We learned this lesson the hard way winding through a tightly tree’d campground in FL in our first year on the road. We didn’t watch the back end of the rig as we turned through a narrow curve. The front made it through fine, but our back end swung out just slightly and the palm tree sheared off the entire slide topper cover on that side. Oops! We’ve never (cross fingers and paws) made that mistake since, but heavily tree’d parks are always difficult for us, and the bigger your rig the more this is true.
12. Consider how many people will be with you. Many people who RV full time are married couples who have retired. However, there is an ever-increasing population of couples with families who are hitting the road. Regarding the latter, you need to keep in mind that in addition to having less space for belongings, there is also less space for privacy. Learning to live together, and get along, is an absolute necessity and if that isn’t possible, it’s time to rethink your decision. One way around this is to make sure your rig is big enough to assign certain areas for certain children and their belongings, off limits to siblings. That personal space can mean the world to some people.
The figure here is our average monthly fuel cost for a six month summer season of travel. We drove a loop from Phoenix, Arizona through Nevada to Crater Lake in central Oregon and then went from northeastern Oregon to Sun Valley Idaho and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and finally dropping south through Ouray Colorado and into northern Arizona and back to Phoenix.
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.
Hydration Pack – If your favorite RVers are outdoor enthusiasts gifts like backpack hydration packs will be appreciated. In our experience, hydration packs are a must for hiking with kids. Our boys have Dakine hydration packs similiar to this one. Brent and I both have Camelbaks with insulated drink tubes (similiar to this one) that along with hiking in all temperatures, we wear when snowboarding.
For rigs with enclosed tanks, it's often enough to provide some source of heat in the tank compartment and small electric bulbs can be used here as well. If you are too mobile for such solutions, then you should look into special heating pads designed for RV holding tanks. They can be purchased from many RV parts dealers or camping catalogs and will allow you to use the holding tanks as you normally would with no fear of freeze ups. Alternately, many Rvers who travel in the winter simply minimize use of the holding tanks and keep plenty of RV antifreeze handy to treat them.
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).
I would think that after 3 years of full time living on the road all of our fears about this lifestyle would be gone. Nope . . . they are still there. Things like safety in an RV park, weather (I HATE storms in the RV), going somewhere new and not knowing what to expect. We almost didn’t go to Canada this year because we were so worried about the unknown.
Pellet Stove – This device will warm up an RV faster and more efficiently than any other heater we’ve seen. The good news is there is zero moisture produced from the heat, the built in fan uses a fraction of the electricity of a space heater and it’s a pretty eco friendly option for heating. The downsides: Install is a crazy mod to both the inside and outside of your RV. If the fan shuts down (i.e. when boondocking and you run out of battery power) you now have a smoke filled RV. Takes up a lot of space so is best for larger RV’s. You have to carry and store large, heavy wood pellets in your RV. Some models you are required to vacuum out the ashes which can be a pain make sure you look at the pellet stoves with a removable ash tray.
Or maybe you are like me. I took early retirement with a pension of about $1100 per month and I don’t have to work at all unless I want to for whatever reason. I am young and healthy so I am working as a campground host in some beautiful places. That way I can build more of a savings account or spend more as I want. Many people have social security or disability checks they live on.
It’s hard to make a “firm” assessment on the size issue. A lot of times it depends on where you camp. For example State Parks in CA are notoriously old/small and being 40-foot or larger rules out almost 85% of them. Same thing in the National Forest campsites in the CO mountains (we’ve camped there, but it’s often a struggle to find sites that fit us). On the other hand State Parks in CO are usually quite spacious as are State Parks in OR (we’ve been able to take our 40-footer just about everywhere in OR) and throughout the Mid-West. Also if you like boondocking smaller is always better. So, just depends.
I was raised on a farm with not much but we didn’t mind. We were warm, clothed,sometimes used, and not hungry. I don”t think it is a bad thing to not have much money… it teaches us a better way of life, and how to treat others. ( I’m 62) take your time and get it the way you want it… but if you find that it just wasn’t quite what you thought… change it. It is a real good thing you both are on the same page!! I am still learning…I guess that doesn’t ever stop. I will keep following you. One thing Doug and Stacey have that you don”t and I just got is a “sun oven”..
