Is Buying a Camper Worth It?

Contributor

Scott Russell

Favorite Trip

Day trip to Channel Islands National Park. Incredible cliffside island hiking and watching whales from the boat!

Home Base

Kansas City, MO

Favorite RV

Holiday Rambler Armada 40P (Our dream rig!)

About Contributor

Scott, his wife Vanessa, and their 14-year-old daughter have traveled full-time in their RV for 8 years. The family has worked and homeschooled on the road through 42 states so far. They blog about RVing tips, travel destinations, jobs for RVing, and the full-time RV lifestyle on their blogs https://theadventuredetour.com/ and https://rvnomadjobs.com/. They are also RV content creators @theadventuredetour on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and YouTube. Be sure to reach out to them and say hi!

The idea of purchasing a camper seems like the perfect way to live the nomadic lifestyle. But is buying a camper worth it to hit the road full-time? Or is there a more complex reality to camper ownership?

Hitting the road for a life of full-time travel and adventure is a dream for many. A life of waking up to new scenery and exploring new locations while enjoying the freedom of the open road sounds like the perfect life for travel lovers.

In this article, we take a look at the practicalities, financial considerations, and lifestyle adjustments that come with owning a camper. Is the camper life the idyllic experience it’s often portrayed to be, or is it a road best left less traveled? 

What I Wish I Knew Before Buying an RV

Our family has traveled full-time for almost nine years. If we could go back to the beginning of our full-time travel journey, we would make some big changes. 

Until you are living this lifestyle, it’s difficult to understand the benefits and challenges you will experience. Hindsight really is 20/20, and here are some things we would do differently, as well as lessons we have learned.

You Don’t Need As Much Space And “Stuff” As You Think

The Adventure Detour father and daughter riding tandem bike
Photo by Scott Russell

When transitioning from a house or apartment to living in a camper, most people automatically feel that they need to get the largest RV to bring as much stuff as possible. This is a very common feeling since the reduction in living space is pretty drastic for most people.

Living in a camper is actually a time to embrace minimalism and replace possessions with experiences. Yes, this is your home, but it is also the vehicle to the life of adventure you are dreaming of.

Don’t allow your camper size and stuff to limit your travels. If you can let go of more and embrace living simply, you can find a camper size that can go or stay in more places and experience more things.

What We Would Change

We also fell hard into the feeling that we needed to get the biggest RV and bring as much as we could. Transitioning from a 3,000-square-foot house to a 350-square-foot camper felt daunting.

We also had a bit of parental guilt that our daughter needed most of her toys so she could still have a “normal” childhood on the road. We didn’t realize there was so much to do while traveling, that there wasn’t time to need or enjoy most of our toys and possessions.

Our family has new hobbies, including more outdoor activities, and there simply isn’t time for much else. Knowing this, I wouldn’t have felt the need for a large RV, and I sure wouldn’t have brought as much stuff.

Consider Where And How You’ll Use Your Camper Before Buying

Grand Design Solitude fifth wheel with campfire outside
Photo by Scott Russell

A common mistake when looking at campers is to think only of what you would like your living space to look like. Many people are very interested in interior design features and living space layout.

While there is nothing wrong with shopping with interior living features in mind, it’s not always the best place to start. It’s easy to lose sight of where and how you actually plan to use your camper. 

For example, you may want a large bunkhouse RV to have the ideal kitchen and living room space for daily living, but this large RV may not fit in some camping locations you wish to visit.

Or you may be looking at an RV that has the perfect layout but doesn’t have the off-grid features you need for traveling off-road. Before considering the layout and all the nice bells and whistles found in campers, think about where you want to use your camper.

Where you plan to stay can determine the size of the camper you should get. For example, most national park campgrounds only fit smaller RVs 35 feet and under. Some state parks have similar size limitations, making your camper’s size more important than its layout.

Similarly, you need an RV with adequate freshwater tank storage if you want to boondock. You will also benefit from choosing an RV with an onboard generator or a solar power system. For those without either, purchasing a portable generator rated for your RV’s electrical needs is the best option. 

Toy haulers are a great choice for boondocking since they often have larger tanks, a generator, and sometimes a gas tank to refill the generator or any motorized toys you bring. It’s also lighter and less likely to get stuck in off-road conditions than a heavy motorhome. Ensure the type of RV you choose for full-time travel matches how you plan to camp.

What We Would Change

From the beginning, our largest travel goal was to visit all of the major national parks. We didn’t realize that the perfect 40-foot bunkhouse RV we chose didn’t fit in most national park campgrounds due to its incredible living space.

We made the above-mentioned mistake by prioritizing camper living space but not considering how and where we planned to go and stay. If I could begin again, we would choose an RV that is around 35 feet long to allow us to stay in more national and state park campgrounds.

