The decision to live full time in an RV is not one that should be taken lightly. The transition from brick and mortar – also ‘stick house’ living to full-timing in a recreational vehicle entails a lot of lifestyle changes.
These are some of the many factors you will need to think about if you are considering adopting the RV lifestyle. There is certainly a lot involved in making the transition, so it is well advised to thoroughly research what is involved before making the leap.
Preliminary Research in preparation for RV living.
One good investment for people considering moving into a recreational vehicle is to subscribe to magazines ahead of time. Publications such as trailer life magazine can provide lots of insight into exactly what life living in an RV full time is like, and can also be a great source of information about different types of RV’s available for purchase. The Trailer Life Campground Directory campground directory is a perennial favorite with RVers, and well worth purchasing.
Membership in one of the many RV clubs – the Good Sam Club is a very popular one – is another great way to immerse yourself in the RVing world even before you leave home. Even if you do not yet own an RV, there is a lot of fun to be had just flicking through these types of materials daydreaming about the day when you will make the transition.
What do I do with my possessions?
Cars, clothing and furniture; there are just a few of the items you will have to find a home for when you downsize from a regular full-sized house to a small coach or travel trailer. While you can – and will – keep some of your clothes for life on the road, space limitations mean that you will more than likely have to cut back on your wardrobe.
How about your furnishings? There is no place for a three piece sofa sets or dining room tables in a travel trailer. Along with your clothes, you will have to come up with a way of dealing with these when you start RVing full time also.
As for your automobiles, there is a good chance they are inappropriate for RV living also. If you will be towing you require a large truck with a towing capacity large enough to tow a big trailer or a fifth wheel motorhome. On the other hand, if you purchase a motor-coach you may want to keep a small vehicle for use as a toad vehicle.
Clearly all these superfluous personal possessions need to be handled somehow. One option is to simply sell everything. The advantage of this is that you can potentially raise quite a bit of cash, which can come in handy in covering some of the upfront costs associated with the transition to full-time RVing.
An alternative is to simply store your belongings. This can either be in a secure storage facility – which entails a hefty monthly bill – or simply by leaving them with a kindly friend who has some space to stare. If you are trying out the RV life for the first time, this may be the better option. While RV fulltiming is a great lifestyle, it is not for everyone. If you keep your possessions ‘stored’ somewhere then they will still be there for you, making a possible transition back to stick home living more economical.
Can I (and/or my spouse) handle limited space?
As mentioned, adjusting to the limited floor space in an RV can be a challenge. If you are one half of a couple, not only do you need confidence that both of you will be comfortable in tight quarters, but you must also be sure that you are comfortable in each others company!
In an RV even the most loving couple will sometimes find themselves needing space now and then. The inside of an RV is small enough that any underlying tensions in a relationship will be heightened due to close proximity.
Are you both excited – indeed, even looking forward too – spending more time in each others company? Great! If not, then perhaps a larger home better suits your needs.
Should I sell my home?
A lot of the factors that relate to disposing of your possessions also are applicable to retaining ownership of your home. If you go ahead and sell your house, you lose the ability to move back into if you decide after a few months or a year that full timing is not the right life for you.
Reverting to a more traditional lifestyle will then entail finding yourself a new place to live. The transactional costs – buying, selling – of a home are substantial, so should be avoided if at all possible.
If you are not 100% confident of your commitment to the full-time RV lifestyle, you may want to keep your house. Of course, this presents its own combination of challenges. Very few people can afford to carry the service costs of their home as well as finance their life on the road.
A great option for people in this situation is to keep their home and make it a rental property. If this can be done in a near cash-flow neutral manner, and the work taken care of by a property management firm, then you have the best possible situation.
What is my exit plan from Living in a RV?
Unfortunately we all reach the age where the full time lifestyle is no longer possible – no matter how much we may enjoy it. For some people it is aging, others failing health, or perhaps you simply want to return to your hometown to be closer to kids or grand-kids.
If you will want to purchase another stick home, it is important to have funding in place to finance this when the time comes. If this sounds like an expensive proposition, thankfully there are alternatives.
