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I Live in an RV Year Round. Here’s What It’s Really Like

You don't have to wait until you retire to "live the dream." This 30-something couple is living—and running a business—from their RV.

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RVCourtesy Michelle from Making Sense of Cents

Living the RV dream

My husband Wes and our two dogs have spent several years living in an RV—calling an Allegro Bus home and driving it all around the United States. More recently, we transitioned to an even smaller van-type RV (the 19-foot Winnebago Revel, shown above), where we plan to live during much of the hurricane season, then spend the rest of the time living on a sailboat. Here’s exactly what it’s like to live and work in an RV. Discover the 10 things Millennials should do now if they want to retire early.

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RVCourtesy Michelle from Making Sense of Cents

How it started

Wes and I had just sold our house outside of St. Louis, Missouri and moved to a town in Colorado where we knew no one. Though we enjoyed our new state, especially all the outdoor activities it had to offer, we were traveling back home for visits pretty often. So initially the RV was intended for traveling in comfort: We could save money on hotels, travel at a more relaxed pace, avoid packing and unpacking, not overstay our welcome at the homes of family and friends, and be able to take our dogs with us. Plus, my husband had always wanted one. These 17 best snapshots from road trips from across America will inspire you.

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RVCourtesy Michelle from Making Sense of Cents

Transitioning to full time

We bought the first RV in July 2015 and by September of that year we were already considering living in it full time. Wes and I love traveling and being “location independent,” and our jobs allow us to work from anywhere. At first it did seem like a scary thing to get rid of a “normal” home and live on the road—and many people told us we were crazy—but once we officially made the leap, we never looked back. Find out how a $100,000 mistake helped this man turn his life around.

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Moving in. Stack of cardboard boxes in the empty room with copy spacerangizzz/Shutterstock

Paring down

While some people pursue RV living to save money, that wasn’t a focus for us. Our motivation was to achieve a lifestyle with more freedom and flexibility. So we gave up our house in Colorado and pared down to just the essentials. Neighbors, friends, and family came over and took what furniture and housewares they wanted and we donated the rest. At first, we did rent a small storage unit, mainly to hold mementos and things from childhood that we did not want to get rid of. But after a few months, we realized how much we hated paying for storage, so we struck a deal with family members who are now holding three small boxes for us. Many of these clever storage hacks from people living in small houses are also useful in an RV.

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rvCourtesy Michelle from Making Sense of Cents

Getting ready

Residency is one of the first things we had to establish. We chose Florida, because it’s an RV-friendly state. We’re official residents of Florida, so that’s where we register our vehicles, get our driver’s licenses, and vote. Discover the best states for RV living.

Before we took the plunge I worried about all of life’s little necessities, like the internet! I work remotely, so I had to make sure that I could get online without any hiccups (RV parks are notorious for not having good WiFi). We currently have an AT&T hotspot for internet. I also have a signal booster from weBoost. If you need to stay connected while on the road, be sure to review these safety tips for using public Wi-Fi.

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laundry rvCourtesy Michelle from Making Sense of Cents

The details

One of the top questions I get is “How do you receive mail?” It’s simple: We use a mail forwarding company. All our mail gets sent there and then they forward it on to wherever we will be.

Another question I hear often is “How will I do my laundry?” Some RVs, including ours, have a laundry station. Please don’t put off your RV dreams over worries about mail and laundry, especially when there are easy solutions. You can always do laundry at RV parks or at a laundromat along the way. Just be sure that you’re familiar with the most common washing symbols.

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bathroomCourtesy Michelle from Making Sense of Cents

Bathroom basics

An RV bathroom can be as big or as little as you want it to be. In fact, the bathroom in our old RV was actually bigger than the one we’d had in our house—it had dual sinks and a big shower. Now, in our van, the bathroom is much smaller, of course. We have a wet bath, which means that you shower over the toilet. We brush our teeth at the kitchen sink. My husband is the one who dumps the tanks—in fact, that was a deal breaker when we decided to get an RV—that I would never have to dump the tanks! Don’t miss the coolest tiny homes in every state.

