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Fulltiming in Your RV

 

This topic is for folks who are contemplating moving up to Fulltime Status with their Tiffin Motorhome. Many on the forum would like to do it, but for several reasons cannot. So let’s see if this will help those few who decide this is what they want.

 

First - Is it right for you?

Lots of forum members’ dream of doing it. The latest estimates are that over a million North Americans are full-timers, living permanently in their RVs with no permanent address. Many are retired, but many others work part of the year, just long enough for a 'stash' to keep them going for a few months or a year or so.

A surprising number of engineers, project managers and construction people are fulltimers, living in their motorhomes and traveling from job to job. It's economically a very efficient means of handling the housing problem, especially if you would otherwise be moving a lot to relatively brief work sites.

For those who are retired or contemplating retiring, it has the blessing of not having a house to maintain. Some of the advantages are:

  • Housecleaning is easy and quick
  • No lawn mowing
  • No Snow Removal
  • Frequent Change of Scenery
  • New Experiences
  • Meet lots of new neighbors
  • Free Scenery
  • Constantly making new memories

One of the options for retirees is whether to stay in developed campgrounds and RV parks or to "boondock." Boondocking is camping in undeveloped areas. The latter is made possible by the "14 day law." It is a federal law that says that federally owned public lands outside of national parks and monuments are open to camping unless the local land manager has closed it for a specific reason. Campers are free to camp wherever they like, within the limitations imposed by the land manager, but are required to move after 14 days (the law doesn't say how far, but most land managers interpret it to mean at least a half a mile, though some require 25 miles in heavily used areas), and leave the campsite as they found it. Lots of folks enjoy boondocking much more besides being cheaper and far safer. My kids are among these.

 

Questions You Need To Ask Yourself?

If full timing is a lifestyle you're considering, but don't know if its right for you, here are some of the important questions you need to ask:

  • If living with a partner, do both of you really want to do this? If there's any hesitation on the part of either one of you, don't even consider it. Living in an RV means living in close, tight quarters, and if both of you don’t want to make it work, and committed to the project, it won't. If you don't get along exceptionally well, don't consider it. Living so close together will greatly aggravate any annoyances that are a part of your relationship. Are you sure your partnership is strong enough to survive it? In a tiny motorhome, there's no room for arrogant egos or emotional, unreasoning attitudes. This is especially true if you have just rid yourself of a beautiful spacious home. Both partners will have to be prepared to compromise a lot. Are you prepared to be that flexible?
     
  • There are lots of conveniences that you don't even think about that you'll have to do without. Telephones are such a part of our lives, which some people just can't live without them. In an RV, you can have a cellular phone, if you want it and can afford it, but it still isn't the same. It could cost big money to talk for long periods, and many, rural areas are poorly served if served at all by cell service providers. If you can't do without a phone plugged into your ear, don't go on the road. Long, hot baths and showers are another luxury you're going to have to do without (unless you stay in RV parks). You can do that if you want, but it means you'll be going for water or to find a dump station awfully frequently if you do. Most full-timers learn quickly how to take a shower with a gallon of water or less, and doing so isn't very satisfying to those who like to luxuriate in the shower. Television anywhere is now possible with the mini-satellite dishes, but there often isn't any local television where you'll be. So if you're addicted to TV, be prepared to take a mini-dish system with you. Large storage spaces don't exist in RVs, and so you'll need to keep your needs very simple and your trash generation to an absolute minimum. Entertainment is sparse, there's no movie theater close by.
     
  • It could be Spartan living at times, and if that's a problem for you, don't even consider life on the road.
     
  • Roughing it means that it can be a bit chilly at times or hot, muggy and buggy at other times. It can be chilly when you're low on propane and don't otherwise need a trip to town. And it can be hot when the weather suddenly turns unexpectedly warm, especially in the late spring or early fall. Also, many RV's have heaters that are only moderately effective in heating the vehicle evenly. If you've got to have the perfect temperature all the time, you're going to find RV living a bit uncomfortable at times. Some RV furnaces also generate a great deal of radio and TV interference, so be sure you check this out. If you're boondocking, air conditioning is not an option unless you have a generator and you may find the hours are limited when you can operate it.

 

Money!

