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There are somewhere around a bajillion RV and vanlife bloggers successfully instagramming it up these days. It’s great seeing so many nomads sharing their stories of living and loving life on the road, but since the majority of the popular RV bloggers are full-timers, they’re not exactly a representative sample of the RV community.
In reality, full-timers are just a small percentage of the people who own RVs. Most RV owners are part-timers like James and me.
The FITRV: Proudly Not-Full-Timing Since 2010
As Brooke Baum, editor of WinnebaGolife blog said when she wrote about why she gave up full-timing,
“Taking a trip in an RV and living full-time in one are very different experiences.”
I certainly get why people choose to full-time: the freedom, the ever-changing scenery, cheaper than rent, etc. Even with all that awesomeness, here’s one thing I’ll bank money on.
James and I will never be full-time RVers.
Before I list out our own personal reasons why, let me just say this. I’m not writing this to convince you NOT to full-time and I’m certainly not trying to invalidate your choice of full-timing. I’d never begrudge anyone their lifestyle choices. Besides, how boring would this world be if we all wanted to do the same things? You do you and we’ll do us and let’s embrace our differences.
My motivation to write this is so you understand our own personal mindsets on why we chose the part-time RV lifestyle we have. We get asked about it all the time, and we’re long overdue in discussing it openly. So here goes!
Reasons Why We Don’t RV Full-Time:
Separating Vacation & Home:
We like the symbiotic balance of having an actual home, and having the RV as a vacation… it makes RVing continue to feel adventurous and fresh. When we’re in vacation-mode, we’re naturally more present and mindful. We’re motivated to explore our surroundings. It gets us excited for new and novel experiences. We’ve done trips as long as 6 weeks, and that’s pushing our limits. When the RV starts feeling a little too “home-like”… you know, the days start to look the same, or we’re less interested in getting out exploring… we start getting a little antsy. That’s when we know it’s time to point the rig home.
Our Sticks & Bricks Routines:
There’s an element of having a permanent home you just can’t get with a nomadic lifestyle that we’re not interested in giving up. I’m not sure what to call it, but it has to do with the ‘knowing’ of things.
Knowing our hometown friends and neighbors. I’ve got two friends at the permanent house I walk with on the regular. I’ve come to find such comfort in that connection. The walk really isn’t as much about exercise as it is a chance for us to catch up. After a long trip on the road it’s just the normal I need. Same goes for James. He’s got a group of cycling buddies constantly blowing up his phone to ride. He loves joining his fellow hometown masochists in beating each other up on weekly rides.
Knowing our established medical providers (and Mel’s vet!). You can certainly manage medical needs on the road but we like knowing our providers and them knowing us.
Knowing our neighborhood. At our permanent home we’ve got favorite hangouts and we know what places to avoid; so when we want to go out and do stuff it’s pretty much effortless. When RVing, you’re usually in unfamiliar areas so it becomes more trial and error and hit and miss.
Knowing our problems. We know we live on a busy street, and that there are scorpions running rampant in our yard at night. Knowing our problems helps us handle and tolerate them. In the RV, most problems are unexpected and unknown until the moment they smack you in the face. Like when Lance broke down and left us stranded in the Bakersfield CA area. It took months to get the rig working again. Had we been full-timers, that would have been a very big deal.
RVing Doesn’t Change Who You Are:
I think this is something you don’t learn until you actually have an RV, but it’s important to understand. It’s easy to romanticize RV-life and think if you can just find a way to sell everything and hit the road, you’ll somehow become a better, more adventurous, brave, and exciting version of yourself. Look, if you lie around all day watching Netflix at your permanent home, you’ll likely do just that in the RV, too. The RV doesn’t automatically make you any different and it certainly isn’t a band-aid for unhappiness. YOU have to create that sort of change within yourself. Where you do that, whether at your permanent home or on the road doesn’t matter. So knowing this, James and I aren’t swayed by the commonly mistaken notion that we would be any different or our lives would be ‘so much happier’ if only we could full-time.
