My husband and I have decided to sell our home and look for a place that is more “us” while he has to travel for work. We currently have 3 children and two dogs and have looked extensively at RV’s before deciding on a 5th wheel sprinter with a bunkhouse. I know the journey will be something to learn and get used to but we decided that if he has to travel with his work then we want to travel with him. Going from a 2k+ sq ft home to even a large 5th wheel is a very very hard thing for myself and my teenage girls, but when we look at the larger scale and we will finally have to travel it gets so much easier. More time with dad and going places we couldn’t before because our house ties us down with mortgage and bills. My 3 yr old son is just happy to have his dad around more often. I have been looking for all the advice I can on the net and this has been useful for the start up, less is better for us because along the way you may acquire more. I make jewelry one of my daughters is an artist and my other daughter is into design so we have sat down to make sure we have gotten our priorities right. For me living in the RV until we are able to find our place is a way to learn to let go and focus on what matters. I spend little time with my kids doing the stuff we want to do and more time cleaning and organizing and running errands to keep all that up. And when my husband gets to be home we end up spending more money just to get out and spend time together with the kids. So for anyone out there who is also considering this way of life, I say find out what it means to you. Take good advice from blogs like this and enjoy! Thank you for the great advice blog and to those who commented more great advice!
Thank you for the information on RV monthly expenditures. We will be on the road shortly and have so many questions!! When you were traveling in your gas motorhome and pulling your jeep, how difficult was it going up the mountains in the west U.S. A.? My husband says we should get a diesel motorhome instead of a gas, because of the “wear and tear” on the gas engine.
Nina – We are devoted readers of your blog. We ourselves are just getting ready to hit the road this spring, and as basic as this question may be, we would like to know what type of dishes you recommend. Do you travel with regular flatware or something more light and durable? We are hoping to find something that does not contain BPA. Just wondering if you could recommend a brand and/or source.
Well if you’re interested in fulltime RVing I’d probably recommend a smaller trailer or Class C, and then I’d focus on the SW. New Mexico offers lots of great State Parks and has their yearly camping pass which is an amazing deal -> $225 for one year of dry camping! It’s a great state for spring through fall, but gets too cold in winter. For winter I would head over to Southern Arizona where you can free camp on public land. There are quite a few single ladies I know that do this, and it can be done on limited income.
If at all possible, buy well before you plan to embark on your trip, and spend some time in it on short weekend trips and vacations. An even better option, especially if you were overseas like we were, is to rent an RV for a vacation. Even consider doing it more than once if you can. Just remember that living in it and vacationing in it are two very different things.
In the end, the decision was made easy by the amazing views out my window every day. From my perch high above the Columbia River and Wenatchee Valley, I could enjoy the ever-changing scenery, which varied throughout the day with changes in light and weather. I could watch low-level clouds form and dissipate over the river. I could see the shadows move and lengthen with the shifting of the sun. I would watch the moonlight play upon the hillsides and cliffs. And I could marvel at the lights down in the city, sparkling with color. Would I see all that cooped up in a tiny rental apartment? Or closed up in a cavernous hangar with just three windows? No.
Many people think you have to make a lot of money to travel full-time, but that’s not the case. In fact, full-time RVing can be as expensive or inexpensive as you choose. It can all depend on the type and year of the RV you purchase, how often you travel, where you park, and the activities you do in the places you visit. But, here’s a general idea of items you can expect to pay for each month if you choose the full-time RV lifestyle.
I am really scratching my head as to why you would not include the cost, finance, and depreciation of your RV in your calculations. I understand that everyone’s RV values will be different but by avoiding those calculations all the other calculations you’re are giving just gibberish. For example that $100,000 RV will only be worth $50,000 in five years. Just the depreciation alone over 5 years would be $833.00 per month! Then there is DVM fees, insurance,
Gosh young folks! This may sound critical:-) You don’t seem to have enough good ideas how to live frugally or even inexpensively. You could do fine for half the amount you spent. Just look at your clothing expenditures or the $845 for houseware? D-oh! Hey we find Columbia sportswear and other sick stuff at Goodwill and ARC. You just have to make it a habit to check em out and go to the ones in the nice part of town! Learn to horsetrade and to borrow and lend use of things like kayaks, bicycles and sporting goods or cars. Don’t buy everything! Buy hardly anything brand new! its fun! Add an extra fuel tank and always fill up when in the cheapest regions. Saves a lot.A new laptop battery could be bought online for very little for most any model including MACs. Our phones with limited web access and unlimited text are only $30/month. Always stay at least on model behind the latest and greatest high tech gear. It costs half the price. I am typing on a MB Pro that is not quite as thin as the latest model:-) Who cares?
