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I love my RV life. But it isn’t perfect, so here’s the dark side. Here are 6 things that suck for RVers–and some solutions for each problem.
1. Roads suck for RVers
Typical roads aren’t made for long, tall, wide, heavy vehicles like RVs. Many are too narrow. There are bridges with low clearances. People don’t trim back trees and bushes. And you may feel every little pothole, expander joint, grate, etc.
I also love when you’re driving down a road and suddenly without warning, the road is closed ahead with no indications of how to detour. And then you take the detour road and there’s a weight limit, or a low clearance, or something else you weren’t expecting. Unless you’re in a really small rig, just making a u-turn or taking a smaller side road isn’t a good option.
Travel also takes longer for RVers. Whatever Google Maps estimates as an arrival time, we usually add 30-90 minutes, depending on how many miles we are going. Most RVs can’t go as fast as other vehicles, and any stops made for gas probably take longer too. Traffic is also awful. It’s terrible in stop-and-go traffic with an RV because you can’t accelerate or slow down as quickly.
To avoid road-related problems as much as possible, research your route and try to stick to large, well-maintained roads. If there is a note about construction on your route, try to get more information. See if you can take an alternate direction to avoid it. Also, consider investing in an RV-specific trip planner that alerts to low clearances, weight restrictions, etc.
2. Other drivers suck for RVers
People are so impatient. And unfortunately many of them are in such a hurry they are willing to pull their car in front of our 9-ton vehicle when we don’t have enough time to slow down.
They also take unnecessary risks like passing us when it isn’t safe to pass, or honking when we go the speed limit because they just don’t want to be behind us even when we aren’t slowing them down.
Nacto.org does calculations about safe stopping distances. If people thought about the safe driving rules and the recommended safety cushions, they would know that at freeway speeds, an average-sized car needs about the length of a football field (over 300 feet) to come to a stop from 60 mph on dry, flat roads. Larger vehicles, depending on length, weight, tire condition, brake quality, driver reaction time, etc, need 400-500 feet or more. So when someone pulls right in front of our bumper and slows down, that isn’t just stupid–it’s suicidal.
What’s even worse is that in our big vehicle we might survive, and have to live with crushing and killing the person in front of us. No matter whose fault it is that is not something we want to happen. So it’s important to know your vehicle and yourself. Keep your vehicle maintained and only drive when you are well-rested, alert and fully sober. As for the crazies out on the road, there isn’t much you can do other than keep your distance as much as possible.
3. Decision fatigue sucks for RVers
If you travel a lot, you may spend a lot of time making decisions. Where are we going? What will we see when we are there? Where will we stay? Invariably plans don’t always work out. The campground you wanted is booked, or it starts snowing in May, or the attraction you wanted to visit closed for repairs and they didn’t mention it on the website.
Then the process starts all over again.
You have to find the best rhythm for you, one that doesn’t wear you out too quickly but doesn’t leave you feeling stuck in a place you picked either. Here are some things that are generally true about travelling if you pay for places to stay:
- The longer you stay, you usually get the best discount on the cost. The most expensive stay is the nightly rate for less than a week.
- The more often you move, the more you pay in gas.
- The longer/more often you travel, the more fatigued you are and the less time you have to see sights along the way.
A good rule of thumb is to travel no more than 200 miles in a day and then give yourself a rest. 200 miles in an RV usually takes us 4-6 hours including stops. Ideally, after taking a trip that long I prefer to stay somewhere for a week or more.
If you haven’t seen our monthly expense reports, our average expenses for lodging, food, gas and entertainment run $1200-1800 per month. Even when we traveled daily, mostly boondocking and only occasionally stayed in campgrounds, our costs stayed about the same. But that meant our gas costs went up while our lodging went down.
The RV life isn’t a race. It’s more flexible than your old life, and isn’t about living up to anyone’s standards for a good life but your own. If you start experiencing decision fatigue (or any other kind of fatigue), literally or figuratively pull over and rest.
4. Something always needs fixing
If you follow any number RV bloggers/vloggers that discuss their day-to-day life with honesty, you will see almost all of them regularly talking about some repair or maintenance. I see this whether the RV is a 1980s van, a 2000s towable or a high-end motorcoach. Whether they owned the RV for years or just bought it a few months ago, things go wrong.
This is true for many reasons:
- Most RVs are not built for daily use over the course of years. They are meant as vacation vehicles. The materials and design don’t hold up well to daily use.
- Driving an RV is like putting a house through an earthquake. There are some structural differences that make an RV better able to withstand the vibrations, bumps and rocking of a road. However, you can’t fully prevent the effects.
