but only certain tools make it in my rig. (30′ class A HURRICANE) I keep basic stuff such as small cord less drill/driver/impact to help turn stubborn screws and bolts that I cant break loose due to health, it also has adaptors for sockets which I carry a small assortment, then the plumbing and electrical stuff. I keep some extra wire and connectors, stripers, tape etc. plumbing is easy with connectors and pliers? but I find I want to have so much more from “the big box” at home. Also carry rainy season stuff to help prevent those leaks I found this year. frightful to say the least when you find a leak in your roof. My RV tool box is approx.. 8″x20″x8″ yet weighs a ton. Try to keep something in it to fix anything. Best tool is a good bright flashlight that has a beam or if extended has a wide light like a small lantern
RV living requires a bit of planning and scheduling. For us, sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t, and when plans overlap or scheduling gets off, things get a bit hectic! For example, when it rains, we have Wii tournaments, and when it rains all day on laundry day, supper time is a bit interesting! There is chopping, jousting, sauteeing, cheering, and clothes everywhere! Complete chaos!
My wife and me lived in a 19 1/2 foot Winnebago Brave class A for 8 months and oddly enough it was winter that made us move out. The way you’ve figured out solutions that works for you certainly put a smile on my face. Living with less is the only way to enjoy a whole lot more. Meanwhile you’ve got the perfect layout, especially for a unit this small. Is your band your only income source or do you find other jobs as they come along? Enjoy the moment. It’s a whole lot more precious than you’d think. I know, my body is closing down but our tiny memories are the ones I reflect upon the most. DARN IT WAS FUN!
Fuel – Before entering freezing temps make sure to add a Diesel Anti-Gel Supplement. Both Cummins and Freightliner recommend the Power Service brand of anti-gel claiming that it works best. After adding the supplement make sure you drive and run the Generator to get the additive inside the fuel lines. If possible fuel up with a winter blend fuel which can be found at many truck stops during the winter.
The biggest difference in costs between living in an RV full-time and living in your own stick-built house is that the RV will depreciate very quickly while the house will appreciate over time. The recent real estate collapse notwithstanding, housing prices always increase as the decades go by. In contrast, RVs, cars and trucks quietly make their way to a value of $0 and eventually breathe their last breath in the crushing facility.
After the holidays we got back at it. People started to show more interest in the house, so we knew we needed to do some drastic clearing out. It was an emotional process. I was so attached to the kids’ toys and things – more so than they were! I had to dig deep to get past that. We included the kids in the process and didn’t just take things away, but instead asked them to help make the decisions. They were great with it. They were much quicker to let go of things than I was. It really helped me with the process and to realize, if they could let go so easily then so could I.
There are several RV websites out there that allow you to pay an annual fee to camp at members’ locations. For example, we use Boondockers Welcome which costs us $25 a year. We are able to stay with Boondockers Welcome hosts throughout the country for no additional charge. Another website out there is called Harvest Hosts. We’ve haven’t tried this one yet, but it looks awesome!
Thanks, Daniel. I’ll try to update the article to reflect that information soon. One thing that really helps when we stay at private campgrounds is the monthly rate. We stayed at a Jellystone in February and the regular rates were $55 per night, but using the monthly rate it only averaged $19.33 per night. That’s more than 50% off! And that was not using any type of military discount.
Now I live in a resort $450 a month, includes electric, water, sewer, cable and WiFi, and trash near a lake. I don’t have to mow the lawn, I have a pool and a recreation room. I never thought life could be so great living in an RV, but I just love it. So much easier and cheaper to maintain than the house was. I didn’t buy the truck to move it, I just hired a mover and had it taken where I chose to live.
My goodness. You spend A LOT. Some of your expenses I can’t comprehend. They are or should be one-time expenses, and why the large expense for the website? Hosting is $10 a month. There are free websites. Do you pay for SEO or advertising? I am not understanding. And the cell phones. My Lord. I pay $98 per month for mine; my fiance pays $55, because with mine being a smart phone, he doesn’t need anything fancy. There are family plans, too, with most carriers. Your grocery expenses are a bit over the top, too. Do you or would you use coupons, buy red tag items, etc.? All grocery stores have clearance items, and since your space is limited, this would be ideal. You likely don’t freeze things. If you buy red tag/orange tag/yellow tag/whatever color tag items, and then you use them in the next two days, you could feed your family on as little as $10 a day. And you’d eat well. Gas costs… well, gas costs!!! A lot. No getting out of that one. There are other expenses we wouldn’t have, and I’m thinking your RV is a lot nicer and newer. Anyway, good for you for living on the road. That’s a great experience for you kids. And the Mexican dental is brilliant! People may not know that they can get great dental work done on the cheap in Mexico. That’s why there are travel medicine groups springing up.
