I thought this would be a good place to talk about what RVing is like, including the pros, cons, costs, and answers to other common questions we would have liked to know about ahead of time.
When we first started camping in our travel trailer, we knew almost nothing about what it would be like or how to properly set up and use our trailer. What we did know was that we absolutely loved camping in our tiny travel trailer at the time! We also realized we needed a lot more room. Then, when we moved to a class A motorhome, there was a lot more to learn. Hopefully this webpage will answer a lot of questions you might have.
Common questions we get:
- Is it hard to drive our RV?
Our current RV is easier to drive than our last RV, even though this one is longer. The first time we drove our last RV, which was our first class A, it was definitely nerve-racking at first. I was felt like I was in the lane to the left of me, so I would always hug the right side of the road. It’s just an illusion, though. Once you get used to the fact that you were not running over cars next to you, it’s easier to stay in the middle of the road! The other challenge with our last RV was that the distance from the rear wheels to the rear bumper (the tail, as I call it) was a lot longer than our current RV, which has a tag axle. The longer tail means more swing out when you’re making turns. Even if you are in your lane, your tail end is going to swing into the other lane as you make a turn. Fortunately, we never took out any light poles or hit any cars! With the tag axle, the tail end is a lot shorter, and therefore there is less swing out when making turns. The other challenge with learning to drive a class A is not cutting corners. Sometimes you have to turn onto a narrow street and there isn’t a lot of room to swing wide. Those are the more stressful moments! Another stressful aspect when first learning to drive and towing a car is that you cannot back up with the tow car attached. Technically you can back straight up if everything is lined up perfectly, but you would need someone holding onto the steering wheel in the tow car. Knowing this, you have to plan carefully when pulling into gas stations or other tight areas. If you can’t make the turn, it means stopping, getting out, and unhooking the car, which takes a few minutes. Then you would have to move the car out of the way so you can get the RV wherever it needs to go. And you might be holding up traffic while doing so. Definitely not something to look forward to. We’ve had that happen a few times, but fortunately we weren’t holding up any traffic when we had to take care of it. Our last RV was also a lot harder to keep on the road. Any amount of wind, including cars passing us, would make the RV wander all over the road. It felt a little like driving my old 1966 Chevy pickup! Our new RV has air ride suspension, is a lot heavier, and has stabilization technology built in so that it doesn’t sway and wander. Also, having the diesel engine in the back means a much quieter ride up front, which translates into less stress when you’re not listening to a high revving gas engine. That said, the new RV is a lot easier to drive, especially with more horsepower so you don’t feel like you’re getting left behind on every little hill. Because it is about 6 feet longer than our last RV, you definitely have to take turns a little wider, and also have to account for the fact that you are sitting in front of the front wheels instead of over the top of them and our last RV (this means you have to wait to start making a turn compared to the last RV).
- How long does it take to set up our RV once we get to the campground?
We can be completely set up in less than 15 minutes. Here’s what our routine usually looks like:
- Situate the RV in the campsite so that there is plenty of room on the patio side and the utilities are within reach on the driver’s side
- At that point, Carla will push a button to let the air out of the airbags and the RV will auto level itself.
- While she is doing that, I am outside hooking up the utilities, which includes electricity water, and sewer.
- Carla then puts out the slides. She waits to put out the slides on the drivers side until I am finished hooking up the utilities so that I’m not having to duck under the slides do you do that. That helps a lot!
- I then disconnect the tow car if we didn’t already do that when we first entered the campground. Whether we do that at the entrance or at the campsite depends on how wide the roads are and what the chances are that I might have to back up.
- At this point everything is hooked up, leveled out, and slid out.
- The last step is to deploy the DirecTV satellite dish (which means pushing a single button) and connect our Wi-Fi router to the campground’s Wi-Fi network. Our router can reach weak signals at the campground and rebroadcast them inside our RV. If all goes well, all of our electronic devices will automatically have Internet connectivity once our router is connected. Believe me, it’s often not that simple, depending on how difficult they make accessing the Internet and how many people are trying to access it simultaneously.
- The last step is to go have some fun wherever we are!
- Do you homeschool your kids?
Yes we do! That’s what makes this lifestyle possible. In fact, they learn so much more while traveling than staying home, because they get to see so many new things. Carla does a great job teaching them, just as she did when we were at our house!
- What do you do for a living?
I work for a large company’s information security department. As long as I have an Internet connection, I’m able to work from anywhere. I’m very grateful for the Internet and for my employer allowing me to work remotely!
- How do you go to church?
