Once we retire, my wife and I are planning on spending winters (at least) heading south from Chicago in an RV for maybe 3 months at a time. I’m an over-researcher according to her, but also an accountant. 🙂 I’d love to play with your budgeting worksheet. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the link on your website. Is there a specific page where I can find it?
So the big swing number that I see in what you wrote is camping costs. We workamp/boondock at least 4 months of every year which brings down those costs to around $10-$12/night on average. That’s been our norm for the past 6 years. Last year was the sole exception traveling out East, but even then we only hit $24/night. We have no TV, we travel on average only 6,000 miles per year and we don’t eat out much simply because we love to cook (when we do it’s mostly for beer tasters and a cheap lunch).
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!
I mean come on now, RV living with kids means we are together literally 24/7 so it is bound to happen! And it does. There are days when we are all at our wits end and just don’t want to be together anymore. These are usually the days when we will jump in the car and go for a ride so everyone can be in their car seat, contained, and just relaxing – with the TV on and an iPad in hand. And we don’t feel guilty about it!
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.
Budgets and actual expenditures vary over time. Most fulltimers find that they spend a lot more in the first few months of travel than they do once they have been out for a while. It takes some time, and quite a few purchases, to make an RV a home, and most of those costs come at the beginning. These are things like patio mats, camping chairs and grills, tools your suddenly discover you need, area rugs, throw pillows, kitchen gadgets, campground directories, travel guide books, and all those funky gismos they sell at Camping World that are just so perfect for the RV lifestyle.
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.
lived full time 3 years, in Colorado in mountains in a optimized 1989 truck camper (since upgraded to a bigfoot 4 season camper built in british columbia specifically FOR winter camping. The bigfoot should allow water in pipes not to freeze, so I am told. they also make class C rvs. the construction is the best of any RV I have ever seen. better than artic fox truck campers because its 2 pieces of boat hull fiberglass clamshelled together top and bottom, no seams, just the windows. plus extra insulation.
The number one thing that needs to be done to prepare an RV for LIVING through the winter is find a place to park so that you don’t have move the darn thing.  Trust me on this, once the cold weather sets in, you do not want to have to move it.  Roads are slick, cross winds are brutal and water lines WILL freeze without heat.  Making your ‘home on wheels’ stationary for months at a time takes some fore thought.
One way to go fulltime and cut expenses is work camp. We have met many people that do this and save a lot of money. Food,insurance,any rv repairs,health insurance are really your only large expenses. Only con is if you still have a lot to see or do not want to work at all this will not be an option for you. And thank you for all the work you put into site very informative.
When you give up your home owner’s policy, you give up a lot of nice blanket coverages that come with it, like liability coverage and the loss of personal belongings. Quite a few companies offer “Full-time RV insurance” that includes liability coverage similar to what would typically come with a home insurance policy. Coverage for personal belongings is a whole different story, however. See below.
We agonized over the cost of full-time RVing for a long time before we jumped in. The truth is costs are flexible and totally manageable and our experience has certainly proved that to be so. There are great options for saving money both on camping, gas, health insurance, taxes, car/RV registration and other areas. You can take your time and boondock, workamp along the way or run around and stay in pricey resorts. All can be great experiences, but the real beauty is that the choice is there.

The following comparison shows precisely what would be typical for me and my family, which includes mom, dad, three kids (two toddlers and a teenager), and grandma, a family of 6. Your results may vary. The “Home” table reflects averages for the entire US. We then compare it against our own costs, and those of average prices for new and used RVers, except where those costs wouldn’t change based on the rig you have. Links to sources inline.


Thanks, Daniel. I’ll try to update the article to reflect that information soon. One thing that really helps when we stay at private campgrounds is the monthly rate. We stayed at a Jellystone in February and the regular rates were $55 per night, but using the monthly rate it only averaged $19.33 per night. That’s more than 50% off! And that was not using any type of military discount.

I really appreciate it when you pointed out that being an owner of an RV means that I should learn a little about electrical, plumbing, and roofing work so that life on the road will be a little easier. Maybe it is time that I get myself a book and educate myself about the basics of troubleshooting. After all, I do intend to get an RV for myself soon since my dream job is to be a nature journalist. Thanks for the tips.


We are new to your blog and new to the world of RVing. We are in the process of selling the house and plan to become fulltimers within the next 3-6 months. Our big issue right now is with size. We like our creature comforts, but we also want to use state and national parks and forests as much as possible. In your comments you suggested that the next time you might stay in the 36-38 foot range. We are thinking 40. I recently read something that indicated that anything over 35 would rule out 85% of state and national parks. If that is true, how much worse does that number get if you are in a 40 footer vs something in the 36-38 range? And, if the percent available is pretty much the same between 36 and 40, why not go 40?

