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Full-time RV Living: Hints for enjoying the full-time RV lifestyle!
This section covers some basics about living an an RV full-time:
• Who's out here full-time doing it
• Full-time and part-time RV lifestyles
• Where to stay and how to make those stays cheaper
• Types of rigs people RV full-time in
• The logistics of mail, banking, laundry etc.
Be sure to check out our related pages:
It's kinda long, but there's a lot of good information, especially if you think you might take off in an RV one day!
OUR FIRST GLIMPSE OF FULLTIMING
The first encounter we had with full-time RVers was at Lake Cahuilla Campground outside of Indio / Palm Springs California.
We were staying there for a week one February in our popup tent trailer so that we could participate in the Palm Springs
Century bicycle ride. We noticed that every afternoon there was a large gathering of people outside one or another of the RVs
parked at the campground. These folks were all grey haired and whooping it up. One afternoon we heard an old-timer walking
through the campground yelling, "Okay everyone. Time to get up from your naps. It's happy hour!" It was a party on wheels!
We started talking to our neighbors at the campground about how they were living. Everyone was having a ball and seemed so
free. We heard one woman talking to her adult child on the pay phone, saying "I'll call in a few weeks to let you know where we
are." That sounded good to me -- I had to be back at work on Monday! We talked to another woman who was getting a tan in
southern California while her friends back in Canada were shoveling snow. We heard a few folks making music around a
campfire at night. From what we could see, they lived simply; they had fun with each other; and they seemed happier than
anyone we knew at home.
We left California with a new idea taking shape in our minds. Our popup was a key to new adventures and a new lifestyle! We
researched what we could online and quizzed the campground hosts wherever we took the popup. Over time we learned that
many people work as they travel, often as "work campers" at various tourist sites. Suddenly the idea of taking off on a long term
travel adventure -- with the backup option of getting part-time jobs if we ran out of money -- seemed feasible.
Now that we have joined the ranks of full-time RVers, we'd like to share what we've learned about this lifestyle.
WHO'S OUT HERE DOING IT?
full-time RVers are a rare breed that set out in their RVs for a life of travel. Many sell their homes, and most have gone through
the life-affirming self-discovery process of downsizing all the way to an RV. They share a curiosity about what lies beyond the
horizon, and they are willing to accept a few bumps in the road to find out.
The vast majority of full-time RVers are retired couples. The average age is mid- to late-sixties. There are exceptions: we've met
a small handful in their early fifties; we've read about a woman who started in 1966 and is still out there today (alone) at age 90;
and another fellow who started last year at the young age of 104.
Surprisingly, we have met as many women traveling alone as men, or maybe more! These gals are strong. We met two men
who had full-timed with their wives until their wives died unexpectedly. Deeply saddened and lonely, both men opted to downsize
from a fifth wheel to a truck camper and continue traveling. Ironically, these two men were camped only three campsites apart at
Yosemite, and they did not know each other!!
Some have planned this lifestyle for a long time, and others just ran out the door and started on a whim. Some work and some
don't. Some have camped all their lives, starting in tents as newlyweds and sampling every style rig until their families grew up
and they bought their current one. Others never camped a day in their lives until they sold the house and bought their first
Class A motorhome.
We have yet to meet a family with children fulltiming, but I can't think of a better sabbatical for a family than to spend a year
on the road together. American history comes alive out here. Standing on an island in the middle of the Columbia River last
year, while reading Elizabeth Smith's description of floating her family's covered wagon on a barge down the river in 1858,
the whole pioneer experience and opening of the West sprang to life for me. I wish that this real learning and my textbook
learning weren't separated by 30 years. Every kid should see the national parks -- as a kid. And what better way to bond as
a family than to figure out how to live, share and cooperate in the small space of an RV. The lifestyle isn't forever, but the
Before we left, I read about one family with six kids traveling in a Ford Econoline van pulling a 32' bunkhouse travel trailer. They
had been on the road for a few years, much of that time in Mexico. What an amazing learning experience for all of them!
We have met a few grandparents taking their grandkids on an extended vacation. Both young and old seemed really happy.
One woman told us that when she went shopping for their motorhome she took her grandson along for the ride. She was puzzled
when he kept lifting the sofa cushions on every rig they went into. Finally, she asked him what he was doing, and he said, "I want
to make sure you get one with a sofabed for me."
Most RVers use their RVs to follow the sun. Some hop in their RV for a few months to get to better weather, others split the
seasons between two locations, and a few simply wander the north-south routes, never stopping for more than a few weeks.
Most of the RVers we have met live in their rig for 3-9 months a year and maintain a home somewhere. This is a great way to go
if you can afford to have both a house and an RV, especially if you can leave your home under the watchful eye of a friend
(however, if you are looking to simplify your life as well as travel, this method doesn't really get you there). The travel routes are
pretty much due-north and due-south. After spending half the winter in southern Arizona, meeting people from the northwestern
region, it was amusing to go to South Padre Island Texas where none of the RVers were from northwest but were from Wisconsin
and Minnesota instead. Everyone we met in Florida seemed to be from Michigan or French Canada!
