Living in an RV full time: The Ultimate Guide
Living in an RV full time, for many people, is a dream.
For others, it is a reality.
So how do you go about making your dream a reality?
In the post, you’ll learn:
- If RV living full time is right for you
- How to let go
- How to sell your unnecessary belongings(or keep them)
- The best things about living full time in an RV
- How to set a full time RV budget
- Earning while RVing
- Some pitfalls you may not have considered
- And finally, how to take the plunge, get an RV, and start living the dream!
Part 1: Is RV Living Full Time right for me?
Perhaps your sense of adventure is tingling, or you feel like ditching everything and living closer to nature. An RV is a way many folks(over 1 million Americans) live their lives.
But is RVing for you? You need to figure out the answers to these important questions before you can take the plunge.
1) Why do you want to start living in an RV?
Although this is a very general and possibly vague question, it’s also the most important. Why do you want to live in an RV?
- Is it because you wish to downsize and become a minimalist?
- Is it because you want to see the entire country?
- Is it because you want to live closer to nature?
- Is it because you just want to get away from it all for a while?
The great thing about living in an RV full time is that it’s not a permanent decision. You can either choose to live there permanently or you can eventually move back into a normal home after you feel like you’ve completed this chapter in your life and got the fulfillment you wanted from the open road.
2) Can you manage to live with less?
RVs have limited space, so of course, you’ll have to keep limited stuff. Some folks are really attached to their material possessions. If you are, you may have a hard time letting go of things.
There’s more on that later in the post: how to keep your things, or how to sell your things.
Of course, the real beauty of the RV lifestyle is indeed detaching yourself from material possessions and learning to appreciate everything else.
But instead of 10 pairs of shoes, you’ll only have space for one or two.
Instead of a large wardrobe, you’ll have a small cabinet.
Your kitchen can only hold the absolute necessities.
Your bathroom will be smaller.
And so on…
3) Can you deal with uncertainty?
Living in an RV will be an adventure every single day. A brick and mortar home has a layer of added security(not in a safety sense, but in a consistency sense) that RVs don’t have.
Some people live for the rush of uncertainty, though.
Anything can happen at any point. Your RV could break down in the middle of nowhere. You may have to repair something on the fly. The list goes on.
You may need medical attention in a remote area.
Are you capable or willing to handle this uncertainty? With the right perspective, this can be the whole fun of RVing in the first place.
4) Do you have an income that’s not tied to a location?
This is perhaps the most important and limiting factor to RV full time. Do you have a steady income that is not tied to a particular location? If you have to go to the office every single day, how can you roam the country?
There are two ways to go about this:
- Develop a form of passive income that you don’t need to spend lots of time on every day(easier said than done, but totally possible)
- Develop a career that’s not tied to a location such as becoming a “digital nomad”
You’ll need money to survive – the RV lifestyle is not free, though it certainly can be much cheaper than maintaining a house or apartment.
5) Is your family on board?
If you ask me, RVing is all about who you spend the time with. Isolation for me isn’t fun – though some people out there may prefer peace and quiet!
Before you take the dive into a full time RV by selling your house or all of your belongings, make sure your family is just as willing and enthusiastic to do this as you are.
Most notably, is your partner willing? You’re going to be living in a small space with this person for the foreseeable future, and a lot of responsibility is going to be shouldered by them – so they have to be 100% on board before you take such a huge decision.
If you have kids, then you have to consider that as well. If they’re old enough to go to school, how will you manage their education?
Related: Are RVs safe for babies?
6) Can you live in a small space with other people?
Are you capable of sharing your personal space all the time with other people? Some people need a little bit of personal “me-space”, even from their spouses. In an RV, you’ll be up close and personal with your partner all the time, and there will be little “independent” indoor space.
With these considerations out of the way, let’s move on to part 2: letting go!
Part 2: Letting go
Letting go is always easier than holding on, it’s how new stuff comes into your life. It’s what we tell ourselves that makes it harder.
