What they don’t tell you about living on the road

Published January 9, 2017   Posted in My Guest Posts

Michelle from Making Sense of Cents lives in an RV, just like us. It’s an awesome lifestyle, but there are certain things about this lifestyle that may not appear so obvious. Today, Michelle takes some time to lay out some interesting topics they don’t tell you about living on the road.

In July of 2015, me and my husband did something crazy, something that I never thought we would do.

We bought and started living in an RV.

I never thought that I would be an RVer. Even as a kid, I never thought about it once. I had never even hopped into an RV until we started looking at them.

And now, I’m having the time of my life.

When we first started looking at RVs, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. Since we were traveling a lot and wanted to be more comfortable while bringing our dogs everywhere with us, I thought it would just be a fun way to travel part-time.

I quickly fell in love with the RV lifestyle. And, shortly after we bought our RV, we decided to RV full-time.

We sold our house, put everything in storage (we have since gotten rid of the storage unit), and left for a life on the road.

Many people think we’re crazy, and living on the road may not be normal. However, I wouldn’t want life to be any other way.

We’ve traveled to some really great places in just the year and a half that we’ve been RVing, such as:

  • The Pacific Northwest (my husband cycled 1,000 miles from Port Angeles, Washington to San Francisco, California, while I drove myself and our two dogs in our RV). We went to Mount Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, Kalaloch and Ruby Beach, Hoh National Rainforest, La Push Beach, and many other beautiful places. This is still my favorite RV trip and I can’t wait to do it again.
  • Utah (many times) – Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Moab, and many other places.
  • Colorado (many times) – Rocky Mountain National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado National Monument, Dinosaur National Monument, and many other places.
  • Arizona – Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Sedona, and Phoenix.
  • California – We park/beach hopped along the ocean highway and that was fantastic.
  • Wyoming – Yellowstone National Park and Grand Tetons National Park.
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Living on the road is still very new to us, and we’ve learned a lot of things in just the short amount of time that we’ve been RVing. So, here’s what you should know about living on the road.

RVing costs can be as high or low as you want them to be.

Huron Peak

I’ve found that there are two types of people that ask questions about RVing (these are not people who RV), and surprisingly, these two types are very different.

The first type generally thinks that RVing is extremely cheap, and usually thinks that only people down on their luck would ever do it. Trust me, you’ll hear a lot of Breaking Bad jokes when you live in an RV. And, no matter how nice your motorhome is, you’ll hear “Your RV looks just like the one from Breaking Bad!” Why wouldn’t people think that’s an insult!?

The type on the other end of the spectrum tends to think that RVing is extremely expensive and that you need a trust fund and/or some great luck in order to do it.

It’s funny how completely opposite people think, but it’s true.

The truth is that RVing can be extremely cheap or it can be very expensive. Follow the link if you’re interested in knowing how much it costs to RV, and luckily, there’s a spot for pretty much everyone to make RVing a reality.

You don’t need all your stuff.

When we first started RVing, we came across many other RV couples who told us that RV storage space is near non-existent and that we would have a problem storing stuff.

This is far from the truth. We have probably 30-40% of our cabinets still empty, and we can’t even think of what else we could possibly store!

We’re still getting rid of some of our stuff and downsizing, because we feel that we don’t even need all that we have now!

Trust me, you really don’t need that much stuff.

You’ll have an instant connection with other RVers.

RVers are some of the nicest people that you will ever meet. We’ve made great friends that are both young and old, and from all backgrounds. RVing really brings everyone together!

Plus, whenever we meet new RVers, it’s as though we are long lost friends. There’s always an instant connection, lots of laughs after just a few moments of meeting each other, and going our separate ways (a normal thing in RV life) is always a sad time.

When we first started RVing (literally like a week in), we had a young couple knock on our door and ask us if we wanted to hang out with them for drinks that night. We had never met them before, but they said they saw us come into the campground and that they wanted to hang out.

This is completely normal when living in an RV, and it’s happened to us quite a few times.

Always add a few hours to whatever the GPS says.

If your GPS says that it will take 5 hours to get somewhere, you should expect 6 or 7, or even 8 hours in order to be realistic. And, if you have a gas motorhome, you may even want to double the GPS time.

