Obviously these are not the same fixed costs for everyone. What kind of rig you buy, where you insure it, how much maintenance you do (incl. paid versus self-maintenance), whether you keep a storage unit and what kind of internet plan you get are all individual choice. But once you’ve made those decisions they’ll become fixed, recurring expenses that you should expect to pay each month.
Our RV is older (late 80’s), but has a ‘winter’ package for Canada which included dual pane windows (which also cuts out a lot of exterior noise year-round), insulated tank bay and a furnace duct that runs into the tank bay. Unfortunately, with this package the fresh water tank was placed inside the main cabin, which cuts down the storage space, but ensures there is little chance of freezing.
We scrapped our plans as our car was towed off to be repaired in El Paso and we had to move to a bigger city to find a rental. It turns out that Minis have an issue that can cause them to catch on fire at any time. Not trusting it after that, we switched it out for the Xterra. It was a pain at the time, but now it's a story to tell around the campfire.
But there was one more thing I needed: pipe insulation. I wanted to wrap the pipe with the heat tape on it to help keep it warm. I checked out my options and decided on an adhesive wrap. Although it came in 15-foot lengths, I wound up needing 7 rolls of it because it had to go around the pipe. (This, by the way, is also when I learned that when you buy stuff for a home project at a place like Home Depot, always buy more than you think you need. It really sucks to run out of something in the middle of a project and you can always return unused items later. Home Depot has an excellent return policy.)
I really enjoy reading your website and watching your YouTube videos, I find your vidoes and website extremely helpful. My only child is now 19 and on the road to self-sufficiency via college. As a soon-to-be empty nester, I plan to keep a small townhouse for my young adult child to live in but I am going to travel part-time in a RV. I have the ability to work mobile in my employment and I am only 42 years young.
- You should remove snow from slide-outs regularly to reduce water damage. As snow accumulates on top of the slide-out, the heat from inside the RV can melt the bottom layer of snow, creating an ice dam. You also can add insulation by using rigid insulation sealed to the camper body. However, angle any insulation you place on the top of the slide-out to allow water to drain away from the RV.
One very last thing to think about before you decide whether you can afford to fulltime RV is income. Whether or not you currently have an income, creating some $$ on the road can greatly ease the constraints of a tight budget and radically change your available budget. If you are pre-retirement and have an online job that you can take on the road, then absolutely do that. Otherwise there are lots of opportunities to create some income on the road. We’ve met folks who workamp, edit, write, invest, compose music, create art, make jewelry, tattoo, run online businesses, take on temporary jobs (Amazon, Beet Harvest, Christmas Tree sales etc.) or do a slew of other creative things on the road for money. Some make only a little money while others make pretty significant $$. And these opportunities are not just for young folks, either! We’ve seen all ages making money on the road.
According to a report by real estate database Trulia, the national median price of a starter home is more than $180,000. While the cost of a motorhome can climb into the hundreds of thousands, millennials hoping to save a buck turn to more affordable options, such as the Forest River Grey Wolf Jacqueline purchased used for about $18,000. Even with the expenses unique to RV living, such as RV insurance, or having to change out a septic tank (which costs her between $130 to $140 a month), it's still cheaper than making a down payment on a traditional house and paying for a mortgage. That's particularly true for Jacqueline, who avoids paying camping fees by living in an RV on land owned by her grandmother.
As for winterizing. I’m not sure I completely understand the question. If you’re asking if you can RV in the snow/winter it’s certainly possible. Most RV’s don’t really have the proper insulation so you’ve got to prepare for the weather by using skirting, covering windows, using heat-tape on your pipes etc. I prefer to RV where the weather is mild, but if you’re dead-set on winter stuff I’d recommend asking questions on the RV forums. In general, the forums are a great place to learn about new things and “meet” other RVers. I have a post about forums here:
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.
I may be relocating from Idaho to Concordville, Pennsylvania for a job. My concerns are that the cost of living may be more than I can handle financially, but I could live in a travel trailer easily. What advise can you offer a person who has not even gone camping much less RVing. I’m sure there is much to know about the area and does it accommodate this style of living?
We know we changed as the years passed, but this was recently confirmed when we visited some friends from college. The last time we had visited was two years ago, only one year into traveling full-time. This visit, they couldn’t get over how much we’ve changed, especially Brandon. It helped us to see there were more changes than we realized happening and we knew it all stemmed from our experience on the road.
