Always, always, always expect to incur maintenance charges each month. Expecting to pay each month for maintenance will save you many headaches and knots in your stomach when you inevitably break down, blow a tire, shatter a brake pad, or have a propane leak–all of which happened to us. You’ll need to be changing your oil and refilling on propane regularly anyway, so it’s best to just count this as a guaranteed expense.
I hate to say this, but were I starting all over, I’d go with a 2009 – 2014 or so Ford E150 with low miles (probably run around $15000), build out the camper myself, pay someone to put a pop top on it (that’s big money though, $7k more or less) and spend more of my time traveling than working on this old girl. At this point, of course, I am in love with our VW and wouldn’t make the choice outlined in this paragraph. 🙂
Campgrounds can vary greatly by state and proximity to highly touristy areas, Earl. To give you some insight into a few places we’ve stayed longer term, we were getting a full hookup spot in Marathon, Texas for under $400 / month. That’s pretty remote, but we love that little town and the surrounding Big Bend region, so it was a steal for us. We priced a few places in Bastrop, Texas (just east of Austin), and full hookups were from $400 – $570 / month (plus paying for your own electric). While we haven’t ever stayed anywhere else for a month or more we have seen prices that range from about $350 at the absolute lowest end (and those places are not always terrible, though usually they are a bit run down) to somewhere around $800 / month for more highly sought after locations. Here in Austin, where some friends are staying, it’s around $670 and that puts you near the highway, ten minutes from Austin, in a relatively luxury place. Most spots will ask you to pay your own electric. Water is usually included, cable, too. I’d recommend getting a cell phone, so whatever you have for that (AT&T & Verizon are the most reliable nationwide) now would be the same, though if you wanted unlimited data on your phone so you can have the Internet, that might raise your bill. You’d know better about your grocery situation that I would be able to guess. No property tax. 🙂
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!
Yes, you can use a correctly rated extension cord for temporary use. A 20 amp cord minimum for a 1500 watt (12.5amp) heater. Add a surge protector for more safety. The cord could accumulate heat if coiled in closed space next to combustibles, like your plastic RV compartment. Fire from electrical overload is very real and RV’s burn very fast, which is why they all have a second exit in or near the bedroom out the window. Extension cords are prohibited because most people would not follow the safety precautions. RV’ers should! Check your smoke detector for early warning at night. (yes, this sounds like too much concern, but fires happen and RV’s burn fully in minutes)
Before starting a life of adventure, it may be hard to imagine that you will need or want to have any hobbies. Sightseeing ought to be enough! But it isn’t. After a while, you will want to have pursuits that complement your travels in one way or another or that perhaps are not even related to your travels at all. Our hobbies are photography, writing and mountain biking, and these all cost money.
I think it’s important for any couple to purchase an RV that fits comfortably in their monthly budget. You need to consider the monthly RV payment, insurance, fuel, maintenance, repairs, general upkeep, campground fees—and still have money left for other day-to-day expenses and discretionary spending. In most situations your first RV won’t be your last RV, so it is practical to find an affordable RV that won’t break the bank, as the old saying goes.
Anyone considering the purchase of their first RV, in my humble opinion, should spend the least amount possible. They should make a cash purchase with an allotment for repairs and upgrades. Start small! You can always work up when you have a greater understanding for how you’ll use your RV and what your RVing needs will be. While it’s fun to shop the newest, largest models, there is a definite learning curve when you launch your RV adventures, so start cheap, start small, and enjoy the journey.
We live five months a year in our motorhome spending 7 months in our Mexican casa down in San Felipe, Baja. This has been our life style since 2005. Looking over your expenses have you every shopped on eBay for software products? You can save bundles. . . . I buy a ton of our “needs” on eBay with great savings and success just shipping it to where ever we are staying. Also, I am a thrift store junkie. I love nice, expensive (brands) clothes and kitchenware but don’t like paying full price. I find great bargains in Goodwill and Saver stores. It makes it fun to seek out these stores in all the different stops we make. I “cleaned house” this summer back east in their Goodwill stores. Just a thought. . . I enjoy your website very much. . . you’re having a lot of fun in your travels. I also would rather stay at a Harvest Host site versus Walmart!
