Hello, Folks. It is February 2017, and Alice and I are back on the road again. Over the last 2½ months we have been living in ‘sticks & bricks’, staying with family in Ohio, Texas and our house in Michigan. Now, with the Holidays behind us… and a new Grandson in the world… we are back in our motorhome, recently completing an 8-day, 1525 mile trip from Texas to Wellton, Arizona. This will be our 5th year of Fulltime RV’ing. And once again, in response to requests from friends back home in Michigan (and elsewhere), we’ve updated our annual post about our experiences. Here it is – Enjoy!
This post is for would-be RV’ers with little or no experience. Here, we discuss the fundamental Nuts & Bolts of living in an RV, just as Alice and I learned them when we started as newbies four years ago in 2013…. This post is written from our experience living & traveling in a 36′ Gas Motorhome with two slides – but most observations should be broadly applicable to RV’s in general. The result is a nice introduction to RV’ing for people that are totally new to it… and who may have wondered about a ‘retirement’ that involves extensive traveling in an RV. And while this post is from our own first-hand experiences & observations, it should not necessarily be construed as ‘expert advice’. For that, we would highly recommend the Escapee Club’s, ‘RV Bootcamp‘, offered several times a year in various locations across the country.
A Special Note: After 4 years of ‘full-timing’… a few personal observations: For us, a traveling retirement brought about many new challenges & lessons – indeed, became a truly ‘youthful’ & rejuvenating experience. As we downsized our possessions, we also simplified our lives. And… being free to travel provided us with the ability to spend more time with our extended family & friends because we can go there – and stay for a while!
We hope that you may find these observations interesting & useful. Any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us!
Observations on Motorhoming & Retirement
This post is presented in five separate Sections:
General Observations on RV’s: (Return↑Top)
For years, Alice and I always figured on purchasing “a Montana 5th Wheel” when retirement time came… but when that time did come, the potential options turned out to be much more diverse than just “5th wheels”. Here’s some basic information on Recreational Vehicles.
- RV’s come in all types, sizes, and shapes. Basic RV types are:
- Class ‘A’ Motorhome – Bus appearance, powered by Diesel or Gas.
- Class ‘B’ Van – Travel Van appearance, powered by Diesel or Gas.
- Class ‘C’ Motorhome – U-Haul Truck appearance, w/cab overhead, usually powered by Gas.
- Travel Trailers and 5th Wheels usually pulled by a Pickup Truck of some size, and may be quite elaborate.
- Class ‘A’ Motorhome Power Trains come in two flavors: Diesel, and Gas.
- Diesels generally are more expensive, can push more weight, and generally have more power for mountain grades. Many Diesels Rigs are equipped with air bags for a smoother ride and/or air brakes for stopping heavier loads. The engines may last for 200K – 500K miles before major engine service.
- Gas engines are cheaper, can push moderate weight, and generally handle mountain grades adequately well. They can be equipped with a Banks Power Pack add-on to increase mountain grade power and gas mileage. The engines may last for 150K – 200K miles before major engine service. (Ours is a Ford Triton V-10, gasoline, with a Banks Power pack – Performs very well in towing and climbing Mountain grades. We get ~9 mpg while towing a 3,300lb car.)
- Heating, air conditioning, electric, water, sewer… all function quite well in most RV’s. We have learned that a small efficient 12V ‘Fantastic Fan’ in the ceiling does wonders for cooling in the low humidity Southwest… and can run all night off House Batteries when boondocking (no hookups). We have two such fans installed.
- Sliders on a Recreational Vehicle (wall sections that slide out about 20 – 36 inches) can expand the usable interior space considerably. It is very common to see RV’s with two – four sliders.
- Maintenance of a Motorhome is on-going. Like a car, it must be washed, polished, lubricated, oil-changed, windows cleaned, etc. Like a House, windows must be washed, leaks repaired, nuts & bolts tightened, filters changed… A good tool bag is Important. An annual maintenance budget of $500 – $2,000 is a good idea. A ‘handy’ person can cut this budget cost considerably, as there are many support resources available for Do-It-Yourself RV repairs.
- Average RV model year of Motorhomes observed is about 2006 – 2009… with a surprisingly large number of older RVs being in the 1998 – 2000 model year range.
- On the road, we rarely see any two Motorhomes that look alike…Variety is the norm. Well maintained older Motorhomes are cherished and retain their value.
- Our estimated statistics on RV types as seen in commercial RV Parks:
- Motorhomes, Class A and/or C, about 45%.
- 5th Wheels, about 40%.
