Jay, you have made some very big assumptions here and they are wrong. As for our expenses, they are very accurate and contrary to popular blogging beliefs we don’t all get everything for free. Our meals, fuel, insurance and all of our day to day expenses that everyone else has, are not free. We pay for everything, including our RV. We have actually gotten very little for free over the years and when we do get something in exchange for review, you’ll see it noted. Expenses vary greatly per person. Even within these comments you’ll see others spending way less and way more. We blog, because we like sharing our experiences and helping others. If you don’t find that we are doing that for you, then you are correct, time to move along.
Usually we have the mail sent to a post office, addressed to us via “General Delivery.” We get the zip code for the post office online from www.usps.com. If we are in transit, we try to guess what town we might be traveling through in a few days. The post office holds all General Delivery mail for 30 days, so there is plenty of time to locate the post office and retrieve our box.
We’ve always talked about it but about a month ago my husband and I started seriously planning a year-long road trip through central America with our two little ones (2yo and 10 months) We aren’t planning to leave for about another 18 months but over the last week, I’ve started to get increasingly nervous about the practicalities of day-to-day life on the road. I think the universe is trying to tell me something because I just listened to Bryanna’s interview on the Zero to Travel Podcast and then saw this post in a Facebook group! It is possible. Back to the map!! 🙂
Propane – If you have propane appliances (stove top, oven, refrigerator, or heater), you will need to budget for propane. This varies depending on usage. We don’t RV in cold climates, but we do use our propane stove top and oven daily. We have 2 propane tanks on our Fifth Wheel, and only need to refill about 2-3 times per year. Still, we average the cost and budget for it monthly.
You can do wonderful things in a small RV. I grew up in a small trailer home. My parents and 4 kids lived in a 8X30 mobile home. My father built bunk beds in the ‘living room’ that folded up against the wall….we had just one sofa for all of us to sit on. Everyone else sat on kitchen chairs. Most meals we ate out side on a picnic table…or in rain we had some snack trays. Toys were kept under my parent’s bed or in the back of my parent’s car.
At the same time, this non-resident residency impacts the local politics of the cities and towns where the biggest mail forwarding companies do business because of the huge number of absentee voters. These voters may vote like each other — full-time RVers have a lot in common with each other — but they don’t necessarily vote like the other residents of their adopted hometowns.
Can anyone help me with this one. We’re new to the winter RV life and are travelling around BC, Canada skiing. We have winterized the motorhome and its going very well. The only issue we have is that the rear tyre’s do not like to spin when we first start her up. Even with idling and warming up the engine. Reversing is fine, its when we put her into drive the tyres drag and don’t spin. We have been lucky enough to get it working after some persistence and luck (being parked on big flat locations where we can reverse and eventually kick in.
By supplementing heat from stove top, you can also further reduce your electric usage, and when running on batteries, that is very important, especially if you dont recharge them often, (or move vehicle often). If you feel more confortable buying a wall heater, and plumbing the propane line and mounting it somewhere, fine too, but stovetop is a LOT easier, cheaper, requires no installation or storage of the heater appliance and same benefit.
Tolls – Toll roads are becoming very commonplace in the US. In many areas, like around Orlando, it is difficult to go anywhere without using toll roads. Plan ahead and try to determine if there are ways to minimize costs and simplify payments. For example, on the northeast coast, you can purchase an EZ pass for tolls at grocery stores. The same applies for the SunPass in Florida.
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.
I moved to Durango, Colorado 2 months ago hauling my 18ft tiny house. I’m in the process of winterizing. I want to use straw bales under the house to help combat the cold wind I know we’ll have. I’ll put a corrugated metal skirt up around that. I have been warned that if I do that I’ll be creating a haven for mice. Any suggestions on what to do about that? Should I just forget about using the bales?
