$3,555 Groceries: We shop at Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and if available local natural food markets. What’s most fun is trying to purchase local at each place; trying a new salsa, hummus, fruit, beer, etc. The ULTIMATE shopping experience comes at local farmers markets where you can purchase the most plump heirloom tomatoes ($2/lb), the brightest strawberries ($1.50/lb), and the best natural foods offered in the area. Best of all shopping at a farmers market supports the locals, and saves you money vs. buying at the grocery store. (est. savings $200)
Fortunately, there are lots of RV parks that are designed with this conundrum in mind, offering activities for kids and adults alike. For example, the Jellystone Parks family of RV resorts has fun, themed activities and tons of amenities like swimming pools, water slides, and bounce houses, making it one of the best solutions to RV vacations for families.
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.
I once read an article that said having adventures, big and small, were the secret to long lasting happy marriages. I think about all the people I know who are happily married, not the ones who manage to get along and check off life’s boxes like efficient business partners, but the ones who delight in each other, the ones who share a certain noticeable energy that seems to propel them through life. I’ve noticed most of these people make adventure a way of life whether it’s driving across the county to see an iron bridge, taking a different way home just because, trying new restaurants, challenging their minds together, or spontaneously flying to France because they found cheap tickets online. (Umm…that would be my crazy parents.) This past year we’ve been so overwhelmed by adjusting back to a normal life with things like electric bills and school commitments that we’ve almost forgotten to have fun. It was like suddenly after 16 years our honeymoon was over.
I admire your stamina and am jealous of your bravado and lifestyle. Just a note to tell you how to fix almost all of the things you mentioned as extra-difficult living in an RV in the winter in Alaska. I have seen RVs designed specifically for use in such conditions. The alterations are designed in from the beginning and built into it. The era your unit was built, they didn’t do these things and I’m sure buying one that is equipped this way costs WAY more than the one you bought, but I can also say I suspect you could sell yours to someone living a bit more southerly for a pretty good penny, though I also suspect you’re not particularly interested in making a change since what you have is actually working for you.
This is in answer to Liz about our 5er. We have a 30’11” Crossroads Patriot, a 2011 model. The model number is 28 something or other. You can’t use the model number as the length, by the way. You usually have at least 2 more feet of trailer. We bought our 5er fully expecting to retire early and get back on the road. We were full time for a while because of my husband’s job. Since then we have become guardians of our now 16 year old granddaughter, and have a few more years left at home. I think I would reconsider to about a 30′ length Class A now that you can get shorter diesel pushers. I miss having enough room for family in the vehicle, being able to get to the bathroom without pulling over, and being able to get to the “bedroom” without getting out of the vehicle. There are lots of RV sites with info about choosing a trailer or a Class A or C. Just depends on what your preferences and needs are at your point in life. I think we will be happier with our trailer when we are living in it, doing campground hosting and/or whatever life hands us. Right now, we actually removed all the living/kitchen area furniture except the table and chairs. Our youngest son and his wife and daughter, and our 16 yr. old, all set up cots in that area and are able to join us to camp without packing all their gear. We enjoy being outside when we are camping, so this set up has been lots of fun, and we have camped in our local mountains in all kinds of weather. If you look at Nina’s Eagle Nest State Park photo in the blog, we were in that exact spot 10 days ago, but we have also camped in Santa Fe National Forest while it was snowing. Lots of variety here in New Mexico! Had to get in a plug for my home state! My advice, if you haven’t had a lot of experience with different RVs, is to get a used rig and get some experience, and don’t spend major money at first. There will always be things you like and don’t like, though, no matter what you choose!
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.
Inside, the RV is cool but not cold. Both radiators are on, although the one in the bedroom is set to low. I have an electric blanket on my bed so I’m never cold at night. The RV’s gas heater with its loud fan supplements the heat in the living room in the morning. I know I could keep it warmer if I’d just close the blinds, but I’d rather put on a sweater than miss out on the views outside my windows.
I am an aspiring homesteader on a journey to become self-sustainable and free. In my past, I've worked corporate jobs to make ends meet and get ahead a little; it didn't make me happy or confident in my future. Since taking the leap to self-employment and living a more simple life, my happiness levels have increased greatly and I've never felt more alive. I finally understand what I want in life and how to get there, and that is what this blog is all about.
