RV Camping

Full-Time RVing – Mistakes That Will Kill Your Dream

Your Full-Time RVing Dream – Mistakes That Will Stop It Cold

Field of Sage in WyomingWhat Mistakes? What could possibly go wrong with something as simple as living and traveling full-time in an RV?

That’s a very good question and I’m glad you asked. Actually, there are quite a few mistakes that can wreck your full-time RVing dreams. None of this is meant to discourage you. You need to know the bad along with the good.

This is the last chapter about the full-time RVing lifestyle, and I saved this section for last because I didn’t want to start out negatively, but some of the following issues will need to be addressed before you set out on your RVing adventure. Not all of these issues will apply to you. Perhaps all of them will be relevant to some degree. It’s also highly likely that the list below does not cover problems that will be unique to you as an individual.

Whatever your circumstances, this may be the most important chapter of all, because it may save you a lot of grief. All of us start out viewing our prospective full-time RVing experience through rose-colored glasses. I intend to knock those glasses off your nose and possibly offend you. I’m not going to apologize for being truthful. Here we go:

That Beautiful RV You’re So In Love With May Be A Piece of Junk

The truth of the matter is that many of the components that go into manufacturing RVs are the same whether you’ve bought a half-million-dollar rig or a cheap weekender. The rest is flash and glitter. RVs are fragile beasts and prone to needing constant repair. If you don’t have the budget to keep up with paying RV Dealer service departments, you’ll need to consider becoming handy with tools and learning how to research RV repair instructions on the Internet, and watching YouTube videos.

There’s a practical limit to how much most people can repair, but being self-sufficient in maintaining your RV can make the difference between enjoying the lifestyle and giving up in disgust. Cleaning and resealing your rubber roof can cost $200 or less if you do it yourself, or $1,200 to well over $2,000 at a dealership.

As your RV gets older it can sometimes feel like you’ve become a full-time handyman trying to keep up with everything that needs to be done to your RV. Frequent repairs are a part of the RVing lifestyle because you basically own a flimsy metal or fiberglass box filled with fragile wood and plastic. Every highway bump, lurch and bounce puts stress and torque on the entire unit including all the appliances that are sorta-kinda screwed and glued down inside.

Expecting the approval of family, friends, and acquaintances.

Will at the Grand CanyonYou have a dream: Open roads, clear skies, and freedom to experience new places, sights, sounds, and people. You finally work up the courage to announce your intention to launch yourself into a completely new lifestyle. You’re eager to share your excitement over your decision, and although you expect some reservations, you know that once you explain your plans, your relatives and friends will be happy, supportive, and envious of you.

Unless your relative or friend is or has been a full-time RV’er, you may be met with disbelief that you would ever entertain a notion so stupid and irresponsible. The reactions may range from mild disbelief and disapproval to outright venomous attacks about your mental stability. There will be a few envious souls who tell you to go for it because they would if they could.

For the most part, you will hear the “What about” question.

•What about your kids and grandchildren? You can’t be seriously thinking about going off and leaving them. They might need you.
•What about your mom or dad? They’re getting old and won’t live much longer. How could you be so selfish?
•What about your career or job? Are you just going to be some kind of irresponsible, grubby gypsy roaming around aimlessly?
•What about your retirement? How do you expect to get a good pension if you don’t stay put?

And on, and on the “what about” questions will go until soon you wake up and say: “WHAT COULD I HAVE BEEN THINKING?” They’re right. What a stupid, selfish, irresponsible idea. Don’t think this could happen to you?

If there is still a shred of hope left in you after your dream has been totally squashed and cast as some lunatic scheme, read on.

First, you have to understand that often many of these negative people could care less about what you want. This may come as a shock to you. Your relatives and friends are far more concerned about their needs and wants than they are about yours.

You’ll be told that they are just “looking out for your welfare”. The more violently they are opposed to your decision, the less likely it has anything to do with concern for your welfare. This is not to say that you should not listen to their advice. Someone may raise a valuable point you had not thought about.

The truth is that most of your “disapproving” relatives and friends are not comfortable with the RV’ing idea that you have fallen in love with, and prefer that you keep on doing whatever it is you have been doing as long as it doesn’t make them uncomfortable or inconvenience their lives.

The fact that you are even considering the RV lifestyle indicates that you have a broader view of life and your world. If you had a friend who suggested that they were going to go bicycle across Europe for a year, and you know that life will run just fine while they are away, would you immediately jump to crush their dream or would you lend your support? Don’t be harsh with the disapprover’s, they have been shocked out of their comfort level.

