Dentistry is really expensive these days, and RVers that make their way south in the wintertime can take advantage of the good quality dental care that is available just over the border in Mexico.
The November/December 2016 issue of Escapees Magazine features our article about some of the great experiences we have had with dentists in Mexico just across the border from Yuma,Arizona, in San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico.
Escapees Magazine Nov-Dec 2016 Article by: Emily and Mark Fagan
Escapees has posted the article on their website at this link:
We have always been very satisfied with both the dental care and the price.
With Mark’s tooth aching, we dashed to Yuma and then zipped across the border from San Luis, Arizona, to San Luis, Mexico, on our bikes (you can learn more about doing this as well as walking over the border in our blog post about Mexican dental care here).
Even though dental care in Mexico is excellent, the upscale frills that Americans are accustomed to are not necessarily a part of the deal.
For starters, dentistry in Mexico is usually handled on a walk-in basis rather than making an appointment in advance.
Some people have read my writings about dentists in Mexico and have tried to find these dentists on the internet. Well, most Mexican dentists don’t bother with the expense of setting up a website, as they rely more on word of mouth and patients showing up at the door when they need care.
So, we got psyched up for a day of dentistry, rode the 1/2 block from the border to Dr. Bernal’s office, leaned our bikes against the wall and peered in the door. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there.
Rather than wait, we decided to ride over to visit the endodontist, Dr. Horacio Avila, who had done such an excellent job on my root canal last year. I needed to see him for a follow-up on my root canal anyway, and we figured he might have some thoughts about Mark’s aching baby tooth. We each took a quick turn in his dentist’s chair and looked at our x-rays with him on his computer screen on the wall.
My root canal was doing great, but Mark’s situation was more complex. The adult tooth was present but was lying sideways, which meant there was no option for an implant. Instead, Dr. Avila felt he probably needed a bridge.
Mark and Dr. Avila check out his tooth on an x-ray.
Being an endontontist and not a general practice dentist, bridges are not his line of work. So, he handed us the x-rays and sent us on our way.
The bill for our five x-rays at Dr. Avila’s office was $50.
We biked back to Dr. Bernal’s office and found he had returned from his errands and was happy to see us.
Mark got in his dentist chair, and Dr. Bernal had a look at his tooth and Dr. Avila’s x-rays. Of course, Dr. Bernal has an x-ray machine too, but there was no need to duplicate the x-rays. He agreed that an implant was out and that a bridge was probably the best way to go.
He pulled Mark’s tiny baby tooth out of his mouth with a quick yank and explained that a bridge involves grinding down the two adjacent teeth, putting crowns on them, and then suspending a false tooth in between. Egads!!
Sadly, the two teeth on either side of Mark’s (now absent) baby tooth were 100% healthy. Mark felt really badly about grinding those teeth down to support two crowns and suspend a false tooth in between.
Dr. Bernal scratched his head for a while and studied Mark’s teeth for a while and then suggested he consider a different option: grinding a tiny channel on the back side of each of the two healthy teeth and suspending a false tooth in between on wings that were inserted and glued into the channels.
This sounded intriguing.
He suggested that Mark try a temporary solution like that and see how it felt before committing to a permanent solution. So, we hung around San Luis for about three hours while Dr. Bernal’s lab technician across the street fabricated a plastic temporary tooth. In the middle of the afternoon, Dr. Bernal inserted it and off we went back over the border.
He charged us $20 total for all of his work and the lab’s work.
Dr. Bernal goes over Mark’s options with him.
Mark liked the idea of being able to keep his healthy teeth mostly intact and not crown them, so we returned a few weeks later to get the permanent work done. Again, we showed up unannounced around 8:00 in the morning, and by late afternoon Dr. Bernal’s technician had fabricated a permanent false tooth with wings and Dr. Bernal had prepped Mark’s teeth and installed it.
The cost: $250.
Mark absolutely loves this tooth. He’s had it for a few months now and doesn’t even notice it’s there. It chews fine, looks fine, and the teeth on either side of it are totally intact except for a tiny indent in each one to support the wings of the false tooth. A retired dentist friend of ours said similar dental work in the US would have cost over $1,000.
Besides the high quality workmanship and low cost, the best thing about all of this was the back-and-forth conversation we were able to have with Dr. Bernal. Rather than the brusque manner of many dentists, he took the time to consider other options besides a bridge and to listen to our concerns about destroying two perfectly good teeth. I was in the room with Mark the whole time, and I liked the feeling that we were participants in Mark’s dental care rather than being just recipients.
Next door to Dr. Bernal’s office there is a hair cutting salon. Both times we visited Dr. Bernal, we dropped in on the hair cutting salon to get haircuts. The most delightful stylist named Amber works there, and for just $3 for men and $5 for women, she does a great job.
To find her shop: as you walk into the alcove where Dr. Bernal’s office is, the hair salon is on the right side before his office. For both of us, these have been the bests haircut we’ve had in over a year!
Next to Dr. Bernal’s office there is a great little hair cutting place.
Amber gives me a haircut
Another thing that’s great about going to Mexico for dental care — besides receiving excellent care at a fraction of American prices — is that it’s an excuse to enjoy a daytrip to another culture and eat some really wonderful Mexican food.
In San Luis there is an absolutely fantastic restaurant called El Parianchi that serves incredible food, complete with fun entertainment. We’ve now eaten several lunches there and a breakfast too, and we have loved the experience every single time.
The first course of a feast for two for $13 (pancakes and omelette not shown) at El Parianchi restaurant.
We’ve gotten to know several of the waiters as well as the harpist, Elias. Mexicans enjoy listening to folk songs played by various kinds of musicians while dining, and the harp music adds a special something to the ambiance at El Parianchi.
Elias entertains us with his harp.
El Parianchi also has a stash of huge sombreros, and sometimes the waiters bring them out and put them on their guests as a gag. We ended up wearing these crazy hats on one of our visits for my root canal last year (see this post). On one of our visits this year, a group celebrating a 26th birthday ended up in the hats right behind us!
Sombreros for everyone at the birthday party!
For lots more details about dental care in Mexico, including directions to our dentists’ offices, check out this link:
Basic info for our primary care dentist. He’ll set you up with specialists in town as needed:
Dr. Sergio Bernal
Call him directly from the US by dialing this number: 011 52 653 534 6651
Address: First St. #118-9 San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico
Open Monday-Friday 9-5, Saturday 9-2, Sunday 9-11
For first timers, walk 100 yards from the border to Dr. Bernal’s office (detailed directions at this link), and then take $2-$3 cabs to visit other dental specialists, if needed, and be sure to enjoy a meal at El Parianchi! Here is a map showing the locations we visited:
Dr. Avila = GPS 32.477776,-114.766224 (Calle 13 & Madero)
El Parianchi is in between them at Calle 10 & Captain Carlos Calles
When we crossed the border for our first visit with Dr. Bernal this past October, we were alarmed to see a huge group of illegal immigrants waiting to cross into the US. On our return visit a month later, Mexican authorities had removed them from the sidewalks and placed them in shelters. The sidewalks near the border were empty as they always had been before.
So how do you get hooked up with a good dentist in Mexico?
We first heard about Dr. Bernal from fellow Escapees members at the Escapees Kofa RV Park in Yuma. For new RVers, we highly recommend joining Escapees RV Club, as it is little tidbits like getting the name and address of a trusted Mexican dentist that are the unsung benefits of being part of this club.
But sometimes it is the little things that are passed on member to member, like dentist and doctor referrals, that make the club particularly helpful for folks living on the road in their RV. Lots of people go RVing, but there is a comaraderie among Escapees members that is unique.
To learn a little more about the unusual history of Escapees, check out our links:
If you think you might want to join Escapees RV Club, you can become a member at the link below…and if you mention that you heard about Escapees from this blog, Roads Less Traveled, they will put a little something in our tip jar as a thank you (and thank YOU!!):
A few weeks ago we camped in Sedona, Arizona, with two good friends who own popup campers. We were reminded how much fun these little trailers can be and how much we learned in the two years we owned ours before we started RVing full-time in our first big trailer.
If you are thinking about RVing full-time sometime down the road, a year or more from now, the most valuable thing you can do in the meantime is buy a little rig and go play. There is no better way to learn about RVing than to go out and do it, and a small RV provides an awesome introduction.
You can trade in the little rig for a bigger one when you are ready to take the plunge and go full-time.
We camped in our fifth wheel with good friends who have two different styles of popup campers.
We owned our popup for two years and spent every possible weekend and vacation in it before we started full-timing. We towed it all over the place. It was routine for us to travel 300 miles with it for a long weekend or to tow it 1,500 miles on a week’s vacation.
A popup tent trailer folds up small and opens up to be a nice sized rig with beds on each end.
Before we even knew what full-time RVing was, we had already learned a lot about the RV lifestyle from camping in our popup.
The surprising thing is that our popup camper had many of the same basic systems as our current fifth wheel trailer that we now live in year round. It had DC lights, a propane RV fridge, 26 gallons of water, including a 6 gallon propane hot water heater, a water pump and a propane furnace. It had a shower and a two burner propane stove, and it could hook up to shore power for electricity and to a city water connection for water.
Home sweet home!
It even had one thing our current RV doesn’t have: a king size bed!
There were two things it didn’t have. One was a toilet. When we bought it, we knew we’d be camping in campgrounds, and they always have toilets, so we decided that rather than give up precious space in the trailer for a toilet and have to deal with dumping it, we’d just use the campground toilets instead
It also didn’t have an air conditioner. We knew we’d be camping in places where we wouldn’t need one, so why pay for something we wouldn’t need?!
A popup trailer is small and easy to tow and fits in the garage!
The fun thing about running around in a little RV is that you can can go almost anywhere the Big Rigs go and get a taste of living a nomadic lifestyle without spending a fortune.
We took our popup camper to some wonderful RV parks and hooked up to electricity and water just like the big fifth wheels and motorhomes. We stayed in RV parks in San Diego (right on the water – wow!), and the Bay Area in California (in a cool wooded area not too far from the city), in the Moab Utah area where we bicycled in the red rocks, and in New Mexico, where we bicycled in the mountains.
Our friends have two styles of popup: an A-frame (smaller & lighter) and a tent trailer (big beds on each end)
Camping in these RV parks gave us a chance to wander around the loops and meet people that were experienced RVers. We’d talk with them about their rig, find out what they liked and didn’t like about it, and we’d get their advice for what to look for if we ever wanted a bigger RV (we had NO idea we ever would!) and we’d get suggestions for where to travel with our little popup.
We learned about full-timing, and we learned about work camping, and we discovered a world we’d never known anything about. We supplemented that education with online research and magazine subscriptions, but there is no better way to understand an RV’s systems than to use them, and no better way to understand the RV lifestyle than to live it.
This is a Chalet A-frame, and it has a twin bed, a dinette that folds into a full size bed and kitchen. The beauty of an A-frame is it’s light enough to be towed easily by a minivan.
Lots of people email me expressing interest in going full-time and some express interest in boondocking too. These are big steps, and having as much first-hand experience as possible before you jump in is a really good idea. Online resources are great, but they are limited and only go so far.
If you haven’t done much tent camping, and you dream of camping in the wild, learning how to dry camp in a cheap, small, rolling box is a wonderful way to start. It’s a lot of fun, and it will teach you what to look for when you buy a bigger rig, and more importantly, it will help you decide if it’s something you enjoy before you make a big commitment and turn your life upside down.
Boondocking is basically glorified tent camping in a fancy rolling box.
If you are interested in solar power, you can learn all about it for just a few hundred dollars with a folding solar panel kit and an inverter. The batteries on a popup are right there on the trailer tongue. So, it’s easy to see what’s going on!
Before you go full-time, you can sell the solar panel the kit, either with the little trailer or without!
Here’s a pretty campsite in Utah’s red rocks.
The transition to full-time RVing is a lot less stressful if you are an experienced RVer already. It’s not a requirement, and plenty of people jump right into living in an RV without ever having used one before, but I think that having hands-on experience is the best way to go.
The wonderful thing about getting a little “starter” RV and playing with it for a while before going full-time — besides all the fun you’ll have — is that the mistakes you make don’t cost much, and you haven’t got a lot at risk.
Here’s another a great camping spot — on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia
If you don’t like it, you can sell it.
If you DO like it but have some unexpected repairs, they won’t break the bank and you won’t be trying to live in it while it’s being fixed.
Best of all, you can go home after every excursion and take a long hot shower, wash your clothes in your own washing machine, and you can savor your photos and your memories in the comfort of your big living room, all things that will no longer be possible once you commit to the RV lifestyle full-time.
A few weeks ago we camped next to a couple in their early 40’s who are a river rafting and white water kayaking guide (him) and a mountain biking guide (her). They live in a 17′ travel trailer, and they absolutely love it.
They boondock full-time with the seasons as their jobs move between Colorado and Arizona. The trailer is a huge upgrade for them. They lived in a tent for a few years until this past October when they bought the trailer.
A river rafting guide and mountain biking guide love living in this 17′ travel trailer.
We’ve known a lot of 40-somethings over the years who lived in much fancier digs, with granite counter tops and sleek cars in the driveway. But they weren’t happy with their lives. It was enlightening and motivating and inspiring to spend time with these two people who had decided fifteen-plus years ago, right out of college, that they wanted to spend their days doing what they loved, even if it meant having a very simple home.
So, for those who think a nomadic lifestyle is out of reach financially, it just depends on how you want to live.
Our friends Rich and Mary bought our popup camper from us when we went full-time nearly nine years ago. While Rich was setting up camp, he let me take pics of the process so I could show you just how easy it is to set up a popup tent camper.
Here are the steps:
First you crank it up with a cranking tool that comes with the trailer.
First, crank up the roof all the way.
The roof is fully raised but the bed slides are still inside the trailer.
Then you pull out the bed slides on either side. Each slide locks into place in the open position.
Pull out the bed slide at each end. In many models one or both beds is a King.
Then you put the support struts in place. While traveling, these are latched under the bed sllides. Once the bed slide is opened, just hook the end onto a latch on the frame.
Attach the supports for the bed slide.
The bed slide is in place but the canvas tent isn’t propped up yet.
Then go inside and remove anything that’s hogging up space. Rich stores his solar panel inside while traveling, so he takes it out at this point.
Bring out whatever is stored inside: solar panel, camp chairs, patio mat, etc.
This popup camper — a 2005 Fleetwood Colonial — has a slick lower half door that folds down to become the entrance step. There are lots of designs out there, but this is common in the old Fleetwood lineup.
Fold down the entry step.
Now remove the door from its travel spot where it is suspended from the ceiling and put it in place using the velcro strips on either side. The door and its frame are one unit, so the hinging is solid, but it stands upright in place using latches and velcro.
Lower the door from the ceiling and press it into place along the velcro strip on the canvas.
Now open up the canvas above each bed. There is a special support rod that hooks in place that holds up the center of the canvas roof over the bed and gives it its shape.
Prop up the canvas over each bed with the support rod You can hang things from the loop – a lantern, fruit basket, whatever.
The canvas over the bed slide is fully opened.