You’re so right on. Like you, we’ve purged every year since we started RVing. We started out with lots of stuff we thought was “essential” only to realize we never use it. Plus we made the mistake of buying a bunch of “RV stuff” before we even moved in. These days I advise newbies to bring stuff they definitely know they use on a regular basis (hiking clothes, kitchen items) plus a few basic tools (multi-screwdriver, duct tape etc.) and safety items (e.g. Fire extinguisher, surge protector) and then go from there. It’s amazing to find out, once you get into the lifestyle, how little you actually need.
Kelli, have you reviewed the entire section of videos I prepared on my website for winter living? Those will help you. That said, I’m seeing severe challenges with your plan. If you plan to keep water running in your trailer all winter, you’ll need to follow the protocol I have used and detail in my videos. As to “winterizing” – if you mean that in the sense you’re going to drain all the water and replace with non-toxic anti-freeze weekly – thats a plan that will fail quickly as it is a lot of work and the liklihood of failure in the plumbing and water heater is high. If you’re going to be there weekly for a day or two, I’d keep the heat running as if you were there full time and do as I illustrate in my videos in preparation to live for the winter in the trailer.
I really liked the couple I bought it from; they were only the second owners and had owned it for 5 years. They took it out a couple times a year. They smogged it (California) and put new front brakes on it before turning it over to me. I knew it needed new tires (the tread was good, but they were old an cracked) and they told me the truck A/C needed to be recharged. They were asking $9,000, I paid $8,000.
- Adding skirting to the RV is essential to reduce heat loss. You can buy skirting made commercially or from a variety of materials such as plywood or rigid insulation. Insulating the skirting with rigid insulation helps keep the area under the RV warmer, which will keep the floor warm and the area under the RV from freezing. If the ground has not frozen and the area allows it, burying the skirting in the ground a few inches will add stability and reduce air flow.
Knowing our expenses may not help other RVers. Unfortunately, there isn’t just one easy answer, and without a bit of research, no one can say how much living full time in an RV will cost. It’s the same as when we live in a traditional house—we all have different costs and expenses depending on our income and our lifestyle. It will depend on how much traveling is planned, the type of RV, and what the budget is. We may travel more or less than others, have a smaller RV with less expenses, and boondock more.
Using that silver bubble wrap over your windows on the exterior of the rv eliminates almost all heat loss through your windows, description online says the stuff will block ~94% of radiant heat, means it keeps heat in and cold out or vice versa, if yoy can bare to part without seeing out some of your windows. Ive been living in an rv for two years in north dakota, temps can get down to -50°F or worse, my skirting is 2×4 frame with osb sheeting, one inch foam board with reflective backing and R21 insulation behind that, heaters and heat tape and heated hoses are definitely ur friends, at such low temps every little bit helps.
Drive slower and shed some weight! When we increased the speed on our cruise control from around 62 to 70 mph, we noticed a decrease from 7 to 6.5 MPG. Since we do a lot of dry camping we always top off our fresh water tank (75 gallons) whenever we can. This means that we typically drive long distances with an extra couple hundred pounds of water. Shedding the extra weight increased our MPG.
I really enjoy reading your website and watching your YouTube videos, I find your vidoes and website extremely helpful. My only child is now 19 and on the road to self-sufficiency via college. As a soon-to-be empty nester, I plan to keep a small townhouse for my young adult child to live in but I am going to travel part-time in a RV. I have the ability to work mobile in my employment and I am only 42 years young.