Great info, We have been agonizing over what size rig to go with for over a year now. We have bounced back and forth between a 40′ Legacy and a 5th wheel but now after reading so many blogs as well as yours, to more than likely go with a Class C Itasca Navion which is 25’8″ and is built on the Sprinter chassis. Your blog really used us over the edge with your hindsight on smaller size. I always thought that a bigger rig would be better but now I am comfortable making that leap with a smaller rig. Thanks for the great info and Go Gators!!! Class of 85′
Choosing to drive fewer miles obviously helps conserve your gas mileage. Not only are you using less fuel to move around, but putting down some temporary roots at a campground you really like can also bring other monetary benefits your way. The longer you stay at a campground, the deeper your discount (especially if you’re traveling off peak season). The decision to stay in one spot also gives you the opportunity to thoroughly explore your new home away from home. Who knows, maybe you’ll find something exciting on one of your adventures!
My boyfriend and I have been living full time in our 81 Lindy for two years now in Colorado. It has been challenging but a huge learning experience. We chose to live this was mainly because we want to save money to buy a house of our own one day and we don’t like renting. We have woke up to an exploded water heater due to the -30 degree weather and have learned that the wind chill is our biggest problem. We winterized it once for a week while we had a new water heater installed but we have made a habit of checking the water every half hour and when necessary; standing in the cold to blow dry our pipes until the water runs. We have heating tape on all the pipes and heating pads on all the tanks which does a pretty good job on keeping us safe but every day is another adventure in an RV and no matter what precautions you take nothing is guaranteed. We just recently learned that we can not run the space heater and cook anything (stove, oven, microwave, toaster) at the same time without our water heater freezing but if we turn the space heater off it drops several degrees and it’s a battle to get the heat back up.
One of the easiest ways to winterize an RV is to shrink-wrap the screen door. By covering the screen door with a thin layer of plastic, you can keep the big RV door open all day long, close the screen door, and let the sunshine fill your rig with light and warmth. It is really surprising that just a thin layer of plastic on the door is all it takes to keep the cold air out and let the warm air in (if you aren’t in sub-freezing temps!!).
Many National Forests and most lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allow RVs to camp outside the confines of their campgrounds. Also, it is generally legal to park in public parking areas and rest areas that are not posted with signs prohibiting overnight parking. And you can always camp out in a friend’s driveway! The price for these kinds of overnight stays is $0. However, you need to equip your rig to run without hookups to take advantage of these places for an extended period of time.
If you are considering living in an RV and traveling, think about where you’d like to see yourself spending most of your time. We live in an RV because we like an ever changing backyard, which means we pack light in order to move easily. Many people downsize to an RV to save money, but are looking to stay put in RV parks and can hang onto a lot more stuff.
For the most part, CPS can’t take your kids JUST because you are living in an RV, there has to be another reason. Living in a van means you probably didn’t have running water or a toilet and that could raise some red flags. I only ran into one family who lived in an RV who had issues with CPS but that was because they were running from an open case that happened while they were still in a house. The accusations were pretty serious and the mother had some very obvious mental illness and she was dry nursing her 5-year-old.
My greatest concern is the plumbing. Tanks can be insulated and heated. Some RVs, even smaller B+ have the fresh water tank inside. However, those small tubes for the water system will freeze very quickly if the temperature is below 32F. Heat tracing is a solution, and there are some very good industrial products. However, at present it seems I’ll have to extensively modify any RV I buy with insulation, heat tracing and heat pads. Adding those things isn’t all that difficult. Doing it in such a manner as to avoid excessive electrical energy usage – that’s the challenge!
We did have one issue with freezing last year, when the city water pipe sticking out of the ground that our mobile home park was supposed to be responsible for winterizing froze. The only thing they had done to protect the pipe from freezing was to wrap it with insulation and plastic, and the part right next to the ground wasn’t adequately protected, and it froze during a cold snap where the high temperatures were in the single digits. After a neighbor helped us thaw the pipes with a crazy high powered industrial heater he brought from his place of work, I removed the park’s insulation, wrapped the pipe with electric heat tape, covered it with more insulation and plastic, then for good measure I lined a Rubbermaid storage tote with foam board and put it upside down over pipe. It did not freeze again, lol.
