Living in an RV full-time used to be thought of as crazy or desperate.
Although it will likely still turn some heads, this nomadic lifestyle is quickly becoming “normal.” In fact, the Washington Post estimates that over 1 million Americans lived in RVs in 2018 – and that figure has grown even larger since.
Despite how many others are doing it, moving into an RV is a huge change for most people. Life on the road certainly isn’t easy but, for many, it’s well worth the effort if you plan and prepare correctly.
Our ultimate guide on how to start living in an RV full time is here to help answer all of your questions.
Are You Actually Ready for the Lifestyle?
Making the jump to full-time life on the road certainly isn’t anything to scoff at.
It takes a certain type of person to give up the comforts of home, especially if you plan to pull up your roots and travel for much of the year.
Even if you feel you can leave the stationary life behind, there’s questions of how to make money, how to get rid of (and where to store) your belongings, and how to maintain an adequate social life while nomadic.
Of course, RV life is much easier for some than others. If your lifestyle doesn’t require a stationary home, then the transition might be easier than you expect. For example, retirees, freelancers, and others not tied down in a single place are prime candidates for life on the road.
At the same time that RV life suits certain people, it is also more difficult for others to achieve. For example, those with children, pets, or a job in a single location will have a much trickier time, although it can certainly still be done.
What we’re trying to say is that you need to think long and hard about this potential way of life before pulling the trigger.
How to Choose the Best RV for Full-Time
If you’re already seriously considering full-time RV living, chances are you already have a recreational vehicle of your own.
This RV is likely well-suited and well-equipped for full-time life on the road, especially if you’re willing to make some minor modifications for year-round living.
If you plan to buy an RV, on the other hand, there are a huge number of factors to consider.
Type of RV
There are a huge variety of types of RVs to choose from. The type you choose will largely dictate your living experience.
Among the many types available are motorhomes, trailers, and slide-in campers. Each of these comes in several sub-varieties, each best suited for a different style of living/camping.
Motorhomes are drivable RVs. The entire vehicle is self-contained. They come in three main classes: Class A (largest), Class B (oversized vans), and Class C (a compact version of Class A).
Although motorhomes get the worst gas mileage out of the bunch, many full-timers prefer them thanks to their all-in-one design. They are usually the most spacious out of the options as well.
For trailers, your options include travel trailers, pop-up campers, and hybrid travel trailers. Pop-up campers are better suited for camping. They’re not the best option for full-timing.
Travel trailers, on the other hand, are a great option for full-timers as they are spacious and well-equipped. You must tow them behind your own vehicle. However, their towable nature is often seen as a plus because you can park them in one place and use your normal vehicle for outings and errands.
If you decide to use a towable RV, then it’s imperative your vehicle is powerful enough to tow its total weight. Small cars can actually tow many micro-campers, although a micro-camper isn’t usually the best option for full-time living. A better option for most trailers is a pickup truck or large SUV.
New or Used
Both new and used RVs come with their own pros and cons. Buying new often lets you select the exact floor plan and design you desire. You’ll get the full factory warrant and a thorough inspection by the dealer. Buying used, on the other hand, is hugely cheaper. With a little patience, you can usually find a model that’s in great shape and is perfect for your full-time lifestyle without breaking the bank.
Floor Plan & Amenities
Select a floor plan that matches your needs. For full-time living, most people require an RV with at least a kitchenette and small bathroom. Look for a model with enough sleeping space for all full-timers. Generally, a separate bedroom is the best bet for most people. For full-time life, it’s convenient not to have to convert dining tables or couches into beds each night. Slide-outs can add even more livable space. A canopy extends livable space even more allowing you to stay out of the sun or rain outside.
If you don’t already own an RV and are thinking about buying one, then you need to consider the upfront cost or cost of payments as part of your budget. Other factors that will influence your budget include RV insurance, regular maintenance costs, gas or diesel fuel, and campground/parking fees, to name just a few.
Find An RV Dealer Near You
You can check out the Beyond The Tent approved RV Dealer near you right here.
If you don’t already own an RV but are still considering the full-time plunge, we recommend renting an RV for at least a few days to see how you enjoy the experience. Our RV rental tool will show you the best RV rentals near you.
Most Important Gear You Need
One of the trickiest parts about moving into an RV full time is narrowing down your possessions. The lifestyle requires a sense of minimalism. The limited space means you can’t take everything you own in your house. This process is one of the most challenging parts of adapting to this way of life.
