10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Fulltime RVing…
Pre-Post Note/ Nov 2017. Although this post was written in 2011 it’s still my most popular post ever (!!), so I’m refreshing it as part of our 8th year on the road. See my updates in italics below the original text on each topic.
One of the beautiful things about aging is you carry along the wisdom of years of experience (that, and your wine gets better of course). By many standards you could easily call me but a pup in the great dog-park of life, but as our multi-year journey in RVing progresses I have managed to glean a few gems of sageness which I can happily pass along. In that spirit, here are 10 things I wish I’d known before we went full-timing:
1/ Bigger is Not Always Better
I always imagined that you should try to buy the biggest RV you could afford. After all, who doesn’t want lots of space? Our travels over the past years, and perhaps more specifically the kind of travel we like to do (camping in public campgrounds, forests, state parks, off-the-beaten-track spots) has taught me that bigger is not always better. Our “beastly” size is super-comfortable but requires me to do quite a bit of detailed planning to make sure we can fit into the kinds of spots we like to visit. In retrospect, I would have wished for a smaller RV. For those camping mostly in private parks this is not a consideration, but for our kinda camping it sure would be nice with a few less feet.
2017 Update – TOTALLY still agree with this. Although we’ve gotten used to our “beastly” size I still wish we were a tad smaller and we (still) dream about downsizing. 95% of our camping is on public land and if we were smaller and more nimble we’d have many more options open to us, especially for boondocking. 35-feet would be nice, 30-feet would be even sweeter, but hey we make do. Maybe one day….
2/ Hard-Mounted Satellite Dishes are Mostly Useless
When we first got the RV the thought of a hard-mounted, fully-automatic Satellite TV dish on our roof seemed just the ticket. Push a button and off you go….fabulous! However camping as we do in lots of spots with trees and obstacles we have line-of-sight perhaps only ~50% of the time making our dish mostly useless. In retrospect a movable dish would totally be the way to go.
2017 Update – YES. In fact we even disconnected Direct TV in 2014 and moved towards other electronic means of entertainment (Netflix, Redbox etc.), but for those of you wanting satellite I would definitely still recommend getting a movable dish.
3/ Most Camping Clubs Are Not Worth It
When we first started RVing we signed up to just about every camping club out there, Sam’s Club, Escapees, Club USA etc. In retrospect (again because of where/how we like to camp) these were not worth it. The only camping club I currently consider is Passport America, mostly for short stops and I do like the Escapees Days End list, but even these have mostly been replaced by overnight “freebies” when we need them. The rest of the time we’re out in nature/boonies where club memberships do not go. For some people clubs are great and they can certainly be cost saving if you make use of them, but for us they’ve simply not made the cut.
2017 Update – YES. We still feel the same way. Clubs are only useful IF you make use of them. There are RV folks who love their club memberships (e.g. Thousand Trails members who do nothing but stay at Thousand Trails), but for our type of camping (mostly public land, lots of State Parks etc) they simply haven’t made sense. The only membership clubs we currently have are Harvest Hosts, Escapees & Passport America. I always recommend that newbies wait on joining any camping clubs until they’ve spent some time on the road and figured out how they like to travel. Read more about my take on Camping Clubs HERE.
4/ Beware Heavy Slides
I love the slides in our motorhome because of the massive amount of space they give internally, but it seems some manufacturers go overboard. Our “beast” has a massive front drivers-side slide with refrigerator in the slide, something I now understand is an engineering no-no. The weight of the slide has been the cause of the only real issues on our home in 2 years. I love slides and will always want them, but in retrospect I would never buy another home with a fridge in a slide-out.
2017 Update – YES. Our big slide issue is still the only major issue we’ve had (touch wood) in the RV since we started fulltiming.
5/ Finding Great Public Campgrounds Can Be Easy
The first year of RVing I struggled to find the kinds of campgrounds (natural, green, spacious) that we like to visit. It was a constant battle of going to one website, through a ton of clicks, then another website, then to a map, then to another spot and back again to try and figure out which one matched our route. Early this year I discovered uscampgrounds.info and my planning life changed. If you like public camping there’s simply no better resource out there and I use it as the base for all our travel planning now.
2017 Update – YES. Public Land is still our #1 camping choice. There are now many more options for finding these kinds of sites including ultimatecampgrounds.com (which has overtaken uscampgrounds IMHO), Benchmark Maps (which are excellent paper maps for public lands), AllStays (which also offers an app) and other resources. If you want to see how I plan our current travels, check out the 3-part series I wrote starting HERE.