OK, so we haven’t really been asked that, but I wanted to talk about that anyway. Currently, each Sunday we’ve been working our way through a big set of Worldview Weekend DVDs, which consists of really great speakers such as Ken Ham and Brannon Howse. Our kids really like watching these as well!
Pros of RVing
Freedom!! Being able to have your personal belongings with you and choosing wherever you want to be at any given moment is a great feeling! You can chase the perfect weather and never have to deal with freezing temperatures or overly hot summer days. It really makes me despise yard work at our regular sticks and bricks house!
Another advantage of staying in an RV instead of hotels in airplanes is that you don’t constantly have to unpack and repack all of your clothes, and you were sleeping on your own bed and not one that’s been slept in by tons of other people. I used to enjoy flying somewhat, but now I really don’t like to fly. It is such a hassle compared to being in an RV where you are in control of your traveling. No delayed or cancelled flights, no long security lines, no parking shuttles, etc.! It allows you to stop and explore different sites on your way to your destination.
Another huge advantage of being in an RV is that you can get groceries and cook at home. If you are staying in a hotel, you are pretty much eating out all of the time, which is expensive, usually unhealthy, and gets a little monotonous.
Being in a motorhome is also so much easier than traveling in a car. There’s so much more room to move around, and people can stretch their legs without having to stop at a rest stop. Meals can be eaten while driving down the road, including using any appliances he would normally use while stopped (toaster, microwave, coffee maker, oven, etc.), thanks to an onboard generator you can fire up with the push of a button! I recall driving across the country at midnight, and Carla is making herself a cup of coffee while we are zipping down the freeway. Pretty wild! It reminds me of a King of Queens episode, where Doug is envying a man driving an RV who shouts to his wife, “Hey honey, fry me up some up some steak’ems!”. Ha!
It’s also fun to meet other people at the RV parks. Everyone has a different story and it’s fun to share experiences and tips. Here are a few of the people we’ve met over the past couple of years:
- A man named Pete who worked at launch pad number 39 at NASA in Cape Canaveral. He also was a welder for the first 20 years that Disney World was open.
- A man who has his own radio show and whose brother works with George Lucas.
- A man named Cisco, who has driven his family to all but seven of the lower 48 states.
- A man who helped build some tall condo buildings in Port Aransas, which is a town we live to visit in the winter.
- Hey man who helped build the Staten Island ferries in New York.
- A family who has an advertising business and they have two boys like us. They had been on the road for about nine months when we met them and we’re loving it. They helped inspire us to go full-time in our RV.
- Several people who have just recently sold their house and have hit the road full-time just like us. I think it’s becoming a lot more popular of an option, now that there are so many remote work positions out there.
Cons of RVing
- If you are traveling for a long periods of time, you will miss your family and friends and they will probably miss you too! We wish we could take all of them with us everywhere we go! But, it does make our time with them more special when we are in town. We use Skype to help keep in touch as well. It’s great for the grandparents to see the grandkids that way and not just hear them on the phone.
- Having to hookup the RV to utilities when you get somewhere, but that’s a 5 minute task. Before I ever started RVing, I dreaded what it would be like to have to hook up the sewer connection. It’s really not that bad, though!
- Fuel is not cheap if you move around the country try frequently.
- If you have to have repairs made to your RV while you are staying in it, that can put a real kick in your travel plans. We had to have a couple of repairs made while traveling through California, and we ended up having to stay in a hotel at almost $200 per night while we were also paying for a campsite we had not yet checked into.
- If your RV does not have a washer and dryer, you will have to use the washer and dryer’s found at most campgrounds. We are not a fan of washing our clothes in a washer that we have no idea what’s been inside of it. It can also be expensive, and you have to sometimes wait on a washer and dryer to be available for use, and then you have to stick around close to the campground so you can get your clothes out in order to free it up for someone else. That’s why we eventually bought a motorhome with a washer and dryer.
- Having to winterize / de-winterize the RV to prevent water lines from freezing and bursting. I created a little checklist for myself to use, because you forget some things over the winter and over the summer. Overall, it’s about a 20 to 30 minute process, so not too bad.
- Be prepared to have your RV in the shop, sometimes quite regularly. These things are put through a lot of stress and stuff will break, need adjustments, etc. It’s like driving your house through a hurricane or earthquake, given how rough some roads can be. We usually wait until we have a decent list of repairs that need to be made before scheduling an appointment, because some of the shops are really booked up and I can take a while if you just drop at your RV off. Now that we are living in ours, we don’t want to have to get a hotel room for a week just for a few small repairs.
