The Beginner’s Guide to Full-Time RV Living

The Beginner’s Guide to Full-Time RV Living

Get Started Living in Your RV Full-Time

Living in your Travel Trailer during a road trip or short-term vacation can be an enjoyable experience when everything is done correctly, and your plans fall into place. It may even convince you that you are cut out for full-time RV living. Contrary to popular opinion, though, full-time RV living is not as easy as it may seem – especially to those with limited experience or knowledge of everything included in this hefty package. This beginner’s guide will at least help you to get started on the right foot by outlining everything you need to know to be successful.

Take Multiple Test Runs of Various Lengths

Take Multiple Test Runs of Various Lengths
Take Multiple Test Runs of Various Lengths

Before you dive into the wonderful world of full-time RV living, you should schedule a series of trial runs. This is not the type of lifestyle where you can go from 0-60 overnight. For instance, if your only experience with RV living is the weekend road trip that you took with your family across state lines, that is simply not enough. You should “test the waters” first by planning a series of test runs.

Extend your stays gradually in length to get a more accurate demonstration of what you will experience full-time. For instance, you may start with 3-5 day test runs. However, you should also ramp up those trials to 3-5 weeks and even 3-5 months before walking away from your typical home life for good.

Analyze the Size of Your RV vs. Space Requirements

Analyze the Size of Your RV vs. Space Requirements
Analyze the Size of Your RV vs. Space Requirements

Another important part of the process to prepare you for full-time RV living is to analyze the size of your RV. Size does matter when it comes to packing up and literally taking your life on the road. For instance, you may have rented a more compact RV just to get from Point A to Point B during your last vacation. However, you must remember that your space requirements will drastically change with full-time RV living.

It is highly recommended to test different rig sizes when scheduling your trial runs and short-term vacations. This will get you comfortable with the various options available to you and help you to accurately determine which option is the most practical fit for your specific needs.

Shop Around and Simulate RV Life Before Purchasing One

Once you identify your specific RV needs for this full-time life change, it is time to go shopping! Keep in mind that this is not the same as shopping for any other vehicle. You are not buying a new car or minivan – you are essentially buying a home. Therefore, you should approach this shopping experience as you would any real estate transaction.

  • Shop around with a few different dealerships/agencies to find the best deals available.
  • Visit and explore the RVs in person. Online listings and photos will not tell you everything you need to know about your future home.
  • Simulate RV life within each option that you seriously consider. For instance, lay on the bed to test its space limitations and comfort duration. Pretend to use the kitchen as if you were cooking a meal. Use the bathroom, sit in the tub, stand in the shower, etc.

One part that the RV shopping experience does have in common with vehicle shopping is the test drive. In addition to sitting in the driver’s seat, you need to be able to take the RV out on the road for a test drive to ensure it is a solid match.

Work Under the Hood & Become Comfortable with the Mechanics

Work Under the Hood & Become Comfortable with the Mechanics
Work Under the Hood & Become Comfortable with the Mechanics

When renting an RV for a short-term vacation, you do not have to worry about the maintenance side of the equation very much. Depending on the conditions of your contract, the rental company may be able to bear the bulk of this weighty burden on your behalf. When you are living in an RV full-time, though, that full burden is placed on your shoulders.

Does this mean that you should be an expert mechanic (or at least have one living with you) to be successful? No! You should spend quality time with the RV, though – getting to know your future “home on wheels” a lot more than you currently do. For instance, focus on the fuse box, electrical system, and other key elements under the hood.

Familiarize yourself with all aspects of maintenance and repair that your RV may need along the way. From poorly sealed windows and roof leaks to wiring issues and engine tune-ups, you must be able to identify the various telltale signs & warning signals long before they escalate into RV life-threatening disasters.

Examine Your Inventory Closely & Cut the Fat

You may not realize it, but the old saying that “you can’t take it with you” applies to full-time RV living as well. As you walk throughout your home, you need to accept the grim reality that you will not be able to take everything with you. You must change your perspective regarding your expanding collection of “closet clutter” and general belongings. In fact, instead of viewing them as your “personal belongings,” refer to them as part of your inventory. This will help you to remove (or at least reduce) your emotional and mental attachments, allowing you to view it more as a business owner instead of a homeowner. 

Determine the high-priority essential items that will require a space within your RV.

More importantly, prepare yourself to “cut the fat” and sever ties with the nonessential items. Perhaps you can donate those items to charity or give them away to family & friends. You could even sell them in a yard sale or online auction. You should also consider investing in a self-storage option to store the items that you cannot get rid of completely but also cannot fit in your RV.

A cornerstone of successful full-time RV living is simplicity. If you are not able to simplify your belongings, then perhaps you are not quite ready for this major lifestyle change.

