If the idea of full-timing sounds intriguing, here are some things to consider before selling the house and making this major lifestyle change.
By Betty Hanegraaf, F108407
As a full-time RVer, I find it remarkable how often I hear “I wish I were doing that,” or “That sounds wonderful,” or “You’re so lucky.” Other full-timers will agree that it is wonderful and we’re all lucky to have this option available. In fact, full-timers are inclined to tell you it’s the only way to live. If you are contemplating trying the full-time lifestyle, you may be surprised to discover that you come by it naturally.
Philosophers Socrates and Aristotle both advocated travel to enhance one’s education, health, and enjoyment of life. Full-timing broadens your view of people and possibilities, plus it increases your understanding of history. The experiences of travel linger far beyond the actual excursion. The sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and feelings become a part of you.
The first driver’s license was issued in 1900, and three years later, the first auto crossed the United States. The driver’s license still embodies a sense of freedom. Then came the development of the recreational vehicle, an advancement that allowed people to get away from it all and simultaneously take it all with them. Rare is the American who has not daydreamed of dropping the task at hand to hit the road. That vision of unrestrained movement is our inheritance, bequeathed by the daring, restless, and courageous souls who populated our country. Travel is part of our national identity. This country of amazing landscapes, cultures, climates, lifestyles, and even speech idiosyncrasies just begs to be explored. And the appeal of such exploration extends to other countries as well. The freedom and flexibility of full-timing is awesome!
Yet you may have many questions before giving up the known for the new. What follows should present a few answers. I don’t know exactly what type of person you must be to become a full-timer, but it’s definitely not for everyone. To some, the thought of not having a house to return to is totally unacceptable. To others, being away from children and grandchildren is undesirable. Still others are reluctant to part with their social activities, gardens, or routine lifestyle — comforting aspects of life because of their familiarity. All of those reasons are valid. However, others prefer to distance themselves from their adult children’s daily lives, letting them know how capable they are on their own. Others want to investigate new activities and test the unknown. Giving up the maintenance of a large house and settling into a smaller home on wheels can make some of us feel less encumbered.
If you are considering life on the road, some items should be addressed. One is compatibility with your full-timing partner. Although you and your spouse may have 30 or 40 years of married life behind you, are you really good friends? That’s extremely important. Bear in mind that a motorhome is a small place in which to conduct a marriage. Give it some serious thought before embarking on a new lifestyle. Are you both flexible? Can the spur-of-the-moment personality coexist peacefully with the hard-core planner? Do you enjoy doing the same things and going to the same places? Are you and your spouse able to communicate well? Will you be able to work out private space at times? There’s not much room in a motorhome for egos, anger, or resentment. Sit down and discuss foreseeable problems before making a decision. If you are single, all you require is the ability to tolerate yourself.
While you’re considering this, remember that full-timing is not an unchangeable course to take. If you find that it’s not your cup of tea, it can be ended as suddenly as it was begun. It is possible to practice this way of living before you chisel your decision in granite. Try it for six months. Lock up your house, say good-bye to family and friends (who just may insist you’re crazy), and hit the road. When my husband and I began our wandering, we put our furniture in storage, leased out our home for a year, and left, knowing we could return if we chose. The rental income more than paid the storage fees and maintenance of our home, and even covered quite a few gallons of gas. That was 15 years ago, and we have not once had the urge to return to static living.
If you’ve tried the full-timing lifestyle and liked it, what’s next? Well, your options are to keep your home as a future haven when you leave the gypsy lifestyle, or sell it immediately. It’s probably larger than you require, or will certainly seem that way after full-timing in a motorhome. Plus, after moving around the country, you may well change your mind as to where you want to live and in what type of home. You can either leave your furniture in storage for future use or sell it. More options! In our case, we opted to sell all but the most personal items, which we put in storage. Ten years later, we sorted through those possessions and gave most of them away. You learn to live with fewer “things” and usually end up enjoying life with less. Things cease to be important unless they are useful. People, in all categories, become first priority.