Even with these drawbacks, we absolutely love RVing and wouldn’t trade it for anything!
How much does it cost to travel in an RV? And is it cheaper or more expensive than living in a house?
Oh boy….here we go. If you ask anyone how much it costs to travel in an RV, most people will tell you it can be very cheap or very expensive. It all depends on the choices you make and your expectations. Below, I will cover the common costs.
- Obviously, the RV itself!
- Fuel: figure 7mpg for budgeting purposes
- Camping fees: Campgrounds, state parks, national parks, RV parks, RV Resorts, Walmart parking lots, Cabela’s parking lots, Flying J’s, oh my! They range from free to over $100 per night. The average decent RV park will be around $35-40/night for daily rates, and weekly rates are usually stay 6 nights get the seventh night free. If you check out our blog post about Port Aransas, you will see photos of Gulf Waters RV Resort (very nice resort that is well landscaped and extremely close to the beach), which is around $350 per week plus about $35 for electricity. Monthly rates are even cheaper and range from $400 for lower end RV parks to well over $1500 for high end resorts. If you plan to use your RV more than a few times per year, I recommend joining the Good Sam Club ($25/yr), as this will save you 10% on daily rates at most RV parks. Passport America (PA) can be good as well ($45/yr), as it saves you 50% on many RV parks, but there are many black out days of the week or months of the year, and we found that many of the parks that accept PA or lower end. But still…a few nights will pay for the yearly pass in no time. There are also clubs you can join, such as Thousand Ttrails (TT). You typically buy a zone (section of the USA) for $500 (usually they have specials going where you can get 20% off order by one zone and get one free) and you can stay in there park system for free for the first 30 days, and only $3 per night after that. They do have some rules, such as if you stay less than 7 nights at one of their parks you can keep changing parks and never leave their system of parks (if you want). However, if you stay for more than 7 nights at one of their parks, you can stay for up to 14 nights at that one park, but then you have to leave their system for one week. We stayed in a couple of their parks, but found that many of them are off the beaten path and our old or not well-maintained. Still, you can save a lot of money if you use their parks. Their zone pass pays for it self after about 14 nights ($500 / $35 per night for a typical campground), so it might be worth checking out if you plan to travel quite a bit. We have stayed overnight at Walmart parking lots and Cabela’s parking lots, and generally have good luck with those. Having a self-contained RV with a generator and water on board makes that possible. It’s nice because he don’t even have to get out of your RV in order to set up everything. You simply push a button to level the RV, put your slides out, turn on the generator, and you are good to go! When our window shades are pulled down, it’s no different than being in a luxury RV resort. In fact, parking in a Walmart parking lot means you can easily go grab some groceries or anything else you might need without having to even get in the car. It’s usually best to call and make sure it’s OK to park in a given parking lot. There is an app for Walmart parking lots called Allstays ONP (overnight parking). It will show you which Walmart stores are near you and it will tell if people have had success parking there or not.
- Liquid Propane (LP): LP prices vary widely, depending on where you get your tank filled. We’ve paid as little as $2 and as much as $4 per gallon. There are also mobile LP tank filling services. Those can be even more expensive.
- Tow Car Tow Bar & Brake System: if you plan to purchase a motorhome and want to tow a car (a “toad”) behind you, there are a few options to consider. You can either flat tow a car (all four wheels are on the ground) or you can use a car dolly (front wheels of the tow car ride on the dolly). Keep in mind that only certain makes and models of cars can be flat towed. After reading several opinions, we decided to go with a tow bar that flat tows a car (“all four down”, as they say), rather than a tow dolly. This seemed like the quickest way to hook and unhook the car (it takes about three minutes to cook for unhook the car), and we don’t have to find a place for the tow dolly when we are parked at an RV site. Flat towing a car requires a tow bar that connects to the RV’s receiver hitch and a plate that installs on the front end of the tow car. If you flat tow a car, you will have to install a brake system. You can either install an integrated system, such as in the InvisiBrake (what we went with), or a removable system, such as a Brake Buddy. And integrated system is much easier to hook and unhook, but it is more expensive and you might want to pay someone to install it. Between the cost of the towbar, tow bar plate, and brake system, figure around $2500-$3500 to get your car ready to tow.
