The Pros And Cons Of Living In An RV Year-Round
Every day more people are making the decision to downsize from a house or condo into an RV of some type, to pursue their dream of traveling and discovery. It may seem like an inexpensive and exciting alternative to living in a sticks and bricks home, but like every other major life choice, there are pros and cons.
If you are considering this new adventure, please read this article and think it through so you are prepared for the challenges and will be happy with your decision. We made this transition in 2017 and don’t regret it, but full-time RVing is not just one long camping trip filled with endless wiener roasts and marshmallows. There are challenges in this lifestyle that you should know about so you are fully informed.
Cons of living in an RV year round
Small space and cramped quarters
The primary objection to living in an RV full-time is the cramped quarters. Most full-time RVers choose either a large fifth wheel trailer or a Class A motorhome, but even at a length of 45 feet with multiple slide-outs, the typical living space is under 400 sq. feet.
Many full-time RVers own smaller vehicles than that. We have met people who full-time in van conversions, and we even met one couple who have been living full-time for many years in a small truck camper. In many cases, these small structures are about the size of a tiny house. In fact, they are tiny houses on wheels with full hook-ups and holding tanks.
Some have the nicer amenities of a house, like a fireplace, washer and dryer, and even dishwashers. Almost all of them have elaborate entertainment systems and most RVs have more storage space than the typical tiny house, but the living space and features are still much more limited than the typical brick and mortar home.
Limited availability of recreational toys
Even with these amenities and storage spaces, the amount and type of supplies and recreational toys that you can take with you is quite limited.
We have met people who towed a boat behind their fifth wheel, which was being towed by their truck. However, RV triple towing is only legal in some states. Consequently, this restricted where this couple could travel, and they admitted that the triple towing combination was difficult to manage. It was hard to maneuver in a campground. It slowed them down on the highway, and created extra dangers when people tried to pass, because they didn’t anticipate the length of the triple vehicle combination.
If taking lots of supplies and equipment is vital to your enjoyment of the full-time RV lifestyle, you could purchase a toy hauler. These are either 5th wheel trailers, travel trailers, or motorhomes with a built-in garage where the back of the RV becomes a ramp for motorized equipment. You could haul a huge amount of equipment in one of these garages, but there will always be limits. Trailers, trucks, and toy haulers only have so much carrying capacity, and all this extra equipment adds weight to your RV or truck.
It’s hard to give up all the physical possessions you may have acquired in your lifetime, but living in an RV year round does require downsizing. Personally, I had a lot of trouble letting go of all my tools. I was a bit of a tool hoarder (something I got from my dad), but I realized I didn’t need to take a reciprocating saw, a 6-foot level, a skill saw, or three Dremel tools with me in an RV. I had to let all that go, and after being on the road for over 4 years, I have only missed the Dremel tools.
We know another couple that travels with multiple dogs in a huge diesel pusher. They attend and compete in car racing, and they haul their race car in a trailer along with all the gear they need to maintain it. They also haul a second car in their trailer for everyday use. In addition, they compete in dog sports, so they also need gear for those activities. Fortunately, they pull all this paraphernalia in a large trailer behind a powerful diesel-powered motorhome which has sufficient horsepower to pull all that extra weight.
Since full-timers can’t take an entire household of supplies and gear with them on the road, they would be better off to embrace the downsizing experience, and to adopt a minimalist philosophy. If you start with the right attitude, the whole process can be freeing, and many people say they feel unburdened after downsizing from a house to an RV.
You need to find RV parking 365 nights a year
Another downside of full-time RVing is that you need to find suitable places to stop or camp for 365 days a year. You don’t get a break from that obligation even if you’re boondocking.
When you live in an apartment or home and only use a recreational vehicle part-time, you can leave your RV parked on your property or in a storage facility for many days out of the year. But when you are living in an RV year round, you need to find places to stay every single night. This RV trip planning takes time and effort. Compared to house payments, it may seem like you will save a huge amount of money, but you might be surprised how the expenses on the road add up.
