Bob Livingston, senior vice president and group publisher of Good Sam Media and Events, the company that publishes Trailer Life and MotorHome magazines. He has been traveling in and writing about RVs for 40 years, including a year as a full-timer. He intends to return to full-timing when he retires. www.TrailerLife.com
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Can’t decide where to retire? There’s no need to choose if you retire to a recreational vehicle (RV). Today’s RVs can be spacious and plush. And full-time RVers can drive their homes from town to town, living near their grandkids one month, just outside a vibrant city the next, then in a warm beachfront community over the winter.
The flexibility and adventure of life on the road hold tremendous allure for many retirees and even for some people still in the workforce if they have portable jobs. And most full-time RVers love it. But people who haven’t previously lived full-time in an RV may find that the lifestyle is different from what they expected—the fact that someone has enjoyed RV vacations in the past is no guarantee that he/she will enjoy living in an RV long term.
Here’s what you need to know…
THE FULL-TIMER MIND-SET
Five questions to ask yourself before you embark upon an RV retirement…
Will my partner and I get along well in close quarters? Even the largest RV doesn’t provide nearly as much room as the typical house. Some couples have trouble adjusting to this loss of personal space.
How badly will I miss being part of my current community? Full-time RVers get to meet many new people and enjoy the camaraderie of the RV community, but they sometimes lament that they no longer feel close to the place they used to call home.
Helpful: This feeling can be reduced or eliminated by returning to your home region in your RV for a few months or more each year.
How do I respond to minor annoyances? Frustrations are inevitable when you drive an RV. You’ll make wrong turns down roads where there isn’t room to turn the RV around…you’ll endure mechanical glitches…you’ll occasionally have a loud neighbor. People who can’t laugh off small problems struggle as full-time RVers.
Will it bother me to see doctors I don’t know? RV park and campground directors usually can provide excellent doctor, dentist and veterinarian recommendations upon request. But these won’t be the professionals you know, and the RV life may not be suitable for people with chronic conditions.
Do I understand how fuel prices have altered the full-time RV lifestyle? In decades past, full-time RVers often woke up each morning thinking, Which way should we drive today? Because of high fuel prices, most full-time RVers now carefully select their next destination before they hit the road…and spend several months exploring each region before they move on. It’s still a life of freedom and exploration, but no longer one of day-to-day spontaneity.
Example: With gas at $3.85 per gallon, making the 1,500-mile journey from Florida to Maine in an RV that gets 10 miles per gallon (mpg) will cost close to $1,200 round-trip.
LIFE ON THE ROAD
Most RV parks and campgrounds are comfortable, clean and social. They provide electrical, water and sewer hookups, a measure of security and perhaps access to a swimming pool and a clubhouse.
But parking an RV in campgrounds every night can get expensive. Renting campground space by the month, when possible, is one potential money saver. Monthly rates often are around 50% lower than daily ones. Expect to pay perhaps $400 to $750 per month on average, though rates at high-end facilities and near major cities and resort towns can climb to more than $1,000 per month.
Skip the campgrounds when you’re just passing through an area. Many Walmarts and other retailers allow RVers to camp overnight in their parking lots—though usually not for more than one night. Free or low-cost RV camping also is allowed on some public lands, particularly in the western US. (Some free and low-cost RV parking options are listed on Web sites such as FreeCampgrounds.com and FreeCamp sites.net.)
Your water and power will be limited on nights when you don’t stay in a campground—you won’t have the power to run your air conditioner without an auxiliary generator, for example—but your onboard batteries and water tank should meet most of your needs.
Satellite dishes now can be installed on RVs to provide both television and Internet access. RV parks usually provide Wi-Fi, but it’s often slow and unreliable. Cell phones with nationwide service plans are a must for full-time RVers.
Tax advantage: Full-time RVers who don’t own a house or apartment can select any state as their official state of residence. States such as South Dakota and Texas that have low taxes, auto insurance rates and auto registration fees are popular with full-time RVers.
THE RIGHT RV
The vast majority of RVs are designed for only occasional use. They’re not durable and reliable enough for full-time use…lack sufficient insulation for efficient four-season climate control…and are short on interior space, storage space and creature comforts—things that people can do without on short vacations but not for years.
I recommend that full-timers lean toward “fifth wheels”—a type of RV that’s towed by a truck. These have several advantages over motor homes, which are RVs that have their own engines and don’t require tow vehicles. A fifth wheel provides an extraordinary amount of space and usually saves on fuel costs because the combination of tow vehicle and a fifth wheel tends to get better fuel mileage than a comparably sized motor home. Also, fifth wheels cost significantly less to insure…they don’t leave their owners homeless when the tow vehicle requires a trip to the shop…the tow vehicle can be used for traveling around regions once the RV is parked…and you don’t have to take your home out for a drive every few months if you don’t want to—vehicles that have engines should not be allowed to sit unused for long stretches.
The only major advantage that motor homes have over fifth wheels is that passengers can be more comfortable while the vehicle is in motion. They even can use the bathroom or kitchen without asking the driver to pull over.
Two makers of high-quality fifth wheels that are built specifically for full-time use…
DRV Luxury Suites fifth wheels offer very solid construction and attractive interiors. DRV’s Mobile Suites models have some of the thickest, most highly insulated walls available in an RV. Prices start in the mid-$70,000 range for the entry-level Tradition model and around $100,000 for Mobile Suites. 260-562-1075, www.DrvSuites.com.
New Horizons fifth wheels have an ultra-heavy-duty chassis that can stand up to full-time use, plus sufficient insulation for energy-efficient four-season living. Prices start in the high-$90,000 range for the entry-level Summit and the low $110,000s for the wider and more luxurious Majestic. 800-235-3140, www.HorizonsRV.com.
If you can’t afford to spend close to $100,000 or more for an RV, lightly used RVs often sell at substantial discounts to their original prices.
Helpful: Bring any used RV that you’re seriously considering to a local RV service center for an evaluation before buying. Expect to pay a few hundred dollars per evaluation.
Whatever RV you select, make sure that it has…
Plenty of storage space. If you intend to live in the RV full-time, everything you need to live will have to fit onboard.
A real queen-size bed (or king, if desired). Some RVs feature “RV queen” beds, which are shorter and uncomfortable for tall RVers.
A washer/dryer. RV parks generally have laundry facilities—but it’s convenient to be able to do laundry in your home.
A sizable refrigerator and range/oven. The undersized kitchen appliances found in some RVs tend to become frustrating for full-timers.
A quiet generator. Run the generator before you buy an RV to make sure that it isn’t so loud that you’ll never use it. Generators are more important to those RVers who spend time unhooked in primitive locations.