The full-time RV lifestyle is absolutely fantastic, and we’ve been loving our nomadic life since 2007. Many people who are new to the idea of RVing full-time wonder how full-timers get their mail or file their taxes or what kind of insurance they buy. What the heck do they use as a home address (known in legalese as a “domicile”) and where do they register to vote? And how do they save money on RV park and campground costs?
This is an amazing lifestyle to live with your kids. There’s lots of downtime to just hang out and enjoy each other and tons of adventuring and exploring. Overall, it’s an awesome way to deepen your family bond! After 3 years of living this way, we have always been able to figure out how to make it work so everyone can enjoy this journey we are on!
Hello again! Enjoyed reading your helpful post and the comment about not having health insurance. That is one of the big items that the hubby and I are debating about right now as we prepare for full-timing next August! We are both pre-Medicare age by several years, and have no ongoing insurance provided by our current employers upon retirement. We are debating about having a “catastrophic” policy and dealing with general health care needs on a cash basis. Out of curiosity, how do you prepare yourselves for the potential of a catastrophic need – such as a big medical issue, or an accident? (heaven forbid either of these happen to either of you!) thanks for your insight!
Currently we are not full-timing it, but we are on the road for up to 6 months straight. For those extended periods, monthly expenses can vary depending on what campground or resort we are staying in. Campground prices vary widely. If you are staying in one area long-term, your best bet is to pay a monthly rate for your campsite. That will give you a deep discount, but in most cases you will be responsible for the monthly electricity (and sometimes water usage) for your campsite. Depending on the area you are staying in, monthly rates could be as low as $300.00 a month plus electricity. In more popular areas, the cost could exceed $600.00.
Bottom line: In my opinion most folks will be able to live this lifestyle on around $2500-$3500/mo. If you have a smaller budget look to save up-front by buying a smaller rig as well as curbing camping & driving costs (once you’re on the road). If you have a larger budget, go ahead and splurge on a bigger rig and more park/driving/entertainment fees. It’s all within the realm of possibility.
To save money, we don’t have a cell phone. We estimate that since we started traveling this may have saved us about $50/month or as much as $4,500 all together. We have also equipped our trailer with solar panels and we camp for free virtually every night. These choices make us happy, but may not suit everyone. Here’s a description of our minimalist internet and communications solution and our tips for how to live off the grid in an RV.
Full disclosure: When I went full timing in ‘04, I had the proceeds from the sale of my house & belongings, so I bought my RV outright, but also had over $100K in the bank plus a retirement fund to fall back on. I volunteered for a free space or earned money for fun, not because I had to. I also am healthy and had NO health insurance for nearly 8 years. Paid cash when necessary. I know how to be cautious. I eventually signed up at the VA as I’m a veteran.
I was about to say the same thing. 2,500 is way too much. I was hoping with discount plans to be able to hit the road with about $400k, paid for Truck and 5th wheel and spend about $1000 a month. Just leaving the cash in a normal retirement plan which would return about $700 a month (grandpa is on something similar at the moment) and Social Security (if still available) should be a couple hundred more. Figured out of my pocket I would be spending about $300 – $400 of my own money per month. That would last me pretty much forever and a lot left over for nephews and nieces.
If you’ve got the girl, what sounds like a relatively compatible possible future career path, and are willing to live minimally, this could certainly all work out for you. Getting a vanagon in Alabama or somewhere in the south would be likely cheaper, but your options will be much more vast in Washington and Oregon. Just watch for rust, the ocean isn’t kind to these old girls.
Two adults, four children, and a dog all living in a 2006 class C motorhome!! Now, that’s downsizing! This adventure seeking family stays busy by traveling every week to 2 weeks. As you can imagine, they keep busy running a business on the road, enjoying kid-friendly tours and attractions, and lots of outdoor activity. They try to cut costs by utilizing their RV park memberships and boondocking a few days a month. However, that’s a lot of mouths to feed!
