The RV lifestyle is catching on across the country, and there are lots of people who are curious about how to live in an RV full-time. Full-timing is a fabulous way to live, and we have been loving it for years. This 3-part series covers all the basics about full-time RV life, from who’s out here doing it to what to consider when buying a rig for full-timing and how to insure your new rolling home. The other articles in this series are: Full-time RV Tips – Mail, Domicile, Insurance, Saving $$ and Which RV is the Best Rolling Home?
For easy navigation, and to read a little now and come back for more later, use these links:
- Who Lives the Full-time RV Lifestyle?
- What's the Best Way to Learn About RVing Full-time?
- What Does Full-time RVing Cost and How Do You Make Money On The Road?
- Work Camping - What Is It and How Do You Find Job Openings?
Links to the entire series and its various chapters are here: Full-time RV Lifestyle Tips
OUR FIRST GLIMPSE OF FULL-TIME RVING
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” — St. Augustine, 354-430 A.D.
The first time we learned about the full-time RV lifestyle was in 2006 at Lake Cahuilla Campground outside of Indio / Palm Springs California. We were staying there for a week one February in our popup tent trailer to 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. Suddenly we saw 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 Idaho 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 tent trailer had become 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.
We set off on our full-timing adventure within the year!
WHO LIVES THE FULL-TIME RV LIFESTYLE?
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 full-timers we have met on the road include the following:
The vast majority of full-time RVers we have met, perhaps as many as 98%, are retired couples. The average age is mid- to late-sixties, with a lot in their seventies, a few in their eighties and a few in their fifties. Of course, this is the age group that has the money, the time and the lack of day-to-day responsibilities that easily allow for this kind of free-spirited lifestyle. We have read about full-time RVers at both ends of the age spectrum. Many younger full-timers keep fabulous blogs, and some of the oldest old-timers have been written about in the magazines, including a woman who started in 1966 and was still out there in 2008 at age 90, and another fellow who started in 2007 at the young age of 104. We interviewed and wrote a magazine article about a terrific full-timing couple who began in their late 30’s and are still at it in their sixties.
There are quite a few singles on the road. We have run into the Wandering Individuals Network or WINS groups quite a few times over the years. They are a very active group of singles that has a great time together. Another group is Loners on Wheels. If you are a member of Escapees RV Club, you can join their Solos Group. We have camped near them quite a few times in Quartzsite, Arizona.
Surprisingly, we have met lots of women traveling alone. These gals are strong! A popular group for women RVers is Sisters on the Fly, which is open to any woman with an RV who wants to spend time with other women with similar interests, whether they are single or married, full-timing or not.
We have also 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. We also met a solo woman who had lost her husband and decided to keep going, big RV, towable boat and all!
Families and The Under 50 Crowd
There is a growing interest in full-time RVing among younger folks, and there are many great blogs by younger RVers who are working on the road. Technology is making it possible for people to have a professional career without having to show up at an office every day.
We have read and heard about these fortunate people, but have met fewer than five on the road since we started RVing full-time in 2007. The youngest full-timers we have met personally was a couple in their early thirties. We’ve also met a handful of couples in their forties. We’ve met one family on the road, a French couple in their late forties with a 3 year old son. They were in the second year of a seven year RV trip around the world! Another family we know took a one year sabbatical in their RV with thoughts of continuing if they could put it together and liked it.
The online world of exciting blogs and social media groups related to full-time RVing for the younger set can make it look like there are tons of families and young couples out adventuring in their RVs full-time. This is a wonderful and lovely thought. However, in our personal experience on the road, we have met only an extremely very rare few.
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO LEARN ABOUT RVing FULL-TIME ?
You will learn the most about full-time RVing by
talking to full-timers IN PERSON.
Where can you find them? At RV parks and campgrounds!
Most hosts are either full-timers or part-timers, and they are a wealth of information about every aspect of RVing, from rigs to travel to jobs to living small.
They may also know of other campers staying in the RV park or campground that are full-timers that you can talk to.
There is nothing like the back-and-forth of a real conversation to get all your questions answered quickly and to explore other subjects that suddenly spring to mind.
Before we started, we learned a lot this way. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Bernie and Phyllis, hosts at Bonito Campground in Flagstaff, Arizona, who talked to us endlessly about trucks and fifth wheel trailers and solar power.
If you feel funny about taking up their time, ask the hosts if you could bring over some drinks and snacks at happy hour and chat with them about the lifestyle for a while. Few people will turn down a free drink and a chance to talk about a lifestyle they love!
