So, You Want to Retire in an RV?
So, You Want to Retire in an RV?
Insights on what to do before retiring in a rolling home.
By: Sue Ann Jaffarian
Retirement is coming and you’re not sure what to do with your time. Then you think: Why not retire and live in an RV? People do it. Seems easy enough. Right?
Not so fast. This lifestyle is not exactly “plug ‘n play.” In spite of what many Internet videos and influencers portray, it takes planning and careful thought if you want to avoid many issues down the road (literally). Done with care and common sense, it can be the most wonderful way to spend your later years.
At the end of 2022, I celebrated four years of retirement and four years of full-time travel in my 2016 Winnebago Travato. Even with its ups and downs, I have loved it. It is not a lifestyle for everyone, and I cannot stress this enough. But if it suits you, it can be the best retirement gift you can give yourself.
I prepared nearly three years for this seismic change to my life and that has made all the difference in enjoying the lifestyle more and with fewer worries. Below are some of my recommendations for entering into this retirement choice, whether you plan on living full-time in your RV or only traveling several months of the year, which I like to call part-time full-time.
Things to Know & Do Before You Retire in an RV
Choose your RV wisely.
Having the right RV can make all the difference. I looked at various Class C and Class B motorhomes. I even rented a Class C for a week to see if I could get used to living in such a small space. In the end, I chose a Class B camper van because I wanted something more compact with better gas mileage. Yes, sometimes I wish I had a little bit larger rig, but overall, I am very pleased with my choice. (Here are some of my tips for downsizing).
Look at many types and styles of RVs, weighing the pros and cons of each. Will it be roomy enough for you, especially if you are traveling with someone and/or with pets? Is the estimated gas expenditure within your budget? Will it suit the places you want to go?
Bigger RVs are more comfortable but cost more to operate and have limitations on where they can travel and stay. Smaller ones may give you cabin fever but will allow you more access to tighter campgrounds, attractions, and backroads. Travel trailers or towing a small vehicle can give you more mobility when camped, but it does mean having a second vehicle.
Will you be scooting around the country, or do you plan to stay in campgrounds or RV parks for longer periods of time? You might already own an RV, but you should still determine if it will suit your retirement travel needs. Maybe this is the time to change to a different model? Know what you want your retirement life to be before you choose your RV.
Be budget minded.
One of the things I tell people who ask me about full-time RVing is that it is important to make a budget and stick to it as closely as you can. Sometimes you might go over a bit. Some months you might even be under budget. But always be aware of your expenditures. Your budget should be established before you take to the road, and should include vehicle payments (if any), gas, propane, campsites, insurance (both health and vehicle), towing service subscriptions, food, pet supplies (if you have a pet), phone and internet services, entertainment and sightseeing, laundry, RV maintenance, and any other subscriptions or services you might need. If you pay some of these annually, make allowance in your budget for those big payments.
Consider everything for budget purposes. For example, I find I don’t need fancy connectivity, so my unlimited data plans on my phone and tablet suit me just fine. Some of you might need more robust connectivity and will need to budget for it and the equipment.
It might surprise some to learn that they may not need as much money as they thought for retirement in an RV. Others might believe that this lifestyle is very cheap. But living expenses can be very different for each traveler and depends on how you want to live as you travel and on the type of RV you have. For me, living in my Travato is less expensive than when I lived in an apartment in Los Angeles, but there are definite monthly expenses just like living in a stationary location. Remember, you will have emergencies. It’s a given. Keep an emergency fund and an emergency credit card. Keep a cash stash hidden in your RV, preferably in small bills. You may encounter a tow truck or services that will not take checks or plastic. Budget for the unknown as well as the known.
Consider health care.
This is a big concern for most of us. Make sure your health insurance is portable and not limited to certain areas or providers, or else you could be paying for a lot of out-of-pocket expenses if you need care on the road. Medicare is great, but choose your supplement and prescription plans wisely. Call an expert and talk though your needs and options before deciding. If you need regular prescriptions, make sure you can get them easily while traveling. Before you travel, have your eyeglasses, dental work, etc. brought up-to-date. Carry an extra pair of glasses with you.
