Confessions of a newbie full-time RVer

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By Mike Sherman
Having full-timed now for 5 months, we have learned a lot. Here’s an overview of our experience and lessons learned.

After 30 years of RVing, we finally reached retirement and jumped at the opportunity to sell our home and belongings and see America full time. We started out with a 12′ trailer many years ago and gradually moved up….or longer….having gone through a 22′ and then a 24′ travel trailer. Then it was on to a 32′ Class A motorhome which was a real pleasure and made RVing easier. No pop-outs, automatic levelers and all the creature comforts. It worked well….we did not pull a ‘toad’, and were not concerned about the lack of additional floor space offered via slide outs mainly because we were still employed and restricted to time limits on the road…..one of two weeks max.


mike-756Choosing the right retirement ‘housing’ was difficult. We settled on the concept of a truck and 5th wheel for maximum usable living space and having a vehicle to drive after setting up our campsite. The difficulty was the struggle to determine the right truck and trailer combination. Knowing the decisions would be permanent with no options to look back, we took our time in determining exactly what truck and exactly what trailer we wanted.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Do we buy the truck first, then a trailer, or the trailer first, then the right truck to tow it with? We concluded that the truck would be just as important as the trailer. We did not want to be restricted in what trailer we could choose due to a lack of towing capacity, so we bought the truck first, and went big….a Ford F-350 1-ton dually extended cab (for the dog – she gets the back seat) with the famous 7.3 liter diesel, a 6-speed manual transmission and an engine brake. We placed ourselves in a position to choose and tow just about anything we wanted.
After a couple of months of shopping, we found what we thought was the perfect unit. Our thinking at the time was we need space….storage and living space, since it would be our permanent home for the foreseeable future. So we went big….40 foot long with 4 slideouts. After loading up everything, we were relieved to discover our weight factor was within the proper limits. So off we went. Right smack dab into major problems.
Our motorhome had a generator, so dry-camping for a day or two was not an issue if the temperature climbed upward. Our new 5th wheel lacks a generator. We did not feel we’d need one as we dry camp only in transit situations. Weight and fuel issues for the generator was also a determining factor on taking a pass on that accessory.
We discovered almost immediately we perhaps bought too big. We can’t fit in a lot of campgrounds. We need full hookup with 50 amp service whenever it is hot. Campgrounds that could meet our needs were usually full. It was a struggle finding adequate facilities because it seems everyone now has an RV. We were used to camping mostly in the off season, and seldom needed to make reservations at our destinations. It is obvious more campgrounds are needed!
So we are faced with having to avoid certain roads due to our size, we can’t fit into many of the campgrounds, and finding a vacancy is difficult. Those that do have an opening are not always acceptable due to a variety of factors.
We have had to alter our perceptions based on the reality of our decisions that cannot be reversed. However we are not discouraged, it just provides us with challenges and other opportunities to overcome our choices. We love the truck and new home, so we adjust. When we find a suitable place, we stay longer. It is more relaxing and the set up/breakdown of the campsite is not as stressful.
We have learned our 5th wheel is really not an RV…..one does not recreationally do sightseeing with a 40-foot house attached to the truck while traveling from point A to point B. We are, in fact, towing a house. Buying fuel, groceries and parking is a challenge, so we are learning to land somewhere, disconnect, then shop and run errands. Unfortunately, the destination does not offer many services and one must stop while enroute for essentials.
In the meantime, we are fortunate to be in a position to camp host for the State of California, on the coast, and not deal with miles and miles of traveling at this juncture. We will have a few months at the ocean to sit and enjoy. This will enable us to lay out a new strategy for our eventual adventure of seeing America because we still have every intention of going here and there….we just have to have a better plan than expected.
##FT11-17 #RVDT1210

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wanderer

Thanks for sharing this, I hope it helps a lot of people. I’ve had a great time full-timing for 2 years, but found this summer there were many places I wanted to camp but couldn’t, and I only have a small TT. After a lot of pondering, I think I need to downsize too, and this time to a B that I can pull over at will, to take a picture or check out a funky shop, etc. Tired of having to plan gas station stops using Google Maps, planning my route around pull-throughs or stressing through back-ins, tired of ruling out most lunch stops on travel days unless they have a giant or circular parking lot, tired of maintaining 8 tires, dealing with hitching, etc.