It took a long time. Three days of about four hours a day with a few breaks for phone calls, snacks, and to track down a tiny dog who thinks she can chase bighorn sheep up on the cliffs. But finally, I was done. One end had two cords (one for the 30-foot length and one for the 6-foot length) and the other end had one cord (for the other 30-foot length).
One way to go fulltime and cut expenses is work camp. We have met many people that do this and save a lot of money. Food,insurance,any rv repairs,health insurance are really your only large expenses. Only con is if you still have a lot to see or do not want to work at all this will not be an option for you. And thank you for all the work you put into site very informative.
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.
Your water hose WILL FREEZE! Do not leave your water hose connected during freezing temperatures. There are special water hoses you can plug in to keep warm, you can also make a heated water hose using Pipe Heating Cable (Heat Tape) and Insulating Foam Pipe Covers. During extreme freeze your ‘heated’ water hose may still freeze. Numerous times I’ve seen people in the bathroom trying to thaw their heated hoses. Save money and save hassle, just fill your fresh water tank and disconnect your hose, repeat when necessary (it’s really not a big deal and it will save you money and you won’t have to store a bulky winter water hose all year)
Never allow your black tank to freeze unless you want to deal with a disgusting mess. Use a PVC pipe for your sewer hose – it’ll have less chance of freezing than a regular hose. If you plan on leaving the tank hooked up, add a layer of insulation around the sewer pipe. However, it’s a good idea to keep your tank closed until it needs to be dumped.
We are both foodies and people watchers and in our first month we were doing lunch and dinner in nice restaurants and a Starbucks to use he wifi almost every day. We went over our food budget by $2500.00!! the first two months…. Now we have found that we can go to “coffee shops”. Have a lite snack without liquor or expensive beverages and then go home and share a great bottle of wine over a wonderful campfire dinner. Third month is under budget! So I would have to say food and drink was our biggest expense surprise.
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.
I love your site and all the insite you give. We are planning on going on the road in 3 to 5 years and getting all our ducks in a row to do that. Down sizing is hard do do with our hobbies and family pass downs as well as tools that we may need.. We are planning on an older Class A in a price range of 30k so we have no payments. We will keep following your blog..Thanks, Jack and Diane Indy
My VA business focuses on providing social media, blogging, and email marketing support for small businesses and my husband is now coming on board to focus on web design and SEO work. Outside of that, we continue to work on monetizing our travel blog and using our blog as a way to encourage other families to travel more and to also live their dreams now!
  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.  
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.
lived full time 3 years, in Colorado in mountains in a optimized 1989 truck camper (since upgraded to a bigfoot 4 season camper built in british columbia specifically FOR winter camping. The bigfoot should allow water in pipes not to freeze, so I am told. they also make class C rvs. the construction is the best of any RV I have ever seen. better than artic fox truck campers because its 2 pieces of boat hull fiberglass clamshelled together top and bottom, no seams, just the windows. plus extra insulation.
In the end, the decision was made easy by the amazing views out my window every day. From my perch high above the Columbia River and Wenatchee Valley, I could enjoy the ever-changing scenery, which varied throughout the day with changes in light and weather. I could watch low-level clouds form and dissipate over the river. I could see the shadows move and lengthen with the shifting of the sun. I would watch the moonlight play upon the hillsides and cliffs. And I could marvel at the lights down in the city, sparkling with color. Would I see all that cooped up in a tiny rental apartment? Or closed up in a cavernous hangar with just three windows? No.
It is obvious that when we’re comfortable, we are much keener in recognizing and appreciating beauty. The winter is a stunning time to camp and explore. With fewer campers willing to tolerate the lower temperatures, winter camping can be a magical experience. By following these tips, you’ll be able to witness the true exquisiteness that winter reveals that others will never encounter. Stay warm my friends.
We purposely headed into Colorado and Utah in the winter because we wanted to ski, and because we wanted to travel the opposite direction of most RV’ers who go south for colder months. We were prepared with tools to help our RV survive: a heated, enclosed underbelly on the trailer; heated hoses; space heaters, etc. We survived a low of 10 degrees one night just before Christmas in Green River, Utah, and on and off sub-freezing temperatures the rest of our trip. We even had about six inches of snow in South Dakota after Easter.