James’ Tinkerer Gene:
I love hearing stories of James when he was little. One uncle once proudly told me a story of James, not even 2 yet and just barely walking, how it was so strange a little baby spoke in full sentences. He said to baby James, “Hey little Jimmy, how ya doin’?” (Add the Jersey accent there for the full effect.) Apparently “little Jimmy” responded indignantly. “My name is James Nicholas Adinaro Junior and I am NOT Jimmy.” I can totally see that happening, which is probably why it amuses me so much. His mom has told me loads of stories too, like how he loved to engineer things, to tear them apart and put them back together just because. He’s still like that today, and if you’ve followed his shop build it probably doesn’t surprise you. James’ shop is his true happy place. It isn’t the RV, it isn’t on his bike, and he’ll deny this but it isn’t even in the house with me! James loves to build, to modify, to tinker, to complain about all his shop hardships, AND to run to the hardware store 5 times a day when he’s in project mode. So James without a shop wouldn’t be a happy James. I would never ask that of him. And since his shop isn’t mobile, a permanent home it is.
Destination Logistics Can Be Tiring:
Finding a place to stay in the RV takes work. Towards the beginning of a trip, it’s welcomed work! It’s all fresh and exciting and part of the wonderful adventure! But towards the end of the trip, I’m totally over it. If a place doesn’t take reservations, you may roll there only to find all spots taken. Or you may GET that spot and then discover you hate it. Maybe noisy neighbors, maybe the lack of personal space, or the RV park seems unsafe… whatever it is, you find yourself counting down the hours or days until you can leave. Bad destinations will happen, but you put up with it because when the good destinations happen, they can be so magical you forgive all the hardships. I suppose it’s like anything in life; you take the bad with the good. The uphills for the sweet downhills. So while we love RVing, if we’re out too long we start to burn out on the effort of figuring out logistics. The permanent house looks really good about then.
Pesky Day Jobs:
Well okay I’ll be honest. Only JAMES’ job is pesky. Mine rocks. He’s in IT and I’m an online wellness coach/personal trainer (James calls it my ‘play job’ which it soooo is). The great thing is we can both work remotely, so no problem there. Until we can’t find any cell service, that is. And since I like to meddle (I mean check-in) daily with my trainees, I’m always hyper-conscious of how many bars I have. James has an added challenge. Sometimes he’s required to fly to see his clients. And since that calls for business attire, his clients would probably start thinking it was weird if he always showed up in the same suit. You know, because we’d probably only have room in the van for one suit.
Mel (our cat):
I suppose this reason would be very different if we were interested in RVing in a 40 foot class A or 5th wheel, but we aren’t. In our van, Mel has just over 100 square feet of space to roam; not ideal at all. It means we have to make sure we get him outside every day on his leash so he doesn’t go too crazy. But a cat that’s leash-trained isn’t like a dog. A cat will wander cautiously on a leash, but not too far, so there’s no real exercise happening. At our sticks and bricks, Mel’s behavior is totally different. At the house, Mel goes into Spaz Mode daily and sprints laps through the house, bounding over chairs and furniture, up and down the stairs, bodyslamming into us and using us as a launchpad. Spaz Mode is when the real Mel comes out! There’s nowhere for him to do that when he’s in the van, so he’s forced into a more sedentary cat lifestyle. The house keeps Mel young and playful, and that means a lot to us.
Things On The Road Aren’t As Sexy As The Instagram Man-Buns and Vanlife-Girl-Butts Would Make It Appear:
While the pics online may look amazing, there’s oftentimes a lot more going on outside the shot that you’re not seeing. It isn’t because RVing influencers are trying to deceive anyone, well okay at least MOST aren’t. It’s that, probably just like you on your own trips, we take pics of the joyful moments on the road. The stuff we want to hold onto and remember and be grateful for.