I admire your stamina and am jealous of your bravado and lifestyle. Just a note to tell you how to fix almost all of the things you mentioned as extra-difficult living in an RV in the winter in Alaska. I have seen RVs designed specifically for use in such conditions. The alterations are designed in from the beginning and built into it. The era your unit was built, they didn’t do these things and I’m sure buying one that is equipped this way costs WAY more than the one you bought, but I can also say I suspect you could sell yours to someone living a bit more southerly for a pretty good penny, though I also suspect you’re not particularly interested in making a change since what you have is actually working for you.
In the end, the decision was made easy by the amazing views out my window every day. From my perch high above the Columbia River and Wenatchee Valley, I could enjoy the ever-changing scenery, which varied throughout the day with changes in light and weather. I could watch low-level clouds form and dissipate over the river. I could see the shadows move and lengthen with the shifting of the sun. I would watch the moonlight play upon the hillsides and cliffs. And I could marvel at the lights down in the city, sparkling with color. Would I see all that cooped up in a tiny rental apartment? Or closed up in a cavernous hangar with just three windows? No.
Hi Karen: Since so many people have an interest in full timing, I thought it would be a good idea to give them further details. I always tell people that if they can afford it, just close up the house and give full timing a try. If it doesn't work out, they will still have everything waiting for them back home. Most find that RVing is so great that the thought of going back to the house, the expenses, the work, etc is a drag. But others are happy they didn't just jump in with both feet. It's a big decision, that's for sure!
I think RV living would be awesome but I’m not sure if we could do it full time (or that my wife would want to) but I could see us trying an extended trip someday. I couldn’t imagine it with 3 kids though – our 1 daughter keeps us busy enough 🙂 I’m glad to hear that shifting to RV living full time has been a good experience and that your online work seems to be going well! Enjoy the experience!
I’ll never regret our four years of full time RVing. The education and life experiences the boys received are priceless. The memories are too numerous to count. Our relationships grew in so many ways. We squeezed every last delicious drop out of full time RVing. So far they have been the best four years of our life but I’m hopeful we will seek out new adventures and the lessons we learned we will carry into our new chapter.
I love your site and all the insite you give. We are planning on going on the road in 3 to 5 years and getting all our ducks in a row to do that. Down sizing is hard do do with our hobbies and family pass downs as well as tools that we may need.. We are planning on an older Class A in a price range of 30k so we have no payments. We will keep following your blog..Thanks, Jack and Diane Indy
For the merchandise budget I allocated $30,000, which includes such things such as solar power, computer and internet related gear including two brand new laptops, new photography gear (have Nikon cameras, but want digital). Currently up to $28,000 on my list, but still have things to add to the list. The budget for the merchandise could even be low.
Annual maintenance costs will vary depending on the type of RV, age, mileage, driving conditions, and other variables. If you are towing a trailer, the maintenance costs for the RV could be less, but you need to maintain the tow vehicle, too. A used motorhome might require more maintenance expense than a new motorhome would, simply due to age. And the more mileage you put on the tow vehicle and/or RV, the more frequently the routine maintenance expenses add up. You also need to consider things on the RV or tow vehicle that wear out over time, like tires, brakes, windshield wipers, and the additional expenses for emissions testing, inspections, license plate renewal fees, and taxes.
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.
There are so many wonderful things about RVing full time with kids and teens but the fact of the matter is full time RV was beyond amazing when they were younger but RV life could no longer provide for their expanding needs and interests. (Disclaimer: The pursuit of the following activities is a struggle because we are fully aware these actives are a privilege that comes with being middle class and certainly not necessary for a fulfilled life but they are fun, rewarding, and teach their own lessons.)
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”..
Good article, I think the initial start up costs (besides repairs to a used unit) could be added to your article. We bugeted $10,000 and after full timing almost a year on the road now, we are fast approaching that number for: tow bar, base plate, braking system, drive shaft disconnect (our choice instead of a new toad) installations, modifications, grill, chairs, road side service, extended warranty, insurance, memberships, hoses, tools, heaters (no lpg available once) fans, tables, ladder, bikes, bike racks, etc.. It adds up fast.
There are lots of long term RV Parks that run anywhere from $350 a month to $1500 a month depending on the park and location. Could be more comfortable (less expensive than hotels) and easier than packing up and dealing with storage units often. As for finding an RV park, that is as simple as a google search once you know the area you are headed. You can look at sites like rvparkreviews.com to read what others experiences have been.