RV windows lose a ton of heat, no matter how insulated the manufacturer claims they are. There are several ways to insulate them: foam insulation boards, bubble insulation, solar blankets, etc. For extra warmth, line your windows with heavy-weight thermal curtains. Use electric or propane space heaters to supplement your RVs furnace. Don’t forget to bring along a heated blanket to stay warm in bed!
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.
We pull a 44’ Fifth Wheel with our Chevy 3500 HD Truck. We typically stay in place 4-6 weeks before moving which helps keep costs down, but the truck is also our only vehicle for local drives. In addition, Sean has to travel quite a bit for work and we are typically about 1 ½ hour away from a major airport and have to drive there and back a couple of times a month. For 2018, we plan to keep a separate log of mileage from moving with the Fifth Wheel, driving in the local area travel, and traveling to and from airports.
For months after settling down, I struggled on and off with depression It’s a rather long story but the short of it is I did not adjust easily back to life in a house after four years on the road. It’s been hard. Really hard. At times, I’ve felt like I’m 19 again but not in the life-is-an-open-road-awesome-way but in the lost lonely what-am-I-doing-way. It sucks to be 39 and feel like a depressed confused 19 year old.
Yes the kids still want toys and yes we still buy them some. However, they are also good at when they are done playing with something they pass it on to someone else or donate it. By April they were already donating some of the Christmas presents they had gotten. And when we left friends we had made in Miami they were giving them their toys as presents before we left. They aren’t attached to many things anymore either.
As a blogger and online content creator (my main blog is BabyRabies.com, a pregnancy and parenting site), a book author and photographer, I am able to work full-time from the road. My husband left his job and manages most of the road-schooling and the other moving pieces of, well, moving. It’s nearly a full-time job just booking sites and planning our route!
Thanks for the financial breakdown, it’s very instructive. I appreciate your honesty! while I may think you spend some more than I may spend, I fully see the needs, that you guys have considering your particular circumstances. I am also a full time RVer. 32′ ’84 Itasca WindCrusier I love the old aerodynamic body style, but it’s nowhere near as roomy as the newer boxier models w/ slideouts. Because of it’s age and condition I’ve had to rebuild or repair or replace: Transmission, brakes, powersteering pump (includes power brakes), batteries, gas gauge sender, damaged ceiling from too heavy of a factory ac unit, Fridge. yet to repair: Fridge again, (gas side), furnace motor, cab heater to floor control (defrost works just fine) At this time in my life I do handyman work, currently doesn’t allow much full timing on the road. although I have taken time off between jobs to travel all over the Pacific Northwest from my base in Auburn, WA to Coeur d’Alene, ID, to Mountian Grove near Grant’s Pass, Or to Corvallis, to Portland to Windward near Goldendale, WA and back to Auburn for most of last summer.
We already discussed becoming more social, but meeting other full-time RVers in this community is one of the best things that has happened to us. There are some people we consider friends that we haven't even met in person yet. The RVing community is welcoming and open and we often start friendships online through Facebook groups or Instagram before crossing paths in real life.
I’ve been daydreaming about purchasing a 25′ Airstream trailer and hitting the road full time, and have enjoyed many of the posts on your site. Of all the posts across the blog, this is the one I’ve come to the most times as it’s rare to find such detailed and thorough listing of expenses, which is incredibly useful for a total newbie! Our lifestyles and spending habits seem similar, so I find myself returning to this page frequently while planning my would-be road finances.
I have left out some expenses as they might be comparable regardless of your situation. Those expenses are gasoline, home owner’s associations vs. RV clubs, phone and internet costs. While you may think the average RVers spends more on gas / year, we don’t. There is no daily commute, and no one said you have to, or even realistically will, drive hundreds of miles every day. Here are our findings on that (and all things environmentally friendly about living in an RV).
