RV full-timing: Planning
By Michael Charland

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This is the second in a four-part series about RV full-timing: (1) the decision, (2) planning, (3) implementation and (4) how it has worked.

Are you considering full-timing? What's involved? What do you do? Questions, questions, questions. If you are like me and have a passion for RVing, this lifestyle may be something to consider. My wife and I made the leap just over two years ago, and I would like to offer the process we went through in making the lifestyle decision and what has happened. Your circumstances may not be the same and other factors may be involved but our process can at least give you things to consider and hopefully answer some of your questions.


What is the biggest decision to consider when full-timing in your RV?
  • 1. Selling your house
  • 2. Affordability
  • 3. Type of RV
  • 4. Permanent "residence"

The first big decision for us was to keep or sell the house. Keeping the house, other than for investment purposes, did not make sense as we knew we did not want to live in the area. Chicago is a beautiful city and our 18 years in the area were great, we were just tired of the long stretch of cold weather, and our family lived in other parts of the country. First decision made: We will sell the house.

Next was the financial issue. Can we afford to do this? By making the decision to sell the house, this question was sort of answered. If we could afford our house payment, then we should be able to handle full-timing. I wanted to make sure, so I put together a sample budget. I listed all the expenses that would not change with full-timing and then estimated expenses for gas, RV park fees, food and incidentals. We had a fairly ambitious travel plan, so I knew we would be driving a lot. I estimated 20,000 miles per year and calculated fuel costs based on miles per gallon and average cost of gas. For RV parks, my experience has shown that an average of $35 per night was reasonable.

We had only used RVs in the past for short trips, so I did not factor in the cost of propane. This can be a significant expense when full-timing as you are using it to cook and heat your rig, and the prices can vary wildly. We have minimized this expense somewhat by using electric space heaters and an electric countertop oven for cooking. Other budget items to consider, if you choose them, are satellite TV service, Internet service (cellular aircard) and roadside assistance.

With the budget issue resolved, we moved to the next decision: What do we want to live in? My first impression was this was easy, a motorhome. My thought process was that a motorhome was bigger and had the most storage and comforts for a full-timer. We headed out to the RV show in Rosemont, Ill., to check out what was on the market.

As we toured the show, we really became interested in the fifth wheels. We were impressed with the floorplans and the large amount of storage available in these units. To us, the floorplans were more to our liking in defining the living area and kitchen area. The large basement storage compartment in the larger fifth wheels was a definite plus. Following the show we were now leaning towards a fifth wheel but were a little hesitant because our driving-around car would now be a very large pickup. We talked at length about this issue and decided we would be OK with the large vehicle as we liked what the fifth wheels had to offer.

We had interest in a couple of brands of fifth wheels, but I wanted to see what else was available. Since this was going to be our home, I wanted to make sure we saw everything available. I found websites for all makers of fifth wheels, compared specifications and printed off floorplans for models that had what we were looking for. We settled on a midrange fifth wheel and decided ordering it would be best for us as we wanted many of the options that were available.

Home decision made, I moved to the tow vehicle. The weight of the trailer pretty much dictates what type of truck you need to look at. I felt having something with a towing capacity larger than what we needed, plus added stability would give us the most confidence we could handle any situation. We settled on a one-ton crew cab pickup with dual rear wheels. It is a large truck, and it can be difficult in major cities trying to find parking, but you do not even notice you are towing a 40-foot trailer.

The last major decision in the planning process was "where do we live?" We still needed a driver's license, car registration, mailing information, etc. We needed an address. My research showed that full-timers mainly use South Dakota, Texas or Florida for their address. These three states have no state income tax, easy residency requirements and no annual vehicle inspection requirement. Closer research led me to South Dakota as it has a 3 percent excise tax on the purchase of new vehicles and no sales tax on the purchase.

The residency rule to obtain a driver's license is you must spend one night in the state, show a receipt from an RV park or motel and sign an affidavit that you're considering South Dakota as your residence when you stop full-timing. South Dakota is really full-timer friendly. Our actual "address" was obtained via a mail forwarding service in Madison, S.D. There are many such businesses to choose from throughout the state.

One additional item is to make sure your medical insurance covers you as you travel around. We had a national plan from a major carrier that covered us no matter what state we were in.

Planning done, next we move onto implementation.

Michael Charland is retired and enjoying the lifestyle of full-time RVing with his wife. Their travels have taken them, in the past two years, all the over the United States and into Canada. Michael also writes a blog on their adventures.