If water freezes in your lines, you're in for a bad winter. Full time RVing requires you to prioritize your plumbing in a way that you might not otherwise consider. Your city water hookup may need to be insulated and wrapped in electrical heat tape. Fresh water tank will need to be filled and emptied every day so it doesn't have a chance to freeze overnight, you don't have to top it off though. If you want to reduce your work on your plumbing, you can find RV tank heaters which can keep everything from freezing up under your RV. For your black tank, you might want to consider swapping your traditional sewage hose out for a semi-permanent PVC fixture, as long as it's at an appropriate slope your waste will drain right down without a chance to collect and freeze up the works.
Heat pads and ceramic heaters: Heat pads are a great way to directly heat your holding tanks and keep them from freezing. Holiday Rv sells heat pads that can run off 12volt or 110volt electricity. These heat pads can be glued to your tanks to secure them in place. Another great idea is to put a small ceramic heater under your trailer in the skirted in area, this will take the chill off the floor in your trailer because heat rises!
We quickly learned that we didn’t like that he had to be at the table working all day while the kids and I were out exploring all of these amazing places! Plus, having to go back to Wisconsin was expensive and limiting how far we could travel. California is quite a drive from Wisconsin, especially if you want to go back and forth. The cost of him flying back alone would add up, not to mention I just did not want him leaving us for a week.
Last but certainly not least there is always the option to winterize your RV before you hit the cold weather. Whether you’re lazy, cheap, or you just plain don’t want to deal with all this crap I’ve rambled on about above, this option works like a champ. Before you hit the road purchase a couple 10 gallon jugs of water for drinking. Shower & use the toilets in the facilities at the campground (they’re usually heated during the winter). Of course this means when nature calls you have to high tail it through the freezing weather to use the Jon, but at least you don’t have to worry about your pipes freezing! If you decide to go this route make sure you stay in the site located closest to shower and bathroom facilities, you’ll thank me later.
My fiance and I have two northern Michigan winters under our belts already and are getting ready for a third! We have a propane company bring us a 120 gallon pig, put plastic on all the window, have an efficient space heater running so the furnace doesn’t come constantly kick on, we keep a little heat lamp underneath by the water hook ups, and use w inch foam as a skirt around the bottom of the camper! The best investment is a heated mattress pad for those cold days because the heat rises so it might as well rise into you, our dog is actually impossible to get out of bed when that’s on ❤️ It’s a lot of work but it really is a blast. We also have a dehumidifier plugged in because to much moisture can rot the rig!
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.
I get it. I grew up with my parents RVing all over, went in the military and traveled all over and got out and bought a small 16′ toy hauler, that lasted a year (do to the cramped style of it). we then bought a 27′ toy hauler and full timed in it for 5 years (still cramped with no slide outs)before deciding to take the leap. We now live Full time in a 36 1/2′ RV with 4 slide outs. it has a nice size bedroom w/ king size bed and washer and dryer, nice size bathroom with shower, big kitchen and dining area (which I re-modeled) and a big front living room with two fold out sofas and a complete entertainment system which I upgraded. did I mention that it’s a 5th wheel? any how, we have no problem that can’t be fixed at a lot cheaper price than a house and sleeping arrangements, she gets the bedroom and I get the sofa when snoring, which i might add is NOW very comfortable with the extra 4″ thick full length padding I added. we have a house on wheels 3 heaters, 3 AC units, wine cooler, ice maker, washer / dryer, 3 TV’s and so much more. I have added a lot of this to make life comfortable . I just wanted to say that RV living does not have to be a nightmare. It is what you want to make of it. It looks like you have decided NOT to make it a permanent life style like us and just use it as a means to get by while you build your dream home. that’s great too. however, I would change the title of your segment to “OUR 10 ugly truths of fulltime RVing in a small RV.” or something more related to the size of your RV. because when you get into the bigger RV’s your 10 ugly truths don’t really apply. except one item, GENERAL WEAR AND TEAR. I totally agree that the furniture is not made as durable as it should be. but then again things in or on a house wear out also. and that stuff will cost you a lot more than on a 5th wheel or TT Type Trailers. motor coach’s are different. depending on what breaks, they can get very expensive. I have one small question, when your house is built and you are settled in will you take your trailer out and go camping?