Seasonal Destination Travelers
A lot of the people we have met who live in their RVs year-round don't actually travel 12 months a year. They rent or own a site in
an RV park somewhere for 3-6 months a year, using this location as a home base. Seasonal RV park rates are reasonable, and
some parks include a storage area for boats and ATVs, and they allow you to spread out to do repairs on the RV. Many RVers
work-camp in a northern location in the summer and in a southern location in the winter. These full-timers have a strong sense of
home and community because they return to the same places year after year.
The fulltime travelers wander everywhere -- primarily along the north-south routes -- more or less in perpetual motion. Their
sense of home and community is found on the road. Some boondock or camp in state parks and forest campgrounds, and
others stick to RV parks which have more amenities. Many belong to a campground membership program, giving them a single
resource (or just a few resources) for finding places to stay, and also giving them a rich social life as they make friendships within
the program and plan their stays to coincide with their friends' stays.
WHERE TO STAY?
There are three basic options for where to park the rig and spend the night:
• Private RV parks
• Public campgrounds and RV parks
Private RV Parks
There are private RV parks everywhere. They are extremely easy to find online, in the phone book, in commercial guide books
and by asking at visitors centers. They range from about $20/night to $50/night or more, tending to the higher prices in popular
destinations and for parks that offer more amenities. The parking is generally laid out in rows and the sites can range from
drycamping sites (no hookups) to electric and/or water only to electric/water/sewer with cable TV and telephone. Usually the site
includes a picnic table, and sometimes the park includes a pool, showers, shuffleboard or horseshoes, bike and canoe rentals,
free wifi, small store, or other goodies.
Public Campgrounds and RV Parks
Public campgrounds run the gamut from rustic campgrounds on-site at the national parks to state park campgrounds to national
forest service campgrounds to Corps of Engineers campgrounds to regional park campgrounds and fairgrounds. Somewhere
along the line there is a crossover to municipal and city RV parks. These campgrounds and RV parks generally offer fewer
amenities than private RV parks: there may (or may not) be water spigots or vault toilets, or there may be electric and water
hookups and hot showers. Usually there are picnic tables and campfire rings at each site. Often the sites are too small for a
larger RV. Generally these campgrounds cost anywhere from $8/night to $25/night, depending on the amenities offered and the
popularity of the area. Many honor the National Senior Access Pass, offering a 50% discount to people over 62. Don Wright
also has a book (out of print) for inexpensive campgrounds predominantly in the eastern state.
Many National Forests and most lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management allow RVs to camp outside the confines of
their campgrounds. Also, it is generally legal to park in public parking areas and rest areas that are not posted with signs
prohibiting parking. And you can always camp out in a friend's driveway! The price for these kinds of overnight stays is $0.
However, you need to equip your rig to run without hookups to take advantage of these places for an extended period of time.
For more info, check out the boondocking page.
Pros and Cons of Private RV Parks
The advantage of RV parks is that they are generally close to whatever the local community has to offer, and they come with lots
of amenities. One of the best we ever stayed at was West Glacier KOA outside of Glacier National Park. It was the closest RV
park to the west entrance of the park, it was meticulously clean, had colorful flower plantings everywhere, and there was a hot tub
as well as a pool. It was $27/night without hookups. Another great one was Campland on the Bay in the Mission Bay area of San
Diego, California. Not only was it in a wonderful part of the city, but there was a terrific clubhouse and store and a private
swimming beach with catamaran sailboats for rent. We paid $45/night for electricity and water only, in January, the off-season!
The worst one we ever stayed at was Tall Pines RV Park outside Granbury, Texas. We were given the last site available,
sandwiched between two antique, rusting, poorly maintained, unoccupied trailers and wedged behind some large, decrepit,
rusting appliances that hadn't quite made it to the dump. We paid $34 for that night. When we questioned the high price we were
told: "We can get it because we're full." This was our very first night on the road, and we have learned a lot since then!
The disadvantage of many private RV parks is that they are often built on inexpensive land, so they are either close to the
highway, close to train tracks or are not very scenic. The parking arrangement is often very tight, as the park was either built
twenty years ago for the smaller rigs of that era, and/or the owners want to maximize their profits and the number of rigs they can
squeeze onto their lot. It is stressful to shoehorn a big rig into a small site at these parks and you wind up staring out your
window into your neighbor's window. Sometimes the park's electrical power is not all that stable, and occasionally that can cause
problems. However, if you want to be close to town in a private location that is "secure," a private RV park can be the best way to
Most fulltimers prefer not to pay the high nightly prices for private RV parks. One way around those high prices is to take
advantage of the park's weekly or monthly rate. There are also several membership programs that offer discounted nightly rates
at a network of RV parks, and there are other methods to get the costs down.
