In this article I’ll share some of the basics for preparing for full-time RV travel. This information also applies to snowbirds who want to travel south for the winter, or those who are planning an extended RV trip. Specific topics include what to do with your home, where to establish a domicile, how to get your mail, how to plan for healthcare, and how much it costs to RV full-time.
What Do Full-Time RVers Do With Their Homes?
This is a common question for homeowners. I’ll give you some ideas of different options to get help you get started thinking about your plan.
Leave your home vacant. This option applies to those who are either planning to snowbird, and then return home, or those who want to maintain a home base that they can utilize when they return home to visit family. If you choose this option, there are a few things we recommend. The easiest are things like stopping the newspaper delivery and setting the thermostat at an energy saving level. Even more important, is to make sure your home is being looked after–and not just the outside. Most people who are away from home for an extended period think about setting up a lawn service and stopping the mail, but don’t think beyond that. For instance, what if you have a water leak while you’re gone? We all know that things can go wrong, and typically will at the worst possible time. That is why you want someone (that you trust or a professional that is insured) to periodically inspect the interior of your home as a safety precaution.
Rent your home on a temporary basis. This option can also be used if you’d like access to your home for part of the year. What I’m talking about here is an Airbnb or VRBO type of concept. All that means, is that you rent your home, typically furnished, out to tenants on a weekly or monthly basis. We met a couple who owns a home in central Florida in a trendy retirement area called The Villages. Each winter they took their RV down to Key West and rented out their home for four months. The first year they had three different tenants over those four months, so they were very short-term tenants. All the subsequent years, they had one tenant for the full four months. The thing about that is you can usually charge a higher rate than a standard non-furnished rental that’s on a year-to-year lease. They made enough money not only to pay their mortgage, but they were also able to pay for their campground down in the Keys (and those aren’t cheap).
Rent your home on an annual basis. This is the most common route. Selling your belongings or putting them in storage and using a standard rental agreement (or lease) on an annual basis. This was the option we choose when we decided to live and travel full-time in our RV. I wasn’t fully convinced that we would enjoy full-time RVing. So we did a one-year lease and put our stuff in storage. We ended up loving it so much that we later did sold our home and most of our possessions (more on that next). The annual rental was a great option was great for us because it paid the mortgage and allowed us to continue to grow our equity while experimenting with the full-time RV life.
I do often hear concerns from folks about having tenant problems and being so far from the home. We actually had the worst case scenario happen to us: the tenant didn’t pay the rent, had to be evicted, and left damage behind. However, we’re proof that does not have to derail your plans. That is because we had a property manager that took care of everything from collecting rents (when they were paid), managing the legalities of eviction, dealing with the repairs, and finding better tenants. IN fact, the problem with the first tenants is that we found them ourselves through an advertisement and didn’t use a property manger with a vetting process. Finally, all costs were tax deductible. The main thing is that you need to have an emergency fund set aside for the worst case.
Sell your home. If you know that you aren’t planning to return to the area you currently reside in or if you know that you will want a smaller home in the future, you may choose to sell it. If you do sell your home and are lucky enough to make money on it, please do not put that money on an RV. A home is an appreciating asset. That means over time, except in rare circumstances, it will continue to increase in value like an investment. An RV, on there other hand, is not. In fact, every type of RV depreciates significantly. We conducted a comparison of four RVs (motorhome, Class C, fifth wheel, and travel trailer) and found that the depreciation was an average of 33% over the first two years.
In addition, the majority of full-time RVers do not continue to live that way long-term, even when it is originally their intention. Most couples either go back to a traditional home or choose a part-time home base after three years. If you put the proceeds of your home sale into an interest bearing savings account or into a safe investment, you will start your journey with an “exit fund,” which will allow you to enjoy the journey and not feel the stress of being boxed in to any one way of life.
