Like thousands of other like-minded Americans, I live “In A Van Down By The River.” However, unlike the classic Saturday Night Live skit, I am speaking of those who do it by choice. What I mean by ‘living in a van…’ is that I live in my RV, and it’s a wonderful life!
Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that there is a full-time RVing craze sweeping the country. There are documentaries, TV shows, “reality” YouTube shows, and more covering the lifestyle. However, most of them just show the “beauty and adventure” of the lifestyle.
Are they showing you what you need to know to try it for yourself? Not by a long shot. You may have guessed that like regular life, it’s not all just fun and games. This article is here to help you determine if the full-time RV life is really for you or not.
Do You Really Want To Full-Time RV?
For me, the decision to go full-time was an easy one. I longed for this kind of mobile freedom since high school. Now, I have been full-time RVing since 2015.
In 2014, life suddenly presented itself in a way that would allow me to jump into the lifestyle. Having already done most of life’s typical pre-prescribed events and happenings, I was ready. I couldn’t have hit the road any faster.
However, it’s not something you should jump into on a whim. It will be a huge lifestyle change. Your life will be quite different, especially if you decide to mostly boondock as opposed to staying in campgrounds.
You will have to do and learn things like minor RV maintenance, learn your RV systems, you will also have to downsize your stuff and learn to live in a very small space.
There is a lot of learning on the front end. On the back end, you will live in new places, park beside new people, and live with a lot less stuff in general. If you don’t like change, this life is probably not a good choice.
Will you want to stay in one campground permanently? Be aware that many campgrounds have time duration limits as far as how long you can consecutively stay. Will you want to travel around? Do you have to stay in the same city? Can you even find an available long-term campground spot in a campground you want, in the city you want? Will you want to stay on public lands at all?
There are many things to consider, so you should really do your research before diving in. Renting an RV is a great way to see if you can handle the small space and to figure out if you like a floorplan or a certain type of RV. It can be expensive, but it’s a great option to get your feet wet.
Why Should You Full-Time?
There are a few main reasons people choose to full-time. Most of them tend to be tired of the many constraints that go with living in a house or a rental.
Homeowners have tons of fixed bills and pay a lot of interest. They may be sick of their neighbors. They could just want a change of scenery. Maybe they are empty nesters and have been planning on seeing the country for years.
It’s up to you to find your reason. It might help you if I explain mine:
I hated paying so much for my mortgage every month. I hated the idea that a vacation was something I only had two weeks to take and had to spend major dollars to get to any destination because of high hotel fees, plane, and other travel fees. Then, the weather might be bad for that week. What a huge letdown!
I wanted to casually be able to explore the country, and now I can. I do so without worrying about what’s happening at my house. No more house maintenance. No homeowner upkeep. No house upgrading. No constant high costs for mortgage, interest, power, etc.
All it takes to explore now is the gas money to drive to any given location! If you’re after freedom, this is an excellent way to get it.
But How Much Does Full-Time RVing Cost?
There’s no one correct answer here. Expenses can, and will, vary wildly. The only costs you can truly know before you start is how much your constant/fixed expenses are. Some examples of fixed expenses are health insurance, car payment/RV payment, food, phone bill, entertainment, etc.
I’m sure you already realize that those expenses won’t magically disappear by living in an RV. As far as ‘rent’ goes, you can opt to spend $0 per month on campgrounds by living on public lands (boondocking) full-time like I do. This requires having a remote job or being financially independent, of course.
Conversely, you could easily spend $300-$1200+ a month on campgrounds. Keep in mind that a low-cost park will not be as nice as you want it to be. It also may have less than desirable renters living there.
Here are some typical full-time RVing costs to consider. They will all vary according to your camping style and what type or size RV you purchase:
- RV insurance
- Roadside assistance
- Propane, water, dump fees
- Camping membership fees
- Campground fees
- Extra power fees at some campgrounds
- WIFI or jetpack service
- RV accessories (Such as a tow bar if you have a ‘toad’ to pull.)
- RV payments (Can easily range from the low $100’s to thousands per month depending on what you buy. RVs can cost from the low teens to 2 million+.)
- RV extended warranty
- Gas money to get from A to B
- RV repair costs
- RV upgrades (solar, etc.)
- Brand new RV cost if you didn’t pick the right one the first time (This happens frequently.)
- Entertainment (Things like National Park passes. There will be more new things to do in new places and the temptation is strong to not miss out.)
Don’t forget to consider some things you will NOT have to pay for anymore:
- HOA fees
- Lawn maintenance fees
- Yard upkeep (mower, gas, oil, fertilizer, weed prevention, etc.)