Now crank down the landing jacks. These give the camper floor a bit of rigidity as you move around inside. The interior isn’t huge — it’s just a 10′ by 8′ box or so — but you can walk around. Having the landing legs down keeps the floor solid.
Lower the landing jacks.
Last of all, set up the gray tank. This is a bucket outside the back of the trailer! If you want to see exactly how much water you use to wash dishes, there it is!
Set up the gray water tank (this popup camper doesn’t have a toilet).
We didn’t have any kind of solar gear when we owned our popup. We used a battery charger in our garage to charge the batteries before we’d go on a trip, and that was it. We learned really quickly how to be conservative with electricity.
Rich decided to install a second battery on the trailer tongue. He also bought a solar panel and had it wired so it could be connected to the batteries easily.
You can also run heavy gauge wire from the batteries to an 800 or 1,000 watt inverter located inside the popup and then run a power strip from the inverter to a handy place in the rig so you can charge your phone or laptop or run a small appliance.
Put out the patio mat, raise the awning and set up the solar panel. Done!
What a fabulous rig!!
If you are looking forward to having big RV adventures on the road someday in the future, make that “someday” be today! Go out and get a cool little RV and have a blast.
Popup tent trailers like ours are a little heavier (the GVWR is 3,000 lbs.), so both we and Rich bought Toyota Tundra pickups to tow it. An A-frame popup is lighter, because there are no bed slides, so our friend Mark tows his with a minivan.
More info and links for specific popup camper manufacturers below.
Lots of Americans assume that they have a constitutional right to vote. After all, the founding fathers of the country shaped America’s legal structure to ensure everyone’s voice could be heard. However, the “right to vote” is actually a privilege, not a constitutional right, and it is granted by the individual states to most American citizens but not all.
A proposed bill in South Dakota could prevent nomadic RVers based in that state from being able to vote in the future, including the upcoming presidential election.
Although there have been broad, sweeping amendments to the US Constitution to ensure the ability to vote is not denied based on sex or race, ultimately the “right” to cast a ballot is decided individually by each state. States determine what it takes to register to vote, and they can deny groups of potential voters based on whatever criteria they see fit. As an example, most states prevent convicted felons from being able to vote.
In the past, full-time RV “residents” of South Dakota who did not have a real physical address in the state could register to vote simply by driving to South Dakota, staying at least one night in a campground, and using that campground address as their physical address to register to vote. When elections rolled around, they would submit an absentee ballot from wherever they were currently located. Voter registration was good for one year, and they had to re-register each year they wanted to cast a ballot.
A debate has been simmering in South Dakota for a long time about whether or not nomadic RVers who use the state as their legal domicile should be allowed to vote.
In recent months, this debate has heated up to a raging boil, with the charge being led by Republican Senator Craig Tieszen, a former police chief. The event that brought the issue to the fore was when Pennington Country, home of Americas Mailbox, a popular full-time RVer mail forwarding company, proposed a “wheel tax” that would increase vehicle taxes by $60. The concern was that the 3,467 registered voters that are RVers with an Americas Mailbox domicile address would vote in droves against it and prevent it from passing.
In the end, only 11% of this influential RV voting bloc voted. Naturally, 98% voted against the proposed wheel tax, yet everyone else did too and the RVers had no effect on the outcome.
Nonetheless, South Dakota Senator Craig Tieszen has proposed Senate Bill 164 that would prevent anyone who doesn’t have a real physical address in South Dakota from being able to register to vote. Because of the structure of the state voting laws, this would affect both votes on local issues like vehicle taxes and votes on national issues like the presidential election coming up later this year.
The bill is currently under review and is scheduled for a hearing. If it passes, then South Dakota based nomadic RVers will not be able to vote for the next president.
I learned of this from the Advocacy arm of the Escapees RV Club, and it is for reasons like this that I highly recommend RVers join Escapees, as they have their ears to the ground and they work very hard on our behalf. A few days later a reader contacted me with a link to a news story about the issue from the Rapid City Journal (see the links at the end of this post). Interestingly, the email announcement from Escapees mentioned that they had not yet been able to reach Senator Teiszen.
Senator Tieszen has a website, and I wrote him a note on his contact form. Believe me, I was shocked when I received a reply within 24 hours. The Senator was very forthright about his opinion, stating in his email to me:
“This is an issue of right and wrong. It is simply wrong to have people that have no connection to South Dakota influencing our elections.”
I wrote him back explaining that as nine year nomadic residents of South Dakota, we have paid sales tax and registration fees on $160,000 worth of vehicles which, to me, constituted a very real connection to South Dakota. After all, I joked, we’d be happy to receive a check reimbursing us for all that money so he could accurately describe us as having no “real connection” to the state. I also referenced the fact that full-time RVers contribute to the employment of people at their mail forwarding companies and even at South Dakota insurance agencies as well.
To my utter astonishment, he responded again. This time he was much more specific, saying, in part:
“That is the issue I have with your ‘residency’. The fact that you spend money here and rent a P.O. box does not qualify you to vote and decide local issues. I understand you may want to vote in national elections and I would agree to do that if that could be separated from the rest of the ballot(I have been assured that it can’t) but what qualifies you to decide who is mayor, who is the state representative, whether we should build a city building, tax more to fix our roads, etc. People that actually live here should make those decisions. And——-when there are thousands like you, actual residents are at risk of controlling their own destiny”
I am very impressed that he took the time to write. I know how much time it takes to correspond with people. I receive and respond to emails and comments every day myself, and it is extremely time consuming. So, for a busy Senator to write a few quick sentences to me really blew me away.
Also, I was very surprised that, unlike a lot of my friends who email me from work and have a footer at the bottom of the message from their employer full of legal verbiage concerning the content of the email message, his had none of that. He simply signed his messages “Senator Craig Tieszen.” I am sure he did not expect his email to be quoted online, but I think it is important for people to see a glimpse of the man behind the bill, as he expressed himself to me.
I did not agree with his statements, though, so I wrote to him one more time, pointing out three things I think are very important.
1) Before passing this bill, there must be a true legal precedent of nomadic RVers actually casting their votes in large numbers in local elections. The wheel tax referendum in Penington County should have been one of the hottest of hot button issues for nomadic RVers, since our vehicles are our biggest tie to the state and are often our biggest asset too.
Yet if the voter turnout of RVers was just 11% on this issue, which was below the 15% voter turnout county wide, then full-time RVers don’t seem to pose a threat in local elections for selecting city mayors, state representatives and city building plans. I certainly have never voted in a local election.
2) When it comes to local issues like vehicle taxation, everyone who pays South Dakota vehicle sales taxes and vehicle registration fees should be allowed to vote so they can “control their own destiny” (borrowing Senator Tieszen’s words) regarding those taxes.
3) Some of the nomadic RVers who use South Dakota as their domicile actually have very close ties to the state and are even former “physical” residents. Some RVers return to South Dakota in the summers to work at the State and National Parks, or to work for other employers, like private RV parks, or simply to enjoy retirement life in South Dakota for a few months.
Other RVers own property in South Dakota that can’t be used as a legal domicile (i.e., open land or commercial property), so they use a mail forwarding service because it simplifies the legal logistics of their lives enormously, both for receiving mail as they move around the country and for keeping vehicles properly registered and licensed. Of course, these nomadic residents pay property taxes to the state in addition to vehicle sales tax, licensing and registration fees.
There is a provision in the bill for voter registration applicants to appeal a denial, but it is a complex, tiered process, and the criteria that must be met rule out all nomadic RVers who do not own a permanent residence in South Dakota with sleeping quarters.
The bottom line is that by denying all nomadic RVers the right to vote in local elections, this bill would effectively prohibit both seasonal residents of South Dakota and property tax payers from voting in presidential elections if they happen to rely on a mail forwarding address for domicile purposes.
Ironically, once RVers hit the road full-time, they often have no “real” ties to any state, so they are no more residents of one state than they are of another. If full-time travelers can’t vote in the state that is their legal domicile, the state where they pay their vehicle sales taxes and licensing and registration fees, and where they may pay commercial property taxes too, then where else could they possibly register?
In the end, if you think about it, full-time travelers are being lumped in the same voter category as convicted felons.
Unfortunately, Senator Tieszen has not responded to those points.
I’m not an activist, but I would very much like to be able to vote for our new president next fall. For other RVers who are concerned about protecting their ability to vote in the future, especially our “neighbors” from South Dakota.
UPDATE 02/15/16: This bill is scheduled to be heard on Wednesday, February 17, 2016, at 10:00 a.m., and the Escapees Advocacy team recommends that all comments and opinions be expressed directly to the chairman of the committee, Senator Gary Cammack. Here is the link to contact Senator Gary Cammack
UPDATE 02/17/16: This bill was tabled by the committee, however the issue has not gone away. In an email to Escapees members, the Escapees Advocacy team reviewed the committee meeting as follows:
“South Dakota Senate Bill #164, entitled, “An Act to revise certain residency requirements for voter registration,” has been tabled by the State Senate Affairs Committee. During the Committee meeting, Senator Tieszen stated, ‘I believe there is a legal solution to this.’ He continued, ‘I believe it’s legal and constitutional to put reasonable residency requirements on voting in South Dakota.’ He is looking for a solution that ‘does, in fact, disenfranchise those folks that have no connection to South Dakota other than the fact that they rent a P.O. box here for financial gain.’ He continued by stating, ‘I’m going to continue to try to work for that solution.’ Tieszen stated, ‘Senate Bill 164, I’ve concluded, is not the solution.’ He concluded by asking that Senate Bill 164 be tabled. After the vote was taken, Senate Bill 164 was tabled by an 8 to 1 vote.
“In conclusion, Senate Bill 164 is a non-issue at this time. But, in the future, a voting restriction may be re-introduced. Escapees will continue to monitor this issue for future action.”
Yet from time to time politically charged issues like this come up that affect us and others like us directly. So, I write about them here in hopes that you will be encouraged to think deeply and to take action if the spirit moves you.
Here are two other “RV advocacy” posts I’ve written about changes occurring on America’s public lands that have far reaching ramifications for all Americans and for the future of the country as well:
A trip to the dentist’s office isn’t fun for anyone anywhere, but Mexican dentists do terrific work, and we have received outstanding and very affordable dental care in our travels throughout Mexico, both on our sailboat and in our RV.
This page offers a glimpse of what a trip to a Mexican dentist’s office is like, what to expect when crossing the border to get dental work done, which dentists we’ve been to and recommend, and what various dental procedures have cost us. There’s a ton of info on Mexican dentistry here, and if you don’t want to read it all in one sitting, these quick links will get where you want to go:
Our first experience with a Mexican dentist, and the one that totally changed our attitude towards Mexican dentistry in general, was in San Luis Mexico, just a little south of Yuma, Arizona, back in 2008.
Getting a Mexican Crown was quite an adventure for us back in the day.
We walked over the border and continued on for half a block to the office of Dr. Sergio Bernal at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon. We did not have an appointment, but we wanted to see what could be done about a baby tooth of Mark’s that had never fallen out but had suddenly started bothering him.
After two minutes in the chair, Dr. Bernal recommended he get a crown. We weren’t sure about getting something complicated like this done in Mexico, and were also unsure whether a gold crown or porcelain crown would be preferable. We walked around the streets of San Luis for an hour debating whether to go for it, and if so, what kind of crown to get.
When we returned to Dr. Bernal’s office, we met a group of Americans from Las Vegas in the waiting room. A big friendly guy in the group told us he gathered up his friends and family every year, rented a car, and drove down to San Luis to get their teeth checked and worked on by Dr. Bernal. He’d had extensive bridge work done by Dr. Bernal 10 years prior, and he had been so impressed by the quality and affordable cost of the job that he’d been going back ever since.
Mark decided to go for it, and in no time Dr. Bernal had ground down his tooth, made an impression of it and made arrangements for a porcelain crown to be delivered to his office by noon the next day. Because the permanent crown would be installed so soon, there was no need for a temporary crown (how nice!).
As we walked out the door (without having paid a cent for the diagnosis, the tooth grinding or the impression), Dr. Bernal asked Mark his name, scribbled it on a yellow sticky pad and put it on the impression. He waved to us as we left to walk back over the border and said, “See you tomorrow!”
Despite the next day being a Saturday (we later learned Mexicans work six days a week), we walked across the border again at noon, and Dr. Bernal quickly cemented the crown in place.
The cost? $130 US.
Best of all, it was a perfect color match and was the best fitting crown Mark had ever had. It has been fine ever since.
From that moment on, we have entrusted our teeth to Mexican dentists throughout the country without a moment’s hesitation.
The Dentist Chair… yikes!
During our nearly four year cruise of Mexico on our sailboat, we visited dentists (and doctors) up and down the Pacific coast and in the Sea of Cortez. The dental care was always top quality, very caring, and very affordable. We have never had unnecessary work recommended (as happened to me 15 years ago in the US when an unscrupulous dentist recommended I get five crowns immediately, only one of which I actually needed).
I always feel like going to the dentist in Mexico is basically like going to the barber. You walk in off the street without an appointment, talk to the dentist directly, hop in the chair for him or her to assess what you need, get it done right away or return the next day, and walk out with everything completed at a fraction of what it would cost in the US.
Where Are Mexican Dentists Trained?
There are some urban myths about Mexican dentistry. I’ve heard people say, “The best Mexican dentists get their training in the US.”
In our experience, that is not true. Of the ten excellent dentists and doctors we have been to in Mexico, none received their training in an American university.
Usually, Mexican dentists and doctors hang their diplomas on the wall. Whether the diplomas are hand calligraphed in Latin or typed up in Spanish, it is pretty easy to tell if the university was in Guadalajara, Mexico City or Baja California (the three areas for medical and dental schools we’ve seen on diplomas).
Do Mexican Dentists Speak English?
In our experience, most speak at least a little, especially in tourist areas and in the border towns where a lot of Americans come specifically to receive dental care.
Why Are Mexican Dentists So Cheap?
People also wonder how it is that Mexican dental (and medical) professionals can charge so little for their services if they are really as good as (or better than) their counterparts in the US. The reasons are complex, but in a nutshell, the American and Mexican economies and cultures are totally different. Even more important, the business models for the dental and medical professions are not at all alike in the two countries.
A Lower Wage Scale in Mexico
The average DAILY wage for an unskilled Mexican worker is around $5 per DAY. Obviously, skilled workers make more, but the entire spectrum of wages, from professionals to janitors, is scaled down much lower than the US. In many cases, like that of a city employed street sweeper we met in Huatulco, the employee provides the equipment for their job. This industrious city worker we met had fashioned his brooms for his government job from tree branches and twigs himself.
Cheaper Office Space
Commercial property rental is also much cheaper. A friend of mine who owns a store in the popular seaside tourist town of Zihuatanejo pays $30 a MONTH to rent the space. Office space for Mexican dentists and doctors may not be quite that low, but even if it is double the price, it is still negligible by American standards.