I hope this does not come off as complaining. Finding places to boondock has been a major obstacle to our travels. I have been reading through Boondocking for Newbies Part I – Finding Where to Go. I am not having much success using the BLM or National Forest websites for the top down planning process you describe. I am hoping you can give me some guidance.
a tip for those that may come upon a bear or timber wolf or large cat; carry a boat horn with you. you can get them at any boating outlet or cabellas or dicks. it’s pressurized and is very very loud. i put a lanyard on it and carry it around my neck. if a creature that can do me harm is within sight, I give it a blast or two and they hi-tail it out of there. it would be helpful in finding me as well if i were injured or lost.
We are fortunate in that our health insurance is a benefit of my corporate job. We are with Cigna and all three of us have full coverage including dental and vision. Our deductible has become increasingly higher since 2012 and we are now at a Silver plan which gives us a $5000 deductible each. Our prescription plan is less than stellar and we maintain our insurance primarily for our daughter and for unforseen medical circumstances. While on the road though we typically see an Urgent Care physician which costs $35/visit. We currently pay $430/month for health insurance.
We hope this information will help you plan a realistic budget for your RV travels. However, it is important to realize travel is deeply personal and each person has their definitions of what they can or can’t live without. For us, we like great quality food (organic, local, straight from the source), great experiences (we’ll spring for the hot air balloon tour) and free camping (BLM, National Forest…). If you’re curious how we make money while living in an RV full time check out our post: Make Money and Travel – Gone With the Wynns
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.
Okay, so I hope that in Part One I convinced you that you want a site with a sewer hook up. Now, about that hook up, you want to keep the dump valve closed until you have at least three-quarters of a tank so that you get a clean dump. You need the force of moving liquid to move the solids. That's as nice a way of saying as I could think of. . It is critical that the sewer hose has a constant decline to the sewer. If it does not have enough of a drop, waste will collect and freeze in the hose. Many people (myself included) run the hose into or through a PVC pipe to make sure that there is no ‘sag’ in the line. Other folks use a section of rain gutter as a bridge that holds the hose. Either of these systems will work.
Winter RVing is loads of fun, but figuring out how to stay warm in an RV on those chilly winter mornings and long cold dark evenings makes all the difference between having a great time and wishing you were in a house. Going to a southern state is a good start, but it may not always fit with your overall full-time RVing itinerary. You might get caught in an early winter storm, like we did in one year in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Or you might get whipped by a blizzard on your way south, as has happened to some of our snowbirding friends who wanted to celebrate the holidays at home in Montana before trekking south to Arizona in January.
Mark had almost 120 days of terminal leave to kick us off. We took advantage of the free year of HHG storage provided by the military upon retirement and flew out of Germany in August of 2016 with four suitcases and our cat in his kennel. We planned to travel until we either found the perfect place to live, or until the start of the next school year.
We are lucky and my sister and her family (she has 2 kids) also travel fulltime. So we spend a lot of time with them on the road. Plus my parents have joined us on the road too :)! I know it isn’t normal but part of us being able to do this was knowing they would be joining us a lot on the road. We definitely struggle with not seeing my husbands family as often. Skype helps and they have come out to visit us on the road and we hope they will come even more in the coming year. We also make sure to get home for a month or more once a year.
Gift Cards – If the gift card is for a full-time RVer, try to stick to larger national chains or internet stores like Amazon. Even though RVers take their kitchens with them, it’s still nice to not have to cook all the time so restaurant gift cards are nice as well. Or an Amazon Prime Membership is a great gift for full-time RVers if they don’t already have one. Our Prime Membership made getting items while traveling full-time so much easier.
Having cabinets above head level: Continuing with the Hobbit theme, I'd love to make it through one day without banging my head on some part of the RV. Sometimes I feel like I should wear a helmet while walking around inside. From the bathroom cabinet to the front area where the TV is located, I've made cranial contact with all of it hard enough to see stars. Not exactly fun.
We ended up spending $1,672 per month during our first year on the road, beating our budget by a little. During those twelve months we saw diesel prices jump by almost 90% from $2.75 to $5.16 per gallon (in the places where we were buying diesel). At the same time, we also learned about boondocking and discovered that we didn’t need to spend anything on campgrounds. Those two unexpected events cancelled each other out!