While part-time RVers may love “Home is where you part it” yard signs, cute camper trinkets, and adorable awning lights, the full-time RVer may be less enthusiastic about such gifts. The simple reason most full time RVers are concerned about space and weight and only carry what they really need or love. When your RV is your home, it forces you to be very selective about your belongings. Ask your favorite RVers if there is anything that they need or if you are unsure stick with gift cards or consumables. Please don’t gift your full-time RVing friend or family member large bulky items without asking first. If you really must purchase them a large gift that you think will be just perfect, buy it from a nationwide chain store and include a gift receipt. It’s not that full timers aren’t appreciative, it’s just the reality of living in a small mobile space!
You are going to need a set of solar panels. Forget a generator. I don’t know why almost every RV I ever come across is running a generator. I’m here to tell you that a gas-powered generator is almost completely unnecessary. A good set of solar panels placed properly on your roof (you want at least 60 watts, I’d like to have more one day) will give you enough power every day (even cloudy days) to charge your cellphones, power your lights all night, power the propane furnace for increments when the wood stove isn’t running, and watch movies.
* Safety: Do not make alterations or heat an RV in any way that could create a safety hazard. This includes using unvented heaters, such as space heaters or the gas stove/oven, in the living space. Unvented combustion heaters produce carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that can be fatal, and almost ½ gallon of water per gallon of fuel. Any heaters that burn a fuel source inside the living compartment must be vented properly to remove poisonous gases. Make sure to have a fire extinguisher and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
Our highest month was August in Cocoa Beach, FL. We both went on a bioluminescence kayaking tour which was $84. Also Julie got the deluxe adventure package at the Brevard Zoo which included an aerial adventure obstacle course, zip lining and kayaking for $57. We discuss how much fun we had on the Space Coast in our inaugural podcast episode. Our least expensive month was again at Fort Belvoir because there are so many free activities in the Washington DC area (i.e., Smithsonian museums, monuments, and hiking galore).
Legally you must carry chains to drive many mountain passes during snow storms (especially in California). If you don’t have chains on board and you get busted it’s a hefty fine. We’ve spent winters all over the states, and fortunately we’ve never had to put our chains on. Of course we watch the weather religiously before we plan to drive anywhere. If you’re flexible like we are and you know a storm is coming you have 2 options: 1. Bust out of there ASAP before the snow or 2. welcome the snow with open arms and extend your campground reservation a couple more days.
A suggestions to lower your costs. 1. Passport America 50% camping and/or America the Beautiful Pass. We average about $8-$10 a night camping at these parks, while camping in some of the most beautiful locations. As well as hitting many free camping locations. State parks can be obscenely cheap and nice. 2. Plenty of farmers markets on the east coast, you just have to look for them as many of them are in small towns outside the cities you have traveled to. 3. I forget the name right now, maybe one of the other Rvers can chime in, but there is an alternative to Verizon that uses Verizon infrastructure that gives you unlimited phone and internet. We don’t full time right now so it’s not a concern. 4. Stay longer which lowers your fuel and camping fees. 5. REWARD POINTS, pay with everything with a rewards credit card.
For these reasons, RVs smaller than 25′ didn’t really appeal to me at the time. With my space requirements and budget in mind, I searched for Class A and Class C RVs no larger than 30′. Many RV Parks and Campgrounds only accommodate RVs less than 30′ so I figured anything smaller would also manage well on the forest roads and remote places I wanted to go.
The thing is when we work is totally up to us. We could work starting at 6am or not open our computer until 10pm. It is totally up to us. We can also go out and explore a new location or just stay back at the campground and go swimming. I know it sounds great and it is, but it is puts a lot of pressure on us to make decisions about what we are going to do with our time since no one is telling us what to do.
We went into Little Havanna in Miami and the kids were dancing right along with an older Cuban man at a restaurant that was playing Cuban music. They didn’t know that he was a different nationality and came from a different country. They heard music and saw dancing and jumped right in. We are hoping our travels will continue to inspire their behavior in this way and that as they grow older they don’t learn to fear things that are different, but instead look at the world and people as equals no matter what their background is or what they look like.
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!