There are a lot of campground membership programs that offer discounted nightly rates at private RV parks. Each program is
different, however they fall into two general categories: "high end," with a large down payment and huge nightly discounts, or "low
end," with a low down payment and modest nightly discounts. The high end memberships generally include fewer RV parks, and
all of those parks are owned and operated by one or two companies, ensuring a higher standard and better consistency in park
quality. The low end memberships unite thousands of independent RV parks under a single umbrella.
Low End Memberships
charge an annual fee of $50-$70 and generally offer a 50% savings off the nightly rate at any of the member RV parks. The list
of parks that are part of each program is enormous, 1,200 to 1,400 RV parks in each network, and we have met many fulltimers
who travel between the RV parks in the networks where they are members. There is little risk in joining these programs, as they
are cheap to join and you do not have to renew if you don't like the program. Sometimes they even offer a money-back
guarantee for the first 90 days. However, because the member parks are independently run, parks join and abandon the
programs as suits their individual business needs. I have heard stories of people driving many miles to go to an RV park that is
supposed to be in the network only to arrive and find out that they are no longer part of the program. After driving out of their
way, these folks had to pay full price. I have also heard stories of people discovering a park was part of their membership
network only after they bypassed it because it was not included in the master list they had in hand.
High End Memberships
These memberships are like timeshares: they are sold using the hot seat method and are expensive to join, but if you play the
game and use them a lot, you can stay in lovely places for very little. We met a couple who has been traveling fulltime for several
years using a Western Horizons campground membership. They are extremely savvy with this program, and each year they
pay an average of about $2-$3 per night for all their stays. It is a complicated program, however, and Western Horizons changes
the rules as their profitability and growth plan requires.
This couple bought their membership back when it was sold with just a down payment and an annual fee. There were no nightly
camping fees associated with their membership. Early on, they took advantage of a one-time option to pay off their annual fees
forever (by paying about 7 years' worth). Since they have been members, Western Horizons has imposed a nightly electric
surcharge of $2/night. So, for the first few years they had no out-of-pocket expenses. Now, as they travel, their only out-of-pocket
cost is the electric surcharge each night. Still a good deal!
They book all their stays 90 days in advance. This ensures that they get the dates and stays that they want, especially since
there are strict rules for how long you can stay in each park and how long you must stay out of a park before returning. Holiday
weekends get very busy and the most popular parks fill up fast. This couple travels almost exclusively between the parks that are
system. If you like upscale RV parks, enjoy working a system to maximize its benefit, and if you are able to plan a few months in
advance, this kind of membership can make a lot of sense.
We went through the Western Horizons membership sales process, which reminded us of the many timeshare presentations we
have attended. We were given 4 free nights at their Charleston Peak RV Resort in Pahrump, Nevada, which is located next to a
winery, in exchange for sitting through a sales presentation. It was a delightful RV park in a wacky town (one TV station is
dedicated to conspiracy theory shows and UFO shows, and there is a disproportionate number of adult stores around town!).
The RV sites were fairly large with big concrete slab patios. There was a well maintained pool complete with water aerobics
classes for the ladies. There were ice cream socials in the evenings and a delicious pancake breakfast one morning. The library
had lots of books and the park offered free wifi. The laundry room was packed every day at all hours, but was a great place to
We were left alone to enjoy the premises for our entire stay. We did a wine tasting and enjoyed the beautiful grounds of the
winery. We quizzed everyone we met about how they liked the program. Everyone LOVED it. On the big sales day we spent
about two hours with the salespeople. I was really interested in the program, and had learned as much as possible about how
the program worked, so we stayed longer than most couples as we peppered first our saleswoman and then the sales manager
with questions. The package they were selling us that day in November 2007 was the following:
$6,074 down payment (including closing costs and documentation fees)
$299 annual fee for Western Horizons (fixed)
$5 nightly camping fee ($2 for utilities and $3 for the site) at Western Horizons resorts.
The utility fee could go up at any time. The site fee would remain fixed forever.
$8 nightly fee at AOR resorts (could increase in later years)
$0 nightly fee at ROD resorts (could increase in later years)
None of this was negotiable -- this was the best price offer that day. It also came with a contingency. If we could prove we
belonged to another campground membership program, or if we could prove ownership of a traditional timeshare unit, or if we
could get a friend to join Western Horizons within twelve months, then our down payment would be as shown. Otherwise, it would
be $1,000 higher. Because we were not members in another campground membership program and didn't own a timeshare, we
were told we would simply be billed an additional $1,000 a year later if we did not get someone else to join Western Horizons by
then. In general, members are paid $500 for referrals.
We ultimately said, "thanks, but no thanks." They gave us two bottles of wine from the winery and we left.