Very Little or No Staff
Mexican dentists and doctors also don’t employ much staff, if any. Some dentists have an assistant, but many of the best ones we’ve been to don’t. Also, there is no one dedicated to answering the phone and making appointments. Any time we have had our teeth cleaned, it was done by the dentist and not by a hygienist. One very conscientious dentist spent an HOUR cleaning my teeth and then spent another HOUR on Mark’s, for $45 US each.
Little or No Malpractice Insurance and Marketing
Unlike their American counterparts, Mexican dentists and doctors don’t have to carry massive amounts malpractice insurance. Also, they don’t invest in marketing. None of the dentists we’ve been to have websites, and it is very difficult to find information about any of them on the internet. The few Mexican dentists that do have websites cater primarily to Americans, and we found that their fees are often adjusted upwards accordingly.
No Third Party Relationships
Mexican dentists and doctors also set their fees according to the market demands of their patients. There is no insurance company operating as a middle man. Patients pay their medical providers directly rather than paying an insurance company who, in turn, then pays the dentist or doctor, as happens in the US.
This keeps the patient/doctor relationship very pure. The doctor or dentist is employed by the patient, not by a third party insurance company. Fees for unexpected issues that come up requiring return visits, extra x-rays, additional prescriptions, etc., can be discussed between doctor/dentist and patient. In our experience, though, those little extras have been free because the dentist/doctor is managing the relationship with the patient/customer and wants to provide good value.
Getting A Root Canal in Mexico — Our Experience in San Luis south of Yuma, AZ
A few weeks ago one of my teeth began to bother me, so we decided to return to our dentist, Dr. Sergio Bernal, in San Luis, Mexico, who had done such a fine job with Mark’s crown years ago. We took our rig to Yuma, drove our truck to the Mexican border and parked it in a parking lot on the American side right next to the border crossing area. The parking fee was $4 for 24 hours (in 2017 it is $5 for 24 hours).
The parking lot on the American side of the border at San Luis, Arizona. $4 for 24 hours.
It was 8:45 in the morning on a Tuesday, and we followed signs that walked us through the border crossing. We saw a few Mexican border agents, but none asked for our passports. Then we emerged on the other side and saw a soldier dressed in desert camo holding an automatic weapon.
The soldier smiled broadly at us when we said “buenos días” to him as we passed by, and he said “buenos días” to us in return.
Having lived in Mexico for a few years, we learned that Mexicans always greet each other with a warm “buenos días” (before noon), or “buenas tardes” (after 12:00 p.m. – sharp), whether they are passing in the street, or standing in front of a store clerk about to pay for something, or boarding a crowded bus (everyone on the bus responds!). Mustering the guts to say that phrase in Mexico will always get you a smiling response, and it is heartwarming and fun to give it a try.
We also learned that the presence of soldiers is just standard procedure at Mexico’s borders (we’ve seen them at the US and Guatemala borders). It is also standard procedure when the Mexican Navy boards boats at sea.
Our sailboat was boarded 8 times during our cruise, either to to check our papers, to check for weapons and drugs, or to make sure we had proper safety gear on board. Each time the inspectors couldn’t have been nicer or more polite. In one case, when they brought aboard a drug-sniffing dog, they put booties on his feet so he wouldn’t scratch the boat. Another time we were given a performance evaluation form to fill out for the boss!
I touch on three of the Mexican Navy boardings we experienced in these blog posts:
Moments after crossing the border, we emerged onto a lively and busy street in the town of San Luis Rio Colorado, the Mexican sister city of San Luis, Arizona.
After emerging from the border complex, we walked straight down the street, crossing a small intersection and looking to our left towards the opposite side of the street as we walked.
Mark crosses a small intersection after crossing the border. Dr. Bernal’s office is on the left just beyond the lavender “Genesis” sign (center of photo).
We were walking south on First Street (“Calle 1”). Dr. Bernal’s office is in an alcove on east side of the street (the opposite side…the left side in the above photo) about halfway between the first intersection we had just crossed and the street light at the next intersection.
The shops are small and tightly packed with colorful but faded signs overhead.
Walking down Calle 1 (1st Street), and looking left, these shops are just before Dr. Bernal’s alcove.
Catching sight of the lavender “Genesis” sign on the left side (east side) of the street, we spotted the alcove where Dr. Bernal’s office is located just beyond that sign (to the right of the sign while facing that side of the street (facing east)).
Inside Dr. Bernal’s alcove, we saw a large grinning tooth out in front of his office door. A sign overhead and a sign on the roof both said, “Family Dental.”
Dr. Bernal’s office is in this alcove. The door is on the right.
We head in!
Even though it had been 7 years since we had been here, back in 2008, memories flooded back as soon as we walked in. We had known nothing about Mexico back then, and we had been quite overwhelmed by the differences on the two sides of the border.
Things are not as spiffy or glam in Mexico as they are in much of America, and this dentist’s office wasn’t in fancy Class A office space like we were used to back home. That had been a little off-putting to us back then. But during those early days of full-time travel we had yet to learn that you can’t judge a book by its cover.
The waiting room.
When we walked into Dr. Bernal’s office with all these memories swirling around, he greeted us with a big smile. I explained (in English) that he had done a crown for Mark way back when and that we had come back because I had a toothache.
“Oh yes, I remember….” He said.
“You remember us???!!” I asked, incredulously.
“Of course I do…” he said, “Gold crown or porcelain… you couldn’t decide.”
We were the only patients there at the moment, so I hopped in the chair right away and he tapped my teeth and said I needed a root canal. Darn! I was afraid of that.
Dr. Sergio Bernal tells me I need a root canal. Oof!
Mark got in the chair and was given a clean bill of health. No problems, no need for work, no need even for a cleaning. “Come back when you have a problem,” Dr. Bernal said. I should only be so lucky!!
Wasting no time on my behalf, Dr. Bernal got on the phone to an endodontist across town, Dr. Horacio Avila, to make sure he was available to see me right away. Then he walked us out to the corner and hailed a cab for us. He handed the cabbie a business card for the endodontist, and we climbed in the cab.
Dr. Bernal puts us in a cab to go to endodontist Dr. Horacio Avila across town.
The cabbie swung the car around and then let another guy in too. The cabs in San Luis are shared cabs, and it is normal to have the cabbie pick up someone else who is headed in the same general direction.
A few minutes later he dropped us off at Dr. Horacio Avila’s office. The cabbie wanted 40 pesos or $2, whichever we had. We happened to have some pesos we wanted to get rid of, so we paid in pesos. Back when we got those pesos in 2013, the exchange rate had been less than 13 pesos to a dollar. What a shock it was to find that the exchange rate is now 19+ to the dollar!
Dr. Avila’s office at Calle 13 (13th Street) and Madero
Dr. Avila’s office was nice inside, and like all dentists and doctors we’ve been to in Mexico, his diplomas hung on his wall. He had earned his dental degrees at the University of Baja California. Dr. Bernal had earned his degrees at the University of Guadalajara.
Dr. Avila’s diplomas. He was trained at the University of Baja California.
I was blown away by Dr. Avila’s equipment. A quickie x-ray yielded an image on a computer screen in seconds, and he explained (in English) that the root canal would take about 45 minutes. He said it would normally cost $180 US, but because it was in a tooth that already had a crown on it, the extra work of drilling through the crown to perform the root canal would raise the cost to $230 US.
I leaned back, he numbed me up, and in no time the root canal was finished.
Dr. Avila had very modern equipment with x-rays that went directly to a computer screen, etc., etc.
When I got out of the chair, he explained that I needed anitbiotics and anti-inflammatory meds. He described how to take them and wrote up a prescription, handed me an envelope containing prints of my x-rays as well as the images of my root canal in progress, and then he led us to the door.
His assistant asked me my name and wrote it down on a pad. I gave her $230 in American dollars in cash, and she asked me whether I wanted a receipt. Then she took us out to her car and drove us to Liquis Farmacia, a big pharmacy back near the border crossing area. (“Farmacia” is pronounced “far-MAH-seeya” even though it doesn’t look like it).
Liquis Pharmacy (“Farmacia”) is a block away from the border.
She took us through the drive-through lane, placed the order for the meds at the window for us, and passed our cash through to the clerk (we paid in pesos, but dollars would have been fine too). It was about $10 for a supply of amoxicillan (Ampliron) and anti-inflammatory Supradol. Then she drove us to Dr. Bernal’s office.
We tipped her $5 in American dollars for driving us around town and making sure we had the right meds in hand before we left the country.
Dr. Avila’s assistant drove us to the drive-through window and ordered my meds for me.
We walked over to Dr. Bernal’s office and I climbed back in his dentist chair (gosh so many times in and out of dentist’s chairs in one morning!!). He took a look at Dr. Avila’s work and said he would complete the job by putting a filling in the crown where Dr. Avila had drilled through to do the root canal. But he didn’t want to do it until a few days had passed and the tooth was totally pain free.
So he sent us on our way (and again, did not charge us a cent).
It was 10:00 in the morning when we crossed back over the border into the US and got back in our truck.
The pedestrian crossing going back into the US
The whole thing had taken an hour and a quarter — with no appointment. In that short span of time we received two check-ups, a diagnosis, a root canal, x-rays and meds.
Including the cab ride from the dentist to the endodontist, a tip for the assistant who drove us to the pharmacy in her own personal car, and the parking fee for our truck that was waiting for us on the American side of the border, it all came to a grand total of $241 US.
So far, we hadn’t paid Dr. Bernal a dime, yet he had masterminded the whole thing.
Does this sound like American dentistry?
We returned a few days later to check in with Dr. Bernal (no appointment, we just walked in). My tooth was still a little tender, so he told me I wasn’t ready for him to do the filling in the crown yet yet. So I was in and out of the chair once again! And again, he didn’t charge me for the checkup.
Finally my tooth was back in action and pain free, so we crossed over the border to Mexico again. This time we went to the endodontist, Dr. Avila, first to get a final x-ray of the root canal and verify that everything was A-okay. He was happy to see me and said everything looked great and sent me on my way. He didn’t charge me for the x-ray or the office visit.
Dr. Avila explains to me about teeth and roots. The x-ray is on the computer screen on the wall.
Then we stopped in at Dr. Bernal’s office. He had a line of patients waiting this time, so we took a seat and waited with them. I got chatting with an American woman next to me, and she told me she and her family had been coming down from Phoenix to see Dr. Bernal for 25 years.
“He must have been just out kid out of dental school back then!” I said.
“We were all a lot younger back then,” she laughed.
Suddenly, an old, hunched Mexican woman came in clutching her mouth. She was moaning as she took a seat. Mark asked her in broken Spanish if she was in pain, and she nodded and rubbed her fingers along her whole lower jaw, obviously in agony.
We were next in line now, but we got up and stuck our heads into Dr. Bernal’s office where he was working on a patient and told him we’d be back later and to please take care of this old woman first.
We wandered around town for a while, and when we returned the woman was gone and Dr. Bernal was free again. I hopped in the chair, and after a few quick zips with the drill, he was done filling the hole in the crown. Then he did a full check on the rest of my teeth and polished some of my white fillings that had started to leach and turn a darker color.
Back in The Chair with Dr. Bernal.
He charged me $40 US. This $40 fee covered the three times I had sat in his dentist’s chair over the past few days since we first crossed the border as well as putting a filling in the crown where the root canal was and polishing me teeth. We handed him the cash, and went back to the border half a block away.
So, my entire procedure involved sitting in dentist’s chairs five times for check-ups and procedures, x-rays, a root canal performed by an endodontist, a filling performed by a general dentist, cab rides between dentist’s offices, antibiotics and pain medications, a tip for the dental assistant who drove us across town and took us to the pharmacy, and the parking fee for our truck waiting for us on the American side of the border.
The grand total for my root canal plus all that other stuff was $281
Yuma is 23 miles north of the US/Mexican border, so it is very easy for RV travelers to get dental work done in Mexico at the San Luis border south of Yuma, AZ. Allow about 35 to 45 minutes to get to the border (it’s mostly highway).
There are loads of RV parks of every description in and around Yuma, and Yuma is a fun town to visit anyway. There are some pretty buildings in the Old Town neighborhood, a really funky burger/bar scene in town at Lutes Casino, and an interesting glimpse of how the Wild West used to be for the bad guys at the Territorial Prison.
For RVers who want to be a little closer to the border and don’t mind dry camping in their trailer or motorhome, Cocopah Casino is 16 miles from the border and has a paved parking area out back that is striped for RVs. As of January 2016 the cost to stay there was $10 for 3 nights. It was very busy when we were there in late January, and I imagine the place is quite packed through the winter season.
There are tons of RV park options in Yuma. At Cocopah Casino there is dry camping as well.
In Mexico’s border towns like San Luis, you can do all financial transactions in US dollars. Some businesses, like Liquis Farmacia (the pharmacy Dr. Avila’s assistant drove us to), will take a credit card, but in our experience most dentists and doctors prefer to be paid in cash (some don’t even have credit card machines in their offices).
If you want to get some Mexican pesos, there are money exchange shops on both sides of the border. But you certainly don’t need to.
There are money changing shops on both sides of the border, but US dollars work just fine. Take lots of $1 bills for cabs and tips.
Walking over the border is easy, and if you are finished in San Luis early in the day, the walk back over the border is easy too. There was no one in the pedestrian line going back into the US when we got there at 10 a.m.
Later in the day, the border crossing into the US gets much busier. Walking back over the border late in the afternoon can involve a long wait in line for pedestrians (and much much longer for cars). Riding our bikes, we never saw anyone in line at the Sentri Gate.
For us, in all our travels and dental office visits in Mexico over the past eight years, figuring out which dentists to go to has been a matter of talking to the locals and to fellow travelers and to ex-pats who live in the area.
We first heard of Dr. Bernal from RVers staying at the Escapees Kofa RV park in Yuma. Some places with lots of ex-pats have online forums where local dentists are discussed and referred, and that’s how we found two of our favorite dentists in southern Mexico.
Some quick tips:
You need a passport to return to the US from Mexico
Take lots of $1 bills for tips and cabs just in case you want or need to be driven around town
Change will not be made with American coins, just bills. Take a variety of bills to avoid making change in general.
Some dentists and doctors will take credit cards, but not all. We carried about $350 in cash.
Bigger pharmacies will take a credit card. Unlike most stores in the US, Liquis was set up for the new chip style credit cards!
To save on currency exchange fees, get a credit card from Capital One. They waive the standard 3% currency exchange fee
If you bike over the border, you can save a lot of time getting back into the US because no one uses the Sentri pass / bike gate
Make a day of it. Go to El Parianchi (10th St. and Obregon) for some awesome food and a truly authentic Mexican experience, especially on a busy Saturday
Here is a Google Maps link for the locations of things in San Luis, Mexico. In this map link, the locations are:
Dr. Sergio Bernal – showing as “Calle 1 115”
Liquis Pharmacy – showing as “Calle 1 7”
Dr. Horacio Avila – showing as “Madero 1307”
El Parianchi restaurant – showing as “El Parianchi” at 10th St. and the border road.
You can see the location of the town square “Plaza Benito Juarez” too.