Assuming that you are a responsible person, realize that the negative reactions you get are not about you. Allow other people to suck the life out of your dreams and you deserve what you get.

Go do what it is you want to do, they will eventually be on speaking terms again, and, if not, this may not be a person you need in your life anyway. Hard-nosed attitude? Yes. Give in and you are being a slave to someone else’s desires.

Stubborn attitude? Not if you feel you have the right to live your life on your own terms. Choose life, but be certain, if you choose RV’ing, that you are being realistic about what you are getting into.

Will and Alicia in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Will and Alicia hanging out in New Mexico.

Not being clear about your common goals if you have a significant other.

You dream of faraway beaches, a bright canopy of stars over your campsite, towering mountains, endless grass plains, historic places, networking with people across the country who share your interests, and the list goes on and on. Your spouse loves puttering around the house and garden, she loves hanging out with her bridge club, he loves golfing with his regular buddies. You have a disaster waiting to happen.

Unless you’re OK with keeping a home base and limiting your freedom to drift where you will, you risk relationship disaster if you try and force your significant other into giving up their need to stay rooted. You must understand that we are not all structured the same mentally. Some of us have a compelling need for roots: A place to call our own, familiar friends and routines. These things are fundamental to the mental health of many people. Other people are restless. Change and variety are ambrosia to their souls. Some of us are somewhere in between.

If you are the rolling stone and your partner is a stump in the field, try to compromise by going on occasional trips. There’s a lot to be said for maintaining the home base and job while you pursue the part-time RV lifestyle. Just realize that there is no amount of rationalizing with your companion that will change who they are.

Each of us has our own specific set of needs and desires. Force us out of that comfort level and there is a price to pay. We have seen it in our travels; The wife crazy to enjoy the Florida beach, the husband refusing to come out of the trailer and get sunburned; The husband dying to hike the Devil’s Backbone in Colorado, the wife withdrawn, preferring to telephone friends back home. Don’t force this nightmare onto yourself. If your spouse will not compromise then think about letting the full-timing idea go if the relationship is otherwise loving and nurturing because there are other interests and adventures in life.

If your companion is eager to hit the road, you have the adventure of a lifetime ahead of you. Just remember though, all good things come to an end. Sooner or later one of you may want to set down roots again. If all else is well, and it’s been a good trip with good memories, there’s no need to fight it. On the other hand, there are still folks in their 80s and 90s rolling down the highway in their RV, off to greener pastures for the season. That may be your destiny.

Failing to structure yourself financially before you hit the road.

It is the height of lunacy to embark on a full-time RV lifestyle if you have a lot of debt and no source of income. Yes, it can be done, but starting out new to the RV lifestyle deep in debt is very risky and not likely to be very enjoyable. Somewhere along the way, you may find yourself in debt because of vehicle replacement, medical bills, or other reasons.

Unless you already have some financial resources to make an RV, vehicle, or other payments, consider staying put until you are debt-free. Jobs are not that difficult to find out there, but as a transient, your average wage may be much less than you’re used to.

At a minimum, plan to have at least a couple of month’s cash on hand while you are job shopping when you arrive at your destination. It is advisable to have one or more credit cards available with several thousand dollars credit limit. We actually got on the road in 1993 with no credit cards and while traveling built our credit to the point where we, if we chose to, could buy a good condition used vehicle or RV with our cards. Not that I’m suggesting that you do such a thing, but responsibly handling credit cards can make your RV lifestyle flow smoothly and with far less stress. Just don’t fall into the trap of delaying your job hunt as long as there is available unused credit on your card. You’ll find that debt will choke off your options and leave you wondering why you decided to travel in the first place.

Don’t have a credit or cash resources? Don’t travel until you do, otherwise, you risk disaster. It won’t look good if you come crawling back asking to move in with mom and dad, or your siblings while you get back on your feet.

If you don’t have plenty of resources, buy the best used RV and tow vehicle you can afford. Get out of debt. Save your money. Sell all your junk and move to a cheaper, much smaller place. The cheaper, smaller place can be your RV while you are getting the rest of your affairs in order. Buy the RV first and have someone park it in an RV park while you continue reducing your expenses and save for your on-the-road vehicle. You’re going to discover that the fewer “things” that you have the better off you will be. This is a lifestyle best lived traveling with a light load. If you are a compulsive collector, make arrangements for someone you trust to store your items. Best of all, quit spending the money collecting and get on the road sooner.