- Home loan interest
- Flood insurance
- Hurricane insurance
- Pest control
- Electric bill
- Telephone/Internet fee (You may still pay this depending on your lifestyle.)
- Cable TV
- Pool cleaning/maintenance (If you have one.)
- Snow plowing or snow removal fees (Depending on where you live.)
- Home maintenance/repair costs
You simply have to do your homework, decide how you think you want to live and figure out how much it will cost you to live that particular camping style.
Will Your Family Want To Full-Time RV?
The full-time RVing decision is pretty easy if you are solo. However, if you have a family, they may or may not be on board. It should be something you all decide you do want to do. Here are some things that may help them jump on board.
There are plenty of families on the road. There are organizations out there that help to bring you together and have meetups and such, such as FullTimeFamilies.com.
Being on the road doesn’t have to be lonely. There are way too many other people doing it these days. If you are lonely, it’s your own doing. And yes, tons of these full-timers road school their kids.
There are also a huge number of couples full-time RVing. Organizations such as Escapees also have plenty of meet-ups and ways for you to connect with like-minded RVers.
Younger Generation People
Once again, you are not alone. There is such a growing movement of working age full-timers now that the Escapees organization started Xscapers. It’s an off-shoot of the club that caters to the ‘working age’ RVer. The more active RVer.
There are couples, solos, and families in the club of all ages. Making friends is very easy here. I have been an active Xscapers member for about three years, right after they started the club.
Still, living in a campground or moving often may not be everyone’s bag. Before diving in, you should talk it over with everyone in your family and make sure they are on board. Otherwise, you may spend a good chunk of change on an RV, lose your house or rental, and end up turning around and going back in a short period of time.
That would be a huge waste of time and money. It’s best to do your homework first and make sure your family members are as on board as possible before diving in.
Should You RV Long-Term or Try It Temporarily?
This may not be answerable until you actually do it. If you do decide to do it, plan at least a year of commitment. This gives you plenty of time for things to change and for you to really feel it out.
If you are looking to find a new place to live, temporary RV life (if you can swing it) is a great way to see all the parts of the country you are interested in. Boondocking can be much more affordable to check places out than to fly (expensive) to every destination, which also involves the expense of renting cars and hotels.
However, you may not find boondocking in the places you want to explore, especially if you are looking at larger cities.
If staying in campgrounds, you can explore at your leisure and spend as much time in each place as you would like.
Most people who try the full-time RV life spend a good chunk of time doing it. Still, not everyone plans on doing it forever.
Many people I have known in my 4 years of full-time have jumped off the road and purchased a property. Forever or temporary is a personal preference. No-one can decide for you how long you will or won’t want to do it.
Where Should You or Will You Go?
If you want to boondock all the time, the answer is pretty easy. Your best bet is to stay out west. There are some places to boondock in the east, but not nearly as many choices. There simply isn’t much public land in the east. The west is also better for exploring national parks, so if that is your agenda, west is best!
During wintertime, you probably won’t want to be anywhere up in elevation. This eliminates much of the country. Most full-timers spend the winters in southern states to avoid snow. You will likely essentially become a snowbird.
Make those winter campground reservations early! This is especially true if you are not hooked up to power, Keeping warm and avoiding pipes freezing is going to be quite the challenge if you are dry camping. Stay south and you will enjoy life much more.
The east is also less comfortable with its humid climate. The cold feels colder and the heat feels hotter. Therefore, most RVers want to be in a campground so they can cozy up to power. This means unavoidable campground costs. It’s also harder to dry camp with solar in the east due to all the trees, so factor this into your plans.
Should You Give Up Your Home Completely?
Not unless you are without a doubt one hundred percent sure you will not be running back home. I kept my house “just in case,” and rented it for two years. The income greatly helped me with my bills. After two years and damages from renters not keeping it up, I sold it.
I also wanted to stay out west and the rental was in Florida. So, to go back to manage it was a very expensive haul. I don’t have to deal with it anymore. Also, I know I never want to live in Florida again, so it was an easy decision to sell.
These are some things you will have to ask yourself:
- Is there any chance I will want to move back?
- Do I want to deal with a rental?
- Can I afford to keep it without renting it?
- Will rental income help me stay on the road?
- If I came back, would I regret not keeping the house?
You will figure it out. Nobody can but you! It’s important to note, you will also need to figure out if you want to sell everything you own or put it into storage. This is a personal decision and one that everyone will have a different opinion on.
How Will You Support Yourself On The Road?