- Necessary Accessories:
- Air compressor that can handle 120psi for motorhomes tires (built-in on some diesel motorhomes)
- TIre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) – $500
- RV GPS that accounts for your RV’s height, weight, and length- $350
- High quality sewer hose – $50-100
- Drinking hose – $25
- Leveling Blocks – $35-100
- Ladder (collapsible is nice)
- Hot spot option on your cell phone and a decent sized data plan if you depend on the Internet for working remotely (campground wifi is usually only “ok” and is typically unreliable)
- Nice water pressure regulator with a gauge – $50-75 (Valterra is a good one)
- If you work remotely or if being online is important to you, consider a WifiRanger, which pulls in weak wifi signals – $300-600
- Engine and Generator Maintenance: the cost depends on whether you plan to do this yourself. Oil change on a diesel is around $200
- Insurance: Expect to pay a lot more than you pay for a car, especially if you are living in your RV. I recommend GEICO if you are full time in your RV, as they specialize in that kind of insurance. They are a popular choice amongst full time RVers.
- Repairs: varies greatly, depending on whether you can handle the repairs after your RV is out of its warranty, or if you plan to buy an extended service plan / warranty. Check out Wholesale Warranties as well as Good Sam. Those two are quite popular. Many people will say not to buy one. Whatever you do, don’t buy one from a dealer. There is no need for one until your factory warranty is almost gone.
- Tolls: some tolls, especially around the Houston area, are quite expensive if you have several axles. We once paid $16 to go 10 miles and we then had another toll! It was like $30 in tolls for a short stretch of highway.
- Laundry: ranges from $1.50 – $2.50 to wash and the same to dry.
So, there are a lot of variables and whether or not it is cheaper or more expensive than living in a house all depends on how much you currently pay.
Choosing an RV
There are a few types of RVs to know about. To get accurate prices, I recommend going to rvtrader.com or using their app.
These can be pulled behind cars and trucks and they connect to a ball style hitch. They can be small teardrop style trailers, pop up campers, or longer hard sided campers. New, they start around $10,000. Camping in a small travel trailer is a lot more like…well….camping! As you move up the line, it’s more like taking your house with you!
These offer LOTS of living space and are transported via a pick up truck with a 5th wheel mount in the bed of the truck. They can be fairly simple inside or completely decked out with lots of amenities. The reason they can have so much room is that the slideouts can be deeper than a class A, since there is no need to save space for an isle down the middle for walking within the RC while driving. If you don’t already have a capable pick up truck, you have to factor that in when considering the cost. Also, if you want to grab a snack, make a meal, stretch your legs, or use the bathroom while traveling, you have to pull over and stop somewhere. Motorhomes don’t have that limitation (unless you’re the driver, but even then my wife can make lunch and bring it to me while I am driving).
Class B Motorhome:
These are like a decked out van, with a bed, kitchen, etc., and can be quite luxurious inside. Great for 2 people, and you can drive them into any parking lot (there’s a lot to be said for that!). Don’t be fooled by their small size – they can be quite pricey (well over $100k for some models).
Class C Motorhome:
These are characterized by their boxy, cab-over shape. More maneuverable than a class A, but roomier than a class B. Some have slide-outs for even more room. Can sleep several people. Can be as expensive as a class A, so don’t rule out a class A if you are looking for lots of room.
Class A Motorhome:
These are the largest motorhomes and have either a gasoline or diesel engine. They can be equipped with almost every amenity found in your sticks & bricks household, can have up to 4 slideouts for tons of room, and can pull a decent sized tow vehicle (aka “toad”). One benefit of having a class A over a class B or C is that you have a really large windshield and sit up high, allowing for incredible visibility and taking in awesome views while on the road! Air ride suspension is also an option, which helps smooth out a lot of the rough highways you will be traveling across. Other benefits for passengers include being able to get up and stretch your legs, make a meal, watch TV, change seats for a different view, play board games, use the bathroom, etc., all while not losing travel time as you drive down the highway. Much easier on the kids! New class A Motorhomes start at around $80k and go up to well over $1,000,000! Gasoline models are cheaper to own and maintain, but lack the power, torque, and lifespan that a diesel can provide. There’s always a trade off! Most class A owners pull a tow car behind the RV. This allows you to explore areas outside the RV park without having to unhook your RV, slide in the slides, put everything away, etc. towing a car requires a braking system and towing equipment, so factor in another $3k for that.
Our RV choices:
When we started camping, we owned a 2016 KZ Sportsmans Classic 19 BHS like the one below.
We chose this one because it was lightweight (our Honda Pilot couldn’t tow much) and had one slide out that allowed for more room. We had so much fun camping in it, but we very quickly learned that with two boys, it just was not enough room. We were crowded around each other all the time.
We traded in that camper on a 2016 Itasca Sunstar 35B (class A).
Much better choice for us! We traveled over 13,000 miles across 20 states in one year (about 100 days spent in the RV overall), and learned what we did and did. It like about it.
