October 21, 2008
Filed under Travel
Fun, freedom and new friends – these are just a few of the benefits and the reasons that the full-timing lifestyle appeals to so many RVers.
Potential full-timers usually have lots of questions about the lifestyle, and a good way to get the answers is by talking to other full-timers. You can find them where they live – in campgrounds. Visit campgrounds and chat them up; RVers are friendly folk, and it should not be difficult to strike up a conversation with them. Then explain your situation and ask away.
If you decide to become a full-timer, one of the first things you will have to decide is what to do about your present dwelling: sell it, rent it or keep it as a homebase. If you own your dwelling and have any doubts about whether you will like full-timing, it’s probably best to keep it, at least for a while.
Some full-timers prefer to return to a homebase for a few months during the year. Something to keep in mind, though, is that whether or not you are living in a house, its expenses continue. Insurance premiums and taxes must be paid and maintenance must be taken care of. Aside from the expenses, you’ll have the chores associated with readying the house for occupancy when you return to it and then securing it when you leave for an extended period of time. You will also have to unpack and repack the RV. We’ve talked to full-timers who started out by keeping their fixed dwelling – until they realized how much it affected their new-found freedom.
If you have had some RVing experience before you make the move, you will be ahead of the game. The motorhome’s systems-water, heating, cooling, sewer – will be familiar to you. While none of the systems is complicated, a beginner can be overwhelmed by trying to understand them all at once.
Even if you know about RVs, after you purchase your full-timing one, plan on staying in a campground near the dealer for a week or so while you familiarize yourself with its systems. I’ve had a lot of RVing experience, yet I have had to learn how to use some equipment on every RV I have owned. Also, if you’re near the dealer, it’s easy to take the unit back if you experience any glitches cropping up that the dealer should take care of.
The size of motorhome that you need can only be decided upon by you. My philosophy is to keep the RV as small as practical for the way you live. While the RV should be large enough to hold everything you want and need, keep in mind that the larger the RV, the more difficult it is to maneuver, and to find enough space to park it in shopping centers and other parking lots. Some campgrounds have limited spaces for large motorhomes as well.
Nearly all Class A and Class C motorhomes have slideout rooms (and usually more than one). Before you purchase a rig, have the salesperson retract the slideouts. Check to see if you can access the bathroom during travel and, if you like to stop and prepare lunch along the way, if you can use the kitchen without extending the slides.
How many possessions you have when living in a land-based dwelling is generally not overly important; this changes when you live in an RV because of weight considerations. Your motorhome will last longer and require fewer repairs if it isn’t overburdened by hauling around more than its cargo-carrying capacity. Too much weight is hard on the chassis and tires, and it affects maneuverability. To be on the safe side, once your RV is loaded, you should weigh it to see if it is within the manufacturer’s weight specifications.
Before purchasing your full-timing RV, sort through your possessions and be very selective about choosing what to take with you. This is not an easy job, and you may have to do it more than once. How many sets of bed linens do you really need? Dishes? Flatware? Think about keeping a service for four and buying disposables when you are serving more than that. Appliances? Keep only those you use often, such as a coffeemaker. Before you move into the RV, clean out your clothes closets and get rid of items you no longer wear. If you can get your possessions down to a reasonable amount, you won’t have such a job to do when it’s time to store them in your RV, and what you do store will be easier to access.
TOWING A DINGHY
Towing an auxiliary vehicle can give you an additional measure of freedom, something that can prove essential for full-timers who do not want to pack up the motorhome every time they wish to go shopping or sightseeing. If you are purchasing a vehicle to use for a dinghy, it’s easier if you have one that can be towed on all four wheels. That way, you can hitch it to the motorhome with a simple tow bar that can be attached with a minimum of effort.
Don’t take the word of a salesperson about the towing specs of a vehicle. Take a look at the owner’s manual before deciding and go by what’s written there. If a vehicle isn’t flat towable according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, malfunctions may occur and the warranty may be voided. Check out MotorHome‘s latest Dinghy Towing Guide; it’s updated annually.
If the dinghy is not flat towable, you’ll need to purchase and install a tow dolly. Hitching the dolly to the motorhome, positioning the dinghy on the dolly and securing it can be a rather complicated operation that often requires you to crawl around on the ground in order to properly secure the hold-down straps. This isn’t too bad – unless the ground is wet or muddy. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide whether you want to tow a dinghy, and which vehicle suits your needs best.