Do you have an adequate source of funds to make this work? You'll need a minimum of about $10,000 a year to live comfortably, less perhaps if you're into very Spartan living, and a lot more if you want to be able to spend freely and stay every night in an RV park. Your spending of money will be disciplined not by cost as much as where to put things, but you'll need to have a steady supply of small amounts of cash and enough cash reserve for emergency vehicle repairs. Your vehicle is your home, so you'll need to have some sort of plan to replace it if it is lost in an accident or fire, or if some redneck sheriff thinks you're a drug runner and confiscates it. Have a plan in mind in case something happens that displaces you from your vehicle. Full replacement cost insurance is a really good idea. If you plan on working, you'll need a vehicle that is acceptable to RV Park operators, and that means a factory built motorhome. You'll also need a steady source of job opportunities should you choose to work - it's a good idea to be hooked up with several headhunters who know and like you.

  • Being self-reliant. You'll need to be able to change a tire, check your vehicle's vital fluids, fix a leaking roof, repair broken plumbing, etc. Can you do that? A dripping faucet in a house is a problem, but in an RV it's a crisis. If you have to call someone to fix everything that ever gets broken in your life, think twice about full-timing unless you have the bucks to pay someone else to do it. You're often dozens, even hundreds of miles from anyone who could fix it for you. Even if you knew where to find someone, and all your propane is leaking from a loose fitting, or your roof is leaking in a pouring rain, you'll need to fix it now! You may not have the option of waiting till you can find someone to do it for you.
     
  • Children. If you have children living with you, it is possible to take them on the road, but it's not easy. We’ve seen it done. They usually home-teach their children. Their children loved it, because they were born into the lifestyle and didn't know anything different. If they'd tried to take urban children on the road, I doubt it would have worked - they'd constantly be complaining about nothing to do, no movies, no friends, no places to go, etc. But children born on the road are different. They're not over stimulated as urban children too often are. And there is no bad crowd for them to run around with, and no drugs for them to get into. So it's a great way to raise children, if you can start them out that way and have the space for them in your RV. It's guaranteed that children raised that way will reflect your values, because they won't be exposed to anything you don't control.

I hope I haven’t talked you out of it, but I did want to stimulate a little thought.

 

So You've Decided To Full Time- Now What?

One of the most important considerations, surprisingly enough, is selecting a mail forwarding service. This is a vitally important decision, because it determines where you're going to have to be "domiciled." Legally, it is much more than just where your vehicle must be registered and what state you'll get a drivers license in. It impacts everything that involves an address. This is a very serious legal issue, which if not properly addressed, could land you in prison, as violating domicile law is a felony in most states! And it happens more often than you might think! These laws were instituted as a part of the drug war and the fight against tax evasion, so many states have made domicile requirements much more stringent than you might imagine, and enforce them vigorously. To help prevent running afoul of the domicile laws, make sure that you use the same address for everything - mail, bill-paying, driver's licenses, insurance, income tax returns, voting, etc. In most states, use of multiple addresses for various purposes, either official or private, is specifically prohibited by domicile law. In many states, the use of a mail forwarding agency address does not constitute legal domicile. This is why it is important to take care in selecting a good mail forwarding service in a state whose laws you can live with.

These states are some examples:

  • Oregon, in which it is easy to register a vehicle, it is cheap, and fairly easy to get a driver's license, and it is full-timer friendly. Oregon once required you to spend at least 30 days a year at the address where your vehicle is registered, although I'm not sure whether that requirement is still in force. That's not so bad, as Oregon isn't a bad place to spend time, and there are forwarding services that actually are associated with RV parks where you can stay the 30 days.
     
  • Idaho is friendly, and not hard to get a license from, and registration is cheap, but there are no mail forwarding services there that I know of, and it does have a state income tax. I don't know about its domicile laws, either. It does have the advantage of rarely calling you up for jury duty.
     
  • Nevada. I don't know about it's domicile laws, though Nevada is popular, as there are lots of forwarding services in the Las Vegas area (and at least two in Pahrump, where there is no emissions test requirement), and it has not income tax, but the state is really hard-line about driver's license tests, and it may take some doing to get licensed there if you don't qualify to have the tests waived.
     
  • Texas is a good state except that you may be called to jury duty, and if called, you have to go, regardless of where you are if you're in the U.S. You'll also face a vehicle safety inspection in Texas if you ever take your motorhome there. Use of a forwarding agent for domicile is allowed in Texas.
     