Think of what you put in your own actual physical photo albums and scrapbooks collecting dust in your bookshelf… it’s the proud moments and happy stuff in your life. Instagram is the same way; one big photo album focused MOSTLY on life’s joy. It doesn’t make it wrong, it just doesn’t give the whole story.
Here’s something I bet we can all agree on.
Being on the road is ever-changing, incredibly dynamic, and so much is out of our control.
You might head to a boondocking spot you heard about and find the road is washed out (yep, it happened).
You might plan to camp remote backwoods for many days, but you’ve run out of water (yep).
You might seek serenity somewhere amazing, like Joshua Tree, only to have obnoxious neighbors on both sides, one cranking Stevie Nicks and the other cranking Bad Company (yes, that happened, too).
You might find yourself in the middle of a violent storm and be stuck in the rig for days on end.
Point is, it takes flexibility and acceptance that all those things out of your control are part of the adventure. James and I are certainly flexible with life on the road and we’ve learned to embrace the unexpected, but sometimes the best part of our journey is going back home.
That is, until the road starts calling again.
And trust me, it always does.
YOUR TURN! We’d love to hear from you… are you part-time or full-time and why? We’re always curious to hear why others chose the RV lifestyles they did, so scroll down and leave a comment!
Happy & Healthy RVing, all! Part OR full-time. 🙂
what broke on Lance in Bakersfield?
You can read the whole saga starting with this linked post.
I am always amused when I see glorious pictures of a sailboat on a mooring in an exotic spot and the crew enjoying a beverage and meal on a BBQ, As a sailor I know first hand that for every hour you sail you break shit and need to allow at least 15 minutes per hour to fix stuff you broke while underway. Sailboat commercials only show the sexy stuff but not the work that goes into getting there. I recon RV’ing is the same.Thanks for confirming what I already suspected. Still going to buy my rig and look forward to it, Oh yeah owned 3 sailboats that’s how I know 🙂
We just bought our first RV, the “T” and have no intention of ever going full time. We have camped and adventured all our lives and we want our travel to be just than an adventure. We love our homes in the mountains of NC and also our winter home in FL for completely different reasons but we love our “T” too. We are going places close to home that were too far away to adventure to in a day or weekend and seeing places we haven’t seen, Like Mount Mitchell, NC highest mountain on the east coast. We stayed four days and loved it. We are going out for a month in a few weeks and definitely going out west and to Alaska and Canada and are very excited to do so but we love home for the same reasons you do. Love your stories by the way. Keep on keeping on.
Right on, nice to know someone else feels the same. As someone who loves to tinker also and has a lot in common, great read. RVing is great, but so is life at non mobile place.
Excellent perspective, and I love part timers sharing why full timing isn’t right for everyone. Because it’s definitely not.
Honestly, my first year on the road rang true of all of the downsides of full timing you point out. It was hard being away from my daily normal – my community, my favorites, my routines. Hard.
But after that first year.. it really clicked, that the variety outweighed the comfort of familiar. For us anyway.
Now, our community is spread out across the world. We’ve navigated a lot of the bumps. Our daily routine is working remotely with a new office view, and ending the day binging Netflix… but filled in with new locales to explore during our off-time.
And while we did smaller-than-Travato full timing for our first four years on the road – I can’t see us choosing a full time van life. What makes it sustainable for us these days is having our mobile-mansions. And we’re really enjoying having added the van as our ‘vacation’ get away from our normal every day life of nomadic travel.
Excellent post, Stef!
Thanks for this, Cherie! You certainly have a more rare and unique (and wonderful!) full-time situation; not in one setting, rather in 3!!! I love that dynamic, you can always bounce to one of the other settings when you need a vacation. Give Kiki some scratches from me!!! ❤️
O/T I am a recent retiree…and a CPR save and a cardiac arrest survivor…now gifted with 13 additional years of life and counting. I am very grateful for each breath to angelic hosts human and divine, counting noses of paramedics, nurses and doctors…xo to those hardworking professionals.
