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.
Hi-just wanted to update here for some real experience and family life. First, THANK YOU MERISSA for your invaluable advice on the choice of camper. We chose a 29′ fifth wheel-1990 model. We have a 14 and 17 year old with us. We have been here for over a month now in our camper and couldnt be happier. We camped for months on end before so the teens were used to it but I can safely say my 17 year old was not too thrilled at first. Over the past weeks however, we have actually gotten him to say that he has adjusted and is really happy here. We are in Fl so the days are perfect really while the nights are still fairly cool. We have used our heat occasionaly but prefer to bundle with blankets if we need to. Downsizing was a little difficult for a few items but actually all of us did fine. There is also plenty of storage room in this camper. The kids, whom lived in theirs rooms on x box or with cable, or both, are now together without problems most of the day and much, much less fighting (mostly about items they had anyhow….). My daughter has been home schooled so this is no change while my son has been enrolled in the local high school. He has recently, however switched half of his classes to at home online with the school (an option here) and only attends now part time. He drives himself now so it is simple. He actually did this because he began to enjoy more time here with us at the camper. Much else has changed and wanted to really put out there. I am in my mid forties- I have suffered severe migraines for the past 6 years now. My husband and I noticed when we were camping last year that they were more manageable. I was getting to be completely unable to function without days of crying and constant pain. The kids didnt have a great mom for that. Stress was another large factor, even maintenance of the house besides costs.Cleaning on top of that was just so stressful as I am leaning on OCD as a personality. I dont know which helped but I am almost certain it is being able to keep air flowing, even in the bedroom. My migraines are less frequent and when they hit I can manage them so much better. I have not slept this well in years in all honesty. I am better for the kids and we are able to do more as a family. At the house I would try to make a day to force seeing each other at least once a week. My very great kids would look forward to it and then I would be down with a migraine and not even nice to be around. We play games together a lot (our christmas was gifts for the camper such as boardgames, karaoke machine, new thick roll up comforters, more pjs and activities with books) and they read more. We do have internet but opted to not have cable. Ours comes off of a dish so that we can move next year without being tied to this spot. There are also other very nice rv parks around here within a few miles and we would like to be free to do that. Our plans have solidified more this past month; we would like to travel more when our son graduates. He would like to go to NY state next year so we are planning to head there for the nicer months. I do work now and we do get monthly rental payments from renting the house out. We would like to follow parks that need local help as part time work to add to savings but it’s not something that is a necessity for us; our expenses are much lower now for sure and we are able to save for the first time in a very long time. No taxes to pay anymore (our yearly taxes on our house actually could pay half of the monthly rent we pay here yearly including our utilities). The downside is you have to be more patient with everything; I have a 30 second rule with the kids, putting something back or washing one of our 5 plates, 5 bowls, 5 cups etc, takes 30 seconds, opening a cupboard or putting something back under your bed takes this time or less. It has worked for all of us so there is minimal cleaning now. I have help for the first time in ages as well! My son is actually saying he is happy to have a nerdy but great mom and pop (smile) and they are both now happy with the smaller things (a barbecue, extra weekly ice cream, a walk to the state park, even a new local baseball hat or even a dvd for the family we can watch together). I am very proud of my kids really. While this cant work for everyone it has been fantastic for us. I am better for my family and they are happy for that; couldnt be more proud of them. Our homeschool schedule is very strict right now and we spend a lot of time at the local library as well. I am in one area but can say for anyone travelling that anywhere you visit for some months, there is a library close enough with guest passes that can be used. Some have options even for a local monthly card for guests that will expire 30 days from the date purchased. It is very inexpensive. We have a state forest pass that will get us into any park here in Fl; there are many other memberships that can be used for full time on the road rvers. We do laundry at the local laundromat once a week-cost runs 5 to $7 depending. We have our showers here in the camper and they are not long-also not every day but every other day on a schedule. The space really is not a problem with the bunks (something I now tell anyone to get with or without kids if they want space or some privacy. This was the largest concern for my son but, with the curtain he feels he can go there for privacy). We are planning to take out the sofa and put a daybed there for my daughter then add curtains along the divider of the slideouts for night privacy. There is a shelf and other areas she puts her books and stuffed toys there behind where she sleeps so she is very happy.