Here’s what you need to know about how to pack for full-time RV living.
The Bare Necessities
If you’re moving into an RV from a house, you’ll likely have to get rid of most of your possessions (or put them in storage).
Start your new life by bringing just the bare necessities first. These include everyday living items like clothing, bedding, cookware, toiletries, and other household items you’ll need on a day-to-day basis.
But don’t forget to pack comfort items as well. Most people have items they just can’t get rid of and these items will make your RV feel more like home.
Basic RV tools and supplies are essential to life on the road.
That said, you probably don’t need quite as much of this equipment as you’d think. A basic repair tool kit is a must along with a tire inflator, sewer and fresh water hoses, level blocks, and wheel chocks.
We also recommend a basic first-aid kit filled with the basics in case you get sick or injured while traveling.
The amount of camping gear you need for full-time RV living varies wildly depending on where you plan to stay at night.
Those staying in RV parks and established campgrounds need less camping gear than those that plan on boondocking the majority of the time.
Camping gear that I personally like to have in my RV includes a camping stove so I can prepare meals outside, a camping hammock for outdoor relaxation, and a camp cooler for extra food or drink storage space.
Camping lanterns, headlamps, and portable power devices like portable solar panels are additional devices that are nice to have when you’re dry camping for long periods of time without utilities hookups.
Where to Park and Camp
One of the best parts about living in an RV is that you can stay almost anywhere!
Although some full-timers prefer to stay in a single location (or migrate from north to south following the weather), others prefer to roam around the country, seeking a new backdrop every few days or weeks.
But where exactly can you park and camp in an RV? You have a few main options to choose from.
Campgrounds & RV Parks
The most straightforward answer to where to park is at a campground or RV park.
Not only are these built for RV camping, but they’re located all throughout the country. You don’t have to look hard to find an RV-friendly campground pretty much anywhere in the nation. Of course, there are a huge range of different campgrounds available at a variety of different price points.
A dedicated RV park is perhaps the most luxurious option. They usually have full hookups, including water, sewer, and electric. Additional amenities often include Wi-Fi, cable TV, garbage service, an RV dump station, restrooms with showers, and much more.
Of course, the main drawback to staying at an RV park is the price. They are the most expensive place to stay. And, for full-time living, paying this high price gets expensive fast. It’s often better to stay at an RV park every now and then (to use the hookups/amenities) rather than every single night.
By established campgrounds, we mean those with basic amenities. These often include restrooms (usually with flush toilets and showers), RV hookups (usually just water/electric not sewer), and an on-site camp host.
You can find these campsites in national parks and state parks. A private campground is another option. Expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $50 per night depending on the location, time of year, and availability of hookups.
By primitive campgrounds, we mean those without basic amenities. Often, a vault toilet is the only amenity available, sometimes coupled with running water.
These camping areas aren’t necessarily created with RV camping in mind. In fact, they very rarely have hookups and often can’t accommodate large rigs. Many primitive camping areas are located in remote areas. Sometimes these are inaccessible to RVs and trailers. You can often find these campsites in national forests. Some are free, although most require a small fee (typically around $10 per night).
Free & Dispersed Camping Areas
Boondocking is another option when it comes to where to park your RV. Also known as dry camping, boondocking is simply camping somewhere without hookups. Often, these areas are quite remote and lack formal campsites, vault toilets, and any other amenities.
Free camping areas are located across the country. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and Water Management Areas (WMA) are two good options. Most national forests also offer free dispersed camping in certain areas, usually for up to two weeks at a time.
Although free camping is nice, it’s essential you understand the additional challenges of boondocking without utilities or amenities, especially if you’re planning on a long-term stay.
Another option, although not completely free, is to find a Long Term Visitor Area. These federally-managed areas let RV campers stay for months at a time for a small fee. For example, the extremely popular Long Term Visitor Area in Quartzite, Arizona lets you stay for up to 7 months for just $180. A dump station, garbage dumpsters, and potable water are even available on-site.
Walmart Parking Lots
Although not ideal for long-term stays, Walmart parking lots are often a great overnight option while traveling from place to place.
Do note that while in the past the majority of Walmarts around the country allowed overnight parking, many have now outlawed the practice. According to Walmart Locator, roughly 1,000 out of the roughly 4,000 Walmarts in the country do not allow overnight parking.
In my experience, Walmart stores in cities or metropolitan areas are most likely to outlaw overnight parking. Those in smaller cities or rural areas often welcome overnight parking with open arms.