- Travel Trailers and/or Class B (large Vans), about 15%.
- While we see just a few Class C Motorhomes parked in RV Parks, for some reason we see far more on the Highways… Interesting. 5th year running on this.
- Up through the year 2006 models, Diesel Class ‘A’ Motorhomes slightly outnumber Gas Motorhomes – but starting in 2007 models, gas appears to be just as common.
- Driving a Motorhome is easy to learn. Driving in high wind or cross winds can be very fatiguing, especially with a lighter weight Gas Unit (ours is 22,000 lbs)…but if fitted with a ‘Steering Stabilizer Bar’, the problem is greatly eased. Diesel Motorhomes of longer length (40′ – 45′) tend to be heavier (30,000 – 45,000 lbs) and far less subject to wind problems.
- Pulling a tow vehicle (toad) is surprisingly easy. Just don’t plan on backing up without disconnecting the toad first. (learned that lesson the hard way.) There are several different approaches to towing a car… and to implement braking in such.
- Filling a gas tank is laborious – most gas pumps turn off at $99, and the filling process must be started all over again after hitting that mark (75 gallon tank). This was more of a problem when gas was $3.50/ gallon , but with gas at $2.15/gallon, (Jan, 2017), the situation is much eased. Yay!
Making the ‘move’ from living in a 2,400 sq ft ‘Sticks & Bricks’ House to a 260 sq ft Motor home… that moves… can be quite a challenge. For us, we loved it! And it is a great opportunity to downsize ‘living stuff’… and to significantly simplify life in the process.
- Traveling in a Motorhome is very comfortable, except, perhaps, as mentioned above, driving in high winds, or heavy city traffic. We can stop when we desire, enjoy a great view from the high vantage seating, stop to prepare meals or take a nap, bathroom breaks… and our home is always with us.
- After 48 months of traveling, we still find our 36′ gas Motorhome to be very livable. Our Bedroom & Queen-size bed are quite comfortable, the Bathroom & Shower is great, Captain Chairs turned inward to the living room are comfortable, and our kitchen with microwave oven, range, and side-by-side refrigerator/icemaker serves us well (unfortunately…we’ve gained weight… and kept it 🙁 )
- Rainy days happen… Being cooped up in a 260 sq ft Motorhome for three consecutive days (or more) can be… boring. Be prepared – it will happen. We occupy ourselves with TV, Books, Internet, hobbies, and cell phones. We have found setting outside underneath the RV awning… while it is raining… watching TV… is an unexpected cozy delight.
- We tow a 2008 Honda CR-V car (‘toad’). It takes us about 3 – 5 minutes to hitch, or unhitch the Toad from the Motorhome. We utilize a Blue OX tow barblueox.com, and a U.S. Gear proportional breaking system for the Honda. We have driven 30,000+ miles a year in this car plus towing it another 6 – 7,000 a year… and it has performed superbly. Very Pleased!
- A satellite dish mounted on top an RV can provide HD TV anywhere. Many RV parks also offer coax cable TV for free, for RV’s so equipped. We went with a Dish Satellite system, because we can turn the ‘Dish contract’ on or off as needed, saving money when not in use. And, it is totally automatic – push a button, and 10 minutes later, voila` – dozens of channels of HD TV.
- Internet access is widely available with an appropriate ‘hotspot’ device… $95/mo will buy 18Gb of monthly up/down loads (a lot), and thruput is excellent in the Verizon 4G coverage areas. We use Verizon. Additionally, high-speed WiFi in RV Parks has become a common amenity, albeit, not suitable for streaming movies. When using local Park WiFi, Verizon will allow a hotspot device to be ‘paused’, stopping the monthly charge until ‘unpaused’.
- Moving to a new camping location in a Motorhome is not hard. However, we still find ourselves choosing to move less frequently and stay longer in one site (month or more). This is due to 1.) We like the site & area, and 2.) Cheaper monthly rates.
- The term ‘Boondock’ generally refers to staying at a free or very low cost location, outside an RV Park. Many times, this is somewhere ‘off the grid’, typically on ‘Bureau of Land Management‘ (BLM) land in the Western States. We have ‘boondocked’ in several wilderness-like areas… and this has been some of our very best of experiences. We desire to do even more of this.
- The Definitive Guide for Boondocking Locations is the Escapees’s, Days End Directory. We have used this guide extensively in our travels. It is a Great Resource!