For us, this program didn't make sense. We are too free spirited. We don't plan four hours in advance, never mind 90 days in
advance. We like to have lots of open space around our buggy when we camp, preferring remote and secluded areas with no
one else in sight, and we don't need hookups. It was really nice to have a pool in Pahrump, and we took advantage of the
beautiful and spacious showers. However, we are 15 years younger than most of the Western Horizons members, and we have
never been eager to sign up for scheduled activities. It just wasn't a good fit for us.
However, everyone we talked to at this park was thrilled with the program. Many had paid 7-10 years' worth of annual dues to
buy out their annual fee for life. One member had signed up twenty other members! They all felt they had purchased something
of real value, and they were all genuinely happy to be part of the program. Quite a few had bought into the membership a few
years before they took off on their RV adventures, financing the down payment at first and then paying it off before they started
We looked into buying one of these memberships used. We found some for sale online for about $3,000 -- quite a savings. What
we learned when we asked Western Horizons about transferring existing memberships from the original buyer to a new buyer
was the following:
• Memberships can be transferred from one buyer to another buyer only once.
So if you buy a used membership you can't sell it later.
• When you buy a used one, there is a "transfer fee" for the membership rights to transfer.
$579 to transfer the Western Horizons membership (in November 2007)
$549 to transfer and start up the affiliate ROD membership (if desired) (in November 2007)
• The annual fee will be whatever the current annual fee is, not what the seller's annual fee was in their contract,
even if it was "fixed."
• The membership may be good only for the resorts that existed when the original buyer bought into the program.
Check that out before buying.
There are other membership programs that are similar to Western Horizons. The details are different, but the essential concept
In October, 2009, we sat through another presentation for a campground membership with Colorado River Adventures. We
stayed at the Havasu Springs Resort, a pretty RV park set along the southeastern shores of Lake Havasu about 20 miles south of
Lake Havasu City. The resort included two bar/restaurants, two sets of docks with boat slips, and a small beach area. The sites
were fairly small, but we were put on an end site which was more spacious. The resort is built on BLM land and the BLM receives
a percentage of the resort's profits. Next door is private land that is being developed into luxury condos overlooking the lake.
The cost breakdown for this "decide today" deal was:
$4,995 for a 5-year membership
$429 annual fee
Fixed fee for seniors 65+
Fee subject to increase for younger members
$0 for overnight stays in any of the 8 member parks situated along the Colorado River
Stay at member parks for up to 14 days, stay outside for 7 days and return for another 14, etc.
To stay at the member park for those 7 "out" days, pay $95 for that week.
$0 for a boat slip
$10/night fee for up to two friends' RVs at a time
$0 for membership in RPI (Resort Parks International) which has 40 or so member parks
$10/night to stay in RPI parks
$6,495 for a lifetime membership for you and your children rather than a 5-year plan
$10,000 for a lifetime membership for you, your kids and your grandkids
Although we were told the presentation would take 90 minutes, ours lasted just 45 minutes because the salesman could tell we
were not going to buy. The resort was extremely cordial during our stay and we were very impressed with the program. We were
curious about availability of sites at the member parks, and apparently this company was founded in 1972 and has never turned
away a member. The Havasu Springs Resort is a new park in this system.
Moose and Elks Clubs
This seems like a terrific option, though we have not joined either organization yet. The Moose Club has more facilities with RV
parks in the eastern states, and the Elks have more RV parks in the western states. In either organization the nightly cost is
between $8/night and $15/night for a site with electric and water or electric/water/sewer. Generally the cost is closer to $10/night.
The fee to join is less than $100/year. You need a sponsor to vouch for you when you join, but we have found the people in both
organizations to be extremely friendly, and within a few minutes of chatting they are always happy to offer their sponsorship.
We stopped at a Moose Lodge on the Space Coast in Florida and asked if we could park in their parking lot for the night if we
gave them a donation. The local laws were very strict about RVs parking anywhere, so this was not possible, but they eagerly
gave us a site in their RV park (a lovely area behind the lodge) in exchange for our donation and some time spent learning about
the organization. Their website lists all the lodges that have RV parks, and some might allow overnight parking even if there were
no RV park.
We spent a few days camping in the Kaibab woods in Arizona with a couple who parks at Elks lodges regularly. The
organization seemed very similar to the Moose and they highly recommended joining. The Elks have several books that list the
lodges with RV parks, including descriptions of the RV park amenities and directions to the lodge.
Military RV Parks
For those people that retired from the military, there is a fantastic network of RV parks located on many bases throughout the US.