If you are new at this you may have stumbled across an “opportunity” to travel around and sell things. You may have noticed that there were claims of “good money” if you are willing to work hard. Go for it if you don’t have any debt and enough cash resources to tide you over for a month or two while you try it out. Just be aware that an extremely high percentage of commission-only “opportunities” are notorious financial death traps. Have extra cash to take care of you while you job shop if the commission-only thing goes up in flames.

One of the hard realities of the RV lifestyle for those of us without supplemental sources of income, and non-tradesman skills, is that most of the better paying jobs will be found in the larger cities. Unless you have specific tradesman skills or some going business to support you on the road, your income may drop dramatically. This is actually ok if there are two of you working and you have no debt. You can accumulate a surprisingly large amount of savings in the RV lifestyle if you are debt-free and are employed consistently.

Alicia and Brother

Alicia’s Brother Ron taking her for A Harley ride in Washington

This one is difficult – having an unrealistic, predefined set of expectations of what RV living will be like. Thinking that you are going to drive off into the sunset and life will be perfect.

Again, I am not trying to discourage you. You have a right to know the bad along with the good, and I personally believe the good far outweighs the bad. What follows is the naked truth. Everyone seems afraid to talk about it, but here is the dark side of the RV lifestyle.

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. You’re going to be living in a tiny box. That box is very often going to packed in like a sardine with other similar tiny boxes on a gravel parking lot with a few obligatory trees scattered around. I’ve seen Wal-Mart parking lots with more ambiance than many of the RV “campgrounds” I’ve parked in.

And you will sometimes be close enough to the box next to you that you’ll know when your neighbor breaks wind. And, when you plop down to rest with a cool lemonade under your awning, people that look like aliens from another planet will make themselves at home under your awning so you can listen to their one-sided conversation while their dog poops on your outdoor carpet and tries to bite your ankle.

You hate country music, or opera, or whatever offends you, and you get to enjoy the enhanced boom box version 20 feet away at maximum sound. It wouldn’t be so bad if you weren’t getting dizzy looking at the garish-colored clothing the neighbors are sloshing their beer on.

A high percentage of RV parks feature an attached mobile home park for your enjoyment. There’s nothing like late-evening gunfire and high-speed police chases at the mobile home park for good RV lifestyle entertainment. Not to mention the enjoyment of colorful characters wandering into the RV area from the mobile homes while you speculate about whose RV they will break into tonight.

And whatever you do, don’t get caught washing your RV or tow vehicle against park rules that state that you may not wash your rig or perform any vehicle repairs at the site. However, all rigs and vehicles must be maintained in an excellent clean condition or risk eviction.

Just so you know, it’s not that bad most of the time. But the reality is that if you have a romantic version of what living in an RV is like, then that bubble is going to be burst quickly. This is particularly true if you will have to earn your living while you travel. If you have the resources and don’t have to work, your RV experience can be closer to the romanticized version of the lifestyle.

Most RV parks are not destination points. Many campgrounds do the very best they can to make the environment pleasant and enjoyable, and a great many succeed quite well along those lines. But, if you have to park and work to replenish the funds, it’s likely to be a different story where you live.

Basically, an RV park is a commercial enterprise designed to produce as much revenue as possible from the smallest possible space. As a result, you come to realize that for what you are getting, an RV lot is a very expensive piece of real estate lacking amenities to complement the price. That’s why you see so many RV’s parked overnight at Wal-Mart. When you are in transit from one location to another, it is difficult to justify paying $30 to $60 a night to park on a concrete (if you’re lucky) or gravel/muddy lot. You are supplying the rig and use minimal water and electricity, and you supply your own propane. You can actually stay in a motel room cheaper than renting many overnight RV lots.

Long-term parking is often not much better. Monthly rates in “destination” areas are commonly $450 to $550 at the very minimum, and often much, much higher, plus electricity, and cable for a spot you will sometimes have difficulty parking a 25ft rig in.

Often when you call ahead for a reservation, RV park management insists on making sure that your rig isn’t more than 10 years old and doesn’t look dumpy, because their standards are high and they don’t let riff-raff into their park. Sometime later that evening your jaw drops while you watch the rusted-out homemade “trailer” park next to you and you hope their air conditioner, framed in with 2 by 4 unfinished studs, doesn’t fall out of their back window.

Not being able to cope with uncertainty.

This topic almost goes without saying, but just in case, I thought I had better cover it. If you do not handle uncertainty well, the RV lifestyle may not be for you. And, if you have to work to pay your way, it can be even more stressful.