ECONOMICS OF FULL-TIMING
You may find that full-timing is more economical than living in a fixed dwelling. I have stayed in lovely campgrounds with a monthly rate of only $325 – it would be difficult to find an apartment with rent that low. Once into the lifestyle, if you find that you need to economize, you can do so in a variety of ways, the easiest being to simply cut down on traveling. Drive less and stay longer in campgrounds. You’ll also save on fuel costs. Linger in places that catch your fancy, even if you hadn’t planned on a stay in that location. I have often put into a campground for an overnight stay only to find the area or town I’m in has many points of interest. Be flexible; when your schedule can accommodate an extra week, or even a month, in a new location, put down roots and go exploring.
To save money on food and supplies, try shopping at local farmers markets or less expensive grocery stores – camp stores tend to charge premium prices, and a well-organized farmer’s market can be a fun day-long experience in and of itself.
Try venturing off the beaten path when it comes to planned activities as well. Search out free factory tours, museums and art galleries. In the summer months, many cities organize free concerts or Shakespeare-in-the-park productions. Pack a picnic and enjoy an evening of free entertainment. Street fairs, salsa festivals, cooking classes and crafts markets are other possibilities and are usually held all year long. RV parks tend to organize their own activities, classes and celebrations, too, that are usually free or offered for a small fee.
When you’re a full-timer, the business of living goes on in much the same way as it did before. The house must be cleaned, the laundry done and meals cooked. While the kitchen of an RV is necessarily smaller than what you’ve been used to, there is ample storage room for your dishes, utensils, and appliances – you can cook the same kind of meals in your RV that you have always cooked. You’ll have to adapt to less counter space and a smaller stovetop area, and may have to make do with a microwave convection oven rather than a traditional one, but you’ll do just fine.
With regard to housekeeping, living in an RV will not necessarily alter how or when you perform cleaning chores, but you’ll find that housecleaning doesn’t take very long because the square footage of a motorhome is considerably smaller than that of a fixed dwelling. There are also a number of motorhome-specific cleaning products on the market that you can try. Camping World is a good place to explore these.
Many parks and campgrounds have coin-operated laundry facilities that you can take advantage of, and there’s a lot to be said for doing the laundry in a campground’s facility. It gives you the opportunity to meet new people and you can do several loads at the same time. If the campground doesn’t have a public facility available, it should be easy to locate a Laundromat in town. Of course, many larger RVs have space for an optional washer/dryer combo unit with the plumbing already built in. They operate differently than conventional washers and dryers, and it takes quite a bit longer to wash and dry a load of laundry. You’ll have to plan to do smaller loads at a time as well.
Although quite a few campgrounds offer phone hookups for their guests – a nominal fee is charged for each day the land-line is used – more and more RVers are using cell phones and don’t bother hooking up to a land-line even if one is available. Cell phones can even be used for sending occasional faxes when hooked up to a notebook computer.
I have a one-rate calling plan that has no charges for long distance or for roaming calls – roaming calls (different from long distance service) being calls originating outside one’s home area. For full-timers, it’s best to have a contract that stipulates no roaming charges along with long distance calling inclusion; this will ensure you avoid fees for making and receiving both long distance and local calls, regardless of your location.
A good way to save traveling expenses is to look for a suitable, low-cost cellular plan, and sometimes these are offered through clubs such as Good Sam. In fact, Good Sam and Consumer Cellular have partnered to offer a cell phone plan specifically geared to RVers. The plan offers no long-term contracts (so you can cancel whenever you need to); low rates for family plans and higher use needs; and simple plans starting at just $10. For more information, go to Good Sam Consumer Cellular Offer.
In many instances, a wireless provider can also serve as an Internet service provider – though you’ll likely pay an extra monthly fee for this benefit. Accessing the Internet with a cell phone is considerably slower than with a land-line phone, but it is convenient, and inexpensive compared to carrying around a laptop and/or paying for Internet service. If you need to do a lot of Internet work, you can always go to a local library, where access is usually free (though they may require you to have a local library card), to an Internet cafe, or to a FedEx Office (formerly Kinko’s) where there is a nominal charge for the service.
