Living in an RV Full-Time: What You Need to Know


Thinking about living the life of a nomad? Want to brave the open road in an RV? There’s a lot to love about throwing caution to the wind and exploring the world on wheels, but it’s not without its own set of complications. Before you put your house up for sale and pawn off all your worldly possessions for a mobile existence, take this guide to living in an RV into consideration. (See also: How to Travel Full-Time for $17,000 a Year (or Less!))

1. An RV May Not Be Cheaper Than Traditional Housing

Think the only costs you’ll incur living in an RV is the monthly loan payment and gas? Think again.

While RV living can be less expensive than a home mortgage and the regular maintenance costs that are associated with home ownership overall, there are plenty of other costs to consider. In addition to the loan payment (unless you have the cash to buy it outright) and fuel (gas ain’t cheap these days, y’all), you’ll need to pay for insurance, site rentals if you plan to stay in an RV park (which can run $300 to $500 a month), propane and electricity (which are available at RV rental sites for an additional fee), and maintenance. Considering these costs, you’ll still be paying about the same per month as you would living in a small apartment.

2. The RV Will Require Much More Gas Than a Car

Many factors play into the amount of fuel consumed by an RV — the weight of the vehicle, engine size, fuel, driving habits — but even the most frugally minded RVers can expect to pay a pretty penny keeping the RV running. Smaller RVs get about 10-15 mpg while larger RVs come in at about 6-13 mpg. Most regular RVs hold between 40 and 85 gallons of gas (depending its class), which translates to between $148.12 and $314.75 per tank, based on the current average regular unleaded gas price of $3.70.

3. RV Insurance Is Not Regular Auto Insurance

Because you’ll being using your RV as a mobile home, insurance considerations are different than those associated with a regular vehicle. A specialized policy may require you to cover things like total loss replacement, replacement cost of personal belongings, full-timer liability, campsite liability, emergency expenses, medium-duty tow trucks, all of which will rack up that insurance bill quickly.

4. Can You Live Without Wi-Fi and Phone Service?

While many modern RV parks and campsites have Internet access on-site, Wi-Fi may not be an option. And if you’re in a remote area, you can probably forget about cell phone service, too. You’ll be able to get online from time to time, but it may be days or even weeks between access availability. So you have to ask yourself, can you live a life without being connected 24/7? Something to ponder before embarking.

5. Where Does the Mail Carrier Deliver Your Mail?

If you’re not staying in one place for more than a couple weeks, how will you get your mail? You can give your personal contacts the address of the park in which you’re staying if you plan to stay in a park, but it’s not feasible to expect your bills and other important mail to arrive at each of your destinations. Thus you’ll have to cancel most of your mail and set up online bill pay so you don’t get behind on payments because you didn’t receive them. Out of sight, out of mind is an easy way to forget about your obligations, but it’ll catch up with you in a bad way eventually.

6. You Have to Drain the Sewage Yourself

One of the great things about RV traveling is that the vehicle is self-contained. You can make meals in it, you can sleep comfortably in it, and you can do your 1s and 2s in it without having to pull into a rest stop or fast-food joint. Your 1s and 2s have to go somewhere though, and that somewhere is in a septic tank attached to the underside of the vehicle that will need to be emptied — and that can get messy. If you’ve got a weak stomach, definitely think hard about this necessary evil.

7. Can You Manage All the Other Stuff, Too?

RV living isn’t just driving from one location to the next, parking, and propping your feet up in nomadic bliss. There are lots of little things to remember, such as checking the battery water level monthly, lowering one corner of your awning to permit easier draining when there’s precipitation, and stocking up on rectangle storage boxes so you make efficient use of limited space. Once you arrive at the RV park, there's lots more to do, starting at the front office (requesting park maps, asking about discounts, and inquiring about Internet service), and then locating your RV space and setting up, which includes deploying decks and other heavy external features of the RV, connecting electricity, turning on water pumps, and raising roof-mounted accessories, among a host of other duties.

8. You’ll Need to Earn Money

Unless you’re embarking on your RV existence with a bank account full of money, you’ll need to work along the way, so you can ensure that there’s a consistent cash flow in case of emergencies, which, in an RV, can be quite costly. If you have the luxury of working remotely in your normal life, that’s still an option while living in an RV, but chances are you’ll need at least somewhat consistent Internet access. Otherwise you’ll have to find new ways to make money — helping out at the RV park, finding odd jobs on Craigslist, and other one-off projects — to bring in dough on the regular.

RV living isn't for everyone — as you can see, there’s a lot to it. Are you considering, or have you made, the transition from Average Joe to Road Warrior? Tell us about your experience in comments.

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Guest's picture

Living in an RV for a portion of the year would be amazing. But I dont think I could do it full-time. It would be sort of like John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley. Amazing experience, but one I would want to make temporary.

Guest's picture

I'd go with a composting toilet. Then you'd only have to contend with gray water.

Guest's picture
Undecided still

But even compost toilets have to be emptied, 1 and 2 separately. I think just draining it is less hassle.

Guest's picture

It would be amazing to be able to drop everything and live as a nomad on the open road, but using an RV to do so sounds like more trouble than it is worth! Whenever I go on cheap road trips, I like to use my car and bring camping gear and find parks and campsites to stay in along the way. It is a cheaper and greener alternative to such a large automobile!

