Have you ever thought about living full-time in an RV? Or wondered how you would choose where to live after military retirement? Jan Wesner Childs and her family did both at the same time! In this guest post, she shares her family’s experience as full-time RVers after her husband retired from the Army. They traveled for a year to explore the U.S. and decide where they wanted to settle.
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.
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We will be retiring in about 18 mos and my husband has decided he wants us to go full time! Yikes I don’t know what I’ll do all day. We bike, kayak and hike but every day? Will it still be as fun when you can do it all you want? Mainly, I think I’m apprehensive about retiring, I’ve been a nurse 40 years this month and love it, I’ve worked some job or another since I was 16.
If they are new to RVing and unsure if the lifestyle fits, they should go cheap but functional. I have Airstreamed all my life, but our first trailer was a 24’ Nomad that cost $3000. We learned a LOT in that trailer. Lots of what to do, and even more of what NOT to do. We had repairs and enhancements to do. We sold it 1 year later, but that was due to my parents giving us their Airstream.
Propane Heater – This device sips propane compared to the furnace installed on your RV, yet it keeps the inside even warmer.  Best part is this heater doesn’t use electricity like a space heater but it heats just as well.  The downsides:  There is no anti-tip shutoff so it’s not good if you have pets.  The install can be simple but should be completed by a professional.  The propane is un-vented and therefore produces deadly Carbon Monoxide so you must keep a vent open at all times and constantly check your CO detector to make sure it is functioning properly.  Also as discussed propane heat produces humidity. Our friends the RV Geeks use this propane furnace and swear by it in their Winter RVing post
Looks like you gave a very solid plan! Kirk’s numbers are one of the budget references I plan to link to in my next post. And I totally agree that health care is the biggest single unknown in all this. It’s been (by far) the biggest impact we’ve had to our fixed expenses in the 7 years we’ve been on the road, and it’s one of the most difficult to predict. I have no idea what our costs are going to be next year.
I’ve been involved in RVing for over 40 yrs — including camping, building, repairing, and even selling RVs. I’ve owned, used, and repaired almost every class and style of RV ever made. I do all of my own repair work. My other interests include cooking at home, living with an aging dog, and dealing with diabetic issues. If you can combine a grease monkey with a computer geek, throw in a touch of information nut and organization freak, combined with a little bit of storyteller, you’ve got a good idea of who I am.
6. Insurance is a big deal, so make sure you have it. However, don’t just go with the first policy you come across. This is where it’s best to do a bit of homework, as there are many different options with many different policy payouts and a lot of fine print. There are also some discounts and other options you will want to familiarize yourself with before making a final decision. You will need to types of coverage if something happens to your RV. One type of policy covers the RV itself in the case of damages or theft, and another for personal belongings, much like homeowners or renters insurance. Consider what type of lifestyle you’ll be living, for the most part, and what types of problems you might run across. There is also a medical insurance just for full time RV’ers.
I truly love this story and the life you are having at this point in your children’s ( and your) lives. We would love to travel the us via RV for 6 months. We just returned from a 6 month world travel trip with the kids age 10 and 12. Now they are back at school and their sports. We plan to possibly do the RV thing in 2 years so your blog will be something I will refer to frequently. Thank you for sharing so much. Good luck
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.
If you drove 12,000 miles / year, getting 7 mpg, which is pretty likely with a Class C or truck/trailer combo, I believe that would put you at around $500 / month in gas. Of course, this is the one area you have the most control over, because you can certainly drive less than that if you’d like. It all depends on how much commuting you do (drives to town for groceries, sightseeing, etc. still happen) and how far you travel each month.

This figure is an average of all our truck and trailer maintenance costs from 2007 to 2014 rather than being just the expenses we incurred over our six months of summer travels in 2014. We did not use the trailer when we lived on our sailboat, although we did use our truck when our boat was in San Diego and Ensenada at the beginning and end of our cruise, and all that is factored into this average.
