Have you ever thought about living full-time in an RV? Or wondered how you would choose where to live after military retirement? Jan Wesner Childs and her family did both at the same time! In this guest post, she shares her family’s experience as full-time RVers after her husband retired from the Army. They traveled for a year to explore the U.S. and decide where they wanted to settle.
When I was growing up my parents bought a vacant piece of property and a house trailer. The first year we had to park the trailer on a friend’s farm, so quite literally I can say I grew up in a barn yard! The cows and horses would come and look in the windows and watch us eat and we had to be careful to not get manure on our boots when playing outside.
As always, I love reading your blog and if I can gain one new piece of information then I am a happy “camper”! You’ve confirmed a lot of what we have discovered in our year+ on the road. We live in a 35′, 2 slide motorhome that is the perfect fit for us & we have not had a problem yet finding a site. We were turned on to Millenicom at the start of our journey by the Technomads and not only do they offer a great product, their customer service is awesome. Our rig came with a roof-top satelite dish but as we are not avid TV watchers we decided to try the life without hooking it up & have just enjoyed TV when we were at a park with cable or just watching the local stations with our antenna when it is available. We also joined all the clubs our first year and are now down to PA & Escapees.
Hi Karen: Since so many people have an interest in full timing, I thought it would be a good idea to give them further details. I always tell people that if they can afford it, just close up the house and give full timing a try. If it doesn't work out, they will still have everything waiting for them back home. Most find that RVing is so great that the thought of going back to the house, the expenses, the work, etc is a drag. But others are happy they didn't just jump in with both feet. It's a big decision, that's for sure!
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.
Draft/Condensation: Many RVers find they have condensation in their RVs but we were fortunate that this wasn't a big problem. However, hints that may help you stay in control are to tape windows along the edges as well as the frames of unused doors or put plastic over the windows (inside or out). For a tight fit, use the kind of plastic that you heat with a hair dryer. A small dehumidifier may also help. We cut down on a draft by the driver's door when we pressed a twin bed sheet of egg shell foam inside the door.
Winterize your pipes, water heater, and water pump. Drain your fresh water and waste water tanks and kiss them goodbye for the winter. Believe me, it’s not worth trying to keep them flowing. Pipes will crack, tanks will break, and you will have a very expensive and time-consuming problem when spring rolls around. Trust me, heat pads and heat tape are not going to cut it, so don’t even try (they take way too much electricity to keep things thawed, so they are useless in off-grid or low-electricity situations).
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.
Our first major engine maintenance, including generator, was about $2k ($1200 parts including lots of spares, $800 labor – which including training us on doing it ourselves) – subsequent general engine maintenance has been much cheaper, as we’ve been doing oil, filter and zinc changes on our own. We spent about $7k in our first year on bottom paint, changing out zincs, divers to clean the bottom ($100/mo), replacing thru-hulls, wash/waxes and other necessary maintenance. We’ll continue to track this and share.
Anything above $5000/mo means you can start to splurge and of course if you have more to spend, you’ll have more opportunities to splurge. The folks at this end of the scale generally travel in larger rigs (= more expensive maintenance/registration/insurance fees), stay in private RV parks most of the time (= higher camping costs), drive more miles and like to eat out. These folks also love their lifestyle.
3. I would have test drove some newer ones – I only test drove three or four 20+ year old RVs. Since I’d never driven an RV before, I had no idea how it should feel or sound. Had I known, I might have been able to detect some of the problems it had (a bad catalytic converter, for example). Test driving something newer might have given me a baseline for how it should feel to drive one.
This is a wonderful blog! We are getting ready to start our RV adventure as newbies, in our 34 footer! We are avid motorcycle enthusiasts and will be planning our trips based on where the best motorcycle roads are in the US. Regarding the comments about size considerations, we will pulling a 10 foot trailer with the motorcycle. Will that have to factor into size considerations for sites, or can we just get creative with how we park the trailer? Any feedback is greatly appreciated!
It is always hard to sell a house and leave family and friends behind but today’s technologically rich world makes the parting a much sweeter sorrow. WIFI hotspots are becoming more prevalent around North America, especially for travelers. Many campgrounds and visitor centers are wired for your WIFI-enabled devices. Before you leave check out the many service providers and re-sellers who can keep you online and tapped in to the world while on the move. Your rig can also carry along its own satellite dish, hard-mounted or mobile. You can choose how connected you want to be in your RV.
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Another idea to save big time is to spend a few months in Baja California every winter, where food is crazy cheap, boondocking is abundant (you can even find spots with lots of other American / Canadian snowbirds if you’re concerned about safety, but it’s completely safe in our opinion after having been down in Mexico in general for a year), and in general the sun shines all winter long.
Or you could “upgrade” to living in an RV. You pay some amount of cash for this home on the road, and set off on a journey. That initial cost is probably similar to what you’d spend on a downpayment on a house. That is, if you would have lived in a $500,000 house, you buy a $250,000 rig. If you’d have lived in a $150,000 house you buy a $35,000 RV. And yet others find their way into single digit thousands and work on them as we go.