From the very first day that you hop into your RV, you’ll realize that your RV is nothing like your car. It takes more time to get places, you’ll need to take more breaks, and you most likely won’t be able to drive as far in a day as you can in a car because of the amount of work that it takes to drive an RV.

When we would travel in just our Jeep, we could easily do 900 miles a day and be just fine. However, in an RV, we have a limit of just 250 miles a day, 300 at the most. Anymore than that and it turns into a major chore with a lot of stress.

You’ll want to follow the weather.

Talk about a trip of a lifetime!

One thing I didn’t realize about RV life is how difficult it can be to RV in the cold. I always see things about people wanting to RV so that they can park at their favorite ski resort or something else along those lines, and well, that’s not super realistic for the average RVer.

Sure, if you still work full-time and have to stay in one spot, then you can’t really follow the weather. But, if you are traveling full-time, you’ll want to follow the weather. That means you won’t want anything too, too cold, because then you’ll have to winterize your RV. Or, if it’s too hot, there’s a chance that your air conditioners won’t be able to keep up.

I’ve experienced both sides. At just 30 degrees, which we didn’t think was THAT cold, our water filter busted and cracked outside. I’ve heard of horror stories about water lines breaking because it got too cold in the RV even with all of the heat on. On the other end, when it was 100 degrees with high humidity, our air conditioners could barely keep our RV under 85 degrees.

Work is much more fun in an RV.

To be able to live in an RV full-time, I run an online business- Making Sense of Cents. It is a lot of fun being able to work and travel at the same time.

I thought it would be difficult at first. I thought internet would be hard to find, that I would be too distracted, and so on.

I’ve come to find that I’m more motivated than ever when it comes to working, and having a great view out my window each day definitely helps as well.

Your RV will always be in need of some sort of repair.

Whether your RV is brand new or old, there will most likely always be something that needs fixing or even replacing. After all, you are rumbling down the road with thousands of pounds of your home. This can make things jiggle loose, break, and so on.

Our first RV was a complete disaster and things were always broken. It spent nearly as much time in the shop as we did living in it – and it was one of the main reasons that we got rid of it and got a different RV.

And, that first one was brand new!

The tight space won’t ruin your relationship (hopefully).

One of the questions I hear the most is “Do you guys get along even though you’re in such a tight space?”

Yes, we do get along, and it seems like most RVers still get along with their spouses as well, haha. If we didn’t get along, RVing wouldn’t be fun.

Also, the second relationship-type question is “What do you do when you have Mexican food or something else spicy that night?”

Well, privacy is already out the window in an RV, so you just have to get used to using the bathroom with the other one just a few feet away.

You’ll never want to live in a “normal” home again.

One thing that I’ve learned over the past 1.5 years is that I never want to live in a normal home again. I absolutely love living on the road in my RV, and our next adventure will be to sail full-time.

Traveling full-time is a ton of fun and I have had so many great experiences!

Are you interested in RVing? What surprised you on this list? Lastly, let me know if you have any questions!

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner is the founder and writer at Making Sense of Cents. On her blog, she helps readers learn how to make extra money, how to save money, and reach their dream life. Michelle and her husband sold their house in 2015 and currently travel full-time in an RV with their two dogs.

We track our net worth using Personal Capital


49 responses to “What they don’t tell you about living on the road”

  1. That’s was such an interesting and informative read! I must say that I have had visions of living in an RV before, but having a little one in school make sure it pretty unrealistic 🙁 But if we do ever hit the road in style, I’ll sure be glad I read this article. I never thought of stuff like adding hours to a trip or traveling with the weather. Awesome post! Thanks!

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

  2. Cool post. I never thought of weather considerations with an RV. I just assumed you’d be able to go wherever you want whenever you want. But it makes sense. It’s funny the stuff people say when you live a life that’s much different than theirs and different from the norm. We have a small house (3 beds, 1 bath) that we’ve lived in since we got married. By now, all of our friends have moved further out in the burbs to buy thousands of more square feet than they’ll ever need. We get quite a few condescending comments that for some reason people don’t think are inappropriate.