Awesome list, and we pretty much discovered each of these too! Well, we actually never realized how easy it is to find great campgrounds, so that one’s off our list (wish we had known about that website!). And even though our fridge was in our slide, we didn’t have any problems with it (but maybe that’s because we sold it before the issues could emerge?). But other than those, I feel ya. 🙂
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’ve had the Postmasters at several different Post Offices give us totally conflicting information. We pressed two different Postmasters to call their district supervisors to get the details clarified, and even then we got conflicting information. So it seems the Postal Service is is still working out its relationships with UPS and FedEx as far as General Deliveries go.
Before starting a life of adventure, it may be hard to imagine that you will need or want to have any hobbies. Sightseeing ought to be enough! But it isn’t. After a while, you will want to have pursuits that complement your travels in one way or another or that perhaps are not even related to your travels at all. Our hobbies are photography, writing and mountain biking, and these all cost money.
That’s a pretty big size nut for living in an RV. $1100 for the month for lot rent seems rather against the tenets of tiny house living which seeks to reduce your overhead. Throw in laundry and utils cost and you’re about $1300/month. I can lease a darn nice house around here for a lot less. One other thing I’m confused about is you say you pay $600/year for auto/trailer insurance and then your monthly budget is $196. That doesn’t add up.
It’s been just over a year since we moved out of the RV. Even though we knew our decision to stop full time RVing was the right one, moving out of the RV was easier said than done. With the help of some friends, it only took a few hours to get all our stuff out of the RV. The emotional “moving out” has taken much longer. For Brent and I, it’s been a surprisingly difficult painful new “road”.
Been trying to convince my husband for YEARS that we should do what you are doing. I just recently got him to start the process of selling our “big-popular-neighborhood-expensive-house-that-requires-two-incomes-but-we-really-can’t-afford-anyway” and buy a fixer-upper on more land with no HOA. We already have a buyer (our neighbor’s inlaws) and just need to settle on a price which is hard considering the foreclosures in the last few years. While we’ve been looking at what is available in our north GA area, we have literally turned up our noses at the listings that are “just a trailer” on land. What a snob I have become. Time to change the way I look at these things.
You could also go the old-fashioned route and pick up some actual board games to take on the road. many lifelong camping memories revolve around evenings spent at the table over a pair of dice, a deck of cards, and a game of chance and strategy. You can’t go wrong with favorites like Monopoly, Scrabble, Sorry or, for younger players, Candy Land — although fun, new games are still being produced all the time. Have you played Speak Out yet?
Last year I purchased the 2013 Newmar Bay Star, a 30 ft. It’s designed specifically for fulltiming, with huge basements that extend the entire coach and the desk/buffet option. I’m coming up from a 24 ft Dynamax that allowed me to stay anywhere. The Newmar is very tall so I’m worried that overhead space will be an issue in park camping. I’m a tree gal so height should also be considered if you love forests.
$1099 Equipment Upgrades – The more Videos I shoot the more Hard Drives I need, and the faster my computer needs to be! I added a second Hard Drive to my Laptop, it’s a blazing fast hybrid drive and works perfectly as a ‘scratch disk’ for my video files (drive plus install kit $175). I had to purchase a new Wireless Lavaliere receiver due to my unfortunate accident of dropping the camera into the creek (see the previous post on expenses for the ugly details) however my insurance policy covered this cost, YEA! We bought a new “toy” it’s the Canon EOS M ($794), check my post on Secrets to HD Video on the Road for more details on how much we love this tiny camera (and what we don’t like about it). I purchased a new 3TB External Hard Drive for redundant backup ($130), you have to be prepared for a computer or hard drive to crash at any time, better safe than sorry right?
Seeing everything our country has to offer is one of the biggest benefits of living and traveling in an RV. However, you don’t have to see the entire country in the first six months. Constant travel – traveling to a new place every day or two – will get expensive quickly. It will also exhaust you to the point where you’re ready to throw away your keys and give it all up.
I apologize if I seem off base but I did quickly see how you were able to get some things at a discount and that sparks my attention immediately as I am a disabled vet and will be working off of a set or close to set budget and I would love to know everything about how I can keep within that budget and if at all possible save some money along the way. The biggest fear for me is the unseen expenses that I either can not find or have not learned about yet going through all of the bloggers sites.
One last thought on sewer lines. If you are really concerned that they may freeze, add some RV/Marine Antifreeze down the stool. Make sure it is RV/Marine Antifreeze and not engine antifreeze. You can find it a almost any auto parts or home store like Home Depot, Menards, Lowes or even your local hardware or grocery store may carry it if you are in an area where it is demand.
Penni Brink (62) and Chip Litchfield (59) have a “Welcome to Margaritaville” sign outside their RV and the kind of easygoing spirit that immediately draws you in. The couple met in the late 1980s when they were working in the same business complex in Vermont, but Chip was married to someone else at the time. Their paths crossed again a few years ago at a craft fair and as their relationship blossomed, Chip suggested they travel in an RV. Penni was apprehensive at first.