Absolutely everything we own is in our car: Our life living in an RV full-time

June 23 | Guest post by Allison White
Our 1989 Minnie Winnie named Daisy
Our 1989 Minnie Winnie named Daisy

My husband and I hit the road about three weeks ago to live full-time in an RV. Our plan is to travel around the Western U.S. (and a bit of Canada) for the next year. We are pumped!

How we made up our minds

We started toying with this idea probably as far back as when my husband, Nik, first got a job working remotely — he can work from anywhere in the world as long as he has internet. I was finishing my Master's degree and teaching early childhood special education, which I absolutely love, but I was feeling ready for a break. We already love to camp and travel, and we realized Nik's job would allow us to be location-independent if we chose.

A year ago, we made the decision that I would leave my job, do grad school full-time for my last semester, and then focus on trying to find a job I could do remotely as well. We bought our RV on Halloween of 2015 and I finished grad school in December.

Along the banks of the Arkansas river on our very first night of the trip. Cotopaxi, CO.
Along the banks of the Arkansas river on our very first night of the trip. Cotopaxi, CO.

Preparations

We bought our RV from Craigslist. It is a 1989 Minnie Winnie, Class C style (meaning it has a bed over the cab), 26' long. Her name is Daisy.

It is structurally sound (no water damage!) and all the mechanical bits of the "car" part of the motorhome were in fantastic shape, despite it being from 1989. That said… It's from 1989. And the previous owner was a smoker. We had a lot of work to do to make it feel like home, as well as to add storage and work spaces.

inside the 1989 Minnie Winnie

We ended up basically gutting the interior, including tearing out carpet and removing furniture. We rearranged the furniture, built or added more furniture, and secured everything like crazy to be able to withstand what is basically an earthquake in your house every time you drive. We put in new flooring and repainted cabinets. We reupholstered cushions and replaced curtains. We installed solar panels and a huge bank of batteries so we can park without an electrical hookup. We did not get enough sleep.

Meanwhile, since we are renting out our house for the year, we sold, donated, or otherwise parted with about 80% of our belongings. I became a Craigslist ninja! With the exception of Christmas ornaments and art, stored in a kind friend's basement, we have absolutely everything we own with us in our RV or in the car we are towing behind. It was a challenge, but we feel a lot freer now without so much stuff.

Life on the road

The hardest part about leaving was saying goodbye to friends. It's really hard going from a rock-solid, in-person support system with people you see every week to just us. We're trying hard to do FaceTime calls and such, but it's not quite the same. Nik and I have always had good communication, thankfully, but the tight quarters and stress of a lifestyle change make things hard sometimes, especially without social outlets. We miss our friends.

But, since we are only a few weeks in, we are definitely still learning and getting a hang of things. Some things we have learned the hard way (take it from me: don't store rice up high before driving).

Nik works a full-time job, so he keeps regular hours, just with especially pretty views out his office window! I work part-time doing freelance blogging. I'm currently writing this from just outside Yellowstone National Park in Montana. The fact that we can work all day, then watch Old Faithful erupt as our after-dinner entertainment is still pretty mind-blowing.

When I'm not working, I do a lot of odds and ends to keep things running smoothly (like figuring out where to buy dog food in a town smaller than my elementary school). In the mornings before work, we explore nearby trails with our dog. In the evenings, we typically adventure around and find local breweries or gorgeous photo opportunities. We are trying to stay in each place for a couple of weeks — long enough to explore.

Just some yoga in a national park. Like you do. Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park, WY.
Just some yoga in a national park. Like you do. Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park, WY.

In a lot of ways, though, it's like our normal life used to be, just with MUCH prettier scenery… I ran a half marathon last weekend, just outside of Grand Teton National Park. And, while I was running and looking at the mountains, it struck me, "This gets to be my LIFE." I get to explore and see all the amazing things that are out there. People keep asking us what place we are most excited for, and we never have a very satisfying answer.

It's too cliché to say, "It's about the journey, not the destination," but… it's true. In that way, it's so NOT like our lives before. We start every day with the mindset of possibility. I can't ask for anything better.

Anyone else living in an RV full-time? What have been your experiences and best pieces of advice (like where to store rice)?

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  1. SO COOL! I have so many questions….

    1) Can you please do a follow up post in a year (or six months or whatever)?

    2) When you go out, does your dog just hang out in the RV? Do you have to worry about the RV getting too hot? I say this as someone in the southern US and everyone knows (or should know) you DO NOT leave kids/dogs in cars at this time of year, but I'm sure with RVs it's a little different.

    3) What size is your bed? Full, queen, king? I have a king bed now and I can't imagine downsizing … but then to have the chance to travel I'd think about it ….

    4) Are you guys able to move when Nik is working?

    5) I know you're only a few weeks in, but what's the craziest thing that's happened so far?

    3 agree
    • Hi! I love questions, bring 'em on. 🙂

      1) Yes! We are also posting all the time on our personal blog (www.therecklesschoice.com), if you want more frequent updates.

      2) Good question, sorta long answer: I grew up in TN, so I get that the heat is no joke. Right now, since we have been going north, it is just now starting to get fairly warm (like, upper 80s) where we are in Montana. We take him with us when we can, but since the RV is "home" to him, he is often happier staying put (and dogs aren't allowed everywhere, like hiking trails in national parks). In order to keep him cool, we have lots of curtains to block light and a pretty hard core vent fan. That works until it reaches 80ish degrees outdoors. After that point, we have an evaporative ("swamp") cooler that we use in place of A/C. That works for us because it has lower energy consumption, so we can use it when we don't have a power hookup with just our solar panels, and we are in places with relatively low humidity. We can leave that running for him when we are not home. In the humid southeast, though, you'd probably need A/C and a power hookup during the heat of the summer. So we can keep him comfortable without any issues. 🙂

      3. The bed is an extra-long full. We replaced the crappy RV mattress with a memory foam one. That said, you can totally find (bigger, nicer) RVs with queen or even king beds.

