From 2011 to present we lived in RVs full-time. We stayed in parks long-term and also moved every day. Here's what it's like living in an RV.

What it’s really like living in an RV

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From 2011 to present we lived in RVs full-time. We stayed in one RV park for years, and we moved every single day, and everything in between. Here’s what it’s like living in an RV.

From 2011 to present we lived in RVs full-time. We stayed in parks long-term and also moved every day. Here's what it's like living in an RV.

How much space do you have living in an RV?

It’s no 10,000 square-foot mansion. But someone who considers that their dream probably isn’t reading this blog. With the right floor plan, you have exactly the right amount of space (or even too much).

If you’re not planning on moving at all, there are RVs called “park models.” They are about the size of a single-wide manufactured home, but they’re on wheels. They may have lots of slide-outs and amenities that make the place feel more house-y, like full-size residential refrigerators, full-size washer/dryer units, etc. Manufacturers build them for delivery to a permanent lot. They are very heavy and not tow-friendly, but less money than a sticks-and-bricks home.

There are also 45-foot motorhomes and fifth wheels with multiple slide-outs that will probably get you 500 square feet of living space or more. Even many RVs close to 40 feet will have amenities like residential fridges and fireplaces. Others have sliding glass doors and decks that pop out from the side, or roof access for a bird’s-eye view of the land around you. And if you think an RV can only fit 2 people–think again. The RV industry recognizes more and more young people want to RV. There are many 2-bedroom units out there, as well as units with bunk rooms for bringing kids.

I hear about families with 6 kids (or more!!) travelling in an RV. We even met one when we lived in Arizona. The mom home-schooled the kids and they travelled with the dad’s construction business. The RV resort we stayed at had a really nice pool area and community room with a kitchen, big dining table, game area and a huge TV. Plenty of room for the family to spread out beyond the walls of their RV.

At the other extreme, some people go really tiny. They live in camper vans, also known as Class Bs, which might give them less than 100 square feet. Some people even live in teardrop trailers (basically big enough for a place to sleep, maybe with an outdoor kitchen on the back).

There are people out there living full-time in SUVs, mini-vans, and even Priuses (Prii??). Some people make remodeled small cargo trailers their permanent homes. Other people travel on their bicycles and camp, or just live out of a backpack and travel the world.

I guess what I’m trying to say is–if you’re worried about space, don’t. You will probably have to downsize your stuff to fit in an RV, but it will be worth it. If you think living in an RV is about how much space you have, you’re looking at it from the wrong perspective. Living in an RV is about making the entire country (or continent) your backyard and playground, while still having the comfort of your essential possessions with you.

Is it expensive living in an RV?

As I mentioned in my interview for the RV Dream Summit, expensive is a relative term. Just like you can live in an expensive house in an expensive neighborhood or a cheap apartment in a cheap neighborhood, there is a whole range of costs for living in an RV. The type of RV you by, whether you take out a loan or not, how often you move around and where/how long you choose to stay all make a difference in costs. Also, $2000 per month in living expenses might seem like a lot of money for some people, and in some parts of the country. Meanwhile it might only be enough to rent some floor space for a sleeping bag in other places (San Francisco, I’m talking to YOU).

My advice is not to get the biggest, newest, most expensive RV you can afford, at least not right away. Here’s why:

  • The bigger the RV, the higher your fuel costs each time you move.
  • Many parks charge different rates for different lot sizes. If you need a bigger lot, your space rent will be more.
  • A bigger RV may limit which places you can stay. Many state parks cannot accommodate rigs longer than 30 feet.
  • Bigger RVs are harder to drive and park and can go on fewer roads due to weight limits or overhead clearance.
  • A newer RV with a higher price tag means more money up-front, whether from your bank account or from a loan.
  • New does not always mean better. As time goes on, sadly fewer RV manufacturers put quality materials into their rigs or take the time to build them well (just like tract homes). If you are living in an RV, you want higher quality so you spend less time fixing things.
  • You may think you know what you want from an RV, but you may change your mind down the road. Or your needs may change. There’s nothing wrong with that! But the more money you have invested into your current rig, the harder to switch.

As for monthly expenses, we found that whether we stay in a single place for a month or drive every day (but mostly park for free), we are spending about the same amount of money, and our basic cost for fuel, lodging and food averages about $1500 per month. That includes about $600 per month in groceries and household items like soap, paper towels, etc.

As for places to stay, we try to keep our average monthly costs to about $20-25 per night. This means some nights we might park for free, and others we might stay somewhere for $40 per night. For longer-term stays (a month or more) we might spend a little more if a place has nice amenities, because we aren’t spending money on gas.

RVs don’t have the best insulation. While it is possible to live in an RV in 120 degrees or 20 degrees (we did both), the freedom of movement allows you to travel with the weather. If you aim for temperate climates, you cut down on heating and air conditioning costs.

When buying an RV, always check for comparables, just like you would when buying a house. The NADA guides are online, free, and have information about just about every RV out there. Check listings on Craigslist, RV Trader and local RV dealerships. However, sometimes rare or sought-after RVs will sell for more than NADA prices. Just be careful with that. I recommend not ever buying an RV that costs more than you can justify through NADA or comparable market value, no matter how much you want it. Not unless you have unlimited money and don’t care about losing your investment–the market can change any time!