Some RV clubs have parks that combine some of the benefits of fulltiming – living in your recreational vehicle – with the safety net of on-site care. This type of life allows you to share your post travelling years with many like-minded individuals and couples.
How will I get mail?
Once you are on the road you no longer have a house with a mailbox. This, naturally, raises the issue of what do you do for an address? While this matters with regards to receiving your email, it also has other consequences. Items such as registering to vote, insuring your vehicle and paying taxes are also impacted by your choice of domicile.
RV’ers refer to their address of record as their ‘home base’. There are certain states that are preferred by full timers over others. Texas, Alaska, Florida and Nevada are popular due to their lack of state income taxes. Oregon is also a frequent choice due to its lack of sales tax.
No matter what home base you choose, you will need to arrange a mail forwarding service. Firms offering this service provide an address – in the state of your choice – that your mail will be sent too. They then arrange to get the mail to you, no matter where you happen to be in the country. Some firms will forward your packages to you for ‘general delivery’ at a post office near your present location. Many RV parks will even allow you to have your mail delivered to their office while you are staying there.
What type of RV?
Selecting an RV for your fulltiming life is a very important decision that needs to be addressed carefully. There are many different types available. The largest option is Class A motorhomes, these coaches resemble Buses and are mounted on a large truck chassis. Diesel pusher motorhomes are very popular for those with plentiful funds, but those looking for motorhomes for sale may find better prices on a gasoline powered Class A RV.
Fifth wheel trailers are another popular option if you enjoy substantial space. These are towed behind large pick-up tricks. Their mount point is in the truck bed, allowing for very large tow weights.
Class C recreational vehicles are smaller than Class A motor homes, making them easier to maneuver in space restricted camp sites. These units are mounted on cutaways van chassis’, and the bunks are usually located above the drivers cabin. One advantage of this type of RV is the ease of moving back and forth between the driving area and the living area.
Class B camper vans – reminiscent of the 1970’s – are small RV’s popular with those on a limited budget. They are relatively cheap to purchase, and some people even buy a regular van and convert it for full-time living themselves. Another plus is this van type of RV can be used for ‘stealth parking‘, a great way of reducing campground costs. While not exactly a luxury RV, Class B RVs are great options for those who do not require high end amenities.
The final practical fulltiming RV are travel trailers. These caravans are pulled behind a towed vehicles. Even small sedans are able to tow small travel-trailers, so they are a good way to get started with RV’ing if you do not wish to purchase a new car or truck. Although some people are able to fulltime in tiny teardrop trailers, unless you are a true minimalist you will want to consider a trailer that is a little larger than that.
Can I afford fulltiming in an RV?
Probably the most important consideration of all for potential full-timers is handling the financial aspects. While living in a recreation vehicle can potentially – if wise choices are made – be substantially cheaper than living in stick home, clearly you will still need to be bringing in some income. Many people fund their fulltime RVing lifestyle with pensions; social security, military pensions or corporate pensions.
Not everybody has these types of resources however. Another option is to build substantial savings before making the transition – perhaps through selling a house, or showing a lot of financial discipline over many years.
Hundreds of thousands of RVers are instead funding their lifestyle as they go. They either pick up occasional part time jobs when they run short on cash, or take advantage of programs such as workamping or camphosting to make ends meet. Some adventurous souls will take advantage of free – or very cheap – boondocking sites on BLM land, while others will make a habit of stealth parking in places where they really aren’t welcome. While not without drawbacks, these are great ways to reduce the cost of living in an RV.
People with an entrepreneurial bent often run small business from their coach or motorhome. These can be the production of handicraft for sale at RV fairs, doing freelance telecommuting work, or looking for income opportunities online.
Maintaining, Repairing and Protecting your Motorhome – RV insurance
When you spend your life on the road, you are taking your RV almost everywhere you go. While a motorhome is a lot smaller than a traditional stick house, they can be quite expensive to repair – especially those types of coaches that include an engine.