These things are easy for a couple, and a snap for guys who have spent their lives pulling semis or fishing boat trailers, but to me, I’ve practiced enough to know that the burden will continue unless I streamline. I’ll miss the ability to pop into town in the tow vehicle, but I’ll try to keep the new unit ‘mostly stowed’ at all times so I can just unplug and go.

Couldn’t have gone straight from a 3 bedroom house to a van 2 years ago, but now I think I’ve learned to live with less airspace around me and less ‘stuff’, so hopefully I’m ready.

For everybody downsizing to a class C, that may be ideal, but, downsize your stuff and arrange it so it’s all stowed for trips to town, and carry bikes, or you will be those folks who hang around the campground all the time instead of having adventures. I’ve seen a lot of that and it’s sad. (Yes you can pull a ‘toad’, but then you’re back to running a monster rig down the road again).

As long as we’re preaching; get solar so you can dry camp now and then, it will open up a whole new realm of possibilities!

Sharon B

As I have followed RVTravel for years it really has opened my mind about what I want. Although I have a lovely travel trailer that gives me all accommodations needed, I still am leaning towards a singular vehicle like a 24′ or less Class C. I want big solar power along with a water capturer on the roof when boon docking and a Berkey water filter. To not waste water I will do a compost toilet. As I read everyone’s articles it confirms to me that the big rigs are not for me. Between the fuel, the size, the huge responsibility, I will stick with the smaller Class C. How much stuff do I really have to carry around? For washing clothes there are small portable washers available or I can use this plunger washing gadget I bought a long time ago. I want to clear my head of stuff. But…it appears clearly
RVing has become more difficult to find a spot. If it is that bad now what are we to expect in a year or two?? And don’t be fooled with the economy. It appears there are more Rv’ers out there not only for the wonderful life style, but also for limited finances that seems to becoming worse. The is an ominous indicator of something coming. Hope I am wrong, but I don’t think so.

Dr4Film

I guess I must be the oddball as I started full-time RVing with a 40 foot Monaco towing a 30 foot cargo trailer hauling everything we owned for over 14 years. Needless to say I never had any problems finding places to stop, fuel up or stay for a short or extended length of time. We now part-time RV towing just our Toad and have never had any problems finding places to stop for supplies or stay. The only downside I have had is not being able to pull into most state parks as they have length restrictions. So we simply look for other locations for our adventures.

Alvin

Really good mini documentary, thanks. We are in a 24 foot Class C and are having a dickens of a time finding suitable camp sites. I can imagine what the Sherman’s are up against with a rig so large. Yes there is a deficit of campsites everywhere, with many booked year around and for many months in advance. Add to this the fact that very large numbers of these camp grounds were built 30/40/50 years ago and do not accommodate “houses on wheels” as they were never intended to do so. Then people in droves are living in their RV’s full time taking up this rare spots able to accommodate them permanently……….. Yep there are problems aplenty taking your house down the road with you.

Nanci

We went from a 34ft gas to a 40ft diesel for the space and the Diesel engine. Finding, that although I LOVE the space, the washer dryer and dishwasher it is a lot more difficult to find adequate campgrounds at the spur of the moment. Next one, and hopefully there will be a next one, will downsize at least a few feet.

Patti Lounsbury

My husband and I, and our travelling cat, are looking forward to putting on our gypsy feet next year with our 36ft fifth wheel. We take it out at every opportunity and are learning as we go. Taking a couple of years with Beauty and Beast, as we have nicknamed the rv and truck, is the smartest thing we have done so far. It’s nice to learn the ropes and fix the bugs that will pop up from time to time before taking the fulltime step. We have had no problems finding places to stay as we link it with our shared passion- trains and doing restoration work on them. All of these articles are great research for our upcoming adventures. Thanks!

Ray

I have enjoyed the RV Travel for many years, however I feel there are too many changes lately with the highlights then when you follow them, you have to go back to the start and find where you were.
I have found many great articles each week but now it is taking to much of my time to read the entire letter as I have in the pass. This is just my short rant.

Teri VIdlak

Good info on this site, I love it! We are hoping to fulltime it in 2018 when my husband and I retire. I have never done anything but tent camp and my husband only a pop-up. So we are really greenhorns!!
We really want a 34′ TT, it seems to be the smallest size that affords all we want in the camper. We are both large people and need the space, but being new to towing we don’t want a too huge of one to pull and park. We are planning to winter in Laughlin/Bullhead city area and then summer in Nebraska(home state), with camping in between destinations. Any advice for us?. We are doing our research before we buy and venture out.
Looking forward to our adventure!!!