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.
Make sure to do your research before going gung-ho for solar panels. Depending on how you’re using your rig, they may end up being a waste of money. If you’ll be at a campsite with full electric hookups, you probably won’t need them. Maybe you anticipate a lot of driving.  Just by cruising down the road, you’ll recharge the batteries; but again consider the effects cold has on your battery life. Or lastly, if you’re going to be mostly boondocking, solar panels may be a good option for you.
That's a tough question to answer because much depends on the choices you make which will depend on how and where you want to live. I have numerous articles about full timing that you can access by clicking on my pen name at the top of the article and then clicking on "profile" in the popup menu at the lower left side of your screen. You'll find many of the answers you seek in some of the articles that are listed there, and I suggest you take the time to read them. If you have never lived or traveled in an RV before, changing from home ownership to RVing can be quite complicated. Also, you're not going to want to "move" every week because doing so will exhaust you. The bottom line is that this probably would work for you if you take the time to do some homework and figure out what you can really afford.
We're handy RVers, not professional technicians. We're happy with the techniques and products we use, but be sure to confirm that all methods and materials you use are compatible with your equipment and abilities. Regardless of what we recommend, consult a professional if you're unsure about working on your RV. Any task you perform or product you purchase based on any information we provide is strictly at your own risk.
I ran across your post during my search for RV cost of living. I just recently semi-retired at 48 and was wondering what this lifestyle would cost. I’m always amused (read frustrated) by how many readers make critical comments about other people’s decisions on how to spend their money. “You pay $1100 for space rent? I boondock in a slaughter house parking lot with a view of a brick wall for free!” or “You spend money on fancy craft beer? I only drink grain alcohol mixed with Capri Sun, or I’ve sober since 1989, you need to meet Bill W.” Myself, I want freedom that’s why I chose to change my lifestyle. That said, I like being near a beach. I like “resort” style living with a pool and a jacuzzi. I love eating in great restaurants. I appreciate you breaking this down in a realistic way, its given me some food for thought.
Propane – If you have propane appliances (stove top, oven, refrigerator, or heater), you will need to budget for propane. This varies depending on usage. We don’t RV in cold climates, but we do use our propane stove top and oven daily. We have 2 propane tanks on our Fifth Wheel, and only need to refill about 2-3 times per year. Still, we average the cost and budget for it monthly.

Our fifth wheel is a 2005, which means it needs repairs quite frequently (we have a new issue come up about every 6 weeks or so). We try to do repair projects ourselves (thanks to YouTube) to avoid the outrageous costs of paying an RV mechanic. We also cook in the RV often and typically turn on the heat during the cooler evenings, which uses up our propane. It costs about $20 to refill our propane tank each month.
I first heard about your guys from Heath’s podcast. This was an awesome and inspiring post. We’re a family of three (plus a dog and cat) planning to do the same thing. It is so encouraging to hear from full-timing families that have made it work, while overcoming some of the stigmas and challenges that come with this decision. Thanks again for sharing your story.
Tank heater pads aren’t of much use if the rest of the tank isn’t insulated. As was pointed out, RV skirts are a really good idea and I know of the old trick of putting light bulbs in compartments and under the skirted RV to keep spaces at temperatures above freezing. This works effectively in RV sites with electrical hookups, i.e. relatively limitless electricity at 30 Amps (3600 watts).

