Well, after six months of full-time RV’ing, “I think,” we can finally peek our heads up and say we’re no longer rookies! Wow, what a training regiment!! Who would have thought the learning curve would have been so steep when it came to full-time living! We didn’t, but we sure learned we “needed to learn” quickly. Here are five lessons we learned from our first 180 days on the road.
Note: Your results may vary….our situation was a little unique. In three weeks, we left Hawaii, picked up our RV & tow vehicle (TV), got all our gear, and hit the road. In the 8-12 months prior – all of our research was done exclusively online. Hawaii does not have an “RV Industry” so we couldn’t go out and do our own research (even if we wanted to). Everything from what RV to buy, where we should travel to, and what gear we would need was mostly done online. We relied “heavily” on YouTube, blogs, and FB groups, which we’re very thankful for, but there are things you can’t learn anywhere but on your own!
1. Teamwork is important! You must iron out who does what and trust in each other.
It should be easy for us, right? We’ve been married for over 24 years, so you’d think we are a well-oiled team? Well, when it comes to RV’ing, they don’t make this pillow for no reason. We had a few incidents where a breakdown in teamwork almost got the best of us. One of the more vivid memories is our “third” time setting up. We nearly totaled our trailer due to a significant drop off the tongue jack blocks. We were in a site that had too much of a grade for us to safely level (we didn’t know any better) and had not chalked correctly. When we came off the hitch, the entire trailer shifted. While it didn’t totally fall, it was precariously balancing on a set of collapsing Camco leveling blocks (don’t ever use those for this task). It was just a matter of time before it fell off. Because of the downward movement of the hitch during the shift, we couldn’t hook back up because the truck suspension was too high to come back on the ball. After a lot of swearing, arguing and strange looks from other campers…the camp host came to the rescue. He brought his lower truck over and saved the day for us. We dodged a bullet for sure!
Lesson Learned: It’s absolutely imperative to know how to use “ALL of your equipment” before use. Even simple items such as Camco Blocks and X-Chocks. Ours were not correctly installed and combined with the steep grade of the site cause the shift. We also learned to talk through the problems and not rush. Knowing an accident like this could have a considerable impact on our entire travel plan, we slowed our response and worked through safer options. Finally, allow others to help you. RV’ers are a helpful bunch…they won’t leave you hanging when in need.
2. Driving is a team sport!
We had NEVER pulled anything before, so learning to back up, turn, navigate while towing in new locations all presented quite the challenge for us. On “day one,” our dashboard looked like the cockpit of a fighter jet. Jay drove Jeeps for the past 20 years, and everything in them was mostly analog. Now, he was trying to manage our new trucks instrument panel, the navigation system, running Trucker Route (App on an iPad), back up camera, dash camera, and Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). While some of these devices don’t require much attention, they can saturate you with too much information. It was overkill, for sure! This leads to missed turns, unscheduled appearances on-roads too small for your RV and undesirable backroad shortcuts…which leads to arguments, intense discussions, and a lot of swearing…see where we’re going with this?
Lesson Learned: Never rush and take your time. You’ll be uncomfortable if it’s your first time towing or backing up a large RV or Travel Trailer. Make some short trips first to get the hang of driving your rig. If you can, make the first few RV park reservations “pull-through” sites. These are pretty easy to manage since you simply pull in and pull straight out. Oh, and most are nice and level too. The added benefit is you’ll be able to focus on your set up routine and not burn a bunch of time and energy of struggling to back in. The skill will come to you with just a little practice.
Google Maps is your friend! The night before you travel, follow your route on satellite view and look for tight turns, low bridges, and bad roads. We’ve found this gives us the insight we need, especially when pulling into RV parks (as you’ll have a basic understanding of the traffic patterns). You can also use RV Trip Wizard, Trucker Route APP, or Road Trip Planner (OSX) to help with planning your trips.
Have your co-pilot help you with monitoring all the information displayed. Our passenger (typically Jen) keeps an eye out for upcoming lane changes, exits, and watches the TMPS for the RV. Our son has recently started assisting as well by doing visual checks when changing lanes and backing in.
Tone down the tech. While it’s nice to have, it’s not absolutely necessary. Sometimes we deal with a few glitches on the road, which are sometimes more of a distraction for us. I would say use what you’re comfortable with and add/subtract whatever helps you drive safely.
3. Watch who and where you get your information from.
This one didn’t come to our realization until about the 90-day mark. One day Jen and I were unhooking at an RV Park, and we found ourselves in the same “discussion” about the process. We had many of these types of “discussions” on nearly everything when it came to RV’ing. We were never on the same page, and it was causing some strain on each other. We realized we were not operating with the “same information” when it came to performing specific tasks safely. While Jen is a voracious researcher on YouTube and online, Jay tends not to read manuals (until I absolutely have to) and 1/2 watch manufacture videos. We found our information was sometimes conflicting between the two sources. We took the time to educate each other where we were getting our information from, and that solved nearly any disagreements we had.