Not being “full-timers” ourselves, but are in a category called “extended stay travelers” (one to three month trips). Being rather young to retire last year in our early 50’s, health insurance is the big monkey on our back. Yes, we do have insurance thru my union, but since O-Care ( Obama ) monthly rated have gone up 250% in the last 5-6 years, and coverage gone in the toilet. I guess it is what it is.
For the same length I do feel a Class A is more maneuverable than a 5th wheel, but it also depends a bit on the particular model. If you’re serious about boondocking look at clearance & back overhang on your rig. Both can make a huge difference as to how far you can go into the boonies. I think 25-30 is a good size for 5th wheels (decent compromise between living space & maneuverability).
Portable Solar Panel – We loved having a full solar system but that’s quite an investment and if you aren’t going to be doing a lot of boondocking then a portable solar panel is a better option. Portable solar panels allow you to keep your devices charged and a battery topped off for short stints off the grid. Of course, check with your RVer first before investing in such a gift.
There are private RV parks everywhere. They are extremely easy to find online, in commercial guide books and by asking at visitors centers. The AllStays App is a very popular resource. Private RV parks range from about $30/night to $60/night or more, tending to even higher prices in popular destinations at peak season in choice sites that offer more amenities (like a view). The parking is generally laid out in rows, and the sites can range from drycamping sites (no hookups) to electric and/or water only to electric/water/sewer with cable TV, telephone and free WiFi. Usually the site includes a picnic table, and sometimes the park has a pool, showers, shuffleboard or horseshoes, sometimes bike and canoe rentals, a small store, or other goodies.
There are a host of insurance decisions to be made when living on the road, among them accidents, thefts and illnesses. Study the many discounts and options before you leave and you should only need to put yourself through the process once. Two coverages are essential: for the replacement value of your RV should it be damaged or stolen and for personal belongings, much like homeowners insurance. There are many insurers and levels of coverage – select wisely for the insurance to suit your intended lifestyle. Medical insurance is also offered specifically for full-timers.
Windows; Dual pane windows are a must have item if you are going to spend the winter in your RV. If your RV does not have dual pane windows you can get storm windows made which is basically a second pane of glass that you slip onto the inside of the window to create a dead air space. Another way to do this is with stick on plastic. The main reason this is needed is to prevent condensation form building up on the inside pane of glass and then freezing and melting, the water can run down the wall and cause rot and mold.
Fuel costs are highly variable, both because they go up (and sometimes down) and also because you may drive more or less in any given month. Fuel can cost as little as $0 per month, if you stay in one place and ride your bike around town. Or fuel costs can dominate your budget if you decide to take your RV from Florida to Alaska and back via the scenic routes through New England and Southern California — in six months!
I just love reading about your experiences. This question is for Paul assuming he does most the wrenching? Paul, when do you decide to take your rig in for “fix-it’s” compared to do it yourself. Some basic things I have tackled have been very stressful (trying to save a buck) yet rewarding when accomplished. And what is your tool box situation? Huge weight factor as I have a huge roll around at home but only certain tools make it in my rig. (30′ class A HURRICANE) I keep basic stuff such as small cord less drill/driver/impact to help turn stubborn screws and bolts that I cant break loose due to health, it also has adaptors for sockets which I carry a small assortment, then the plumbing and electrical stuff. I keep some extra wire and connectors, stripers, tape etc. plumbing is easy with connectors and pliers? but I find I want to have so much more from “the big box” at home. Also carry rainy season stuff to help prevent those leaks I found this year. frightful to say the least when you find a leak in your roof. My RV tool box is approx.. 8″x20″x8″ yet weighs a ton. Try to keep something in it to fix anything. Best tool is a good bright flashlight that has a beam or if extended has a wide light like a small lantern
Year 3 was our first year of roadschooling. Like watching a 3D movie for the first time, this was the year where learning came to life as we visited battlefields, swam with manatees, explored cities, experienced caves, imagined life as an American colonial , hiked mountains, stayed on a farm, canoed with alligators, and experienced more in one year than many people experience in a lifetime.