There is a huge book that lists them all. We stayed at one military RV Park, Pelican's Roost at the Mayport Naval Station in
Jacksonville, Florida. We were sponsored by Mark's son who was stationed there. It was $7/night for drycamping in February,
2008, and we stayed there twice, totaling 30 days! The park is located on the seaside corner of the base overlooking the
Jacksonville Harbor entrance. It a short walk to the beautiful north end of Jacksonville Beach. It was very scenic. We heard
many stories of other terrific military RV parks, especially the one at Key West (the only RV park down there). There are many
rules and regulations that go along with staying on a military base, and we managed to get pulled over by the military police within
the first 24 hours because we were not familiar with the rules regarding photographs! After being forced to delete most of the
photos on our camera we got used to the rigid structure, including saluting the flag as the Star Spangled Banner blared over
loudspeakers each morning and listening to more trumpet playing at sunset. We also got to hear the national anthems for
Canada and Great Britain when their warships were in port.
Another way to reduce the "overnight costs" line item in the budget is to work-camp. There are a myriad of options for doing a
little work in exchange for a free RV site. We have met loads of full-timers who choose their destinations based on workcamping
opportunities, and most of them seem to love their work. The best workcamping options, according to the workcampers we have
met on the road, are often found either in private deals or at small out-of-the-way places. One workcamper who has been at it for
over 15 years told me that his favorite places were the small historic sites. Another workcamper we met on the Oregon coast was
assigned the task of distributing literature to beach-goers about a rare plover that nested in the dunes. He loved birds, and these
plovers were interesting little creatures. Another good arrangement I heard about was a very wealthy absentee estate owner who
needed someone to mow the lawn once a week. The estate owner had installed RV hookups and the workcamper lived on very
plush grounds for a few months in exchange for mowing the lawn and "being a presence" on the property. These kinds of
I read a very interesting article by a couple that has been work-camping for 16 years in which they implored RVers not to sell
themselves short in their job hunt. In our enthusiasm to get out and see the world and work at the national parks and other cool
places, it is easy to offer more work than the employer deserves in exchange for less than the work is worth. By doing this
repeatedly, the employers are given the opportunity to take advantage of RVers. This couple suggested doing a little math,
comparing the hours worked to the value of the RV site, to make sure the compensation is at least minimum wage (or whatever
price you place on your freedom and your time). Of course, if you equip your rig for boondocking and enjoy the boondocking
experience, it isn't necessary to hold a job just to obtain a free place to stay. For us, it doesn't make sense to volunteer in
exchange for a free RV site. Volunteer work for its own sake is very valuable, especially if the work is fulfilling and enriches you
with a sense of "giving back" to the community. However, any job that is "just a job" should include a stipend that is worthy of the
work required, not including the RV site.
Workcamping stipends are often very small. A typical pay rate we have heard of for a stipend-based job is: $280/week for 40
hours of work, less the RV site fee of $75/month. Like any job, there are good employers and bad employers, and it is worthwhile
to check around first.
Xanterra << rant alert! >>
Xanterra, a concessionaire that manages several national parks, is a particularly notorious slave operation. Any visit to
Yellowstone, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon or Bryce Canyon Lodge makes this painfully clear. The workers seem
unhappy. One friend of mine started her full-time RV lifestyle with a Xanterra job at Bryce Canyon Lodge. At 62 she had been
working in service jobs for 40 years all over the world. She was no novice. She was horrified by how poorly she was treated.
She explained to me that most junior workers are a mix of American retirees and highly educated, multi-lingual young people from
all over the world. Many were duped about the type of work, living conditions and compensation they would be receiving from
Xanterra, and they were shocked when they arrived.
My personal experience with Xanterra is limited to the guest side of the equation. However, I witnessed a campsite reservation
fiasco at the Madison campground at Yellowstone that left me stunned. This campground is managed by Xanterra and the
irritable hosts reduced the elderly woman in line ahead of me to tears. In contrast, the Mammoth campground at Yellowstone is
managed by the National Park Service. We had a delightful stay there and found the hosts extremely helpful. We ended up
leaving Yellowstone many days before we would have, simply because Xanterra made such a mess of the campground
reservation system at Madison. No one should be so poorly treated at the national parks that they end up in tears or leave early.
Xanterra also built a parking lot in front of Mt. Rushmore, effectively placing an $8 tollbooth in front of the park. They charge their
toll regardless of whether you have purchased the $80 "America the Beautiful" Pass (which is supposed to give you access to
all the national parks in the US). Luckily, you can enjoy the Mt. Rushmore sculptures from a distance, so we didn't patronize
Xanterra. What a shame their tollbooth is keeping Americans out of an area that was built to be accessible to all citizens and to
bring pride and unity to everyone.
<< end of rant about Xanterra >>
Fortunately there are many other workcamping opportunities, and judging by the number of very happy workcampers we have
met, it is definitely a viable option to flush out the travel kitty and reduce camping costs.
