When we were planning our post-work lifestyle, we decided we’d like to RV in retirement. We’re not alone, RV travel is a common strategy for many folks as they plan for retirement.
We executed the plan, and we’ve enjoyed 3 summers of using our RV in retirement. In fact, today’s is the first post I’ve written since returning from The Great Escape, our month-long RV escape from the southern summer heat to the amazing place that is Michigan’s Upper Penisula (more on that in a moment…)
So, how has it worked out? What have we learned? Today, I’ll share the lessons learned from our actual experience of using our RV in retirement.
If you’re considering using an RV in retirement, today’s post is for you.We've used an RV for three summers in retirement. Here's what we've learned. A comprehensive guide for using an RV in retirement. Click To Tweet
How To RV In Retirement
Let’s get one thing clear.
There’s no “right” or “wrong” answer regarding how to RV in retirement. If there’s one area that’s ideal for customizing to your personal preferences, it’s how you’d like to use an RV in retirement. There are as many answers to that question as there are personal preferences. The beauty of RVing is the ability to adapt it to whatever approach works for you.
Regardless of the path you choose, the call of the open road appeals to many. It appealed to us, and we heeded the call.
Here’s how we went about it.
The Buying Process
There are many questions you must answer as you determine what type of RV you’d like to purchase for retirement. Some examples:
- How much will you spend?
- New or Used?
- 5th Wheel, Motorhome, Travel trailer, or pop-up?
- How big should your RV be?
As stated, there’s no right or wrong answer. The RV you ultimately purchase for your retirement must fit your broader retirement strategy. How much you spend will have a direct impact on how long your retirement savings will last and must be considered in your retirement spending strategy. Only you can determine your budget for your RV in retirement, and the number you come up with will have a major impact on many aspects in your purchasing decision (new vs. used, size, type, etc.)
We found that attending RV shows was the best way to get a comprehensive view of our options in the least amount of time. Plan on attending RV shows for several years prior to your purchase, it’s a great way to really evaluate all of your options.
We chose to go with a new 35′ Reflection 5th wheel and bought a new Ford F250 to pull it with. Our “rig” is shown in the feature picture at the top of this post, taken at 11,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies during our 2019 Great American Road Trip. Since we had planned on a FatFIRE retirement, we knew the decision fit within our budget and would meet our needs of traveling with our 4 canine “children”.
Tips From Our Experience:
- Attend RV shows for at least 2 years before making your purchase.
- Consider how you’ll use your RV as you finalize your purchase decision.
- Consider buying your RV before your retirement starts (I discuss this in more detail in my new book).
- Consider renting an RV (affiliate link) if you’re unsure if RV’ing is for you
- Do NOT spend more than you can afford, and don’t buy on impulse.
4 Ways We’re Using Our RV In Retirement
Before you finalize your purchase decision, you must consider how you’re planning to use your RV in retirement. We knew we were going to be traveling with our 4 dogs, so that factored heavily into our decision to purchase a roomy 5th wheel. We installed a “cargo net” behind the headrests of our pickup truck and converted the rear of the crew cab into a traveling lounge for our dogs, filling the footwells with supplies to create a large flat space for their numerous dog pillows. They’ve learned the routine, and love relaxing while we’re traveling down the open road.
Since our first summer of travel in 2018, we’ve used our RV in three different ways and we’re planning a fourth for 2021. Here are the four ways we’ve used our RV in retirement:
1. Short, Local Trips
During our first summer with the RV, we camped within a 200-mile radius of our retirement cabin. With my mother-in-law in her final year of fighting Alzheimer’s, we knew we couldn’t be too far away from home. Also, taking numerous shorter trips gave us a great opportunity to climb the learning curve of living in our RV. We had planned on taking longer trips when we were thinking about retirement, but we learned the value of remaining flexible. Taking shorter “Monday to Friday” trips turned out to be a great experience in our first year of using our RV in retirement, and we have great memories of exploring the areas closer to home.