Lesson Learned: RV’ers and YouTubers are a tremendous help, and we really enjoy learning from them! We’ve got a lot of great information from several weekly videos and vlogs about RV’ing. We really like seeing others on the road and learning from their experiences as well. However, you must be very careful when using blogs, vlogs, and personal websites as your source for “how to’s.” In two instances, we were watching videos from a long time RV’ers on the “setup and takedown process” as we refined our checklist. We found significant steps or safety items were accidentally missed in each video. One video completely misses the chalking process (I’m surprised they didn’t have a similar situation as we did above). The other disregarded a critical piece of information when placing the X-Chocks on the wheels. It wasn’t until we BOTH went to the manufactures website, watched those videos, and read the manuals we realized additional steps were recommended. It sounds like common sense to do this, but we found ourselves overwhelmed with all the manuals, information, and tasks early on in the process of full-time RV’ing and foolishly overlooked it. Take the time to read all your manuals and look at manufacturer demo videos!
4. This “can” cost a lot of money!
We got into full-time RV’ing to travel the Mainland and spend time as a family. I’m glad we didn’t get into it to save money because this lifestyle can get expensive very quickly. Not even the Hawaii cost of living had prepared us for the cost of full time traveling. I’m not talking about unplanned expenses, upgrades, and repairs. I’m talking about just day to day living the lifestyle. Very early on in our trip, we attributed up our “blown budget” to be “the cost of getting started.” Remember we started RV’ing with nothing, so we had to buy all of our equipment at once. While I don’t want to hang a number on it, it was more than I expected, and we are well equipped… A few meals out, a trip or two to the grocery store and clothes…yes, clothes became a thing for us. We needed winter clothes, close-toed shoes, something other than board shorts…hahaha! Could we have buckled down and stayed within our budgets? Yes, but the excitement of the lifestyle had us overspending in our first few months. We’ve seen many other RV’ers make similar comments. So just be prepared to add a little extra $$ to your budgets if you’re starting off full-timing.
Lesson Learned: One of the advantages of RV living is the limited space “you own.” You don’t have space to do “impulse buy’s” or pick up things you “could use.” You’ll find you’ll buy the stuff you absolutely need. This is helpful when controlling what you’re spending your money on. That is one area we found to be beneficial and enjoyable as we were fulling embracing the minimalist lifestyle.
Of course, you’ll purchase all the gear you need. Hoses, electrical connections, towing equipment, chocks, leveling gear, protective covers, etc. It’s the things you don’t anticipate buying when going full time are what gets you in the beginning. Everyone knows the mattresses that come with RV’s are purely for show. We slept on ours “once” and woke up very stiff and in pain. Now that this was our home, it’s no way to live – so we spent several hundred dollars replacing the mattresses in our RV. Also, we learned, with a small wardrobe, you’ll find you go through clothes a lot quicker than you did when you had that big full walk-in closet. The laundry cycles at the laundromat are brutal on clothes. We unknowingly bought some supposed “rugged outdoor adventure pants,” which needed to be washed on “delicate”…wait WHAT? They fell apart in two months of laundromat washings, let alone going on adventures we were doing with them. Those were two areas of unexpected expenses we didn’t encounter in all of our research. We also had a few more…
If you move often, regional tolls, fluctuating gas prices, and seasonal RV rates all contribute to the variations in spending with a monthly budget. It’s tough to track on the fly. We recommend you overestimate your cost 10%-20% and be sure you have a “travel savings” set aside each month. If you end up under budget, then good, roll that into savings. If you go over budget, track your spending to see where you’re going over and attack those areas one by one. We found this quite the challenge the first six months and are hoping to tighten it up in our 2020 travels.
5. Take space when you need it.
We used to live in a decent size house in Hawaii but frequently found us all occupying the same 10 sq ft at the same time. We regularly joked with each other about it, and it’s one of the reasons we thought pulling off full time living would be super simple. Well, let us tell you…living in 312 sq ft is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT! Nothing gets said, done, smelled, annoyed, clicked, buzzed, open, closed, or slammed without everyone in the RV knowing. That tends to require more patience and understanding by all (including our furry) than we were prepared for. We’re an introvert family, so when we pull into a new park or area, we usually stick together until we have the lay of the land. That, plus we only have our tow vehicle, so if we go out, it’s usually for multiple tasks – so we spend A LOT of time in direct proximity with one another. Spending time together is one of our main goals in choosing this lifestyle, but it can also be too much sometimes!
Lesson Learned: In our situation, simple tasks such as grocery shopping were once done exclusively by Jen. We didn’t realize Jay, and Caleb tagging along would be so disruptive to the flow! Jay shops with his eyes and Caleb is a fidgety young kid, so it just throws chaos into the event. In turns out, spending time “not asking” where stuff is in Home Depot, Harbor Freight, and Tractor Supply Company isn’t how Jen & Caleb prefers to spend an afternoon (I wonder why, LOL). So we’ve made some ground rules and split our trips so we can get micro-breaks from one another and get our jobs done. We’ve always done “Date Nights,” “Dude Days,” or “Mommy Dates,” but it is even more important to have those on the road.
If you’re still reading at this point, I applaud you! Hahaha! One might say oh “poor them” as we seem to be droning on about our endless vacation woes. That is not our intention, as many of you, we are people who try to take a common-sense approach to stuff like this, but found ourselves challenged by them on more than one occasion living the full-time lifestyle. At times early on in the process, we felt beat & almost made the call to quit. We’re just grateful our family unit is strong enough to work through the challenges and continue our journey. We owe that to a lot of family and friends we have supporting us. We find ourselves extremely fortunate and very humbled by this opportunity.
Over this time, we’ve found out a lot about each other and ourselves. We’re continuing to learn as we embark on our 2020 travels. If you’re getting ready to hit the road and have questions, please let us know on our FB Page (we loved making connections and sharing info about our passions).