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.
We are about to enter our second winter living in our fifth wheel, and since we bought the RV in summer of 2016 we have been parked stationary in Kansas City (on the Kansas side). (In case you are wondering right now why we don’t just move south for winter, it’s because we are tied to a job here for now.) The climate here is not as severe as some places people might be living or camping in the winter, but it can get pretty cold.
We have just decided that we are going to plan a 6 months tour of the US in an RV! I have been looking forward to this moment for years and years! I was born in the US and have lived the the UK for most of my life but feel the need get back, something keeps trying to pull me back and now I’m a coming!! I also was separated from my brother when I was 2 years old and never met, I search for him through adoption agency for years and guess what HE found me!! So we are coming over in September to meet my brother and his family after 47 years!! holy moly! My bother and I are super excited…. So, I need to ask a question what type of RV should we purchase for me and my partner and we also have 2 dogs? I have been looking at the Thor Ace but not sure if this is a good choice or not, any advice would be much appreciated.
In our case there are months we pay almost ZERO here (e.g. when we are sitting still in one place and either volunteering or boondocking) and there are months we chose to splurge. Either way we are able to completely manage how much we want to spend and can ramp it down (or up) as needed to match our income. Honestly if we’d fully understood the power of this flexibility we probably wouldn’t have fretted quite so much over costs before we got on the road. This is a BIG DEAL!
I’m a christian and the more I learn about and from God the more I realize we aren’t supposed to be living so that we can work. I feel like a prisoner in my home because the utilities control my ability to enjoy my home and then I feel like a prisoner at work because if I want those bills paid I have to work those 12hr shifts. So I appreciate your information on finding your land and your list of needs…. I’ve considered an RV for a temporary place between the selling and buying time after seeing it on your site.
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.
Thanks for the tips & thoughts. We’ve had very good coverage with Verizon since we started using them (only a handful of campgrounds where we couldn’t get signal) so for the time being we’re happy w/ their service. I think if we travelled regularly to sites without Verizon coverage we might opt for a movable satellite dish, but so far it’s not made the list.
They’ve been on the road a while w/ their 2 kids and have both workamped & home-schooled during that time. Really nice family and I have no doubt they can put you in touch w/ others on the road. They just ordered a new rig too. I also like the NuRver group on Facebook…lots of young folks on there and several families too. Also recommend this resource Fulltime Families -> all about folks who live fulltime w/ their families on the road.
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$792 Pet Expenses – This includes the 2 kitty’s specialty food, All-Natural Lavender litter, toys, bi-monthly supply of sardines in spring water, treats, and their medical bills. Of course the main cost over the past 5 months is we found out Singa has feline Herpes. When we returned from Spain his eye was irritated and mostly closed shut. We took him to the vet and they ran tests and thought he may have been in a fight (there was a few scabs on his head too) and his eye was scratched. Tests, drugs, antibiotics, etc and we’re lookin at $150. 1 week later he’s not doing any better, so we go in for a follow-up visit, the vet has no idea so I suggest we see an eye specialist (another $100). 2 days later we’re at a cat Ophthalmologists who diagnoses Singa with feline herpes. The doctor tells us it’s extremely common in cats, and the majority of cats carry this virus. He compares it to the herpes virus that causes cold sores in humans, and suggests Singa is showing signs due to us leaving town for 10 days and him not receiving the same amount of love and attention he’s used to. We’re sent home with a host of additional meds and what-nots and a giant bill ($250). A follow up visit 30 days later takes the eye doc 10 minutes to tell us Singa’s lookin good cost me another $120. The Doc told me to come back in 3 months and I told him to buzz off that Singa wouldn’t be back in unless he started showing symptoms again. Healthcare is such a racket, it’s like they’re printing money in that office. Forget that! We are thankful we understand what is bothering Singa, and we now know what the symptoms are in case he has another flare up. As I write this Singa is curled up in my lap after a long day of playing outside and eating smelly sardines….it’s safe to say he’s a pretty darn happy cat!