6/ You Don’t Have to Sign Any Internet Contracts
When we initially looked at internet solutions we knew we wanted a Verizon-based system since it was simply the best coverage out there (and our experience has proved that true). We ended up w/ a 2-year 5GB/mo contract which is a little tight for our needs. What we didn’t know was that you can get a Verizon-based coverage using no-contract resale partners such as Millenicom. It’s the same coverage, but simply without the contract! You can boost it just like any system out there too. Millenicom resells both Verizon and Sprint and they won’t/can’t tell you (directly) who they’re using, but you can easily narrow it down via the device (the Verizon-based contract is currently offered on the 20GB/mo deal using the Novatel U760 Device). For more info check the forums.
2017 Update – TOTALLY. I still recommend a contract-free approach whenever possible. This gives you the flexibility to sign-up to the best plans (and offers) whenever they became available which has improved our own set-up and saved us many $$ over the years. The whole Mobile Internet landscape has changed dramatically since 2011 (e.g. Millenicom is now caput and gone), but there are still many contract-free options for mobile travelers. You can read about our current internet, phone & boosting set-up HERE.
7/ Take Your Time On the Road
When we first started on the road we rushed like crazed animals on stampede to see as much and as far an area as we could possibly see within the timeframe given. It took several months before we realized none of this was necessary. In fact taking more time to enjoy our surroundings not only saved us money, but we’ve met more people, seen more local gems, created a sense of community and felt more in-tune with the journey. Our 2-month trip through New Mexico earlier this year was a great example of how this attitude has really made sense for us. We are progressing more and more into “sitters” (RVers that spend several weeks in one spot) rather than “movers”. It may not be for everyone, but I sure recommend giving it a try.
2017 Udpate – TOTALLY. Since that original “crazy” year on the road we’ve enjoyed a much more relaxed pace of travel (you can see all our travel maps HERE -> we average just over ~5,000 miles/year) and it’s made everything SO much better. For us this is a lifestyle, not a vacation and taking the time to enjoy each spot has made it a deeper, richer (and more enjoyable) experience for both of us.
8/ You Really Don’t Need Much Stuff
I spent months trying to figure out what to take on the road before we started out. I already knew (instinctively) that we wouldn’t need much, but I wanted to try to cover all the bases. The truth is that we needed even less than that. I took ~10% of my then-wardrobe with me, and I currently use about 10% of that. We brought along tents and other equipment we never use. We ALSO ended up buying a bunch of nifty (so we thought) “RV stuff” before we’d really spent any time in the rig on the road, another thing I’d now consider a no-no. In retrospect spending some time on the road before loading up would have made alot more sense. We’re planning a major cleaning-out when we get back to our storage in San Diego this winter and will end up much lighter for it (no doubt). If we keep this up the storage might end up going too…
2017 Update – YES. The more time we spend on the road the less we find we need. We end up donating half our clothes to charity almost every year and our outdoor stuff has been cut down to a select set of “glamping” basics. Plus we FINALLY got rid of our big storage unit (whoo hooo!). Paying $$$ for storage all those years was one of our biggest regrets and something we (in retrospect) would not recommend if you can avoid it. It took 7 years for us to tackle ours, but we finally got it done! You can read about my take on storage HERE and how we got rid of ours HERE, HERE and HERE.
9/ Follow the Weather
This kinda makes obvious senses, but when we first started out we really didn’t pay too much attention to weather. In our first year we ended up travelling through the Mid-West in very hot and buggy conditions, not ideal for a natural-born bug magnet (such as myself) in a metal home. Since then we’ve paid closer attention and the beauty of being mobile is that you can do exactly that. I launched my flip-flop barometer early this year and we managed (mostly) to stay right on it. We’re wintering in the SW this year and will be back to cool and gorgeous coast & mountains by next summer. Most definitely the flip-flop way to go!
2017 Update – YES. We’ve become better & better at following the weather and it’s a key part of our yearly travel planning process. The past few years we’ve spent winters in the beautiful SW desert and summers on the gorgeous PNW coast. Perfection!
10/ RVing Costs Are Manageable
We agonized over the cost of full-time RVing for a long time before we jumped in. The truth is costs are flexible and totally manageable and our experience has certainly proved that to be so. There are great options for saving money both on camping, gas, health insurance, taxes, car/RV registration and other areas. You can take your time and boondock, workamp along the way or run around and stay in pricey resorts. All can be great experiences, but the real beauty is that the choice is there.
2017 Update – TOTALLY. In 8 years on the road our expenses have actually been flat to slightly down every year despite increasing health care costs. We keep camping expenses low by volunteering in summer and boondocking (= free camping) in winter, and we manage gas costs by how we travel. The point is there is lots of flexibility on the financial side, and my viewpoint on this hasn’t changed. Earlier this year I finally updated our cost posts, so you can now read a detailed account of our RV costs (including tips for budgeting & saving) for the past 7 years HERE and HERE.
Well that wraps up my list…got any good ones of your own?
2017 Update – Knowing what you know now, are there any additional things you wish you’d known??? Apart from the storage unit that I wish we’d never gotten (item #8) nothing at all. Our top 10 is still the exact same today as it was in 2011.