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.
I hope you don’t mind me contacting you out of the blue. I am a researcher working for major independent production company Optomen Television in London. We are currently producing a new documentary series for Channel 4 in the UK about people who have quit the rat race and moved to live in remote locations the world. It will be an inspirational series following the incredible stories of ordinary people who are living a unique way of life in some of the most beautiful and breath-taking places. The presenter, Kevin McCloud, best known for presenting the hit TV series ‘Grand Designs’ will visit people in their wildness homes and get to experience first-hand the wonder of life in these stunning locations.
Very informative site, thank you for all the work putting it together. My wife and I have a small rv and are intending traveling from Fl. to the Jackson Hole/Yellowstone area and would like to know how much hard cash we should carry. We are not trying to skimp, we don’t need to(thank God) and besides we want to enjoy ourselves, but feel we should have some cash with us but not too much.
2017 Update – TOTALLY. In 8 years on the road our expenses have actually been flat to slightly down every year despite increasing health care costs. We keep camping expenses low by volunteering in summer and boondocking (= free camping) in winter, and we manage gas costs by how we travel. The point is there is lots of flexibility on the financial side, and my viewpoint on this hasn’t changed. Earlier this year I finally updated our cost posts, so you can now read a detailed account of our RV costs (including tips for budgeting & saving) for the past 7 years HERE and HERE.
Kudos to you! When we moved to AZ, we started setting up our homestead. Looking back, I wish we would have bought the property with the older single wide mobile home instead of setting a new double wide. Our home is our only debt now, and had we bought the single wide, we would be totally debt free now. It is amazing how many people think they HAVE to have debt, they have to have what they want NOW! With the economy as unstable as it is, debt free is the only way to live. I encourage all of us to to make that a life goal. You’ll be glad you did!
Throw caution to the wind and just DO it. I have had plenty of financial misadventures/disasters, but if you’re not tied down to a job, the RV lifestyle is CHEAPER if you do it right! Start with a TT membership and enjoy $20/week camping for a while, learn how to use other discount clubs on your “out” weeks or even dry camp, learn how to pick up work… The point is: You’ll figure it out and be living your dream life.
Hey Timmy. Thanks for the article. I moved in a 1954 Fleet Aire slide in pkup camper mounted on a 1978 GMC 4 by 4 last summer and put in my first Mt. winter. Did really we all things considered. Got to do some upgrades though. New thermal pane windows top the list, along with better insulation along the bottom side of the camper. My outfit is strictly run off of propane which mostly is good, although I do wish I could put in a wood stove – but no room. My heat source is a Little Buddy catalitic heater, and it kept up very well at 25 below with a strong wind. And yes, condensation is also my biggest problem.
The Dallas-Fort Worth area experiences hot, humid summers, with temperatures approaching or exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit during July and August. Mild winters offer temperatures from approximately 35 to 55 degrees. The months of May and October typically see the highest rainfalls, up to 5 inches, while January typically experiences the lowest rainfall, with an average of less than 2 inches.
We’re enjoying the “Tutoring” you are providing. We bought our first MH in 1996 and Boondocked almost everywhere we camped due to our hobby. Through the years sorta got out of the habit and we really miss it a lot! We’re pulling the trigger and will be fulltime by January with the stix and brix for sale. Four years in the planning and looking forward to this. Thanks again for your insight in this much needed lifestyle(us). 336Muffin
hairyleggedjebjeb: Come back and talk to me about it when you've been doing it for more than 50 years (as I have). RVing can be a terrific lifestyle, but to think that it does not involve sacrifice is dreaming. There's plenty of that, and the longer you live this life, the more you will see that this is true. Far too many people jump into it thinking it will be all fun and freedom only to find that, just like anything else, it has its problems. The disappointment this brings often causes people to give it up, so to protect them a bit, I wanted them to see the realities.