I paid cash on a used F250 and will do the same with the trailer, as well as making some changes upfront that you and Mark recently discovered made vast improvements in driving your rig. While my plan is to boondock more often than not (friends are already beckoning me to their driveways across the country!), there is the matter of being a tech nomad. However, I’ve been living in the country with a Virgin USB stick (and a looped slice of aluminum soda can attached w electrical tape as an additional antenna) about ten miles from the nearest tower for the last few years, so more of the same there. The main budget changes I’ll notice are the absence of an electric bill and addition of laundromats.
Turns out I was right about not harming the RV, but I wasn’t right when it comes to freezing in general. That first night when the temperature dropped we left our outside water source plugged in. While it didn’t completely freeze I did notice icicles hanging from our basement water area the next morning. I’m glad I noticed them because it kicked me into high gear on making sure we didn’t fully freeze.
Sandra, you are not the first to think we spend too much or too little. Everyones lifestyles are different and we don’t live on a shoe string budget, nor do we post our expenses for any reason other than to help others get an idea of what it costs us, with our lifestyle to live on the road. We buy local, fresh and organic food as much as possible. We like good all natural food that doesn’t come in a box or can and that isn’t something we plan on changing if we don’t have to. We work from the road (not retired or independently wealthy) and our websites are not just your average wordpress sites and we do a lot to keep them secure, backed up and so on and so forth. Our phones are a huge part of our business and we have to have smart phones with internet and such. Sure, if we didn’t work and didn’t have to have solid internet, this would be a lot less. Just not an option for us right now.
I think school bus conversions are awesome! But, I’d just mention that you should decide what kind of life you want to have – one where you work to make money to pay for your RV’s monthly installments, and get one that’s in good enough shape that you don’t have to constantly be working on it, or a life where you can work less because you buy a cheaper / older rig, work on it yourself, but will likely work on it a LOT more often than a newer one. I have always chosen to work on cheaper things myself, but it’s a personal choice. Sounds like an exciting time in life for you, James!
For generations of Americans, owning a house and having a steady job has signified success, a reward earned through diligence and hard work. But the astronomical costs of real estate and the ever-expanding hours of the work day have people questioning whether the traditional milestones of adulthood are actually grave markers on a life worth living. By contrast, millennials generally feel down about buying a home and also aren't thrilled about embracing life as desk jockeys.

Like I mentioned above we are working on fixing the non-baby-friendly parts of the camper before we move in. To find these spots and areas I just let the baby crawl around in the camper right now to see where he goes and where he gets into! Mostly this means working on the front area of the camper where the seats are, I will be posting pics of our renovation once it’s complete! We are also making room for another bed, our rv does have pull out beds but we want something permanent and something that will work for a growing toddler (that would easily escape anything without sides!).
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?
A heated hose will allow a fresh water supply but even if the water supply is the cold weather type, if you leave it turned on without heating the above ground piping, it’ll freeze. Leave it turned off and fill your tank when necessary. Connect your sewer hose as needed and drain it when done. Be cautious with the plastic fittings as the colder they get the more brittle they become.