Here are some of the dentists we have been to and that we would return to. One thing that can be confusing about Mexican names is that the Spanish convention is to give your mother’s maiden name as part of your own name, at the end. So, you state your name like this:
Dr. Sergio Bernal does general dentistry and is located about 1/2 block over the San Luis Arizona/Mexico border on the left hand side in an alcove marked with a large sculpture of a tooth under a sign, “Family Dental” on 1st Street (“Calle 1”) just north of Obregon as described in detail above in this article. Call him directly from the US by dialing this number: 011 52 653 534 6651
Address: First St. #118-9 San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico. Open Monday-Friday 9-5, Saturday 9-2, Sunday 9-11
Dr. Horacio Avila is an endodontist located at 13th Street (“Calle 13”) and Madero (address is 1305 Madero). He did a root canal for me in 2016 as described above in this article.
Dr. Aldo Velásquez works with his father Dr. Eduardo Velásquez at #53 Benito Juarez Street in downtown Loreto. In 2011 Dr. Aldo Velazquez filled a cavity in one of my teeth and checked Mark’s teeth for 450 pesos. At the exchange rate of the time, this was about $40. We went to his office because we passed it on the street while out walking and it appeared well kept and attractive. Later we found out that Aldo and his father are very highly regarded in town. I wrote about our experience in HERE at this link
In 2013 Dr. Oliverio Soberanis (#210-E 5 de Mayo Ave.) replaced several large fillings in my teeth and fixed some work that had been poorly done by an American dentist long ago. See some pics HERE at this link. I found him by reading an ex-pat forum for Zihuatanejo. He had brand new equipment with TV screens showing the work in progress. I had a cruising friend who is a retired dentist check his work afterwards, and he was very impressed that he took the time to polish the fillings, something many American dentists don’t do because it takes extra time.
In 2012 Dr. Francisco Hernandez (Sierra de Ixtlan, Edificio B Dept 101, Conjunto Residential Los Mangos) did 2 cleanings for us (550 pesos, or about $45, each) and 3 replacement fillings (450 pesos, or about $35, pesos each) for us as well. The cleanings were the most thorough we’ve ever had, taking about an hour each. He was gentle and very conscientious. We went to him because the dentist that had been recommended in an ex-pat forum was on vacation, and she had left a note on her door giving Dr. Hernandez’ name and address. Another cruising friend (whose boat appears at the top of all our blog posts from Huatulco had an excellent experience with getting some fillings replaced by Dr. Hernandez as well.
If you have been enjoying your RV down near the Mexican border this winter and have been on the fence about whether or not to get some dental work done south of the border, hopefully our stories and info here will help you decide to give it a try.
Typical Costs of Mexican Dentistry and Where It’s Cheapest
Mexico has lots of dentists and doctors practicing all over the country. After all, Mexico’s population is nearly 1/2 of America’s population, and all those people need medical and dental care, just like Americans do!
Because of the big difference in the cost of living between the two countries, Mexican dentists are well aware that their services are sought after by Americans because it’s cheap.
Mexican Dentists Whose Practices Serve Primarily Mexicans Are The Cheapest
Most Mexican dentists set up practices in predominantly Mexican communities, and they charge prices their patients can afford. Their prices are typically 10% to 15% of the costs for identical dental procedures done in America.
San Luis is such a community, even though it is a border town. A few Americans cross the border to get dental work and medical procedures done in San Luis, but they are a smaller percentage of the dentists’ and doctors’ total patient base than in other locations.
In San Luis, Mark’s porcelain crown cost $130 US in 2008. At that time, in America, the cost for a porcelain crown was typically $1,000. My root canal in 2016 plus medications, cab fees and parking fees cost $281. At that time, in America, the cost of a root canal in a tooth that had a crown on it already was typically $2,000 or more.
Mexican Dentists Whose Practices Serve Primarily Americans Are More Expensive
In contrast, dentists that are located in places where Americans tend to congregate often establish their practices specifically to serve Americans. After all, they can make a lot more money that way than by serving Mexicans. This means that they have flashier office space, they have marketing geared towards Americans that is in English, both of which Americans appreciate, and they have higher prices.
Their services may not be any better than the Mexican dentists who focus on Mexican patients, but it will feel more like dentistry “back home” in America. They may require that you make an appointment in advance, they may accept a credit card for payment, and they may speak very fluent English.
The prices in these kinds of places are typically 40% to 50% of the costs of equivalent procedures in America.
One area that is extremely oriented towards Americans is Los Algodones near the border of Yuma, Arizona. Los Algodones is a tiny handful of tightly packed streets that are wall-to-wall dental and medical offices that serve an entirely American clientele. Few, if any, Mexicans go to these dentists and doctors for care. It is way too expensive for them.
Likewise, we found in our cruise along Mexico’s west coast that the dentists who operated in the more central and touristy parts of any town tended to have more American style facilities and higher prices.
In Ensenada, a cruise ship destination 70 miles south of San Diego, a dentist on the “front side” of town greeted us wearing scrubs (you rarely see that in more Mexican-oriented dental offices). He spoke perfect English and gave us a quote for a very American sounding price for a simple cleaning and a filling.
We decided to pass on his services. However, during our stay in Ensenada, we got to know the affluent looking owner of an ice cream shop in town and asked him for a recommendation for a dentist. He sent us to a totally different part of town where a very skilled dentist in a much simpler office took care of us at the typical 10% to 15% of American prices that “Mexican dentists for Mexicans” charge.
So, when looking for a dentist in Mexico, keep in mind that dentists whose patients are primarily American will charge you prices that are much higher than dentists whose patients are primarily Mexican. Whether the actual dental care they provide is any different is truly debatable. It’s just more expensive and feels more familiar because of the outer trappings of the office space itself and the way they run their business.
Crossing the border on foot forced us to rely on taxis to get to the more distant locations on the other side, so after our first visit, we decided for future trips it would be a whole lot easier and more interesting to ride our bikes over the border instead. We simply parked our new truck on the American side for the day, unloaded the bikes, and walked them across.
Once on the other side we could get around town quickly and easily.
We found riding our bikes around San Luis was much more fun and made the border crossing back to the US easier.
And that’s when we really started to have some fun too.
Mexico is a vibrant country with really exuberant, fun-loving people. Everybody is outgoing and friendly and warm, and we have always found it really enjoyable to chat with people on the street, whether in our halting Spanish or in their typically very good English.
The town square/park named for Benito Juarez has a small band stand.
We really enjoyed seeing San Luis beyond the dentist’s office. There’s plenty of security too — we saw police riding around on Segways (how fun!). They very kindly came over to offer assistance when we looked a little lost at one point.
Now there’s a great way to get around town!
There are lots of places to eat, and if you find yourself in town waiting between dentist or doctor visits and need a bite, there is a Subway that makes sandwiches exactly the way we’re all accustomed to. The only difference is the menu is in Spanish. But don’t worry, the workers will take your order in English — and if they struggle, sign language and pointing at what you want always helps.
Subway has a shop in town, and the only difference we found was the Spanish words on the menu. Pointing and smiling works fine if you can’t make out the Spanish words.
If you have a little more time, check out El Parianchi, a fabulous restaurant that is the Real Deal for Mexican food, Mexican flair and Mexican fun. We LOVED it there.
We found El Parianchi one day when we were looking for the other top restaurant in town, El Herradero where we had enjoyed some chips and salsa and beer on an earlier visit. We were a little lost, though, and we found ourselves in front of El Parianchi instead. When we asked the parking lot attendant, Fernando, for directions to El Herradero, he talked us into staying at El Parianchi, because the food there was truly delicious.
“I’ll put your bikes in here,” he said, pointing to a locked shed in the back of the restaurant. “They’ll be safe.” Deal! We rolled them in between the rakes and shovels and barrels, and went on in.
We had been noticing that we were the only gringos in the whole town. And now we were very definitely the only gringos in this restaurant. We were also the only people dressed in cycling clothes.
Talk about standing out!
It was a Saturday afternoon, and the place was hopping. Waiters rushed here and there, grabbing extra tables and chairs for people, and the food was flying out of the kitchen at a wild rate.
The servers were hustling at El Parianchi on Saturday afternoon!
Two big parties — what looked like a baptism party and an engagement party — were in full swing at long tables on either side of the restaurant, and a Mariachi harp player was singing and strumming his heart out in a corner.
People were laughing and eating and have a grand time while the waiters ran at top speed from one end of the room to the other.
Gringos in cycling jerseys. Sure…we blend right in!
We were seated to one side, and in an instant, a waiter was at our table welcoming us.
We both ordered Corona with a lime, and Mark got a bottled water and I ordered a Jamaica water as well. Jamaica water is an absolutely delicious drink make of hibiscus flowers that has a tartness like cranberry juice (and is about that color) but is much sweeter. Jamaica is pronounced “Hamikah” with a long “i” (even though it doesn’t look like it), and it is a refreshing drink I enjoyed repeatedly throughout our Mexico cruise.
The drinks arrived along with tortilla chips and a bean dip that was to die for. If only I could make beans like that!
Suddenly the harp Mariachi player appeared at our table. Mark handed him a few dollars and asked for a song.
A harp playing Mariachi sang some songs for us — what total fun!!!
“What song do you want?” the harpist asked.
After racking our brains to remember the name of a Mexican folk song, we came up with “Alla En El Rancho Grande!”
He proceeded to play a great rendition of it. I don’t have a video of him singing, but I do have a special video of another Mariachi singing this exact same song for us when we were in Huatulco Mexico at a little beach bar in the sand. Our sailboat Groovy was anchored just out of sight.
When he finished the song, the folks at the tables around us clapped. He wanted to sing a second song for us, so we asked for Mariachi Loco. This is a really cute song we first heard on a day charter catamaran called Picante that used to circle past our boat at anchor in Zihuatanejo.
We were having so much fun in this restaurant, we hadn’t even looked at the menu yet!
Suddenly, the manager, Jose, came over and asked if we were having any trouble understanding the menu. We told him we wanted a beef and bean burrito, and he recommended one of the “percherones.” We’d never had one before, but the “Sonorense” was absolutely scrumptious. It was so good, in fact, that we came back another day just to sample it again!!
For a genuine Mexican culinary experience, check out El Parianchi on 10th Street and the street along the US/Mexico border by the international boundary wall.
When the bill came, it was $17.73 US including our 20% tip — and we had plowed through four beers, a bottle of water, my Jamaica water, our chips and bean dip plus the huge percheron burrito we had split.
We got up to go, rubbing our aching tummies, and suddenly a waiter was carrying over two huge sombreros for us.
We put them on and cracked up.
The harp player placed his harp in front of us, and Jose took pics of us while everyone at the big party at the long table clapped and laughed. How fun!
Then someone handed Mark a guitar and he strummed a few chords.
What a total blast this was!
Mark finds a guitar in his hands and a sombrero on his head!!
We left to a chorus of cheers and found Fernando waiting in the parking lot. He unlocked the shed door and helped us disentangle our bikes from the rakes and shovels and buckets inside. We tipped him a dollar for his efforts.
Rolling back to the border on our bikes, we passed dozens and dozens of cars lined up to cross into the US. By now the pedestrian line was really long too.
In San Luis, bicycles go through the Sentri Pass gate (a special gate for people who cross the US border on a regular basis). This was awesome because there was never anyone in line at that gate!!
What a fabulous day… and no line for bikes at the border!
Our smiles went from ear to ear when we settled back in our little buggy after a great day in Mexico.
Note: We returned to San Luis to see Dr. Bernal and Dr. Avila for more dental work a year later in October 2016. Read the blog post here:
But they are bittersweet too, because times are changing. Among these glorious photos, I found images I took last year in Globe and Ray Arizona that evoke a tragedy that’s currently unfolding. A little research into what’s going on has left me with one big question: WHY?
Arizona is filled with gold
Last year while we were camped in the Tonto National Forest, we went on several outstanding hikes that start at some of the trailheads and former camping areas that are sprinkled along the dramatic Bush Highway which runs alongside the Salt River east of Phoenix.
The Salt River infuses the Sonoran Desert with color and life.
Pebble Beach was one recreation area that used to be very popular for winter camping and boondocking.
One of many stunning views hidden behind the “CLOSED” sign blocking car and RV drivers from parking in the mammoth parking lots at Pebble Beach.
Pebble Beach Campground is a very large recreation area. Not only is there an enormous parking lot lined with dozens of shaded picnic ramadas, but it was built to include both a huge group camping area as well as individual and family camping. There were even campsites with hookups to accommodate multiple hosts, and there were multiple toilet buildings scattered throughout the area.
At one time, Pebble Beach was a very popular winter boondocking snowbird roost.
Storm clouds over Pebble Beach – No more winter camping here!
Sadly, it has been closed to winter use for several years and Tonto National Forest plans to keep it closed and keep all that infrastructure and beauty behind locked gates indefinitely.
This cool area at Pebble Beach lay just steps away from winter RV campsites by the picnic ramadas
Tragically, since his arrival in 2012, the supervisor of Tonto National Forest, Neil Bosworth (bio here, contact: email@example.com) has systematically closed all the winter camping areas on the Bush Highway.
Some camping areas are open in the summertime, but Arizonans don’t camp in the 120 degree heat of the Sonoran Desert in the summer months! They all go north to the cool mountains and camp at 5,000′ or higher to get out of the heat.
The list of campgrounds that used to be open for winter RV camping and are now closed permanently is:
Pebble Beach Campground (designated campsites, group camping, large enough for 50+ RVs)
Goldfield Recreation Area (formerly used for camping and large enough for 50+ RVs)
Phon D Sutton (formerly used for camping and large enough for 50+ RVs)
In addition, there’s a day use area that is closed in the wintertime too, so you can’t even park your car and look around:
Sheep Crossing (day use)
Fortunately for tourists and nature lovers, there is one gorgeous spot that has remained open for day use only, so at least it is possible to park and go exploring, even if you are not allowed to camp there. It is called the Water Users area. This is a Salt Water River summertime tubing drop-off spot that has several short trails that go down to the river.
The Water Users area is available for daytime visits.
The craggy rocks and colorful trees and reflecting water are just sensational.
I love reflections in the water.
The Salt River (“Rio Salado”)
Across the Bush Highway from Pebble Beach is the much smaller Blue Point day use area, and it is still open. Blue Point has a wonderful hiking trail that runs along the edge of the river. What’s puzzling is that the Sheep Crossing day use area next door to Blue Point is closed.
Huh? Oh well. We had fun getting reflection shots of the riverbanks.
The Blue Point day use area is across from Pebble Beach (closed) and next to Sheep Crossing (closed).
Up on a rocky precipice we saw a great blue heron keeping an eye out for fast moving fish.
Waterbirds love the Salt River
The great blue heron wasn’t the only one fishing. A fisherman was casting his net in the river too.
Fishermen love the Salt River. Heck, so do RVers!
The play of the light on his net and the light on the water and clouds was just beautiful.
The pretty trees and jagged rock faces along the Salt River lit up in brilliant golden hues every afternoon.
Autumn Gold at Blue Point on the Bush Highway
Sadly, over the last few years, the Tonto National Forest has systematically closed all but the tiniest of winter camping areas along the Bush Highway. What’s left (at Coon Bluff) is open to camping only on weekends and is large enough for just 6-7 big rigs.