Oh, you’re not retired and you don’t have a mobile job or ample passive income? That’s ok, there are still different ways to full-time.
Here are a few to consider:
This is usually a job where you can work and typically also live in your RV somewhere like a campground or farm. Sometimes your RV spot is free, and you also get paid for your work time.
This is usually a temporary job. There are locations in Kentucky, Arizona, and Tennessee. You work your hiney off, and there are long hours, but you get minimum of $15 per hour, and other perks that make it very worth it for a lot of people for a few months of hard work. As of this writing, all Camperforce spots for 2019 are already filled. It’s popular!
Before you hit the road, you can educate yourself with a new skill, or find a digital job. There are resources out there for finding work such as (Link: https://www.morethanawheelin.com).
Sugar Beet Harvest
Each October, you can sign up to be a part of the harvest. Locations that hire campers are in Minnesota/North Dakota border. There is a place in Sidney Montana as well that hires RVers. You get a free camping spot free with full hook-ups.10-14 days of work. You may be there for more days, depending on the weather. Payment is by the hour and each state will pay differently.
Many of these are temporary jobs, but there are permanent jobs to be had as well. Some people stay in a specific campground while they work full-time.
Another option is to just ask around. Jobs are everywhere and other RVers will be happy to help. I created my own income stream while I was on the road by starting an RVing-related website. It now fully supports me. Get creative. If you want something, you can do it. It will take hard work, but that is half of what makes it worth it!
What Do You Need To Get Started?
If you think that the RV life might be for you, it’s research time!
You need to figure out all of the below:
- Do I really want to try to full-time?
- How much will my RVing lifestyle cost?
- Will I ever want to move back home even if I stop RVing? (Sell or keep the house? Store or sell everything?)
- What kind of RV should I get? – This is a huge part of your research. You should get your body into as MANY different types of RVs as possible and see as many floor plans as you can. (Consider things like counter space and social time. Is it comfortable for people to hang out?)
- Can I afford to full-time?
- If I need to make money on the road, how will I do it?
- Is your Family on board and reasonably knows what to expect?
Other Things To Consider
Here are a few other things to consider before going full-time.
Where Will You Domicile?
You cannot just become a nomad and not claim any state as your home base. The IRS does not like this. Nor can you have a drivers license or vote without being a state resident. Popular picks for full-timers are North Dakota, Texas, and Florida.
They have no income tax. This is something you really need to look into before hitting the road. What will your mailing address be? Can you get affordable health insurance? It also may be difficult to obtain a nationwide PPO plan in some states. Like myself, you may want to have the ability to get treated in-network if you are not in your home state.
Look into the domicile issues carefully. There can be legal implications if a state you are domiciled in decides you aren’t really a resident or have zero intention of ever living there again.
For example: Owning no Texas property and having bank accounts in Florida (and having lived there) but simply being domiciled in Texas could be a red flag to the state. Do your due diligence before you decide.
How Will You Get Mail?
Many RVers use a mail service. If you have a friend or family member willing to put up with your mail, you can have them forward it to you. This might also work as your ‘home’ address for your domicile.
Well, you likely won’t be in town much, so you need to be able to do online banking. All of it. Things like having the ability to deposit checks through your bank app are very helpful. Again, it’s beneficial to have a bank or credit union in your domicile state.
If you have pets, will they be safe to leave in your RV for you to go to work? Can they stay inside for as long as you need to be there? You must consider things such as temperature and will the pet try to get out/destroy the interior, or will it bark all day long? Your campground neighbors will not appreciate this and you could get asked to leave the park. You absolutely must make sure they are comfortable in your RV and that they will not get too hot or too cold.
If you have ongoing health concerns and need to see a doctor regularly or to get prescription meds regularly, this also must be looked into ahead of time. There are ways to do both, but it might require you going back to your home state every x number of months.
The full-time RV life is not for everyone. Armed with the right information, only you can decide if it might suit you or not. Even if you fully prepared and studied up, you won’t know if you’re going to stick with it until you get out there and do it. Trying a rental first can really help you in your transition.
Even if you only do it for a year or so, it can be a very rewarding and exciting adventure! There’s no better way to discover the country if you ask me.
What about me? I have zero plans to lay roots again thus far. I’m very happy living full-time RVer life.
What are your thoughts about full-timing? Leave a comment below!
Hi Kelly. I’m a solo full time RVer with my pup. I started out with my husband, who passed away last year. I couldn’t bear the thought of staying put , so I sold the 35 ft fleetwood and got a 24 ft class C coachmen. I love it and it’s perfect size. I hope to meet you along the road sometime. Happy trails!!