I know clothes are the hardest to pack, especially for us women! This tends to vary for each person and will depend on the length of your trip, but I will say that you need to pack for all weather types. No matter where you are in the U.S., the weather can change quickly! We were surprised by the temperatures in many places. It rarely seemed to be the weather we expected. Now, this doesn’t mean you need to bring everything in your closet.
[…] I think we will end up trying to travel with the weather but we have not decided on exact plans yet. Luckily there a LOT of people that travel the country and there are so many helpful websites, blogs, instructional and educational videos out there. I have also heard that full time RVer’s are very kind and helpful and care about their communities. I have found some awesome tips about RVing with dogs, Rv campsite review websites, public land camping and free locations to park, and all kinds of amazing videos about how to replacing flooring and painting the walls and of course all kinds of lists like the “10 things I wish I’d known before RVing“. […]
Boondocking is basically camping at free spots without hook-ups. Several State Forests and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) locations have free dispersed camping. Typically, you can stay in one location for a maximum of 14 days. We have also found a few state parks have free campsites. While this option is free, you do have to find and pay for dump stations.
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?
The problem was that we were traveling too much, and trying to work full-time on top of that. So, we decided to try Cherie’s formula and slow down. And, you know what? It made an enormous difference. Traveling became fun again because we gave ourselves the time and space to really experience each place we went. We also had more breathing room in between travel days to work, rest, and do chores.
hairyleggedjebjeb: Come back and talk to me about it when you've been doing it for more than 50 years (as I have). RVing can be a terrific lifestyle, but to think that it does not involve sacrifice is dreaming. There's plenty of that, and the longer you live this life, the more you will see that this is true. Far too many people jump into it thinking it will be all fun and freedom only to find that, just like anything else, it has its problems. The disappointment this brings often causes people to give it up, so to protect them a bit, I wanted them to see the realities.
b) You kindly share so very much about budgets and affordability on your web site but there is no mention of how you or others similar that can’t/don’t wish to work whilst travelling and aren’t of retirement age for pensions/SS etc fund this lifestyle for several years? I notice that you referenced more recently somewhere about generating a little income as affiliates for Amazon (by the way, we look forward to supporting that in due course), but assume that wouldn’t equate to your full months expenses?
Truth be told, cooking is the most difficult part (to me) of living in a camper in the winter. If you don’t crack open a vent so the condensation can escape, your camper will quickly begin to accumulate ice and mold, although the wood stove helps bake most of that condensation out. Also, make sure to wash dishes the second you finish your meal, because it gets much more difficult once they freeze… and you don’t want to carry any more water into the camper than you have to.
That said, it is not for everyone. We have met very few full-time RVers who boondock as much as we do. Most people who enjoy boondocking, or “free camping,” do it from 25% to 75% of the time, at most. For full-timers who work, it is hard to find a boondocking location near most jobs, and you have to pack up and go to the RV dump station every 10 days to 2 weeks, disrupting your life. Even if your work is location independent, and you work out of your RV, finding good boondocking locations that have adequate internet access to do that is not easy. During the summer of 2014 we spent 5 weeks camping in places that were 10 miles or more from the nearest internet access.
There are going to be plenty of days when things don’t go as planned. You’ll run over the fire-pit grate and pop a tire while racing to get out of a campsite before checkout. You’ll stumble into a darkened shower stall at a state park, only to realize you’re sharing it with a wolf spider the size of a tarantula and dozens of centipedes the size of your palm. Your GPS will mistakenly steer you into a major downtown area with streets so narrow you have mere inches between your trailer and the other cars.
At the same time, being together 24/7 is a challenge, too. It’s one of the reasons we chose to live this way. But, as you can imagine, it poses its own issues since there is no pushing anything under the rug. All issues, hard feelings and frustrations need to be addressed quickly or they just continue to grow and grow, and that doesn’t work in such close quarters.