- When traveling on long cross country journeys… we will average about 200- 250 miles a day comfortably. On longer traveling trips, we will overnight in Walmart, Pilot/Flying J, Casinos, or ‘other’ parking lots, or ‘free Boondock sites’ utilizing the Days End directory… and avoid paying $20-$30/per night hook-up fees. We will travel 3-5 days, then find a RV park and stay a couple of nights with Full Hook Ups (rest, refill water, dump Black & Gray tanks, Laundry), and then resume our trip.
- RV repairs are widely available. Almost all parks have a directory of mobile RV Technicians that can come to your RV as needed. RV dealerships have expanded drive up service options. Road service for things like towing, changing flats, etc is readily available from organizations like Good Sam, and Coach-Net. I highly recommend such.
- We plan our trips in advance utilizing the Microsoft Streets & Trips computer mapping program. This program allows us to view on a map all of the Boondocking sites, RV Parks, State & National Parks and Days End directory locations that we might potentially use. This is a Huge benefit for trip planning. Unfortunately, this particular computer program was discontinued by Microsoft in 2013… and we are still looking for a suitable replacement.
- We use a Garmin Nuvi 1450 GPS for actual navigation while traveling… and Alice is always loaded with paper maps.
- Financial needs are well covered by a Debit or Credit card, and online banking with plentiful ATM’s. Additionally, Walmart will provide ‘cash back’ (up to $100) on a Debit Card purchase. Some parks only take cash… so a few hundred in cash on-hand is a good idea.
RV Parks are generally friendly & pleasant places. It is rare to find cranky or unfriendly people. If you want to make new friends quickly, simply park your vehicle, open the hood, and start looking underneath… Boom, instant new friends. 😀
- RV Park Amenities essentially consist of an RV parking space (paved or unpaved) big enough for an RV, car/truck, and a ‘front porch’ (awning and picnic table) space. Each space will have Electricity (30 and/or 50 AMP), a water hose connection, and a sewer connection. Some may also provide cable TV connection and/or WiFi access.
- RV Park costs In the South and Southwest are very reasonable. Our goal with RV Parks has been to stay in nice, well ran Parks… while achieving a low average daily cost. In pursuing this goal a little homework can save a lot of money.
- We joined the Escapees RV Club ($40/yr, Nationwide). At their park in Benson, Arizona we have paid about $315/mo., plus Electricity (50 AMP, ~ $120/mo.).
- Typical monthly costs in Southern Arizona RV Parks range from about $300 + Electricity, to ‘Resort’ parks that charge in the $750 + Electricity. In Arizona, it is not difficult to find a well-equipped, comfortable Park in the $300-$400/monthly + Electricity, range.
- We bought into Thousand Trails, a nationwide Campground Membership Club, with a wide number of RV Parks (over 55) in places where we would like to stay (West Coast, Southwest, South). After a one time buy-in ($2,000), we pay $549 yearly, and have unlimited stays, with Full Hook Ups, and no further charges… However, we do have to move to a new Park every 21 days… but then can return after 7 days ‘out’.
- We also bought into Hart Ranch, a five-star Membership Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. – After a one-time membership purchase of $1,250, we pay $259 yearly, and can stay there for ~$300 monthly (Includes Electricity). We opted for this due to the Park’s extreme high-quality (5 stars), the optimal location for Summer and Fall camping, and its central location for traveling to points further West. We do have to move within the Park every 21 days to a different RV site.
- RV Park Costs can be mitigated or eliminated. This year, 2017, Alice and I will again engage in ‘Workamping’ at our Summer location (Hart Ranch). In exchange for 20 hrs of work a week, we receive in return a dedicated, Summer-long RV site, free of charge, along with a Black Hills VIP card… which provides us with free or low cost access to most of the Region’s attractions. This is a very significant benefit.
- Electricity, when charged separately, by RV Parks, averages about $.16 / kWh… totaling about $100 – $150/mo depending on need for air conditioning.
- LP Gas is very important … and thankfully available in most parks on specified days of the week. In a Motorhome, appliances often can run off LP gas, or electricity. LP gas can be used for Heating (furnace, or Catalytic room heater), Refrigerator (LP or electricity) and for a Hot Water tank heater (LP or electricity).
- LP Gas cost varies greatly… we’ve seen from $1.99 to $4.00 per gallon.
- Experience with our 24 gallon on-board LP tank… tells us that we can stretch a tank of LP Gas to cover our needs (Catalytic room heater, cooking, occasional refrigerator) for about two – three months in Arizona winter weather.