Choose campgrounds and RV parks that only have amenities you plan to take advantage of during your stay. Generally, the more services and amenities a campground has, the more it's going to cost. Campsite fees don't have to break the bank. State parks are a great low-cost option, as are many RV parks. Look here to find a campground or consider travel apps to help you find the campground that best suits your need.
I just recently came across your blog and I am now obsessed with it! I love the information you share, your videos and just the overall wealth of information it is. I am a special education teacher and my husband is a graphic & web designer. While we don’t plan on selling our house (we love it!), we would definitely consider renting it out long-term so that we could travel the country. Like you, we <3 craft beer, wine and amazing local food, along with the freedom and adventure of a childless life. 🙂
We’re enjoying the “Tutoring” you are providing. We bought our first MH in 1996 and Boondocked almost everywhere we camped due to our hobby. Through the years sorta got out of the habit and we really miss it a lot! We’re pulling the trigger and will be fulltime by January with the stix and brix for sale. Four years in the planning and looking forward to this. Thanks again for your insight in this much needed lifestyle(us). 336Muffin
Your numbers are more complete than others that I have seen. We have been full timing for 9 years so I know there are a lot of things that need to be considered. It appears that laundry is in your misc. entry. Maybe other things are hidden in there too but I wonder about propane, co-pays for medical and drugs. I think you should have a line item for RV and Jeep maintenance and repairs. This can be a significant amount. Another item is admissions and entertainment. Don’t you buy gifts for each other or for relatives? I didn’t see anything about that. The last item has been mentioned in other remarks but I have to bring it up again and that is RV parks. You mentioned in August, 2016 that you spent 21 nights in RV parks and only spent $260. That is an average of $12.38 per night. I don’t know how you found sites this cheap unless you were in a membership campground such as Thousand Trails. If that is the case then you need to add in the prorated purchase price and the annual fees. If it is not the case then good for you. I have budgeted $25 per night and more recently $35 per night. Going to the east coast is more expensive than the midwest or western states. I agree that boonbocking can save some money but it seems like your numbers are pretty unrealistic.
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.
Regular shower and/or bathroom: At first, a small bathroom seems just fine – until you've been in there a few times. The walls close in. The shower is smaller than most broom closets. Your elbows will touch both sides, as will a lot of the rest of your body at certain times. While it's totally doable to take a shower and still feel like you are OK to go out in public, it's certainly not luxurious.
Nina – another great post! This is the first winter that we have spent (prior two winters spent in Florida) traveling in the West, and we are finding that there are many more opportunities to manage camping costs out here, as compared to the east cost. In general, RV site costs in Florida and Georgia, are a bit more expensive than Arizona, New Mexico, Texas. We (like you and Paul) have a large RV, and have found a lot more public campgrounds and public land in the West, that we can fit in. In Florida, state park reservations can be hard to get, and many of the campgrounds primarily have smaller sites (at least this was our experience).
With that I can put a shower in with a small holding tank under it to drain via an electric drain switch when on country roads. (Yes people I will be using biodegradable soap and it is also grey water and put through a filter before spilling it out on the gravel road, no different than those who open their fresh water holding tank on the way home from a trip, hell, I might just charge the county with dust control). Toilets are the problem in the winter and I intend to go with portable potty because there are a million roadside toilets in lay-bys to dump them. I don’t use chemicals but dump often and clean with dishwasher soap (again biodegradable, you betcha, [is there such a thing?]). I have never had one smell at all but can always detect an ordure from RV toilets no matter how well vented they are.
Remember Annie. This is my families expenses. It is not meant to be “the be all that ends all” or the average monthly expense for nomadic living. Not to mention this is from the “winter months” wherein we splurge and stay at an RV resort in SW Florida where prices are premium because of snowbirding. Do some searching around on sites like Technomadia and Gone With The Wynns or even the Snowmads to see examples of other working budgets.