We’ve always travelled with regular ceramic dishes and flatware. We just enjoy the feel of eating on the “real” stuff. I put “grip it” type dish separators between each plate and we’ve never had a problem with rattling or breakage in 5 years on the road. Many RV folks love Corelle, or melamine type dishware coz it’s really light, but we’ve never been able to switch away from the classic stuff.
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.
This category includes all the tools and supplies we use to keep the rig in good shape. Mark loves to try new products and has a growing collection of tools in his toolbox. Before we left, he made the mistake of selling almost all of his tools. If you are handy and can work on your rig, don’t make that mistake too! He tried to “make do” with the bare minimum of tools for the first year, which is why this category didn’t used to exist for us, but now he regularly buys little goodies that make his maintenance tasks easier.
Jennifer, good questions! We have always thought about building our own RV/Tiny House/Trailer too! Sometimes what you really want doesn’t exist and the best way to get it is just to make it yourself! Considering you are not planning on moving the house a lot, the rain capture system will come in super handy! So, here are my top (at least that I can think of right now) suggestions.
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.
My wife, dog and I are newbies who plan on selling everything and doing this for a year to figure out where we will live next (and last)on the mainland. We will be going both to camp sites as well as around some towns (not really cities, though). We have never RV’d before. What would be the right length/size RV for our situation? I see you are talking about 36 foot. Any recommendations on manufacturers and models? I think we might buy a year old one since we are only going to use for a year and then sell it. Don’t want to take too much of a hit on depreciation. Also, do you tow a small car for local transportation? Great website!
I read this post with tears in my eyes. My husband and I live in a rv right now. I thought it was only a brief thing, but here we are, over a year later, still living in our rv, still saving money to buy property, and it looks like we will be living here for at least another year. My husband, bless him, has been optimistic about the whole thing and counts his blessings. I have become sour and bitter and cry away the nights. Thank you for reminding me that I need to live this one life that I have and that I need to be grateful for what I have. Thanks, I really needed this.
All these questions factor in. I’d say if they can buy the RV outright, if they’re knowledgeable and handy so they can fix or direct the repair of most things on an RV after some study, they could make it with $30,000 in the bank. That would give them close to 2 years to learn the ropes of the road. If they’re frugal. No eating out. No $100 concert tickets. No spurious or unessential purchases. No staying in expensive RV parks. Not too much travel. And assuming they work part time while on the road for either cash or a free RV spot whenever possible.
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?
Regarding storage, I found it to be a total loss. By time I paid the monthly rent while I full-timed almost 2 years, I could’ve replaced the furniture and tools with the latest styles for less money when I returned. If you have items that can’t be replaced, put a value on them and assess. If those items are that meaningful, you’ll probably want them with you.
Will we be traveling around the country in an RV forever? No. We have an end date in mind, though we still aren’t quite sure where we will settle or what that will look like. We are viewing this trip as a bit of a reset for our whole family — a way to reprioritize what matters and to spend a year making incredible memories together. Sure, the youngest will probably not remember any of it, but we like to say he will remember this trip in his bones.
Why do we share our expenses of full time life on the road in our RV? To help others who travel like us. If you like the occasional splurge, fine bottle of wine, a couple of new outfits each season, and you don’t mind paying for a cool adventure then you’re expenses might be pretty similar to ours. If you don’t spend a lick on fashion or local sips and bites then your expenses will be nothing like ours.
There is an RV ready to match your dream. Use your vacation RV trips to test different rigs. If you are visiting off-the-beaten-track tourist nooks and wilderness sites a more maneuverable RV could be preferable to a motorcoach. Or your dream RV just may not have as much room as you need to live on the road full time comfortably. Be honest with yourself up front and you will save yourself the hassle of trading up or down in your first few years untethered from a home base.
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.