We also conserved fuel by minimizing our hot water usage. With no permanent sewer connection, we weren’t using the washer/dryer. Instead, our weekly errands included a trip to the laundry mat. We both had a fitness center at our workplace, so we took advantage of those showers. This had the added bonus that we got into a regular exercise routine. In general, we were mindful of how we used water during our winter RVing — a practice that continues to prove useful in boondocking.
While living by yourself in a camper allows more space and freedom, it sure is nice having another warm body around, ha. But seriously, it does keep you a lot warmer at night if you’ve got your lady or your man by your side, so if they are up for having an experience they’ll remember the rest of their lives, have them move on board with you for a bit. And believe me, you really get to know someone when you share a 10 ft. long living space with them!
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.
Hi Nina, thanks so much for the prompt reply. Follow up question to your comment “couple who had a large 5th wheel last year and they had so much low overhang on the back of their rig that it kept bottoming out on bumpy roads” Are you referring to the distance of the furthest rear axle to the back end of the 5th wheel or simply the ground clearance at the back end of the 5th wheel? I can see it being a problem the greater the distance between the rear axle to the end of the trailer on any bumpy road as being a problem, and I have seen some motorhomes that would have the same issue.
$4,000 Eating Out: We made a rule, we eat dinner out once per week at a quality restaurant recommended by the hip locals. Sometimes the bill would be cheap and other times not so much. Of course we would eat lunch out, or purchase a coffee every once and a while. This includes all expenses spent at a Restaurant, Pub, Bar, Happy Hour, Cupcake Shop, etc.
These kinds of campground membership programs are a complicated, and the companies change the rules as their profitability and growth plan requires. It is best to book your stays 90 days or more in advance and there may also be a complex set of rules to follow regarding staying within the network and outside of it. Sometimes an alternative campground network is offered so you have somewhere similar to stay when it is time for you to stay outside your home network. Two we’ve heard of are Resorts of Distinction and Adventure Outdoor Resorts given as the alternative networks.
It’s unseasonably cold this week so I’ll have a good chance to test my setup. I’m not too concerned. The other day, one of my neighbors, who is going away for the winter, kindly offered me his home. I’ll talk to him later today; that might make a Plan B for nights that are just too cold to stick around. But it shouldn’t get much colder than it is this week, so there’s a good chance I’ll be living in my own space all winter long.
I’ve heard that vehicle insurance rates are based on the demographics like population on a county-by-county basis (as well as each person’s age, driving record, etc.). Are you aware of any significant differences in insurance rates between the counties in South Dakota where the mail forwarding services are located? A couple of them are in very sparsely populated counties, but I haven’t seen them promoting this as a reason to choose their services.
Starting for Q2 we are sharing less info that has to do with our website expenses and trying to keep our detailed expenses very broad so it shows ONLY the travel & exploration part of our RV lifestyle. If you want more details read our older expense postings in this article. Remember you can live for a lot less than us or you can spend triple what we do, either way this is how we live and some people find this info helpful. Wanna know how we live? Check out some of our adventures and foodie reviews…we like to say we’re into affordable luxury.
The Meinhofers and a dozen others who spoke with The Washington Post about this modern nomadic lifestyle said living in 200 to 400 square feet has improved their marriages and made them happier, even if they’re earning less. There’s no official term for this lifestyle, but most refer to themselves as “full-time RVers,” “digital nomads” or “workampers.”
Joe and Kait its been said before here, but i would really like to thank you two for being so very transparent with all of your financial information. For “us” newbies looking to get started it is a huge relief to know that the numbers that we have worked out for “our” full timing are realistic. My wife and two cats are in the process of downsizing and moving full time in too our 30ft 5th wheel. My wife is retiring in August 2017, but i will be working for a couple of two more years full time to get the last few bills paid off before we hit the road full-time. Looking at your way of living gives us both the peace of mind that we are making the right move. Thanks again and please keep posting, your insights and adventures are wonderful.
I hate getting old as insurance goes up, but being retired with only Social Security, and not having to pay taxes sure helps. We are considering Texas as our domicile for family and our truck registration, but it depends on the cost of changing health insurance. We have an old travel trailer we bought for $4,500, so we will save if we want something newer. All we can do is try. We will have a storage place though, just in case.
