Road Tested: What It's Really Like to Retire in an RV

Morning Routine


Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.
Morning Routine

Retire on the Road

Ever daydreamed about hitting the road in a recreational vehicle for your retirement? If so, you’re not alone. An estimated 1 million Americans have chosen to retire in an RV, spending at least part of the year on the road. It’s not just baby boomer retirees doing this, either; millennials, some with kids, are also embracing life on the road and living a minimalist lifestyle. Cheapism consulted several RVers, many of whom live on the road-year round, and asked them what advice they’d give to someone considering retirement in an RV. 

Related: How to Live the RV Life for Cheap

Shrugging Off Siding

Pick Your RV Wisely

Not surprisingly, the biggest initial expense of RV living is the RV itself. The largest RVs, Class A motorhomes, range in length from 29 to 40 feet or more. They resemble tour busses and have price tags to match, ranging from $250,000 to $1 million, and an average price of  $375,000. Class B motorhomes, which are factory-modified cargo vans 18 to 24 feet long, range from $80,000 to $300,000 and up with an average price of $100,000. Class C motorhomes also ride on a cargo van platform, but are longer (around 30 to 33 feet) and have a more traditional camper form with a sleeping nook above the cab. Retail prices are similar to Class B motorhomes.

Know Your Needs

Know Your Needs

There are several accounts from people such as writer Jan Wesner Childs, who said in her blog that her family bought an RV that was too large and later had to downsize. "We thought we couldn’t survive unless we had the maximum space possible," said Childs, who spent a year in an RV after her husband retired from the military. "If you want to travel, stick with 38 feet or under. Anything bigger is hard to tow and won’t fit in older campgrounds like national parks."

Think Outside The Rv Box

Think Outside the RV Box

Travel trailers are cheaper and smaller than other RVs. A used trailer that can accommodate two people (albeit snugly) can be had for $10,000 or less. While the trailer will spare your budget, you'll still need a vehicle that's powerful enough to tow it, such as a crossover, SUV, or truck. If you choose to go with a motorhome, you'll need secondary transportation as well, unless you want to drive your RV everywhere (including on mundane errands, which no one recommends doing). That could mean towing a car behind an RV, in which case you’ll also need to invest in a towing rig, or commit to bicycling or walking everywhere when you’re camping.

For more great RV articles, lifestyle stories, and money-saving tips,
please sign up for Cheapism's free newsletters.

An RV At a Pump At a Shell Gas Station, Fort Collins, Colorado, Trees Surround the Side of It

Don't Forget Fuel Costs

Even with diesel (which most larger RVs run on) currently hovering around $4 a gallon, fuel costs can add up quickly. "The RV lifestyle can also negatively impact the environment, which is something we struggle with frequently," said millennial blogger Nathan Hengst. He and his wife, Ashley, were living in Newark, Delaware, when they decided to quit the rat race and hit the road in 2017. His advice? Limit your mileage and choose your RV wisely. "Seriously ask yourself why you're considering full-time RV life, and then after you feel confident in your answer, choose the smallest-wheeled home you think you can tolerate."  

Prepare for Living Expenses
FG Trade/istockphoto

Prepare for Living Expenses

Monthly expenses depend on factors including the number of people you're traveling with, where you're staying, food, insurance, and maintenance. Some bloggers boast of spending less than $1,000 per month, while others say they spend three times that or more. (Keep a lid on the food budget with these 30 Amazing 5-Ingredient Recipes for Cooking in a Camper.)

Have you joined AARP? Members age 50 and over get access to a wide range of discounts and benefits, including online events, classes, and community forums, as well as advice on everything from financial planning to health and wellness. Sign up here.

Do Your Research

Do Your Research

Retired blogger Jim Morgan says he spent about a year researching the RV lifestyle, getting his personal affairs in order, and selling his home in Oregon before hitting the road in 2004. “Study, read, learn. Join all the RVing groups on the internet and on Facebook and find out what people are having trouble with and how much things cost,” he says. “I had a pretty good idea what it would cost me per month to be on the road with no income long before I started the engine.”  