There are several websites and online tools that list which Walmarts do allow overnight parking. However, it’s always best to double check inside the store with a manager. You don’t want to be woken up in the middle of the night and told to move.
One thing that’s nice about RV camping at Walmart is the convenience. Most are located just off main highways, making them the perfect place to spend the night while traveling. You can also stock up on supplies, use their bathrooms, and check your email on the store Wi-Fi – all in the same place!
Membership RV Sites
Another option is to joing membership RV sites like Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome.
At Harvest Hosts, for only $79 per year, you can stay at over 1,000 wineries, breweries, and farms with your RV. You can even save 15% using code: BEYONDTHETENT
At Boondockers Welcome, for $50 per year, you can stay at over 2,000 different hosts across the US. Most of these hosts are landowners who allow RVs to park on their land.
How to Deal With Extreme Weather
Another unique challenge of full-time RVing is learning to deal with extreme weather.
Of course, if you’re lucky enough not to be tied down to a single location, you can simply move your RV around the country as the seasons change. Many retirees do this by living in the north during the summers and flocking to the southwest during the winters.
If you don’t have the ability to change locations with the ebb and flow of the seasons, then it’s important you can deal with extreme weather conditions, including extreme heat, extreme cold, rain, snow, and heavy wind.
Extreme weather is much easier to deal with when you are hooked up to utilities rather than while boondocking. In heat, utilities give you the option to run your air conditioner as needed. In cold, utilities give you the ability to run your heater or furnace.
When boondocking, you must moderate your use of your air conditioner and heater since you likely don’t have easy access to power. A portable power device like RV solar panels or a robust generator can help you get around this somewhat.
For cold weather camping, it’s essential to winterize your RV, even if you are still living in it. Most important is adding additional insulation to the doors, windows, and stairwells. Skirting the underside of your rig is also essential to provide extra insulation from the cold.
If you expect very cold winter conditions, an extra heat source is a must. Portable heaters, such as a propane space heater like the Mr. Heater Little Buddy, are a great way to add a little extra radiant heat. Remember to properly ventilate your space while your propane heater is in use. You should also invest in a carbon monoxide detector as an extra safety precaution.
Finally, it’s very important to insulate all water hoses and pipes. Always cover any exposed hoses or piping, such as those running to a water spigot. Heated water hoses are available for very cold conditions. A more robust sewer line, such as a PVC pipe, is a must if you are hooked up to sewer utilities.
How to Make Money While Full-Time RVing
No matter which way you look at it, making the move to full-time RV living takes a lot of planning and preparation.
Part of this process is setting a budget and figuring out an income. If you’re recently retired and have an adequate retirement savings, the transition might not be so difficult. Those without a large savings account might find themselves in need of a way to make money on the road.
Luckily, there are quite a few creative ways to earn money while living in an RV.
There are a ton of seasonal jobs that welcome full-time RVers with open arms.
Most of these last for roughly one to three months. Full-time and part-time positions are available. If three months income isn’t enough for you to live on for an entire year, you might consider migrating from seasonal job to seasonal job as they become available.
Examples of seasonal jobs include working in national parks, at theme parks, and on farms. For example, the annual sugar beet harvest in Montana and North Dakota attracts hundreds of RVers each year.
Several websites are dedicated to helping full-timers find seasonal work. CoolWorks is one of the best, especially for those that prefer to work outdoors.
Many seasonal jobs, especially those frequented by the same full-timers year after year, actually supply an RV parking space as part of your wage.
Another popular way to make money while RVing full time is to work as a camp host.
A camp host lives at a campground and performs basic maintenance and administrative duties. Although some camp hosts do earn a small paycheck (usually around $500 per month for part-time work), most work for free in exchange for a free campsite for the season.
Almost every campground across the country, especially local, state, and county parks, have camp hosts. The job typically entails cleaning bathrooms and campsites, registering campers and ensuring they pay, selling firewood, and answering all visitor questions.
Do know, however, that the part-time job description often turns into full-time work. When you live onsite as a camp host, you often work nearly around the clock as campers are likely to have questions at all ties of the day.
Although there are some minor negatives to working as a camp host, the ability to park overnight for free in some of the most beautiful locations in the country can be well worth it. Here are some tips on finding a job as a camp host in the United States.
According to Forbes Magazine, remote work is becoming increasingly popular (and will continue to do so), whether you live in an RV or in a more traditional home.