These days, it’s not at all unusual to see young singletons, couples, and families on the road, whether it’s for a summer getaway or a full-time lifestyle made possible by the ever-expanding capacity of remote work. (That’s right: Some people actually make their living while they travel. Don’t be jealous — read more about how you can do it, too, here!)
Even after putting on our skirting last year, I noticed that the floors of the slides in our living area were extremely cold. There didn’t seem to be a draft, and the seals around the edges of the slides seemed fine; it was actually the floors themselves that were, according to my thermometer, a good 20 degrees colder than the rest of the room. To solve this problem, I went to Lowe’s and purchased some foam board, and we duct taped it to the bottom of each slide. This made a huge difference in the temperature of the floor and the warmth of the whole RV. If I had it to do over again, though, I would use HVAC tape instead of duct tape as it is supposed to be better in all weather and not leave residue when removed.
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 find all of your material very insightful. We have just purchased a truck and rv and will be setting out soon for trial trips. I’m intrigued and very interested in your very low use of interstates. Some 3% you mentioned in one season. It may be already posted somewhere and if so please just point it out. If not can you expand on this a bit. Is it safer with less emphasis on the higher speeds? Easier to find a place to stop and camp? All of the above?
Yes, I’m sending you a hug Raven! RV living has been lifted up quite a bit in alternative media lately, but it is never an easy decision. I go through my own emotional roller coaster of emotions about our living situation. Earlier this fall I found myself in a hard place because I started thinking about how we are about to spend our third winter here. But I am reminded every time of all the reasons I am glad we are here and how I wouldn’t change it – even if I am looking forward to our new house. The plan is to lay the foundation in the spring, so that gives me hope. Make small goals for yourselves and be encouraged every time you reach a small goal – all those small goals add up!
The choice between a motorhome and a 5th wheel is very personal. Both have advantages and disadvantages. For example a motorhome is easier to set-up and take-down (very easy for either partner to do alone), but a 5th wheel is cheaper on maintenance (only one engine to take care of). I’ve written a bit more about the pros/cons in other comments (above). Good luck and best of travels to you!
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.
We had been accustomed to a two car garage, and now got a new perspective on the task of shoveling the driveway. After one storm, the cars were just barely peaking through the drifted snow. We had to clear an area 40 feet long by 10 feet wide in order to pull the cars in and park them. Our efforts left us with a snow bank just about as long and wide, and about 8 feet high. The good news: our self-constructed snow bank served to block the wind. Well… sort of.
Thanks for your kind words Ree! Our goal with our writing/blog is to show the real deal and let people know it isn’t a full time vacation but is still life – with all the ups and downs. That is awesome to hear that you already live in a small house and have the RV! Yes – having a strong why is key to making your dreams a reality. On the other hand it may never be 100% defined so don’t wait for that – just go for it – and figure the rest out on the way. Happy Travels!
I plan on full-timing well into the winter if I am able to. All of this is very valuable information as I will be new at this RV adventure. I’ve been wondering about how to prevent my pipes from freezing. would it be unrealistic just to hook up a hose to the kitchen and bathroom sinks, let the water drip and run the hose back into the freshwater tank?
I am not the best cook, and I’m ok with admitting that. To me, it’s a bit stressful, and not to mention, it’s a lot of work that most of the time really isn’t worth it. So, Brett does the majority of the cooking for our little family, but I do help. I LOVE chopping veggies and fruit. I find it very soothing. At supper time, two is quite literally “too many cooks in the kitchen”. Most of the time, I will chop, peel, and slice while sitting at the table. That works out great unless the kids are coloring, crafting or working on school assignments.
We use Verizon for voice and some data, DirecTV with the dome on the roof of the RV and DirecWay for most of our internet connections. Since we use DirecWay we have to carry the dish everywhere and spend time setting it up, of course we can place it anywhere within reach of the RV, which is beneficial. It is however big and it takes up a lot of room. We haven’t gotten rid of it, because we like having it at home and it has been very reliable! We are debating changing to another service, but we have not made up our minds what the replacement would be.