Last year and the year before, there were times when the one large remaining camping area, Phon D Sutton, had 50 RVs camping there.
With a demand like that, why would Tonto National Forest shut it down along with all the other camping areas that can accommodate hundreds and hundreds of RVs. Why would they leave just a handful of spaces open?
The parking area at Coon Bluff is so tiny that when RVs camp there, they take up most of the parking lot. What’s totally unfair to the locals is that the daytrippers, hunters and fishermen — who all deserve a decent parking spot for their outing in nature too — don’t have room to park their cars! When the Boy Scouts plan a weekend camping outing to Coon Bluff, the places is a mad house and the parking is insane.
The Indoor Generation as well as snowbird winter RVers deserve a chance to enjoy places like this right outside their doorstep during dawn and dusk — especially when the facilities were already built by former leadership that wanted the public to be able to enjoy the unique beauty of the Salt River.
Up until October, 2015, the Forest Service allowed RVers to camp at the Phon D Sutton recreation area which can easily hold 50 big rigs in two enormous parking lots.
Gorgeous Phon D Sutton offered parking lot dry camping but the views and experiences were unforgettable.
Unfortunately, as of October, 2015, Phon D Sutton is now closed to camping year round.
Phon D Sutton is still open as a day use area, but when we stopped by to check it out a few weeks ago, the whole place was eerily vacant, except for two cars, and there was gang graffiti on the bathroom doors and windows.
When large parking lots and bathrooms for throngs of people have been built so they can enjoy a view like this, should the facilities be left to rot?
What a shame.
What a waste of good facilities and good money that went into building them.
A treasured view at former winter RV roost Phon D Sutton.
What a sight it was as this guy charged towards me.
Down by the river the wild horses live a peaceful life.
When camping at Phon D Sutton, it was easy to rise in the dark and sneak down to the Salt River at dawn to watch the wild horses getting their morning drink.
A glorious sunrise, complete with members of the wild horse herd getting a drink.
The Tonto National Forest wants to round up the wild horses and get rid of them!
Luckily, for the moment, protestations from the wild horse loving public have quashed that plan. The wild horses of the Salt River have a huge following and a support network that has fought valiantly and very publicly for them.
Part of their battle included two huge petitions that were signed by thousands. They also filed a lawsuit against Tonto National Forest.
A stunning sunset along the Bush Highway.
Perhaps a similarly passionate outcry from winter snowbird RVers from the north as well as local campers from Arizona would prevent our precious camping spots in this area from deteriorating into oblivion and would preserve the initial and very sizable investment that was made to build these public recreation areas years ago.
Phon D Sutton Recreation Area was beloved by all kinds of RVers and tent campers too.
But I’m not sure that the Tonto National Forest, noted by the current supervisor to be a “crown jewel” in the US Forest Service, even has public use or public recreation on its radar these days.
Right now, Tonto National Forest is mired in an earth shattering commercial use of its public land by non-Americans about 50 miles away from the Bush Highway at Oak Flat Campground. This is land that President Eisenhower specifically set aside for protection back in 1955 in an effort to avoid exactly what is happening today.
Protection of public land lasts only as long as our leaders want it to.
Foreign copper mining interests have acquired nearly four square miles of gorgeous Tonto National Forest land at Oak Flat Campground, a place that rock climbers cherish for its unique rock hoodoos and boulders.
Their new mine, Resolution Copper Mining, owned by British and Australian companies, will soon transform this unusual public land so they can get at the precious copper that lies 7,000′ down.
Here’s an open pit copper mine. This is the Ascaro Copper Mine located in Ray Arizona about 20 miles from the location of the new mine. This mine isn’t American owned either. It is owned by a Mexican company.
But how did foreigners get approval to build the world’s largest copper mine on America’s public land when little old snowbird RVers can’t even camp in places that were created specifically for public recreation and camping years ago?
The acquisition of this US Forest Service land parcel by Resolution Copper Mining was part of a land swap deal that got tacked onto the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, circumventing normal public notification and vetting.
Foreign mining companies Rio Tinto and BHP Copper formed Resolution Copper Mining, with 55% and 45% ownership respectively, and they are trading 8 small parcels of Arizona land totaling 5,344 acres that they already own for 2,422 acres of Tonto National Forest.
All the land will be appraised, and then Resolution Mining will either add cash to the deal if their land is of lesser value than the National Forest land or they will call it a donation if their land is worth more.
It is unclear if to me if the mineral value of the copper under the National Forest land will be included in the appraised value of what Tonto National Forest is giving up. Obviously, it should be.
Copper mining. The ribbons are roads and there are tiny trucks driving on the roads
The deal was pushed through by people who believed that the mine would create lots of jobs in a state that has 6.7 million residents and that it would bring money into the state by way of tax revenue as well.
According to Resolution Mining, after the mine is built, there will be 1,400 steady mining jobs during the peak years it is in operation and they anticipate paying $20 billion in taxes to the Feds and Arizona during they years the mine is profitable (provided they don’t take advantage of income tax loopholes and claim $0 profit).
Reports say it will take about 40 years to extract all the copper. After that, the few mining jobs will end, the copper in the ground will have been sold, with profits going abroad, and Arizona will be left with whatever mess and tailing piles Resolution Copper Mining decides to leave behind.
The future of the American people’s Tonto National Forest?
What exactly will this mine will look like? The wording of the deal exempts Resolution Copper Mining from abiding by any environmental mandates, so the new mine could easily be a dusty open pit, because that method of mining copper is cheapest and most profitable for the mine owners.
Reports have claimed the new mine will be a gaping crater two miles across and 1,000 feet deep and that a 500′ tall mountain of waste tailings will be dumped on another parcel of Tonto National Forest land within view from beautiful Boyce Thompson Arboretum.
Ummmm…. 500′ tall equates to 50 stories high!
The new Resolution Copper Mine will be much larger than this one — the world’s largest!
But the Resolution Copper Mining website says it will all be done underground by carving the ore out of the rock using the “panel caving” method rather than the “open pit” mining method, and that a waste tailings site hasn’t yet been selected.
Saguaro cactus are up in arms about the mining techniques in use at Ascaro copper mine.
The only groups loudly voicing concern right now are the Native Americans, some of whom claim Oak Flat is a sacred area, and rock climbers who love the rock boulders so much they hold major competitions there.
Ironically, the public was outraged a few years ago when a Boy Scout troop leader deliberately knocked over a single red rock hoodoo at Goblin Valley State Park in Utah.
Somehow, that infraction doesn’t seem to compare with this.
The copper on this public land will fetch tens of billions of dollars for the mine owners, depending on copper prices during the period that the mine is in operation.
A sign behind the locked “Road Closed” gates at the Pebble Beach camping area.
So WHY has the Tonto National Forest Service closed the winter camping areas on the Bush Highway?
Are these campgrounds closed because Tonto National Forest doesn’t have the money to maintain them?
No! The leaders of Tonto National Forest have publicly proven that Tonto National Forest is sitting on minerals that are worth billions to eager and rich commercial buyers overseas.
If the leaders were skilled at negotiation, they could have made an enormous profit from the sale of land. But they decided not to bother!
Even more dramatic, Tonto National Forest has a truly gargantuan potential for cash revenue if they arranged the terms of the land deal to include receiving a percentage of the mammoth profits the foreign companies will make from everything they extract from or produce on that land.
But they didn’t even bother to negotiate for just 1% of the profit that these foreigners will be making by mining America’s public land.
Obviously, Tonto National Forest is an exceedingly rich forest, however, its stewards don’t seem to understand the basic economics and the rudiments of doing business or negotiating!
Are the camping areas close because Tonto National Forest wants to protect the delicate environment?
Obviously, that isn’t true either, because they have no problem decimating parts of the “crown jewel” in the Forest Service to build a copper mine. Even if the “panel caving” method of mining is used, it is expected that the mine will one day collapse, leaving a gaping four square mile pit.
What is the Tonto National Forest’s motive for closing the Bush Highway camping areas?
So what is the motivation of Tonto National Forest to close the camping areas that earlier leadership kept open for winter RVers?
It isn’t a lack of money. And it isn’t a desire to protect the environment.
In Kansas, we tackled a slew of plumbing repairs, from a new fresh water tank to a new kitchen faucet, rebuilt toilet, new black tank sensors, new black tank sewer valve, and a repaired window leak, among many other things. And our trailer still has suspension issues.
Besides being grateful for our RV warranty, we began to wonder: at what point do you give up on an aging RV and get a new one?
A newly completed Spacecraft 30.5 fifth wheel trailer
On our way from our refrigerator repair to our plumbing repairs, we stopped in to visit the unusual custom fifth wheel builder, Spacecraft Manufacturing. We have known about this company for a long time, and were thrilled to be able to take a peek at their facility.
Spacecraft’s primary market is the carnival and circus industry. These traveling folks work full-time and are very hard on their trailers. One client, we learned, lives with his leopard and his chimpanzee in his fifth wheel. He came to Spacecraft looking for a design that could give both of his companions a comfortable home in his trailer — along with a little space for him too!
Inside the 30.5 – beautiful custom built maple cabinets
Circus folk don’t have the time to fuss with repairs. They need rugged trailers that hold up to big cats and great apes! Out in Spacecraft’s used trailer lot, we saw a bunch of 2014 and 2015 top-of-the-line fifth wheel trailers that had been traded in for Spacecrafts after just one season on the road, because they weren’t up to the job.
The beauty of getting a Spacecraft is you can have anything you want. They build trailers from 30′ to 57′ long, and they outfit them with whatever kinds of cabinets you want, whatever floorplan suits your fancy, whatever paint job you think is cool and whatever appliances and components you deem vital to your personal happiness on the road in an RV.
Have It Your Way!
Cedar closets and a beautiful maple dresser. The furnace blows from under the dresser rather than floor ductwork.
In town, we chatted with a gal that has lived in Concordia, Missouri, home of Spacecraft Manufacturing, all her life. She says the locals there are all accustomed to Spacecraft’s unusual customers who swing through now and then for repairs or to upgrade to new units. Spacecraft is located right behind a rest area on I-70, though, and interstate travelers are often shocked when they see an elephant or a giraffe grazing in the grass just beyond the trees!
When we first poked our heads in the door of a finished Spacecraft 30.5 fifth wheel trailer, we were astonished by the quality. Every inch of the trailer radiated hallmarks of rugged construction. Frankly, all other fifth wheels we’ve been in (including our home and other popular and expensive units) are weekend toys by comparison!
This buyer wanted house-like painted walls rather than wallpaper fiberboard
Spacecraft is a family owned business run by Marsha Trautman and her son Wyatt. They don’t bother with marketing, because they just don’t need to do it, although they do take a trailer showcasing unique design features to the Tampa RV show most years. They build 10 to 15 units a year, and right now, they are booked with orders for a full year in advance. To get in line, just put down a 25% deposit on your new trailer.
The frame of the outer wall of a slide-out room
Spacecraft does everything in-house. They build their own frames and pay extraordinary attention to details that most manufacturers overlook. Rather than focusing on a standardized fleet of sexy floorplans with luxurious furnishings and fixtures, they ensure the underpinnings of each trailer are top notch, something buyers often forget to think about when they are seduced by a beautifully appointed RV living room at a dealership.
Tiny details like the superior construction of slide-out rooms are a given. Most manufacturers build slide-out rooms with multiple joints and rows of screws holding things together, making them prone to leaks. At Spacecraft, every slide-out room is built with a single sheet of fiberglass covering the roof and sides, with nary a screw to be found.
Seamless slide-out construction – no chance of leaks
Underneath, their trailers are equally uncluttered, and there is no flimsy corrugated plastic screwed to the bottom. Just pure, fine lines and solid construction.
Even the underbelly has fine lines and no dangling parts or corrugated plastic sheeting.
Spacecraft builds what you request, and they have blueprints for hundreds of different designs they’ve built already to give you ideas.
When I chatted with Wyatt, Spacecraft’s designer, about what he feels is important in fifth wheel construction, he made it plain that easy access to all components and leak-proof, solid construction were his first priorities. Whereas many other brand new full-time fifth wheel trailers place important systems and components in out-of-the-way places, Wyatt puts every system in a spot where it will be easy to service or replace.
Now THIS is a well dressed RV electrical installation!
The DC and AC wiring in the basement of a Spacecraft is a sight to behold. Beautifully done!
Only one Spacecraft trailer is built at time by a handful of loyal and skilled employees. While we were there, a 53′ two bedroom, two bathroom model was in the finishing stages on the line.
Spacecraft produces one meticulously built trailer at a time.
Many of the Spacecraft trailers are two bedroom, two bathroom luxury models, designed for carnival and circus owners. Many others are “bunkhouse” units that have four to six entrance doors on one side going to individual bedrooms to house employees on tour.
During our visit, a 53′ two bedroom two bath model was on the line.
However, Spacecraft has built loads of smaller fifth wheels for full-time RVers, although Wyatt said with a smile that none of their buyers are first-time owners. Afterall, it is impossible to know what custom options you’ll want or need in a full-time rolling home before you’ve been on the road a little while.
Ummmm…our landing legs don’t look anything like that!
What does one of these babies cost? I was astonished to discover that a 37-38′ fifth wheel would come in around $125k to $150k, depending on options like hydraulic leveling, disc brakes, pre-installed solar power, generator, etc.
This buyer wanted two 100 watt solar panels. They’ll install whatever you ask for!
That is very comparable to the MSRP on Continental Coach (Forks RV), DRV (Thor), Luxe (Augusta RV) or New Horizons semi-custom fifth wheels. The nice thing is that if you want a top quality unit that doesn’t have an island kitchen and is in the mid-30′ range, a nearly extinct mass-market design, Spacecraft can engineer and build it for you. They can even build in a beautiful vent-free propane fireplace with real flames and a wooden mantel as a cozy centerpiece for those cold winter nights!
Custom kitchen built to the buyer’s specs
If you travel with unusual pets, no matter how big or how exotic, Spacecraft will surely take it in stride and will build the rolling home of their (and your) dreams!
We were able to replace our trailer axle in Maine over two months ago at Harvey RVs, an outstanding RV repair facility in Bangor. Unfortunately, they did not have a fresh water tank in stock that would fit our trailer. I doubt any RV repair facility would stock such a tank, as they are generally custom made to fit between the floor joists, with fixtures and plumbing connections placed in locations that are unique to each RV.
Getting ready to remove the fresh water tank.
So, we decided to return to Chanute, Kansas, where our trailer was built in 2007, to have the fresh water tank replacement done at the NuWa service center. We were assured they had the proper fresh water tank in stock.
Since we were relying on our RV extended warranty to cover the fresh water tank replacement cost, we decided to have a few other broken things taken care of at the same time. We had been living with these broken items for a while, as they weren’t too critical, but because each one qualified to be repaired under warranty, we could bundle the repairs together and get them all fixed at once while paying just one warranty deductible for everything.
RV toilet rebuild — fun fun fun!!