As we prepare our house, our friends, and our lives for life on the road, we have had to get rid of a lot of stuff. Just recently I put my car up for sale. It’s a physical item, a 2003 yellow Subaru Baja that has been affectionately called the taxi. I’ve had it for 9 1/2 years and am putting it up for sale for many reasons, but a big one is to enjoy the new adventure that awaits us.
I couldn’t keep the baja and still be able to travel. There would be too much holding me back and weighing me down. Maybe that’s why minimalists feel so free. They don’t have so much stuff clogging up their lives.
It’s not just about physical stuff
This metaphor has been a lot about physical items that we keep in our lives and are weighted down by them, but there is also the emotional stuff that we hold onto and that keep us from moving on. It could be that relationship with a family member or loved one or the job that is killing you just a little bit inside every morning or it could be all those horrible things you say to yourself everyday that keeps you down and stuck. Letting go of all that could open up new ideas in your world.
There is a quiet knowing when you have to let go of something before something new comes into your life. Many times you know before you know…and it’s not just about the baja…a lot of times high school graduates know that they have to say goodbye to their old world to embrace the new–whether college, a job, or entrepreneurship. There is always an ebb and flow in life, but how do you accept it and embrace it and move on?
How to let go
It’s funny just how many emotions can be attached to a physical item:
How to be specific about what you want
If you can embrace the change, you can get more specific about what you want next. What do you want to be, what do you want to have, how do you want to make a difference and who do you want to be involved in your life?
The baja has served it’s purpose and then some. She has been so much fun to drive and so safe and reliable, but I couldn’t move on if I had to keep her. She no longer serves me and my family with all the animals and such so holding onto her became a crutch and a symbol to holding on to the past. Getting through this has helped me to realize how much more I want new adventures and has helped me release the feelings of needing her.
Since putting her up for sale and going through all these crazy emotions, I am happy to announce that she has been sold. And what is cool is she is going to a woman who had a yellow baja like mine, so I know she will love and honor my baja like I have over the years. And what’s even better is selling her has actually opened up greater sense of moving forward and becoming even more excited about our journey ahead.
Part 3a: How to sell your stuff and travel
It’s a typical question we hear often: How to sell all your stuff and travel? What do you need to do first? Buy the RV? Sell your stuff? The process seemed so huge and unmanageable.
When we started planning our escape, we searched for RV living tips to help us get started.
Then little by little, we put a plan of action together for it:
- Downsize our home
- Find an RV
- Figure out how to earn income while traveling.
I want to focus on the first bullet point for this article. We’d owned a home for several years and all our stuff had piled up even though we’re not big shoppers.
But we had the typical list of stuff like a TV that wouldn’t fit in our RV. Two cars that we no longer needed. A whole garage full of woodworking tools. We had CDs, DVDs, furniture, kitchen items, hobby supplies, and more.
This outline was our “get rid of stuff” plan. It will help you with the process as well.
Focus on One Room at a Time
Map out your house and pick a room. If a whole room is too much, pick a closet to work on. Or even that crazy bulging junk drawer. We had a 3/2 house and we picked the spare closet to be our first “room” to deal with.
Get 3 boxes for each room.
- Box one for sale items
- Box two for donations
- Box three is for storage
Bring a trash bin for anything else.
As you pick up each item, decide which box to put it in. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a great book on deciding what to keep if you’re having trouble.
Keep in mind that your new home will be less than 300 square feet.
On your first decluttering day just getting to this part will be a huge accomplishment. Remember, you’ve spent years acquiring all this stuff. Don’t expect to finish it all in one day.
Declutter the Rooms Together
Unless you are completely confident on what stays and what goes, work on each room together. Otherwise, you’ll keep more stuff for the “just in case” or the “Joe might want this”.
Decluttering together also gives you a common goal and focus and helps you get on the same page for your plan.
After you finish your first closet or room, take a break.
Call it a day.