You can do this kind of in-person research with experienced RVers whether you are staying in a hotel near an RV park, staying in a tent at a campground or staying in an RV.
Where can you find a high density of RV parks and full-timers? In the southern states in winter! Take a roadtrip to Quartzsite, Arizona, during the Quartzsite RV Show in January, and drive around on all the roads within a 15 mile radius of town. Pitch a tent and go make some friends. Or visit Yuma or Mesa, Arizona, or southern Texas or anywhere in Florida!
Buy A Cheap RV and Go Play!
Another great way to learn about full-timing is to get a smaller, cheaper RV and go try it out. As mentioned above, we started with a popup tent trailer. By the time we hit the road full-time, we were very seasoned RVers and had dry camped in campgrounds over 150 nights. This made it very easy for us to begin boondocking as newbie full-timers and know what to look for in a trailer.
A small used trailer or used Class C or van would work just as well.
This experience will teach you a million things about RVing and about yourself: the kinds of places you like to stay, the kinds of people you’re likely to meet in your travels and how the systems on an RV work, whether you are plugged into hookups or are dry camping somewhere.
You will also learn what you want and don’t want in your full-time rolling home!
Rent an RV and Try It Out!
If you don’t live in an area that lends itself to easy weekend RV travel, then flying to a gorgeous place and renting an RV is a fabulous way to go.
Renting an RV for a week may look really expensive on paper, but the memories will last a lifetime and the lessons you will learn will be priceless.
There are lots of RV rental companies all over North America. Most companies rent Class C motorhomes, and we’ve seen them everywhere in our travels. A few companies to look into that have their own fleets of rental RVs are:
There are also companies that offer rental RVs that are owned by private individuals or are part of smaller RV dealership rental fleets. These companies provide a “peer-to-peer” rental experience and function much like AirBnB and VRBO in the vacation rental property industry.
This kind of RV rental company acts as the middle man between the owner, who is renting out their own RV or one in their fleet, and the renter. The company’s website serves as an “aggregating” searching tool to put these two groups of people together.
This concept is potentially a great boon to both RV owners and to people who want to try out a particular style of RV before committing to buying one. For RV owners, there is a potential to make a few dollars on an RV that is otherwise sitting unused in their driveway. For prospective RV buyers, it is a neat way to try a tear drop trailer or fifth wheel trailer for a weekend and get more of a feel for it than just by looking at it on a dealership lot.
One of the first companies in this industry is RVshare.com.
Of course, both lessors and lessees need to enter into these contracts with eyes wide open, as there is the potential for things to go awry. An unscrupulous owner might be trying to make a few bucks from a junker that has been rusting in the back yard for a few years, or an unscrupulous renter might throw a wild party in someone’s meticulously maintained RV.
The key to enjoying a happy RV rental, whether from a single source rental company that has its own fleet of RVs or through a website like RVShare.com that brokers deals between individual RV owners and renters, is to make sure you have covered all the bases before signing on the dotted line.
A few things to consider:
- Have you tabulated all the hidden fees beforehand and do you have them in writing?
- Do you have a written contract detailing how and when your security deposit will be refunded to you?
- Do you understand exactly how the unit is insured (many private RV insurance contracts do now cover RVs that are leased out)?
- Do you have all the codes and phone numbers necessary for obtaining roadside assistance if it is offered?
- Have you done your due diligence searching for complaints against the company and pondering any negative reviews?
- Have you contacted previous renters to find out if they were happy with their RV renting experience?
- Do you have the phone numbers and names of the key people at the rental company so you know who is responsible and who to call in the event of breakdown or a financial concern?
Research the RV Lifestyle Online
In between your weekend and vacation RV adventure travels, there are lots of resources that will help you with your planning.
- RV Blogs – A few are listed here. You can also subscribe to our blog!
- RV Forums – General purpose forums we’ve enjoyed: RV.net (Good Sam Club), irv2.com, and RVnetwork.com (Escapees).
Most manufacturers have owners forums too, and you can learn a lot about specific brands by reading the discussions.
- RV Online Communities, including RVillage and social media groups on Facebook and Google+
- RV Magazines available in print and digital versions including Trailer Life, Motorhome , Escapees, RV Life, RV Journal
One caveat about any online discussion group or website where the writers are fairly anonymous is that they may or may not be experts about the topic. Take everything with a big grain of salt and trust your own instincts. I was amazed to find out that a very outspoken member of a popular cruising forum hadn’t sailed in 30 years and lived hundreds of miles from the ocean. Yet he expressed his opinion on every cruising topic. It was his way of feeling connected to a world and activity he loved and dreamed of doing.