When the temperatures dip below freezing, we make sure to run our propane heater so it can blow into our storage bay and keep our pipes and tanks warm. But we use electric heat as backup for when we run out of propane in the middle of the night (because sometimes we are irresponsible and forget about our propane tanks) and because it’s cheaper for us as a main source of heat when the temperatures are above freezing.
Even after putting on our skirting last year, I noticed that the floors of the slides in our living area were extremely cold. There didn’t seem to be a draft, and the seals around the edges of the slides seemed fine; it was actually the floors themselves that were, according to my thermometer, a good 20 degrees colder than the rest of the room. To solve this problem, I went to Lowe’s and purchased some foam board, and we duct taped it to the bottom of each slide. This made a huge difference in the temperature of the floor and the warmth of the whole RV. If I had it to do over again, though, I would use HVAC tape instead of duct tape as it is supposed to be better in all weather and not leave residue when removed.
Many RVers go into a winter counting on their propane furnace to see them through the season, but it will only take you a few weeks to burn through your propane when it gets really cold, so you might want to consider an alternative form of heat. One of the most popular methods to keep warm without burning up all of your fuel is to use portable electric heaters. These gadgets are compact, and affordable, and many newer models come with RV friendly feature like automatic shutoff if they get knocked over. If you're in a larger RV, you can even pick up a couple of them and heat the RV with relative ease. There is a catch: make sure that when you're plugging in your heater, that you're not overloading your electrical system.
You must spend more time in open or private sites than we do. We spend most of our summers in forested public parks and we were almost never able to get a satellite lock on that roof dish. We honestly couldn’t use it more than half the year. Last year we completely ditched the roof-dish (in fact we ditched Direct TV altogether) and it’s been a great decision for us.
You two are amazing! My fiancé and I just saw your “house hunters” episode today and wanted to check out your blog! We are seriously amazed at how you are making this amazing experience work. We are both “tied down” with jobs and such, we looked at each other and said “how refreshing!” Now, we haven’t made any serious life-altering decisions or taken any steps yet but there is no doubt both of our wheels are still turning! Just wanted to share a thank you for a reminder of the beauty in our world, you are super inspiring, and good luck in your travels!!
I’ve mentioned before that living and traveling in an RV full-time can either be very expensive or very affordable. It all depends on your lifestyle, goals, and self-discipline. When we first hit the road, our expenses skyrocketed. We were traveling almost daily, staying in higher-priced RV campgrounds, and eating out at restaurants almost every night because we didn’t feel comfortable cooking in such a tiny kitchen.
Note that the cheaper you go, the more likely you’ll need to put work into it. You’ll want to get the Bentley Guide to Vanagons which will give you a good amount of the info you need to work on it yourself. It will break down, eventually, and maybe often, depending on how well cared for it was in the past and how well you continue to care for it. Our 78 Bus requires near daily attention, though certainly other people get better rigs and don’t have quite so much work on their hands.
You can put reflective foil house wrap over RV. You don’t have to remove your exterior siding. You just have to put furring strips over the house wrap and put another layer of exterior siding. I have seen pictures of people making a RV cover out of reflective bubble foil for their motor homes but that would work if you are parked in one place for a while. Another thing that would help with the loss of heat would be to have spray foam insulation applied to the bottom of your RV since you are not skirting it. Also, you should look into 3M window shrink film. It’s a great low budge solution for single paned windows.
When asked what advice she’d give to anyone considering RVing full-time, she mentions the word balance. In the life of a full-time RVer, balance means a number of things. It means researching and planning, but it also means driving west with no other goal than to see the surf of the Pacific. It means camping in cities and drinking beer in crowded breweries, but it also means spending weeks alone in Montana, camping on the outskirts of Glacier National Park amongst the fields of beargrass and turquoise lakes. Mostly, it means embracing a life defined by travel, even if other real-world problems like finding a doctor and sticking to a budget do arise.
What puts an RV on the list: There’s obviously a huge difference between RVing once in a while and RVing full time. To make sure you get the closest feeling of living in a home we’ve hand picked the ones with a good mix of bunkhouse and regular floorplans. We’ve also made sure they have enough 40 feet+ length floorplans since space can be a concern when RVing full time. After a few spec comparisons it all boiled down to the ones which had the best reviews. Here are the Top 5 Best Fifth Wheels For Full Time Living.
Love reading this! We do not live in an RV but we do live in an 800 sq ft 1969 Model mobile home at this time. It’s hard for a family of 6 space wise but we have made it work for the last almost 4 years. We will however be moving next week into a 2700 sq ft home that is definitely a fixer upper so the price we got it for is just amazing. Good things come to those who wait! Good Luck to you in your Journey!
Nina – We are devoted readers of your blog. We ourselves are just getting ready to hit the road this spring, and as basic as this question may be, we would like to know what type of dishes you recommend. Do you travel with regular flatware or something more light and durable? We are hoping to find something that does not contain BPA. Just wondering if you could recommend a brand and/or source.
We've had this motorhome for almost two years but never had the propane system checked to see if everything worked correctly since we were in California for much of the time. Plus, we don't know how expensive it is to get this system checked. (The small propane tank is still half full.) Can electric heaters be used for inside heating as long as they're the kind that shuts off if tipped (and never left on when we leave for a few hours)?
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!
When we first started RVing we signed up to just about every camping club out there, Sam’s Club, Escapees, Club USA etc. In retrospect (again because of where/how we like to camp) these were not worth it. The only camping club I currently consider is Passport America, mostly for short stops and I do like the Escapees Days End list, but even these have mostly been replaced by overnight “freebies” when we need them. The rest of the time we’re out in nature/boonies where club memberships do not go. For some people clubs are great and they can certainly be cost saving if you make use of them, but for us they’ve simply not made the cut.
As for the antifreeze – make sure you use a non-toxic RV safe antifreeze. The last thing you want to do is pour toxic chemicals down your pipes, then flush them down into the sewer when you leave. I’d say 1 gallon for every 20 gallons of liquid inside your tanks (i.e. if your grey is only 10 gallons full don’t put more than a half gallon of antifreeze). Best of luck, winter RVing is great cause you’re often all by yourself, but you gotta keep those pipes protected.
This is an excellent post, Nina. People ask us all the time what it costs to RV full time, and we’ve come up with just about the same answer as you —we figure $3500 for a comfortable and varied lifestyle that includes a mix of state and federal parks, some boon docking, occasional expensive RV resorts, and camp hosting. We travel a lot of miles every year driving from the Pacific Northwest to Florida and back, which I realize isn’t typical.
We have posted a detailed article explaining the issue as well as a detailed analysis of the committee hearing written by the Escapees Advocacy Director in an email to Escapees members. The comments made by Senator Tieszen at the hearing make it clear he is going to continue to work towards eliminating the voting eligibility of people who are not physical residents of the state.
[…] The down-time is also giving us some space to plan our next steps. In the last big storm we discovered yet another leak in…guess what?…our”big” slide on the front drivers side of the rig. This same slide, and the woes of getting it fixed was the very reason we rushed ~1000 miles cross-country to Oregon almost 3 years ago. Back then the main problem was in the back of the slide near the fridge. Now, the front has moved out of alignment with the front edge dangerously close to catching under the rim of the RV. Simply put it’s just a poorly engineered design and we should never have bought a rig with a heavy object like the fridge in it (one of our “10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Fulltime RVing“). […]
Variable expenses are the ones that fluctuate from month to money and in RVLife you actually have a LOT of control over these expenses. As you’ll see in our Lodging/Camping expenses category, we have been able to significantly decrease this expense over the years by getting better at free boondocking and utilizing RV Clubs like Boondockers Welcome, Harvest Hosts, and Thousand Trails. However, if you decide to park in an RV Resort in downtown San Diego for example, it could cost you upwards of $1000 per month.
28. RVing teaches you to fix things. I hoped I was going to be rich enough to pay a mechanic all the time. That strategy hasn’t worked out for me yet, so now I know how to flush my radiator, fix my generator, check gauges, and a lot of other manly stuff I couldn’t do before. I even recently outfitted our Honda CR-V for proper towing, Dad would be proud.