Everyone’s experience will be a little different but this list represents 10 of the most common challenges a full-time RVer will face as they try to figure out life on the road. This list doesn’t aim to answer all these questions but hopefully, we can get you going in the right direction. Being a full-timer is not common, but neither is it all that rare. According to the 2000 census, some 260,000 people said they had a non-traditional hoe with no permanent address. That means whatever the challenges, a great many people have made it work and their advice is not hard to find.
The Challenge: Going full time has two money challenges: getting the initial capital to acquire your RV and maintaining an income while on the road. The cost of an RV can vary wildly from million dollar motorhomes to a used travel trailer your Uncle is practically giving away. The key is to figure out what your budget is and then get the best value possible. If you have a source of regular income lined up, then taking a loan may make good sense. If not, then I’d suggest buying it outright to minimize monthly expenses. Making an income on the road, however, can be a real challenge. Most traditional employment expects you to show up at a given place at a given time every weekday and when you travel around, that just isn’t possible.
The Silver Lining: Life on the road is generally pretty cheap. Rent for RV spots is typically much less than renting an apartment or paying a mortgage. Sometimes it is even free. And you only rarely pay for utility charges. You can choose residency in a state with low taxes, and because you have less stuff, you will find there is less maintenance to pay.
Advice: If you can’t yet afford an RV, saving up is the way to go. It’s also handy once you are on the road. I was very impressed with this article: 100 great tips for saving money. Pretty much every single one of them is good practical advice. For making a living on the road, there is no better resource than our friends Heath and Alyssa. They specialize in helping people find a way to make a living on the road.
The Challenge: Most of us own a lot of stuff and the older you get, the more stuff you end up with. Living in an RV generally means you have to get rid of most of your stuff, and that can be very hard for some folks. It can also be a surprising amount of work to pair down and sell off what you own.
The Silver Lining: First off, you can make a fair bit of money selling your stuff, enough to buy a lot of adventure and possibly help pay for your RV. That’s partly how we financed our adventure. There are also some advantages to living with less, both financial and emotional.
Advice: I’ve written a few articles on the subject of downsizing for full time living which I think can help you with the process. Stuff Part 2: Five Principles to Purge By, Stuff Part 3: The Benefits of Having Less, and Learning to Be a Minimalist.
Friends and Family
The Challenge: For those of us who plant deep roots, packing up and hitting the road can be hard. It can also be very painful for those you love, especially if they rely on you. Some full timers have faced resentment and anger from loved ones because of their decision. Too often people just don’t understand the motivations for wanting to be a full timer. Other times they can simply be jealous.
The Silver Lining: Going on the road is in some ways less dramatic a departure than moving to a permanent address far from home. You have an RV and you can swing back to the home turf whenever you feel the urge or have the need. Not only that, you can travel to visit relatives and friends in other places and spend as much time there as you like without imposing since you brought your own accommodations.
Advice: While we didn’t have many difficulties on this front ourselves I wrote this guide to help folks struggling with these issues: Going Full Time: Talking to Friends and Family. I think it is a good place to start.
The Challenge: The biggest challenge with RVing with children is schooling. Unless you plan to stay in one spot for the school year, you will be home-schooling your children. It’s a big challenge and a big commitment, but it can be very rewarding for everyone involved. You may also be in a situation where your kids are not as enthusiastic about the prospect as you are. They face all the same challenges in terms of friends and family as you will, but possibly without as much control. Beyond school, activities like sports and other social clubs are not really an option.
The Silver Lining: Traveling is an incredibly enriching experience and the opportunities for hands-on learning are worlds beyond what most children have access to. The opportunity to teach through travel will also expand your own horizons and lead to very engaging experiences. Finally, you will spend far more time with your kids that you otherwise are likely to.
Advice: We don’t have children so we can’t honestly provide our own advice and it’s not easy for us to judge the quality of others advice either. That said, here is a link to get started with homeschooling. For further inspiration, I liked this article on The Scenic Route which talks about the positive sides of RV life for kids. I think the bottom line is that together as a family, you can overcome whatever challenges you face.
The Challenge: You don’t have a permanent physical address but just about everyone in the world assumes you do. Not only does this make it a challenge to get mail regularly, it can be a real stumbling block to most financial transactions and government paperwork.