      4. Not really. It feels like you're in an earthquake when we move, so we try to park for a couple weeks at a time, explore where we land using our towed car, and then relocate later on before or after work. We try not to drive more than a couple hours at a time to make that possible. Everybody is different, though, that's just our preference.

      5. The first time we unhooked the tow bar from the car, we forgot to put the emergency brake on and it started rolling backwards! I stood there like a deer in the headlights making squeaking noises until Nik was like, "PULL THE E BRAKE!" Crisis averted. We have also seen a lot of wildlife, which is cool, but mostly only from a safe distance so far (though I did stumble on a moose in the woods, which scared the bejesus out of me).

      3 agree
      • But what do you do about Internet? Does the average wifi connection do it for his job?
        This is my dream life and my husband just got a work at home position so the timing and this article are blowing my mind with possibilities right now!

        1 agrees
  2. Gratz to you guys on cutting loose and going out exploring.
    The questions already asked (and answered) have been insightful.

    My question is likely moot in this digital age (and I will admit I live a rather backwards lifestyle), but how do you guys handle your mail?
    Is everything you need to do simply handled via e-mail and/or through business/bank websites?

    Is there a system for filling out an address form when you don't really have a permanent address?

    1 agrees
    • No, that's a great question, and one we get a lot! We use a service called Traveling Mailbox (https://travelingmailbox.com/?ref=91) . Basically, we get an address that is a box in a warehouse near our old house. They scan the envelopes and email us a photo, and we tell them to open and scan, forward it to another address, or shred. We did mail forwarding to our Traveling Mailbox address the same way you would if you were to move. Packages are trickier and something we are still figuring out (you can have packages mailed to general delivery at local Post Offices, but only if they are sent USPS, which for online purchases, often is not a guarantee). Whenever we know someone in town with a permanent address we mail an absurd amount of packages to their house.

      And you're right, we also do as much as we can digitally (like bank statements and such). We are still figuring out how to make sure we can cast our ballots in November, since they mail them to you in Colorado, but I just need to sit down and dig into it.

      1 agrees
  3. This is so interesting and I would love to do it! You are super brave for just jumping in. I have a few more questions, on the financial side of things (I realize that many people do not like to discuss money, so feel free to not answer any or all of them if they make you feel uncomfortable, I was just curious as a financial person.):

    1. How much do you estimate you put into the start-up costs of this new life- the RV, the renovations, etc.
    2. How would you compare your life in the RV expense-wise to your life in a stationary house? Obviously the views and adventures must be worth it but I am curious as to if the RV lifestyle cots more or less on day to day expenses?
    3. If you wouldn't mind sharing, what is your approximate household income?

    And a couple of less inappropriate questions:

    4. How far in advance do you plan where you are going next?

    5. Are you planning on taking the RV out of the country or staying in the US?
    4. Are you planning on

    • Hi Claire!
      1. For us, about $10k all in. There is a full post here where you can see the detailed cost breakdown: https://therecklesschoice.com/2016/05/26/how-much-did-it-cost-to-set-off/. It was VERY important to us not to get a crazy expensive new RV that we would have to pay a lease for.
      2. Much cheaper, for us. For one, we own our home outright now- no rent or mortgage or utilities. The closest we have to that would be the occasional campground fee ($10-20/night). Whenever possible, we stay on free BLM or Forest Service land (called "boondocking" or "dry camping" because there are no power/water/sewer hookups) because it is prettier and, well, free! Some people choose to stay at fancy "RV Resorts" full time that charge $50 or so per night. You wouldn't save much that way. We are also renting out our sticks and bricks house in Denver, so that covers our mortgage and then some. We also buy less stuff in general now, because we have nowhere to put it! 😉 Technomadia also shares their monthly expense logs, if you are interested in seeing another example: http://www.technomadia.com/the-finances-how-to-afford-it/.
      3. My husband is very financially-minded, as well, and we actually have a goal of being financially independent (aka retired) before we hit 40, if not sooner. Right now our income is around the $100,000 mark. So, we make a lot of money, admittedly, but we save the vast majority of it. That means that this lifestyle is accessible to many more people that just those in our income bracket. Another option if you couldn't work remotely would be to save up money ahead of time for a year or two of travel or find work along the way.
      4. We have a rough outline so we don't end up doing too much back and forth, but basically we stay in a place for a week then reassess how we are feeling. Do we want to stay longer or does that feel complete? We have a vague idea of where we will be for the next month or so, time wise, and from there just kind of locations on a list.
      5. We are planning to go into Canada to see Banff for a couple of weeks! Mostly US though.

      1 agrees
      • Yay, ERE!

        Were your FIRE goals one of the factors in deciding to live in an RV? How much has that helped accelerate your savings?

        • Haha, I had to get my husband to translate the acronyms (ERE = early retirement extreme, FIRE = financially independent/retired early) since he is the main do-er of financial math and/or reader of http://www.mrmoneymoustache.com. 😉

          The short answer is that from a strict "time to retire" standpoint, we would have been better off before the RV, but ONLY because I chose to leave my teaching job and pursue freelance blogging while we travel, which so far, is much more of a "side-hustle" than anything super profitable. Obviously, that would vary a lot person to person.

          However, this was kind of a shortcut for us to get the *lifestyle* we want once we are retired, while still saving a significant amount toward our goals. We traded a little bit more time spent in the saving phase for a lot more happiness in the saving phase. That was worth it to us.

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