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Of the estimated 10 million U.S. households that own recreational vehicles, most spend an average of three to four weeks traveling. But approximately one million American RV owners are living in their vehicles full-time.
It’s not hard to see the appeal of living the full-time so-called van life. When you live in your RV, you’re rid of mortgage payments, homeowner’s insurance, and HOA fees. With a smaller space, you need less furniture, home goods, and stuff in general. And—perhaps most appealing of all—you have the freedom to travel the country, moving from city to city and state to state as you please.
But before you pick up and leave your home and your belongings behind, there are a few things you should know about open-road living. To help you determine whether you’re ready to become a motorhome nomad, here are five things to know about full-time RVing:
1. You should do a practice run (or three).
The experience of residing in an RV full-time is different from taking a one- or two-week vacation in your motorhome. To get a better sense of full-time RV living—and to make sure you’re ready to take the plunge—you should do at least one practice run by spending a few months in your RV. If you don’t own an RV yet, it’s highly advisable to rent a vehicle before deciding to make such a big-ticket purchase.
2. Make sure your motor vehicle suits your lifestyle and travel plans.
If you’re still shopping for a full-time RV, you should familiarize yourself with the different types. There are several kinds of motorhomes available, and the right one for you will depend on factors like your lifestyle, family size, and budget.
Here is a quick rundown of some of the most popular types of motorhomes:
- Class A RVs - Class As are the largest vehicles on the market. They’re powered by gasoline or diesel engines and often come packed with luxuries like residential-size fridges and induction stoves. If you plan on camping in state and national parks, you should keep in mind that many of these facilities do not accommodate larger vehicles like Class As.
- Class B RVs - Class B RVs—also known as campervans—are the smallest type of RV and look and drive much like a van. Class B RVs have very limited space and can be a good option for solo or couple travelers on a tight budget who want to save money on gas. Campervans also come with the benefit of being able to squeeze into small campsites.
- Class C RVs - Class C RVs are smaller than Class A RVs but larger than Class B RVs. Class C vehicles usually have a sleeping area or storage space that sticks out over the cab. Class C RVs are a good compromise—they’re spacious enough for full-time living but not so large they are a challenge to handle and fuel.
- Fifth-wheel trailers - Fifth-wheel trailers hitch to large pickup trucks using a U-shaped coupling mounted onto the cargo bed. Fifth wheels, also called fivers, have a second story that extends over the bed of the pickup truck. Because they are typically very large, some state and national parks may not accommodate fivers.
- Travel trailers - Travel trailers—also known as conventional trailers or bumper-pulls—attach to a standard hitch mounted on the rear bumper or frame of your car or truck. Like camper vans, travel trailers are compact and can fit into smaller campsites.
3. You’ll need to downsize.
Living in an RV full-time means leaving behind your apartment, condo, house, or whatever living space you currently call home. If you own your property, this usually means either selling your house or renting it out.
You’ll also need to figure out what to do with your furniture and possessions. When packing for your life in your new compact home on wheels, you should start by gathering half the items you think you’ll need, getting rid of half of them, and then getting rid of the remaining half for good measure.
What happens to all the stuff that doesn’t make the cut? You effectively have two options: you can either keep your furniture and possessions in storage or get rid of them by selling them or giving them away.
What do we recommend? A big part of RV living is simplifying, and that means parting with your creature comforts. To rid yourself of excess possessions, host garage sales, post stuff on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, auction off items on eBay, and leave mementos and heirlooms with family and friends.
4. Figure out your WiFi needs.
If you’re embracing RV life as a way to unplug, WiFi access might not be important to you. However, if you plan on working remotely in your vehicle, you’ll need a reliable source of internet access. What are your options?
Many RV workers use their phones as hotspots. This is a decent option, but keep in mind that rural areas of the country might not have a strong cellular signal. Other choices include WiFi boosters or satellite internet.
5. Make a plan for mail delivery.
To receive mail, you’ll need to find a mail forwarding service. One excellent option is provided by Escapees, which assigns you a unique mailing address for receiving mail or packages. The service receives and holds your mail, then forwards it to a destination of your choice when you need it. Your assigned mailing address can even be used for tax purposes.
The bottom line? Making the switch to full-time RVing is a major lifestyle change—and, as such, requires some major preparation, soul-searching, and determination. It’s not a switch that should be taken lightly, but those bold and driven enough to go for it are in an adventure of a lifetime.
Take a look at our other great content for new RVers. In this post, we talk about preparing for your first trip.