9 things I learned in my first 6 months RVing full-time
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Almost four years ago, my husband JT and I gave up our apartment and sold or donated almost everything we owned. Then, we hit the road as global digital nomads. We didn’t have a home base for about three years while globetrotting. But, when we returned to the U.S. amidst global lockdowns last March, we had nowhere to call home.
We initially self-quarantined in a family member’s unoccupied lake condo. And then we spent a few months living with family members. But as the pandemic continued, it became apparent we wouldn’t quickly be resuming our global travels. So, we knew we needed a place to call home.
Put in the same situation, most people would have rented an apartment or booked month-long hotel stays. But after relocating an RV from Los Angeles to Dallas last July, we decided to buy the same RV model in August. And then, we moved into the RV full-time on Sept. 1, 2020.
Before our rental over the summer, we’d only done one previous RV relocation for $1 a day. So we had a lot to learn about RVing. Today, I’ll share nine things I learned in my first six months of full-time RVing.
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There are many ways to RV
Before we started living out of our RV full-time, I had some preconceived notions about RVing. But, I quickly learned there are many ways to RV. And, what works best for one traveler may not be best for another.
For example, there’s no set price that you should pay for campsites. Sure, it’s possible to pay very little for campsites. After all, you can often camp on national lands for free or cheap. And some businesses such as Cracker Barrel and Walmart may allow you to park overnight for no fee. But, on the other end of the spectrum, some RV campsites cost more than $100 per night and offer hotel-like amenities. And of course, there’s also a middle-ground of campsites that cost between $20 and $40 per night.
Likewise, there are many types of RVs. Walking around most campgrounds, we typically see luxury campers, pop-ups campers, converted school buses, fifth wheels, trailers, camper vans and vehicles with roof-top tents. Some of these RVs cost under $10,000 while others cost more than $200,000. And each type of camper is suitable for a particular kind of traveler.
Finally, there are many different RV travel styles. Some campers move each day while others stay at the same campground for an entire season. Many campers have outdoor furniture, while some trailers look like they could pull out at any time. And some RVers plan out their travels a year in advance to snag desirable reservations, while others book campsites as they go.
Flexibility is key
For us, embracing flexibility has been critical in our first six months of RVing. We’re naturally planners: we have spreadsheets of hotel reservations that go back years and forward into 2022. But, we’ve found that we prefer booking campsites as we go. And, as we start to take one-off international trips by plane this summer while still living part-time out of the RV, I expect this flexibility will become even more critical.
Flexibility is also critical when living and working remotely in a small space with another person. I frequently work outside at our site’s picnic table or a campground pavilion. But RVing inherently means you’ll spend a lot of time together with your travel partner(s). This togetherness has been relatively easy for us since we were already used to living and working together as global digital nomads. But, from talking with other campers, being together all the time is a struggle for some people.
High-speed internet isn’t a problem
When we decided to live and work from an RV, I assumed high-speed internet would be a struggle. We don’t need a lot of data since we each only use about one GB per day on our laptops. But, reliable and relatively quick internet is necessary if we want to work effectively.
Some campgrounds offer Wi-Fi. But, campground Wi-Fi is typically slow and often unusable. So, we primarily hotspot data from our phones to our laptops. We each have a Verizon Get More Unlimited plan, which gives us each 30 GB of 4G LTE hotspot data each month and unlimited data on our phones. So, I do all most work video calls on my phone. We also have a T-Mobile backup hotspot, but we haven’t needed to use it yet.
We also bought a cell booster to help in areas with weak cell service. But, we’ve mostly avoided using the cell booster by using online resources to filter out campgrounds with poor Verizon cell service. For example, Recreation.gov includes cell coverage strength ratings for Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T as part of its review system. And for other campgrounds, I check Campendium. By using these two resources, we haven’t experienced any significant connectivity issues.
Know what you want before buying
There are many different types of RVs. And, my fellow TPG colleagues have tried out several different styles. For example, TPG’s Richard Kerr bought a trailer to tow behind his truck. And TPG’s Summer Hull rented a luxury Class A motorhome. Meanwhile, TPG’s Chris Dong rented a van to try out van life.
We opted for a Class C RV, which is effectively a truck cab with a huge box attached where the truck bed would typically be. We decided on this type of vehicle since we didn’t own a vehicle before buying our RV. And we knew the specific RV we purchased would work for us because we’d just relocated the same model from Los Angles to Dallas. Plus, we love that one of us can work at the table in the back while the other one is driving.
