You know how you're going to make money, what RV you're going to use, and you have figured out school for the kids… but how do you physically go from living in a house to full-time RV living?
1. Mentally Prepare Yourself – Communication is Key
This is going to be a big lifestyle change, and it's important that you're prepared to communicate openly with the other members of your family and also that you're mentally prepared. There is a lot to do when you move from one place to another – and I would argue that there's even more to do when you're also downsizing into an RV.
Despite the fact that there are a lot of families living the RV lifestyle, there are a lot more people who aren't. Be prepared for people to look at you like your crazy – or say so much out loud without hesitation.
I will never forget being at Camping World to pick up some things for the RV before we launched and the look on the employees face when I confirmed that yes, we'd be living in the RV full time; yes, with 4 kids; and no, I am not retired. And she worked at Camping World – where I know many full-time campers shop.
Family and friends all have their well-intentioned opinions, and I think it's beneficial to be thorough in analyzing the pros and cons, you also have to be prepared to let unwanted opinions roll off your back and be confident in your decisions.
When it comes to your immediate family – the ones who will be traveling with you – communication is key. Involve the whole family in big decisions and clearly outline the expectations.
2. Make a To-Do List
I suggest you start your to-do list ASAP. Create it in the way that makes the most sense for you. If you prefer paper and pencil, go grab a notebook. If you're more tech-y, create a Google Doc, a Trello board, a Spreadsheet – or whatever list-making program you prefer.
Jot down everything that comes to mind – questions you have, things you want to do/bring, plans, ideas, etc. Having one central place to dump all your ideas is hugely helpful.
Some of the things you'll want on that to do list very well may come from this blog post – some may come from Facebook groups, Pinterest, or just conversations with family.
In the beginning this “list” may be more like a dumping ground, but as you get closer and closer to launching you'll find that the lists become more structured.
When we were ready to launch, we started creating lists for drive days – so we didn't forget to secure any of the cabinets, or turn off the lights, and mundane little tasks like that.
3. Minimize Your Stuff/Simplify/downsize
We started the process of downsizing a couple years before we launched. Yes, years. I knew this was something that I wanted to do – and I knew that we had a LOT of stuff to go through.
My family was living in a 4 bedroom home with a double garage full of storage.
I recommend picking one room/area at a time and just deep cleaning and being real intentional with what you keep and what you pass on. We made the decision not to sell our unwanted things, because I just didn't have the bandwidth to negotiate with buyers and coordinate pickups, so we identified a local charity that we loved and made regular trips to donate everything from clothing and books to toys.
There were some things that didn't make sense to donate before we were ready to move, like furniture, so when we had a launch date, we scheduled a bulk pickup of all that stuff.
We knew there were some things that we would not need in the RV, but we were not ready to part with either – like a fairly new mattress, office chair, washer/drier, and family momentos. So we researched storage facilities and opted for the u-Haul u-Box and rented 2. Now, in hindsight, we kept WAY more than we should have. If I could go back in time, I probably would have sold those big things and saved on the cost of storage. But, back then, I didn't know what I didn't know.
When it came time to actually move ourselves into the RV, we gave the kids guidelines as to what (and how much) they could bring, then allowed them to make their own decisions within those guidelines. This is a big change for everyone and allowing the kids some level of control during the chaos of moving and downsizing.
4. Go Paperless
This is such an important part of downsizing that it gets it's own number. Go paperless. With everything.
When you are in an RV you don't have space for random papers. There is no space for filing cabinets or piles of papers. We have a small fire-proof safe where we keep our important legal documents (birth certificates, social security cards, etc.) but other than that, we keep very little paper around.
When I was going through our storage at home, I even scanned all my photos and photo books into PDF files so I can access them at anytime from my computer. We kept the albums in the u-Haul storage, but if something happens to them, or if the kids and I just want to look at old pics, I love that we can do it right from my computer.
If you don't need original documents, scan things and add them to a folder on your computer, a thumb drive, or external hard drive. Opt for paperless billing for any bills you have so that you manage those things via email not snail mail.
You'll likely still want to have a snail mail address, and we love using MyRVMail.com for that. MyRVMail.com is a great service specifically for RVers where they give you a mailing address and then when you receive mail they scan the envelope and email you a notification. From there, you sign into the system and you can see all your envelopes and indicate whether you want them to simply shred the mail, open it and scan it to you (via email), or forward it to you at your current location. This allows us to have a consistent mailing address while we move frequently around the country.
5. Outline Your Necessities Slowly Start Collecting the Essentials
One of the lists you should be making is a list of necessities for the RV. This may include things like clothing and toiletries, but I am thinking more of the RV-specific things that you may not already have, that you'll have to purchase. Some of those things for us included:
- Waterproof repair tape – just incase we had an issue with the awning or roof
- A drill bit – that allows my husband's drill to adjust the RV's scissor jacks.
- Museum putty – this stuff is incredible for securing items to countertops. In our kitchen we have a breadbox and on top of it we have a diffuser. Rather than putting it away every time we move, the museum putty is strong enough to hold both the breadbox and the diffuser on top of it it in place – Over a year later and it's never broken loose!
- Pressure rods – to hang curtains across each kids' bed, for privacy.
- Water pressure regulator – to ensure the pressure from the water spigot at various locations would not be too strong.
- Water filters – to ensure clean potable water for drinking and cooking.
- Electrical adapters – our RV has a 30 amp plug, and we wanted to get converters for 50 amp and 15 amp so that we'd always have options if needed, since some RV Parks only have one or the other and sometimes when we boondock we only have access to a typical household plug.
- RV specific toilet paper – this brand is LEGIT the BEST!