This is in answer to Liz about our 5er. We have a 30’11” Crossroads Patriot, a 2011 model. The model number is 28 something or other. You can’t use the model number as the length, by the way. You usually have at least 2 more feet of trailer. We bought our 5er fully expecting to retire early and get back on the road. We were full time for a while because of my husband’s job. Since then we have become guardians of our now 16 year old granddaughter, and have a few more years left at home. I think I would reconsider to about a 30′ length Class A now that you can get shorter diesel pushers. I miss having enough room for family in the vehicle, being able to get to the bathroom without pulling over, and being able to get to the “bedroom” without getting out of the vehicle. There are lots of RV sites with info about choosing a trailer or a Class A or C. Just depends on what your preferences and needs are at your point in life. I think we will be happier with our trailer when we are living in it, doing campground hosting and/or whatever life hands us. Right now, we actually removed all the living/kitchen area furniture except the table and chairs. Our youngest son and his wife and daughter, and our 16 yr. old, all set up cots in that area and are able to join us to camp without packing all their gear. We enjoy being outside when we are camping, so this set up has been lots of fun, and we have camped in our local mountains in all kinds of weather. If you look at Nina’s Eagle Nest State Park photo in the blog, we were in that exact spot 10 days ago, but we have also camped in Santa Fe National Forest while it was snowing. Lots of variety here in New Mexico! Had to get in a plug for my home state! My advice, if you haven’t had a lot of experience with different RVs, is to get a used rig and get some experience, and don’t spend major money at first. There will always be things you like and don’t like, though, no matter what you choose!
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).
Thanks for the information. It’s funny but I was just contacted by a friend I haven’t heard from in 4 years and they recently sold everything off about three years ago and are enjoying the RV lifestyle. They just spent the summer in Alaska and currently my friend is playing Santa Claus here in Las Vegas. We are getting together tomorrow and I am sure we will have a big discussion on how things have been going so far. He has already recommended I grow my beard in for next year and play Santa. Of course I will have to die the beard as I am not quite white yet. LOL. I will keep on searching your site and thanks again for the update…
South Dakota, Texas and Florida are all home to major mail forwarding services that will help you become a legal resident, help you register and insure your vehicles and help you become a registered voter. Your postal mail will be sent to your address at the mail forwarding service. They will then sent it to you, wherever you are. You will have to show up in person in your new home state to get your driver’s license. The terms for renewing a driver’s license vary from state to state.
I did not intend to insult but after reading my e-mail It did sound a little rough. I love to see that people are “successfully” doing something that I dream of doing in the near future and I want to ensure I got as many tools and tricks of the trade when I make that leap. I have checked off the debt free box which everyone recommends but it is the other stuff that still has me nervous about this adventure. Trust me, from what I have read about I wouldn’t be amazed if you and a few others see us at your events so that we can keep on learning from the folks that have been there and done it. I look forward to watching your blog for updates and new tricks as we get prepared to change our life for the better. I hope!
How do we do it? We do 99% of our spend through credit cards (where we actively collect points too**) and I’m old-fashioned so I import all my bank & card data into an Excel spreadsheet. I do this every month, allocate each line to a category (e.g. entertainment, RV parks, insurance, groceries etc.) and then churn out a pretty pivot table to display it in one place. I’ve been tracking our spend this way for over 13 years and before that I used paper, so I literally have detailed spend numbers going back to when I was around 17 years old (crazy, I know).
I’ve been trying to feel grateful for the life we had and I do. I feel extremely grateful but when I only focus on being grateful and try to bury all of the other emotions, I feel bad. I feel angry at myself for feeling any other emotion other that gratitude. Then I feel disconnected from the people around me because “they don’t get it”. And mostly I feel guilt. Guilt for feeling angry and disconnected and for basically feeling anything else other than gratitude. So then I try harder to feel grateful and the cycle would continue.
You can set the Netflix download quality. We have it set to “lowest” quality which used 0.3 GB per hour. So, it just depends how much we stream that month. And yes, we do get connectivity most places we go, even the boonies. There’s occasional spots we don’t have it, but we usually make it a priority to stay where we do. We both need it for work, so it’s a pretty important part of our daily lives. We have both ATT & Verizon PLUS we have boosters so we can pull in signals from fairly far away.
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.