Advantages: Limited disruption to your “home life”, avoiding the weekend crowds, less anxiety about potential problems far from home, lower fuel expenses, less wear-and-tear.
Disadvantages: Limited scope of exploration, less of a sense of “living the RV life”.
2. A 10,000 Mile Cross-Country Mega-Trip
In 2019, we decided to “Go Big”.
With our new granddaughter 2,500 miles away in the Pacific Northwest, we decided we were ready for our first extended cross-country RV trip. I wrote about our plan for the trip before we left and followed it up with a summary of our experience upon our return (including some YouTube videos from the road). If you’re interested in the details about our cross-country adventure, I encourage you to check out the links for more.
Advantages: A chance to see the country, with an itinerary that’s limited only by your imagination.
Disadvantages: Managing home affairs from afar. We were fortunate to have friends who were moving into the area, so we offered them our house for free in return for taking care of things in our absence.
3. A One-Month “Regional Loop” Trip
In the words of Goldilock’s little bear, the first option may be too short and the second option too long. Perhaps the “Just Right” option is a one-month trip like the one we just completed in The Great Escape of 2020. It was an amazing trip and provided a good compromise of really experiencing our RV in retirement while being able to maintain commitments on the home front (e.g., Freedom For Fido, which has really taken off this year).
Taking a full month to travel gave us a chance to relax. A chance to breathe fresh air. A chance to take an extended RV journey to Michigan’s gorgeous Upper Penisula.
It was wonderful.
Thanks to those of you who followed along during our journey, I enjoyed our dialogue on social media. I also enjoyed meeting a few of you during our travels (Hi Kirk, Hi Crystal – great spending some time with you). For those who missed it, feel free to check out my Instagram account for the photos from our trip. Below is my favorite photograph, taken during a magical moment while my wife and I stood transfixed, watching a giant storm front rolled across Lake Superior, just steps from our campsite:
Advantages: A compromise approach, offering significant use of your RV in retirement while maintaining your home life. Long enough to relax, but short enough to avoid complications of home management. I mowed the yard a few days before we left, and mowed it again up our return. Easy.
Disadvantages: Limited scope of travel, and potentially more driving in a shorter period of time.
4. A Home Away From Home
For 2021, we’re planning a fourth approach in how we’ll be using our RV in retirement. We were excited to learn that our son-in-law is being reassigned to an Army Base in Southern Alabama, a mere 6-hours away from our cabin. We’re looking forward to having them closer and are thankful that we have our RV in retirement to offer a practical “home away from home” while visiting.
Our daughter’s family will be moving from the Seattle area to Alabama in early November. We’re going to help them with the move, given their reality of having two vehicles, 4 dogs, and a 2-year-old daughter to move across the country. My wife and I will be driving out in October, then driving back across the country with our granddaughter in tow. Given the short duration of our trip, we felt it easier to avoid hauling the RV cross-country for the second year in a row, so we’re leaving the dogs at home with a babysitter and making some fast “car miles” on this trip. They’re on a tight schedule, so we’re accommodating their needs.
Once we arrive in Alabama, we’re planning on visiting several RV parks in the area, with the intention of securing a “seasonal lease” on a site for long term parking of our RV. We’ll use the RV as a second home while visiting, yet retain the ability to hook it up and go whenever we have the urge to travel.
We’re expected to take some shorter trips (Disney?) with our daughter and her family and are looking forward to having a “second home” readily available for our frequent visits to their home in Alabama.
Tips From Our Experience:
- The ways in which you use an RV in retirement are limitless.
- Be flexible, and try different approaches to find what’s right for you.
- There’s no right answer in how you use your RV, so try whatever appeals to you.
A note about “Full-Timing”: Since my wife and I have chosen to be “Part-Timers”, I can’t provide any first-hand experience of using an RV in retirement for full-time living. I’ve had numerous friends who have pursued this option and have seemed to enjoy it. We prefer to have a “home base” and the sense of community that comes from living our retirement in a small town, but full-timing is certainly a viable option if it appeals to you.