FULL-TIME RIG OPTIONS
When we boondocked in Quartzsite, Arizona, we found ourselves neighbors with 150 Alpine motorhomes (all worth between
$200K and $400K) on one side, and a guy living out of the back of his pickup truck on the other side. In Florida we spent some
time with a couple in their sixties who had sold their house and been happily touring the country fulltime for the past four years in
a popup tent trailer; and we spent four days at the Lazy Days RV Park and Dealership outside Tampa, traipsing in and out of
quarter million dollar motorhomes, imagining life in one of those. It is possible to travel fulltime in just about anything. Some of
the happiest people are those that are debt-free in a smaller rig.
The most seasoned veterans on the road have owned a variety of rigs. The average owner keeps an RV for just three years,
and, having purchased three rigs in four years, we are still at the early end of that curve! There are a few trade-offs with each
style of RV, and it seems that anyone who has been RVing for a long time has tried the various styles and settled on what works
best for them at the moment.
There is a natural progression through the different types of rigs as people grow older that goes along with the comfort level and
cost of an RV. Most young couples and families can't spring for a Class A motorhome and are more willing to put up with the
simplicity and manual operations of a popup tent trailer or travel trailer. Most older people would prefer not to crank and grind
and drag around 2x8 boards for leveling purposes, and they have the budget for a fancier rig. So they relax with the push-button
comfort of a Class A.
When it comes to fulltiming, it doesn't really matter what kind of rig you have, as long as it keeps you dry and warm and you have
a way to get around town while it's parked, even if it's raining. A truck can be unhitched from a trailer to get around town while a
motorhome will likely require a car towed behind. However, we met one couple that has full-timed for two years in a motorhome
using bicycles exclusively around town! Most important is that the total purchase doesn't break the bank and impede your travel
options. It is tempting to buy something really expensive at first, because you are replacing your old stick-built house. But after a
while on the road you will probably find you want something different. We did, and so did most people we talk to.
Some thoughts about different styles of RVs:
- Popups are easy to tow and offer a lot of space for a small package,
but they can't be easily used to stop for lunch at a rest area or overnight at a Walmart
- Travel trailers are cheaper than fifth wheels but can require almost as big a truck and can be more difficult to maneuver.
- Fifth wheels are a lot taller and heavier than travel trailers (so you get fewer miles per gallon),
and it's easy to swipe everything off the roof by accident when driving under a low overhang.
- Any trailer leaves you with a low mpg truck for your around-town driving.
- Larger Motorhomes require a "toad," or car towed behind, if you want to get around town easily.
That's two engines to maintain -- motorhome and car -- and the car tires wear as they are towed.
- The most popular full-time rigs are Class A motorhomes and fifth wheels.
Class C's, Class B's and travel trailers are a lot less common.
A few things we have learned about buying an RV:
If you are willing to buy used, there are a lot of great deals to be found. RVs depreciate really fast. In five years an RV will be
worth half what you paid for it new. With careful shopping you can get a good used "full-time" quality motorhome for $80K or a
new truck and new "full-time" quality fifth wheel for $80K, or you can run off in a new "vacation" quality travel trailer and your
existing pickup for $19K like we did. Mass-market brand, "vacation" quality RVs generally sell for 25-35% less than MSRP and
higher-end "full-time" brands sell for 20-30% less than MSRP, depending on the manufacturer. The NADA guide gives the values
of used RVs. At trade-in, if you have negotiated a great price on the unit you are buying, the dealer will likely give you the base
NADA price for your trade-in, regardless of condition or options.
Most dealers post their inventory and prices on the internet, so it is easy to comparison shop. We saw the travel trailer we
wanted at an Arizona dealership, but they were unwilling to match the price advertised on the internet for an identical unit in
Dallas. Marshall's RV in Dallas (actually, Kemp) even paid for our gas to drive 1,000 miles to pick up the trailer. In general we
have found that the smaller dealerships with fewer sales staff will offer the better deals and have more knowledge. If the
salesman drives you around a very large lot with a huge inventory in a golf cart, double check the price and condition of the unit
you buy. Some mark up the MSRP too, so verify that with the manufacturer or other dealers as well.
If you are buying a new trailer, look at the sticker at the hitch end of the trailer on the driver's side. This will show when the trailer
was built. If it has been on the dealer's lot for a while, sitting in the elements (snow, rain, mud, etc.) and enduring lots of foot
traffic from customers, there may be a lot of nit-picky problems when you first move in.
Once you run away in an RV you lose all the familiar pillars that supported your life before: mail no longer arrives daily at your
doorstep, washer and dryer are no longer just footsteps from the kitchen, the bank is no longer on a familiar corner. With a little
flexibility all these things are easy to handle in a traveling lifestyle.
Domicile, Mail and Vehicle Registration
When you trade your home address to live "on the road," you need to decide how to receive mail and what to call "home" on your
tax forms. About half the full-timers we meet retained the state of residence where they were living before they hit the road.
Many of those still own property in that state, and they often have a relative or friend who forwards their mail. If you wish, you can
change your state of residence, and there are valid reasons for doing so.