The day of our repair appointment in Kansas finally came on Monday this week, and we have had a whirlwind (tornado?) of a week as we watched and assisted as many as five mechanics working on our rig at once, all day long, for three days. To add to our own personal confusion, we had to move out of our trailer and into a motel for a few days.
All of our repairs were related to water in some way, with most of them having to do with either our fresh water or sewer water plumbing systems. For the entire job, our precious rolling home straddled an open grate in the floor that serves as the RV dump station for the shop. This is where they fix clogged black tanks and replace broken ones. They had just replaced five black tanks the week before we got there!
Our new fresh water tank gets installed.
This meant that for three days both we and the mechanics were lying on and scooting around on the (often wet) floor that was layered with who knows what kind of muck, from who knows whose rigs.
New black tank valve…nice!
Of course, most people don’t hang out with their mechanics when their RV is being worked on, but we were with them every step of the way. We learned a lot about how RVs are put together, and we were able to catch quite a few bloopers that would have bitten us big time down the road.
A new kitchen faucet goes in.
Being present throughout the repair process ensured us that everything was installed correctly using best practices (i.e., using teflon tape and hose clamps where needed, installing all the o-rings that came with the replacement parts not just some of them, and testing each repair after it was finished). Several projects on our list were done two or three times to get them to 100%.
This was awesome for us in the long run, because we knew our repairs were being done well, but it was exhausting to live through. Needless to say, there wasn’t any creative writing or blogging going on!
Rear window removed.
But life is groovy once again and our buggy is back together and fully functional. NuWa provides an awesome cleaning service after a repair job, and Sharon did a terrific job making sure our living areas were clean before we left. Once we were back in the wonderful (and nearly free) city RV park, we followed her lead and shampooed the carpets and detailed the exterior of the rig too.
Working hard…well, one of us is!
With this big interruption behind us, and with a huge sigh of relief, we are now planning to leave Kansas in our wake and head south through Oklahoma and Texas over the next few weeks before turning west. Yay!
Oh yes — and that Trailer Warranty we have through Wholesale Warranties? What great fortune that we had it, as these repairs came to $1,242, and all we had to pay was the $100 deductible.
Note added later: Sadly, we had another major repair waiting for us just a few weeks in the future when our trailer suspension failed when we got to Phoenix, Arizona for the holidays. Here’s how the warranty has worked for us to date:
Here's a summary of what our four year RV warranty through Wholesale Warranties cost, what our repairs WOULD HAVE cost, and what our warranty reimbursements have been to date:
Our trailer warranty has paid for itself 3.5 times over, and there's still lots of time left on the contract!
If you are thinking about getting a warranty for your trailer or motorhome, Wholesale Warranties is offering a $50 discount to our readers. Just mention that you heard about them from our website, Roads Less Traveled, and the discount will come off the quoted price at the time of purchase. You can get a quote from them here:
The full-time RV lifestyle is absolutely fantastic, and we’ve been loving our nomadic life since 2007. Many people who are new to the idea of RVing full-time wonder how full-timers get their mail or file their taxes or what kind of insurance they buy. What the heck do they use as a home address (known in legalese as a “domicile”) and where do they register to vote? And how do they save money on RV park and campground costs?
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, the washer and dryer are no longer just steps 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.
Selecting A Home State – Taxes and Vehicle Registration Rates
When you trade your home address to live on the road in an RV, you need to decide how to receive mail and what to call “home” on your tax returns. Some of the full-time RVers we meet retained the state of residence where they were living before they hit the road. Most of them still own property in that state, and they often have a relative or friend who forwards their mail.
However, most full-time RVers change their state of residence, or domicile, and there are valid reasons for doing so, including tax, insurance and vehicle registration rates.
States Without A State Income Tax
Not every state has a state income tax. South Dakota, Florida and Texas are among the states that have no state income tax, and they are the most popular states for full-time travelers. They are also fairly lenient for establishing residency, and they have many companies that offer mail forwarding and vehicle registration services.
When you no longer have a permanent physical home address, your legal address or “domicile” can be in any state. Some states are better than others for this purpose.
State Sales Tax Rates
The sales tax rates also vary from state to state. The sales tax in one particular state may not seem important for someone who is going to be traveling all over the country, but the sales tax in your home state can actually be very important. If you buy a new vehicle — car, truck, trailer or motorhome — during your travels, you will register it in your home state and pay that state’s sales tax in the process. Many full-time RVers upgrade either their RV, tow vehicle or “toad” at some point. We have purchased a truck and two trailers during our years on the road. The sales tax rates in the most popular states for full-time travelers are:
South Dakota 4%
Other Considerations – Additional Taxes and Insurance
Vehicle registration fees and vehicle insurance rates, as well as cell phone taxes and health insurance rates also vary between those states. Health insurance varies dramatically from state to state and health insurance needs and qualifying criteria also vary from person to person.
South Dakota is popular among full-time travelers because it boasts no inheritance tax, no property tax and no vehicle inspections. We chose South Dakota as our domicile right before we hit the road as newbie full-time RVers in 2007.
There are other states that have either no income tax and/or no sales tax besides these three most popular ones (SD, TX and FL). However, those states make it a little more difficult to establish residency, leaving full-time travelers in a bind, and they have fewer companies offering mail forwarding and vehicle registration services.
The Impact of Non-Residents on these Popular States
The advantage to these states and communities of having lots of non-resident residents is that they receive many thousands of dollars of sales taxes, insurance premiums and registration fees that wouldn’t otherwise come their way. The presence of mail forwarding companies also creates jobs in these states that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
At the same time, this non-resident residency impacts the local politics of the cities and towns where the biggest mail forwarding companies do business because of the huge number of absentee voters. These voters may vote like each other — full-time RVers have a lot in common with each other — but they don’t necessarily vote like the other residents of their adopted hometowns.
The Right to Vote
Many Americans assume that they have a constitutional right to vote. Surprisingly, that is not the case. States control who can vote and who can’t, from local elections on up to presidential elections. For more info on this, visit FairVote.org.
In early February, 2016, a bill was introduced in South Dakota that would effectively deny anyone using a South Dakota mail forwarding service as their legal domicile the right to vote. The history behind this bill was that in Pennington Country a vehicle tax increase of $60 came up for a vote, and prior to voting day, certain politicians assumed that the nomadic RVers with legal domiciles in that county would unanimously vote against it.
Interestingly, in the end only 11% of the RVers from Americas Mailbox in that county actually cast a vote. Of course, 98% of them did vote against the tax, which continued to raise an alarm for the politicians.
As a result, Senate Bill 164 was proposed by Republican Senator Craig Tieszen to deny voting rights to residents who did not maintain a home in the state. The bill was tabled in committee, due in large part to the very vocal response from the RVing community, but the issue still rankles certain politicians in South Dakota, so it would not be surprising if it surfaced again in the future.
We have posted a detailed article explaining the issue as well as a detailed analysis of the committee hearing written by the Escapees Advocacy Director in an email to Escapees members. The comments made by Senator Tieszen at the hearing make it clear he is going to continue to work towards eliminating the voting eligibility of people who are not physical residents of the state.
Selecting A Mail Forwarding Company — Your Home Address
In addition to finding a state that makes financial sense for your lifestyle needs, finding the right mail forwarding company is very important. This company will give you your actual legal mailing address for everything you do, from banking to borrowing to filing income taxes to voting.
South Dakota, Texas and Florida are all home to major mail forwarding services that will help you become a legal resident, help you register and insure your vehicles and help you become a registered voter. Your postal mail will be sent to your address at the mail forwarding service. They will then sent it to you, wherever you are. You will have to show up in person in your new home state to get your driver’s license. The terms for renewing a driver’s license vary from state to state.
If the company goes out of business (and we’ve heard of that happening), not only might you lose some mail, but you are left without a legal address. Of course, it is easy enough to “move” when you live on the road, so you won’t be homeless for long. But you will have to make a lot of phone calls and online address changes wherever your mailing address is recorded.
“Virtual Mail” Service
Mention “Roads Less Traveled” when you sign up with Dakota Post and get a month for free!
Most of the bigger mail forwarding services now offer some kind of “virtual” service where you can see a scanned image of each envelope as soon as it arrives and then request to have the envelope opened and the documents inside scanned as well, with options to do something special if the document needs to reach you physically right away.
We have been enjoying the Virtual Mail Service at Dakota Post since they implemented it, and we have found it is really handy to know what is waiting for us in the mail before we have it shipped to us.
Mail Forwarding Service Providers
In South Dakota, one of the largest mail forwarding services is Dakota Post out of Sioux Falls. We chose to work with them when we started and have been very happy. We call them once a month and tell them where to send the mail. Mail forwarding providers in South Dakota include:
In Texas, Escapees has the largest mail forwarding service in the country. They receive a semi tractor-trailer load of mail everyday. We saw this truck come in everyday while visiting the main Escapees Headquarters campus in Livingston, Texas, and we toured their mail sorting facility. We were absolutely floored by the operation (our blog post about it is here: Rainbow’s End – Escapees RV Club Headquarters in Livingston Texas. Another Texas mail forwarding service is Texas Home Base.
In Florida, cruising sailors have relied on St. Brendan’s Isle mail forwarding for ages. To my knowledge, they were the first (by at least 5 years) to provide virtual mail where you could see a scanned image of your mail in an email message. This kind of service is now provided by Dakota Post and Escapees and others as well. Other mail forwarding services in Florida are Nato Mail, Escapees, Good Sam Club and My RV Mail.
A US Mail semi tractor-trailer arrives at the Escapees mail sorting facility in Texas with one day’s mail.
How Do You Get Your Mail Forwarded To You?
Usually we have the mail sent to a post office, addressed to us via “General Delivery.” We get the zip code for the post office online from www.usps.com. If we are in transit, we try to guess what town we might be traveling through in a few days. The post office holds all General Delivery mail for 30 days, so there is plenty of time to locate the post office and retrieve our box.
The format for a General Delivery address is:
City, State Zip
When selecting a post office, be sure they offer General Delivery services (you can find out at the www.usps.com link). Virtually all full service post offices do, but some of the “Approved postal providers” that they list don’t. When you go to get your box o’ mail, they will ask for your ID before handing it to you.
You can also have your mail sent to an RV park where you are staying or to a friend’s house. If mail is going to a friend, address it:
c/o Your Friend’s Name
City, State Zip
We find it is far preferable, in all mail and shipping matters, to select a smaller, quieter rural post office instead of a big chaotic urban one.
We find the smaller post offices are easier and more fun to work with, like this little log cabin post office in the historic village of Washington outside Maysville, Kentucky
How Do You Have Packages Shipped To You?
Because we don’t like to plan more than a day in advance, we have small items sent to our South Dakota mailing address. Sure, we pay double shipping sometimes (first to get it to SD and then to get it to us, wherever we are), but that’s a small price to pay to be on the road full-time, happy, free and independent.
We have larger packages shipped directly to us, wherever we are. This takes some planning and strategizing, as explained below.
Can FedEx and UPS Packages Be Shipped to General Delivery Post Office Addresses?
UPS and FedEx packages are most easily shipped to real street addresses (RV Parks or friends) or to post office box holders at a post office or to a shipping store like FedEx/Kinko’s or a UPS store or Mailboxes Etc. If you are staying somewhere for the season, you can get a PO box at a mailing services store.
If you don’t have a real street address at the moment (i.e., you are boondocking), the easiest way to go is to have packages shipped by the US Postal Service to General Delivery at a post office. Doing it this way, the package stays within the US postal system the entire time from shipping to delivery.
We have at least two dozen shipping addresses listed in our Amazon account. LOL!! Reading through those addresses is like reading a brief history of our RV travels, as the addresses date back to our first year on the road!!
If the shipper can’t or won’t use the Postal Service, then they can ship via a dedicated shipping company like UPS or FedEx to a post office General Delivery address. However, this is more complicated because the package is handled by both the Postal Service and the shipping company.
The Postal Service coordinates shipping and deliveries with UPS and FedEx, but they are also direct competitors with them, so things can get muddy and there are no strict rules and regulations that we know of.
We’ve had the Postmasters at several different Post Offices give us totally conflicting information. We pressed two different Postmasters to call their district supervisors to get the details clarified, and even then we got conflicting information. So it seems the Postal Service is is still working out its relationships with UPS and FedEx as far as General Deliveries go.
Postal Service Fees For Packages Shipped By UPS and FedEx
Sometimes packages shipped by UPS or FedEx to a General Delivery address at a post office are handed to the recipient free of charge. However, sometimes the Postal Service charges the recipient a fee at the pickup counter before handing over the package. I know this seems odd, because FedEx or UPS carried the package all the way across the country while the Postal Service is merely carrying it from the mail room to the front counter. But it happens.
We have received many Post Office General Delivery packages shipped by both UPS and FedEx without being charged a penny by the Postal Service. However, we have received just as many packages where we were charged a fee of as much as $12, depending on the size of the package, when we went to the post office window to pick it up. There is no way of knowing what the fee will be ahead of time, as it is out of the hands of the company that shipped the package and is entirely up to the local Post Office that delivers it to you via General Delivery.
Shipping to a Warehouse Distribution Center
To get around this, you can look up the nearest warehouse distribution center for either FedEx or UPS and have the package shipped to that distribution center with “Hold for Pickup” written on it. You will not be charged a fee at pickup. However, you will need to track the package and you will have 5 days to pick up the package before it is returned to the sender.
Delivery to a Shipping/Mail Services Store
If the distribution center is too hard to get to, you can opt to have the package shipped to a UPS Store or FedEx/Kinko’s store or other shipping store like MailBoxes Etc. The store will likely charge you a fee, even if it is a UPS store and you are shipping via UPS or is a FedEx/Kinko’s and you are shipping via FedEx. We’ve seen the fee range from a flat fee of $3 whenever you pick it up to $7 per day, however these stores are more likely to hold the package longer than 5 days. So, check with the store before having something shipped to them to get the details and verify how they want the package to be addressed.
Case History – UPS Goes Above And Beyond!
This all may sound complicated, but sometimes it’s as smooth as silk.
One time we had a package shipped via UPS to a post office General Delivery address in a small town. We tracked the package, and noticed its status was “On the truck and out for delivery.” This seemed to imply that the package was on its way to the post office, so we called the UPS distribution center to find out at what time of day the truck might get to the post office so we could drive in to get it.
The UPS distribution center was small, and they said only the driver would know the exact time. To our utter astonishment, they gave us the UPS driver’s cell phone number. So we called him!! He was very friendly and said he could drive over to where our RV was parked and hand deliver the package in about 10 minutes. We were both totally shocked when he pulled alongside our rig and handed our package to Mark — at no charge. Now how’s that for service?!
A UPS driver hand delivers a package to Mark at our fifth wheel!
We have registered four vehicles with Dakota Post: 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 license plates in the mail a few weeks later.
Each year we get new tags for our plates. We handle this via the phone or online with a credit card or check, and the tags come within a week or so. Easy!
