To RV or Not to RV?

The two happiest days in the life of an RVer are the day she buys her RV and the day she sells it.


That is the question that intrigue us non-RV’ers. But why? I think it’s because RV life evokes images of freedom, nature and doing your own thing. It’s fun to imagine life as one long, extended road trip. Also, who doesn’t know someone who is an RV’er or intends to become an RV’er.  Heck, there are 1 million people who live full time in their RV’s! (I even toyed with the idea of becoming a full-timer.)

So, like a moth to a flame, we circled around this question. I read RV’ing for Dummies, books by people who RV’d for a year or circled the continent of Australia (the Aussie’s version of driving cross country), visited huge RV shows, subscribed to an RV magazine and purchased an RV buying guide. I eventually got to the point of identifying the perfect RV for us.

The next logical step was to rent an RV and take a trip in it. Unfortunately we never made it to that point. That’s because of what we discovered during a visit with some good friends to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in Southern California.  Our plan that day called for us to hike. As we approached the trail head, we came upon an RV park. Great! We were excited to get to check out an RV park first hand.

So what of it? How did reality match up with expectations? Not exactly how I pictured it. (And this RV facility our very experienced friends told us was a very nice RV park.) The most jarring realization was just how close everyone was to each other. It was high density living (or camping). This then was became the first door ding in our imagined RV lifestyle.

The next door ding occurred later that day over dinner. Our friends were long-time RV’ers and were happy to share their experiences and perspective with us.

  • Not every RV park is set up to easily park your RV (i.e. a drive through lot). Trying to back up a large RV into a space takes a lot of practice, time and patience.
  • Access to many National Parks and Monuments is constrained by low overheads or winding roads. This is especially true back East.
  • The set up process takes a fair amount of time and can be extra difficult at night or in the rain.
  • While most RV’ers are known for their hospitality and consideration, you most assuredly will encounter the “RV’er from Hell” from time to time.
  • The costs to operate an RV are significant and while still less expensive that a hotel, that gap has narrowed.
  • It will be necessary to solve the problem of being able to drive around once you park your RV. Our plan was to buy a fifth wheel and tow it with a Heavy Duty truck which would serve as our local transportation.
  • Our friends not so jokingly remarked that the cost of buying an RV, a Heavy Duty truck to haul it, along with the operating expenses, would pay for a lot of nights in very nice hotels.

By this point, doubt had begun to creep in. So, to help us reach a decision, we compared our background  with our friend’s.

  • Our friends started out camping in a truck with a camper shell. They next moved up to an RV trailer and ultimately to their current 38’ toy hauler.
  • I camped a few of times and mostly didn’t enjoy it.  There was the time that I went tent camping in Yosemite. What a zoo! I returned home after one excruciating night. My wife never camped.
  • It seems like every RV’er we spoke with had a similar evolution from basic camping to an RV. For us (no offense to RV’ers), it was difficult to get our heads around giving up our accustomed creature comforts.
  • Our friends had grown into the comaraderie that is woven into RV life. The fact that they have a super cute dog that everyone loves gives them instant RV cred. Plus an RV is a fantastic way to travel with a pet. In terms of pets, we have stuffed animals which up to now require no special dispensation when traveling.
  • Their property (10 acres) provides them with a perfect set up for their RV. In fact, they actually (and yes they themselves) built a huge storage “shed” for their toy hauler. And even though our house has an RV gate and pad (yes, we were that gung ho), it’s likely that the Homeowner’s Association would not have allowed us to keep it parked there full time. So we would have been forced to store it at an offsite facility.

This look in the mirror, this reality check deflated of our dream of an RV life. On one hand it was a huge disappointment but in our heart of hearts we knew we made the right decision. So instead of RV’ing down the road of our retirement journey, we use VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner). We’ve used VRBO in the Bay Area, Santa Fe, Flagstaff and Seattle. To date, our experiences have been great. And while it took time and disappointed us on some level to abandon our RV dream, we are 100% convinced that we made the right decision for us.

But that is just our experience and our perspective. Our lesson learned is that the dream of RV’ing is powerful but if you do not have camping experience, you should think long and hard about your options.

Congratulations to all the happy RV’ers out there! And just in case, we still have that empty RV pad.

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2 Responses

  1. alan maraviglia says:

    VERY helpful article and hits main points. However too big is a hassle but time of year and so many National Parks can be fun as well as private all to yourselves at time’s. Same as 2nd homes ( Cost’s ) versus renting more often than not a far nicer home many different locations to rent and at a cheaper COST over all.

    • tedcarr654 says:

      Thanks for your comments. Glad you enjoyed the article. Wish you lots of fun as you explore our fabulous National Parks!

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