Most full-timers who choose a new domicile select either South Dakota or Texas as their new home state. Neither of those states
has a state income tax. South Dakota's sales tax is 3% (important if you are going to be purchasing a vehicle or RV in your
travels). Texas' sales tax is 6.5%. Both states are home to a major mail forwarding service that will help you become a legal
resident, help you register and insure your vehicles and help you become a registered voter. In either state you have to show up
in person to get your driver's license. In South Dakota we were given 30 days, officially, to get our licenses. But when we showed
up five months later there was no problem -- the gal who issued our licenses at the folding table in the office that was only open
on Tuesdays really didn't care.
In South Dakota, the largest mail forwarding service is Alternative Resources out of Sioux Falls. We chose to
work with them and have been very happy. We call them once a month and tell them where to send the mail.
Usually it is a "General Delivery" address at a post office, and we get the zip code online from www.usps.com. If
we are in transit, we try to guess what town we might be near. A few days after our phone call the box o' mail
arrives. The post office holds all General Deliveries for 30 days, so there is plenty of time to locate the post office
and retrieve our box.
We have registered four vehicles with Alternative Resources, two trucks and two trailers. Each time they have
emailed us a few forms and worked with us on the phone to fill them out properly. They have then submitted the
forms to the registry of motor vehicles and we have received our plates in the mail a few weeks later. They work
with a local Sioux Falls insurance agency, Dougherty's, that specializes in insuring full-time RVers, so the vehicle registration and
insurance process is very quick and easy on the phone. Alternative Resources offers a wide range of services and different fee
structures, depending on how frequently you want to receive your mail.
After having this information about Alternative Resources posted here for two years, Alternative Resources took notice. In
appreciation, they have offered to give our readers a free month of mail forwarding if you mention this site when
signing up for a new account.
In Texas, the largest mail forwarding service is through Escapees. They provide all the same services as Alternative Resources
at similar prices. The Texas sales tax is higher, and I believe the insurance rates and vehicle registration rates are higher in
Livingston, TX than they are in Sioux Falls, SD. The Escapees mail forwarding service is so big that every day an 18-wheeler
from the post office pulls up to the Escapees sorting facility loaded with Escapees' mail. These are not mom-and-pop fly-by-night
Other states have no income tax or no sales tax. However, they do not like to grant residence to non-residents, leaving full-time
travelers in a bind. Both Sioux Falls and Livingston are well aware, as communities, that their local politics are influenced by the
huge number of absentee voters. These voters may vote like each other, but they don't necessarily vote like the other residents
of their adopted hometowns. However, the advantage to these states is the many thousands of dollars of sales taxes, insurance
premiums and registration fees that they wouldn't otherwise receive from their traveling "residents."
Online banking has made full-time travel much easier than it was years ago. Talking to other RVers and reading online logs it
seems most travelers handle day-to-day purchases with a credit card, giving them the small buffer of the credit card company
between their money and any fraudulent activity. They pay this card off each month from a small checking account. Their
savings and investments are kept separate from these two day-to-day accounts. Once a month they transfer a month's worth of
funds from their savings/investments into the checking account. For cash needs they get "cash over" on a debit card at the
Free wifi is available in even the smallest towns. I have been amazed that we can drive through a little settlement of 100 or 200
people and find a signal. At first we would stop at the local coffee shop, buy a cup of coffee and get on the internet. We soon
learned to verify that the internet was working before purchasing the coffee! Then we discovered that we could simply drive
around town hunting for a signal that is not password protected and pull over when we found one. Many libraries and some
visitors centers have free wifi, or at least a computer you can use that has internet access. Some libraries and visitors centers get
a little touchy if you plug into their power, however. In Quartzsite in the winter, the tiny town library is so overrun with retirees
trying to get on the internet that they have a sign-up system and they scold you soundly if you try to use their electricity. Retirees
are wily creatures, though, and once when I was in the library's restroom I saw a power cord coming from under a stall door and
plugged into the electrical outlet in the wall.
Driving to get internet access take some getting used to if you had a full-time high-speed connection at home. We compose draft
email messages to friends ahead of time, and keep a list of internet searches we want to do. Once we get a connection, we send
all our drafts and do all our searches at once. We can only linger on the internet when we find a comfortable place with free wifi
or when we manage to get it in the trailer. Many RV parks offer free wifi, and some other camping locations are near a signal.
Some RVers purchase a satellite system that provides them satellite TV and internet, and others sign up for internet access
through Verizon or other cell phone companies, installing a card in their laptop that gives them internet access wherever there is
a cell phone signal. The equipment for the satellite systems runs about $1,000 or more and both the satellite and cell phone
systems involve a monthly fee. Also, many of the places we camp don't have cell phone reception. However, we usually get on
the internet every day or two by picking up a free wifi signal.