To let you know what kind of weather we’re preparing for in our RV, a typical winter day in this part of the country is below freezing at night and above freezing during the day. Usually we will get a couple of weeks each year where the high temperatures don’t get above freezing and the lows are close to zero, but we rarely get sub-zero temperatures. And although we usually get at least some snow and possibly ice, the snow doesn’t stay on the ground for more than a few days.
We live in southeast South Dakota in a 2004 35′ Montana 5th wheel. We put R-tec on the windows outside. It’s a roll of thin foam with reflectix on each side. Since I bring plants in for the winter I have some grow lights that help with the sun deprivation. We do keep a couple of windows uncovered so we can see out and get a little sun. Those I have been putting reflectix on at night, but they do get moisture and frost behind them. Want to try the shrink film and see if that prevents it.
Since we don’t eat out a lot and we try to buy organic, local food that tends to be a little more expensive, our grocery bill is one of our biggest. We shop a lot at Costco (you wouldn’t think a bulk store like this would work, but the prices are right for the things we like!) and Trader Joe’s for most of our groceries. We also lump in here things like cleaners, toilet paper, shampoo, new clothes, etc.
I remember reading this a few years back when purchasing our first second hand motorhome and finding it most helpful. I was wondering if you still felt the same so thanks for your updates! Based on our experience at this pointI would make a minor qualification to #4 regarding heavy items on the slide out. And this probably varies between makes, models, and slide mechanics. I would avoid a design with heavy items on a “ramp” slide, but don’t feel it really makes any difference on slides that stay level and travel in and out on strong rollers. The ramp slide has to go uphill when retracting and that causes a lot of strain on the motor and rails, the others though slide easily even with a heavy load. Our large passenger side slide has the entire galley, a 20 cu ft fridge and a pantry filed with a lot of bottles and cans. Large rollers and a tile floor allow it to move easily and without strain.
I hoarded propak fish transport lids from petsmart to insulate my rv windows. Tape them on the inside then stretched shipping plastic wrap to create a seal. I also used these lids to line my spigot well and water entry point. Hit up your petsmart on fridays or wednsdays when they get a fish shipment in and ask the manager if you can have them they just throw them away.
RV parks have all your basic amenities—bathrooms, showers, washateria (not all of them), internet (typically slow wifi), and the occasional pool. One of the first things we realized early on was the difference between an RV Park vs. a Trailer Park. RV parks are places where RVers like us or retirees typically stay. A trailer park is… well, what you think of when you think of trailer park.
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.
We knew what to expect in the way of weather, having lived in the northeast for years. We knew that once we got situated at our site, it would be very unlikely to get out with the RV until spring. We knew that winter RVing would mean insulating the water hookup to avoid freezing. We also knew that at this particular NJ campground, we would only have water and electric hookups and would have to rely on their weekly honey wagon to empty the tanks.
I’m recently widowed, May 2017. This idea has been tugging at me for years! Do you see women traveling alone? Everyone has told me, don’t make any big decisions for a year. He didn’t leave me with extreme wealth, but I’m really thinking this would be good for me right now. I am 58, not very active, but I need to come out of this with some new perspective and zest for a more natural peace. What is your view on this idea?
Tim you are certainly impressing the hell out of me. I love what you are doing and have been doing the same for about the last 6 months, however, in a much smaller unit. Mine is a truck and older style pop up camper. The winter in the mountains I have been in are far too cold for an old fool like me but I made it work with a few nights in motels and a couple of trips back to the shack for a few days and a couple of weeks on a stretch but for the most part, the camper was home. The morning jumping up and lighting the stove top naked was no fun either.
My credentials? I’ve taught winter camping and I have camped outdoors at -25F with normal (not arctic) gear. That’s a good way to learn how to deal with cold. At temperatures below zero F even the moisture in firewood can be a problem! There are solutions, of course. However, I don’t want to deal with this as a RVer. If I did, I’d simply get a basic truck camper, improve it, and then sleep outdoors with a good fire.