Remember, look for areas most likely to lose heat, windows, doors, seals, and reinforce them with additional insulation. Consider investing in some portable electric heaters to keep warm without burning through all of your fuel, and make sure you wrap any and all water pipes in insulation and then electrical heat tape. If you don't have any other option than to ride out the winter, you can keep warm and safe, and Carolina Coach & Marine, serving Asheville, NC, and Spartanburg, SC, is ready to help you do it. Visit our dealership, or set an appointment with our service department, and let our staff help you prepare for the coldest months.
Settling down has been a kind of divorce. The dreams we had of our future have changed drastically. The way an identity can get wrap up in a spouse, much of Brent and I’s identity, naturally, got wrapped up into being nomads. Over the last year we have been fumbling around trying to figure who we are as suburbanites. I’m not intending to minimize divorce. One way to look at divorce is “a complete separation of two things.” Our two lives, the one on the road and the one in a house, are so completely different, so separate, and so often, very lonely.
We save so much money and stretch our dollar just by RVing. Not only do we save on the cost of hotels, but we save on not buying plane tickets! We have priced out the cost of driving versus flying to our destinations along with the cost of a hotel, and we save hundreds. Even with the cost of the RV payment over the year, we still make out better every time!
Once we learned the ropes, RV living during good and bad winter weather was not a real problem. It was actually an enjoyable change to go for a brisk walk in a peaceful winter wonderland after so many years in very warm or hot climates (of course, we did have to invest in a pair of boots!). On the other hand, it did feel good to nestle inside our comfy RV when the temperatures dropped and the weather turned really nasty.
$1,277 Hawaii Trip – We flew to HI for a friends wedding, it’s amazing how expensive 1 week of travel outside the RV can be. Our friends paid for several dinners, entertainment, and our hotel room yet we still ended up spending this much! This amount includes Cat Hotel ($252), Food, Drink, Pedicure Spa day, and groceries. This price doesn’t even include our airfare! It’s nice to get out of the RV for a few days but the expense is hard to chew.$500 Stuff and Things – I’m sure I’ve missed a few things we’ve paid cash for like laundry, parking meters, tips, farmers markets, etc. so I’ve added this buffer.
To set up residency in almost any state all you have to do is establish a physical address at a place like mailboxes and more or the UPS store has mailboxes that count as a physical address and you need to receive bills like a power bill, or other utility bill. You will need to have these bills with your address on them when you go to the licensing dept. to get your new license that makes you a residence. It gets easier or more difficult depending on the state.
Cheap Heat Options – We’ve seen 2 options that seem to work well for heating the RV inexpensively in the winter (when you’re staying at an RV park for a month or more you will often have to pay for electricity, so space heaters might end up costing you some extra money each month in electricity bills). Of course you have to calculate the expense of the product and the install costs:
When considering a potential extended-stay home, you will want to choose a manufacturer who produces solidly engineered units of the highest quality, who offers groundbreaking floor plans and provides the highest rated customer service. Grand Design RV has met these standards and has set the bar with our innovative “next generation” RV’s. Visit your nearest Grand Design RV dealer and you will see exactly what we mean!
You can play a round of golf at a number of Dallas-Fort Worth area golf courses, including the Bear Creek Golf Club, Texas Star Golf Course and the Riverchase Golf Course. Spa facilities in the area include Sterling Day Spa near Carrollton, Serenity Day Spa in Richland Hills, north of Arlington, and Allure Day Spa in Hurst, also north of Arlington.
$2,319 Fuel Cost – So far we’ve put a lot less miles on the RV this year (around 5,000 so far) however we’ve been driving our Smart Car loads more (probably double last year)! Everyone complains about fuel costs, but if you look at it our fuel isn’t our largest expense, and how much really does a 10 cent increase per gallon cost? You’re either going to travel or you’re not, I’m tired of hearing people use the excuse of fuel costs as a reason they don’t take out their RV. Suck it up, put on your big boy pants, and travel….you’ll thank me later as you realize the trip only cost an extra $25 because of the rise in fuel cost. Sorry for the rant, we just hear this excuse over and over and it’s a moot point.
So I am curious. Why can you talk about the cost of the RV? You mention you aren’t allowed to discuss the cost of the Windy, and you only suggest you are leasing the new one. My concern is that it may be false representation of the life style. I am sure many people would like to do what you do and can. However, not many people under 30 years of age can drive around in a 200K RV doing what you are doing. I tend to think the RV’s are discounted to you or even loaned to you as part of financial agreements with companies you work for. If this is true, this isn’t something the average person can do. Can you please be more transparent if you are in fact trying to promote this life style. (I am not trying to be a hater, i just want to better understand how you are doing this).
how workable do you think it is to slowly accumulate a group of websites of whom you’re an affiliate (rv’ing stuff?) to help or maybe even completely pay your RV’ing costs as you traverse the country (sounds like a doable niche in itself to me) ? I’m a retired programmer and on SS now, but would like the security of knowing I wasn’t completely dependent on SS while travelling. I love your site, BTW. Thanks – Bob
Regular shower and/or bathroom: At first, a small bathroom seems just fine – until you've been in there a few times. The walls close in. The shower is smaller than most broom closets. Your elbows will touch both sides, as will a lot of the rest of your body at certain times. While it's totally doable to take a shower and still feel like you are OK to go out in public, it's certainly not luxurious.