Where Full-Time RVers Establish A Domicile or Legal Residency
No matter it you sell or rent your home, as long as you have moved away from the area (even if it is moving to the open road), you may choose to change your domicile or legal residency in your former state. One of the main reasons full-time RVers do this is to reduce taxes. If you live in a state with income tax or personal property tax for your vehicles, you may want to establish a domicile in a state that does not.
Three states that are very common for full-time RVers to establish a domicile are Florida, Texas, and South Dakota. The reason why these three are so popular is they’re considered RV-friendly. That means that they usually have better deals on registration, no personal property tax, and no state income tax. These states make it very simple to get a driver’s license and to establish residency. There are many other states if you’re retired that don’t tax retirement income. We always recommend that you do some research on your own to determine the legal entanglements you may have with your current state of residency. The last thing you want is to be sued for back taxes because you didn’t properly make the change. Escapees RV Club is geared towards full-time travelers and has a lot of terrific information (as well domicile addresses) in these three states. Membership is only $49.95 a year, and there are a lot of great benefits. Please note that if you are not yet Medicare eligible, health care should be a factor in your domicile decision.
What Do Full-Time RVers Do For Healthcare?
We cannot emphasis the importance of researching you health care options before embarking on your full-time RV journey enough. Medical expenses are the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States. Luckily, you do have options, but they will vary by individual situation.
First, if you are working remotely, don’t assume your health insurance will work in all 50 states. Some insurance plans only allow for emergency care when you are outside of your coverage area. That’s an emergency defined by the insurance company and not by you. You need to ask your insurance in advance about portability, that means what is covered outside your network. It may be that you have different plan options, and you could ask which one would work best for a full-time traveler.
If you need to purchase health insurance on the exchange, a lot of people pick Florida for a domicile. Florida has some of the best plans that are completely portable across the U.S. that you can only purchase if you are a resident of Florida.
If you are retired and Medicare eligible, it is more straightforward. However, you will want to check on any supplements you have to make sure they are portable. Finally, if you are retired military, check out our guide to Tricare on the road.
A great place to start your research is the RVer Insurance Exchange. They are an independent insurance broker for all insurance types, and health insurance for full-time RVers is one thing they do. They can quote you a policy for whatever your particular need is as far as health care insurance.
Finally, another health care item is prescription medications. We use a mail-order pharmacy (see next item on how to receive mail). It works well for us as most standard medications (even those requiring refrigeration) can be shipped. If you move too quickly to allow time for your prescriptions to be shipped, you can also typcially use a chain pharmacy like Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, or any national chain pharmacies. However, it is important to be aware of controlled substance laws and regulations. Some medications can’t be refilled at all.
How Do Full-Time RVers Get Mail?
One of the biggest questions we always get when we’re doing seminars at RV shows is about mail. The best solution will depend on your RV travel scenario.
USPS Mail Forwarding. If you’re going to be away from your home and are going to snowbird down south for several months, you could use the U.S. Postal Service and simply have your mail forwarded. That’s an easy way to do it if you’re going to one location. If you’re going to be on the move, you can change the forwarding address, but it gets trickier.
Mail Forwarding Services. Another benefit of Escapees is their mail forwarding service. With their service, you get an address in Texas regardless of where your domicile is. They hold all your mail until you tell them where you want it shipped. Depending on the service level you want, it costs between $95 and $135 a year plus shipping. Other mail forwarding services are St. Brendan’s Isle in Florida and America’s Mailbox in South Dakota.
Packages. Most campgrounds will allow you to receive mail and packages, but always check first. If they don’t allow it, you may be able to use the local post office for General Delivery. However, not all post offices accept packages that were not sent via USPS. Many cities and towns have something called Amazon Lockers at various retail stores. These have a one time code that you can use to pick up Amazon packages.
How Much Does It Cost To RV Full-Time?
Another essential part of long-term or full-time RV travel is establishing your budget. It is so important to make sure you can cover all the costs associated with RVing, including emergencies. I’ll cover some of the basics below, but we also have a course Full-Time RV Finance where we go into the weeds on all aspects of full-time RVing-related costs, as well as other financial topics like saving money, making money, and paying off debt.