We embarked on the first leg of our planned trip: over to Indiana to visit my three sisters. We continued down through Ohio, the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, a stop in South Carolina to visit a close friend, and another stop in South Carolina to see Mark’s sister. We continued on down to Georgia and finally to Bradenton, Florida, where my mother-in-law lives. We had not seen most of these people in at least two years, and some we had not seen in as long as five years.
Our house was sold 3 days after we decided to start full-timing, but the sale fell through 2 weeks later as we were wrapping things up to go. So we rented it (much easier to find tenants than buyers). It has worked out favorably financially, so we keep doing it. It is a burden, but if you hire a property manager you can lessen the burden significantly, you just give up some cash. I’ve written about the Sell vs. Lease decision here.
So interestingly enough we’ve not seen much of an inflation factor impact in our budget over the last 7 years. For example fuel prices have varied enormously during our time on the road (anywhere from $2.00 to $4.50 per gallon), yet our fuel numbers have not really reflected those changes simply because we adjusted how far we traveled each year. I DO think it’s good practice to add an inflation factor to any budget you look at (we do this in our long-term retirement budget planning too), but you may find the actual impact (once you’re on the road) to be less than you expect.
Induction Cook Top – Campground fees almost always include your electricity so it makes sense to use electric appliances when possible and conserve your propane. This is why we regularly use an induction cook top. Another benefit is that it frees up another burner if you are cooking multiple dishes. Our induction cook top has held up well but if you are looking for something a little fancier with a little more wattage there is this one. Note: You must use cookware (I’m eyeing this set.) made out of magnetic-based metal to work with induction cook tops. Induction cook tops make great gifts especially for the very utilitarian RVers.
I really did enjoy this article. I haven’t camped in Alaska but I have camped in some very cold weather in a tent camper, so I do have a couple of hints. I warm my camper up on very very cold nights with three oil lamps. I use ultra pure lamp oil because it does not smell at all. I have a couple very small oil lamps that I use when we go to bed. I turn them down very low and can turn them up if I have to get up in the night. This saves battery power. If you can place bubble wrap over your windows it lets in light and keeps out the cold.
Pay no attention to the the few who want to rain on your (and our!) parade. We appreciate all the work you guys put into putting all this information out there. It’s not easy tracking all the info and then putting it out there for the world to see. Again we appreciate it. I am an Amazon fan and shop there all the time. I hope you get a nice little stipend from them. 😉

My husband and I are planning to transition to full-time RV living in the next 2.5-4.5 years once our oldest kids graduate high school (youngest will come with us and homeschool). We are concerned our biggest expense will be self funded health insurance. In your financial reports you say you haven’t purchased health insurance. What about now that Obamacare penalizes you on your taxes? Have you still chosen not to purchase health insurance and take the penalty or have you found a more affordable option? We have some medical expenses so likely couldn’t go completely uninsured. Hubby is considering a remote work job with benefits for this reason but really we’d like to travel for 1 full year without huge work commitments then do something like seasonal park ranger half the year and travel the rest of the year. Any advice or insight in this area would be awesome! Thanks for sharing your financial information. It is very helpful!

Once again, the answer may not be what they want to hear. The amount a young couple should spend on their first RV is what they can afford. It’s really as simple as that. Unless they know they can afford and support debt, then they should buy what is affordable, whether it’s a smaller used RV or something new. It’s much easier to upgrade than downgrade, so think about what is actually needed versus what is wanted. We sometimes get caught up thinking we need all those fancy gadgets and toys when it may be possible to get on the road much sooner if we become more realistic with our needs.
Nina, I am hoping to set aside some money from the selling of our home and trying to stick close to my financial goals for how much the travel trailer, tow vehicle, and merchandise will cost. Only a real estate agent will tell me if I have that as a realistic number goal wise. I hope to contact a real estate agent next year to see how much the house could sell for after paying the Michigan real estate transfer fee and real estate commission plus how long it will take to sell the house. If I am realistic on that amount, then and only then will I travel down to Indiana to see how much the dream travel trailer will cost or otherwise the Northwood Arctic Fox will have to be it based on what I have seen so far. About the upgrades – most of the things that you would consider an upgrade will be on the travel trailer or merchandise wish list already. Plus you like Mr. Buddy while I will see how the goose down sleeping bags do as those only weighs 8 pounds for the two of them. Plus some of the merchandise that we have is getting old and needs replacing (want to purchase new after getting the travel trailer). There were other things included in the merchandise start up costs such as GPS, maps, kitchen, tools, furniture, sewer/water related products, bathroom, spare parts, cleaning stuff, etc. The solar power was low since I want to have more solar power and another battery or two than originally budgeted for.