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!
We started with the curriculum below but after about six months gave “unschooling” a try before going back to a more scheduled approach. I’m glad we tried unschooling but it didn’t work for us at that point in our lives or perhaps I just didn’t give it time. Another post all together. After our failed unschooling attempt, I added an additional writing program because I wasn’t thrilled with Sonlight or Rod and Staff’s writing components.
We budget $6k per month and usually have a hard time sticking to it. I guess you would have to put us into that ‘upper’ bracket. We track every penny (we use YNAB as our budgeting tool-Google it), but still don’t deny ourselves anything we really need or want. We moved into the rig in July 07 with a nice portfolio and then suffered through the 07-08 market collapse. We dropped about 38%. We slowed our spending down a bit, workcamped for a season (Crazy Horse Monument in the Black Hills) and within a couple of years our portfolio had returned to pre-recession levels. In fact, our portfolio today is actually just a bit larger than the day I retired. And what’s our secret? Low cost passive index funds from Vanguard.
Definitely! The “fun” budget is something I include in our “entertainment” category and that’s definitely a part of the flexible budget that’s worth planning for when you go fulltime RVing. We actually spend less on entertainment than we did when we lived in a stix and brix in CA (mostly because we go out to eat less than we did when we both worked in a corporate job), but we do spend something in this category every month. It’s year-round entertainment now 🙂
Just as the more commonly accepted THOW forums go there is always that one question that is asked over and over and over so to does the RV community. It usually manifests itself as some version of “How much does it cost per month to live full-time in an RV?” And as one would imagine there is no standard answer. The answer is highly personal and varies from person to person based upon personal living style and income.
And to add some encouragement for you, years ago when my children were young, I homeschooled/unschooled them for the majority of their education. We were fortunate to have moved across the country for work a few times and had the opportunity to do a lot of camping. They are now both rising seniors in college and doing extremely well. They are pursuing their passions instead of checking a box. I know their unconventional formative years are a contributing factor to their life choices.
Our next step was to partially winterize by draining the tank, adding RV antifreeze, turning on the pump and opening all cold water taps (we didn't want antifreeze in the water heater). When the antifreeze appeared, we turned off the pump and switched to water from the city water outlet. The pump and surrounding water lines were then protected.
BLM JUST upgraded their website last year and they REMOVED all of the wonderful links and maps they used to have on there!! For example there is no longer ANY information on LTVA camping, nor any information on MANY of the free or low-cost campgrounds we’ve used over the years. Plus that interactive map with all the clickable layers I used to use and which I linked to in that blog post? Completely gone!! I honestly have no idea why they decided to remove all this valuable info from their site, and I’ve yet to update all my old blog posts to reflect this massive change (I’ve got SO many broken links right now). You can still get map info if you physically walk into a BLM office and ask for it, but I no longer know how to find these maps online. Wish it weren’t so.
Thanks for the article, Tim! I really enjoy hearing and reading about folk’s experiences when living and traveling small. I never made time for it even though it was a dream and, now that I’m old, it will be one of those things that I’ll say, “If only…..”. Everyone reading this article: Please do everything you can to have a bucket list, and then do it! Don’t have regrets. I DO have a bucket list now and will do everything I have time for. Your story encourages me to keep going.
Like everything related to money, a good, well thought-out plan and budget is key. But I’m here to deliver a message – full-time travel is much more affordable than one might think. The average monthly campground / RV park fee is far less expensive than most mortgages or rent, and the varying price points of RVs and travel trailers can fit almost any budget. Sure, a decked-out class A can be expensive, but used travel trailers are priced quite affordably. Our very first travel trailer cost us only $8,000 – try buying a house at that price point!
We actually have a hard time with naming the worst things. That's not to say everything is perfect and all rosy in RV living, it isn't. It's just that nothing seems so awful that it needs to be called out. Maybe it's our more laid back attitude or just knowing things like dumping the black tanks are just part of life, but it never seems that bad. Still, we feel compelled to come up with something, so here are our least favorite things about living in an RV.