Just like the cupboards in your house, everything has a place in an RV. The difference is, when the RV is going down a bumpy road and that bottle of vinegar gets loose because it was put back in the wrong place, you might end up with a mess on your hands. It also makes packing up a much faster process because you know where all the pieces of the puzzle go.
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Next was digging the trench across my driveway. Although I’m fortunate that there are very few rocks in my primary building site — which also made the septic system guy pretty happy — the driveway did have a layer of gravel over it. I had to dig through that gravel and into the softer dirt beneath it. Later, I had to shovel all that gravel back. Hard work!
I was surprised at the cost of insurance but then saw it is a Travel Trailer. Motorhomes are rather more expensive. As far as lot costs, we would/could not justify that as retirees. We pay $500.00/mo which includes water and electric in Denton TX., and traveling will require a fair amount of research as so many parks are above what many of us travelers can afford.
The Thousand Trails network offers 30 free overnight stays in a 12 month period for $545 at campgrounds that are within one of five zones across the country. After you’ve used up the 30 free nights, the rest of your overnights for that year are just $3 a night. Each zone has between 13 and 23 RV parks in it. You can stay at any RV park in your zone for up to 14 days and then you must stay somewhere outside of the network for 7 nights before coming back. You can repeat this cycle indefinitely. Right now they are offering a special of two zones for the price of one. An added perk is that you get a 20% discount on overnight stays at the affiliate Encore network of RV parks too.
Not only does it not exist in the RV but also at the campsites! Sometimes we will be at a place where no one else is there – but most of the time we have people living right next door to us and a lot of the time those neighbors are literally right there – as in our awning would touch their campers! This can be stressful if one of the kids is having a breakdown and we don’t want the whole campsite to hear. But normally it is just helpful for all of us to work on keeping our voices down and not yelling at each other!
Think about decoration. If it's just you and a parent or you and one sibling then it will be easy to decorate. Try to get a spot next to your bed. You can velcro up pictures or posters or other items you want on the wall space. Your bedding and choice in pillows can also be reflective, a rug can help. The curtains you choose for your window can also help. If you get a shelf you can tack or tape fake flowers or vines or pictures or hang a sign on the front and sides to give it a nice feel.
We’re still living out of our backpacks with just a few belongings each - but we have a bit more room and space to move around while we’re here. The house was empty - it’s different then the "tiny but full of expertly packed items" space of the COMET or the Element, but it’s nice. We’ll talk about doing more house-sitting like this in the future during the winter if the situation is right.
Lisa, I don’t think that is an option, but there is really only one way to find out. It all depends on how well insulated your RV is. Also, to run your water pump all night you would need to have ample batteries or be plugged into shore power. However, If you use skirting or create a barrier around your RV and run a heater like we talk about above, you shouldn’t have problems with your pipes freezing.
We wanted to travel across America and we calculated that buying an RV would be the quickest route for us to go and visit all 50 states. We had no idea that we would live in an RV longterm, share the lifestyle with other people, or that I would spend so much time writing about living in an RV. The rest happened because we truly fell in love with the lifestyle.
For those concerned about dental and medical care on the road, another option is to zip across America’s southern border to get good dental/medical care in Mexico. We have gotten a lot of excellent dental care in Mexico, both in our lives as RVers and our lives as boaters living in Mexico. We have detailed information about dental care in Mexico at this link:
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.
RVs aren’t cheap. Well, new ones aren’t at least. We bought our 1994 Coachmen Leprechaun in 2014 and sold him 48 states and 22K miles later. After buying an renovating “Franklin” for 12K and selling him for almost 10K, we really only spend $2,000 for our home. This is the definition of a steal and probably the main reason why I highly recommend buying used.
When we say new, it's only new to us, but that's how we prefer it. Let someone else shake it down. After hemming and hawing over trading in our previous RV, we finally decided to go for it. We knew our old one was too big for us and we didn't want to invest in upgrades like solar when we didn't feel like it was ours. It was the right choice and we're very happy with our current set-up. We installed solar panels, so we didn't have to worry about the batteries overnight or running the generator twice a day like on our old coach. We have more options as to where to stay with our smaller size and off-grid capabilities and that makes us very happy. Now we just need to redo the interior a bit and it will be all ours.