We have shared our good experiences with Dakota Post on this website since we first started writing about our travels in 2008. They’ve taken notice, and in appreciation, they have a special offer for our readers:
Mention “Roads Less Traveled” when you sign up for a new account and get a month of mail forwarding for free.
Online banking has made full-time travel much easier than it was years ago. Almost everything can be done with plastic in person and then by paying the credit card bill online. For cash needs, you can get “cash over” on a debit card at the supermarket without any fees rather than worrying about finding a branch of your bank in some obscure town or paying extra to get money from an ATM machine. Buy a pack of gum for a buck and get $100 over. If you need to deposit a check, get the mailing address of your bank branch and mail them a short explanatory note, a deposit slip and the check, endorsed “For deposit only.”
If you will be RVing in Canada or Mexico a lot, get checking and credit card accounts from Capital One to avoid international currency exchange fees (Capital One doesn’t charge anything whereas most US banks charge a 3% fee on every transaction made outside the US).
Some agents represented the same companies as each other, but getting an apples-to-apples comparison between agents and providers proved extremely difficult and required repeated phone calls and lots of persistence. The differences are all in the fine print, which no one likes to read.
How Much Is That RV Worth?
New insurance policies for late model RVs can cover the RV for its Replacement Value. That is, within the first 2 to 5 or so model years, depending on the insurer, if the RV is destroyed, you can shop for a new one of similar type and features. In the next model year after the insurer’s time limit for Replacement Value coverage has ended, your coverage will change to Actual Cash Value which is the current market value of the year, make and model of RV.
If your RV is covered for Actual Cash Value, at the time of a claim, the insurance adjuster will determine what that current value of it is using the NADA guide or similar pricing tool.
When you give up your home owner’s policy, you give up a lot of nice blanket coverages that come with it, like liability coverage and the loss of personal belongings. Quite a few companies offer “Full-time RV insurance” that includes liability coverage similar to what would typically come with a home insurance policy. Coverage for personal belongings is a whole different story, however. See below.
The biggest problem for full-timers is covering their personal belongings. Anything that was not originally sold with the RV and is not attached (imagine turning the RV upside down to find out what’s “not attached”), is considered “Personal Effects,” and most RV policies include some kind of coverage for Personal Effects. However, from my research, this coverage is woefully inadequate if you have anything beyond basic camping gear in your rig.
The following is a summary of how the various quotes I received were explained to me. I list the specifics here not so much to suggest one company’s product over another but so you can see just how much you need to press for the exact details if you really want to understand the insurance you are buying. Obviously, the companies mentioned may change their policies, and it’s possible I misunderstood something.
The value of Personal Effects coverage available generally ranges from $2,000 (National Interstate) to $20,000 (National General), and the full amount is reimbursed in the event of the RV’s total loss. In the event of theft, there has to be proof of forcible entry and a police report must be filed (the time limits for filing the report vary). In case you disagree with the value the adjuster assigns to an item at the time of a claim, it helps to have dated photos of each item and receipts.
In the event that there is a partial loss, like theft of just a few items, there are caps on what is covered. With National General, if the theft occurs inside your RV, then the cap is 25% of the total value of all the Personal Effects coverage that you carry. For example, if you have a $20,000 Personal Effects policy, then this means there is a cap of $4,000 per claim. If the theft occurs outside the RV but on your campsite, then the coverage is 10% of the total value of all the Personal Effects coverage that you carry. Again, for $20,000 total coverage, this means a cap of $2,000 per claim. There is no coverage if the theft occurs away from the RV (i.e, your bike is stolen from the bike rack at the coffee shop in town).
Bikes and cameras are covered (more or less) on your campsite but not away from the RV.
In the case of Nationwide (Allied), there is a four page description of how personal effects are covered and the capping methodology used, including more than a page of listed exclusions. Some highlights: There’s a cap of $500 per individual item. Groups of similar types of items are capped differently, for instance items grouped as “camera equipment” or “fishing gear” or “musical instruments” are capped at $1,000 per group while items grouped as “computer equipment,” “tools” and “silverware” are capped at $3,000 per group.
On the other hand, the “outside the RV” coverage with Nationwide is more generous than National General at 25% of the total Personal Effects coverage rather than 10%.
All of these reimbursements may be subject to your overall policy deductible or may have a specially applied Personal Effects deductible (for Nationwide it is $250).
Getting Personal Effects coverage above and beyond the $20,000 limit generally requires scheduling each item and giving it a value. Progressive requires each item to be appraised ahead of time and submitted as part of the application process for securing an insurance policy. Nationwide doesn’t require appraisals but asks for receipts showing prices paid and date of purchase so they can determine the depreciated value. I’m not sure how either handles the “outside the RV” scenario if the base coverage is higher than $20,000.
So, as you can see, you won’t get much for your stuff unless the whole RV and everything in it goes up in smoke, even if your policy says that $20,000 of personal belongings is covered.
We had National Interstate at first and were very happy with their speedy payment in covering a very large claim. However, their Personal Effects coverage just isn’t adequate, so we have National General at the moment and are still shopping.
How About Renter’s Insurance?
Renter’s Insurance provides tenants with a policy that is much like a homeowner’s policy, covering all the items in the home whether the loss occurrs in the home or somewhere else. These can be set up with small deductibles (like $50) that make sense for a $2,000 loss. However, you must be renting a stationary home and you must provide the address of the place you are renting. Unfortunately, your mail forwarding address or a relative’s address don’t count, and using an address where you are not living constitutes insurance fraud.
Awww… We Don’t Have Nuthin’ — We’re Livin’ Cheap!
You may look around at your stuff and say, “Bah… I don’t have anything of real value here.” But imagine trying to replace all your clothes (winter and summer), shoes (running, walking, hiking, dress shoes, slippers, sandals, boots), jackets, sweaters, blankets, pillows, sheets, towels, everything in the bathroom vanity, food in the fridge as well as pantry, dishes, pots and pans, kitchen appliances, CDs, DVDs, BBQ, portable generator, tools in the basement, spare parts, musical instruments, laptops, printers, cameras, smartphones, bicycles, kayaks, books, etc.
It adds up quick! It is worth it to take five minutes with a calculator and get a figure, just so you know.
With any luck, as the full-time RV lifestyle grows in popularity, insurance companies will come up wtih a way for full-time RVers to insure all their worldly belongings beyond just their vehicles and to provide useful replacement coverage for it.
How To Insure Specialty Items Like Camera Gear and Bikes
If you have expensive camera gear or very high end bicycles, it is possible to insure them with specialty insurance. Cameras can be covered through a photography membership in NANPA. Bikes can be covered through Big Ring Insurance.
Upgrades to the RV
If you install solar power, a big battery bank, or upgrade your converter or inverter or have any kind of add-on that is pernamently attached to the rig, and you have an older rig that you are insuring for Actual Cash Value, that upgrade will be part of the Actual Cash Value figure that the insurance adjuster will be calculating at the time of a claim. If you are insuring for Replacement Value, check with your agent how best to cover major upgrades.
Photograph the equipment you have upgraded, locate the receipts, and ask your agent if they want those things at the time you apply for insurance or if they should be supplied at the time of a claim. They all vary!
Mark installs flexible solar panels on the roof of a friend’s motorhome.
RV Extended Warranties
We carry a trailer warranty policy through Wholesale Warranties now that the original manufacturer’s warranty is no longer in effect.
Here's a summary of what our four year RV warranty through Wholesale Warranties cost, what our repairs WOULD HAVE cost, and what our warranty reimbursements have been to date:
Our trailer warranty has paid for itself 3.5 times over, and there's still lots of time left on the contract!
We were so exhausted by these repairs (they hit us all at once between August and October of 2015), that I haven’t yet written a blog post about the last one. It just isn’t fun writing that stuff!! However, hopefully you can see the incredible value of getting a motorhome warranty or trailer warranty, especially if your rig is a few years old (ours is a 2007 Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer).
The beauty of an RV Extended Warranty is that it picks up where a regular insurance policy leaves off. Our entire trailer is covered for all failures other than regular wear and tear. This includes having the frame crack or slides fail to come in and out or the suspension give up the ghost (it did) or having the air conditioner or refrigerator die (which it did too).
These could be very expensive repairs, and it is worth the peace of mind to carry an RV Extended Warranty policy rather than risk a large, unexpected repair expense. We use Wholesale Warranties, and you can get a quote for a policy from them here.
To learn more about RV Warranties and what to look for when you buy one, see:
Many RV parks have laundry facilities on-site, and some full-timers purchase RVs equipped with a washer and dryer. We like to use the local laundromat in town. We can do four, five or six loads of laundry in two hours flat. We use the biggest front loading washers in the laundromat we can find because they are usually the best ones both for washing and for spinning dry. 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 when it’s busy!
However, if you want the place to yourself, go to the laundromat midweek around noon, well after the daily morning rush and before the after work crowd arrives.
Laundry facilities in RV parks can be very crowded and usually have just a few smaller top loading machines. Most parks have only a few machines and when a park is full they can get very busy and it can be hard to get a machine.
Washers and dryers installed in RVs are really small, and it is common to do a load a day to keep up. However, you can do it “in the background” while doing other things around the rig, the way you used to in your old conventional life back home!
Along with all the other changes when you start a life in an RV on the road, you’ll find yourself adjusting to having a new hair stylist — and sometimes a new hair style — every time you get your hair cut. There are Great Clips and Super Cuts everywhere, and Walmart has their in-store salons.
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 commercial guide books and by asking at visitors centers. The AllStays App is a very popular resource. Private RV parks range from about $30/night to $60/night or more, tending to even higher prices in popular destinations at peak season in choice sites that offer more amenities (like a view). 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, telephone and free WiFi. Usually the site includes a picnic table, and sometimes the park has a pool, showers, shuffleboard or horseshoes, sometimes bike and canoe rentals, a small store, or other goodies.
Staying for one night is most expensive. Commiting to a week or a month or a season will get you a much lower nightly rate.
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 and BLM 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 often offer fewer amenities than private RV parks: there may (or may not) be water spigots or vault toilets (non-flushing), or there may be electric and water hookups and hot showers. Usually there are no sewer hookups but there is often an RV dump station in the campground.
Many state park campgrounds are in beautiful locations like Lost Dutchman State Park in Arizona.
Usually there are picnic tables and campfire rings at each site. Often the sites at national park, national forest and Corps of Engineers campgrounds are too small for a larger RV. However, some state park campgrounds have absolutely gorgeous big sites that are in a natural setting with a jaw dropping view. Generally these campgrounds cost anywhere from $8/night to $35/night, depending on the amenities offered, the beauty and popularity of the surrounding area and the the season you are visiting.
Many of these public campgrounds (except the state parks) honor the National Senior Access Pass (for citizens aged 62 and over) and Federal Land Inter-Agency Pass (the annual “National Parks Pass” that is available to everyone) offering a 50% discount to carriers of one of these passes.
Don Wright has written two books that list inexpensive public campgrounds:
Generally there is a stay limit at these kinds of campgrounds, typically 2 weeks, and generally there are no discounts given for longer stays.
Many National Forests and most lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) 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 overnight 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 about boondocking, check out our pages on:
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: inexpensive memberships that offer modest discounts on nightly rates and “investment” memberships that cost a lot up front but offer big discounts on nightly rates.
The inexpensive memberships generally unite thousands of independent RV parks under a single umbrella. The “investment” memberships tend to include fewer RV parks in their networks and insure a higher standard and better consistency in RV park quality.
Inexpensive Campground Memberships
The most popular inexpensive campground membership is offered by Passport America. They charge an annual fee of $44 ($79 for 2 years) and offer a 50% savings off the nightly rate at any of the 1,900 member RV parks. Another similar membership program is Happy Camper which costs $40 per year and also offers 50% off at their 1,200 member RV parks.
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. When you make your reservation, double check that the park is still a member of your program.
“Investment” Campground Memberships
“Investment” style campground programs cost a lot up front but offer very inexpensive overnight stays.
The Thousand Trails network offers 30 free overnight stays in a 12 month period for $545 at campgrounds that are within one of five zones across the country. After you’ve used up the 30 free nights, the rest of your overnights for that year are just $3 a night. Each zone has between 13 and 23 RV parks in it. You can stay at any RV park in your zone for up to 14 days and then you must stay somewhere outside of the network for 7 nights before coming back. You can repeat this cycle indefinitely. Right now they are offering a special of two zones for the price of one. An added perk is that you get a 20% discount on overnight stays at the affiliate Encore network of RV parks too.
Other “investment” campground programs are structured like a timeshare. You buy into a “home park,” pay an annual fee, and can then stay at member parks for $10 to $15 a night. You learn about these membership programs just like a timeshare — by taking a tour.
We have taken two such tours, and they were a lot of fun. In each case we were given two free nights at the RV park, and at some point during our stay we took a 2-3 hour tour. The sales technique is the “hot seat” method, but it is easy enough to smile and say “no” politely if you aren’t interested. One of our tours was at the Havasu Springs Resort.
One of the biggest programs is offered by Good Sam Club’s Coast Resorts which has 400 member parks. You can sign up for their free two night stay and tour package here.
“Investment” campground memberships aim to offer higher quality RV parks at a discount
These kinds of campground membership programs are a complicated, and the companies change the rules as their profitability and growth plan requires. It is best to book your stays 90 days or more in advance and there may also be a complex set of rules to follow regarding staying within the network and outside of it. Sometimes an alternative campground network is offered so you have somewhere similar to stay when it is time for you to stay outside your home network. Two we’ve heard of are Resorts of Distinction and Adventure Outdoor Resorts given as the alternative networks.
Moose and Elks Clubs
We have met several full-timers who are members of the Moose Club and Elks Club and use their RV facilities on a regular basis. This seems like a terrific option, although we have not joined either organization yet. Membership requires a sponsor, but each time we’ve stopped in and inquired, people have offered to be sponsors right at the bar! The membership fee is on the order of $100 or so a year and overnights in the RV parks are $10 to $20 or so. Some lodges without formal RV park sites may allow members to dry camp in the parking lot if there’s room.
Military RV Parks
For those people that are retired from the military, there is a fantastic network of RV parks located on many bases throughout the US. If you enjoy dry camping, you may be able to cut the cost even more by parking on the grass (we have!).
I hope these notes have given you an idea of what becoming a full-time RVer entails when you are ready to turn your fun RV vacations into a lifestyle. Despite all the words I’ve written here and in the other two posts in this series on full-time RVing, going full-time isn’t all that complicated.
Do your research, get out and talk to as many full-time RVers in person as you can find, practice a little by renting or buying a small rig, and then take the leap and go have an awesome RVing adventure!!
Have fun with your research and planning!
This was the third part in our 3-part series on full-time RVing. You can read the other parts in this series or skip to its various chapters via these links:
Traveling in an RV is a blast, and living in one full-time is even more-so. The exhilaration of hitting the open road and discovering the hidden jewels the lie just over the horizon is a peak life experience, and being able to live this way day after day, year after year, is deeply fulfilling.
The transition from a conventional life to full-time RVing can have its ups and downs, however, and there are some pitfalls to avoid and things to consider as you go through the planning process. Just for starters, what kind of RV is best for living and traveling in?