On the one hand, these are supremely useful posts. Costs are a huge question for anyone who is considering getting on the road and one of the most searched-for items for newbie fulltimers. I remember it was one of the top things we fretted about before we went fulltiming and we had such a hard time figuring it out. Could we afford it? For how long? What kind of budget would we need? We found several blog posts, but no-one seemed to be able to give us an exact number. How are you supposed to work with that??
I talked to you on IRV2 before. I go by “Rollingsmoke” on there. Got the name from the woodstove I built and had in my motorhome. I never plugged in anywhere was always random ” camping “;) in the mountains…. If you want some tips on how to have running water in the winter feel free to ask. I can give you a few tips. Either way works but I liked having running water. It’s challenging but doable.
@Chris: Wood stoves have killed many an unlucky sleeper. Combusting wood in sleep quarters can kill in a multitude of ways. Of course, wood smoke is an established carcinogen. Wood stoves in a small mobile high vibration environment are double jeopardy. Fail to be vigilant in the daily maintenance and wake up dead. On the bright side all the bumps on the road might knock the creosote build-up off the stack walls, but then again it might not. Probably the biggest risk with a wood stove is human nature/carelessness/extenuating circumstances/etc. At some point the operator will be tempted to operate the vehicle with live coals in the stove…
Below is the breakdown of our costs, if you want more details read the posts from 2012 and 2011 as we pretty much spend the same way each year. As usual I’ve rounded the numbers to keep it simple.$2,137 Groceries, housewares and booze – Costco still being the largest ($1,088) also includes Whole Foods, Target, Trader Joes, TJ Maxx (we get some of our specialty foods here) Wal-Mart (for RV supplies), local natural grocery stores, and Cash at Farmer’s Markets.
If the couple wants to supplement their income while on the road, there are plenty of part-time and full-time workcamping job opportunities available. Depending on the workcamping job they choose, it could include a small salary with free space rentals. In fact, there are seasonal jobs at amusement parks such as Adventureland Resort in Altoona Iowa that offer jobs exclusively designed for workcampers. These jobs provide a free hook up campsite that includes electric, water, and sewer and an $8.50 per hour wage. There is no contract or time commitment required.
Settling down has been a kind of divorce. The dreams we had of our future have changed drastically. The way an identity can get wrap up in a spouse, much of Brent and I’s identity, naturally, got wrapped up into being nomads. Over the last year we have been fumbling around trying to figure who we are as suburbanites. I’m not intending to minimize divorce. One way to look at divorce is “a complete separation of two things.” Our two lives, the one on the road and the one in a house, are so completely different, so separate, and so often, very lonely.
You also don’t want clutter. Make sure everything has a safe spot where it won’t get broken during travel. Invest in tubs, baskets, and storage items that will help you stay organized. You definitely don’t want your small space feeling even smaller because of all the items inside of it it. I hope these tips help you minimize your items in order to maximize your adventure! If you need more tips or suggestions for what to bring along in your RV, feel free to send us a message. We’re here to help.
My husband was working a remote 9 to 5 job and stopped a little less than a year ago and since then we have transitioned over to my virtual assistant business and our travel blog being how we make our income. We also just signed up to be DoTerra oil reps (we love essential oils!) and are in the process of starting a t-shirt company. You know, just a few things to keep busy.
But a multi-player video game might just be a great way to spend a rainy afternoon — or even a sunny one on which mom and dad just can’t take one more off-campsite excursion. It doesn’t even have to be a fancy, expensive new model. The Nintendo Wii, for instance, has tons of fun and interactive multi-player games and can easily be purchased for less than $100.
The average cost we run in to is $1.75/load for washing and $1.25/load for drying. Most campgrounds have low-end but decent enough washers and dryers and you hardly ever have to run a load multiple time. It is important to note that many campgrounds and parks will not let you hang clotheslines so you can’t depend on that as a way to reduce expenses.
Food — Studies have found that the average home in the U.S. wastes 25 percent of their food. This is due to spoiled food or uneaten food. When you live in an RV, space for food is limited. It is rare to throw something out because you didn't see it at the back of your small refrigerator. I think you also tend to eat healthier since you are hiking in the outdoors more. Assuming an average $440 per month for two people, you save about $75 a month.