In fact, many traditional careers are now offering employees the ability to work remotely. If you already have a job, especially one performed largely on the computer, it can be worth checking with your current employer about working remotely.
The ever-growing of freelance gigs is also making remote working even more of a reality. Common remote freelance jobs include content writers, graphic designers, virtual assistants, web developers, online teachers, and more.
Perhaps you even have a special skill you can market yourself. Many RVers start their own business selling items on Etsy or eBay, working as a consultant, or creating photo and video content for sale.
Chances are you’ve seen more than a few RVers or vandwellers start a blog dedicated to their travels. Did you know that many of these blogs often make money through sponsored content, on-page advertisements, and affiliate marketing?
Just because you live in an RV doesn’t mean that you have to constantly be traveling.
If you can find a permanent or semi-permanent place to park and live, like an RV park, there’s no reason you can’t work a normal job.
More and more full-timers are starting to live in a single location rather than travel. Not only does this help them save money, but it also ensures they can work their normal job and continue to make an adequate income.
Make Money While Not Using Your RV By Renting It Out
When you’re not using your RV, you don’t have to park it and forget about it. You can actually rent out your RV and make quite a bit of money. Many RVs rent out for $100 – $200 per night. You can rent out your RV on Outdoorsy where they even offer insurance and more for renters.
Full-Time RVing FAQ
Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about living in an RV year-round:
Q: How expensive is RV living?
A: Expect to spend anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 a month. Of course, some people spend far more while others spend less. It all depends on where you stay, how much you travel, and what you spend on groceries each month.
Q: How to make money living in an RV?
A: Freelancing, remote gigs, content writing, seasonal jobs, and camp hosting are all ways to make money while full-timing. Start your job search well before you hit the road if you require a steady income to survive.
Q: Can you live in an RV year round?
A: Yes, it’s more than possible. Consider moving from place to place as the conditions demand (such as going south in winter). You can also winterize your rig if you do need to park in a cold location for winter.
Q: How to winterize an RV for winter living?
A: Add insulation to doors, windows, and stairwells. Insulate all hoses, including fresh water and sewer hoses. Add an RV skirt. Consider an additional heat source, like a propane heater or wood stove.
Q: How to cook in an RV kitchen?
A: Most RVs have relatively small kitchens. A key component to RV is adapting to a small kitchen. Luckily, you can cook many of the same meals as long as your kitchen has a refrigerator, stovetop, and small oven.
RV Living Checklist
A whole lot of tips and tricks make full-time RV living easier. Use our basic checklist to recap what we’ve outlined above.
Set a Date
Set a move-in date several months ahead of time. This will give you a reason to start getting rid of extra stuff, planning for your departure, and putting unnecessary items into storage. It can be difficult to build up the motivation and get started until you have a particular date in mind.
Create a Budget
Making enough money is one of the most difficult parts about moving into an RV full-time, unless you have a large savings. It’s necessary to create a budget ahead of time that takes all of your expenses into consideration, including camp fees, fuel and maintenance, groceries, RV insurance, and all of your other normal living expenses.
Prepare Your RV
Now is the time to make sure your rig is ready for life on the road. Get your RV serviced to ensure it’s in tip-top condition before you take off. Pack all the items you will need into it and get rid of any of the items that aren’t strictly necessary.
Get Rid of Extra Stuff
Moving out of your home into an RV will likely leave you with a lot of extra stuff. You can put these items into storage or get rid of them. One of the best tips we can offer is to get rid of as many unnecessary items as possible.
Hit the Road
All of the planning in the world won’t be enough unless you actually go for it. When it comes time to the date you set, you just have to take off and explore. Hopefully you have a solid plan to help guide you through these first days.
Consider a Test Run
As we’ve mentioned several times already, living in an RV is a big change. We always recommend taking one or two or three or more test runs before making the jump. If you don’t have an RV of your own, you can easily rent one using popular tools like Outdoorsy or check out RV Rentals near you right here.
What Do You Think?
Do you live in an RV full-time?
What has been your experience with the lifestyle? What is the best part and the worst part about it?
We’d love to hear from full-time RVers in the comments below!
- About the Author
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Since 2015, Jake has been the technical heart behind our in-depth content. Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, he’s the one you’ll find crafting extensive gear reviews and detailed camping guides. With a decade of outdoor writing under his belt, Jake brings the beauty of the Sawtooth Mountains and his beloved Cascade and Olympic ranges right to your screen.