The most inefficient part of RVs are the windows, which are usually thin, single-pane windows. Go to a fabric shop and get several yards of really thick, oven-mit fabric. Measure out your windows and cut and sew up some custom curtains. If I did not have really good, thick curtains on my windows, even with the wood stove, I would be really cold. The drafts you feel from the windows alone are pretty impressive, and curtains will help mollify that.
We also use uscampgrounds.info. Great resource. Full-timing is certainly not for everyone. It requires some risk taking, overcoming fears of the unknown, saying good-bye to family and friends, and doing some things that may not seem wise. In the beginning, Paul admits, that one of his biggest full-timing faults is, he has difficulty “rolling-with-the-punches.” I find that the most challenging thing is not looking back so much. I love to reminisce and this leads me to get a bit melancholy. We have enjoyed worshipping with many different denomination and at nondenominational churches. We have made so many new friends that we stopped counting. This is one of the biggest advantages to our lifestyle. Thanks, Nina, for the great blog and giving Paul and I a few minutes of reflecting on our past year.
The Cougar X-Lite 32 FBS was the first travel trailer floor plan we came across with a rear master bedroom. When we went to Indiana over spring break, we saw it in person and loved it. There is a ton of space in the back bedroom and there is more floorspace in the Cougar front bunkhouse than some other travel trailers due to the slide out closet and two as opposed to three or four bunks.
1980s Vanagons can go for quite a few dollars. I recently met a guy who bought a decent one, with the Westy camper and all, for $4000, and he’s in Texas. If you look out west, though, prices are typically higher as those vans are in high demand. A search on Craigslist in Bend shows them going from $3000 – $30,000. The latter is insane, but I believe people get that much for a well maintained, running vanagon with a camper. Still, it’s insane.
Knowing how to budget for the RV Lifestyle is done when potential RVers understand why they want to become full timers and what they want to accomplish. It’s a lifestyle choice that should be carefully thought out and may take a great deal of discussion between a couple who are thinking of doing it. They should ask themselves what kind of traveling they plan to do—long distance, a slow ramble, or only move once or twice a year. Do they plan on working to subsidize their savings, or is this a once-in-a-lifetime trip? Be clear and understand the pros and cons. Understand what is required to enable you to make the decision of becoming full time RVers.
Great tips! I boondocked for an entire winter in Canada a few years ago, it reaches -45C a few times. Once you get your trailer, appliances and technique dialed in it’s very enjoyable! I wish I would have documented the entire experience. All of the points above are very useful. Another few lessons I’ve learned is to use flex to direct your exhaust from your generator to your lp tanks when it gets really cold, as well as keeping the battery bank warm helps a lot. When I did my winter adventure I was constantly searching for drafts and cold spots to remedy, and believe me, when you don’t see warmer than -20C for months it’s almost a constant challenge. Be creative, be safe! Never get discouraged!
2017 Update – YES. We still feel the same way. Clubs are only useful IF you make use of them. There are RV folks who love their club memberships (e.g. Thousand Trails members who do nothing but stay at Thousand Trails), but for our type of camping (mostly public land, lots of State Parks etc) they simply haven’t made sense. The only membership clubs we currently have are Harvest Hosts, Escapees & Passport America. I always recommend that newbies wait on joining any camping clubs until they’ve spent some time on the road and figured out how they like to travel. Read more about my take on Camping Clubs HERE.
Living in an RV or trailer home can save people plenty of money, but it also provides just as many opportunities to burn through cash. "When we first started RVing, we had no idea how expensive or cheap it could be," Alyssa Padgett said. "We blew through four grand during our first month—way more than our typical monthly spend as 23-year-olds—and kind of freaked out that RVing would bankrupt us."
This comes with the territory as we are always exploring, but there are some places that just sneak up on you. Case in point is the Buffalo Gap National Grassland in Wall, South Dakota. We stopped in Wall to see the Badlands and visit Wall Drug, but ended up being blown away by the beauty of the grasslands. We were able to wild camp on the edge of the Badlands for free (thank you USDA Forest Service!) and witnessed some of the most beautiful skies and scenery. This beautiful and peaceful site is easily one of our favorite places we have camped so far!