The RV lifestyle has absolutely exploded in the last few years. And due to current events around the world, more and more people are canceling big trips and opting for RV travel. RV’ing is the perfect type of travel right now due to the fact that people want to get outside and explore, but they still want to be able to keep their distance and stay in their own bubble.
Beyond that, there is a surge in people deciding just to move into their RV’s so they can travel and live full-time! Some people are looking for a more simple lifestyle. Others are looking to save money due to expensive housing costs. Also, more and more people are working remote now, or seeing the opportunity to work remote. All of this has come together at this time and has led to massive interest in this whole concept of living in an RV.
However, living in an RV is definitely not all it’s cracked up to be. While there are definitely a number of benefits, this lifestyle is definitely not for everyone. Further, there are a number of myths surrounding fulltime RV living which are unfortunately being fueled by social media, influencers, and other people who are profiting off promoting this lifestyle.
A Sense of Responsibility
In our eyes, as people who are in the public eye and distribute content about traveling and living in an RV, we feel a responsibility to put out real information and dispel some of these myths. The last thing we want is to see someone sell their home and much of what they own to live / travel in an RV and realize they were not fully prepared and don’t like the lifestyle. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
So let’s get into it. Here are 6 of the biggest myths that we see online / hear from people when it comes to living in an RV. And here’s the truth from our experience of living in an RV for nearly a year and a half.
Warning: This is a long post. But you can also choose to watch the video below!
So Let’s Get Into It. 6 Myths About Living in an RV!
1. “I Can Go Wherever, Whenever…and Stay As Long As I Want!”
We’ve all seen those Instagram photos. You know, the highly stylized shots of someone drinking a cup of coffee and sitting on a cozy-looking bed complete with softly ruffled blankets, hair slight disheveled while gazing out an open door in the back of a van that just happens to be parked on the edge of the most spectacular view. Sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s not the truth. These are staged shots for social media and for most of us, that’s not how our RV living experience will look like.
There is this myth that when you are traveling in an RV (or a van for that matter) that you can just pull up to any of these breathtaking spots and set up camp. Unfortunately, that’s not how it actually works. At least here in the US, the land is owned by somebody. Either it’s privately owned or it’s owned in some way by the local or federal government. And it often has restrictions.
Camping on Public Lands / BLM Land
There are public lands out there where you can go camping, this is typically called BLM land – or Bureau or Land Management. It’s government-owned, but open to public use. However, it usually has some type of restrictions. Some of this land is open to camping or “boondocking” as we like to call it (when you are dry camping without hookups, etc.). This type of camping is great because it’s usually pretty cheap because they don’t have much by way of facilities out there.
Pros of BLM Camping or Boondocking:
- Free or very cheap
- Usually fairly quiet & remote areas away from towns
- Can be rural and quite rugged areas
- Natural beauty & being with wildlife and nature
- More freedom to set up your campsite how you want
- Pets may have a bit more freedom (but watch out for wildlife)
Cons of BLM Camping or Boondocking:
- You need to be able to find them (Free Campsites is a good online resource)
- Accessibility (if you have a large RV, you might not be able to get there)
- No water (usually) – so must bring your own or have a filtration system
- No electricity – must have your own power through generators or solar
- No dumping (dirty water, toilets, etc.) – you are limited by your tank size and will need to leave to dump or dump into other containers to haul away.
- Safety – after all, you are out in the wild possibly with no one around
- Length of stay restrictions – often times, these areas still have restrictions for how long you can stay, possibly 14 days or if you are lucky (but rare) 28 days.
Staying in Parking Lots
We also hear some people who think they can just pull off and park in a lot overnight when they need to. That’s also not necessarily true. There are many cities that have ordinances against overnight parking. And again, these lots are private property. Walmart is a popular option for people driving through on long trips and just want to pull over and get some rest. However, not all Walmarts allow this due to local city ordinances that may ban the activity. On occasion we’ve stayed at Walmarts – but we always make sure to go inside and ask the manager. Still, we’ve felt uncomfortable at times and don’t really like doing it.
Other options for “Asphalt Boondocking” include businesses such as Cracker Barrel (we’ve done this a few times and enjoy having dinner or breakfast there). We’ve also heard that Cabelas or Bass Pros may allow this too in certain areas.
For us, we actually prefer to find Casino parking lots to stay overnight – if it’s a short trip. They have entertainment inside, restaurants, and good security. If we can find a good casino, that’s where we may stopover during a long drive. However, some casinos don’t allow it or might ask you to pay.
Key Points to Keep in Mind
The key point to take away here is that no, you cannot just park your RV (or van) anywhere and camp. There are rules and regulations in every town when it comes to open parking lots and even stores. And when it comes to open land, someone owns it. Whether it’s private land or the government. And if you do find public lands such as BLM, there are still some rules and restrictions. Sometimes it’s free, sometimes you have to pay. And sometimes they have restrictions for how long you can stay. And remember, what you see on the internet (and social media) is just not often the truth. A lot of those shots are staged.