Mike & Elisabeth

Thanks so much for clear & well written essay. Please provide updates. We are Class C vacation trip-only campers until retirement in 2018(hopefully). Best of luck in your endeavors!

Steven J. Scheinin

Like you, my wife and I started full time RVing 6 months ago. Unlike you, we tent camped for 30 years. Upon retirement (70 years old) we decided to do the RV thing. Since we knew we would only be buying one RV, unlike those that start young and keep moving up, we bought the 5th wheel first and then the truck to match. Like you we got a 40 foot and the RAM 3500 dually. Anticipating boon docking in the west we got the 5.5 K generator installed. King size bed, large shower, residential refrigerator, etc.
We left our home state of Maryland in February, down to Florida Keys. Back to Maryland. Across the top of the US. Now in Wisconsin.
We have not had any problems finding a campground to accommodate our 40ft. Today we are in a small town’s campground which easily accommodates us.
The bumper sticker on the back of our RV says: We are not camping, we are sightseeing in our Condo.

Ellen

In 2009 we started out as you did — 38′ fifth wheel, big dually truck to pull it, two bikes on the back of the RV… and ended up downsizing to a 32′ Class C towing a Jeep. Though the size doesn’t sound that much smaller, it’s amazing how much more agile we are. We get into many more RV parks and campgrounds, easier getting into and out of gas stations and other parking areas. Traveling has been much more enjoyable, even though I no longer have my own washer and dryer on board!

Momm Berryman

We purchased a used Roadtrek and spent most of the last year getting things repaired. We R now ready to travel, and want to add solar.
Two questions:
1) where R the coolest (temp wise) places to camp in summer to get away from the heat? Isn’t there a route around the US that shows temps of 70 degrees?
2) Do U have articles on People’s choices when they added solar and why? What kind of batteries do we need for solar?

lyn

I’ve gone the other way. Starting out full time in a 2003 Chalet Alpine A Frame hard side popup with front open cargo rack and hitch cargo rack on rear for bike and misc. stuff.
Interior is being customized by me and a contractor friend. Seals are being updated and I’ll be pulling with a 2002 Toyota 4runner that has been well cared for and is now road ready.
I like the compactness and mobility of this set up and know that through the next few months I’ll make interior changes.
I did opt for a propane ready Honda Gen and have an extra Propane tank just for it. Carry my own wifi hot spot for the back country. My big plus, I can fit this little rig into almost any spot.
Happy Trails and good luck with the 40′.

S M Jenkins

Very helpful and honest essay. Every first time RVer, full-time or part-time, should read this. I especially found helpful the part about shopping for essentials along the way, and that stores are not available at destinations desirable to RVers. This means that motorhome and toad, or whatever your travel combination, must find its way into a parking lot near a grocery store, etc along the way. Picture that in your mind as you shop for an RV.

Solar Steve

We bought a 26 foot CoachHouse RV, and haul a Zero brand electric motorcycle in a single wheel trailer… attaches two places to the rear so it stays aligned with the Rv and we can back into spaces without any jacknife. This, with two electric bicycles on a front hitch mount brings total length to 32 feet. We find this the best compromise because we can fit in shopping center lot rows that have two facing spaces, without protruding either end. We can usually fins on-street parking for shopping in towns. An d we travel December through march staying in low elevations for summer like warmth, and space availability in parks, while getting tighter supply, is usually no problem.

Robbie

We’ve been full timers for 10 years, and learned early that the difference between a 40′ model Class A and a 36′ model is typically the size of the bathroom. We chose the shorter size, and have been delighted with the sharp turning radius, we can get into almost any campsite. We found that our previous 34′ 5th-wheel was always a struggle to park because of the length and turning radius.

Jim Qualey

informative and revealing story. Thanks

Tommy Molnar

A pleasantly honest evaluation of the start of a full-timing lifestyle. We swapped out our 16 year old 25′ travel trailer for a new 29′ travel trailer about four years ago and have found even that SMALL length change has presented a few challenges when visiting previously loved camping areas. Luckily, most of the time we boondock and size isn’t a factor.