Celebrate that you’ve started the process.
Remember that this is a lot to do and the biggest hurdle is going from thinking about it to doing it.
Put it on the Calendar
List out your remaining rooms and put them on the calendar to complete. Pick the rooms that you use the least to go through first. They should be easier to deal work.
Think of it like building up your decluttering muscles. Tackle the bigger rooms last when you have more stamina to handle them.
Part 3b: How to sell your stuff(after you’ve already left)
What if you’re already on the road and kept too much stuff?
That’s the question we got from a reader. They’ve been full timing for 3 years and have roughly $9,000 in storage fees for a pod.
We went through the same thing after getting on the road. We had a storage unit for possessions we couldn’t live without. Then after living without them for two years, we realized we didn’t need all that stuff. Plus the cost for the storage unit was adding up.
Most of the steps I share are useful if you’re in the area and have time to work on the process.
How to Sell Your Stuff Without a Garage Sale
When you’re already in your rig, you don’t have the luxury of holding your own garage or yard sale. So how do you get around that?
Ask a friend to hold a garage/yard sale and see if you can add your items.
We used this approach before we left. We were out of our house, but still had a lot of stuff to get rid of. Our best friends were willing to hold a garage sale at their house since they had items to sell too. It ended up being a 3-4 household garage sale and we all kept track of our items in designated areas.
Community Garage Sales
If you don’t have friends who can host a garage sale, look for community garage sales in your area. These are usually run by a church or a neighborhood. Local charity organizations might also be organizing a yard sale. You can ask to “rent” a booth from them.
You can also see how much it would cost to rent a booth at a flea market. (we haven’t done this, but hear it can work well.)
If you have higher ticket items, use Craigslist to post each item by itself and be willing to negotiate. This can be time-consuming so make sure you’re in the area to pull it off.
After having our storage unit for two years, we used Craigslist for the bulk of our items.
We were in town and had the time to do this.
When people responded to our craigslist post, we’d meet them at the storage unit. Use lots of pictures and descriptions on the posts.
If you have furniture then try the garage sale or flea market approach. Craigslist was horrible for selling furniture.
We had a new bedroom suite that we couldn’t sell before we left. After two years in the storage unit, we reduced the asking price. Furniture just doesn’t seem to hold value.
Third Party Help
If you’re not in the area or just don’t want to deal with the hassle, you might find a local Estate/Buyout service. They will negotiate a full buyout on things like your storage unit or your pod.
For example, this is a company in Tampa doing complete storage unit buyouts.
I don’t know how much companies charge for that service. Weigh the pros and cons for the monthly pod payment vs getting rid of everything to see if it’s a good fit for you.
You could also negotiate with a third party eBay seller. They take a percentage of all eBay sales, but they do all the work too. From taking photos to listing everything online for you. They usually do the same for Craigslist as well.
Part 3c: How not to get rid of your stuff
Over the weeks I have written about the best ways to sell your stuff and go traveling. After spending the last two days chasing our tails, I thought I would share how not do it.
- Do pack things in boxes and two weeks later decide that you can’t live without the contents. We have gone through these boxes three times now–adding things, taking away things and fretting over the contents. My advice: if you have a box, take it to charity or out of your house as soon as you can. Otherwise in the moments of least willpower, you will wonder why you let go of the holy, stained shirt and try to keep it for “posterity”.
- Do make piles for storage, craigslist, and yard sale and then forget which pile is which. We thought we were being clever by setting up “stations” in the house. Now all the boxes have mingled and think they all belong together, so we have to separate them…again.
- Do forget that you are moving into a smaller space (in our case, about 200 square foot home) on wheels and you won’t need all that liquor. Yes, that beautiful bar setup at the house for those impromptu “parties” (even if it was just the two of you) won’t work the same on the RV. The sheer weight of the liquor will tip it over. Drink it all now before you go.