WHAT DOES FULL-TIME RVING COST AND HOW DO YOU MAKE MONEY ON THE ROAD?
The full-time RV lifestyle can be very inexpensive or very costly, depending on how you choose to live. We are budget travelers and have posted a detailed explanation of our costs and budget over seven years of full-time travel here:
There are a myriad of options for making money on the road. The range of things available depends largely on how much money you need to make.
We started full-timing before retirement age, however we do not work. We live very simply and we were lucky enough to have a small nest egg before we began our adventures. We set up our investments before we left home.
Consulting Work or Part-Time Work In Your Profession
One approach to working on the road is to take part-time jobs in locations where you want to live for a while. Some professions lend themselves to that. Nurses can get three- to six-month contracts that pay a full professional wage. A couple we know of in the oil and gas industry takes contract work within their profession. We met a young couple that was waiting table at swank restaurants near their favorite national parks each summer and making enough money to float their RV lifestyle all winter. We met a woman who was a contract waitress for a catering firm in Las Vegas and she was doing very well too, bopping in and out of Vegas whenever funds ran short.
We have also met construction workers and electricians who work on jobs for short periods and then move on. If your profession doesn’t lend itself to part-time contracts, you might have skills or a hobby that lends itself to part-time jobs.
Early on, we met a young pair of musicians living in a popup tent trailer for the summer and playing gigs across the country. They booked themselves about 3 to 6 weeks out at various bars and other venues and were having a blast. We heard of a pair of sailors that did the same thing across the South Pacific ocean!!
One strategy is to work a “real” job for a period of time and then travel until the money runs out, and then repeat the cycle. School teachers can travel in the summertime. A ski instructor or sailing instructor can travel in the off season.
Ordinary Part-Time Jobs In Seasonal Tourist Destinations
There are also “help wanted” postings for part-time work in many towns that have a seasonal tourist industry. What fun to work in a boutique shop for a while! Many employers have trouble finding seasonal part-time workers among the local population, and they are happy to hire RVers who want to stay in town for a season.
In Jackson, Wyoming, where the billionaires have pushed out the millionaires, we spotted a help wanted sign in tne window of a fabulous bakery and coffee shop. I asked it they would hire RV travelers for two to three month stints. Absolutely! They loved the idea of mature workers who would be prompt and reliable. In the summer of 2014 they were paying $10 an hour.
Working on cruise ships and luxury charter yachts are another option. Just store the RV for the months you are at sea.
Some RVers come up with a product to sell at the many RV rallies held around the country. Others write books about RVing or their travels or take on some freelance writing. An engineering friend of ours absolutely loves to grill meat, and he was hanging out on his favorite website about barbecuing and grilling one day when he noticed they wanted someone to do scientific testing on grill thermometers. He made $8k last year testing thermometers for them. Who woulda thunk??!!
Many people dream of making money on the internet from a blog, or some sort of web service, or from online product sales. This is highly competitive, however, as everyone in the world wants to stay at home and make money on the internet, whether or not their home is an RV.
So, can an RV blog support your travels? Our blog has given us priceless experiences and opened some wonderful doors and given us some great opportunities that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. For cold, hard cash, however, a “real job” (flipping burgers) would pay far more per hour for the first few thousand hours. I explain a bit about how all this works in this post: In the Spirit of Giving.
I’m hardly an expert on travel and RV blogs, however, and my experience is limited. A far more experienced blogging couple, both of whom work on activities related to their blog (which is one of the top travel blogs in the entire world) all day every day has this to say on the subject: I Want To Know Your Secret
In a nutshell: if you need to earn cash on the road to make your dream of a full-time RV lifestyle come true, the bottom line is to get creative. What do you love to do? How would you like to spend your days?
Work Camping – What Is It and How Do You Find Out About Job Openings?
Work camping is part-time work that is geared specifically towards RVers, often including an RV site on the jobsite or nearby as part of the compensation or at a reduced rate. Work camping is super popular with full-timers, and many choose their destinations based on work camping opportunities. Most of them seem to love their work. If you don’t need a full-time job to cover your expenses but do want a little supplemental income or want to work in exchange for a “free” RV site, this is a great way to go.