We have camped at Tiger Run also and the temps got down to -9 F. We got the extended propane tank rented from the campground. We had all the issues and made a cardboard skirt and put a ceramic space heater underneath. That worked, though we left our sewer hooked up and only drained once a week and used the built in facilities during the day. We wrapped the exterior drain pipes with heat tape and insulation. We added hot water to the grey and black water tanks before flushing. Didn’t have a problem. Also made the heated water supply hose with heat tape and insulation. That never froze either. This year we are going back (in 2 weeks! YAY!) and are having a custom skirt made. Combined with the ceramic heater underneath, this should keep the whole thing warmer as well as stop any freezing of the water bay and plumbing. There is one weak link in our trailer, the water lines run through a cabinet, then back out behind the toilet, then under the bath tub, and then into another cabinet where the pump is. This froze twice. I rerouted one of the heater vents to heat the first cabinet by removing the vent exit and setting the vent tube to blow half of it’s air into the cabinet. Ugly but effective in an emergency. This year we are going to try running an LED rope light along that pipe run. This will double as a night light. They use very little power, and don’t get as hot as incandescent bulbs. Allegedly, the skirt and ceramic heater should fix everything but you never know! We’ll follow up as things progress. We agree that winter camping allows us to enjoy snowboarding and skiing places like Breckenridge Aspen, and Jackson Hole and actually afford it! And of course you can bring your doggie or kitty too.
Those are the top things that have been a challenge for us to overcome as RV'ers. RV travel falls somewhere between having the comforts of home and camping – and your mileage may vary depending on your budget. The sky is the limit when it comes to RV's – you can buy something that's affordable that may require a few sacrifices, or there are ones that will make you feel like a rock star.
If the distribution center is too hard to get to, you can opt to have the package shipped to a UPS Store or FedEx/Kinko’s store or other shipping store like MailBoxes Etc. The store will likely charge you a fee, even if it is a UPS store and you are shipping via UPS or is a FedEx/Kinko’s and you are shipping via FedEx. We’ve seen the fee range from a flat fee of $3 whenever you pick it up to $7 per day, however these stores are more likely to hold the package longer than 5 days. So, check with the store before having something shipped to them to get the details and verify how they want the package to be addressed.
When you live full-time in an RV, you don’t just go to the RV resorts and the big towns, but find yourself in random locations around the country you probably never would have visited on a family trip. I like this as an individual, but also think it has been great to expose our kids to so many different ways that people live around our own country.
Before we hit the road, we upgraded our cell phone plan to the Unlimited Plan with Verizon. We use our phones as hot spots for internet, so we knew we’d blow through the data in no time. For the most part, we’ve had good coverage and no issues using our hot spots to get work done. We also use our hot spots to stream Netflix – on the rare occasion we want to watch TV.
In Texas, Escapees has the largest mail forwarding service in the country. They receive a semi tractor-trailer load of mail everyday. We saw this truck come in everyday while visiting the main Escapees Headquarters campus in Livingston, Texas, and we toured their mail sorting facility. We were absolutely floored by the operation (our blog post about it is here: Rainbow’s End – Escapees RV Club Headquarters in Livingston Texas. Another Texas mail forwarding service is Texas Home Base.
The Solar question is a great one. We haven’t had nearly the problems w/ getting adequate solar coverage w/ the fixed roof-panels as we’ve had w/ the fixed satellite dish. For our satellite we have to have direct line-of-sight and a few trees (or even branches!) will easily throw it off. For the solar, although it’s best (of course) to have full sun, we’ll often be fine as long as we can get an adequate amount of sun for at least a few hours. We dry-camped in pretty heavy forest both in NM & CO where we got part-sun and it was enough to recharge us daily. I’ve been very happy w/ the set-up.
When we initially looked at internet solutions we knew we wanted a Verizon-based system since it was simply the best coverage out there (and our experience has proved that true). We ended up w/ a 2-year 5GB/mo contract which is a little tight for our needs. What we didn’t know was that you can get a Verizon-based coverage using no-contract resale partners such as Millenicom. It’s the same coverage, but simply without the contract! You can boost it just like any system out there too. Millenicom resells both Verizon and Sprint and they won’t/can’t tell you (directly) who they’re using, but you can easily narrow it down via the device (the Verizon-based contract is currently offered on the 20GB/mo deal using the Novatel U760 Device). For more info check the forums.