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.
I paid cash on a used F250 and will do the same with the trailer, as well as making some changes upfront that you and Mark recently discovered made vast improvements in driving your rig. While my plan is to boondock more often than not (friends are already beckoning me to their driveways across the country!), there is the matter of being a tech nomad. However, I’ve been living in the country with a Virgin USB stick (and a looped slice of aluminum soda can attached w electrical tape as an additional antenna) about ten miles from the nearest tower for the last few years, so more of the same there. The main budget changes I’ll notice are the absence of an electric bill and addition of laundromats.
Great article! We have 2 young boys (4 and 8 month) and we are strongly considering this full-time. Working in a downtown setting feels like my soul is being sucked out of me everyday. We were originally inspired by the documentary Surfwise. Must be great to sit around a fire every night or lay under the stars with your kids instead of staring at a TV. Im in the middle of launching 2 online businesses and planning on quitting job in July. Maybe we’ll see you out there!
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).

Skirting your RV – If you have an RV without insulated bays, or a trailer, you will need skirting in extreme weather. The majority of RV’s are not made for extreme cold so chances are if you plan to be in consistent freezing temps you should look into investing in this. In some cases if temperatures drop below 0 degrees you will need to run a space heater under your coach (inside your skirting) to keep it warm. I stay away from propane heaters and use an electric commercial heater under our RV.
For the conduit, I used brown vinyl downspout pipe. That’s the stuff people usually use to go from the gutter on the edge of the roof to the ground. I bought six 12-foot lengths of the stuff and six connectors. I also bought a pair of matching flex elbows to use at either end. I ran the PEX in this pipe, making connections as I went along. Then I laid it in the trench, put the flex pipes on both ends, and connected the ends of the PEX to the water source and RV. When I was finished, the PEX was completely enclosed in the pipe.
Issue: Water Lines Freeze – When temps fall in the single digits our lines from the hot water tank freeze.  (The cold water will still work in the kitchen because the freshwater tank is not frozen and the lines come from the bays that are heated with space heaters.)  The lines sit on the floor very close to the wall behind cabinet drawers, a typical location for many RVs.
I think living in an RV before you try to get fully into it isn’t a bad idea at all. Rental RV’s are a great way to do this. Just try it out for a while, travel around to get a feel of living in the thing in different areas and see how you feel. We’ve met many traveling nurses who fulltime and enjoy the comfort of having their own bed/home wherever they go. Good luck with everything!
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.

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

So interestingly enough we’ve not seen much of an inflation factor impact in our budget over the last 7 years. For example fuel prices have varied enormously during our time on the road (anywhere from $2.00 to $4.50 per gallon), yet our fuel numbers have not really reflected those changes simply because we adjusted how far we traveled each year. I DO think it’s good practice to add an inflation factor to any budget you look at (we do this in our long-term retirement budget planning too), but you may find the actual impact (once you’re on the road) to be less than you expect.


I also found that the power steering fluid, transmission fluid and generator oil were bone dry, the engine oil desperately needed to be changed  and I discovered that someone put the wrong fuel filter on, so now it’ll have to be cut off to be replaced (who knows how much that’ll cost!). It also now needs rear ABS service and the air conditioner wasn’t just a recharge, but the compressor is blown which will cost $1000. I knew an older RV would need work, but I didn’t expect it so soon…
I am currently 57 and my husband is 62, we are planning to work 5 more years then sell the house along with most of our belongings and hit the road in our 30 foot Windjammer travel trailer. I am excited, but terrified and a little overwhelmed by insurance, mail, making reservations, internet, weather, how to pack, etc. Over 40 years of accumulating things (stuff) – I’m not even sure what to put into storage. We want to be debt free and explore our beautiful country and do alot of fishing. Your information and everyone else’s feedback has been so helpful.
Chip took Penni to a used RV lot just to “check it out” in 2015, but they ended up buying a 395-square foot camper they call “Daisy.” They say they love this lifestyle now and have no plans to return to a typical home. Penni is selling her condo in Montpelier because they don’t think they’ll need it anymore. They track how many states they have been to on a map on the side of their RV. The current tally is 25.
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