Campgrounds can charge from $20 to $200+ per night. Membership programs like Thousand Trails can reduce the nightly costs, but there are upfront costs and annual dues for these membership programs. There are also fuel costs and higher insurance premiums, as well as an RV payment for many full-timers that can’t afford to buy their RV outright. When you live in a house that you’re buying, the interest on the mortgage and property taxes can be used as a tax deduction, but that is generally not true for an RV payment, so you may end up with more of a tax burden.
Planning to full-time in an RV simply because you think it will be an inexpensive way to live is not a good reason for that decision. Even though books have been published about living full-time in an RV on less than $20 a day, I can’t imagine doing that long term. We have been camping for over 4 years now as full-timers, and if we can average under a $100 per day for a full month, we celebrate that as a victory.
Additionally, if you live in your RV 365 days a year, you are going to find times when it gets complicated. There will be times when the RV needs some extended service, body work, engine repair, or the slide needs to be removed to replace the refrigerator. The RV is your home, and you can’t drop it off at the shop and pick it up a week later. Perhaps you’ll need to rent a different RV for a week, or stay in a hotel, or ask the service department to make your RV available every evening, so you can at least sleep in it.
Not an investment
Another downside of living full-time in an RV is that you are not building equity in a house. RVs depreciate like cars regardless of how much you paid for your recreational vehicle when you bought it. A million-dollar RV will still depreciate. RVs are not an investment, and you will never recoup the money you put into your RV unless you keep it and put it in the rental pool to generate income.
Weather, weather, weather
This is another significant drawback to living in an RV year round, since a motorhome or trailer just doesn’t offer the same physical protection afforded by a brick and stick structure. Strong winds, hail, heavy rain, ice, snow, and other weather threats like tornadoes are more dangerous for people living in an RV than for people living in a permanent structure. You may think that people living in an RV can simply move their vehicle if weather is threatening, but often you don’t know when the threat exists, or which direction you should go to avoid it.
We have camped in places where we were given less than 15 minutes before strong winds and damaging hail overtook our location. In a house, strong winds are frightening, but, in an RV, they can tear the rig apart. The best protection for full-time RVers (and in most cases, their only alternative) is to stay in areas that have the least threatening weather in every season.
April might be a bad time to visit Eastern Wyoming and Western Nebraska because that is the season when damaging hail tears through the region of the country that has the nickname Hailstone Alley. Furthermore, full-time RVers need to be out of the Rocky Mountains and New England before it starts to snow, and you need to head north when the temperature in Southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico starts heading toward triple digits. The recent pandemic created extreme hardships for our full-time RV neighbors to the north when the US-Canadian border was closed. Many full-time Canadian RVers who typically migrate to the southern US states for the winter were forced to remain in Canada and endure deep snow and harsh winter weather.
Another dangerous area that RVers might need to avoid are the western states during the hot summer months. With the recent multi-year drought and crackling dry forests, wildfires are a near certainty every summer in all the states west of the Rockies, and this threat is as real for RVers as people who live in fixed structures.
In fact, wildfires might highlight one of the real advantages of living in an RV year round. An RVer doesn’t have to stay in a high-risk area. They can simply choose a different region of the country to avoid these hazards. In an RV you don’t have to wait for an evacuation order, then worry about whether your house will still be standing when you return. When you can identify a hazardous area, you can avoid it, but many of the weather hazards are unpredictable, and that is when managing weather threats in an RV can become a life-threatening challenge.
The Pros Of Living In An RV Year Round
Mobile and adaptable
As stated above, one of the advantages of living in an RV full-time is that you can remain adaptable and mobile. You’re not stuck staying in a house where flooding, tornadoes, or wildfires are imminent. If conditions become unpleasant due to extreme heat, smoke, rain, or even if your neighbors are driving you nuts, you can leave. There’s nothing holding you in any specific location. You may choose to camp in one place for a night, or a couple of weeks, or a couple of months, but if you are uncomfortable, you can simply move to a new location that is more to your liking.
Opportunity to experience regional culture and cuisine
Most of the time when we take a vacation, we scurry from one point of interest to another, trying to cram as much experience into a short timeframe as possible. However, when you live full-time in an RV, you can slow the pace down and spend as long as you need in any one location to fully grasp and experience the local culture, history, and cuisine.