After checking out other blogs that said towing is cumbersome, we were thinking of foregoing a tow vehicle and renting a car when we need to get around. My concern is this might be problematic if we’re boondocking or camping somewhere remote. We considered trading our current SUV in for a mid-size four-down tow-able SUV (like a Honda CRV) then we’d only have to own one vehicle. But if this size is too cumbersome to tow we could get a compact car for towing and store our SUV on some property we own. (We need access to an SUV when we’re visiting back in the mountains of our home state of CO.)
We create a monthly budget. While many expenses are not monthly in nature (registration, insurance, maintenance, etc.), we choose to break them up into monthly line items for our budget, and put that amount into savings each month. This ensures we don’t come up short when the expense is due. For example, our RV and truck insurance is due twice a year. We divide the amount into six and that is what we put into savings each month.
Public campgrounds: State, federal, county, city, etc. parks can range from $5-50/night (some are even free!), but generally have a 14 day limit on them. Amenities can range from dry camping to full hook-ups with electric/water/sewer. We generally love public parks, as they offer larger sites, more privacy, great views and access to active things to do out in nature… we spend a lot of time in them.
Having your children sleeping within an arm’s reach of your bed definitely changes your sex life. Here’s where the planning and scheduling comes in, again! Sometimes you get lucky and a campground has supervised activities for kids allowing the parents to enjoy adult activities. If so, ditch the bingo game, and go have some fun in your empty RV. No campground activities? Well then, you just have to get creative!
Also strongly suggest if mobile & winter camping and only 1 or 2 people to go with truck camper as highly efficient, and a 11.5 ft long camper can be actually quite huge, as that doesnt include the over the cab bed in sq ft, only the floor of the truck bed. so 80-90 sq ft floor + 50 sq ft bed area= 130-140 sq ft. Also a lot of privacy, as camper is up VERY high, as opposed to class B or C. For winter camping, you can not get better than a truck camper if just 1 or 2 people for ease of use and efficiency heating. Another bonus is my truck is 4×4. To pickup a 4×4 class C or other specialized RV, your going to pay a lot more. Also service on a pickup truck is a lot less at a local mechanic vs RV dealer or Diesel mechanic shop. I definately reccomend diesel pickup truck though. and I get 12-13 mpg loaded with camper and 17-18 unloaded. specifically 7.3L Ford Diesel engine (and ONLY that engine 99-2002 if you are shopping for a used truck) and yes it started down to 10 degrees farenheit, which was amazing. Yes a 250 or 2500 series truck can handle a 11.5 ft camper, but if you can afford a F350 or 3500 truck, the extra 2 wheels in the back, DO add a lot of stability and allow much easier & safer & faster driving, think no body roll around corners and winding highways at speed.
This is great! I don’t know if I could live in an RV that long, but I am strongly considering using one for a few months at a time once I retire from the military. It’s good to hear you are recommending the smaller RV, too. I don’t want a big one, but I’m a bit worried I would go crazy if it’s too small. I’m glad to hear that smaller turned out to be better for you.
We’re Millenials, so we can relate to the desire to have new and shiny stuff we can’t afford. A lot of Millenials these days want instant gratification: we want what our parents have without realizing it took them 30-40 years to get there. Who wouldn’t want a big $200-300k diesel pusher? As a young, first time RVer, with less disposable income than most retirees, buy used! RVs depreciate faster than just about any other purchase. Buying used can save you a huge amount of money. Most people use their RV about 4 weekends out of the year, so “used” models are almost new. You can save $10k-50k buying a year or two used. Plus, used RVs usually have all the bugs worked out. New RVs have more issues than used ones. Don’t be surprised for your brand new RV to spend 3-4 months in the shop the first year, getting all the bugs worked out from the warranty. If you buy an RV that’s a year or two or 10 old, the bugs will already have been fixed under warranty.
Your personal diary of events and budget is not uncommon. However me and my husband lived in North Eastern Utah in a new RV park for only $350 month, which included ALL utilities except our propane. We also renovated a used 35 ft fifth wheel becasue we did not want to be in debt. We also stayed on a budget and never had the expense you all did. We to own land but voted to stay in town at an RV park. I can tell you from experience our total expenses were not over $600 and this includes most of your list.