5. Make sure you have Wi-Fi access: Investing in an internet service plan that includes hotspots or a robust mobile service will make your life easier, especially if you telecommute for work while on the road. The kids will want access to the internet too, especially during long drives. If you can’t get a strong signal while on the road, consider scoping out Internet cafes at your next pit stop.
Right now, I am a Junior in college studying civil engineering, at the University of Alabama. Not trying to name drop or anything, just insight as to who I am. This summer I’m working in the state of Washington with the department of Natural Resources. Long story short, towards the end of the summer I’m considering selling my car and using the money saved from my job to purchase a van to drive back to school.
​My mother always told me that if you don’t learn to live within your means, you never will. Meaning: if you can’t figure out how to life with the money you have, it doesn’t matter how much money you have – you’ll always need more. Now "never" is a strong word, but the moral is there - you have to look at your lifestyle and spending choices. If you're struggling for cash now, should you buy a brand new RV? Should you be paying $100+ a month for cable TV?
The first year of RVing I struggled to find the kinds of campgrounds (natural, green, spacious) that we like to visit. It was a constant battle of going to one website, through a ton of clicks, then another website, then to a map, then to another spot and back again to try and figure out which one matched our route. Early this year I discovered uscampgrounds.info and my planning life changed. If you like public camping there’s simply no better resource out there and I use it as the base for all our travel planning now.
I’m in awe of you first, 4 kids all under 10, that’s incredible enough and then a blog, a virtual assistant business to boot. WOW. So nice to learn more about you and your family, Brianna. Funny that you can’t wait to go overseas and we actually haven’t seen much of our own country, the USA and can’t wait to explore more of it. Wishing you the best in your full-time RV travels and will certainly look to you for advice when we finally travel our home country.
Fast internet access: You know that smokin' fast internet connect you have at home? You can pretty much forget about that as a full-time RV camper. Yes, there are options for getting reasonable internet speeds while on the road, but none of them matches the speed and simplicity that comes with a home broadband connection. Decent campground wifi access is a luxury, not the rule. Some places offer wifi for a fee; some offer it for free. A lot of campgrounds don't offer Internet access at all. Since we are working, we tend to plan our route around where wifi is offered, or where cellular signals are strong. There is a lot of thought and a fair amount of equipment that goes into keeping connected while on the road. That's a blog post for the future, by the way.

It’s a part of who he is and who he will be. You can’t tell me growing up and learning to run in sprawling national parks doesn’t leave an impression. We will likely end up in a traditional house again, and our children will likely go back to a traditional school. But travel will remain a priority for us, and we will design our future with that in mind.
2017 Update – YES. The more time we spend on the road the less we find we need. We end up donating half our clothes to charity almost every year and our outdoor stuff has been cut down to a select set of “glamping” basics. Plus we FINALLY got rid of our big storage unit (whoo hooo!). Paying $$$ for storage all those years was one of our biggest regrets and something we (in retrospect) would not recommend if you can avoid it. It took 7 years for us to tackle ours, but we finally got it done! You can read about my take on storage HERE and how we got rid of ours HERE, HERE and HERE.

Even though our current income is more than what unemployment insurance pays, that experience helped to change my attitude and taught me how to be content with what I had. I decided I had a choice – since I couldn’t change how much money we had I could be thankful for what we did have and be creative in learning how to manage, or I could become depressed and have a sour attitude about life in general. The choice seemed clear.
Before we hit the road, we upgraded our cell phone plan to the Unlimited Plan with Verizon. We use our phones as hot spots for internet, so we knew we’d blow through the data in no time. For the most part, we’ve had good coverage and no issues using our hot spots to get work done. We also use our hot spots to stream Netflix – on the rare occasion we want to watch TV.