The Silver Lining: Establishing a new mailing address is an opportunity to establish residence in another state which can come with various advantages. Of course, that can be a challenge of its own we will hit on later.
Advice: My experience is that it no one option will cover all your mailing needs. We use a mailing service but have some items sent to our parents. We also try to use paperless bill pay and notifications whenever possible. Since we don’t have a good article on Trail and Hitch for this just yet, I’ll refer you to a nice summary of your options over at Wand’rly.
The Challenge: Many laws are based on the state you live in, as are government services, taxes, vehicle registration, and many other things. The biggest challenge in all this for an RVer is that you may have to return to your state for things like license renewal and vehicle inspections. It can also be tricky to wrap your head around the legal ramifications or explain to bureaucrats that you are a resident of a state but don’t live in the state.
The Silver Lining: The bright side is that you can pretty much pick any state in the country to be a resident of. That means you can figure out which state has the best mix of taxes and licensing for your needs.
Advice: My article, State Residency for the Full-Time Traveler goes into a lot of detail on the subject and has links to resources so you can see what the laws and taxes are in all the states.
Internet and Phone access
The Challenge: This isn’t a big deal for every full-timer, but it certainly is for us. And finding a solution to allow us to have the kind of internet access we desire, has not been cheap or easy. Most mobile data plans offer limited data and buying extra can get incredibly expensive. Because we are always on the move, the best carrier can change from place to place, and sometimes you won’t find any signal at all. Most RV parks have wifi internet bit it is almost always frustratingly poor and unreliable for a whole host of reasons.
The Silver Lining: There really isn’t any here other than the fact that we live in an age where this kind of thing is even possible and chances are options will continue to get better with time.
Advice: No one can help you more on this subject than the fine folks at the RV Mobile Internet Resource Center. The keep up to date on all the options and have a wealth of advice to look through.
Choosing an RV and Tow Vehicle
The Challenge: There are simply a huge number of options and if you are a first time RV buyer it can be an overwhelming decision. Even if you have picked out a make and model, there are still plenty of considerations to work through. There is plenty of information out there on this topic, but that too can be challenging to sift through due to sheer volume.
The Silver Lining: The good news is that all that variety means plenty of choices for you and if you can sort out all the options, the perfect fit for your needs.
Advice: The most popular article on our blog is: Picking a Tow Vehicle For Your Airstream. It goes to show that even when you know what RV you want, there are still challenging decisions to make. If you are at square one, I have a three-part series on Choosing an RV.
The Challenge: Medical insurance in the US is governed by state laws and often assumes you live in the state in which it is issued. To keep costs down on medical services, most insurance plans have a network of covered providers in a specific area. It is much rarer to get insurance that will cover medical work no matter where you happen to be. All that is in addition to the typically challenging world of selecting insurance.
The Silver Lining: Telemedicine is on the rise with the ability to see a doctor by phone or via the internet. This can be really nice when you are out in a remote area far away from any doctors office and something comes up you want help with.
Advice: The RVer insurance exchange is a good first stop. Not only can they help you buy insurance, they have a lot of articles on this complicated subject.
The Challenge: If you have pets, especially a companion animal like a dog or cat, going on the road means making accommodations for your furry friends. The scale of your challenge will depend a lot on the temperament and needs of your pets. A rambunctious high energy animal is going to be a lot harder to transition than a mellow one.
The Silver Lining: Most animals are very adaptable and easily trained using food rewards and the like. RV parks and other places are generally very pet-friendly provided you keep your pets under your control at all times and clean up after them.
Advice: We travel with two cats and have some advice based on our Cat Litter Experience. Do It Yourself RV has a nice detailed article on getting your pets and your RV ready for travel.
Hello fellow Washington DC tourists! It was so nice to meet you on the night tour bus with the CherryHill campground bunch! Your Airstream is beautiful! Your articles are very organized & articulate and I can’t wait to read more! You are a very sweet couple Happy travels & keep smiling! Debbie (from OH retiring in 3 yrs!)
Thanks Deborah, it was great meeting you as well. And thank you for the kind words.
Meeting folks on the road and making their acquaintance is something I very much enjoy, so thank you for introducing yourself and striking up a conversation during the tour!