Is living in an RV safe?

Yes! It isn’t safe if you…

  • Choose to consistently park in bad neighborhoods
  • Don’t lock up your stuff properly
  • Get into situations when all your alarm bells are telling you to get out, but you ignore them
  • Don’t maintain your vehicle’s safety features
  • Drive your RV places it isn’t supposed to go–like very soft sand or muddy conditions, or up steep grades with too much weight

But guess what? Those things aren’t “safe” to do no matter what vehicle we’re talking about. They are just compounded by your RV being larger and (probably) more expensive to fix than your passenger vehicle.

As for personal safety, in all our years of RVing, we never had a break-in. We did have Ryan’s bike stolen once, but it had only a flimsy lock protecting it. There was a ring of bike thieves in the area at the time and they stole lots of bikes, not just the ones in the RV park where we stayed.

For the past year we travelled with 4 bicycles on a rack on our hitch, worth about $7000 total. We use heavy-duty locks and chains and keep them covered so they don’t attract attention. They haven’t been stolen or tampered with in any way.

living in an RV

My Pedego electric bike–my primary source of local transportation for the past year.

Is it hard to maintain an RV?

It depends on how much money you have to pay someone else to do it!! Seriously though, just like a car, you have vehicle-related maintenance for tires, brakes, engine, etc. Like a house you have maintenance for the roof. You have to replace caulking around doors, windows, sinks and showers. Do maintenance on your heating and air conditioning units. Fix small things before they become big and expensive.

I said it before–driving an RV down the road is like putting your house through an earthquake. Luckily most of the furniture and appliances are attached to the walls and floors, so they won’t fall over. But it’s still stress on objects that can only flex so much before they break.

The good news is, RVs are smaller than most houses. So there is less square footage to maintain and/or repair.

Although I admit that “washing the car” is more labor-intensive these days!

living in an RV

With our current RV, here are some projects we did ourselves:

Neither of us ever did any of these things before. But we were willing to try and they all worked out well at a fraction of the cost of paying someone else. We did lots of research on the internet and watched countless YouTube videos. And we’re happy with the results.

Here are other repair/maintenance projects we paid others to do:

We even had a mobile repair person come out to our site on 2 separate occasions. Once was to fix our awning and another time we needed our engine belts replaced. While typically more costly, mobile repair is awesome because you can stay in the comfort of your home and parking space while the technician works around you.

Where is “home” when living in an RV?

When we were in Childersburg, Alabama staying at an amusement park, one of the park staff asked us questions about our life. Then she said, “Don’t you ever just want to go home?”

Here was my response:

  • If you mean to go back to where we used to live to visit family and friends, we can do that any time we want.
living in an RV

Spending the day with my brother and his beautiful family on one of our trips back to the Bay Area.

  • But we’re already home. Everything we own is with us in this RV.

The one I didn’t mention is that home isn’t a physical place for me. Home is where my husband and pets are. It doesn’t matter whether it’s this RV, a different one, a house or a cardboard box. The place and things don’t matter, it’s the people.

However, everyone needs an address. If you’re wondering what to do when someone asks you for an address and how to receive mail, check out my post on our mail service.

Living in an RV with health problems

According to the state of California, I’m 25% permanently disabled. I had a severe back injury in 2002 and I still have back problems. Ryan also has back problems (he worked in a labor-intensive job for at least 4 months with a fractured vertebrae without knowing it).

We also both get migraines–often at the worst times, like when we need to drive somewhere. I have a genetic joint condition that can cause me to dislocate or sprain a joint from as little as grasping a book or stepping on an uneven surface. I also have autoimmune thyroid disease and often need to see doctors to have my medication changed, so I have to find a new doctor every few months. We also both are gluten-sensitive vegans with long histories of digestive problems.

But we don’t let any of that stop us from enjoying our lives. We test our limits all the time. Sometimes, we push past them and have to take a rest. But then we get back up and keep going.

I watched an interview a few years ago about a couple who travelled in their RV with serious health conditions. When they started out, one of them had multiple sclerosis. She was losing her eyesight and had balance problems. She said “I can fall down in the driveway at home or I can do it in a beautiful state park.” My sentiments exactly! I can stay home, be and feel sorry for myself or I can go out and travel. Since I’m going to have these health problems either way, I’ll take the travel while I still can!

While they were workcamping, this woman’s partner got diagnosed with cancer. Luckily, they were in the San Francisco area and she got treated for her cancer at Stanford (one of the best hospitals in the country). After her treatment ended, they went back on the road.

Other people with chronic health conditions choose to find a really good doctor in one place and return there once or twice a year for check-ups. This physician understands about the travel and agrees to help them remotely for the rest of the year.

What’s living in an RV really like?

It’s like living in a house on wheels.

More opportunities to see or do something new.

Being a tourist but still sleeping in your own bed every night.

Seeing the country year-round without spending a fortune on plane tickets and hotel rooms and cramming it into vacation days.

It isn’t perfect (nothing ever is), but it’s fun.

Life is too short to have regrets. Living in an RV guarantees I have fewer of them.

 

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