So, just depends on the site and the park. Older parks often have smaller sites and tighter access than newer parks. Forest service campgrounds are typically tighter than desert campgrounds. I use rvparkreviews.com to help gauge these things, and combine it with satellite pics (Google Earth) and campsitephoto.com where it’s available. Between the three I can usually make a good guess if we can fit. It’s a process!

Like the big roof insulation R-factor that doesn’t account for the hatch vents, the well advertised high R-factor in the walls doesn’t account for the windows, which is where much of the heat in a rig escapes, especially at night. Closing the blinds makes a difference. When we’re in a remote area with no one around, we prefer to keep the blinds open so the first light of morning fills the rig. But we can’t do this in the wintertime unless we want to wake up to a rig that is 5 degrees cooler than it could be.
Before they left on their “Crazy Family Adventure,” Bryanna’s husband worked a full-time job. At first, he was able to convince his employer to work remotely. Yet eventually, that became a burden as well, since he still sat in front of a laptop 9-5. Fast forward to today, and he has found new opportunities, while Bryanna has her own online business.
Living in an RV or any small space can have its challenges. The first year of full time RV life flew by in the blink of an eye. As we celebrate our three years of RVing, I want to share some tips that helped us survive the transition to RV living. Whether you’re a solo RVer, family of five or a couple with a dog, I hope you find these tips helpful.
An RV is a luxury item that depreciates rapidly, so I advise young people to get as cheap and small a unit as possible. A used popup tent trailer is wonderful because it fits in the garage and doesn’t need much storage space. Any kind of light 11’ to 12’ trailer is a great way to start. Going used at first is preferable, but if they are well off, buying new is always much nicer. I recently wrote an article about learning the RVing lifestyle with a small RV: http://roadslesstraveled.us/learn-the-rving-lifestyle-with-a-cheap-small-rv/
Note that the cheaper you go, the more likely you’ll need to put work into it. You’ll want to get the Bentley Guide to Vanagons which will give you a good amount of the info you need to work on it yourself. It will break down, eventually, and maybe often, depending on how well cared for it was in the past and how well you continue to care for it. Our 78 Bus requires near daily attention, though certainly other people get better rigs and don’t have quite so much work on their hands.
The first year of RVing I struggled to find the kinds of campgrounds (natural, green, spacious) that we like to visit. It was a constant battle of going to one website, through a ton of clicks, then another website, then to a map, then to another spot and back again to try and figure out which one matched our route. Early this year I discovered uscampgrounds.info and my planning life changed. If you like public camping there’s simply no better resource out there and I use it as the base for all our travel planning now.

I hope this does not come off as complaining. Finding places to boondock has been a major obstacle to our travels. I have been reading through Boondocking for Newbies Part I – Finding Where to Go. I am not having much success using the BLM or National Forest websites for the top down planning process you describe. I am hoping you can give me some guidance.
On the one hand, I think a trip like ours would probably work better with younger kids who didn’t have to worry about school or missing a social life. On the other, we have some friends who were doing it at the same time we were, with elementary school-aged kids. They pointed out that because you don’t have friends or family or babysitters on the road, you can never get a break from little ones. Our kids were lonely most of the time, and didn’t always like being stuck together 24/7. In the end, though, I think it did give them a lasting bond.
I also bought PTC fittings. I needed one to join the PEX to a male hose connection and another to join the PEX to a female hose connection. I had a tiny bit of trouble with that — PEX connections normally work with pipe threading, not hose threading. (The fact that the two threadings are different is something I learned back when I set up the irrigation system at my Wickenburg house years ago.) The Home Depot pipe guy helped me get what I needed.
RV parks have all your basic amenities—bathrooms, showers, washateria (not all of them), internet (typically slow wifi), and the occasional pool. One of the first things we realized early on was the difference between an RV Park vs. a Trailer Park. RV parks are places where RVers like us or retirees typically stay. A trailer park is… well, what you think of when you think of trailer park.