You can do a deep-dive into any given region and find all the hidden treasures and sites often overlooked by vacationers. The slower pace is in fact one of the most advantageous aspects of the full-time experience.
Living in an RV year round gives you more personal time
One of the cons listed above was the lack of an investment in a home, but one of the advantages of living in an RV year round is that you don’t need to spend every Saturday and Sunday maintaining that investment. There’s no lawn to mow, no porch to stain, no weeds to pull, no big house to clean, no Saturday projects. You get your weekends back and you can do whatever you want to do with that time: take a drive, read a book, go for a walk, climb a mountain, build a campfire, go fishing, play a card game, or attend an online class.
Spend money on experiences, not things
The final advantage of living in an RV year round is that you can spend your money on experiences rather than on things. You will be making memories every day that will last a lifetime.
You can meet people, see new sites, experience and explore new adventures, taste unique foods, and visit historic sites as often as you want to. The full-time RV lifestyle encourages you to spend your money on making memories, rather than acquiring physical objects.
Which of these would you rather spend $200 on?
- Going on an all-day whale watching trip which includes sightings of multiple bears and cubs searching for eels along the beach, sightings of numerous humpback whales and porpoises, dozens of different species of sea birds, and the star of the show, the orcas, which are everywhere. All the while the captain is narrating a captivating story of the wildlife and the native cultures that are intrinsically woven around that wildlife. Oh yeah, and the trip includes lunch.
- Buying a new table lamp or wall hanging depicting sea life.
Is living in an RV full time right for you?
The full-time lifestyle is not for everyone. Some people aren’t comfortable with a rootless existence. They have trouble being away from family and friends and their comforting familiar routines. The uncertainty, feeling like you’re living in a tin can, the endless planning, and the challenges of being on the road constantly, all create anxiety.
We met one couple that had sold their home and bought a 5th wheel trailer to pursue the full-time adventure. They were miserable. The husband was deeply depressed, and his wife was a nervous wreck. They missed their home, and routines, and family, and they had a deep sense of regret over getting rid of a lifetime’s worth of personal items. They gave some of these belongings away, threw some out, but sold most of the things that make a house a home, for pennies on the dollar. They weren’t living a new adventure, they were enduring a new nightmare. I felt bad for them, because being full-time adventurers was not a good fit, but they were trapped in the decision they had made, at least for a while. Full-time RVing is not for everyone.
On the other hand, we love being full-time RVers. But we had extensive RV experience (nearly 20 years) before we started this new adventure. I can’t imagine transitioning into this lifestyle directly, from living in a house – to living full-time in an RV, with no prior RV experience. When we were weekend warriors, we always hated the day we had to pack up and head for home. We’d drag that out as long as possible and looked with envy at the campers who were not breaking down their campsites on Sunday morning. Inevitably and sadly, every trip came to an end, and we had to go home.
What we like the least about full-time RVing is the constant concern about the weather and the endless planning where to stay.
What we like the most are the amazing life changing adventures we experience around every corner:
- From swamp tours in Louisiana,
- to whale watching in BC,
- to visiting Gettysburg in Pennsylvania,
- to seeing each region of the country,
- and diving into all that each region has to offer!
Best of all, we never have to pack up and go home.
RVers looking for valuable how-to information have learned to go to the experts. Forums such as iRV2.com and blog sites like RV LIFE, Do It Yourself RV, and Camper Report provide all the information you need to enjoy your RV. You’ll also find brand-specific information on additional forums like Air Forums, Forest River Forums, and Jayco Owners Forum.
Here are other helpful articles:
- The Dirty Truth Of Full Time RVing
- 6 Misconceptions About Full-Time RV Living
- 10 Signs That Full Time RV Living Is Right For You
- Shifting Gears from Suburbia to Full-Time RVing
Peggy Dent is an author, writer, and full-time RVer, traveling around the US and Canada. She’s traveled more than 130,000 miles in a motorhome, over the past 20 years, and is currently writing for the RV industry. You can contact her through her website at www.APenInYourHand.com