First, if you have a traffic phobia, then by all means stay home. People in cars do the stupidest things to get around, or in front of an RV. Driving in metropolitan areas can be extremely dangerous for RV’ers. Climbing steep grades, and going down sharp, curving mountain passes with a few tons of RV behind you can be a true white-knuckle experience.

If you want the security of knowing where your next meal is coming from, the RV lifestyle may not be for you. RV’ers move around. That’s what we do. That may also preclude having a steady, reliable job and a source of ready cash. Sometimes, the job does not come quickly. Sometimes, and more often than you would think, the employer is a scum bag and you wind up quitting well before you are ready.

Take a job that depends on commissions only and the odds of getting screwed out of your earnings are exceptionally high. If you thought that most crooks are confined to the non-working population, think again. Changing jobs frequently will give you the opportunity to meet employers who will steal your earnings in a heartbeat. Ask questions of the employer, especially if there are incentives, bonuses, or commissions involved. There’s a really good chance that there is a “company policy” they failed to disclose to you before you accepted their “High Paying Sales Job”.

You never know what kind of nut-case you are going to have for a neighbor. At best, just one or two of your neighbors will be boorish pests. The good part is that you can always hook up your RV and move.

Underestimating the costs of the RV lifestyle.

Contrary to popular belief, the RV’ing lifestyle is not cheap. In our romanticized version, we tend to want to examine only the monetary costs of moving around in the RV. Usually, those actual costs, though not large, are more than most want to admit, but there are other costs as well.

Your expenses will be different from anyone else. For some, a thousand or so a month covers all expenses. For other people, it takes a few thousand at a minimum each month for living expenses. Whatever the case, the RV lifestyle can be more expensive than you would expect.

Some of the costs will be psychological and some will be lost opportunities. You have to give up certain possibilities in your life to pursue the full-time RV lifestyle. Is traveling to see new places really worth the loss of other important goals or needs in your life?

Although there is a great deal of freedom in the RV lifestyle, by its nature, you may be restricted or completely cut off from other interests. If you have to work to enjoy full-time RV’ing, then you will not be nearly as free as you would think,  as others in the lifestyle would lead you to believe. There are just some things you cannot fully experience or accomplish if you RV full-time. Is it really worth the cost?

Maintenance is one of the unavoidable features of RV living. Your RV and vehicle are mechanical devices. Mechanical devices wear out, break, and malfunction, it always seems, at the worst possible time. The reason equipment malfunctions at the worst possible time is our unrealistic expectation that we spend our money for the object of our desire and expect it to operate flawlessly for an indefinite period with no maintenance.

Buy an inexpensive set of tools and learn how to fix and repair minor problems. Otherwise, you’ll be paying a mobile RV repairman for a trip charge plus $45 to $90 hourly, plus parts marked up at a 200% to 300% profit margin. You are not likely going to be earning $45 to $90 hourly, so learn to do minor repairs and preventative maintenance.

Plan and save for major repairs. Virtually every major replacement for an RV will be far more costly than its standard household counterpart. Your refrigerator, air conditioner, electrical converter, water heater, brake system, electrical system, and plumbing system will eventually malfunction or die. Propane tanks have to be re-inspected for safety every few years. Tires wear out and furniture and fixtures get broken. Plan on a steady stream of minor repairs. If you were living in a house, these things would not surprise you. Condense your living space to 300 square feet or less, and you can see that you’ll be putting your RV through intensive wear and tear.

When you tow your RV, your tow vehicle is put under tremendous stress, so don’t be stingy with preventative maintenance like oil changes, transmission fluid, tires, shocks, belts, and hoses. Otherwise, don’t be upset when your rig lets you down when you need it the most.

All of this costs money. Campground operators, service stations, repairmen, and other vendors are in business to make the most profit possible from you. They will not give away their goods and services cheaply. If you have to work as you travel to afford the RV lifestyle, obtaining the money costs you a portion of your life. You may very well have to exchange major blocks of your time for far fewer earnings per hour than you would hope. You may have to forsake other meaningful life goals for the RV’ing experience. Make sure that you aren’t wasting your life energy.


I hope the information in this online guide has been useful. Alicia and I have thoroughly enjoyed the full-time RV’ing experience. It has enriched our lives in so many ways and we have made so many new friends that we encourage you to go for it if the RV lifestyle is something you truly desire.

We have lived the dream. We feel sorry for those who want to, but cannot, because of circumstances, or lack of courage. If you survived this chapter of this guide with your dream intact, find a way, find the courage, and you will not have to look back on the years of your life with regret for a dream lost, and you’ll count your life well spent. If you discover through these pages that the dream was not for you, you’ll have not wasted your efforts on a mirage.

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