As well as the traditional wear and tear items to your accommodations, you also have extra damage caused over time due to the vibrations and bumps of taking your home down roads, interstates and even gravel driveways. Specialist RV repairs are unfortunately rather expensive, so it can be good to purchase insurance against these. A Good Sam Extended Service Plan can be a great way to shield you from these costs, and potentially save you thousands in repair costs.
Another thing to keep in mind is what if the unthinkable happens. What if your RV is consumed by fire, or even stolen? While we like to think these things won’t happen to us, it is wise to be prepared for this type of situation. Unless you have cash on hand to buy a replacement RV should yours happen to be lost, you will want RV insurance that covers this. Many lenders will require it – just an homeowner insurance is required for a stick house. I recommend getting a free quote for Good Sam VIP Insurance for RVs, these guys have been around for a long time and have a lot of experience working with RV owners.
Dealing with the Weather
The great thing about year-round RV living is the mobility it offers. It allows you to follow the sun as the seasons change. There are many permanent campsites in Florida that make gerat places to stay during the winter. Cheaper ones will not offer a lot of amenities, but even upscale RV resorts can be relatively affordable in the Southern States if you are paying by the month. Some people enjoy living in a particular RV park so much that they will return each winter, if you adopt this practice you can form an ongoing community of sorts with other like-minded folks.
The more adventurous – those hardy souls – who do not mind the cold, also have the option of staying in the Northern states. While it can be difficult to find year round RV parks – many shut for the winter season – they do exist. RV owners just need to be sure to prepared for extremes of weathers. I suggest driving South when the cold sets in myself, it’s a lot more comfortable.
Some people, usually those with more funds at their disposal, may spend most of the year living in their RV, then move out for a few months in the Winter. They winterize their RV for the cold months while taking ‘vacations’ from their normal lifestyle. A visit to a Latin American country – where the dollar can go a long way – allows these people to enjoy a Southern Hemisphere Summer while waiting for the USA to warm back up.
What about Health Insurance?
Obtaining quality – yet affordable – Health Insurance is a challenge for any individual not working for a major corporation. If you are maintaining a corporate job while living in an RV, then you can probably rely on your existing employer provided health insurance. Finding in-network providers can be a challenge however if you are travelling around the country. While your health insurance will be ‘based’ on your home-base address, you may well be at the other end of the country when the time for medical care arises.
If you have just recently retired from your corporate job to take up the RV lifestyle, then you are probably eligible for COBRA coverage. This provides you ongoing health insurance for 18 months or more after you leave employment. To take advantage of this you will have to pay the entire premium – you will not get the employer subsidy – but this is often a cheaper and better option than seeking an individual plan.
Medicaid offers basic medical care for some low income – which describes many RVers! – groups. Unfortunately it is of limited use to full-timers as the category’s of people it covers is rather limited. If you are on the road full time with young children or teenagers however, you may be eligible. Medicaid is handled by individual states, so eligibility criteria will vary depending on your chosen state of residence.
Medicare is an insurance option utilized by RVers who have passed the age of 65. This is the standard senior citizen health coverage provided – and managed by – the Federal Government through Social Security offices. Almost all travellers who have reached a ‘traditional’ retirement age will find themselves eligible for Medicare.
There is another option for the many ex-military personnel enjoying the fulltime RV lifestyle after retirement. As a way of saying thank you to our veterans, the government provides them some health care options through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Unfortunately there are still many people, particularly younger retirees, who fall through the gaps of the US health care system. Thankfully there are ways to take advantage of the RV lifestyle to get health care on the cheap even without coverage. Many full-timers will routinely travel to the border with Canada or Mexico once or twice a year to avail themselves of cheaper prescription prices available in those countries. While care must be taken – particularly in Mexico – to get your medicines from a reputable pharmacist, there are significant savings to be had.
Services such as dental and hospital care are also available at steep discounts in Mexico. It is possible to obtain high quality work – again, get references from trusted friends first – from top notch Mexican dentists and doctors at very reasonable prices. The RV community as a whole will easily be able to tell you who does good work, and whom does not.
With careful planning snowbirders can get a years worth of scheduled medical care taken care of on their yearly trip down South each winter. Unfortunately, if you need emergency care during the rest of the year you will still be subjected to the high costs of the American health care system.