  • California is ridiculously expensive both for registration and for insurance and has its famous pollution laws which require you to have at least semiannual pollution tests before you can renew your registration. That can be a problem, especially if you’re out of state when registration is due or if you don't pass the test. If you register in California, expect to be called to jury duty about every six months to a year. You can claim distance hardship only a few times. Also, domicile is an issue. For this reason, I don't recommend it.
     
  • Arizona allows you to register in certain counties (La Paz, where Quartzsite is located, is one) using a P.O. Box rather than the usually required street address. Emissions testing are waived in all counties except where Phoenix and Tucson are located, and driver's licenses are issued for life! Arizona does have a state income tax, however, and I don't know about its domicile requirements. I don't know of any forwarding services in Arizona, except in the counties where emission inspections are required.

Once you've settled on a state, you'll need a mail forwarding service, which of course will become your residence for domicile purposes. Don't even consider having family or friends do it; it's a lot of work when you're not set up to do it, and is a big commitment to ask of someone. And family or friends may not be as reliable as you'd like - they have busy lives of their own and like to go on vacations too. So get a forwarding service. They can be as cheap as $100 a year. There are many of them listed in the classifieds of Highways Magazine, the magazine that comes with a Good Sam membership. Another good tip is Escapees at www.escapees.com

Insurance is something you shouldn't even consider going on the road without. Many states (especially California) now impound vehicles that aren't properly insured, even if from out of state. That's inconvenient and expensive if it's your car, but it is disastrous if it's your home. Fulltimer insurance policies are available through the Escapees Club's RV-Alliance America, and TravelSure, as well as through Good Sam, and Camping World. These policies are or can be tailored to full timers, and offer overages that standard policies won't. Be aware that many standard motorhome policies are void if the owner is full timing. So be sure and check yours out. Speaking of insurance, both the Escapees club and Good Sam also offer group health insurance if you need it. Check with them for rates.

RV Clubs and Towing Insurance. The largest RV club is, of course, Good Sam, with over a million members. They offer it all - mail forwarding (though it's in California,), vehicle insurance, including towing, and a lot of travel discounts. You can buy their services a la carte. The American Automobile Association, not to be outdone, has its own RV club, though it isn't as comprehensive as Good Sam. The Escapees Club is smaller, but unlike Good Sam is geared specifically to full timers. It has a package of services as useful to full timers as the Good Sam package. Many Tiffin RV Network Forum members favor CoachNet ERS.www.coachnet.com

 

Purchasing the perfect Tiffin Motorhome for full timing

The main considerations in selecting an RV for full-timing are:

1. New or Used

2. What can you Afford

A. Price

B. Tax

1. Personal Property

2. Sales Tax

C. Licensing Fees

D. Insurance

1. Motorhome

Comprehensive

Liability

Glass

Theft

Full Replacement or Deperciated Value

2. Personal

Liability

Possessions

F. Extended Warranty

G. Repairs

3. Size

A. Length

B. Nbr of Slides

C. Model

4. Amenities

A. Washer/Dryer

B. Ice Maker

C. Spare Tire

D. On-board Computer/GPS

E. Tub/Shower or both

F. Dinette/Booth

G. Engine Size

H. Full Body Paint

I. Generator

J. Bed Type and Size

K. Furniture/Decor

L. Home Theater

M. Surround Sound

N. Cupboard Space

O. Closet Configuration

5. Storage

A. Tray Slide

6. CCC or How much Stuff can I carry

7. Towing a Vehicle or Not

A. Existing Vehicle

B. Additional Vehicle

1. Insurance

2. Taxes

3. Licensing Fees

8. Satellite TV System

A. In-motion

B. Stationary

C. Crank Up

This is going to be your home, so look for really solid construction (check how well kitchen cabinet drawers are assembled, how solidly paneling is attached, whether cabinets are made of plywood or particle board, etc.), and lots of storage space. You need very little bed space (just you and your partner if you have one), but lots of storage space. If the RV you're looking at has a large bed. Every last cubic inch of storage space, especially indoors, is golden, and you'll use it, guaranteed.

Diesel or gasoline? We now have a diesel and love it, but we have also had gas rigs and they did just fine. Diesel fuel used to be close to the same price as gasoline, or even less, but this past year or so it cost more per gallon. Diesels cost a little more to maintain.