2. “Living in an RV is Cheap.”
Sorry to burst your bubble on this one, but this is most definitely not true. It CAN be a cheap lifestyle, but overall, I’d say that it’s not a cheap lifestyle for most people who do it. And even for those trying to do it cheaply, the tradeoffs and overall pain-in-the-assery that comes with it may not make it worth it.
Overall, there is actually a lot of money in the RV industry. We regularly see rigs that are more expensive than some people’s homes (and nicer too). When it comes to places to stay, you may choose to go boondocking and stay for cheap on BLM land. But that’s easier said than done for long-term stays. Most often people end up staying in some type of campground or RV park. These can be reasonably priced, but others can be crazy expensive.
Overall, after 1+ year on the road we’d say that the average price for a decent (not fancy) RV park or campground is around $40 per night. Give or take in some areas, that’s around what we paid. It’s true that in some places you can get a price break if you book for 1 month, which can be a good deal. If you take that average of $40 per night and stay around 30 nights (roughly 1 month) then that’s $1200. For some people, this might not actually be cheap!
Monthly Rates & Memberships
There are some RV parks that offer weekly and monthly rates. For long-term stays, these are definitely the most affordable way to go. However, if you don’t want to stay put in a boring RV park and want to be out traveling, then you are going to be paying higher prices for sure. Now there are some RV Membership programs you can join, such as Thousand Trails, Passport America, etc. But we found those to be too restrictive. You have to buy in at certain levels and you can only stay at certain places at certain times, etc. Basically, it’s like a game to figure it all out. We know some people enjoy this and definitely save money this way. But for us, it just isn’t worth the time and effort trying to game the system to get the best value for our money.
Lastly, there’s also Harvest Hosts. Now this is a cool program – you pay a yearly fee and get to camp overnight for free at all these cool properties around the country, such as wineries! However, the tradeoff is that you can really only stay for 1 night (not long periods of time), they usually don’t have any kind of hookups, and you also are encouraged to buy something local from them, such as a bottle of wine. So it’s not totally free. It is a nice experience though!
When it comes to State or National Parks, you could still be paying around $25 bucks a night (or more at some places). And more rural forest service campgrounds are sometimes free, or about $10-$20 per night. But usually these cheaper ones will have little to no facilities – so it’s basically like boondocking.
It Really Depends on Your Lifestyle!
At the end of the day, we believe that whether or not RV living will be a cheap lifestyle for you totally depends on your lifestyle and personal preferences. If you want to have an expensive rig, stay at amazing RV resorts with amenities, go shopping, dining out, etc. then you will be spending a lot of money. We’ve found RV parks that can cost a couple hundred bucks a night or a couple thousand a month!
But if you are one of those people who can get by with a cheaper RV and you want to do a lot of boondocking, then yeah you might be able to do it cheaper. However, there are a lot of challenges and inconveniences to doing this so some people just end up going to a campground or RV park anyway.
Cheap is a Relative Term
Honestly, “cheap” is a bit relative anyway. What is cheap for me might not be cheap for someone else. For example, we came from renting an expensive home in Denver. High cost city, high cost neighborhood, high cost rent. So for us, even staying at nice campgrounds came out to be cheaper per month than our house. But for some people who maybe live in a smaller town and pay less per month for rent, RV living is probably going to be more expensive! It also depends on the type of fixed bills you have, which you can’t get rid of. Car payments, RV payments, even student loans! You can’t get rid of these even if you get rid of your house, so you might end up not saving any money living in an RV.
RV Maintenance Costs are High!
The other issue that some people don’t consider is the cost of owning and maintaining an RV. When we bought our first RV around 3 years ago, my parents were stoked! We are an RV’ing family and I grew up camping in RVs. They were excited because now we would all get to travel together. However, one of the first things they both told us was that “an RV is a complete money pit.” And it is very true.
First of all, it’s a depreciating asset — so unlike a house which may go up in value, an RV will only decrease. And it decreases extremely fast (way faster than cars). Also, maintenance can be much more expensive because it’s like an entire house! Think about all those things that can break! Furnace, air conditioning, electricity, gas, water pump, toilet, tanks and hoses, roof, fridge, stove, water heater, awning, slides, etc. The list really goes on and on. When things break they usually need to be repaired by an RV dealer & require special parts.
At the end of the day, RV living is most definitely not a cheap lifestyle. You can try to make it cheap, but in our experience, it’s really not.
3. Ultimate Freedom! “I Can Go Wherever I Want, When I Want!”
It’s a nice idea. And sure, it may be true to a certain extent if you are boondocking out West. However, in our experience we’ve found that living in an RV is not quite as free-spirited as we would have hoped. We’ve found that you really have to do a lot of planning and definitely make reservations in advance. In past years, it’s been difficult to get spots at great campgrounds, especially during peak seasons. But now with the explosion in the industry, it’s actually getting even more difficult.