Enjoying Your RV Travel Experience
A few tips we’ve picked up along the way which may be helpful as you think about how you’d like to use an RV in retirement. To simplify, I’ll offer a summary in bullet format:
- Book your campground reservations in advance if you’re traveling to popular locations.
- Follow the “330 Rule” – no more than 330 miles a day, plan to park by 3:30 pm.
- Stop and enjoy a long lunch in your RV. There are benefits in having your kitchen and living room with you when you’re traveling, so take advantage of it.
- If you’re planning a 300-mile day, stay at least two nights before you move on.
- Develop some hobbies which work well with the RV lifestyle. I’ve focused on photography, fitness, and videography.
- Use social media to enhance your experience (Grand Design has 45k members in their Facebook Group where you can interact and get all of your questions answered).
- We’ve found State Park campgrounds to be our favorites. They usually have something attractive in the area, and most have great hiking trails for our canine friends.
- Develop a checklist for setting up and tearing down your unit. Chocks in place? Sufficient clearance for the slides? Is the floor clear of obstacles before you retract sides? We’ve developed a standard routine, some of which were developed as a result of problems we’ve experienced. Which leads me to…
Problems We’ve Experienced
Recognize that using an RV in retirement will NOT be trouble-free. EVERYONE has a story of a problem(s) they’ve encountered, and we’re not immune from that reality. The important thing to realize is that things will happen, and recognize that it’s part of the RV lifestyle. I’m not too proud to share my most embarrassing moment, so here goes…
It happened on the first day we owned our RV, and it was a doozy. After backing the RV into our “difficult” parking spot at our cabin, I pulled the truck away. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize until it was too late that the “umbilical cord” that hooks to your truck for all of the electronics (brakes, running lights, etc) had gotten caught in the tailgate hinge after I had unplugged the cord. As I pulled away, the umbilical cord came with me. Ripped right out of the unit. Fortunately, my neighbor is handy in all things electronic and helped reconnect all of the severed lines. I learned a painful lesson, and one of our standard operating procedures now includes making sure the cord is clear before I pull the truck away.
We’ve also banged up our camper (twice!) on those pesky overhangs at some of the tight check-in posts at campgrounds. It’s too easy to focus on things at ground level, and miss that &*^% overhang that can leave some memorable marks on the side of your unit. Swing wide. Swing wide!
We also had a tire blow-out on our return trip from Michigan. We knew the tires were getting worn but decided they have enough life in them to get us home, where we planned on buying a new set of tires after 3 years on the road. We decided wrong. Fortunately, our spare was in good working order and it was a minor lesson.
Many folks worry about the reality of driving and backing a big unit. We spent some time in a large parking lot near our home “practicing” backing maneuvers, and it’s proved invaluable while on the road. I’m very comfortable driving our unit now and can navigate it into all but the tightest of camping spaces. We also use walkie-talkies when backing into a tight spot – it’s much more civil than having my wife shout at me to “watch out for that tree”.
Be patient, practice, and enjoy!
Having an RV in retirement is a dream of many, and we’re pleased that RV’ing has become a reality of our retirement lifestyle. Our life is better as a result of owning an RV, and we plan on enjoying it for years to come.
Whether going full-time or part-time, pursuing a bucket list item of traveling cross-country, or doing a simple two-day camping trip closer to home, an RV in retirement offers unlimited options to create the retirement of your dreams. Make sure you’ve thought it out in detail, and live within your means when you make that purchasing decision. Do not enter the RV lifestyle on impulse, but seriously consider whether the RV in retirement lifestyle is right for you. It’s right for us, and I hope some of the lessons we’ve learned can be helpful as you finalize your decision.
Your Turn: Are you considering an RV in retirement? What questions haven’t I answered? Are you already retired, and include RV’ing as one of your retirement activities? What lessons have you learned that others can benefit from? Let’s chat in the comments…