- Do forget to tell your love how wonderful she is for being such a great salesman, It’s not easy dealing with a bunch of strangers at all hours of the day and night, especially when they are practicing the negotiation tactics that they read about on the interwebs on how to get stuff for free. Thank her for not getting into any fights.
- Do forget the whole reason why you are doing all this craziness in the first place and how much fun and adventurous it will be once you finally get on the road.
Part 4: The best things about living full time in an RV
Throughout our travels when people realize we are living the full time rv lifestyle, they typically start asking what it’s like living in an rv and what are the pitfalls.
They talk about how much they wish they could live the rv life…
Their voices usually trail off into the thousand of reasons why they can’t become rv full timers. And it’s usually because they think there is so much more you need to know before going full time.
I reached out to the Full time RV community and asked them all:What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before you became rv full timers?
I received several great responses from RV’ers, many of whom have been doing this long before it was cool. Here’s are many of their full time rv living tips
Bob, Cheap RV Living
How wonderful it is! I would have done it much sooner!
Howard, RV Dreams
That’s a great question that is difficult for us to answer.
Though we researched the lifestyle for only a short time, we were still pretty prepared. And what we didn’t know, it was better for us to learn from experience.
This doesn’t really answer your question, but we wish we would have discovered this lifestyle much earlier and planned better for it from a financial standpoint.
Had we started planning five years earlier we might not be in the position of having to earn income on the road. Then again, had that been the case, the events that led us to this lifestyle may not have occurred and we may not be where we are.
Wish I had a better answer, but we really believe we knew just enough and, though there are some minor things we wished we’d known, there is nothing major.
In fact, there are certain things we were better off not knowing.Had we known what we know now, we probably would never have purchased our current RV and that would have been a shame because we love it and we’ve modified it over the years for safety and comfort and now we can’t find anything we would trade it for.
Ray, Love Your RV
I wish I had known how little stuff we now need in our lives.
It would have saved us a fair chunk of money we spent paying to store items that we now no longer need.
Things I was so attached to back then I now could care less about now. Last year we reduced our storage room from 10’x14′ down to 5’x8′, and could have gone even smaller had my wife not had a major attachment to an old antique piano.
Tons got sold off at the local flea market. We realize now it cost more to store most things than they are worth.
Also we need a lot less stuff in the rig than we initially thought. It would have been nice to have had a crystal ball and known how little stuff we really needed for our full time RV life.
Jamie, RV Lifestyle Experts
It would have made things easier if we had known for sure that we could get high-paying jobs
(relative to most seasonal work) and that we could be very flexible with our budget and live on much less than in our sticks and bricks life.
John and Kathy, Living the RV Dream
We wish we had known how to relax and enjoy the moment, rather than go go go and do do do as fast as we could. We do know now how to relax.
Nick, Gypsy Journal RV
Wow, we’ve learned so much and it’s hard to say.
If I had to choose just one thing, I’d say not to over commit to all of the friends and family who all wanted us to come visit them in different parts of the country.
We spent the first couple of years running our wheels off back and forth across the country before we learned to slow down and take a slower pace
Tiffani, Weasel Mouth
I think we would’ve researched towing vehicles a little more looking back on it.
(Don’t forget researching rv backup cameras as well)
Our first Airstream was a 22′ so we didn’t have a problem with that, but with our 27′ we got a Tundra, which was great — but it didn’t have the payload we really needed and we had some issues going up mountains.
We eventually got a Ford F250 and we feel that’s doing an excellent job for us in every type of condition and situation.
We probably should’ve looked more carefully at trucks but we spent all our energy on the actual Airstream (which we’ve never had a doubt is the right one for us)!
Susanne, RV Adventuring
I don’t think I realized how many things could go wrong with an RV and need fixing, or how much repairs might cost – but if I’d known it wouldn’t have stopped me.
I was pretty excited about the whole adventure.
Most of my anxiety before starting out was all about driving such a big vehicle and towing another – and that turned out to be a lot easier than anticipated.
Scared and anxious is just the flip-side of excited I think – and I was determined.