We decided that we wanted to live full time in our RV for a year, but really wanted to address some of the things we didn’t like. Certain things could not simply be changed, such as the engine, size of refrigerator, lack of a washer/dryer, etc., so we made one more jump to a 2017 Forest River Berkshire XLT 43B.
All of that said, here is a list of factors to consider:
- How many people will be sleeping in the RV, and are you up for converting dining tables and couches to beds every night?
- Do you need bunkbeds? They are very handy and I wouldn’t own an RV without them as long as our kids are with us.
- Gas or diesel?
- Clothes washer / dryer needed, or use RV park facilities ($2-4 per load)?
- Dishwasher needed?
- Full size refrigerator needed?
- If choosing a motorhome, are you up for maintaining it as you would a vehicle (tires, oil changes, generator maintenance, etc.)?
- Do you mind having to fill up on liquid propane occasionally (for the furnace, water heater, refrigerator, and/or stovetop), or do you want an all electric appliance motorhome (not the engine)?
- Queen or king size bed?
- 1 or 2 bathrooms? We had two in the last RV and I now prefer only one (one set of tanks to dump = much easier!!)
- Number of slideouts (2 opposing front slideouts mean lots more living space).
Our Honda pilot got around 11MPG when pulling a 19′ travel trailer that weighed 2900 lbs. Compare that to 8 MPG that we currently get with our fully loaded 43′ tag axle diesel pusher pulling a Honda CRV, all of which can cruise up hills effortlessly at 70mph.
My point is, don’t go with a travel trailer or 5th wheel, thinking you are going to save a lot of money on fuel when compared to a motorhome. You might save a little, but it shouldn’t be a deciding factor. Our last motorhome had a V10 gasoline engine and we would average 7MPG fully loaded and pulling a tow car, but it would struggle when going up hills (sometimes not able to exceed 37 mph on steep inclines) and the high revving engine was very loud and heated up the front floor substantially (so hot you would have to have shoes on when riding in the front seats in the summertime, especially in hilly areas).
So…fuel economy should not be a factor when deciding on an RV. It’s going to be terrible when compared to a car no matter what you pick! Instead, choose an RV based on other factors. If you want to average how much you will be spending on fuel, I would go with 7MPG to be safe, knowing you might get a little bit better than that.
How do you get your mail when traveling?
There are several mail services available. These services have different features. We went with St. Brendan’s Isle, based out of Green Cove Springs ha, FL. We chose it because:
- It’s based out of the state we planned to use for our domicile (you register your vehicles in the county where your mailing address is located),
- They have a scanning service so you can login to an online portal and see the fronts of the envelopes you received. If you want to see the inside of the envelope you can simply choose to have the mail service scan the inside as well.
- The service is reasonably priced at around $20/month. You can pay a small fee to have your mail sent to any address at any time.
- SBI got great reviews and is used by many RVers and cruisers.
Are there useful apps or websites for RVing?
Yes! Here are ones we recommend:
- Allstays app (MUST have!!!). The ultimate app for finding RV parks, fuel stations, Walmarts, LP filling services, and reviews of all of those. Too many awesome features to list here. Go buy the app right now!
- The Allstays Pro website (allstays.com) is AWESOME!!! Be sure to get a pro login if you can swing it ($79 for 3 years…not bad). Most RVers already use their great app, but the website is soooo nice to use when planning a trip, especially if you have a good sized monitor. It’s a LOT easier to use than the Good Sam Trip Planner.
- Sensorly app: shows where you can expect cell service by carrier and signal type (3G, 4G, LTE, etc). MUCH MUCH better than the “Coverage?” app.
- State Lines app: tells you the state laws you need to know about when entering a new state (seat belt laws, tax rates, rest stop max hours you can stay, etc).
- Google Maps: let’s you save local map data for a given area so you can save your data plan as well as not having to worry if you lose cell service (GPS + offline map data will work without cell service)
- Amazon Prime Video: you can download free movies ahead of time so you save your data plan. Requires Amazon Prime membership.
- Amazon Prime Music: you can download many hours of music ahead of time to save your data plan. Can creat your own playlists. Requires Amazon Prime membership.
- Pandora: Allows for offline music stations if you download the content ahead of time. Requires a Pandora membership.
- TripAdvisor: great for finding things to see and do, the best restaurants, etc.
- AllTrails: good app for finding local hiking / biking trails
- KOA app
- IRV2.com is THE website for all thing RV
- There are tons of RV podcasts you can listen to for free!
- Http://technomadia.com – expert RVers!