We travel without a cell phone. We both spent so many years in the service industry that the sound of a ringing phone makes us
break out in hives. Although we were in different industries, in those days, for both of us, when the phone rang it meant
someone's equipment needed repair, and we were the ones to do the fixing! So when we left the corporate world we gave up our
phones for good. This has not been a problem in our travels. There are still pay phones in most areas, and we purchase a 1200
minute phone card every nine months or so. Our families weren't thrilled with our phone choice, and it is difficult when we want to
meet up with people. However, we did not want any monthly bills, and a cell phone is a monthly bill.
In February, 2009, we became Skype converts. This is a super-cheap way to make phone calls over the internet from your
computer. I had heard about it but didn't explore it until I needed to call the bank one day and couldn't find a pay phone. A very
friendly, newly-arrived Indian student from Delhi heard me bemoaning the lack of pay phones in the area and suddenly insisted
that I use Skype on his laptop. I have no idea why he was so generous. He was a complete stranger! I said "No, thanks
anyways," a bunch of times, but it was like he was meant to be there for us so we would learn about Skype!! Like many
foreigners, he relies on Skype to stay in touch with his family in India while he is living here in the US. I really didn't want take his
computer from him to make a phone call that could result in being on hold with several different people, but he was absolutely
insistent. I became a Skype convert instantly, and it has been our primary means of calling family ever since.
To use Skye, you need to have a microphone (and speakers) installed on your computer (our Macintosh laptop came with both
built in). Then simply download the software from www.skype.com. They offer a "test" phone call to verify that your system is
working. For $2.95 per month you can make unlimited phone calls to any cell phone or land line in the United States (and
Canada and Mexico). Simply type in the phone number (or pull it up from an address book), and your computer connects to the
cell phone or land line phone on the other end. Then start talking to your computer (a pair of earbuds with a microphone for $5
from Walmart can keep your calls private, otherwise the other person is on speaker-phone). If the other person has caller-ID,
your call will appear to be from "Unknown" or something like that. So we often find our friends screen us out and don't pick up the
phone when we call. A few call-backs and they usually figure out that it's us. You cannot receive phone calls, so it is not as easy
as having a real phone. Also, if the internet connection is not robust (we require 3 or 4 bars on our wifi signal), then the reception
can be poor. But what a way to talk to a long lost friend for an hour, virtually free of charge.
Skype also offers a computer-to-computer calling service. The person receiving your call must have Skype installed on their
computer (and they must be sitting at it too!). This type of call has no charge at all, so it is particularly useful for people with
Many RV parks have laundry facilities on-site, and some full-timers purchase RVs equipped with washer and dryer. We like to
use the laundromat in town. We can do four, five or six loads of laundry in two hours flat, and laundromats can be a great place
to meet people and learn about an area. In Flagstaff, Arizona, if you want to meet Navajo Indians, go to the local laundromat,
preferably on a Saturday. Laundry facilities in RV parks tend to be very crowded. Most parks have only a few machines and
everyone in the park needs to use them. At Pelican Roost RV Park in Florida, Mark and I made four trips in and out of the
laundry room one day before we were able to put in a load. Two loads became an all-day
ordeal! Washers and dryers in RVs are really small, and one woman told me she has to do a
load a day to keep up. Neither of these options appeals to us. Instead, the local town
laundromat is big, industrial, and if we go midweek we are often the only people there. They are
also a great place to unload the magazines we have read.
The very best laundromat we have found is "The Missing Sock" laundromat in Cedar City, Utah.
Not only is it neat as a pin, but the owners there understand their customers. There is a huge
flat screen TV, a magazine library with tables and chairs, an internet cafe with ethernet
connections, free wi-fi, and a padded, low-walled area for toddlers. The machines are grouped
in clusters so your washer is next to your dryer, and they offer free dryer sheets. Each week a
few machines are offered as "this week's discount washer" at a 40% discount, and atop the
spindle of every washing machine is a boxed laundry sack. What a place!! (Sadly, we returned
in the fall of 2011 to find it was closed).
One of the best ways to get to know a small town is to get a haircut from the local barber. In Chanute, Kansas, we got the low-
down on the community, the NuWa factory and many other things when we had our hair cut by Jane. She had lived in the town
all her life and had a lot of great stories. Outside New Orleans I got a whole different perspective on Katrina from the lady who
cut my hair. She told startling tales of shameful abuses of the system by people she knew who saw Katrina as a chance to cash
in. And in Kanab, Utah, the barber loved his charming corner of the world so much that, sitting in his barber chair, we had a view
of his childhood bedroom window in the house across the street. His dad had been an extra in a lot of Hollywood movies and
Gunsmoke episodes shot around town in the 1950's and '60's. When he introduced us to Bob, the man next in line for a trim, we
found out Bob's wife was the chairwoman of the Paiute Indian tribe. How cool is that?
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