- RV’ers wintering in RV Parks often utilize large 100 Gal. LP gas Tanks, locally delivered, serviced, and refilled. Additionally, any RV with a larger ‘on-board’ LP Tank (24 – 50 Gal) may utilize an “Extend-a-Stay” device, which provides the ability to piggyback additional portable LP tanks as needed. Without either of those two options, one must periodically break camp to go get LP refills.
- Water is generally provided in all RV Parks via a standard water hose connection utilizing a ‘special sanitary water hose’… In the Southwest, water tends to have a higher mineral content (salt)… so Alice and I buy bottled drinking water at Sam’s Club for roughly $0.10 a half-liter bottle.
- Sewer hook ups are almost universally provided in RV parks. This requires care & attention to detail, as the potential for ‘unsanitary problems’ is considerable. Having said that, once good practice is learned, it becomes a no-brainer.
- Escapees RV Parks, Thousand Trails RV Parks, and many seasonal ‘Winter Snowbird’ Parks generally have well maintained facilities… Laundromat, Libraries, pool tables, DVD movies, exercise rooms, club houses, Pools/spas, scheduled activities, hiking trails, Woodworking shop, etc.
- Many lots in Southwest States RV Parks are rented/leased by long-term campers… by month, or by season, or semi-permanently. An extra building on a lot (called ‘Park Models’, or ‘Casitas’) are very common for expanded, or primary, living space, as well as storage sheds for storing ‘extras’.
- RV parks we’ve experienced to date generally observe established ‘quiet hours’, and are extremely quiet in the evening (except for the coyotes…) – makes for a good night sleeping.
If you are desiring to travel in a Motorhome as part of your retirement… there may be additional considerations that come into play. Please note: These perspectives are provided from our 44 years of being married…
- Living together in a Motorhome as Husband & Wife is a ‘renewing experience’. It tends to foster & build closer relationships. Life is more simple… allowing more time together. Many couples grow closer… Alice and I have. We have heard of a few cases where just the opposite has happened.
- Over time, we’ve evolved into having “Alice’s space” and “Jim’s space” in the Motorhome….”Blue chores” and “Pink chores” (Thanks, Joe & Libby Burke, for those terms)… Taking turns at the bathroom sink & shower… Taking turns with the car…
- Being apart from Family & Friends can be challenging. Frequent phone calls, texting, etc. can help immensely. We have a Verizon unlimited ‘family plan text and voice’ contract. Also, in lieu of frequent short-duration visits with family, we utilize ‘weeks & months’ long visits back home… and/or ‘Fly the daughter & grandaughter out here’ visits. They love Arizona in the Winter… and Hart Ranch in the Summer… We average spending about 10 – 12 weeks a year with our Daughter & Family (includes Grand kids!)
- Receiving Mail on the road is readily manageable. Mail Forwarding Services are reliable ($100 – $200/annually), US Postal Service – ‘General Delivery’ address works reliably, and some RV Parks will receive & hold mail for residents.
- In our fifth year, we are seeing that our new & old ‘traveling friends’ have become quite close and dear to us. Moving to a new park, or location, can on occasion become a ‘Reunion’.
- For us, traveling long distance in a Motorhome is a mesmerizing, “Huck-Finn on the River” type experience. We become ‘committed to the road’ except to stop for the night… towns come & go… we see people, life, & living going on…and then we pass on. And it is just the two of us… focused on the road… life centered on us.
- We like to ‘ShunPike‘ when traveling… a practice where one tends to avoid the Interstate highways in favor of the back roads. This way, we see beautiful country, small towns, farms, and a slower way of living. Driving South thru Nebraska & Kansas in the Fall… watching the monumental harvests going on is an awe-inspiring experience.
- Video telephones, like computer Skype sessions, are a step up in staying in contact with family & friends. The video does make a difference. WiFi Bandwidth is required.
- Retirement in a RV can be fairly inexpensive if planned ahead. A good kitchen (at-home meals), a good location (free activities), and smart choice of RV Parks (as mentioned above) make the difference.
- Grocery shopping for two is just like ‘at home’. We have a sizable refrigerator, freezer, 3-burner LP stove, sizable microwave & convection oven, cabinets… Grocery stores everywhere are about the same… Safeway, Walmart, Fry’s, Giant, local chains.
- ‘RVing on a Budget‘ on the Escapees forum is very useful… and the specific thread of ‘Anyone full timing on $25,000 a year” well describes some common practices.
- Cost cutting measures & advice abounds… Senior Discounts… Veteran Discounts… and Frugal RV Living… just google the topic, and much help is available. All you have to do is ‘ask’…
- Retirement does take a while to get used to… We have adapted to a more casual routine that is relaxed in the morning… eases into noon… and then gets going.