Since I’m in a wheelchair and can’t do as many outside chores as I used to, we decided that water was too big a problem and so don’t use it in our unit – except for in the toidy, in which we use antifreeze. We drink distilled water anyway, which we purchase in handy 5-gallon plastic jugs, so it’s no big deal. While it’s easy enough to wash oneself in most RV parks, we always carry Huggies soaked in a sterilizing liquid (one part vodka to five parts water) and that keeps what needs cleaning nice and fresh. 😉 We also use One-Step hand sanitizer routinely. Where we like to park, there are excellent rec centers not too far away, so on laundry day we enjoy a good long soak in the hot tub, and then a little time in the sauna, before heading for the showers
Hey Bill, keep working on the wife! As for your questions, please remember we are travelers, not banking or financial experts and definitely don’t feel comfortable advising anyone on the subject. So, what works for us, may not be best for you. We have a permanent address in Texas (our home state) and have a CPA that handles our taxes. There very well could be some deductions for you, but you will need to talk to a CPA to find out.
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.
They also shed themselves of furniture, artwork, anything that takes up a lot of space (such as hobby materials, holiday decorations, boxes of family photos, libraries, magazines, newspapers or collectibles), pets, unless they are very small, bulky electronics, excess clothing (especially bulky items), duplicate household goods (such as second sets of dishes and silverware), decorator items, heavy cleaning equipment (such as full sized vacuum cleaners), duplicate tools and recreational equipment (such as kayaks, skis and clunky sports equipment).
Close family ties. People accustomed to frequent visits with family and friends need to consider how they will adjust, and how they will stay connected from across the miles. Some people find it difficult to leave a physical community or geography. On the other hand, we have met RVers who delight in their RV lifestyle as the perfect way to visit with friends and family geographically scattered around the country.
Costs will vary greatly from RVer to RVer. For example, whether or not you choose to finance a brand new RV or pay cash for an older one will greatly impact your monthly expenses. Likewise, an RV that is 10 or more years old may require more monthly maintenance costs. Also, you can find free parking all over the country or choose to enjoy amenities at RV resorts.
Full-timing can be done in many different ways, and whether or not a young couple needs a big nest egg depends entirely on how much money they can earn on the road. Someone with a mobile, high paying profession, like contract nursing, doesn’t need a big nest egg. Someone that will be relying on work camping at campgrounds and RV parks may want more in the bank to handle emergencies that will require more money than their salary can provide.
Living in an RV or any small space can have its challenges. The first year of full time RV life flew by in the blink of an eye. As we celebrate our three years of RVing, I want to share some tips that helped us survive the transition to RV living. Whether you’re a solo RVer, family of five or a couple with a dog, I hope you find these tips helpful.
For this road trip we knew we would have to adjust our lifestyle a lot! We saved our money for years to take this trip across the US and we knew we’d have to be more frugal on the road (mainly because we wouldn’t be making much money during our travels).There are a few things we wont compromise on: We are passionate about supporting small local companies who are involved with the community. A restaurant that serves local farm fresh food or buying beer from a small local brewery, etc. Of course this lifestyle costs a little extra money, but for us it’s totally worth it. So here was our plan to live more frugally on the road: Eat out less, purchase less expensive beverages, shop less often, and camp off the cord as much as possible.Below is the breakdown of our expenses from our 2011 Trip across the Western Half of the USA. We’ve rounded the numbers to make it easier to calculate, but this gives us a general idea of what it cost to live on the Road in an RV.
Thanks! It is definitely challenging with kids but we figure they are only young once so why not spend as much time with them as possible. And who knows maybe your wife would be on board – this was never in our plan when we got married but we saw an opportunity and went for it. I also like the idea of extended trips. Now that we have been traveling this way I couldn’t imagine going on vacation for only a week – we need at least 2 to 3 weeks in a location to truly experience it.
If you want to regain your floor space perhaps you should add a project to your list … a ‘charging station’. Find a ‘power-strip’ which can be mounted on a wall, usually with 2 screws and find a little wall space. ;o) ha ha! Perhaps above shoulder height alongside your seating area. Mount the power-strip and then make some small shelves or use ‘cup hooks’ to ‘hang’ your electronic devices from. Coil up your cables and use Velcro ‘cable ties’ to secure them neatly out of the way.