I tend to assume that those who are considering full-timing already own a motorhome. Yet some people just decide this is the life they want to pursue, buy a coach, and set off to see the country. But with so many brands, sizes, and types available, how do you know which motorhome to buy? Like most things in life, it depends upon your likes and dislikes, the price range you’re comfortable with, and the length of the vehicle you wish to own. Some say, “the bigger the better,” but not all agree. Many prefer to stay within the sizes usable in state, federal, and county parks. Keep in mind that three successive days of rain can shrink a 45-foot palace to the size of a prison cell. Rainy days are great for museum crawling. And, fortunately, when the sun pops out again, your motorhome resumes its original size. A towed vehicle should accompany whatever choice of motorhome you make. Besides making shopping and running errands easier, it allows you to park your coach and use the smaller vehicle for sight-seeing trips. So many beautiful places to see are inaccessible to larger vehicles.
A few things must be done before you start your journey. Begin as early as possible to change your mailing address on everything you can think of. It’s possible to use a relative or friend to handle your mail, but mailing services work extremely well. Many are available. We have used the FMCA mail forwarding service for approximately 14 years and have had no problems whatsoever. The only charge is for the postage. You do have to call in with a new address as you relocate and indicate how many times you want your mail sent to that contact point. You can choose to have your mail sent via Priority Mail every time, but it is not necessary. The service will automatically use your credit card to replenish your postage fund when it runs low. No matter who handles your mail, you must notify the forwarder of a viable address each time you move. When you use General Delivery, small towns are preferable, near wherever you plan to park. To obtain the correct address, carry a zip code book with you. They are available at any post office.
Another important factor is access to money once you leave home. Actually, full-timers are rarely away from home. They are more like turtles, carrying their home with them wherever they go. But even full-timers need money. The simplest way to handle your income is to have your retirement funds and Social Security checks directly deposited into your checking or savings account. Should you lease your home, a property manager can deposit your rental income and handle the maintenance requirements. A major credit card can smooth the bumps no matter where you are. If possible, a debit card should be obtained. This allows you to take cash advances at any bank or from a multitude of ATM machines, withdrawing the money directly from your checking account. With no bill to pay at the end of the month, it’s a simple way to get cash in hand, even 3,500 miles from home. And you may often be that far from your starting point.
Some people want full hookups at all times, including cable TV and phone. Others want the peace and quiet of a forested state park, foregoing a few of those amenities. There are about as many ways to full-time as there are people doing it. The options are plentiful. The thousands of RVs planted in the desert surrounding Quartzsite, Arizona, each winter attest to the fact that many full-timers like to dry camp to avoid costly campground fees.
Some campgrounds are expensive, while others are quite reasonably priced. Just as when you were hunting for a house, location has a great deal to do with price. Likewise, amenities definitely figure into the cost. Membership campgrounds will sell you the right to not only stay in one park frequently, but also the opportunity to stay in the company’s network of parks. A few companies that figure prominently in this category are Coast to Coast, Resort Parks International, and Thousand Trails. One economical way to buy a membership is through a resale company; look for ads for resale companies in RV magazines, or search the Internet. Membership campgrounds charge a yearly fee, which may include maintenance expenses. Reservations are generally needed, depending on the campground chain you join. Bear in mind that when you purchase a membership in any of these systems, the RV park you buy into is then your home park, where you can stay for no additional cost. If you are so inclined, you can purchase a lot in several RV parks, so you always have a place to retreat to when the need or desire arises. With some memberships, it is possible to travel the length and breadth of the country, staying in membership parks all of the time.
When you consider the cost of motel or hotel rooms per night, campgrounds are still an inexpensive way to travel. You can find places for $10 per night or perhaps less, and you will also find those at $30 or higher. Many outstanding campground directories, such as those produced by Wheeler’s, Woodalls, and Trailer Life, are available to help you locate appropriate places to park as you travel. If you do most of your moving on the highways, eXitSource, formerly known as Exit Authority, can help you find campsites, sanitary waste facilities, and RV service centers. (This guide is currently available through Woodalls at www.woodalls.com.) Fraternal organizations such as the Elks, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and others offer parking to members all over the country. Some are quite nice, and others can be counted on to provide a safe haven for a night or so. Your choice of campgrounds depends on where you want to be and what you want to do, and that can change with the territory or your particular aim at some point.
Should you make campground reservations? Some folks call for reservations six months in advance to cover their itinerary of choice. Others take their chances as they traverse the continent. If you prefer to live a freer lifestyle, you can stop when something appeals to you. At times you may choose a certain locale but find you don’t care for it and spend only one or two nights there. At the next stop, you may plan on one night and wind up staying a week or longer after encountering interesting things to investigate. You can still maintain a general idea of where you’re headed; you just won’t know exactly when you’ll arrive at the next stop or what route you will choose. It’s wonderful to have those choices available. You no longer need to travel from point “A” to point “B” in the most direct line. You can take a different route whenever and wherever the mood strikes. You are no longer on vacation — you’re just enjoying life.
How will you stay in touch with family and friends while traveling? Through the years, keeping in touch has become easier and easier. Some people actually still write letters. Do you remember when you did that? It is referred to as snail mail these days, but remains a useful way to correspond with others. Some people write a monthly tale of their escapades, make copies, add personal notes, and mail them off to all who are interested. A great many opt to stay in touch via e-mail now. I would estimate that three-quarters of the people full-timing carry computers aboard their motorhomes. Those range from large desktop models to small laptops, and all fill various needs for their owners. Besides helping you stay in touch, computers can be useful in getting directions or maps to your next destination. Some campgrounds even allow you to make reservations online. You can even renew your FMCA membership on the Internet by accessing www.fmca.com and keep track of where the next rallies and conventions will be held. If you choose not to carry a computer with you and still want to find out the best way to get from here to there, FMCA’s trip routing service is available for you to use.
Telephones are, of course, a great option for staying in touch. I would estimate that 80 percent of full-timers carry a cell phone with one of the many no-roaming charge plans available through various companies. Pay phones are always available in RV parks, and a prepaid calling card is wonderful to have. It sure beats carrying a pocket of change to the pay phone. FMCA offers a long-distance calling card with a standard rate of 13.9 cents per minute. You might also be interested in the opportunity to order up to five toll-free numbers for frequently called numbers, charged at a rate of 6.9 cents per minute. And FMCA’s Traveler’s Message Service enables users to receive urgent or non-urgent messages 24 hours a day, seven days per week.
There is one other major item to consider before you live full-time in your motorhome. What state will you call home? Since you don’t actually “live” in one state, you can choose one that best fits your needs. Homework must be done before you make this decision: What are the license fees for motorhomes? What are the insurance rates in that state? Is a yearly vehicle inspection necessary? Are state income taxes imposed? Will a change in licensing affect your will? Does the state have a sales tax? What are the voting requirements? Those are big issues to be concerned with, and investigation is necessary.
Some states, such as Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming, have no personal income tax. Not all of these states are totally tax-free, but the opportunity to save some money definitely deserves looking into before you choose your “home” state. Some states have lower vehicle registration fees, while others have lower vehicle insurance rates, or no sales tax (important should you purchase a new motorhome or car). You will not find all those benefits in one neat little package, so you’ll have to do some research and then pick the one that best suits your needs. For starters, Internet users may want to try the Web site www.taxadmin.org, and click on “Tax Rates/Surveys.”
When you choose which possessions and necessities you’ll want to take with you as you begin your journey, decide what you can live without. What you need to carry will vary according to your preferences. When deciding, ask yourself these questions: Do I really need this item? Do I use it frequently? Do I have room for it? If it doesn’t serve a vital purpose or make life simpler, you probably don’t need it. Items you haven’t used in two years (but think might come in handy) are not worth taking along. Check to see whether some of the appliances you use are available in smaller or lighter versions. If you put some thought into where to keep each item, using creative storage, life will be easier. (I am totally hooked on making life easier.) You will find space for anything you feel you can’t live without, and with luck, you’ll still have enough room to drive, and some space for a traveling companion.
What type of clothing should you take? Casual is the order of the day. Very seldom will you need a dress or a suit and tie, nor do you need great quantities of clothing. The majority of your socializing will be very informal, the best perhaps with members of various FMCA chapters. If you don’t belong to a chapter, find one that appeals to you, join, participate, and enjoy the rallies and other get-togethers.
You have two ways to clean your clothes: do laundry in your motorhome, if it has a washer-dryer, or visit a coin-operated laundry. Most campgrounds have laundry facilities, and even tiny towns seem to have at least one facility. With full hookups and a washer-dryer in your coach, you can do laundry at home whenever you care to. Otherwise, you may have to spend about an hour and a half to two hours at a coin-operated laundry every 10 to 12 days, doing as many loads as necessary simultaneously.
One of the biggest drawbacks for some “wannabe” full-timers is medical concerns. “What happens if I get sick?” Well, you’ll feel rotten, just as you would in a stationary home. The best advice is to not live in fear of what might happen. Do the things you enjoy doing wherever they take you. Life is a journey.
Some full-timers arrange their trips so they can return to their original home locale for annual physicals and exams, visiting the same doctors year after year. Others seek out the best doctors and facilities for each illness. Still others locate medical help wherever they happen to be at the time. Facilities that provide urgent medical care are available throughout the United States. Locals can recommend doctors or dentists, too. Most larger cities have a physician referral service listed in the yellow pages. If a sudden, serious illness or accident strikes you, call 911. Once you’re well again, staying in touch with the physician is quite simple via phone and fax, and prescriptions can be ordered by phone to a nationwide drugstore chain. Carry complete medical records and X-rays with you as you travel. Having major surgery may slow you down for a month or more, but it will not end your wandering days. For many, full-timing is too addictive to stop completely once you’ve started. You still will want to see what’s beyond the next curve.
What does it cost to enjoy this way of life? As with every aspect of life, you live within your income level, letting it encompass all you enjoy. Some full-timers spend very little money, frequently dry camping and using a campground’s facilities for one night when the water tank needs to be filled and the holding tanks emptied. They eat at home for the most part, and their entertainment often includes sight-seeing, visiting museums, rock hounding, fishing, hiking, or a multitude of other things. On the high end, people travel in huge motorhomes equipped with computers, cell phones, global positioning systems, washers and dryers, and other niceties. They dine in expensive restaurants and have all of the amenities possible in the best RV parks. Most people fall somewhere in the middle, incorporating parts of each lifestyle within their own. All enjoy themselves, regardless of income.
Fuel and vehicle insurance for full-timers are typically the most costly items to contend with. (Be sure to tell your insurance source when you become a full-timer.) There are no utilities to pay and no property taxes. There is likewise no grass to mow; no obnoxious neighbors (you can move if you don’t like them); no need to drive in the rain, or dark, or wind, or on weekends. How else could you live in such freedom?
Must you be retired to live this way? No! Work is available while traveling. Publications such as Workamper News, and its related Web site, www.workampers.com, are dedicated to providing employment opportunity information to motorhomers. Workers On Wheels also furnishes a number of resources to RVers who want to earn a living on the road; these are detailed on the company’s Web site, www.workersonwheels.com. It’s possible to live very economically as campground hosts, receiving a free site for your work. Many places pay a nominal fee per hour plus a free site with hookups. It is possible to stop periodically to work, amass enough money for further travel, and then move on to another locale. Full-timing can be done with children, providing home schooling along with the education of travel. It is possible to work your way around the country in short or long spurts, as you desire.
As a full-timer, there will be times when you open your door in the morning to nothing but a symphony of birds tuning up for the day, fluttering tree leaves, and an enticing scent of freshness. At other times you’ll experience the awe of rounding a curve to encounter a canyon of Mother Nature’s wondrous design, mountains whose peaks pierce the sky, or coves lining the horizon with colorful boats bobbing in the water. In some places you may feel like you are alone upon this planet, or at least in a particular state, surrounded by nothing but beauty.
Are there drawbacks to this lifestyle? Well, every day is not perfect and every journey is not ideal. Equipment doesn’t always work, and occasionally, days of “togetherness” are almost suffocating. But all of that can happen in a stationary home. The very worst part about full-timing is that you no longer get vacations and rarely anticipate weekends. Full-timers are definitely not running away from anything; they’re just ambling toward peace, beauty, and freedom. Take the advice of Socrates and Aristotle: enhance your education, health, and enjoyment of life. Go full-timing!
FMCA Services For Full-Timers
FMCA offers many helpful services for full-timers, including:
Emergency Road Service
Emergency Medical Assistance (MEDEX)
Long-Distance Telephone Calling Card
More than 500 chapters
Details about these and other FMCA member benefits appear in each January issue of Family Motor Coaching magazine; they begin on page 189 of the January 2002 issue. Information about FMCA member benefits is also available online at www.fmca.com.
For information about FMCA’s Full Timers chapter, contact the Chapter Services Department at the national office at (800) 543-3622; e-mail: [email protected].