Foldable Vases – Inexpensive and perfect for RVing, a foldable vase makes a great gift for your favorite RVer. Foldable vases allow you to bring the outdoors in without taking up space or adding weight. On top of that, they are unbreakable which is always good when your RV basically experiences a mini earthquake every time you move it. They come in multi-packs and as singles. The first time I saw one was when a friend brought me one as a hostess gift and I have been hooked since!
Just wondering of you add anti-freeze to your grey and black water tanks. We are currently plugged in at a campground in Benson AZ where it’s getting down to the teens at night. Last night our water pump froze over but we managed to thaw out with no damage. Went and purchased 2 of the tiny ceramic heaters (one for the inlet side and one for the water pump side) and insulated all of the lines we could find…set the gas heater a little higher (last night we had it at 47 degrees for fear of using up too much propane and the lines froze anyway). Anyway…just wondering if we should be adding the anti-freeze and if so, how much (we have 40 gal holding tanks). Thanks for the great article!
Nothing could be further from the truth! We too were concerned how our dog Ella and cat Mr. P would handle life on the road. But we quickly learned, they might actually enjoy it more than us! Longer driving days certainly took a little getting used to, but in short time Mr. P loved his spot on the dashboard basking in the sun while Ella reveled in our 20-minute play sessions during travel day stops.
In between the pop-up and Gateway, we had a 35’ Cedar Creek fifth wheel. It was really great but the big boys really wanted more space if we were going to keep full timing and I was kinda tired of the small kitchen counter. The one thing we loved about the Cedar Creek was the shorter length opened up more camping options. Many parks have 35’ length restrictions and we fit in a lot of driveways. The Gateway at 41’ no longer fit in my or Brent’s parents driveway and occasionally we couldn’t stay in some parks because it was too big. We don’t regret purchasing the Gateway and would buy it over again if we were full time RVing but now that we aren’t, we are looking for something shorter so we have more options.
When asked what advice she’d give to anyone considering RVing full-time, she mentions the word balance. In the life of a full-time RVer, balance means a number of things. It means researching and planning, but it also means driving west with no other goal than to see the surf of the Pacific. It means camping in cities and drinking beer in crowded breweries, but it also means spending weeks alone in Montana, camping on the outskirts of Glacier National Park amongst the fields of beargrass and turquoise lakes. Mostly, it means embracing a life defined by travel, even if other real-world problems like finding a doctor and sticking to a budget do arise.
$3,555 Groceries: We shop at Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and if available local natural food markets. What’s most fun is trying to purchase local at each place; trying a new salsa, hummus, fruit, beer, etc. The ULTIMATE shopping experience comes at local farmers markets where you can purchase the most plump heirloom tomatoes ($2/lb), the brightest strawberries ($1.50/lb), and the best natural foods offered in the area. Best of all shopping at a farmers market supports the locals, and saves you money vs. buying at the grocery store. (est. savings $200)
The Wildcat also has you covered in the features department, having some pretty impressive offerings ranging from a booth dinette to dual marine-grade outdoor stereo speakers. Of course, all of these are just the ones present in the vanilla version. Those looking to change a few features here and there can consider a myriad of upgrade options available such as a 2nd 13,500 BTU air conditioner and a king size bed!
This discussion of condensation brings up a related subject… the method of heating that you use in your RV. When propane is burned, it releases combustion byproducts and one of those byproducts is a surprisingly large quantity of water vapor! Most standard RV furnaces are vented to the outside of the rig and will not add any moisture to the inside air. This is not true of any unvented propane heater, including popular catalytic heaters. Using your stovetop burners also adds moisture to the inside air. If you intend to heat your rig using an unvented propane heater, you will have to provide a larger amount of ventilation to remove the additional moisture added to your air. Most unvented heaters are pretty nice for milder climates and are great for taking that morning chill off. Using them as your primary source of heat in really cold weather can prove to be a challenge because of the potential for condensation problems.
We try our hardest with this aspect of our budget. We like to eat fresh, healthy, and regional so we try to visit farmers markets and local farms/ranches/dairies when possible. We also buy bulk items at CostCo, Fresh Market, etc. in order to keep staples on hand and get the most for our money. However, with a 3-year old we go through a lot of milk (at $4.85/gallon or so), snack foods, apples, and nuts. Have you seen the price of pistachios lately? One things we do splurge on is typically meats (we like good, grass fed beef), beer, and ice cream. Even life on the road doesn’t have to be sparse.