Assuming you don’t buy the exact model you relocate as we did, you can still try out what you’re looking to buy. In particular, I recommend renting your model or a very similar model before you buy. Luckily, sites like RVshare allow you to rent RVs directly from owners. So, you can likely find the model you’re planning to purchase and test it out beforehand.
You can park your RV at the airport
We took a mid-pandemic trip to Istanbul, Turkey, last October. And we expect to restart international travel once we’re fully vaccinated with some one-off trips while still living out of the RV. But, we wondered what we’d do with our RV while on these trips. After all, most RV storage solutions are set-up for RV owners who want to store their RV monthly or annually near where they live.
As I searched for a solution for our Istanbul trip, I found a few websites that list monthly RV parking solutions. As I scrolled through options on one site, I noticed several listings for an Atlanta airport Parking Spot. JT called the Parking Spot and we learned that they’d be happy to let us park our RV at their lot during our trip for a modest rate.
I’m not sure whether other Parking Spot locations will allow RV parking. But this experience reinforced the idea that we can likely find airport parking near most airports that will let us pay a modest amount to park our RV. After all, we can fit our RV in two back-to-back parking spots.
Little things can be difficult
Some little things that are easy for most home dwellers are significantly more difficult for us while RVing. For example, here are some of the initially unexpected struggles we’ve faced:
- Picking up food is difficult because our RV is too tall for most drive-through lines and too long for most curb-side pick-up zones
- Many campgrounds don’t accept packages, so getting Amazon deliveries or utilizing Amex Offers (such as Wine Insiders) requires extra planning
- Our gray and black tank sensors rarely give correct readings, so it’s difficult to determine when these tanks are full
- Using a drive-through COVID-19 testing center was awkward since our RV was too tall to follow the designated path
- Parking the RV at some businesses, such as a vet when our cat needed care and several hotels when we’ve needed unlimited internet, hasn’t been particularly easy (we’ve learned to call or look at businesses ahead of time using Google Maps satellite view)
Of course, we could avoid some of these difficulties if we had a second vehicle. Most RVers either have a car they tow behind their RV or use a vehicle to tow their RV. But we only have our RV. As such, we have to go everywhere in our RV. We could solve this issue by buying a car or motorcycle, but we don’t want to put the money into another vehicle right now.
Some things are more straightforward than I expected
After noting some struggles in the last section, it’s important also to mention that some parts of RVing are more manageable than I initially expected:
- Last-minute campsites for at least a few nights have been relatively easy to find
- Our 15-year-old cat Grace has settled into RV life well
- Cooking in the small kitchen has gone well
- Dumping black and gray tanks is scary for some RVers, but it hasn’t been so bad for us
- Online resources, especially YouTube, make fixing some issues relatively easy
One aspect of our RV that we underappreciated when we bought it but love having it now is the back-up camera. Unless you have experience driving a large vehicle, I highly recommend ensuring your RV has a back-up camera.
Handiness is essential
JT and I are not handy. But, we’ve had to learn some basics since maintenance and repairs are ongoing with our RV. We’ve learned a lot about our RV in the first six months, from identifying and stopping water leaks to fixing annoying squeaks and tightening screws.
YouTube and RV forums online have been helpful, but we’ve made some ridiculous beginner mistakes along the way. For example, we found that our city water connection (which allows you to hook up a freshwater hose at a campground to your RV’s plumbing system) was leaking out the side of our RV soon after we bought it. We assumed something was broken. But after dealing with this issue for about a month, we determined we needed to put a rubber washer between the hose and our connector.
We’ve made other silly mistakes, but we’ve also become handier in our first six months of RVing. However, RVing will be easier from the start if you’re already handy.
Set a realistic itinerary
The final thing we’ve learned is to make a realistic itinerary. You might be able to drive a car eight hours straight and only stop once. But, when driving an RV, you’ll likely tire much quicker. And, you should typically drive an RV slower than a car. For example, we find that our RV drives best when we go no faster than 65 miles per hour on the interstate.
And frankly, parking and setting up an RV in the dark isn’t particularly safe or fun. So, we’ve learned to drive modest amounts (typically no further than 300 miles in a day) and try to stay at most locations for at least six or seven nights. After all, we want to stay long enough in each destination to enjoy the area while working full-time.
Last year at this time, we had no intention of buying an RV and living out of it full-time. But, doing so has allowed us to remain nomadic and travel domestically during the coronavirus pandemic. And it’s been a fun adventure. It’s hard to say whether we’ll still have the RV in six more months, as I hope we’re back to our globetrotting full-time. But, we’re enjoying RVing while it’s the right choice for us. And we’ve certainly learned a lot in the last six months.
Featured image of Manatee Hammock Campground by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.
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