You can download our free full-time RV budget worksheet to use a guide as you go through the planning process.
Define your travel style. When you’re talking about extended RV travel costs, the first consideration is defining your travel style. This has a considerable impact on costs because just like hotels, you have your low-end motel, and then you have elaborate resorts. Campgrounds can be the same way. You can have your basic campgrounds, you can have dry camping, and you can also have high-end RV resorts. Another thing about travel style is how far you are going to travel. If you’re going south to Florida for the winter and that’s the only drive, and you’re going to stay at one campground, that will have a lower cost than if you’re trying to go from New York to California and back in that same period.
Campground costs. Campground costs can easily be one of the most expensive items on your extended travel budget, but it doesn’t have to be. It all again goes back to that travel style. First, let’s start with the free one. Boondocking is also known as dry camping. Many extended and full-time RV travelers enjoy doing this. It gets you off the grid and out in nature. Here are some examples of free camping in Florida.
The next option, public campgrounds, are between boondocking and the higher-end places. By public campgrounds I mean national parks, state parks, city parks, and county parks. One that we really enjoy are the Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds. Since some form of government run these, they are lower cost because your tax dollars subsidize them. Another thing to know about these campgrounds is that while some have full hookups, many do not. Full hookups mean you have water power and sewer right at your site. A partial hookup means you don’t have all of that, and it can be different combinations, but usually, the first thing you lose is sewer. However, many publicly owned campgrounds that don’t have sewers do have a dump station on site. These publicly owned campgrounds typically run in the mid-20’s per night. However, there are exceptions like state park campgrounds in southern Florida that are more like mid-40’s per night or concessionaire-run campgrounds at national parks like at the Grand Canyon, which can be in the mid-50’s per night.
Finally, you have privately-owned campgrounds. These also can range in price. There are little “mom and pops” that are no-frills, but with full hookups. They might have some laundry facilities. The higher-end private campgrounds have many amenities like swimming pools, hot tubs, mini-golf, all sorts of planned activities, and some of them even have restaurants. And you know the saying, “you get what you pay for.” That is true of campgrounds. You can see several examples of pricing at campgrounds we’ve stayed at over the years here.
Fuel costs. Next to campground costs, fuel costs could be your second highest or even your highest expense. RVs (or their tow vehicles if you have a fifth wheel or travel trailer) aren’t known for great gas mileage. It will really depend on how far you want to travel in a given time period. In addition to the distance you travel another variable is if you have another vehicle for your daily driver to go sight seeing. Finally, it is important to note that cost of fuel varies significantly by location. Please read our guide to saving money on fuel costs.
Maintenance. Maintenance is an expensive item that so many people overlook. There is a lot of preventive care, and the more diligent you are about keeping up with it, the less it will cost you in the long run. One of the best things you can do is get out all those books that came with your RV and read them. They will have all of the preventive maintenance items you need to do to each of your RV components. If your RV didn’t come with the books, look at your particular component’s make and model and find that manual online. Learn to perform the basic preventive maintenance items, and that will go a long way. You only need a basic set of tools to do most of this. If you’re not sure how to do it even after looking at the manual, go on YouTube and find a video. We guarantee there’s a video there on how to do the preventive maintenance. The more comfortable you get, you can move into some of the more significant repairs, saving you a ton of money.
Savings. A critical piece of any budget needs to be savings. Savings is necessary because things happen. That’s just life. Whether you’re full-time or on an extended trip far from your home, you’re going to want to have that little bit of buffer. We call it our emergency fund. We had one month where we had to have a significant repair not covered by insurance or warranty. We also had a two-week period where we had two flat tires, and I broke a tooth (my insurance only covers half of the cost for a crown). We know people who were full-time RVers who had to stop where they were and get second jobs to earn enough money to make a significant repair to their truck.
If you need help creating your full-time RV budget, ideas for making money on the road, tips for saving on RV travel, or a guide to paying off debt to realize your dream lifestyle, please check out our program Full-Time RV Finance.