So, we take our $7200 and leave on our new life of freedom until we need more money. Then, we choose a place we want to be for a while, stop there, and get a job paying as much as we can, but at least $7 per hour . For that month we take home about $1000. We spend half of that to live on, and now have $500 in savings. Actually, we should have more since we won’t be driving much (some of us will ride our bike, scooter or motorcycle which we are carrying on a bike rack or trailer). So we can take that $500 and are off again. Or we can spend several months at one place and then travel several months. Maybe you like to ski so you spend three months at a ski resort working and skiing on the weekends. Then you have the next three months off to do whatever and go wherever you want. When you need to work again, you drive up to Glacier National Park and get a job there doing dishes at the resort. You spend your summer weekends hiking and taking pictures. Three months later, you are free again. Or maybe you are a history buff. So you drive to Gettysburg and get a job there. You spend your weekends exploring the Amish country and Philadelphia. You then go to New England to photograph the fall colors and spend a month exploring Washington DC. When you need to work again you drive to Orlando or Miami, get a job, and explore Florida. If you are adventurous you can work your way down to a beach resort in Mexico where you work for the next three months and surf, fish and snorkel on your weekends. Working in the tourist industry you probably double your wage in tips and living in Mexico is very cheap so you save even more than usual. Now you can take the next six months off in the U.S., or maybe nine months off in Mexico. You keep doing this to your heart’s content!
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.
Yes that was as I feared. I was hoping you would have some suggestion that you or one of your readers may have had to use, Blue Cross Blue Shield will not forward prescriptions of this kind. My only hope would be the Dr. ordering 3-6 months worth, then the insurance company has to approve it also, I know that’s sounds weird, but I have dealt with them before for just a half of month worth of supplies to have on hand in the winter time for UPS downtime because of weather conditions. They refused. I will read your your blog in it’s entirety and glean some very useful incites and websites for use later, at least I hope to use anyway. May be trapped into taking small trips then back home. Thank you so much for your quick response.
My wife found your site last night and we love it. Next year around June we are looking to go full time RVing. We have a 2013 Tundra with a 4.0 v6 to pull at the most a 22ft. trailer. We’ll probably look to install a larger radiator and tranny cooler first and will be going with the anti sway bars setup. We lived in a 34ft. motorhome for a year in Sacramento in a trailer park in 2007 with 2 dogs and a cat who adopted us (he was left behind from one who moved out, we still have him along with another and a golden retriever). We plan to stay with the truck and smaller trailer for a year or so to see how it goes. We’ll do some boondocking, and mostly look to stay someplace for a month at a time, and work camping.
This figure is an average of all our truck and trailer maintenance costs from 2007 to 2014 rather than being just the expenses we incurred over our six months of summer travels in 2014. We did not use the trailer when we lived on our sailboat, although we did use our truck when our boat was in San Diego and Ensenada at the beginning and end of our cruise, and all that is factored into this average.
The beauty of an RV Extended Warranty is that it picks up where a regular insurance policy leaves off. Our entire trailer is covered for all failures other than regular wear and tear. This includes having the frame crack or slides fail to come in and out or the suspension give up the ghost (it did) or having the air conditioner or refrigerator die (which it did too).
Sure we considered the this-is-our-life-and-sorry-it’s-not-what-you-want-but-try-to-appreciate-and-learn-from-it approach. As parents we have that right to make the choices we think our best for our kids and family. The road may be “best” for Brent and I but, God willing, we have many years left as a couple to explore and experience life as we want but the older boys only have few years left as kids. They didn’t want to spend their teenage years living in an RV full time.
I just discovered your site and it’s awesome! In 5 years I plan on doing what you are doing…..and in the few minutes I’ve spent on your site so far, I’ve discovered I can learn a lot from you. I also like that you focus on staying in/on public lands, etc, versus the “RV PARK”. That is one thing I’ve been hesitating about – finding those more natural places to be, versus in the RV Park…. I don’t want to be in the RV park type thing — at least not the ones that would feel like I’m in just another suburban neighborhood.
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.
Thanks for sharing these details. Just signed up for your newsletter to get more helpful tidbits as you post them. We are planning on downsizing from our SF Bay Area home to a full-time traveling RV and need to work from the road. It’s especially helpful to us to see connectivity costs, which we were thinking would cost us quite a bit each month. Thus it was shocking for us to see folks being able to spend only $600 total per month. We will be lucky to keep our expenses to $2k/month! Looks like a $3K monthly budget could work even after eating out and buying quite a bit of booze 🙂
Did you say,only 50k miles? When I was working, I recall 1 week, on night service, well what with the heat ( 93, or 94 ) but that was 1500 miles in NJ, my last car 355k miles, anyhow , if I ever go on the road it probably HYMER 1.0 but it would only. Be me.Wife can’t ever see anyone living in a vehicle, the other is my age 77, and 1.35 million miles, so I now only use a 1/2 tank per month ! 2013 Ford Taurus.