- About 60-70% of RV’ers have pets – primarily dogs, all sizes, and sometimes more than one. It’s not uncommon to see a cat curled up in the front window…
- The ‘Net Worth‘ of a retired RV’er simply can not be judged by their RV… or their car.
- Not uncommon to see RV friends of long time standing, driving/pulling rigs that are of great variance in cost range. There seems to be an underlying thread that builds strong friendships out here among travelers…
- Medical Insurance coverage – Became very problematic during the obamacare years. Alice had a grandfathered-in policy with United Healthcare that provided coverage in most states that we traveled in.
- Medicare insurance coverage greatly simplifies treatment options. I (Jim) selected a Part ‘B’ ‘Supplemental’ policy that provides for nation-wide access. Cost was $104/mo for Medicare, and $108/mo for the Supplemental ‘G’ policy. In Nov 2016, we added Alice to the same type policy for about the same costs.
- In 2012, Medical Insurance that was “high deductible” ($5K) cost around $500/month for two adults, assuming ‘normal age-related medical history. Obamacare changed this. In 2016, we paid $478/month for Alice (only), for a $5,000 deductible ‘grandfathered‘ policy. In 2017 we would have had pay over $623/mo for a $6,300 deductible, but fortunately, Alice went on Medicare in Nov 2016.
- Pharmacy needs… We started with Walmart Pharmacy, and subsequently changed to Walgreens. We learned that the Walgreen System handles travelers better… their prices are just as low and their computer system is vastly superior in tracking prescriptions cross country. However, due to recently selecting Medicare Part ‘D’ to be fulfilled by Humana/Walmart… we are now back to Walmart – and they appear to have improved their computer system significantly for national coverage… We will see.
- Dental Coverage is not provided with Medicare. Vision Coverage is not provided with Medicare. Excellent Dental Services can be found across the border at selected Mexican Border Cities. Savings appear to be in the 70-80% range – to see a sample of dental fees click Here. Vision Services costs are about the same as in America.
- Crossing the Border into Mexico to obtain medical services is a common practice for retired folks in Texas & Arizona. Services available include Prescription Drugs, Dental work, Chiropractic Care, Eye Exams & Glasses, and $4 hair cuts… Well established Mexican Medical Professionals cater to the American & Canadian trade. Many are trained in the United States, and are members of American Professional Associations, like the ADA.
- Crossing into Mexico: Drive to a Border Crossing (we use los Algodones across from Yuma, AZ.), park your car, walk thru the gate (couple hundred yards), locate & use services desired (usually located within a few hundred yards), then cross the Border back into the USA, using a Passport or enhanced Drivers License.
- Consensus & experience on Mexico: Mainstream pharmaceuticals are safe, and professional services obtained thru well known & reputable providers, especially Dental, are of a high quality & safe. Alice & I have had three dental exams & cleanings, and have saved several hundred dollars a year on our standard pharmaceuticals.
We feel that few good words about Arizona are appropriate… Anyone that is considering retirement with an RV… should strongly consider spending at least one winter in this warm & inviting state.
- A Beautiful state… with so much to do. Its weather extremes in the Winter time range from Skiing in the north (higher elevation, Mogollon rim) to having Sun & Warm temperatures in the South. Areas around where we Winter (Tucson & Yuma) get about 330+ days a year of sunshine…. The best in the country.
- Even in South Arizona, it can get cold and below freezing. Warms up very quickly in the morning, with the direct sun.
- Solar power to support Boondocking is very feasible in States like Arizona. This technology has become fairly mature & well developed. One of the acknowledged experts in the field is a gentleman named Jack Mayer, associated with the Escapees RV Club. To view his web site on these matters, Click Here.
- There are excellent RV parks sites that are not crowded… and locations that are located in small towns or rural areas.
- Arizona is an ‘International Dark Sky” state… meaning that night-time city light ‘dispersements’ are controlled – makes for a great night sky full of stars. Bring your telescope or binoculars.
- Wind and Dust Storms happen in Arizona. Then they clear… and the sunsets are beautiful.
- There are a lot of things to see & do in Arizona…good roads, Many Butterfield Stage locations, old Forts, Indian ruins & petroglyph sites, early Spanish explorer settlements & Catholic Mission sites. And lots and lots of sunshine…
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog post. If any questions, or words of wisdom to share, please feel free to send us an email by Clicking Here.
Jim & Alice.