Full-time RV-life: Expectations vs Realities

Full-time RVing… we had some expectations before hitting the road that have been altogether false. Some of those we’re glad about (like how cooking on the road is easier than expected) and others we’re bummed about (like how making friends on the road is hard – or nearly impossible.)

Below you’ll find a handful of RV life expectations vs realities we’ve discovered over the last two years.

Full-Time RV Expectation vs Reality #1: Driving a motorhome or RV is scary

Driving RV expectations: I could never drive an RV! They’re huge and intimidating.

Reality: Like anything, once you get used to doing it, it becomes habit. If you travel once a year, you’re not going to be as comfortable behind the steering wheel as if you are moving around weekly. As someone who is not a very confident driver, the only time I’ve ever been honked at is when our turn signal had become unplugged and I had to merge into a new lane without the person behind me knowing I was going to.

Jeremiah casually driving the motorhome.

The more you travel and put time behind the wheel, the better you get at it. Our motorhome has three different cameras – one that shows our blind spots as soon as we hit our turn signal, and one in the back. It makes driving relatively easy. It’s still huge.

Full-Time RV life assumption #2: Life will be a vacation.

Expectation: If I start full-time RVing, I’ll hike every day and find cute local cafes to have my morning coffee at. Sure, I’ll work, but the rest of the day will be like a full-time vacation.

Reality: We get to see amazing places and do amazing things– but we deal with motorhome maintenance, regular chores, and errands. And let me tell you, errands take a lot longer now. We used to move about every 10 days to two weeks, and one full day on the front and back of those were just errands. When you have one car, you can’t split up to get things accomplished, so we often find ourselves both piling into our Tahoe to do various errands. We might throw something fun in the mix like lunch at a place we’ve wanted to try, but for the most part, it’s just things that have to get done. You can’t easily just put things off – like “Oh, I’ll go to the post office tomorrow,” because chances are, you’ll be in a different city tomorrow.

In addition, travel days can be really tiring. From breaking down camp, to finding where to stay, to navigating traffic, to getting checked in and set back up, a “four-hour” travel day easily takes closer to 7 hours. Sometimes, we have to stop for meetings, etc, and a four-hour day can leak into 8 hours. It’s honestly surprising every time.

Full-Time RV Expectation vs Reality #3: I’ll have an automatic RV community.

Expectation: Everyone at campgrounds are friendly and I’ll have a community. I’ll have campfires with other campers, and I’ll always have someone to chat with. If anything, I’ll be overwhelmed as an introvert. Camping is all about hanging out with other people!

Reality: Not in our experience. Most people stay to themselves. Depending on the state you’re in, you might get some waves and hellos, others will just turn away.

We shared a campfire with a young couple in Arizona back in November 2018. I remember it because it’s so rare.

California was hands-down the worst at acknowledging other people, but we were surprised at how bad Kansas and Missouri were as far as friendliness.

Short story: some people in Missouri came out of their campers to watch us get stuck in a dead-end. Nobody warned us, and there were no signs at the campground. They got out and watched – standing at the edge of the road. We managed to get turned around, and when we passed by, we waved. They turned around. It hurt my heart a little. No, not a little. A lot. I felt sick over it, and I rushed to help the person that arrived behind us to help them find their campsite. I was just really hurt by it.

We really expected everyone to be friendly – that RV life would turn us on to some secret friend community. We even had business cards made up so we could exchange information with people easily. How often do we need them? About never. The only time we’ve ever given them out was when we in a place that wasn’t RV-centric – like when we met someone at a bar (you know, pre-covid) or restaurants.

Key takeaway: if you’re looking for an “RV Community” you may want to enlist some of your existing friends to become RVers as well.

Full Time RV Expectation vs Reality #4: I’ll save money in an RV.

Expectation: We did not set this expectation up for ourselves, but it’s common to assume that just because you move into an RV or motorhome, that you’ll save money.

Reality: Over a twelve-month period, we spend approximately the same amount of money on the road as we did in a house. You can spend less on the road, but it’s very easy to also spend more. This is based on where you RV and how often you travel. A

Campground fees: Our campground right now is $500 in rent, which seems free to us, but when we were in the bay, it was around 2 grand a month. Sure, you can boondock a lot, but you’ll use propane, diesel, gas, solar installation – whatever it is that you heat your RV with as well as how you get power.

Maintenance: Our RV has had multiple unexpected issues that we’ve had to address. As one simple example: when our generator suddenly went kaput to the kick plate sheering, we had the option of paying someone to fix it, fixing it ourselves immediately, or finding places that had hookups. Each of these was not free.

Travel: The more you travel, the more you spend in fuel and camping spots. A campground will rent out a night for $35 per night, or charge you $500 a month. That’s a huge difference. If you eat out a lot to get an idea of local cuisine, this adds up.

If you want to save money, don’t automatically choose the RV life. We have friends who chose it because they can get much better salaries if they choose to more every 3 months – that makes sense. If that’s not you, consider downsizing your apartment, house, etc, and making hard but sensical budget cuts. (Selling a car for a cheaper one, etc.) We did not choose RV life because it was cheaper.

RV living (wrong) assumption #5: I’ll get in shape because of all the activity I’m doing.

Expectations: Huge misconception of mine. I thought I would turn into a fitness queen as soon as we hit the road.

Jeremiah and Bernadette in a hike on the loneliest road in America.

Reality: Nope. If anything, I find myself being forced to get daily exercise. Our house is small. It’s enormous for a motorhome, but small for a house. There’s just less to cover in steps.

We also started working remotely, so we’re not taking the normal walks we would during lunch, or back and forth between meetings, etc. The most we get up during the day unless we’re forcing ourselves to is to get a 3rd cup of coffee. Most of our exercise now is walking the dog. I have to force myself to get workouts in.

Full-Time RV Expectation vs Reality #6: Cooking is hard in an RV. We’ll eat a lot of hot dogs.

Expectation: Because the kitchen is smaller, I’ll have to change how I approach meals. We’ll just probably cook a lot of very simple things like cold sandwiches.

Reality: We do think differently about how we cook in the RV, but not extensively. We have 2 burners now, so we make more one-pot dinners. However, we still have a small oven, and we have a grill. We actually grill substantially less on the road than we did at our last house! I used to grill 2 to 3 times a week. Now? I hardly ever grill!

Why? Mostly because it’s just less convenient. I get the grill out, then have to traipse back and forth into the motorhome, making sure to shut the door each time since the dog is inside. There are a lot of off-lead dogs at campgrounds, so we never leave Bernadette unattended outside, even if it’s just to grab some corn from inside to throw on the Coleman.

So, what do we cook? Everything from Indian to Greek to Italian. We have added more quick recipes to our repertoire than before for travel days but still make fancy recipes like before. The one thing that does consistently affect our cooking is what is available in the grocery store. Food deserts are real. We stock up on canned and frozen vegetables before heading somewhere more rural. Produce is important to us, and the choices can be limited in food deserts.

What else?

If you’ve enjoyed reading this, let me know. I have a lot of other expectations and realities about RV life that I’m happy to share. RV life is amazing- I’ve said that before. But I’ve also said this before: it’s still life.

I’m still working to drop my expectations, and slowly getting better at it.

I think there’s always expectations vs realities in any lifestyle – whether that’s a relatively “traditional” one or a more off-the-beaten path lifestyle.

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