A 37.5-foot Class A RV was our home for 8 years. My husband and I found each other late in life, and my brand-new groom took me RVing full-time. It became an 8-year honeymoon, crossing the continent six times, staying in 49 U.S. states, nine Canadian provinces, and six Mexican states.
This epic journey gave us many “lessons learned.” And these lessons optimized our RVing experience. When we decided to settle in a 55+ golf and resort community in Arizona, I looked back and came up with the following 10 lessons that I consider tops.
I have linked, where available, to my blog posts that provide more detail or context. And there are three more notes at the end.
1. Follow The Sun; Maximize The Fun
The first lesson is the most obvious. Because you have a moving home, there’s no need to shiver in the cold or suffer in the sun. Some say the biggest benefit of full-time RVing is that you can readily change your neighbors whenever they prove not to your liking. It is, but the bigger one is that you can readily change your neighborhood as soon as it doesn’t suit you. In other words, spend summers in the north and winters in the south.
There were times when we could not follow this rule. One time, I had to go back to Seattle in November to respond to a request from the U.S. Commission on Immigration Services. A letter with an important appointment reached my previous campground after we had already left, so it didn’t get to me in time. As a result, we had a white Thanksgiving, got buried in snow, our water system almost froze, and we almost ran out of electricity. Here was my blog post about it. No, we didn’t do that again.
2. Plan And Document Your Trips
Being in new places and enjoying new activities is only one part of the fun. Another is planning those things with keen anticipation. And then you love it again when you reminisce and relive it. Thus, planning and documenting triples the fun.
I get pushback about planning from those who espouse spontaneity. But you see, I don’t mean planning to the smallest detail. It just means that you strategize to implement the first lesson. Not planning may also result in inefficient routes. With the high price of gasoline (and electric charging stations still sparse for those eRVs), thoughtfully planning your route is essential.
Documenting, on the other hand, allows you to enjoy the memories more completely and to share them with others. I started a blog the year after we began RVing. I didn’t know the blog would be my jumping point for the first book I self-published.
As we approach our 80s, I expect documentation to increase in importance and bring joy to our later years. Utilizing technology (and its update here) for both planning and documenting is key.
3. Explore An Area Thoroughly
Don’t leave an area before you really get to know it; explore it before moving on. You wouldn’t want to have to come back, spending more on fuel than necessary. Planning will help you do this. In the beginning, we stayed in a place for 3 or 4 days, moving at a frantic pace to cover as many new places as we could. Afterward, we usually found out that we missed this and/or that landmark.
We upgraded from a 24-foot Class B, bought into a nationwide campground network, and stayed in an area for 2–3 weeks. It was enough time to immerse ourselves in local life. This was our first experience in doing just that: Operationalizing Phase 2.
4. Build Healthcare Into Your Plan
This one was not part of my original list. In hindsight, it was the biggest lesson we ever learned. If we were given the chance to do it all over again, we would make sure to spend a couple of months a year at a central location to see our doctors.
We could use that time for annual consultations and tests. My husband’s sister still lives in their hometown of Pittsburg, Kansas; it could have served as that location and their doctors would have been great for us, too. In fact, when our health issues compounded, we stayed with my sister-in-law for 2 months and got a lot done, including cataract surgery for me (read about it here).
5. Choose An RV For Basic Needs
Your RV must meet the same basic needs you require from a home. For me, this meant being able to write, store food, cook, eat, wash dishes, wash clothes, sleep well, clean up well, and entertain ourselves and others. But because fuel is expensive, it also must not have “wants” that make your RV unnecessarily bigger and heavier.
Your needs must be as small as possible because of miles-per-gallon rules. That eliminates a bathtub, outright! But I also decided I really did not need a dresser or desk. And we found a unit with a microwave/convection oven combo, a compact dishwasher, and a mini stack-up washer/dryer. Read about “Buying Our New Home.”
6. Always Travel Light
Traveling light in an RV: How is that possible, you ask? The RV is inherently heavy, even when it is empty! To me, that meant traveling light became even more important. Remember that you are always moving, so live in accordance with the barest minimums.
I had a few rules, like storing only a week’s worth of food. Another rule was to throw away a piece of clothing whenever we bought a new one. In other words, no hoarding under any circumstances. We also kept tableware for four only and used plastic sets for bigger groups. Learn the secret to traveling light in an RV.
7. Become A Member Of A Network
We soon found out that camping fees are, like fuel, a big part of total expenses. If you camp for a major part of the year, become a member of a campground network to get the best rates. Over the 8-year period, ours came to about $6 a day. The task of looking for campgrounds is also eliminated, and planning is simplified. Here is an article on The Economics of Cruising as a Lifestyle.
8. Look For Work Or Payback Opportunities
As retirees, many of us look for ways we can make good use of our new-found time. Many of those we met on the road took advantage of seasonal job opportunities in different parts of the country. Amazon’s fulfillment centers and other work opportunities listed on workamper.com offered great chances to do something and get paid.
For payback opportunities, I liked Habitat for Humanity and have helped build a house with them. Their Care-a-Vanners program provides a campsite while you help.
9. Use Nationwide Services But Buy Locally
When you have something to fix in your RV or dinghy, it is best to use nationwide chains that guarantee the quality of their service or product anywhere in the country. When we changed our leaking roof in Spokane, Washington, we didn’t have enough time for the work to dry; we had to leave for a family reunion at Glacier National Park. When the roof still leaked a little in Illinois, the local Camping World fixed the issue.
Doing this is not contradictory to buying locally. For simpler jobs and lower-priced goods, it is good to contribute to the local economy. Besides, flea and farmers markets sell the season’s best produce and the community’s best crafts at lower prices.
10. Stay Connected
Perhaps the hardest part of a full-time RV life is being far from your loved ones. Technology helps to bridge the gap. But one reason we upgraded to a Class A is that I wanted space so loved ones could visit us. And occasionally, camping in their driveways is a neat thing to do! See the above links for “Utilizing Technology on the Go.”
Here are some other lessons that didn’t make it to my top ten but we found important for our circumstances.
- Don’t trade your home for a vehicle, in case you need to stay put again. Choose an RV that you can afford to pay for in cash, so you don’t have to sell your home or incur new debt. If you can, rent out your home(s) to finance your RVing (like we did).
- If you can, buy a used RV; just make sure it’s a good reliable brand (we got a Newmar). Let others take that first-year depreciation hit. This made our cost of RVing even lower (together with renting out our home and lesson seven above) than staying in our condo. As a matter of fact, the savings helped us buy a new home and pay for a new traveling lifestyle.
- You may want to take advantage of mail-forwarding services in low-tax states such as South and North Dakota or Montana, etc. Initially, we used a family member’s address because we were told mailed-in voting was limited to those with actual homes. But after a letter got to us late (lesson one above), we shifted to a mail forwarder.
If you are serious about living in an RV full-time, these 10 lessons may help you make some decisions. These and more are in my book Carolina: Cruising to an American Dream, a travel book detailing our RVing years. It will also give you a feel for this cruising lifestyle and, I hope, entertain you with the ups and downs of my American love story.
For more tips on RVing, check out these articles: