Karen and Paul Soares once earned a combined income of $300,000, which they needed to maintain two homes and several vehicles. Now the couple travels the country, earning wages as musicians and living full-time in a 37-foot 2000 Winnebago.
Their address in July: Parked next to a blueberry farm somewhere in western Oregon.
If that lifestyle sounds idyllic, don’t quit your job and start shopping for a recreational vehicle (RV) just yet. First, you’ll need to examine your feelings about cramped quarters, other people’s judgments, and watching nearly every possession you own disappear in the rear-view mirror.
A simpler life
Around 10 million U.S. households own an RV, with a majority of these spending on average three to four weeks traveling, according to the RV Industry Association (RVIA).
However, an estimated 500,000 to one million people choose to live in their RVs full-time, says Kevin Broom, director of media relations at the RVIA.
Karen and Paul’s idea to live full-time in a RV sprang from an epiphany that Karen, 53, had after she turned 50. Karen and Paul, 56, both earned six-figure incomes in the IT field, but saw each other only on the weekends due to Karen’s work schedule.
“I realized I spent most of my time looking at the life behind me instead of what was in front,” says Karen. “I was always working and exhausted from having to maintain all our stuff. One day I just said, ‘This isn’t how I want to go out.’”
On weekends, the Soares set up guitars on a stretch of beach near their home in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, where they performed before an audience of sunbathers and seagulls. Both longed to quit their jobs and earn a living playing music. But how would they afford to live? Eventually, they figured it out.
In 2016, after three years of downsizing, Paul and Karen quit their jobs, sold both houses and bought a Winnebago from a friend. They would earn a living playing music at wineries, distilleries and special events as they traveled.
But first, the couple lived in a long-term RV park for a year to get a feel for full-time RV life. Then they rolled off to a simpler life.
“Once we downsized, we no longer needed high salaries to support ourselves,” says Karen. “We found more value in being able to spend time together writing, composing and performing music.”
“A huge weight came off”
Bruce and Pam Westra, both in their sixties, sold their chiropractic and wellness practice and 5,000-square-foot home in Spring Lake, Michigan, in 2008, bought a 34-foot 2009 Holiday Rambler Admiral, and set off to live full-time in the RV while exploring the United States.
“Once we got rid of it all, a huge weight came off,” says Pam. That fall, the couple headed toward Florida and warmer weather. The Westras traveled for seven years, eventually setting the parking brake in Portland, Oregon, where they founded the Tiny Digs Hotel, a themed tiny house hotel.
“We were living in a tiny space (around 300 square feet), so it wasn’t a big leap to imagine living in a tiny house,” says Bruce. Pam and Bruce still live in the RV they bought new in 2008, renting a spot in a long-term RV park.
“We have no time to devote to a sticks-and-bricks home while we build this business nor the desire to take care of anything bigger than our RV,” says Pam.
Full-time RV living: Is It for You?
Thinking about hitting the road in an RV full-time? Here are some tips from those who’ve cruised the road less traveled.
1. You need to like your travel partner. A lot
Living together in a 300-square-foot home 24/7 isn’t for everyone. “Living in close quarters tests our relationship on a regular basis,” says Karen. “You have to have a friendship and be compatible.”
2. No storage space means few possessions
RVs don’t have walk-in closets, a basement or an attic. “When you’re on the road, your stuff isn’t the main thing,” says Bruce. “It’s the experience of the travel, the people you meet and the things you see.”
3. RV travel requires planning
You’ll need to make campground reservations well in advance, schedule RV maintenance and make sure you have enough supplies. “Everything is self-contained in an RV,” says Paul. “It’s like taking a ship out to sea.”
4. Resources are limited
There is only so much water for the toilet, and electrical usage may require negotiation. “A lot of times, the only power available is 30 or 50 amps, so we may not be able to turn on the hair dryer and the coffee pot at the same time,” says Paul.
5. Park your curiosity in an online RV community
6. RV maintenance is costly
Annual maintenance on an RV can run around $2,000 annually. Spring and fall require a sealant inspection for moisture leaks, and other costs could include brakes and bearings or repairs.
7. Bring along another vehicle
Running errands in a mammoth RV is no fun. The Westras and the Soares each pull motorcycles behind their RVs to ride when the RV is parked. Many people tow a compact car to drive into town.
8. Make sure your insurance permits living full-time in an RV
Many auto insurance policies won’t cover accidents if you are living in your RV full-time, says Chuck Woodbury, editor at RV travel, an RV news and information website. “People should have a dedicated RV insurance policy and ask their insurance agent if the policy covers them if they live in the RV full-time,” says Woodbury.
Patience Pays Off
Selling your home and living in a RV full-time shouldn’t be an impulsive decision. Besides, it takes a while to get rid of a lifetime of possessions. Still, if you love camping, traveling and living in tight spaces, the full-time RV life has its benefits.
“The best thing is getting rid of all that stress and feeling like I have meaning in my life,” says Karen. “I am a totally different person now. My body is healthier, and I just feel so much better.”