I originally posted this in November 2018, after our first year on the road. We’ve now been doing this for 3.5 years, and this post is all still true!
Despite all of my research before embarking on this nomadic lifestyle, I still retained a few misconceptions. Let me dispel a couple for you.
Myth 1: RV living is less expensive than living in a stationary home. The costs of RV living add up quickly: campsite fees, telecommunications (phone / TV / internet), insurances (RV, vehicle, health), food, and entertainment. Maintenance/repair is a never-ending fact of life for a home that experiences the equivalent of an earthquake every time you travel down the road. And having motorhome service done isn’t cheap! Depreciation on the RV is a hidden, but significant, expense, depending on what you spent on your RV. And if you have elected to retain a home base or a storage unit, those costs can be quite significant. And that assumes that the RV and toad (or tow vehicle) is paid off – monthly loan payments added to all of this can simply bust the budget for many people.
We owned a paid-off 4 bedroom home in South Florida before we retired. When you add up all of the costs of home ownership (utilities, taxes, insurance, maintenance), it would have been less expensive for us to stay put than go on the road, especially the way that we are doing it (which is NOT on the cheap). Of course, we wouldn’t have this life of adventure, either! It IS possible to cut your costs and live relatively inexpensively, by following some of the tips below:
- RV selection: Buy a (quality) used RV, one that has already taken a depreciation hit. A shorter than 40 foot rig has more options for campgrounds than a Big Rig, many of them less expensive. If you are handy and can do some of your own maintenance and repairs, that can also save big.
- Campgrounds: Stay in the more basic campgrounds, or boondock. Stay longer at one place to take advantage of weekly/monthly/seasonal discounted rates. You also will burn less fuel since you aren’t hauling the RV around. Become a work camper to get a free site, and maybe even get paid a little. Some people do well with certain campground memberships (like Thousand Trails), but check the fine print carefully to ensure it makes sense for your needs and travel style.
- Other costs: Downsize your belongings to just what you can carry with you – no storage fees or expensive home base. Cook rather than going out. Maximize free activities like hiking and bicycling. Take advantage of campground or coffee shop wifi, rather than using your own data plan. Live with “over the air” TV channels instead of subscribing to an expensive satellite TV plan.
The RV community is full of people who successfully live relatively inexpensively, but you have to recognize that there are trade-offs in comfort, amenities, and fun.
Myth 2: RV life is a never-ending, fabulous vacation. It’s true that we do have a lot of fun, but this is also real life with all of the real life stuff that must get done. Typically, for vacations, we postpone or delegate our life chores, so that we can devote 100% of the limited vacation time to play. With full-time RV living, all of those chores have to get done in between the fun stuff. Real life involves cleaning, maintenance, banking chores, seeing to health needs, working out, grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, and dealing with family drama. It’s harder, in a way, because we’re a constantly moving target. Handling banking business, getting maintenance done, making dental appointments and such is much more challenging when you have to schedule around location AND timing. You are also living with your significant other (and possibly children and pets) in a confined space that can seem much smaller after several days of adverse weather! You have limited space for storage and for food preparation. Outdoor weather influences inside temperatures in an RV much more noticeably than in a better-insulated “stick and brick” house. The process of packing up, moving, and unpacking is time-consuming and tiring. Every new camping spot requires figuring everything out again: locations of grocery stores, gas stations, banks, etc. If you are accustomed to having familiar surroundings, the constant location shifting can be disorienting.
Don’t get me wrong – we love this lifestyle. But we’ve learned to look at it just like that, a life “style”, not a vacation. We’ve learned to slow down, relax, and allow time for necessary life tasks, interspersed among the fun adventures. We do things together, but also separately, to give the other person some space. We’ve developed strategies to reduce the stress of moving days – such as, packing up the night before, and scheduling more time to get from one campsite to another to allow for unexpected problems or delays. We stay longer at some locations, to take advantage of longer-stay discounts and to make it “home”, for just a little while.
It’s not a fabulous vacation, but it’s a pretty fabulous lifestyle.