Social Security
Alexey Rotanov/shutterstock

Calculate Income

Regardless of how much you spend, you will need to have some reliable source of income established beforehand, RVers say. For retirees such as Morgan, that means selling the house, cashing in a life insurance policy, and relying on Social Security. Younger people such as Ashley Hengst often have jobs that allow them to work remotely either part- or full-time. Sticking to a budget is essential, many RVers point out.

Related: How to Earn Money Working From Your RV

woman wearing mask at an atm machine

Have a Nest Egg

Morgan and the Hengsts say having a nest egg set aside before traveling is essential. “We saved a significant portion of our income during our traditional working careers while at the same time choosing to live a relatively frugal lifestyle,” Nathan Hengst says. “Our current daily expenses are covered by the savings we've invested over the years, and we continue to maintain a reasonable level of frugality in our travels.”

worker  putting box on  shelf in warehouse

Consider Seasonal Jobs

One option some RVers choose to supplement income is seasonal work, whether it’s a temp gig at an Amazon warehouse or the park where they’re staying. “I was up in Fairbanks, Alaska, and made friends with the owners of Ice Alaska RV Park,” Morgan says. “I worked at that park as a camp host and they gave me free rent all year-round.”

Enjoy Your Freedom

Enjoy Your Freedom

Once you’ve got your ducks in a row, it’s time to hit the road. Some advantages are obvious, such as having no home or yard maintenance to do. There’s also the freedom to pick and and go whenever you please. “Don't like the neighbors? I just move onto the next park. Don't like the RV park? Just move to another one. Big-ass storm heading my way? Just move on,” Morgan says.

Related: 40 RV Retirement Spots for Snowbirds

Clean Up

Clean Up

Another benefit of living in an RV is being forced to downsize. “Living out of an RV full-time forces you to get rid of excess material things that tend to accumulate in a more sedentary lifestyle,” Nathan Hengst says.  “After spending days to weeks on end without reliable cellphone or internet service this past summer, we focused on how to fill our days with meaningful activities and personal improvement.” 

Woman traveler enjoys early morning coffee in motor home looking out at forest
Georgia Court/istockphoto

Consider Community

Living in an RV and traveling means your social life will change. “We've discovered in our travels that we desire a fixed community, something constant travel can't provide,” Nathan Hengst says. “While a digital online community is certainly helpful and something other full-time travelers love, it doesn't serve as a legitimate replacement to a physical neighborhood for either of us.” 

Be Ready To Dump

Be Ready to Dump

While it may seem like a minor inconvenience, using the toilet when you’re living in an RV is no longer as easy as just flushing. Emptying holding tanks can be a laborious process and must be done with care to avoid pathogens and unpleasant spills.

Related: You Won't Believe These 25 RV Horror Stories

Think About Storage Needs

Think About Storage Needs

Living in an RV will force you to prioritize your possessions unless you maintain a part-time residence or a storage unit. Some practical considerations include a safe place to store valuables and important papers, as well as ample supplies of whatever prescription medications you may rely on, tools for making repairs to your RV as needed, and a reliable smartphone.

Stock Up On Emergency Supplies And Other Essentials

Stock up on Emergency Supplies and Other Essentials

While many RV parks now have Wi-Fi, it’s possible to go completely low-tech. If you want to live off the grid (something RVers call boondocking), a gas-powered generator or solar panels are essential, as are manual appliances such as a can opener, and — if you really want to rough it — a solar-powered water heater for showers. Don’t forget to stock up on emergency roadside supplies as well.

Is It Right for You?
Dean Mitchell/istockphoto

Is It Right for You?

Few current or former RVers say they regret choosing to retire on the road, but even staunch RV advocates say this isn’t a lifestyle for everyone. Experts recommend getting a taste of life on the road by renting an RV for a week or longer. Expect to spend at least $1,000 for a one-week rental, plus several hundred to $1,000 or more for fuel, campground rental, food, and miscellaneous expenses. It’s pricey, but you may just get hooked. “It does wear on you, maintaining this big box on wheels,” Morgan says, “but I get so much enjoyment doing it, that it's hard to just give it up.” 

Related: 26 Vacation Spots to Visit in an RV and Save