Budget, Budget, and Budget Some More

First-time RV travelers and other novices of full-time RV living may not fully understand the vital role played by their budget. A common misconception is that you will spend a lot less money on the road than when you lived in a home that could not hit the highway. This is the type of trap that will lead you to burn a large hole in your bank account and perhaps killing your dream of full-time RV living.

Create a strict budget before you hit the road. More importantly, calculate the various streams of income that you will still be able to generate behind the wheel.

For instance, you should consider your:

  • Current balance of checking & savings accounts
  • Income from interest-bearing financial accounts
  • Income from remote work that you can do on the road
  • Residual income (perhaps from commissioned sales)
  • Retirement/disability/Social Security income (if applicable)

You must also focus on the short-term and long-term expenses you must pay at different stages of your life on the road.

It is easy to think about the standard vehicle-related expenses, such as oil changes, engine tune-ups, and gasoline fill-ups. However, the broad scope of full-time RV living includes quite a few additional expenses.

For instance, you must consider the:

  • Campground expenses (if you plan to stay in RV parks and campsites each night)
  • RV ownership expenses (i.e., monthly payments, insurance premiums)
  • Maintenance, repairs and other unexpected/unscheduled expenses
  • Groceries, clothing and other basic living expenses
  • Comforts and recreation (i.e., dining out, entertainment, shopping, etc.)

Consider the Needs of Your Whole Family

Consider the Needs of Your Whole Family
Consider the Needs of Your Whole Family

You must carefully consider the short-term and long-term needs of your family before you commit to full-time RV living. Once again, it is easy to think, “My family loved the RV lifestyle during our last vacation!” However, spending a weekend, week, or even a couple of summer months in an RV does not automatically mean that your family can handle full-time RV living.

Take the time to consider the needs of each family member. For instance, you should think about such areas as:

  • Healthcare (i.e., in-network vs out-of-network medical costs, etc.)
  • Education (i.e., homeschooling children, online college courses, etc.)
  • Social life and personal development

You should also consider the needs of your canine and/or feline family members as well. This will play a major role in your campground selections because not all campsites are pet-friendly. In addition, there are additional expenses associated with having pets on the road. Fortunately, there are veterinary providers with branches and locations throughout the country.

However, you will still have to consider such factors as the temperature of your RV, microchips, vaccinations, waste disposal, and the various stops you will need to make just to cater to their needs. Therefore, an even bigger question to ask yourself is, “Will my pet(s) need to find a new home?” You may be able to answer that question with a resounding, “NO!” Nonetheless, it is still a question that you must ask and honestly answer.

Prepare for Life “Off the Grid”

Prepare for Life “Off the Grid”
Prepare for Life “Off the Grid”

The popularity and prevalence of the Internet make it nearly impossible to imagine living life "off the grid". Fortunately, even when living in an RV full-time, you can remain connected to the outside world. However, you may need to get creative and make a few wise investments before you hit the road to prevent extended periods of downtime.

For instance, you may need to use your smartphone as a Wi-Fi hotspot on the road. Therefore, you may need to reexamine your existing data plan to see if any upgrades are required. Perhaps you could also benefit from buying a cell signal booster or investing in a satellite option to keep you connected – especially if remote work will play a major role in your monthly income streams. Remember to consider the wide variety of coffee shops; rest stops, libraries and other public Wi-Fi hotspots that you will encounter on the road.

A good tip is to get used to living your life detached from the Internet and “the grid” now. Regardless of the signal boosters and hotspots, you may have, you will inevitably encounter dead zones along the way where you will have no other choice but to live offline for a while.

Continue to Research and Network with Other RV Owners

Continue to Research and Network with Other RV Owners
Continue to Research and Network with Other RV Owners

Once you have made the commitment and started to “live the life” of a full-time RV resident, this does not mean that your research and learning opportunities must end. You should continue to research RV life thoroughly because there will always be new aspects of this adventure for you to explore.

The community of RV owners will continue to grow year-after-year, especially with the increasing numbers of home-based businesses, telecommuting workers, and retirees that want to enjoy life on the road. This means that there will always be people that can teach you new tricks & tips or that will even pick your brain to learn the rules of the road themselves. Take the time now to research and bookmark a variety of online resources, forums, groups and even social media pages that can help you along the way. As the old saying goes, “many hands will make the load light” when it comes to managing a full-time RV lifestyle.

In addition to receiving a lot of help to benefit your family, think about the vast number of families that you will be able to help!

Maintain Realistic Expectations

It is easy to look at the overall burden associated with full-time RV living and say, “You know what? Never mind!” Realistically, though, the same could be said about any major life decision – such as buying a car, buying a home, moving to a different state/country, or even having a baby. The key is to take the necessary steps to prepare yourself and your family for the expected (and the unexpected) and maintain realistic expectations along the way.

As most full-time RV residents will tell you, the benefits can far outweigh the overall burden.

You just need to be honest with yourself and understand that it is not a decision that should ever be taken lightly or made on impulse.

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