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pantry rvCourtesy Michelle from Making Sense of Cents

Eating on the road

In many ways, living in an RV isn’t all that different from living in a house, even though you may have less space. Our Winnebago has a full kitchen—including fridge, freezer, microwave, and other appliances—so we cook our meals the same way we always did. And following these decluttering tips from a tiny house owner can help keep things tidy. When we need supplies, we just search for the best grocery store in the area. Sometimes we drive, other times we may grab our backpacks and ride our bikes. 

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RVCourtesy Michelle from Making Sense of Cents

Hitting the road

The most challenging part when we first started was simply learning everything there is to know about RV living. That alone can feel overwhelming. From learning how to best use your battery bank, to dumping tanks, planning where to stay, and so on. Most RV manufacturers recommend that you start with short trips until you get the hang of it. Discover 40 of the most scenic drives in America.

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RVCourtesy Michelle from Making Sense of Cents

Take time for yourself

Living together in a small space can be challenging, and finding things to do on your own can be great for your mindset. I like to go on hikes by myself or take the dogs out on long walks. When the weather was bad and we had to stay inside, we passed the time reading, watching Netflix, organizing, and so on—everything you do in a regular home. Then there were all the little home repair tasks; things do break when you’re always rattling down the road. Look out for these signs that you’re shortening the life of your RV.

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RVCourtesy Michelle from Making Sense of Cents

Happily ever after?

People always ask if Wes and I hate each other. Nope! If you are RVing with a partner, you do have to have good communication. Face it, being mad at each other in a small space is no fun for anyone. One secret to maintaining a happy marriage is to have your own hobbies. When you spend 24/7 together, you do need time to yourself. We may go on a hike or a bike ride alone, hang out with friends without each other, go on solo trips, and so on. Just like this writer who discovered the joy of taking trips without her spouse.

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RVCourtesy Michelle from Making Sense of Cents

Earning a living

We both spend a good deal of time working. Luckily we have jobs that can be done from anywhere. There are so many jobs available today that make living in an RV before retirement definitely doable. Most the people we’ve met while RVing still work, and earn great income doing so. I run a website, Making Sense of Cents, and tend to do all my work at the dining table. Running a website is just one of the 12 jobs that didn’t exist a decade ago that can be done remotely.

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jeepCourtesy Michelle from Making Sense of Cents

The best part about RV living is…

I absolutely love RVing, so my list of “pros” is long. I love being able to bring my home everywhere with me. There are never any worries about having left something important behind. I love being able to park my home right next to the best hiking and biking trails, being able to change the view from the windows, follow the good weather, and explore off-the-beaten-path destinations. Check out this list of the best national parks for camping.

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RVCourtesy Michelle from Making Sense of Cents

The most challenging part about RV living is…

The biggest “con” is the planning that’s necessary. You do have to plan ahead where you are going to park because sometimes places are full—for example, national parks during the summer. Indeed, booking a campsite at a national park is one of the 15 summer vacations you need to book far in advance. As a full-time traveler, there is a lot of planning, moving, and trying new things. So once you arrive somewhere, it’s nice to stay a while and just sit still. That’s why I recommend that RVers park their RV every once in a while (like for winter), or move a little slower. Discover the best RV park in every state.

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RVCourtesy Michelle from Making Sense of Cents

Tips for RV shopping

If you’re tempted to try RVing, you can start by renting an RV at a site like RVShare and Outdoorsy. First, make a list of everything you want in your RV; that will help you narrow down the options. Don’t forget about gas mileage—it takes a really big bite out of the budget. Our Winnebago got 14 to 15 mph, and that was good; many others get less. Finally, when you’re ready to buy, definitely don’t pay full price. New RVs tend to be marked up a lot, and sellers expect negotiation. You can often get 20 to 35 percent off a new RV. And get the best deal using these simple tricks to negotiate like a pro.