Plan for your domicile and receiving mail.
Are you planning on keeping your physical address in the state you currently reside, or changing states? A lot of RVing retirees change their domicile to Florida, Texas, or South Dakota for tax purposes. If you do decide to make this change, do your homework and put it in place before you take to the open road. I moved my domicile from California to Texas. I set up a mailing address in Texas a month before I left California. Within a few weeks of leaving California, I was in Texas registering my RV and getting a new driver’s license. I also registered to vote in my new state at the same time.
My mail goes to the Escapees office in Livingston, Texas. That is my address of record. From time to time, I have them forward my mail to wherever I might be. I find it safe and efficient. There are many mail services that can help you with this. You might also use a family member or friend to receive and forward your mail. Go digital with as much as you can. Getting mail is great, but it is much easier to pay bills and handle other important things online. I get so little snail mail that I only have my mail sent to me every few months unless I am expecting something special. (Here are some other tips on receiving mail while on the road).
Don’t forget about banking.
I use an online bank and it is very easy for me to get cash when I need it from any ATM or grocery store. My bank reimburses me for most of my ATM fees. The few checks I receive can be deposited from my phone into my account. Make sure your bank will be easy to use while you travel, although these days most will be.
Tip: Don’t use your debit card on the road for gas or other expenses. I have had my debit card hacked three times. Now I use a credit card or cash for everything and have not had any more issues. I have one credit card just for buying gas. It makes it easy to track monthly gas expenses. If you don’t have them already, I recommend getting credit cards with cash back features and sign up for retailers that give you gas points.
Keep important paperwork safe.
Before you set off on your new adventure, make sure you have an up-to-date Will and Medical Directive. If you change states, update your Will to reflect your new residency. Carry copies with you, but give the originals to your family or someone close to you to hold. The same goes for other important paperwork. You should have a valid passport, too. Keep it all in a safe place in your RV. I also have a list of my contacts, doctors, and other emergency information in a plastic holder in plain view in my van. Yes, these things can be stored on your phone, but if you have an emergency and your phone is lost or destroyed, first responders will need access to this information sooner than later.
It’s nice to dream of living free and breezy and off-grid, but let’s be practical. People will worry about you no matter how capable you are. Use an app or some service that will let your loved ones know where you are in case of an emergency. My family and some close friends track me on Life 360. They always know where I am, unless I have no connectivity for my phone, which isn’t very often.
Flexibility is key.
Do not let your plans get mired in quicksand. Be open to change during the planning and once you are traveling. While you are in the planning stage, you might discover some changes that could help your plans. Do whatever you need to do to make the transition into your new life easier and more comfortable. You might need to consider a different RV or a new timetable. You will want most of the kinks worked out before you get behind the wheel of your RV. Just because you’ve had this plan for a while, doesn’t mean it can’t be changed for the better.
Evolve as you go.
The longer you travel, the more your lifestyle will mold to your interests. Or you may discover new interests. My first year of travel I drove all over the nation, going from one end of the country to the other. The longer I was on the road, the more I mellowed and found my niche, or my preferred way to travel. Most new full-time travelers find themselves buzzing all over and often exhausted.
If you need to slow down, do it. If you want to change up your plans, do it. I now find I prefer to relax and write in campgrounds for anywhere from a week to a month. In between, I travel and do a lot of sightseeing. When staying put for longer periods, I try to choose campgrounds where there are many things to see nearby. (Here are a few of my hidden gem favorites so far!)
Keep a checklist.
I found that making and keeping a checklist of all the things I needed to do before I retired and began traveling invaluable. Start by writing every little thing down. Check them off with dates completed as you address them. Being organized in your preparations will help considerably.
Speed bumps happen. On the road and in life, there are challenges and obstacles to face. Being prepared will make it much easier to roll over those bumps and keep going.
When I first began planning for my RV retirement, some people laughed at me. Others worried about me. Many thought it was a harebrained idea. Four years later, they have accepted and even embraced my choice. You may meet some resistance, but if this is really something you feel is right for you, go for it. You’ve got this!
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