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 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. What a fun way to keep the public informed about an unusual bird and get an RV site with full hookups in exchange.
A 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 work camper lived on very plush grounds for a few months in exchange for mowing the lawn and “being a presence” on the property.
Some private RV parks pay a good wage for workers that can maintain the grounds, check people in and out, etc. We’ve heard of pay rates as high as $20,000 for a couple, each working 25 hours a week, for six months. One of our readers told me about a fabulous job she has manning the guard shack at an oil field. The work is easy and the pay is terrific.
Work campers at the Escapees CARE Assisted Living facility in Livingston, Texas, receive meals as well as an RV site, and they get a discount on future stays in other Escapees RV parks to boot.
In Mesa, Arizona, where thousands of snowbird RVers flock each winter, we met two couples work camping at a cute little bakery called RaVeS Cafe. It has an RVing theme and is adorably decorated with RVs and RVers in mind.
And, of course, some people work camp not because they need the cash but because they want to give back to society. There are loads of opportunities through the National Park Service, US Forest Service, BLM and Army Corps of Engineers.
One really fascinating workamping volunteer position we discovered was cataloging ancient Indian pottery for the National Park Service. This job was described to us by our vivacious tour guide on a ranger-led tour we took of the ancient Indian ruins at Tonto National Monument in Arizona: Workamping with the Ancients at Tonto National Monument
Another very popular program designed specifically for RVers is Amazon Camperforce where you can join dozens of other RVers at the big Amazon warehouses during the holiday season, packing boxes and shipping products, and make some really good money while you’re at it.
Websites that list work camping positions include the following:
- Workamper News
- Workers on Wheels
- Work Camping
- Cool Works
- RV.net Work Camping Forum
- Xscapers Job Board
- Volunteer Opportunities at the NPS, USFS and US-COE
Things to Ponder About Work Camping
We have not work camped yet, but we have met a lot of people who have. Listening to their stories prompts these thoughts:
— Choosing a work camping position is a hunt both for property and for a job. Not only do you need to make sure you want to do the work that’s required, but it needs to be in a place where you want to be, both on the map and within the grounds of the location.
— Sometimes work campers are given a yucky site next to the dumpster out back. Sometimes they are required to work 35 hours a week instead of the advertised 20 hours a week they saw when they took the job. The National Parks subcontractor Xanterra has been notorious for offering poor work and sub-optimal RV sites for minimal pay.
On the other hand, we’ve met RVers work camping at state park campgrounds on the waterfront in San Diego that keep going back and back and back again because they love it so much.
— Whatever kind of part-time work you take, whether in your professional field or work camping at a National Park, it is important to evaluate both the work required and the wage being paid to make sure you feel the exchange is fair. If you are trading labor for a site, make sure the site and the hours of labor you are paying for it match up with other RV park sites in the area — or that you are happy with the trade.
— For many retirees, there is nothing more fulfilling than helping out at a national or state park, and the positions can be in the gift shop, at the front gate, on the grounds or in the bathrooms. We met an 81 year old whose RV site at a national forest campground without hookups would have cost him just $3 a day if he didn’t workcamp there. However, he was more than happy to put in 8 hours of work a day picking up trash for four full months. He made a massive contribution to the area, and was sorely missed when his workcamping stint was over. He sure wasn’t being paid fairly, but he was one happy camper!
— For younger folks that need a living wage, the step down from a professional white collar position to cleaning the bathrooms at a private RV park can be a big jolt. Sometimes the bosses don’t remember you had a fancy career and they treat you like grunt labor. It’s important to think all this through before ditching a good paying conventional job and a big house mortgage to live in an RV and bounce from RV park to RV park doing menial work.
Fortunately, there are many kinds of work camping opportunities, and judging by the number of very happy work campers we have met, it is definitely a viable option to flush out the travel kitty and reduce camping costs.
This was the first part in our 3-part series on full-time RVing. You can read the full series or skip to its various chapters via these links:
- Who Lives the Full-time RV Lifestyle?
- What's the Best Way to Learn About RVing Full-time?
- What Does Full-time RVing Cost and How Do You Make Money On The Road?
- Work Camping - What Is It and How Do You Find Job Openings?
- How Do Full-time RVers Travel?
- Making the Transition to Living On the Road in an RV
- Which RV Makes the Best Full-time Rig?
- Selecting a Domicile: Taxes, Mail Forwarding and Vehicle Registration
- Full-time RV Insurance and Extended Warranties
- Saving Money On RV Overnight Costs
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