Melissa, Little House Living
We learned that you need SO much less than what you think you need to get by.
And when you think you’ve gotten rid of everything you don’t need you can always find more that you can get rid of.
We’ve learned that together as a family, we can get through anything.
Jack, Jack Dan Mayer
We did lots of research before becoming full time RVers.
About ten years worth!
We quickly settled on a 5th wheel as being the right RV for our needs. We decided to purchase a new fifth wheel to get “exactly” what we wanted.
In our local area (three state) we had limited choices of dealers and products. In the end we did buy from a local dealer.
What would have been a better strategy would have been to look nationwide for a used higher quality RV and then upgrade it to our specific needs.
We would have gotten more for the money, and not spent as much on the total package. Most fulltimers that stay “on the road” change coaches several times.
Your chances of finding the “perfect” coach initially – even if you are already an experienced RVer (as we were) – are statistically not good.
So the advice I give people is to seriously consider a high quality used coach when you start out. Also remember – service and support from a local dealer are not really relevant to a fulltimer. You are never ‘local’
Mary, The Blonde Coyote
I lived out of my car for six years in between house sitting gigs before I got my trailer so the Teardrop – all 50 square feet of it – was a major upgrade for me in terms of both space and comfort.The best advice I can give somebody starting out is that you don’t have to have it all figured out before you hit the road.
Better to start rolling and figure out what you need along the way
Emily, Road Less Traveled
I can think of a few small things, but they pertain more to our particular circumstances than anything that would be more generally helpful to others planning their escape to full-timing.
One is that I wish I’d studied WordPress before we started, as my blog has become a focal point in our daily lives. It gives me a creative outlet for writing and for visually presenting our photos, and it has given both of us a reason to improve our photography and learn more about visual art.
After learning and working in another web page building format for five years I had to convert my site to WordPress when it outgrew the other platform a few years ago, and that ended up occupying almost all my waking hours for one full summer.
However, I don’t see how I could have learned it before we left since I was very busy in my former lifestyle and didn’t have one spare minute to devote to something like that.
The other thing is that I wish I’d known that renting out our house would be a far better solution than selling it. We sold it three weeks before we left but then the buyers backed out.
This caused us undue grief and stress and misery in our final 10 days before moving out. We had already sold or given away almost all our belongings, and we were going full-time come hell or high water.
We ended up renting the house in the last week, and we have had tenants ever since.
This has worked out really well and we are both so glad we didn’t sell.We started full-timing before the economic meltdown in 2008, and owning rental property has provided us with a very stable income through all the ups and downs.
It would have been nice to have been spared all those last minute tears and fears when our buyer walked.It would have been easier if we had just planned on leasing our house in the first place instead of trying to sell it.Other than those two tiny things, everything has worked out as we hoped.
The full-time traveling lifestyle has been pure joy for us for the past 7.5 years, and all the things we “kinda knew” before we left have become things we know now for sure. We knew about boondocking and planned to boondock 100% of the time before we started, so we put solar on the roof in the first week of owning our rig.
Within months we found we loved boondocking so much that we both became very adamant that if we couldn’t boondock we wouldn’t live in an RV.We also knew ahead of time that the lifestyle would be inexpensive, and that has proven true.
One of our many reasons for going full-time was to get to know our country better, and we now know much of it very well, although in many ways we have just scratched the surface. There is a certain thrill of seeing places mentioned in the news or of seeing beautiful photos and recognizing the locations, and being able to name the spot, and having memories attached to them.
Lastly, we knew that our lives and those of our closest friends and family would continue on their own trajectories without the daily interactions that we had before we left. We knew that the relationships would not only survive but would thrive, as we would all grow in our own ways.
We have inspired our friends and family to believe in their travel dreams and to plan for a life beyond the normal workaday lifestyle, and they, in turn, have welcomed us whenever we’ve returned, and made us feel we have a wonderful place and community to come home to.