Traveling Too Fast

The Adventure Detour in Acadia National Park
The Adventure Detour in Acadia National Park Photo by Scott Russell

It seems almost everyone makes this mistake in the first year or two of full-time travel. The excitement of wanting to see and do it all is the drive to cover as many states and miles as possible before the weather turns colder.

While there is nothing wrong with traveling far and fast, most full-time travelers quickly begin to feel exhausted. It’s often a vacation type of pace every day, which most people simply can’t maintain.

Full-time travel in a camper is a mix of exciting adventures and new places combined with the realities of daily living. There still has to be time to rest, do laundry, pay the bills, clean, go to the grocery store, and take care of the not-so-exciting things that are part of everyday life, no matter where and how you live.

What We Would Change

We would slow things down and spend more time enjoying each place before running off to check off the next state and the next national park. There were so many things we thought we would see and do in each place in only a few days, but we were so exhausted from the pace of travel and the tasks of daily life that we didn’t see many things on our list on the first visit. 

Staying longer would have allowed us to thoroughly explore, and we would have gotten much more enjoyment out of the experience. After a year or two of fast travel, each place starts to feel like you’re going through the motions. 

“Oh look, another waterfall.” Some of the most epic places and sights were lost on us because we were too exhausted to fully appreciate them. 

This is especially true when traveling with kids. After a while,  they would rather hang out at the campground pool than go see and do anything else. 

Burnout is a real part of this lifestyle, and you must find a balance between time to travel and catch your breath. Today, we change locations every 2-3 weeks and don’t travel as far between locations. It’s a better pace for our family to maintain the love and excitement of travel while also getting school, work, and life done on the road.

Full-Time Travel Costs More In Reality Than On Paper

Chevy truck hooked up to Grand Design Solitude fifth wheel
Photo by Scott Russell

Working out your budget for full-time camper travel on paper is extremely helpful. In fact, this is key to determining if your current income will sustain living expenses on the road. Look at budget examples to learn what other full-time RVers spend per month

The honest reality is that traveling in a camper comes with unexpected expenses. Weather, repairs, or other unforeseen circumstances can cause those unexpected expenses and the requisite plan changes that come with them.

It helps to keep a monthly budget allocated to RV repairs and maintenance. If there are no surprises, this fund could be saved for the next unexpected expense. Putting a bit of wiggle room in your budget will remove much of the stress of unplanned costs.

Surprise Expenses To Watch Out For

  • Food Costs: It’s easier to dine out more when you are always on the go. Grocery stores vary significantly by location. In more rural travel areas, you may not have access to big box grocery stores to save money the way you did at home.
  • Gas Costs: Gas prices vary across the US, with the cheapest prices often found throughout the Midwest and the most expensive prices found along the West Coast.
  • RV Repairs: RV repairs are a constant part of traveling full-time. Since your camper is also your home, it gets used non-stop. Maintenance costs and repairs are part of the lifestyle.
  • Emergency Accommodations: Where will you stay when your RV needs to go into the shop? Sometimes, you may need to find a hotel or other place to stay during major repairs. This is where having a decent savings account is vital.
  • Changes In Plans: Sometimes, your plans fall apart due to unforeseen weather or other events. For example, you may have a free boondocking stay planned, but due to flooding, you have to book the only remaining campground in the area, and it’s not always cheap.

What We Would Change

We would have started our camper-living adventure with a more realistic budget. We didn’t plan for these surprising costs and quickly realized that we had spent too much over our budget right from the beginning. Knowing this would have removed a lot of stress from the start.

Is it Smart to Buy a Camper?

The question of whether it is a wise choice to purchase a camper or not depends on your personal goals and dreams. It can be a great choice if you are looking for a way to bring your bed and possessions along as you travel living on the road.

Depreciation

Vintage trailer in a campsite with string lights
Photo by Camping World

Many argue that campers are a depreciating asset and, therefore, aren’t a good financial investment. We would argue that not all investments are financial. In fact, many of your life goals may be about more than finances.

Travel is an investment in filling life with unique experiences. While fulfilling life experiences mean different things to different people, purchasing a camper can be the vehicle that helps you reach your travel goals.

As valid as financial concerns are, I don’t know many RVers who would trade their experiences for more “stuff” at home. Most simply wish they had more time with their family, more adventures, and more meaningful memories. 

Traveling in a camper isn’t the only way to achieve this, but it’s our preferred way to travel and experience life to the fullest. We didn’t want to live with what-ifs or regrets, so we went for it and are so glad we did.

Saving Money

Man sitting inside trailer with dog
Photo by Camping World

Will traveling full-time in a camper save you money versus living in a house or renting an apartment? Your ability to save money living the RV lifestyle depends on many factors, such as how a monthly RV payment compares to the housing/rental market where you’d want to live. 