Guest's picture

If your RV is your primary residence you can deduct from your taxes all the same things you would on your conventional home like loan interest.

While RV insurance isn't regular insurance, if you're not a full timer your insurance is likely to be 1/2 your car insurance. The insurance company knows you will have it parked in your yard for more than half the year and not subject to road accidents.

As for mail, on line is the way to go. For those things that must be mailed there are mail forwarding companies that will receive your mail and forward it to you when you land for a while when you call them.

Guest's picture
gtel I

Question-we are seniors. Can we deduct the 401k taxes when
We use the money for the RV to live in?

question 2. How long after we take the money out do we have to find the RV we want.

Carrie Kirby's picture

There is just something about RVs ... even though everything I read about the practicalities says run, I can't pass an RV dealership without getting all misty eyed. Especially if they have Airstreams.
Maybe in retirement ...
Oh, and for wifi, you could get one of those mobile hotspots, or a tablet that goes on your cell plan, no? As long as you're in cell range. My husband's company lent him a hotspot for when we were taking a cross-country road trip, and it was amazing to be browsing the net on my laptop in the passenger seat as we sped down the highway.

Guest's picture
John Johnson

I know what you are saying sister.

Guest's picture

Thanks for this article. Gives us some insight as we plan to live in an RV.

One thing, regarding mail there are now several sites that you can join where they will give you a physical address. You can have your mail forwarded to that physical address which is the companies and they in turn open your mail, scan it and email it to you. The cost ranges in the $9.95 to $15.00 per month range. It's all part of being paperless. Also if you are staying somewhere for any length of time, the mail forwarding can arrange to send you your mail via USPS.

Internet is now offered via satellite and you can be connected virtually anywhere. We have a vacation home in Utah in the middle of no where and get faster internet there. via satellite.

Luckily technology is changing at rapid pace!

Guest's picture
Undecided still

These are great pieces of information, Becca, thanks so much!

Guest's picture
Wanting to go rving

Would like to know the names of the mailing services if you happen to know them.

Guest's picture
Carol H

Haha! This is great - though if its done right, it really CAN be cheaper and more economic than not and there are so many other benefits to it (if you are an outdoors type of person who doesn't feel comfortable being tied down).

Earning money nowadays is easier to remote in than not in a lot of cases and there are definitely mobile wifi options available. Mail can be a concern especially if you are still using snail mail and not having things electronically sent your way.

But like I said there are so many other benefits to RVing and insurance shouldn't be an issue(as "guest" so aptly put it). And if you can get a used RV that is in good shape you are saving money from the get go!

This article on going green while RVing might also shed some light on some of the great benefits to the outdoors! (if you like that kind of stuff)

Guest's picture
Manny V Good

Thank you for sharing. I am definitely going to do this! Being in the US Army, this is a resort to some of the places I've slept in. Thank you for sharing, and I'll see you in the open roads!

Guest's picture

My parents did this for about 12 years (6 months in Florida and 6 months in Michigan). They loved it but I'd HATE it. My cats and I don't travel well and I'm a bit claustrophobic.

Guest's picture

Fulltimers know about a way of camping for free. it's called boondocking. You can do it on land doated by like-minded people, or in National Park lands, or even at some Walmarts! You would need to be completely self-sufficient (no electric or water hookups) but there are many websites on how to do this. There are even people living in converted vans in a city while working a "normal" job. Don't assume that RV'ing is expensive. Look around and learn and you can save some serious money.

Guest's picture

This article was very one sided and showed the author knows very little on the subject.

Guest's picture
Kevin Aintablian

This article is full of great info. It made me realize to just park my RV and stay put. It saved me a ton of doe and a lot less of frustration too.

Guest's picture

You can do it very cheaply when compared to an apartment or house if you do it right... here is my example and in my opinion what every single young person should do to get ahead. I'm a young single guy and make 40k a year and live in Texas where lots of places charge about 400 a month for "rent", electricity, cable, and WiFi (high-speed), plus about 25 bucks for a concrete slab. I paid cash ($4500) for my travel trailer and spent a little more to have it inspected then about $1000 to fix some minor stuff with my dad helping me. So, all together my expenses come under $1000 a month including car insurance, cell phone, food, gas, etc. My car is paid off so all my extra money is going towards my own land so I can do this whole full-time thing even cheaper since my area has unrestricted land. After I get the land I may build a house, get a double wide, or maybe try the tiny home thing, but the point is I will have options and piece of mind, which is something I never had with a mortgage or an apartment. Just don't let the internet scare you from just going for it if you know you have it in you. Yet don't romanticize it either because their are trade-offs. Though for me the decision was apparent and I don't nor have I regretted it for a second. (6 months now and ready for 6 more)... :)

Guest's picture

Well said!! You just made me change my mind about being stuck and sad and miserable with renting or mortgage for years!! I really want to see the beauty of North America (including Alaska and Canada) and the beauty of different people then me, so deeply much!!

Guest's picture

It has become a common practise among the tourists to book one way campervan rental in Canada, as it helps saving the travelling expenditure and assures total comfort.

Guest's picture

You make this sound so difficult. It isn't all that bad. The stuff on rv's are fairly easy to learn. Setup is not much more that going to any park, except you are going to be there more permentaly.

happy rv'ing