Track your expenses. I just recently started doing this, and it really puts things in perspective. I use this Google sheet to track all my income and expenses (just go to “File” -> “Make a copy” so you can edit it). Once you see where you’re spending too much, it’s easier to cut back! Plus, it makes you think twice before spending (do I really want to track this?).
For those who travel a great deal, it is a good idea to purchase emergency coverage that will not pay medical costs, but will, under the appropriate circumstances, provide regional medical referrals and oversight as well as a means of getting travelers and their vehicles back to their home bases at no cost. Good Sam Club sells one that costs around $110 per year and covers all travelers.
2. Make a plan for your kids’ education: Living in an RV is a rare learning opportunity. Your kids will be home schooled, the only difference being that their home will be on wheels. Your travel destinations are an important part of your kids’ education, so take advantage of historical, geological, and cultural sites as you travel. Alongside math, reading and writing, there are some great on-the-road learning activities you can do with your kids. See Fulltime Families for some great examples of fun DIY activities.
Both the McKenzies and Padgetts pay for RV living through a variety of income streams. The Padgetts collectively run a film production company, dabble in marketing consulting, write books on how to live the RV lifestyle and more to generate a six-figure annual income. The McKenzies also boast long résumés, with Dan working remotely for a software company and Lindsay freelance writing. The couple also plans on launching a series of online courses on full-time RV living for people interested in taking to the road.
O really DO appreciate how you have listed your expenses, especially the “before” posts that listed everything, because we are just in the PLANNING stages of a full time, 3+ month, RV trip. We haven’t even bought an RV or trailer yet; still going through the pro’s and con’s of which way would be best for us. Since budget is a huge concern, we needed to know all the nitty-gritty “small stuff” that still adds up. I’m sorry you have had to deal with the culture of “rude” from people hiding behind a keyboard. I’m sure some questions may have been relevant, but some judgements could be held. You’re just human beings, after all. Not a major company required to do meticulous research with charts, graphs, scientific evidence and everthing else these people seem to require. It’s obviously anectdotal. Thanks again! I truly appreciate it!
depending on where you are planning for your overnights, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. If you are worried and aren’t allergic, my best solution would be to get at least a medium sized dog. The barking is usually enough to deter anyone with nefarious plans, especially if they have been staking you out and have seen this is not a chihuahua, though even those are good for the noise. Anyway, most RVers are pretty good people and tend to look out for each other. Lock your RV door(s) at night, be aware of your surroundings and the people in it and you should be just fine. Also, dont promote that you are traveling alone as a woman. No sense painting a target for those with deceitful plans. I’ve never had any problems but, then again, I have three large dogs traveling with me. 😉 Good luck!! Now, start living your dream!!
Thanks for sharing these details. Just signed up for your newsletter to get more helpful tidbits as you post them. We are planning on downsizing from our SF Bay Area home to a full-time traveling RV and need to work from the road. It’s especially helpful to us to see connectivity costs, which we were thinking would cost us quite a bit each month. Thus it was shocking for us to see folks being able to spend only $600 total per month. We will be lucky to keep our expenses to $2k/month! Looks like a $3K monthly budget could work even after eating out and buying quite a bit of booze 🙂
I think the most encouraging part about traveling is that once you hit the road you start to meet people with a similar mindset who can affirm your beliefs and values. I know that sounds obvious, of course you’ll meet people on the road who also like to travel. It’s hard to envision what that feels like when you’re only surrounded by people who don’t understand why you’d want to sell everything and go travel in an RV.
I totally concur with you on the fuel costs. We did the math, if fuel went up $1/gallon and we drive 10k miles – at our fuel economy, that’s a $1500/year increase. Heck, when I owned a home I had an insurance bill that went up by that much in one year. With the fuel, you can at least move at a slower pace to cut the expenses if you need it. Or cross a state line and save a few pennies.