Lillian, you took the words right outta my mouth. I don’t understand the haters, but I know they’re out there. I, too, appreciate the expense breakdown of full time RVing. I’m 6 years away from making the leap myself, and it’s nice to see in black and white where monies get spent, and it might be in some areas that I hadn’t considered. People can always adjust accordingly. Reading Nikki and Jason’s posts and watching their videos has convinced me that when my wife and I pull the trigger, we’re going solar and installing composting toilets. I wouldn’t even know they existed if not for this website. Thank you, Wynn’s!
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Propane allows us to run the furnace, cook, and (if we choose) have hot water. We try to use it sparingly by cooking outdoors on the grill, wearing ample clothing during cold seasons, and use campground showers when possible (and inviting enough.) Filling our propane is easy enough as a number of RV resorts offer on-site fill or contract a company to fill your tanks on-site. You can also exchange tanks or fill them at truck stops like Flying J, Loves, and others. The average in most states is $22 for exchange and $18 for a refill of a 10lb. tank.
Very true, Eddie! Except when they don’t, also. But I agree that even with giant housing crashes like we’ve been dealing with the for the past ten years now, eventually home values go up. You can sell when you’re done, though you’re likely not going to get $1000 x 12 months x 30 years in profit (is your $300,000 house today going to be worth $660,000 in 30 years)?
Always, always, always expect to incur maintenance charges each month. Expecting to pay each month for maintenance will save you many headaches and knots in your stomach when you inevitably break down, blow a tire, shatter a brake pad, or have a propane leak–all of which happened to us. You’ll need to be changing your oil and refilling on propane regularly anyway, so it’s best to just count this as a guaranteed expense.
From May to October, 2014, we did not pay for any overnight camping, and that is the norm for us. However, although we did not pay for camping over the summer season (or in January, 2014), the months of February, March and April, 2014, were unusually expensive for us. Those three months averaged $83/month because we spent time at three different campgrounds visiting friends and chasing wildflowers at a state park (we were a little late for the flowers — rats!).
Our situation is fairly unique (I think) because I work away from my family for 2 weeks and then i’m back with them for two weeks. I work in northern Alberta ( we are Canadian) and for the 6 really cold month of winter we could be anywhere in the US or Canada. For the 6 not so cold months she wants to set up camp in northern Alberta. near where I work. Our family is very concerned for the safety of my wife and kids while I am gone away at work for two weeks. do you have any advice on this or know any other fulltime families that have a similar situation?
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.
Kelli, have you reviewed the entire section of videos I prepared on my website for winter living? Those will help you. That said, I’m seeing severe challenges with your plan. If you plan to keep water running in your trailer all winter, you’ll need to follow the protocol I have used and detail in my videos. As to “winterizing” – if you mean that in the sense you’re going to drain all the water and replace with non-toxic anti-freeze weekly – thats a plan that will fail quickly as it is a lot of work and the liklihood of failure in the plumbing and water heater is high. If you’re going to be there weekly for a day or two, I’d keep the heat running as if you were there full time and do as I illustrate in my videos in preparation to live for the winter in the trailer.
Ok, I am sure that you are going to say “just forget it” but here is my situation. I am 66 in good physical condition. I am in a situation that I am not happy with. I live rent free in a house with most all my expenses paid. But…..the conditions I am living in are not what I want. I have to mow and maintain a lawn with shrubs and trees, maintain anything that goes wrong with the house, keep the house clean, etc, etc. I’m sick of it. I take extended road trips occasionally but then I have to return to the drudgery of S&B.
This comes with the territory as we are always exploring, but there are some places that just sneak up on you. Case in point is the Buffalo Gap National Grassland in Wall, South Dakota. We stopped in Wall to see the Badlands and visit Wall Drug, but ended up being blown away by the beauty of the grasslands. We were able to wild camp on the edge of the Badlands for free (thank you USDA Forest Service!) and witnessed some of the most beautiful skies and scenery. This beautiful and peaceful site is easily one of our favorite places we have camped so far!
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