For example, a couple years ago (when we weren’t fulltiming in the RV and living in Denver) we wanted to spend a weekend at a State Park near Denver. I literally searched every park for every weekend for the entire summer. I could not find one single place to stay. This was March — I was looking all the way out until September and October. Nothing available.
When it comes to National Parks too, you will also need to book quite some time before to make sure you can get a spot. Of course, there are some parks that aren’t as popular, but as a whole, this is what we’ve discovered to be the case.
Booking in advance is also required if you are going to popular destinations and staying at nicer RV parks too. Wanting to come to Florida in the winter? You better be booking 1 year in advance! Sure you might be able to find things on the fly (we did last winter) but it’s really hard and you won’t be staying in some of the nicer places. Most of the RV parks in Florida have year-long waiting lists to get in! Even when I booked a reservation to stay at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground at Disney World, we booked more than 6 months in advance, and even then I was super lucky to find just 4 nights in a row.
When you are in an RV, it can be stressful if you are driving around and don’t have a place to stay. Especially if you are working on the road or have kids, it just is not as fun. So making reservations in advance allows for a much more pleasant experience, but it means you have to plan things out in advance.
Planning, Planning…and Booking Pains
If it was 1 or 2 months out and we didn’t have a place booked, sometimes we would start to get worried. But we found that neither of us liked the process of finding the next place to go. It’s hard to decide because there are so many places. Then when it comes to finding availability and making reservations, it can be even more difficult because a lot of RV parks don’t have great online search and booking tools! This means sometimes we would have to call to inquire. This was a real pain, especially when we were searching large areas and there were different options to choose from. Also, some parks didn’t answer and we had to wait for a call back…and sometimes, they didn’t call us back! Sometimes we had to email for reservations too, that’s also a pain.
When it comes down to it, we would have loved to have this more free-spirited adventure that comes to our mind when we think of living in an RV. However, reality doesn’t always match up with that. We definitely found that there is a lot more planning than we thought there would be, and that part definitely wasn’t very fun.
4. “It’s a Simple Lifestyle!”
We get it. The idea of living a more simple life is appealing. Seeing these photos of people just relaxing and gazing out at nature, having a cup of coffee and watching the fire. It sounds great! And it’s true that when you move into an RV some things do become more simple. You have a lot less stuff, less clutter, and it’s really easy to clean! However, there are SO many other things that you have to think about, that I’d argue it’s really not a simple lifestyle. In fact, living in an RV may even turn out to be more complicated for you.
For example, at your home when you have to use the bathroom do you ever stop to think about where that water is coming from? Where the toilet waste is going? What if the toilet stopped working, would you fix it yourself or call someone? How about turning on the TV to watch Netflix and chill for the night? What if suddenly all your power shut off, what would you do at you’re home?
When it comes to RV living, the responsibility of these things are all on you. There is no plumber to call, no power company or internet company to call. You have to think about every single aspect of your infrastructure every day. From having fresh water in your tanks (believe me, it sucks when you go to take a shower and halfway through realize there is no water!). Or when you go to flush the toilet and realize the black tank is full. You also have to think about electricity. Some people have generators and others prefer to have solar panels. But what if your electrical system has a problem and stops working?
** READ MORE: Find Out What We Have in Our RV Tool Kit
When you are living full time in your RV, many people want something a little bigger than a small van. However, that means it’s bigger to drive…and bigger to maneuver! You have to be careful what roads you take, what parking lots you turn into…and even where you get gas! We have to think about not just how we will get in, but how we will get back out.
Pets in RV’s — Another Major Consideration
A lot of RVer’s travel with pets. We do. We love having Hana with us on all our adventures. She’s been to some amazing places and had a lot of fun. But there are special challenges when it comes to living in an RV with a pet because you can’t always take your pet everywhere.
Some campgrounds have restrictions on pets or even the type of pet you have (take note Pitbull and German Shepherd owners). Also, there are actually a lot of restrictions at different State and National Parks. So you really need to be sure that you check in advance. For National Parks, we’ve actually put together a blog post about pet policies in the National Parks that should help you – it’s a great resource!
For example, at the Grand Canyon we could take Hana along the paved trails up on the south rim. But she could not go inside of buildings or down into the canyon. So that meant we had to adjust some of our plans accordingly. However at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, we could actually take her out on the dunes with us and she had a blast!
It’s important to know about these restrictions in advance so you can plan accordingly. Because you don’t want to be leaving your dog in the hot car or RV while you are out exploring. That leads me to another point, you might want to invest in a temperature monitor in your RV if you do plan to leave your pet at times. We’ve heard horror stories of electricity shutting off and pets dying in hot RVs because the AC stopped working.