Vehicle fuel – If you have a towable, you will need to estimate fuel for “moving days.” This can vary greatly depending on how often and how far you move. Our first year we came up with a rough itinerary with total mileage and an average cost of fuel per mile. In addition, for both tow and towed vehicles, you will need to budget for fuel in the local area.
Heated Water Hose – You can make your own with heat tape and pipe insulation and this works pretty well, although on occasion we have seen people in the bathrooms warming up their frozen hoses during extreme cold snaps. I’d recommend just purchasing a good heated water hose. Camco has one on the market but it looks kinda cheap, from the heated hoses I’ve seen in person I’d recommend the Pirit Heated Hose as the construction and the warranty seem top notch.
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.
I don’t know if we actually need skirting to keep our pipes and tanks from freezing, but we decided to go ahead and use it just to be safe, and it made a huge difference in keeping our RV warmer inside and preventing heat loss. We made our own removable, reusable vinyl skirting out of recycled billboard vinyl for around $200. You can read more about how we made our skirting in this blog post.
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.
The eclipse was one of the most intense and beautiful 2 minutes and 20 seconds of my life. It was sublime in the truest sense of the word. Mind blowing. My body buzzed for a full 30 minutes afterwards. The moment when the last sliver of sun disappeared, that moment of totality when I took off my glasses, was like instantly being transported to another world. Everything familiar but so different. Completely surreal. A 360 degree sunset. And the corona of the sun… No words. Just awe.
For us, we sold everything and quit our jobs, so we had zero income at the start of our journey. It was important to track all our expenses carefully so that we could stay on the road for as long as possible while not bringing in any income. We had enough in savings to comfortably go a year or two without making any money. You’ll want to figure out what your limit is so you don’t find yourself hitting the bottom of the bank before you make any changes.
As a budget figure, if you are a future full-timer, and you are excited by the $0 figure here, and you plan to boondock a lot but haven’t don’t it much yet, include a “slush” camping fee figure of $350 per month in your budget until you find out if you really like it. Some folks plan to “free camp” all the time but find it isn’t practical for their lifestyle once they hit the road.
Living in a camper, RV, trailer whatever you want to call it is a wild ride filled with amazing travels! We have also realized that living this life has made us appreciate a lot of things that we took for granted when we lived in a house. RV living is definitely a different kind of living. Being on the road means there are really good times and also times of frustration and struggles where you miss the comforts of a house.
Typically there is one main bay that holds your black/grey/fresh tanks, your sewer connections, water pump, water filter, etc. This is the MOST important bay to keep warm. I purchased a tiny 200 watt (1.8 x 4.3 x 6.1 inches) ceramic heater and leave it running in the bay during freezing temperatures. It pulls about 5 amps and keeps all my pipes warm (exterior temp 20 degrees, inside bay 50 degrees). Some people recommend hanging a work light in the bay: I tried this and the bulb melted the plastic bay, and my water still froze so I don’t recommend this option.
Within the first few weeks of owning it I blew a tire and had to replace all 6 ($1000). The next month, the catalytic converter needed to be replaced ($750), the original kitchen faucet snapped off and had to be replaced (I did it myself for $65, but it took all day because of a broken gasket in the water line I had a hard time finding at the hardware store), the house battery had to be replaced – twice! ($290) and I’ve had to replace a fuse for my radio and odometer several times (and now it’s shorting out to the point of danger, so it has to be fixed…. soon!)
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 guess my best recommendation would be to look at back clearance. What we’ve found boondocking with friends is that some of the longer 5th wheels have a lot of back overhang (behind the rear wheel) and/or low clearance at the back. We went to some BLM land with buddies last year that had a 38 foot 5th wheel and they were scraping the back end over all the bumps while our 42-foot MH cleared them all with no issue. It’s not a critical thing, but I think if you really feel like you’ll be doing a lot of boondocking, then it makes a difference.
On that initial six-month trip, the Nealys drove from Florida to Oregon. The couple expected their three dogs to stretch out in the RV and sleep, but the dogs instead chose to stay up front, taking in the changing landscape alongside Jennifer and Deas. The five of them traveled through 11 states, only really lingering along the Oregon coast, where they fell in love with the surprisingly sunny summer weather and crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean.
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.