With the pandemic and dreams of vacations high on everyone’s minds, more and more people are considering buying a RV for their next family trip so they can be safe from crowded areas like airports and hotels. After two years of living full-time in a RV, we applaud the impulse and think it is a fantastic way to not only vacation but also to live. How else can I explore all that this country has to offer while still sleeping in my own bed at night? For those of you new to the RV lifestyle, we have some helpful tips – whether as a vacation or full-time lifestyle.
Try it before you buy it
RV living is not for everyone. If you are a family who usually tent camps and takes long road trips, you might easily understand and appreciate RV living since it will automatically give you more room and more comfort. However, if you have never camped before, we strongly advise you to rent a RV first. This lifestyle is great, but it isn’t for everyone. There are a lot of moving parts and planning that goes into RVing so you want to be sure you enjoy it before committing!
By renting, you can also find out more about the various types of RVs and find the type that fits your style best. Even if you only rent one, you will learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t for you. This will make you a better informed shopper when buying and give you insight into the features and layouts that will work for your family.
When renting, try the smallest one that will comfortably work for your travel party. You will quickly learn how much room you really need and what are the non negotiables required in your ideal RV. After sharing a bathroom with all four of you, would an additional half bath reduce the morning line at the restroom and number of fights over the odor? Would having a motorhome and towing a smaller vehicle be better than setting up a popup tent trailer at every stop? Do you prefer having a rig that you pull or one that you drive?
Choose the right type
RVs come in all sizes and types, each with their own pluses and minuses. Finding the right type for your travel style is important as they are costly and depreciate the minute you take possession. You might be a solo traveler who wants something easy to manage so a camper van or small teardrop trailer might be right for you. Or a large family that needs multiple beds so consider a fifth wheel with bunk beds. Do you want to tow a vehicle for exploration or use your pickup truck to pull a trailer?
Since we knew we would be living and working from our rig, we decided we needed some room to spread out and stay out of each other’s hair. We also wanted something large enough so if our college aged sons wanted to tour with us, they had a comfortable bed and the room to spread out a little. So we decided on a Class A motorhome as we liked the idea of the cab chairs being able to be part of the seating and an extra working space.We also wanted something that would fit in most campgrounds and I felt comfortable driving, so we stayed under 40 feet. Larger than 40 feet would give us plenty of space and a few niceties like a half bath and larger bathroom, but it felt more cumbersome and too much to me. With our desire to be in the mountains as much as possible and knowing we would be pulling a jeep, we decided on a diesel pusher to make those climbs a bit easier.
For a fun look at the various types of RVs and who owns them, read this.
Don’t buy any household items for your new RV
There are some items that you have to buy right away like hoses and key tools which we will discuss below, but hold off on all the cool gadgets. You need much less than you think and remember, your storage room is limited so keep the inventory in the rig down to a minimum. Hold off on buying that adorable foldable picnic table or luxury hammock! Live in your new home for a couple months and see what your really need. Most campgrounds have picnic tables so you might not need extra seating. Or if you start boondocking (camping in free spots where there are usually not hookups or any amenities), perhaps you will want a small table pr few more outdoor chairs.
You likely have all the dishes, camp chairs and decorations that you need in your home. Use these for a trip or two, then make decisions on what to get. Plus, you can always buy it what you need along the way and create a useful souvenir to remind you of the trip.
The beauty of living or traveling in a RV is that you have your home with you even when you are in a new place. So use it accordingly and appreciate the down moments when you can just relax inside or on your “patio.” If it is a rainy day and you have more time in a spot, why not relax, read or play games instead of forcing yourself out to explore? Or use that time to do some of the normal household things that you still have to do when living in a RV like grocery shopping, sweeping the floor or doing laundry. You want to be prepared for these days with a few games or books, but don’t go overboard. Shopping locally is a fun way to experience a new place and support the local businesses, especially the independent bookstores. These stores offer a great window into what is important in that area and shop keepers are great resources for hidden gems to explore or places to eat.
Is it a vacation or a lifestyle?
This can be a key question for those of us who decide to live full-time in a RV. The tendency is to treat each day like a vacation which can wreck your diet or exercise routine. It is important to establish some balance so that you keep up on your healthy habits and priorities. For those on vacation, this might mean adding in downtime to exercise or ensure you are eating some meals at home. The advantage of a RV is that you can eat at home or create picnics so you can save money and calories. For those living full-time in a RV, it is important to recognize that every day cannot be a holiday especially if you work remotely. Establish a routine so that you can balance work and play. This might mean for some that you work long hours a couple of days a week and explore on the others or perhaps an early morning alarm to get in a kayak ride before starting work. Plus you have to decide how much you move and when. For many of us, we choose to move from place to place on the weekends, knowing these are the most crowded times at sights and in the campgrounds. Many campgrounds are full on Friday and Saturday while they empty out during the week, allowing us some quieter time and more space.
Where to get local information
Chances are you are staying in a campground so ask those that work in the office. Usually they are RVers who work at the camp for a free RV spot. They often have been at the camp for weeks or months and can fill you in on some of the best places to explore, eat, or just take a drive. I also enjoy going to the local Visitor’s Center as I like to look through the slick brochures for ideas. Print works better for me, but there are also a lot of great resources online including our website and many others that share hints from the various places we have visited. If you are looking for a specific angle or interest, you can find sites specialising in craft beer, history, or family adventures.
Plan your drives
It is important to know your limits and plan your drives accordingly. For some, 200 miles a day is the maximum while others can go for hours. Remember, you will be traveling slower when driving or pulling a rig and it is harder work. Consider how the wind affects driving your car and multiple it since you are higher and boxier so more susceptible to the wind. You will likely stop more often for gas too! So make the drive part of the enjoyment and plan stops in interesting places when possible. Even an overnight stay gives you a chance to experience local cuisine or see a beautiful landmark if you plan accordingly.
That is an advantage for those of us living in a RV, we can plan our trips to be months in advance so that we do not have to hightail it in a week to Wyoming from Texas, but take a more leisurely two months to get there. A useful tool for anyone planning a RV trip is RVTripWizard which allows you to put in your maximum travel day and shows you all the campgrounds along your route. You will also want to get a RV GPS to ensure that you don’t find yourself entering a ten foot high tunnel with a 12 foot high rig.
Yes, there are a lot of things to think about. However, don’t let that stop you from considering this amazing lifestyle. Do your research, ask questions, join Facebook groups (like The Virtual Campground’s Facebook page) and communities like The Virtual Campground. Take one step at a time and we hope to meet you out on the road one day!