This figure is an average of all our truck and trailer maintenance costs from 2007 to 2014 rather than being just the expenses we incurred over our six months of summer travels in 2014. We did not use the trailer when we lived on our sailboat, although we did use our truck when our boat was in San Diego and Ensenada at the beginning and end of our cruise, and all that is factored into this average.
Just as a reminder to anyone considering or who owns any RV with slide out partitions, You should always keep the tracks lubricated and run them in and out at least once a month to spread the lubrication. Proper maintenance goes a long way in worry free use, especially when you are living in it full time. I even live in mine all year round in northern latitudes and lived in Alaska for ten years in an rv with “tip outs”. You can “skirt” even a non winter RV and heat the under side to keep your tanks from freezing. Old flexable/cloth backed, highway advertizing signs do a good job when purchased. painted and fitted to your rig. They have great insulation value too. I would happily explain any winterization process that any one would like to know about. This blog is a great place for information for anyone considering living full time in an rv. There is a lot of good usefull information contained within.
So, we take our $7200 and leave on our new life of freedom until we need more money. Then, we choose a place we want to be for a while, stop there, and get a job paying as much as we can, but at least $7 per hour . For that month we take home about $1000. We spend half of that to live on, and now have $500 in savings. Actually, we should have more since we won’t be driving much (some of us will ride our bike, scooter or motorcycle which we are carrying on a bike rack or trailer). So we can take that $500 and are off again. Or we can spend several months at one place and then travel several months. Maybe you like to ski so you spend three months at a ski resort working and skiing on the weekends. Then you have the next three months off to do whatever and go wherever you want. When you need to work again, you drive up to Glacier National Park and get a job there doing dishes at the resort. You spend your summer weekends hiking and taking pictures. Three months later, you are free again. Or maybe you are a history buff. So you drive to Gettysburg and get a job there. You spend your weekends exploring the Amish country and Philadelphia. You then go to New England to photograph the fall colors and spend a month exploring Washington DC. When you need to work again you drive to Orlando or Miami, get a job, and explore Florida. If you are adventurous you can work your way down to a beach resort in Mexico where you work for the next three months and surf, fish and snorkel on your weekends. Working in the tourist industry you probably double your wage in tips and living in Mexico is very cheap so you save even more than usual. Now you can take the next six months off in the U.S., or maybe nine months off in Mexico. You keep doing this to your heart’s content!
Having never driven more than an SUV, I certainly didn’t feel equipped to pull a 30-foot trailer with a diesel pickup truck (our setup last year). But like riding a bike, practice makes perfect. A few hours maneuvering around a Walmart parking lot, getting a feel for turns and backing into empty spaces, and we felt comfortable enough to head out on the open road. It’s always necessary to do an appropriate amount of route scouting in advance to avoid low overpasses or the possible restricted roads, but within a few weeks’ time, pulling and parking the rig was second nature.
Propane Heater – This device sips propane compared to the furnace installed on your RV, yet it keeps the inside even warmer.  Best part is this heater doesn’t use electricity like a space heater but it heats just as well.  The downsides:  There is no anti-tip shutoff so it’s not good if you have pets.  The install can be simple but should be completed by a professional.  The propane is un-vented and therefore produces deadly Carbon Monoxide so you must keep a vent open at all times and constantly check your CO detector to make sure it is functioning properly.  Also as discussed propane heat produces humidity. Our friends the RV Geeks use this propane furnace and swear by it in their Winter RVing post
I’ve spent quite a bit of time skimming through forums and have found some overall themes on types of rigs. My only concern with my current is size. When I purchased it with the purpose of a few months at a time it was perfect but full-time is another matter. Most blogs on the subject say- stay small as possible but then focus on Class A or 5th Wheels- not so small. Other concerns are roof construction, slide out reliability, moving versus squatting, etc. I am single so that cuts down on size requirements but again, how much space is too little? Doing research on parks in my state (FL) most public parks become site limited past 36 feet with the most sites rated for 20-35 foot rigs- easier to get and make reservations.
Instead of taking a few days off of work and flying out to see family twice a year, we can now park nearby and visit like we're neighbors. This also applies to friends scattered throughout the country. When you have limited time to travel, you may only get to see some friends every few years if at all. Now we're working on making a second loop to visit everyone again!
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