My husband and I have decided to sell our home and look for a place that is more “us” while he has to travel for work. We currently have 3 children and two dogs and have looked extensively at RV’s before deciding on a 5th wheel sprinter with a bunkhouse. I know the journey will be something to learn and get used to but we decided that if he has to travel with his work then we want to travel with him. Going from a 2k+ sq ft home to even a large 5th wheel is a very very hard thing for myself and my teenage girls, but when we look at the larger scale and we will finally have to travel it gets so much easier. More time with dad and going places we couldn’t before because our house ties us down with mortgage and bills. My 3 yr old son is just happy to have his dad around more often. I have been looking for all the advice I can on the net and this has been useful for the start up, less is better for us because along the way you may acquire more. I make jewelry one of my daughters is an artist and my other daughter is into design so we have sat down to make sure we have gotten our priorities right. For me living in the RV until we are able to find our place is a way to learn to let go and focus on what matters. I spend little time with my kids doing the stuff we want to do and more time cleaning and organizing and running errands to keep all that up. And when my husband gets to be home we end up spending more money just to get out and spend time together with the kids. So for anyone out there who is also considering this way of life, I say find out what it means to you. Take good advice from blogs like this and enjoy! Thank you for the great advice blog and to those who commented more great advice!
Most RV fridges are tiny and hold ¼ of what a standard size fridge holds, so planning is a must before making the trek into town to the grocery store. You have to know exactly what you will be cooking and how much space you have. Throwing “extras” into the cart can’t happen. That’s why I don’t take Brett with me shopping. He is the worst about buying off the list!
Stuff — You don't buy "stuff" anymore since there is no room to put it in your RV. So while you might frequently buy furniture, cutesy pillows, paintings and other home décor, you don't spend that money when RVing. While some people live to shop for clothes, you can't do that given the one-foot space you have in your closet for hanging clothes and the limited space for shoes. I rarely bought "fancy" clothes, and I lived in jeans or shorts. I estimated I saved $175 every month, but it was probably more.
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.
We discuss the process of minimizing your belongings. Living in an RV means living with less space. A lot less space. That’s why minimalism plays an important part of the process for RV living. Getting rid of furniture and appliances is one thing, but what about kids’ toys? What about photo albums? Bryanna tells us more about their process in the podcast.
Connectivity is a big topic for full time travel, and we’ve managed to keep ours down. We used cheap pre-paid cell phone plans and use older phones. We are on cheap 15GB/month Total Wireless from Walmart for our phones and were able to get our hands on a AT&T Mobley this past summer (now unavailable) that keeps our internet cost down. Total we spend less than $100/month on this category.
Volunteering & Workamping: We also haven taken fun volunteer positions from time to time – such as interpretive hosting at a lighthouse in Oregon. We get to do something incredibly fun and give our time for under 20 hours a week, and get a full hook-up site in a gorgeous location. With our full time work commitments however, we rarely have time for the extra hours however. Many campgrounds will accept ‘workampers’ for a few hours a week in exchange for a site – check Workamper News for more information.
I traded couches for hammocks and couldn’t be happier. There’s a reason why pictures of hammocks are associated with vacation and relaxation. I dare you to try lying in a hammock and not feel absolutely in heaven while you are there. We have an ENO Hammock which you can hang from trees so wherever we are we can lie back and watch the sky. The benefits of getting horizontal on your adrenal health is incredible. If we ever move back into a house, I’m hanging a hammock inside.
Thank you a summary of your “road” costs. What folks generaly believe is somehow life is cheaper doing something else then what they are doing now. But we have a perpensty to do what is always do no matter what. Just because you are on the road dosn’t mean you have changed your personality. My wife and I are more like you folk so I’m guessing my expenses will be more in line with your summary.
Not only does it not exist in the RV but also at the campsites! Sometimes we will be at a place where no one else is there – but most of the time we have people living right next door to us and a lot of the time those neighbors are literally right there – as in our awning would touch their campers! This can be stressful if one of the kids is having a breakdown and we don’t want the whole campsite to hear. But normally it is just helpful for all of us to work on keeping our voices down and not yelling at each other!
When we say new, it's only new to us, but that's how we prefer it. Let someone else shake it down. After hemming and hawing over trading in our previous RV, we finally decided to go for it. We knew our old one was too big for us and we didn't want to invest in upgrades like solar when we didn't feel like it was ours. It was the right choice and we're very happy with our current set-up. We installed solar panels, so we didn't have to worry about the batteries overnight or running the generator twice a day like on our old coach. We have more options as to where to stay with our smaller size and off-grid capabilities and that makes us very happy. Now we just need to redo the interior a bit and it will be all ours.