Part 5: Setting up a Full time RV budget
Here’s the big question! How much does it cost to live in an RV?
One of the first things you want to get if you are researching full time rv living is to create a full time rv budget. Few people like to talk about budgets I know. To be honest, I’m one of them, but over the years of traveling on the road, I’ve realized how important it is to have a full time rv budget and a worksheet to see how things are going. We don’t use it everyday or anything, we just review things monthly or so just to make sure everything is on track and to see if we got off our budget, what happened and plan accordingly for the next couple of months.
Creating an rv budget does wonders to help you plan out your rv living expenses and lets you know how much you really need to live on. Full time rving budget also relieves any anxiety on whether or not you can afford to live full time on the road and just how much traveling you’ll be doing.
Several sites have created an rv living budget to use for your own expenses. This takes out the guesswork of what all do you need to include and you can just tweak it to suit your own needs.
How to Keep a Budget
I’m not a financial planner, but we do keep track of what we spend money on and have a budget spreadsheet to make sure we stay within our means while on the road.
You want to keep track o everything on your budget worksheet. This includes your usual monthly expenses and also a monthly breakdown of any annual expenses. For instance, we use Amazon Prime for their free two day shipping, music, and book loaning. It’s an annual expense, so we have a monthly line item to show that.
The main site I recommend to look at for your full time rv living budget is RV-Dreams. They have detailed spreadsheets and example rv living budgets that they have used for several years. Once you see how others use a budget for their travels, you can start using your own budget to keep track of all your cost of rv living.
Keeping a budget also coincides with just how risk averse are you? There are some full time rvers who need a large emergency fund in case something goes wrong while on the road while others tend to have a smaller fund and rely on their ability to make money quickly in case something happens. Your personal preference will dictate how much you need.
In addition to our budget spreadsheet, we have a Mint account that pulls in all the data from our bank account and from there we can setup. Ideally, you only need to use one or the other, but sometimes we still use both. The software is a nice way to see if we truly are staying on track with our budget and if not, it provides a quick glance of where we went wrong.
It’s free to sign up for Mint. They get paid by offering you various products over the years and if you use their suggestion, they get a commission. We’ve never purchased anything through their links and still get the software for free.
Part 6: Earning while Rving
Earning is likely going to be your greatest challenge, assuming you don’t already have some form of passive income. Not to worry, though – with a little hustle, anybody can create a location independent income!
If you’ve got some extra cash lying around, consider putting it in a safe investment that will get you a steady income. If you don’t have enough to earn a meaningful return every month at this point, don’t worry.
It’s becoming easier and easier to earn location independent incomes thanks to the internet. All you literally need is an internet connection, a laptop, and some dedication, and you’re good to go.
It won’t be easy, that’s for sure – but as long as you treat your new income source as a proper job and give it time and effort, you can succeed online.
Before linking out to some online income ideas, here’s a list of 9 offline ways to make money traveling the United States:
Online means of income:
Part 7: RV living pitfalls you may not have considered
Of course, RV living full time isn’t completely rosy, and there are a few pitfalls which may seem overwhelming unless you’re well prepared for them.
We’ve written about these pitfalls in detail here, but below is a quick gist as a list:
- No safety net
- Less physical space(indoors, of course, but the whole point is living OUTdoors)
- Less privacy
- No set routine(since you’re not bound to one place, there’s no coffee shop you always stop by)
- Medical issues
- Internet and TV
- New neighbors
- No assets
- Regional sports
Part 8: Taking the plunge
So you’re ready to take the plunge, buy an RV, and get started? Great!
- Understanding the different types of RVs
- Buying a towable RV for under $5000
- Buying a motorized RV for under $15k
- Powering your RV: generators
- What to do when driving
- Top national park campgrounds to visit
- Should you tow your car behind your RV?
- Mail forwarding services
- Roadside assistance plans for RVs
- Finding RV parking spots
- Boondock camping – RV living for cheap
- RV Storage tips