 

When You're Finally Ready For The Road:

Some tips:

One tip is that you can have your mail sent to general delivery at the nearest P.O. to where you will be. Postal regulations stipulate that general delivery mail is supposed to be held for 30 days before being returned, but it's been my experience that many, even most, rural and small town post offices just simply ignore that regulation and return it after a week or so. Two weeks if you're lucky. So plan your travels and trips to town accordingly - allow 4-7 days to for mail to come from your forwarding service to your general delivery address. Be aware that not all urban POs offer general delivery service. If you're in Las Vegas, for example, you'll have to go to the downtown post office where parking is difficult, and wait in a very long line. Also, it's up to the local postmaster to decide how long you can take mail from general delivery. Some post offices will require you to rent a box if you're taking mail longer than a month. So again, know the rules if you're going to be there awhile, or you could get into trouble. Let your forwarder know a week ahead when you're changing addresses.

  • Cupboard Space – Most of the cupboards on our motorhome had too much space between the shelves, so we added a shelf in almost every one of our cupboards. Including the under sink cabinets. If hubby is handy he can do this, if not, find someone who is a good carpenter to do it for you. It will pay dividends
     
  • Closets – We remodeled our closets. Existing closets only have one clothing pole. However, most of our clothes except for top coat, long coats, bath robes, and long dresses will fit in half the space. We divided approx. of the closet space with a wooden divider wall. In this space we hang all long clothes. The entire remaining of the closet space we added a second clothes rod. This simple modification allows us to obtain approx. double the closet space. We also found better (smaller neck) hangers at a “Dollar Tree Store”. These (smaller neck) hangers keep the clothes on the rods much better than the standard ones and fit better in the closets.
     
  • Truck scales. You're not a truck. Technically, in most states, you're not required to weigh if you're registered as an RV. You do need to know a lot of weight terms, process, calculations etc. so make sure you read the topic on weighing. It will also help you figure out how much stuff you can carry with you.

To keep the odors from the holding tank to a minimum, flush about 1/2 cup of Pine-Sol for each 10 gallons of holding tank capacity, full strength, into each holding tank after you've emptied and rinsed the tank. It's much cheaper than the odor control stuff sold in the RV supply stores, and it works just as good. Don't use any of the substitute brands; it's the pine oil that does the magic, and few of the substitute brands have anywhere near as much pine oil in them as the Pine Sol brand does. Compare the labels for pine oil content. Never use a formaldehyde-based odor control agent; not only is it a health hazard for you, but it will rot out the seals in your holding tank dump valve. Chlorine-based products, such as bleach, not only don't work well, but they'll rot out your dump valve seals in a hurry.

  • For toilet paper, use the "Marina" brand. It is commonly available in rural groceries, because it is designed to quickly disintegrate in septic tanks. Works just as well in a holding tank as that ridiculously expensive RV stuff, and is much cheaper. It won't wad up in your holding tank and clog the drain like regular toilet paper will. When you find it, stock up with several four-packs.
     
  • Never use your stove top or oven for heating. Propane , as clean as they burn, still put out significant quantities of carbon monoxide that can kill you, if you let the stove run overnight. Carbon monoxide is odorless, tasteless, and produces no symptoms of toxicity until the levels are dangerously high and you won't know you're being poisoned until you start feeling very sleepy inappropriately.
     
  • Carry a complete set of good tools. A propane pressure regulator, along with everything you need to change it safely and properly, is something I guarantee you'll need. They are very unreliable because they may get plugged up with sulfur dissolved in the propane. A spare water pump repair kit is useful as well; I used two. Keep fuses and spare light bulbs with you. It might be useful to have a spare set of fan belts, too. A tube of silicone rubber is something you'll use often. Keep some duct tape, as it's useful for all kinds of things, including radiator hose leaks. I found a small roll of electric fence wire to be very useful for all kinds of small repair jobs. The old saw about Scotch tape and bailing wire really has a lot of resonance on the road when you're faced with an emergency repair and are a long way from a hardware store or auto repair shop.
     
  • Do inventories before you plan a trip to town. It helps to clean out the fridge, as well, so that you can make sure you're not buying something you already have plenty of, and it makes sure you're not going to miss something you need. By cleaning out your fridge, you'll make sure there's enough room for the food you buy, and you won't be adding to your trash unnecessarily in camp.
     