  3. We are definitely interested in RVing. I appreciate Michelle’s honest take on things – remembering the repairs and having to shift because of the weather is important. We wondered about the trailer vs. RV issue when it does come to repairs. For major ones (that might take a few days), I guess you’d need a hotel/AirBNB, etc.? Maybe you’d need the same for towing a trailer too I guess (if you don’t have your vehicle)… just something my husband was mentioning.

    • It depends on where you are getting the RV work done. We have a Tiffin now, and if you go to their facility in Alabama, then you can stay in your RV. They have an RV park and everything so that it’s easy as possible for their customers.

      At most dealerships, you’ll have to get out and hand over the keys to them.

  4. Very good write up of all the mainstream questions I hear a lot. We want to eventually RV 50 percent of the time in retirement, That’s a long ways away so Time will tell. My uncle has one of the larger drivable RVs. He ultimately regretted his purchase because of the stress of driving it around in east coast traffic. As such we’ll be starting on the small cheap travel trailer to see if we like it,

  5. ESI Money says:

    My parents have been thinking of buying an RV and seeing the US. I’ll pass this article along to them because they have NO IDEA what they’re in for! 🙂

  6. Ty says:

    Do you ever meet families on the road? I assume that would take the difficulty level up several degrees. You’d either have to do homeschooling or travel only during the summer.

    I’d live to RV full time, but with 4 kids, that’s an experience we’ll chase in a few years

  7. Salivating here. We’re ~18 months from FIRE, and the first thing we’re planning on doing is a 6 month extended RV trip out West. Thanks for keeping our “FIRE” hot, maybe we’ll see you on the road some day!

  8. Neato! I’m sure RV living isn’t for everyone, and it definitely has downsides, but it does sound like a more freeing lifestyle. I’ve seen the multi-million dollar RVs and it does seem like RV living can be just as extravagant as non-nomadic living. It’s what you make of it. Gas prices will be much higher, but you also won’t have a mortgage. I also think it requires quite a lot of downsizing and simplification, which is really nice. I don’t think I could live in an RV since I’ve gotten spoiled to having a super-fancy kitchen.

    How do you guys do on food? Do you find that you eat out more when on the road? I know you can still do homemade meals in an RV but storage space is a little more difficult for bulk food storage.

    • We eat out a lot, but that’s mainly because we like to try new restaurants all the time. We have a similar amount of storage space for our kitchen, so we have everything we need. We have a residential-sized fridge in our RV too 🙂

  9. We have never even rented an RV for a vacation, so it is hard to imagine living in one. You are right – many of your insights are quite surprising. What is most important is that I see you are having fun and that RV love few is much less limiting than one might think. We were thinking about renting one this summer for a week we will jump in!

    • You should totally do it. We LOVE Rving! 🙂

    • Donna says:

      Enjoyed reading ur article & the comments. We also sold our 3800 sq ft waterfront Florida home, bought a 43 ft Class A motorhome (our first RV of any kind) & left for full time Rving Jun 11, 2016. We have never regretted it. I would add that anyone considering this lifestyle should be willing to learn & be flexible. There are many new systems to learn & maintaining them is less $$$ than replacing them!! On the road in Arizona.

      • Steve says:

        Congratulations on such a monumental downsize, Donna. A 43 foot Class A is pretty darn big, though! But hey, whatever you feel most comfortable in. Arizona awaits! It’s already in the 90s out here. 🙂

  10. Mrs. BITA says:

    I’ve never set foot in an RV. Mr. BITA has some fond childhood memories of RV holidays (his grandparents owned one). I don’t know if I want to live in one full time, but I definitely want to try one out for a holiday.

  11. I appreciate the insight and experience Michelle offers. RVing full-time is on our radar. We’ve done it enough on a smaller scale over the past 10 years that I know it’s a lifestyle we would love. We’ve traveled in our travel trailer a few weeks at a time and found out the hard way a couple of times that the GPS time is wrong. Always.

  12. How about living with kids in an RV? Do the people that manage it all homeschool?

    I’ve got two of the little buggers, and I doubt I would have the patience to homeschool them.