Sorry to be a downer, but this is a major concern for us too! And it’s very real and something that needs to be considered for all pet owners.
The point here is that yes, there are some things about RV life that may be more simple than back at home. However, there are SO many other different things that you need to think about and deal with that I would argue that the lifestyle overall is not really all that simple. It’s just different and definitely not the right lifestyle for everyone.
5. “I’ll Just Use the RV Park’s Internet.”
As more and more people are working remotely, there is this myth that they can just book an RV park with internet and that will be sufficient for their job. Um…nope! It’s true that RV parks are investing in internet to try and appease their guests and use it as a marketing tool, but the truth is RV park internet is very rarely good. In fact, most of the time it is downright terrible!
If you job depends on internet, you are going to need to invest in your own mobile WiFi network that you bring with you. We have 2 different hot spot devices that we use. One is AT&T and the other is Verizon. Then we also have our cell phones that we can tether when we need to. One is AT&T the other is T-Mobile. So you can see, we have multiple devices and we also have 3 different carriers – because service in different areas can vary.
** READ MORE: Mobile RV Internet Options
In all honestly, internet often times is the biggest hassle when it comes to RV travel — at least if you are working from the road. Sure in recent years great progress has been made in this area! But as much as we would love to have perfect internet everywhere, it’s just not the case. Even when it comes to boondocking, we’ve had to change our plans when the cell signal was crap and we couldn’t get work done.
Please know that as a fulltime RV’er, you will end up chasing internet if it’s required for your job. And don’t think you can depend on RV park internet! You will 100% need to have your own.
6. “It’s Like Vacation All the Time!”
Oh wouldn’t it be nice! But unless you are retired, RV living full time is hardly like a vacation. Sure if you are retired you will have loads of free time and won’t need to be tied to your computer (or require internet) to do your job. However if you are like us, then you still need to work while living in your RV. This brings a whole new experience to the RV travel and vacation experience.
It can be difficult when you are in an RV park and you are seeing people outside having fun while you are stuck inside working. It definitely takes discipline! And if you have never worked from home before and you don’t have experience with this type of discipline, it’s going to be a major challenge for you.
It’s also something to keep in mind when booking a stay, because you need to allow for plenty of time to work and to have fun. For example, when we stayed down in the Florida Keys this winter we had to balance between the cost (it was very expensive) and staying long enough where we actually had time to go have some fun. We ended up staying for 2 weeks, but we had to work a lot of the time. So we had to make sure that we had enough time some evenings and on the weekends so we could explore and have fun.
But it’s a challenge. Luckily, we have flexible schedules because we work for ourselves. We can decide to take a break in the afternoon to go for a swim or go snorkeling, then work later in the evening. That’s the benefit of having a flexible remote job. However, not everyone has that type of flexibility. If you have a strict 9-5 job where you need to be at your computer and online, it’s going to be more difficult for you to coordinate the fun time. It just might be nights and weekends for you.
In fact, while we were in the Keys there was a younger full-time RV family in a spot right across from us. We got talking one evening in the hot tub and the mom told us that she had a very strict 9-5 job. She expressed that it was difficult because she had 2 young kids who were excited and wanted to get out and play a lot and her husband had a flexible job. So it made her feel bad being tied to her computer so much. She said it was a real challenge to coordinate as a family on some days.
Chores & Errands Still Have to Be Done
It really is just a totally different experience when you are living at the RV park and not just visiting on vacation. Beyond working, there are many chores you have to do that are just the same as back at your home. From RV maintenance (inside and out), doctor appointments, errands around town, fixing the car, etc. It really is just like living a normal life, except in an RV. Which brings a whole different experience to the situation, and sometimes it can even take the fun of RV’ing right out of it.
Is the Full-Time RV Lifestyle Worth It? Yes, for Some.
We don’t say all these things to discourage you from the full-time RV lifestyle. But we just want to make sure that people are fully aware of what they are getting into, and have a backup option in case they end up not liking it. For us, we have absolutely loved living in our RV fulltime! We were fortunate to have been living and working nomadically while traveling around the world for many years, so for us, we were kinda used to it. But still, there were many things that we learned along the way and things that surprised us.
Even though there are hassles and we aren’t on vacation all the time, we do love the fact that we can explore new places (even though we don’t travel as much as we thought we would). Even though we are working, we do have some flexibility in our schedules to adjust our working times. And when we’ve finished work at the end of the day, it’s wonderful to be able to go outside and enjoy being in a new destination or exploring a new town on our off days.
For us, the lifestyle is worth it and we really enjoy it. That’s not to say we will do this forever. We enjoy having a home and actually would like to have a home-base to go when we do want to get off the road for a bit. But for some, living in an RV fulltime can be a pretty incredible experience as long as they are fully prepared and have reasonable expectations for what it’s like.