- Command hooks – LOTS of Command hooks!
We also had a list of things like fresh water hoses, filters, sewer hoses, etc. But we lucked out and our RV came with these things.
6. Set a Date
This may seem obvious, but it's always helpful to set a date for yourself. When do you want to leave? Even if it's rough right now, like “2 years” – set that date. You can adjust the date as needed, but if you don't set a date, it'll never seem real.
7. Make Time for Good-Byes and plans to stay connected
We talked about our plans publicly for months leading up to moving into the RV, but without fail, those last couple weeks, we had lots of requests for good-byes from our grown-up friends to the kids' friends.
Consider having a going away party – so that you can say bye to everyone at once.
Make plans to stay connected. Of course you can do that 1-on-1, but you also may want to consider starting a friends & family FB Group for keeping in touch, or starting an Instagram account or a blog specifically for your RVing adventures so that people can follow along with where you are and what you're doing.
8. Get Your Domicile and Insurance
Even if you're traveling full-time, you will still want to have a domicile address. Domicile basically means permanent address. You may choose to keep that in your current home state, or to move to a new state. Many RVers use Florida, South Dakota, or Texas because they allow people easy ways to establish residency even if you're not physically living in the state. You may also want to look at taxes in those states, and the cost of registering and insuring your vehicles in those states.
I mentioned MyRVMail.com before, they are who we use for our mail, and they also will allow you to use their address to establish your domicile.
When it comes to insuring your RV, if you're going to be full-time RVing, you absolutely must disclose that to your insurance company and you'll want to ensure you're paying for insurance meant for full-time RVers. Your RV is not just for recreation – it's your home – and if something happens that requires repairs that prohibit you from living there, you want insurance to cover a hotel (for example).
9. Join RVing Clubs
Full time RV living can feel lonely. While there are some families who choose to stay in one place while living in their RV, we embraced the lifestyle because we wanted to travel – and that means we don't have consistent neighbors, and it does not take long to begin to feel a bit lonely.
The good news is, there are a lot of RVing clubs you can join. Most have an online component due to the nature of the RVing lifestyle, but some also have in-person components.
My number one favorite RVing club is Fulltime Families. There is a free community and a paid membership to choose from. When we were still in the consideration phase and even through the early stages of planning, we joined the free community and learned so much about family RVing. Then, as our planning got more serious we joined the paid membership.
With the paid membership we've benefitted from an extremely helpful FB group of fellow Fulltime Families, and we've had numerous opportunities to meet up in person with other families in the group.
Other perks include discounts and freebies on other RV-related programs and services – but honestly the community has been well worth the cost of annual dues – and the advice received in the paid group is significantly better than the free group.
10. Do Trial Runs
This is super important. Before you launch full-time, plan at least one weekend away. This will allow you to experience RV life for a couple days and you'll be able to really gauge what things you may need to bring with you and things you may not need.
It'll also allow you to identify if there are any problems that need to be addressed before hitting the road full time. When the RV needs repairs, it can be extremely inconvenient since it's your home and not just a vehicle.
A trial one is especially important if the RV is new to you, or if you are new to RVing. You'll want a slow and smooth transition into RV living, and a trial run is definitely a necessity.
11. Have Plans and Do Your Research
When you're traveling with kids, and/or pets, you'll want to plan as much as possible. One thing we quickly realized is that using the Apple Map App to plan our routes was inefficient. Instead, we use an app called Trucker Path which allows you to input the specific size/measurement of your RV and then routes your trip based on those limits (avoiding low bridges, hairpin turns, and more). The Trucker Path app also gives us a more accurate drive time estimate because it accounts for the fact that you're likely to be driving slower with your RV than you would in your car.
You're likely going to want to spend less time driving the RV than you may be comfortable in the car. I know for me, I've driven 6-8 hours in the car without issue, but when we're hauling the travel trailer I prefer to keep our drive time in the 4-5 hour range.
The Trucker Path app also allows you to see/find truck stops, fuel/gas, and Walmarts. Walmarts are typically a good bet if you want somewhere to park the rig and rest for a bit – you could even stretch your legs with a walk around the store. Some Walmarts will even allow you to spend a night in the parking lot, boondocking (no water/electricity, but we have opened up our slides).
Just ask the Walmart (or call customer service ahead of time) to see if it's allowed. They'll typically tell you where they'd like you to park. Lowes is another store we've had good luck with. Cracker Barrel can be a good option if you have a smaller rig, our 35′ travel trailer is too big for their lots.
We also try not to allow our tank to get below 1/2 tank. If we see a Loves or Flying J (two of my favorite RV-friendly gas stations) and we're near 1/2 tank we typically fill up. I definitely don't want to risk running out of gas while towing.
12. Be Flexible and Have Fun – Expect the Unexpected
As much as I love planning – and I recommend planning as much as possible – it's also essential that you expect the unexpected and stay flexible.
There are so many challenges you may face when you're living on the road.
- We've experienced a tire blow out that required us to stay for 5 days in the middle of nowhere Texas parked in the lot of a repair shop – which in turn impacted numerous reservations/plans.
- We've arrived at campgrounds that didn't know we were coming, and one that assigned us the wrong type of spot for our rig.
- We had a campsite booked for months, and a week before we arrived we learned they would not allow us to stay with our “aggressive breed” dog. 🙄
- We've discovered on more than one occasion that propane (for the heat) typically runs out at 2am and that our RV batteries don't supply enough energy for an overnight without plugging into the running car.
And for every “bad” story we have at least 10 good ones. Flexibility has become one of our greatest assets. We've worked really hard to always make the best of every situation, but it can be tough if (like me) you're a planner.
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