New in 2017 for us is storage fees as we switch back and forth between boat and RV. RVs can use storage lots across the country which should be fairly affordable (in 2018 we’re splurging on covered storage as hail is a very real concern in central Texas). Long term, we have purchased a lifetime lease at an Escapee’s Co-Op park in Arizona – which will be our storage spot for the bus, our winter base camp and a ‘casita’ for storing stuff. The actual costs of this remain to be seen.
It’s good to have an idea of where to go, what to do and how long to stay but don’t have a rigid plan. Be flexible enough to have the option to stay a few extra nights or leave early. Every town we drive into is a new experience. Sometimes we love the town and sometimes it’s just not our cup of tea. Having a flexible schedule means we can stay longer in places we enjoy and take off early if we’re not feeling it.
I’d agree. Campground internet is as unreliable as any I’ve experienced, but hotspot options from most major wireless carriers make for fast and reliable internet on the road. Depending on the carrier, it’s generally around $100-$180 per month (for the better networks) and we’ve found it to be very reliable. And, don’t forget about coffee shops and cafes, which offer a good excuse to immerse yourself in the local scene while snagging some complimentary internet.
$2,500 Insurance: Includes RV insurance, Car insurance, Life Insurance, Renter’s Insurance (to cover our belongings at home), Jewelry Insurance, and a Rider policy for camera/computer gear. We switched to State Farm Insurance halfway through the year and it saved us nearly $75+ per month vs. Geico and Progressive. We do not currently have health insurance, I know don’t yell at us… (est. savings $900)
1. About the internet how exactly does that work? We do not plan on having a “home base” so to speak so we would be on the road 100% of the time living in various places. I have to have decent internet for my work so that we could continue to live the way we want. How hard is it to get internet if say you are living off the grid in the woods somewhere? This is an absolute must for us.
We also conserved fuel by minimizing our hot water usage. With no permanent sewer connection, we weren’t using the washer/dryer. Instead, our weekly errands included a trip to the laundry mat. We both had a fitness center at our workplace, so we took advantage of those showers. This had the added bonus that we got into a regular exercise routine. In general, we were mindful of how we used water during our winter RVing — a practice that continues to prove useful in boondocking.
Thank you so much for your clear and concise answers to winter R.V. use. You not only answered my questions but brought up a bunch of things I had not thought of. I am taking a 33′ allegro from the Oregon Coast to Longmont Colorado area the 1st of December. Not the best time of year but got into an experimental medical trial for a catastrophic nervous system failure condition I got from an IED serving in the military while in Iraq. It is my last hope so going to go for it. Until I find housing there I will be staying in the Allegro. I feel much more confident now that I have reviewed your sight. It made the wife a lot more comfortable as well. Once again thank you for the wonderful information
The Padgetts quickly reined in their spending by ceasing to treat their new lifestyle like a vacation, where they could always eat out, go on tours of local points of interest and hit up the night life. Their new frugal habits helped them pay off nearly $30,000 in student debt in four years. Their yearly budget in 2014, during which they visited all 48 states on the continent for a documentary, broke down to the following:
We purposely headed into Colorado and Utah in the winter because we wanted to ski, and because we wanted to travel the opposite direction of most RV’ers who go south for colder months. We were prepared with tools to help our RV survive: a heated, enclosed underbelly on the trailer; heated hoses; space heaters, etc. We survived a low of 10 degrees one night just before Christmas in Green River, Utah, and on and off sub-freezing temperatures the rest of our trip. We even had about six inches of snow in South Dakota after Easter.
- Check to ensure the tanks are insulated. Electric holding-tank heaters are available and will reduce the chances of tanks freezing. You also should empty the tanks periodically instead of letting them empty continuously. Keeping the exterior drain pipe from freezing will be very difficult. Do not rely on flexible drain hose, which easily can become brittle with extreme cold; instead, install PVC pipe into drains.
However, this is extremely personal. We are of the mentality of having a solid savings account before heading off. Stuff is going to come up: you’ll need new tires, or a new transmission, or you’ll decide you want a huge battery bank with solar and a monster inverter. You’ll want some money socked away to handle these issues as they arrive. A lot of young RVers are living paycheck to paycheck, and they have a tough time making their savings account grow. While that can be fun and exciting (and it certainly works for some people), we recommend having a solid amount of money in savings first. We didn’t feel comfortable leaving until we had $20k+ in our savings. What if you’re unemployed for a few months? What if something big goes out? We think it’s better to be prepared. There’s no one dollar amount that’s going to be ideal for everyone, but we think it’d be smart to have 6-12 months of living expenses in your savings account before heading off.