If you have your own laptop – one with a built in or attachable WiFi card – more and more restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores and other eclectic places are offering free WiFi service. Incorporated in the WiFi card or adapter is a tiny antenna that makes a radio connection with the nearest WiFi system. You don’t need an Internet service provider, because WiFi is the provider. With the abundance of businesses moving to offer free WiFi, you may not have to pay for Internet service at all while you’re full-timing – something that can save you considerable money. I’ve counted such differing locations offering free WiFi as McDonald’s, Starbucks, Jiffy Lube shops, Claim Jumper restaurants and more. A handy Web site to know is WiFi Free Spots, which provides a list of businesses across the country that provide free WiFi.
The number of campgrounds offering Internet access is also growing rapidly. Many offer it for free, others for a nominal daily fee. Each campground is different, so if Internet access is a must for you, check ahead before making reservations at the campground of your choice.
For those campgrounds that do not yet offer WiFi, you may still be able to access the Internet. Many private campgrounds have a modem hookup for the use of their guests. It’s often located in the office or the recreation building. Of course, you will need to have a notebook computer with a built-in modem so you can take it to where the hookup is. Sometimes a time limit is imposed for each individual’s use and others may be waiting to use the hookup, so you can’t count on having it available for long-term use.
There are also a variety of Personal Digital Assistant devices (PDAs) available that will enable you to check e-mail on a regular basis. Blackberry is the most well known of these. If you use the Internet primarily for e-mail – keeping in touch with family and friends while you full-time – and don’t want the trouble or expense of carrying around a laptop computer, we recommend you use a PDA instead. The iPhone, rapidly growing in popularity, is a multipurpose device that functions as a cell phone, Internet browser, camera, video and MP3 player and PDA – everything you need in the palm of your hand.
All RVs are equipped with a TV and a TV antenna that is good for picking up nearby local stations. If you want cable TV, you will find that many campgrounds offer cable TV at the sites. At some the fee for the cable is included in the daily rate, while others have a separate charge for it. Many full-timers, though, opt for receiving TV with a satellite dish antenna system. The antenna can be the portable type that is set up outside the RV on a tripod, or a roof mounted unit that is either manually or automatically adjusted.
In February 2009, all television stations will switch to digital broadcasting only, so if your RV has an analog TV set, be sure to look into what you need to do to ensure that you continue to receive a signal. Go to www.dtv.gov for more information.
Receiving mail is another thing that is different when you’re a full-timer. In order to receive your mail in a timely fashion you’ll need to find a family member or friend who can handle it for you; that is, have the person collect the mail then periodically send it on to wherever you are. Or you can have a professional mail service take care of it. Some RV clubs also offer a mail service for their members. Good Sam offers mail forwarding on a weekly basis for a very reasonable fee. Check out Good Sam Mail Forwarding for more information.
You can have mail sent to the campground where you are staying or to a local post office in care of general delivery. To find out the ZIP code of any post office, which you will need to give to your mail forwarder, you can call 1-800-ASK-USPS. If you are having your mail sent to a city, the friendly folks at this number can give you the ZIP code of the post office that handles general delivery mail nearest to where you will be staying.
I use priority mail and almost always have my mail sent to a post office instead of a campground because of potential forwarding problems. Also, by having it sent priority I can file a change of address with the post office and my mail will be sent to a new address, or I can have it sent back to my mail forwarder to be resent to me later.
As a full-timer you’ll probably spend much of your time in private campgrounds, and they are very safe places to be. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is because most campsites are not isolated; thieves prefer to do their work unobserved and there is always someone nearby in a campground. RVers also tend to look out for one another. Usually if they see some suspicious activity, they take appropriate action either on their own or by calling it to the attention of the campground management.
Full-timing doesn’t have to be a lifetime commitment. Lots of folks do it for a few years and then go back to a non-mobile lifestyle. But if you yearn to full-time, at least try it. If you find it’s not for you, at least you will have some wonderful memories. If you can’t take up the lifestyle now, you can begin making plans now to start full-timing in the future.
If you are at all inclined to try out the full-timing lifestyle, I recommend that you take the plunge. It may be one of the best things you have ever done.