  • Trash management and disposal requires planning ahead. I removed as much food from it's packaging as possible before leaving the grocery store parking lot, and put it in my own permanent containers. This cuts down remarkably on the amount of trash you'll generate during the week. Be aware that most cities and towns have ordinances against putting your trash in a dumpster or trash can where you don't have permission for use, and some enforce the prohibition vigorously. The best place to get rid of your trash is a roadside barrel if you can find one, but if not, you may have to use the dumpster at the grocery store where you're shopping. If you do, it's best to ask the grocery store manager if you can use their dumpster. I've always explained that I only have a couple of grocery bags of trash, but can't dispose of it anywhere else, while standing next to my full grocery cart. Doing that, I've never had a store manager refuse me. Before disposing of your trash, make sure you do not have any bank statements, credit card statements, voided checks or deposit slips or any other financial information traceable to you in it. If you do, tear it up in small pieces or use a shredder on it. Identity thefts are a very serious problem and growing worse, so protect yourself.
     
  • Make sure someone knows where you're heading. If you're traveling, this is especially important in the event you don't show - they'll at least know where to start looking if you don't show.
     
  • Meticulous vehicle maintenance is absolutely crucial. Don't neglect it. If you take care of your RV, it will take care of you, and generally give you adequate warning when something is going wrong (only once did I ever have to call for a tow). So when you notice something in the drive train or under the hood that needs attention, don't wait till you have to fix it; by then it may leave you stranded. Arrange for getting it fixed on your very next trip to town.
     
  • When boondocking or in primitive campgrounds, avoid rodent nests. Check the immediate area for large accumulations of leaf litter in a shrub or large collections of branches on the ground or in shrubs. Where ground squirrels are common, look for large numbers of rodent burrows in a small area especially in grass. Rodents, particularly the various western packrats, are very destructive of vehicle wiring harnesses, fan belts and radiator hoses. Squirrels and chipmunks are seldom a problem unless you're parked for quite a while, but mice and packrats will come after you in the first night if they're hungry. Rabbits will start checking out your engine compartment after a week or so of being in one spot. Rats in rural areas are common but are seldom a problem unless you happen to be near a landfill or are in an established campground.
  • For toilet paper, use the "Marina" brand. It is commonly available in rural groceries, because it is designed to quickly disintegrate in septic tanks. Works just as well in a holding tank as that ridiculously expensive RV stuff, and is much cheaper. It won't wad up in your holding tank and clog the drain like regular toilet paper will. When you find it, stock up with several four-packs.
     
  • While in campgrounds, take the time to get to know the fellow camped next to you. He may become your best friend, and he can look after your stuff when you're temporarily out of camp. That can be really helpful.
     
  • Don't try to see everything as soon as you can. You've got the rest of your life, so take advantage of that fact. Eventually, if you're like most full timers, you'll get tired of the uncertainties associated with always trying to see new places, and start returning to some of your favorite campsites.
     
  • There is better security in boondocking than in campgrounds. I know this is counterintuitive, but I found it to be really true if you follow a basic rule about boondocking: Ten miles from town, a mile from pavement, away from and out of sight of graded and/or graveled roads. If you abide by it strictly, I can almost guarantee you'll never have a problem.
     
  • What about guns? I never carried a gun. Safety during the fall hunting season. Park your RV where it can't be seen from roads, including all jeep tracks. When out hiking, wear bright colors, preferably hunter orange. I kept some neon-orange tee-shirts and jackets for that purpose, along with a neon orange ball cap. Only once did I ever find myself in the line of fire (and I have reason to believe that one incident was deliberate). Stay off of jeep trails while hiking and away from thickets and dense woods if possible. Being brightly clothed and out in the open in plain sight is the best safety. Be friendly and polite to hunters when you encounter them. If you do that, you'll have more to fear from the wildlife (mostly bears with an attitude problem) than from the people hunting them.

Well, that's about it. If you decide to do it, you'll be in for the time of your life. It'll be an experience you'll cherish, even if you eventually settle down again as most always do.

 

Resources:

Here is a webpage devoted to boondocking. It's got a lot of really great ideas for places to go in the U.S. and Canada, and practical advice on how to do it.

The Escapees RV club is an organization designed to support full-time RVers with everything from mail and email service, phone cards, messaging service, help with vehicle registration and insurance, etc. It's a great resource for someone looking to go fulltiming.

This page offers a list of free campgrounds, if you're into that sort of thing, in various places throughout the west.

Here's a list of web pages by escapees - people who have done what you want to do. Lots of great ideas, good photography and tricks and hints.

The folks at Camping World can send you spare parts no matter where you are. Their catalog is great to have handy. They also offer full-timer insurance policies.

 

Submitted by Mike Sundberg - 3/30/06


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