Most people save money living in a camper compared to traditional living expenses. Here are some other factors to consider when determining if buying a camper can help you save money: 

Full-Time Travel Expense Factors

  • Housing/Rental Market: When leaving a more expensive market, you will save more living in a camper.
  • Cost Of RV And Tow Vehicle: Combined loan payments and debt costs incurred for your RV and (if applicable) tow vehicle.
  • Travel Speed: Slow travel uses less gas and can have cheaper campground rates.
  • Camping Accommodations: RV resorts versus campground memberships versus state parks versus boondocking.
  • Activities/Entertainment: Free outdoor adventures versus paid sightseeing and ticketed events.

How you travel affects your bottom line in the RV lifestyle. There can be a lot of variability in full-time RV living monthly costs. Someone who loves to boondock, enjoys cheap or free nature activities, and bought an inexpensive used camper without a loan will have a much cheaper full-time travel lifestyle than others.

For our family, traveling full-time is about the same price as we spent living in our Midwest house. We use campground memberships and stay in state parks to save money on campsites. While we enjoy some paid activities, we mostly stick to inexpensive or free outdoor recreation. 

What is the Life Expectancy of an RV?

Grand Design Solitude fifth wheel connected to Chevrolet truck with palm tree in front
Photo by Scott Russell

The average RV lifespan is between 10-30 years, with motorhomes being toward the high end of the range and towable RVs on the lower end. The range is wide because many factors contribute to how long an RV lasts.

Frequency and method of use are large factors in a camper’s longevity. Most campers are not designed for full-time living. Even RVs that are designed for full-time travel won’t last as long when impacted by the wear and tear of daily use.

The biggest factor in a camper’s lifespan is maintenance. RV maintenance isn’t the glamorous part of owning a camper, but it’s essential to keep things rolling smoothly. Good maintenance also saves money in the long run by preventing larger, more expensive repairs in the future.

Pay particular attention to roof maintenance and resealing windows and doors to prevent water damage. Regularly inspect the roof and all camper seals to help keep water out.

Keep moving parts lubricated and clean, and add protectant to rubber seals to keep things moving efficiently. Start an RV maintenance log to track and complete important maintenance tasks in your camper home. 

It’s easy to get busy and forget when it’s time to maintain a camper component. See your camper’s user manual for a list of maintenance procedures specific to your unit.

What is the Downside of Owning an RV?

Woman standing on a lakeside dock watching sunset
Photo by Scott Russell

Owning an RV and traveling full-time can be more work than many anticipate. Unlike camping on vacation or renting an RV, more maintenance and repairs are required when you own an RV, especially if you’re a full-timer. 

While we believe the aforementioned pros outweigh these cons, it’s important for prospective RVers to understand both sides of the coin. So here are a few of the downsides of owning an RV.

You Need A Special Insurance Policy

Full-time travel requires a different RV insurance policy that costs more than a traditional RV policy for part-time use. Since your camper is also your home, a good full-time policy covers more of your possessions, including protections similar to a homeowner’s policy if someone gets hurt when visiting your RV. 

It can also include emergency protections such as hotel reimbursement if your RV is in the shop following an accident and you need a place to stay. There are many ways to save money while traveling full-time, but skimping on RV insurance isn’t one of them. Make sure you are fully protected with a full-time RV policy.

It’s Not a Non-Stop Vacation

Traveling full-time also involves a lot more work than most people expect. The constant trip planning, setting up and tearing down campsites, driving for hours between destinations, and keeping up with maintenance are a constant part of the RV lifestyle.

While a life of constant travel is very rewarding, it’s not the same as living on vacation. It helps to find a balance so you can enjoy your adventures without being worn out. 

Finding Life Balance

If you feel a bit burned out or lose your enthusiasm for the places you visit, it’s time to slow down. It’s okay to take a break and stay awhile or make adjustments to your travel plans. In fact, it’s usually necessary as your life needs and travel goals change.

Full-time travel isn’t the same as living on vacation, but camper living is worth it. The incredible experiences and quality time spent adventuring create memories you will cherish for a lifetime.

So, Is Buying A Camper Worth It?

The Adventure Detour family roasting marshmallows outside their camper
Photo by Scott Russell

The decision to buy a camper requires a thoughtful evaluation of your lifestyle goals and a willingness to embrace the highs and lows of life on the road. If you commit to timely maintenance, adapt to having less and experiencing more, and navigate the unexpected twists of the journey,  a camper could be your perfect ticket to an exciting life of full-time travel or more comfortable camping vacations.


Take the time to learn as much as you can in this process so your buying decision is as informed as possible. Here are a few additional buying guides you’ll find helpful: 

What questions do you have about buying a camper? Let us know in the comments below.

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