Full-time RVing includes a wide range of lifestyles, from folks who travel a lot to folks who stay home.
Many “full-time” RVers are technically “part-timers,” living in their rig for a few months a year and maintaining 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.
For most of these RVers, the travel routes are pretty much north/south. After spending the first months of our first winter in southern Arizona, meeting people from Idaho and Montana, we were amused to go to South Padre Island Texas and discover many of the RVers were from Wisconsin and Minnesota. Everyone we’ve met in Florida seems to be from Michigan or the Northeast!
A lot of full-timers don’t actually travel 12 months a year. Some rent or own a site in an RV park somewhere for part of the year, using this location as a home base and roaming around as the spirit moves them.
Seasonal RV park rates are reasonable, and some parks include a storage area for boats and ATVs or even an alternate RV like a “weekending” or “summer travel” truck camper. Some of these parks also allow you to spread out to do repairs on the RV and clean it up after a season of travel.
Some full-timers split their time between two RV parks where they have sites they rent or own. Many RVers work camp in a northern location in the summer and in a southern location in the winter. These types of full-timers have a strong sense of home and community because they return to the same places year after year.
Full-time RVers Who Travel All the Time
Many full-time RVers wander all over the place, more or less in perpetual motion. Some camp in state parks and forest campgrounds or boondock most of the time, and others stick to RV parks which have more amenities. Some belong to campground membership programs, giving them a primary resource for finding places to stay, and also giving them a rich social life as they make friendships within the programs and plan their stays to coincide with their friends’ stays.
Full-time RV Residents
Some full-time RVers stay in one park year-round. A few of these folks are retirees who no longer wish to travel but want to remain in their RV. Others are younger working people that have a full-time job in the area that keeps them rooted in one spot.
Starting a full-time RV lifestyle is an absolute thrill. Leaving the bonds of a conventional life to live in total freedom made both of us feel vibrantly alive. Years ago I wrote a blog post about why we decided to go full-time, called Why Do It? I outlined the many reasons we decided to leave our old lives behind and try a life of adventure on the road.
Going full-time sounds great, but there can also be some bumps in the road on the way to your dream RV lifestyle, and that’s to be expected. The whole process may go swimmingly and you may live happily ever after. But more than likely you will experience some heartache on the way. We did. It’s part of what happens when you deal with important things like Lifelong Dreams, Personal Growth, Enrichment and Fulfillment.
The downsizing process can be intense, especially if you are emptying a large house that you have lived in for years. Keeping your dream alive and priorities straight during this (sometimes) stressful time is really important. When we downsized a second time as we moved off of our boat and back into our RV, I wrote a post On the Road to Your Dreams, Stay the Course to help me keep the big picture in mind.
Ready for adventure!
For a lot of people, downsizing all the way into an RV is a really liberating experience. After the hard part of sorting through everything, there is an uplifting sense of relief and unburdening that happens when you let most of it go.
Retiring and Going Full-time Simultaneously
Many people begin full-timing at the start of retirement. This means they are going through two major life transitions at once. Simply changing from the workaday life to one of an agenda-free retirement is a shock to the system. Downsizing into an RV and moving away from old friends and life structures at the same time can become a little overwhelming.
Retiring early is a super idea, but there is no badge of honor for going full-time. In some cases it might make sense to enjoy retirement for a little while first. Going on some shorter duration RV travels before you jump ship all together might accomplish the same travel and freedom goals without giving up the security of everything you know right away.
At the same time as all of this, you are dealing with your life partner in a whole new way. You are together much more than you used to be and are suddenly dependent on each other in ways you’ve never been before. Learning how to operate the systems in the RV, navigating unfamiliar roads in a hugely oversized vehicle in traffic, and getting in and out of RV sites with an audience watching can put a lot of stress on a relationship.
What a marvelous night for a moondance…
To diffuse the tension a little, revel in acquiring new skills, whether it’s learning to read a map or learning to take directions from your spouse as you drive. Respect and patience go a long way as you both adjust to new daily patterns, and in the darkest hours, remembering why you fell in love in the first place always helps. Any scratches that appear on the RV as a result of your joint learning curve can always be repaired!
Build Up and Let Down
There is a huge build-up to the Day of Retirement, and even if you are 30-something and are starting full-timing, there is an even bigger build-up to the Day of Driving off to a New Life in an RV. Some kind of let-down is only natural.
There is also the shock of reality. The RV life depicted in blogs (including this one), books and magazines (including articles I’ve written) may not reveal some of the more mundane and even yucky aspects of life on the road. For us, this lifestyle is almost entirely one of wine and roses, but roses do have thorns and you have to learn to deal with them.
You may be ecstatic when you cast off in your new life, and you may be Living The Dream right from the get go. But if not, don’t panic. There’s an adjustment phase and a learning curve that most new full-timers go through.
It takes time to figure out your travel style and what works best for you.
Pacing Your Travels
It’s really common for new full-timers to drive thousands of miles to dozens of destinations at a breakneck pace the first year. We sure did. Heck, you’re excited! You’re free! You run around like crazy! And then you drop from exhaustion.
Learning to slow down and to alternate the sightseeing days with the chore days takes time. Allowing yourself to have a few down days of doing nothing so you can absorb all the thrills you just had during some exciting sightseeing days may make you feel guilty at first. But a life of full-time travel can’t be lived like an endless vacation. You’ll wear yourself down to a frazzle!
Embracing A Hobby
It can be exhausting to spend all day everyday either reading travel literature, sightseeing, or writing in your journal or on your blog about all you did and saw. There needs to be something more to life than scrambling from one tourist destination to the next.
Picking up a hobby can help immensely. Our travel lives changed dramatically when we decided to learn photography and learn to write and maintain a website. These are activities that are beautifully linked to our travel adventures, but they are hobbies in their own right too.
Making music, bicycling, hiking, geocaching, running, yoga, kayaking and learning to make videos are other hobbies that fit a traveling lifestyle well and will ensure you feel like you are living a life that is bigger than just being a tourist.
Making music is a fabulous pass-time on the road
What If It Doesn’t Work Out?
Even after dodging that mini minefield of possible obstacles on your way to living the RV Dream, you may decide the lifestyle just isn’t for you. What then? Is the fear that this might happen enough to keep you from giving it a try? I hope not!
You already know how to live a conventional life, and that life will always be available to you. There may be expenses involved in returning to it, but at least you won’t look back later and say, “I shoulda…I coulda…I woulda” Instead, you’ll say, “I did it! I lived my dream, even though it turned out not to be a dream I wanted.” More than likely, the experience will lead you to a dream you do want.
Jumping in with both feet
The most important thing to keep in mind throughout the whole transition process is that this is just a phase of your life. It is definitely not for the rest of your life Without a doubt, your full-timing adventure will end some day, and you will probably move on to another lifestyle that doesn’t include living in an RV.
So, set aside any fears you have, and live your dream. The full-time RV lifestyle may not last forever, but the memories will.
The most popular full-time rigs are Class A motorhomes and fifth wheels. Class C’s, Class B’s and travel trailers are less common. However, 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.
All that really matters when you select an RV for full-timing is that it feels like home to you.
The first time we boondocked in Quartzsite Arizona, we found we were neighbors with 150 Alpine motorhomes (worth as much as $400K) on one side, and a guy living out of the back of his pickup truck on the other side.
Do you need a huge Class A to have fun full-timing? Heck no! For two years this has been home for one couple we met.
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.
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 our first four years of RV ownership ourselves, we were ahead of the curve for a while!
If you haven’t done much RVing yet, the best way to get your feet wet and figure out what kind of RV you like and what features are important to you is to get a small and inexpensive one and take it on some long road trips:
Some thoughts about different styles of RVs for use in long term travel:
Both motorhomes and trailers have their pros and cons, and certainly either one makes a fantastic home. These notes are intended to give you some food for thought if you haven’t developed a preference yet. They are not meant to imply that one style of RV is superior to another.
Motorhomes are inherently more complicated than trailers because they combine the propulsion and the living quarters all in the same vehicle. Higher end Class A motorhomes also feature more complex systems in an effort to make them more like a residential house. Trailers, even high end fifth wheels, are usually outfitted with simpler systems.
There’s a big beautiful world out there… Honestly, any rig will be fun!
We have not lived in a motorhome, but our 44′ sailboat was very similar with a combined propulsion/house design and many of the exact same components as are found in a Class A diesel pusher.
Simplicity equates to less time spent on maintenance and repair and less overall expense for everything from initial purchase to insurance and motorhome warranty, to registration to maintenance and repair.
Popup tent trailers are easy to tow, they fit in the garage, and they offer a lot of space for a small package. However, they can’t easily be used to stop for lunch at a rest area or overnight at a Walmart
Truck campers and vans make for tight living but can be parked anywhere, from National Park campgrounds to tiny urban roads in the congested northeast.
Travel Trailers and Fifth Wheels:
Travel trailers are cheap but can require a bigger truck than you might think to tow efficiently in the mountains (ours did).
Fifth wheels are easier to back up and hitch up than travel trailers but generally require a big diesel truck.
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.
Fifth Wheels and Motorhomes:
The comfort and view from the driver’s and passeneger’s seats in a big Class A motorhome are far better than in a truck.
Tooling around town in a car and getting parked is much easier than in a big ol’ long bed truck.
If you are driving a motorhome and need something in “the house,” the passenger can just walk back and get it.
Sometimes the huge windshield and large interior space of a Class A motorhome can make for hot driving and you need to run the generator and house air conditioning while driving to cool it down.
Gas stations are tough to maneuver in with any large RV. You can gas up a truck when it is unhitched from the trailer. Motorhomes don’t have that option but do have bigger tanks and need gas less frequently.
Gas mileage on a truck towing a trailer may be slightly better than on a large motorhome towing a car (especially if the truck has an engine tuner)
Gas mileage around town on a car (if traveling with a motorhome) is better than on a big truck (if traveling with a trailer)
Depending on how much you drive hitched up versus unhitched, the total fuel bill for a motorhome-car combo may be the same as for a fifth wheel-truck combo (our driving split is 50-50, towing vs. not towing)
To get around town, most full-timers tow a car or “toad” behind their motorhome. Sometimes the toad becomes a handsome prince and is towed on a trailer rather than its own four wheels.
Maintenance and Repair
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.
Motorhomes are more more complex vehicles than fifth wheel trailers, so they take more time and expense to maintain and repair.
A truck with a dead engine can stay overnight in the repair shop while you live in your healthy trailer somewhere else. A dead motorhome engine may leave you looking for a hotel room and eating out if the repair shop won’t let you stay in it there.
With a truck and trailer combo, the propulsion part of it (the truck) is mass produced. There are dealerships in every town, and it fits in any repair bay at any shop, including Jiffy Lube.
You can change the tires on a truck and trailer with a jack stand and tire iron but will need to call someone for help to change the tires on a big motorhome
A truck-and-trailer combo of the same quality, size and age as a motorhome-car combo is generally about 1/2 to 2/3 of the price all together. Insurance, warranty and registration costs are less too.
Truck and trailer tires are much cheaper than larger motorhome tires.
Oil changes are cheaper, although more frequent, on a truck than on a motorhome
Storage and Living:
A large motorhome will likely have a much bigger payload capacity ( > 5,000 lbs.) than a fifth wheel (< 4,000 lbs.) which is important for full-timers carrying a lot of stuff with them. Lots more info on that here: Choosing a Trailer for Full-time RVing
Bikes can be stowed inside a large motorhome bay, or in the hatchback of a “toad” with the back seat removed, or in truck with a cap towing a travel trailer, but they mostly likely have to be left outside on a truck and fifth wheel.
While at a campsite, the area under a fifth wheel can provide shade for camp chairs and protection from rain for outdoor goodies.
Almost all motorhomes come with a built-in generator which means that air conditioning is available at the push of a button, something solar power can’t easily do.
If you love your house but hate how it drives (or it has chronic engine/drive-train problems) or if you love the drive but the house has lost its luster, you can upgrade your truck or trailer independently of one another.
There is an urban myth that a motorhome is more appropriate for shorter stays and a fifth wheel is better for longer stays. This year alone, in 8 months on the road, we have stayed at 75 different locations for an average of 3 nights each. We’ve had a ball and it has been easy. We set up and break down in about 10 minutes. I’m baffled by that urban myth, have no idea where it came from, and can only say that it doesn’t apply to us and our fifth wheel! (Wait, what kind of “pacing your travels” was that?! Well, this wild road trip was preceded by 4 months of staying put in Phoenix AZ and included a one month stop in Sarasota, FL)
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 50% to 70% of what it was new. In 10 years it will be worth 40% of its purchase price or less.
Negotiate hard. Mass-market brand “vacation” quality RVs often sell for 25-35% less than MSRP and higher-end “full-time” brands often sell for 20-30% less than MSRP, depending on the manufacturer. The NADA Guide gives the values of used RVs.
If you are buying a 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.
The sticker will also give you the payload capacity of the trailer. Many “full-time” trailers are built with a payload capacity of less than 3,000 lbs. In our experience, that will not be enough in the long run. Our fifth wheel trailer has a payload capacity of 3,300 lbs and I sure wish it were closer to 5,000.
Climb up on the roof of the unit you are buying to see what condition it is in. While you’re up there, check out the other roofs in the lot. You’ll be able to tell which units are the newest ones at the dealership by the condition of the roofs!
Visit lots and lots of dealerships and talk to lots and lots of salesmen. The more time you spend shopping the better purchase you will make. Besides, it’s fun!
A line of beautiful new Tiffin Allegro motorhomes for sale
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:
Just another day at the office…what a place to live and work for a season!
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!
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.
The “Sisters on the Fly” have a ball on gals-only RV adventures. Many of them have wonderfully decorated vintage trailers!
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 ?
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!
Renting an RV for a week’s vacation in southern Utah is a great way to sample the lifestyle.
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.
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.
Take a vacation to a beautiful place in a rental 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 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+
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.
An inexpensive popup tent trailer can give you some incredible RVing adventures
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??!!
Transcription work can pay really well. Full-timer Wendy Estelle explains the details on her blog, Gypsy Gibberish, HERE.
Another popular occupation for RVers is to work for the company that provides the free RV campground maps that you get when you check into a park, AGS Guest Guides. These maps/guides are paid for by the advertisers whose ads appear on them, and AGS Guest Guides hires reps to go out into the community to solicit ads. From what I understand, reps can stay in the RV park for free for as much as two weeks while they meet with the advertisers and get to know the area. More info here: AGS Guest Guides.
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.
Is an RV blog a good way to earn a living in the road?
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 all day every day — and theirs is one of the top travel blogs in the entire world — has this to say on the subject of making money from a travel blog: 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.
A very happy work camper on the job
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.
At stunning Bryce Canyon National Park, in Utah, the privately owned hotel, gift shop and restaurant complex that is located just outside the park, Rubys Inn, has an RV work camping program that we’ve heard great things about as well: Rubys Inn Employment.
Work campers at RaVeS Cafe in Mesa Arizona
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:
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.
Raking is fun but taking a break to play air guitar is even more fun!
— 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.