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Since the onset of the pandemic, Americans have sought flexible and safe ways to travel, and recreational vehicle sales have been on the rise. In 2021, over 600,000 RVs were shipped, breaking the previous record that was set in 2017, according to the RV Industry Association.
Living in an RV gives retirees the chance to escape and explore. However, practicalities ranging from health care options to budgets need to be examined before you determine whether selling your house and buying a motorhome will fulfill your retirement goals. Use the following guidelines to think through what living in a house on wheels could mean for your retirement.
Living in an RV
Your daily routines in your RV will be based on your own preferences. “The experience of retiring and living in an RV full time varies wildly between people,” says Kara Metcalf, who together with her husband Kevin quit full-time work in 2019 and since then has been traveling North America in their 37-foot Class A motorhome. “It is truly customizable because you have ultimate control over your expenses and experiences.”
You’ll need to decide whether to keep your home or put up a “for sale” sign. You might rent out your living space while traveling in your RV so you have a place where you can return at a later point. Alternatively, you could sell your home and use the proceeds to purchase a motorhome.
How Much RVs Cost
There are several main types of RVs. Class A motorhomes are large and appear like a bus, complete with showers, large beds, sitting areas, sinks, toilets and kitchen appliances. Class B vehicles are similar to a van with sleeping areas. Class C are built on a truck or van chassis and usually have a sleeping quarters over the cab and also in the back. Trailers require a vehicle to tow them. A fifth wheel looks like a trailer with a section that nests over the bed of the truck that pulls it.
A small travel trailer could cost around $10,000, while a large Class A motorhome could be $100,000 or more. Luxurious vehicles sell for $500,000 and up. The price you pay will depend on where you live and if you purchase new or used. A used motorhome might be cheaper, but you could end up refurbishing it and upgrading its design to suit your preferences. You can ask about financing options at RV dealers. Also keep in mind that the vehicle will depreciate over time.
Renting an RV before you purchase one could be a way to get a taste of RV living without a full commitment. Sites like Outdoorsy, RVezy, RV Rentals and RV Share offer options you can try out to see if the size is a good fit.
RV Living Expenses
In addition to the vehicle, you’ll need to factor in maintenance, repairs and insurance costs. “While most auto insurance policies will provide basic coverage for a pull-behind trailer, extra protection for things like campsite liability, emergency expenses and other add-ons can easily run the annual premium for your coverage in excess of $1,500,” says Kimberly Foss, president and founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville, California. Check your vehicle size and ask your insurance provider about options to see how much you will need to budget.
Your food costs could be comparable to what you spend at home, especially if you regularly purchase groceries and cook your own meals. There are different fees tied to lodging depending on the amenities offered. Some retailers may let you park for free in their parking lot for a night. However, it’s a good idea to call ahead and check before you park. Some campgrounds offer discounts for long-term stays such as one month or three months. “In 2020, we paid $300 a month, including utilities, for a full-service site about an hour outside of Phoenix,” Metcalf says. If you offer to be a camp host, you could get free boarding.
Pros of the RV Lifestyle
If you’re looking for unique experiences, RV travel gives you the freedom to move at your own pace. “RV living can be as active or as sedentary as you wish,” Metcalf says. You can plan your trips based on your hobbies and interests. “In the summer of 2020, we hiked and mountain biked in the mountains of Colorado,” Metcalf says. “In the summer of 2021, we explored the majestic beaches and forests of the Pacific Northwest.”
You might spend time in several locations throughout the year, visiting friends and family or touring national parks. Some retirees choose to park their RV in a southern location during the winter months and head north during the summertime. Other people move periodically from one campground to another, such as every three months or every six months. You could even take your RV to a location and plan to stay there for a year or more. Campgrounds and RV parks often have their own allowances and limits, so ask ahead before getting settled.
Cons of Owning an RV
If you enjoy a sense of belonging in a community, you may find the RV lifestyle to be too nomadic. Unless you stay in a place long-term, such as for six months or a year, you might not be able to join a weekly card club or group exercise class. You could also miss out on festivals or annual events you previously enjoyed in your hometown.
The lodging arrangements don’t provide much weather protection or privacy from neighbors. “RVs aren’t very well insulated,” says Kelly Beasley, co-founder of Camp Addict, who has a home base in Marana, Arizona. The thin walls could mean you’ll feel weather conditions such as storms, cold fronts and heat waves more intensely than you would in your previous home. The noise from the campground will also come through, which could make it tough to sleep if nearby campers play music or have a late-night gathering.
Not having a home base could make it harder to access reliable services, including health care. “Finding a local hairdresser, mechanic or seamstress isn’t as easy as it was in your hometown,” Metcalf says. You may need to ask others for referrals or check online reviews.
The mobility of RV living could become an issue as well. If your health changes, you might prefer to revert to a home or apartment where you can move around more comfortably. Thinking ahead before you begin your RV days could help you prepare for the long-term future.