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.
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.
2. Consider what kind of RV life you want to have. Do you want to be on the road all the time or do you want to set up in one spot for a longer period of time? You might want to set up in one place for a week, then move on to the next place. On the other hand, you might consider finding a spot that would let you stay for an entire month. Are you more comfortable in a secluded area, or do you prefer neighbors and community activities that you can take part in? These are all facets you will want to consider before embarking on your journey.
Budgets and actual expenditures vary over time. Most fulltimers find that they spend a lot more in the first few months of travel than they do once they have been out for a while. It takes some time, and quite a few purchases, to make an RV a home, and most of those costs come at the beginning. These are things like patio mats, camping chairs and grills, tools your suddenly discover you need, area rugs, throw pillows, kitchen gadgets, campground directories, travel guide books, and all those funky gismos they sell at Camping World that are just so perfect for the RV lifestyle.
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
Thanks, Daniel. I’ll try to update the article to reflect that information soon. One thing that really helps when we stay at private campgrounds is the monthly rate. We stayed at a Jellystone in February and the regular rates were $55 per night, but using the monthly rate it only averaged $19.33 per night. That’s more than 50% off! And that was not using any type of military discount.
I’m no hunter or fisher woman, but I’ve seen this discussed on RV threads quite a bit. License fees vary dramatically between states, so some can be very reasonable value depending on where you go. Also most states offer short-term fishing licenses that are not too expensive (most are less than a regular round of golf or a nice dinner out). Many fulltimers who love to fish either do the short-term licenses or stay for larger chunks of time in states where it is not overly expensive. I recommend searching the forum threads on iRV2 and RV.net for more info on this.
In the event that there is a partial loss, like theft of just a few items, there are caps on what is covered. With National General, if the theft occurs inside your RV, then the cap is 25% of the total value of all the Personal Effects coverage that you carry. For example, if you have a $20,000 Personal Effects policy, then this means there is a cap of $5,000 per claim. If the theft occurs outside the RV but on your campsite, then the coverage is 10% of the total value of all the Personal Effects coverage that you carry. Again, for $20,000 total coverage, this means a cap of $2,000 per claim. There is no coverage if the theft occurs away from the RV (i.e, your bike is stolen from the bike rack at the coffee shop in town).
*Most will also utilize a water heating system with radiators (running on propane or diesel), here there is no added humidity from heating with the propane/diesel. Air heating is also used, but the air is collected from the inside, and not the outside of the RV, so no added humidity from the condensation formed where cold air meets warm air. However you do need to ventilate in addition to using the heater, if not your own breathing will use up your oxygen and add a lot of humidity.
Hydration Pack – If your favorite RVers are outdoor enthusiasts gifts like backpack hydration packs will be appreciated. In our experience, hydration packs are a must for hiking with kids. Our boys have Dakine hydration packs similiar to this one. Brent and I both have Camelbaks with insulated drink tubes (similiar to this one) that along with hiking in all temperatures, we wear when snowboarding.
I love it in Breckenridge! One of our all time favorite places to stop along our route from CA east and back is Copper Mountain .. last time we took the wonderful bike trail from Copper to Breckenridge .. was a lovely ride (until we had the brilliant idea to ride back up .. which I’d not advise unless you’re in amazing shape and / or used to the altitude :P)
I also soon learned how to juggle the use of coffee maker and hair dryer in conjunction with the heaters. Normally, using both at the same time is not a problem. But with the draw of the electric heaters, plugging too many things into the wrong line shut down the electricity totally. This meant a trek outside to unscrew four tiny wing nuts (virtually impossible to do in winter gloves) to get behind a panel to reset the breaker. Try doing this in the dark in the wee and snowy hours before daybreak and you don’t make the same mistake twice.
While neither of us were ever crazy planners, Kerensa did like to have a general plan of where we were going and what was around when we got there. Sometimes that skill still comes in handy like planning for the Florida Keys, but for the most part, we don't make reservations anymore. We prefer to stay loose with our plans and be able to adjust quickly to meet friends, dodge weather, or choose a destination on a whim!