- Over time, even some of the “good” manufacturers started to use lower-quality materials. I’ve walked in brand-new, 6-figure RVs that have plastic sinks and faucets, and low-end cabinetry. The claim is the materials are such to save weight, and that is at least partially true. But is the weight difference between a plastic faucet or sink and a metal one really going to compromise the safety and performance of the RV?
- RVs are vehicles, not houses. So if you park for a while and let the tires sit, they will start to rot. If you don’t run the engine and change the oil, it may start to fail. If you don’t properly maintain the batteries, they will die. Conversely, heavy use of a vehicle creates its own wear and you still have to worry about the tires, the engine, the batteries.
- There is no such thing as a 20-year roof on a RV like on a sticks-and-bricks building. You can put a roof on a house and may never need to do anything to it for 20 years, but you can’t do that on an RV.
While these realities are part of RV life and definitely suck, they are not without remedy to at least make things easier. Here are some things you can do.
- Thoroughly inspect any RV you plan to buy. See my post about how to buy an RV and the accompanying checklist in the Resource Library. While this isn’t a guarantee that you won’t experience problems, it can at least help prevent catastrophic disaster.
- Perform all regular maintenance for your RV. The manufacturer user manual usually has a checklist and how often each item should be performed. Many things can be done yourself.
- Check for loose screws, leaks, loose wire connections and cracks all the time.
- If you even think something is wrong, address it right away before it gets worse.
5. Places to stay can suck for RVers
The average RV park is nothing spectacular. It’s a parking space, which may or may not be level or paved. Other RVs are just a few feet away and you can see, hear and smell everything the owners do.
The address for the RV park is in the city you want to visit, but it’s so far away from town you might as well be in another city. Or it’s in a bad neighborhood that you would never otherwise choose to stay in, but you don’t have any other choices.
On-site amenities like showers or laundry get heavy use and aren’t in good condition. Water pressure at your site is poor. There isn’t enough power to the pedestal to run your air conditioner. The “free high-speed internet” is a joke.
There are rules about quiet times, keeping your space clutter-free, maintaining your RV and leash laws that people don’t follow and aren’t enforced. You feel like you’re the only rule-follower and complaints to management fall on deaf ears.
All this and you pay $15-50 per night (or more) for the pleasure of staying here.
Or, you can go for free places to stay. If you’re out in nature that’s wonderful. But if you need to stay in a city then your choices for free spots are Wal-Marts, truck stops, casinos, or taking your chances on the street. You have even less control over ambient noise and people are more likely to harass you. You may receive permission to stay somewhere but later have someone pounding on your door in the middle of the night, telling you to leave.
At Wal-Marts we also had homeless people knock on our door asking for food or money. We never had that when we lived in a house. I guess the upside is that when you’re parked at a Wal-Mart, door-to-door salespeople don’t knock on your door.
The remedy to these problems is fairly simple. Do your research on every place you stay. I use Yelp, RV Park Reviews, Good Sam and Campendium. They are all free. For places like Wal-Mart I paid a one-time fee to buy the AllStays app on my phone (it has paid places too). Even though it’s very comprehensive, we always also check with management at any place that AllStays says it’s ok to stay.
Nothing can prevent all unpleasant experiences. Just like you can stay in one of the nicest hotels and have your toilet break or have a bunch of drunk kids throwing a party in the room next to you, this is the risk you take. It just sucks a little more when this is your day-to-day life, not a vacation.
The good news is your house is on wheels and you can move it elsewhere if things are bad enough.
6. Public perception can suck for RVers
I don’t know whether it’s the size of the vehicle or our age, but I feel like everywhere we go people are staring at us as we drive by.
Even when we meet other RVers, they are surprised when we tell them we’re full-timers and not just on vacation. They question how we can afford to live this way and what we do for work.
People often also ask the money questions of Ryan–assuming he is the breadwinner and I’m just his housewife or something. This even happens with people close to our own age.
Most RVers are law-abiding citizens who make an honest living and live in an RV by choice, not because they would otherwise be homeless. But the ones who park illegally in neighborhoods and build shanty towns under overpasses are the ones who show up in the news. The ones who deal drugs and leave trash on the ground and set fires are the ones people remember. The RVers who passed through and didn’t make any trouble aren’t even noticed, so it’s like we don’t exist.
But there are people who do all those things living in houses, apartments and cardboard boxes. They aren’t exclusive to RV life, and they would probably act that way no matter where they lived.
So lead by example, and don’t let someone else’s bad behavior be an excuse for you to be a jerk, too. Be the friendly face, the quiet neighbor, and the respectful visitor that leaves a good impression on everyone you meet.