We really appreciate the transparency you have provided in your blog posts, detailing expenses. We have found it useful for our own budget planning. Such a shame that some people find the need to project their own issues around how and where you spend your money and live your life. I totally understand why you are not sharing that detail anymore, but do appreciate what you are willing to share. I guess if people want more detail they can book an hour chat session with you! Anyway, it’s good to have this awareness as we might think twice about the level of detail we are willing to share in our posts too.
Greetings. Nice post and food for thought. on size, you post that 35′ would be perfect for the two of you. What if you were traveling alone. Would 35′ be just right or more toward 30′? Just curious as I am considering 3-5 month living periods from my home as a single. Ironically some have shared that a small Class C or A would be great, like 24-26′ but as I looked at them there was little storage. The trailers of the same size had more storage. I just am not sure about the amount of storage needed yet. They all seem to have the basics but…
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 wish everyone who has run into bad times could read your story. There are certainly people who cannot help themselves and need assistance. But there are too many who find themselves in debt who could do what you have done – cut expenses and live frugally. But they don’t and just complain, asking for handouts as they place an order for the new iphone. Good luck with your new house and homestead, although I know you don’t need any. It’s apparent you make your own luck. 🙂
We try to keep our expenses down as much as possible with the RV. Unfortunately, there are always surprises in life. It is a good idea to make sure you purchase an extended bumper to bumper warranty. We prefer to not have to come up with a huge sum of money to fix an issue with the RV. Let’s face it, you are driving a house on wheels… things break and accidents happen. We have our warranty through Good Sam and have never had a problem with coverage. It’s definitely worth having the peace of mind. As for our other expenses, besides gas and propane, they are just simple upgrades or swap outs for house ware items, etc. We Glamp after all!
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.
2017 Update – TOTALLY. I still recommend a contract-free approach whenever possible. This gives you the flexibility to sign-up to the best plans (and offers) whenever they became available which has improved our own set-up and saved us many $$ over the years. The whole Mobile Internet landscape has changed dramatically since 2011 (e.g. Millenicom is now caput and gone), but there are still many contract-free options for mobile travelers. You can read about our current internet, phone & boosting set-up HERE.
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!
I loved reading this, ty! My husband and I have been thinking about this with our 3 kids who are 6, 2, and 4 months. Can you tell me what homeschooling method your using? He’s a builder and I just sold my salon so we would be doing this to get to travel and stack some cash. I love the idea of doing this while homeschooling because they can see it, instead of hear about it thru school. I did a lot of traveling growing up my husband has not, so we are both really into this idea. Any pointers with two in diapers?
I don’t quite understand why anyone regardless of available resources, would not want to cut costs. Even as a service to other RVers to collectively help lower costs for all. I hope your remote job doesn’t involve profit and expense decisions. I’m sixty years old retired Accountant and on SS Disability for a missing limb. I work part time although I’m not working currently. My home recently burned down so I’ve got about $12,000 in the bank. I saw a 2007 Denali Camper for $8,000 in great shape. the very best I can rent a one bedroom apartment for is about $800 plus utilities. I’m sure I can beat that RVing. My only problem is getting a 3/4 ton pick up to pull the camper. It’s tandem axle but not sure about the weight. I probably wouldn’t be moving but once maybe twice per year. It might be less expensive to rent a truck to move the Camper rather than buying one.
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!
We both identify as introverts and only keep a few close friends. But living in an RV has made us more social than ever. We are usually up for any kind of RVer meet-up and we've made so many friends this way. Connections are made quick, but deep. Never before have we felt such a strong sense of community while living in a fixed location. We keep up with our friends digitally when not together, but we will go out of our way to meet-up when possible. We plan gatherings in the winter and try to attend Xscapers convergences when we'll be in the area. We have more friends in our circle now than all our years before! We wrote more about how we stay in touch in Staying Social on the Road.