    After reading the post, it gives me the impression that RV’s are very fragile. Hitting 30F and having things break is…hardly cold at all. What happens when you hit really cold (sub zero) temps?

  13. Thank you so much for having me! 🙂

  14. My wife and I are looking at RVs now! 🙂 I love the idea of traveling full-time and can’t wait to get going.

  15. Going Gonzo says:

    thanks for sharing your experience about living in an RV. This is something I have been dreaming about for years. I haven’t had the stomach to quit my job and pursue living in an RV but hopefully someday. I think it takes a lot of courage. I hope you continue to find enjoyment from your travels.

  16. My husband and I live in 320 SF and his side of the family is more of the ‘why don’t you have more at this stage in your life.’ My family knows me as a nomad, minimalist and a free spirit, who can’t be tied to a cubicle, even for 6 figures, so they understand.

    RV’ing sounds awesome to me, but I think I would prefer something small like a van. We talked about doing this in the future. But, our first goal is to backpack the world once or twice in the next couple of years. Then, settle to van life in the U.S. For me, I agree with the community…. it would be a lot of fun to meet others on the road.

  17. katscratch says:

    My parents have traveled all over North America in their RVs. Alaska, most of Canada, and back and forth/up and down the U.S. a bunch of times. They have no problem with weather (they’ve visited family in Minnesota in -30F windchills and visited more family in Oklahoma at 110F) but they’ve been at it for a bit longer than you guys have 😉

    I loved our Class C when I was kid – I remember exactly which cubby I put my books in for the summer!

    When they finally sold our motorhome they downsized to a RoadTrek since it was now just the two of them. It’s surprising how roomy those are! I think the two most common Class B brands are RoadTrek and PleasureWay and they’re both extremely well thought out in terms of space.

    Since they retired they’ve been in a big ol’ Class A and absolutely loving it. You’re so right about making friends all over! They’ve gotten to the point they will meet up with friends in different states the way a lot of us would meet up with friends for coffee in a different suburb 🙂

    Thanks for the article, Michelle! It’s always fun to read your travel stories!

  18. katscratch says:

    — also — I have no idea how I’ve missed your site before now, but I’ve been devouring pages for the past half hour 🙂 Super stoked to have found you through this post!

  19. Miss Mazuma says:

    Gosh – this makes me want to hop in an RV and go!! Your trips sound amazing – all those national parks sound like an amazing adventure. I hadn’t thought about the amount of time it would take to drive somewhere though it totally makes sense…and the cold?! Definitely things to think about. I think I would prefer warm weather anyway if I had the ability to be location independent. Looking forward to reading more of your adventures, Michelle!

  20. Jason Vitug says:

    I feel as if my next adventure is to RV for a year!

  21. Diona says:

    The RV lifestyle is our goal. We’ve already started saving money for it. Thank you for the peek into your life to help those of us that are interested in full time RV living!

  22. Roxanne says:

    My husband and I have decided to do this in 2018. I am going to travel nurse and our youngest will go with us (we will homeschool him). We are all super excited and still have plenty of time to get things together. We have always wanted to go back east and looking forward to meeting and seeing new people and things. We are going to get a trailer not an RV because we will both need separate vehicles. Thank you for the informative article. It is refreshing to see that people actually make it work while living in a non traditional fashion.

  23. Chris says:

    Fabulous information, I will pass this blog on.

    Thank you for posting.

  24. Very interesting, thanks for sharing! I’ve thought about taking an extended trip in an RV once my older kids are through (or in) college, so I’m interested to learn more about what it’s really like.

  25. Wow, that was super interesting! I grew up in Miami and I always used to daydream about sailing around the world one day in a 30-40 foot boat. That’s sort of like RV’ing on the water, right?

    Now that I’ve gotten older and a little more comfortable, I’m not sure it holds the same appeal it used to. I do think it’s pretty cool though!

  26. Are you sure living in a tight space won’t ruin my relationship with the Mrs? I think being in such close proximity could have benefits, as well as drawbacks! Ha!

  27. Minna says:

    Good post. Two questions:
    1. How do you handle mail?
    2. How do you handle vehicle registration?

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