My wife and I love to get out and about, our road destinations must include people in the scenery. We talk to everyone, many want to tell us their stories. An RV may be in our future, but there is nothing like home sweet home (with really great medical facilities just down the road). 😉
I can imagine it has given you a whole new perspective! I’m thankful you are well, and may you continue to live a long, healthy life!
Full-time, three years now. At the end of my second year, I thought I was probably close to done, but at the end of my third year, I’ve already roughly planned out all of 2020’s travel and it doesn’t include finding a permanent home. Maybe in 2021? But I like my tiny house on wheels. The longer I live in it, the less I miss having something more. I do agree with lots of what you said — logistics get tiring, routines can be nice, I practically jump up and down with joy when I find a grocery store that carries Cabot Greek yogurt… but there’s so much to see and so much to do out in the world. And more than that, my Travato, tiny as it is, works as a home for me. I don’t feel like I have to be in vacation mode all the time, and if I’m camping in some beautiful place but not managing to get out of the van much, I’m still grateful for beautiful sunrises and starry nights and the view from my windows. I mean I do miss having a hot shower available at will — I get tired of needing to plan how to get clean — but the trade-off is worth it.
Thanks for sharing your perspective, Sarah! Isn’t it fascinating and wonderful how very different we all RV?! May your journey continue to be packed with sunsets and starry nights!
We just finished a 2.5 month trip out west. Mostly a hiking trip through NM, AZ and UT mostly. Did a half marathon at the Grand Canyon. I see us spending 30-40% of our time on adventures going forward. We are recently retired.
The folks that we met that were “proud” full-timers were actually homeless. On SS and simply not enough to fund a home or apartment. The rest were kids that basically couldn’t hold a job and floating around sayin’ we are full-timers. I’m sure there are others but we find very few that seem to travel like we do.
We loved our adventures and will do plenty but also enjoy being home for a month or two planning the next.
Thanks Bob for sharing how you RV, and hey congrats on that half marathon at the GC, wow! Isn’t it great finding endurance events that you can incorporate into RV trips?!?!
This is a great read, Stef! I wish everyone considering full-timing could read it, because it’s all true. I’ve full-timed for 3.5 years in my tiny trailer and I usually love it, but I do tell people it’s not for everyone! The two things on your list that resonated with me were:
(1) RV doesn’t change who you are – I usually borrow Jon Kabat-Zinn’s saying of “Wherever you go, there you are”. So many people think that full-timing is going to change their life. It might, but it won’t magically change you into a better, happier person.
And (2) Logistics can be tiring. Oh, so much this. I’m figuring out how to plan 6-12 months out in broad swaths and then fill in the details as time passes. But there are days that all I do is logistics of where to stay and how to get there.
That being said, I do love the road, but I’ve slowed down a lot. I stay a week at places, and I spent 11 months in the South, never more than 700 towing miles in a month. It’s more relaxing and I figure I’ll see “everything” eventually!.
Sounds like you’ve found an RV life that works for you! Wishing you happy travels!
When I retired a couple years ago I considered RVing full-time but wound up rejecting it for a lot of the same reasons as you & James. Plus one additional reason: for me full-timing would have meant getting a class A motorhome, and I don’t think I could have gone all of the places I’ve gone the last couple years in something that large. I definitely prefer a small RV, and for me that means keeping a home base somewhere.
The problem of staying in “vacation mode” for a long time is one that’s been bugging me in particular lately. I left home in late May for a 4 month trip to Alaska and back. While it’s been a great trip, I’ve been on the road for about 12 weeks now and I’ve noticed I have less enthusiasm for getting out & seeing things than I did at the start. I think in the future I’ll be keeping the trips down to 2 months or less to avoid that.
Thanks for this perspective, we certainly understand the struggle for holding onto ‘vacation mode’, after so long on the road, it takes more effort… and where that time limit is for each of us seems to vary. Sounds like you’re on the last leg of your trip, and Alaska! I’m sure it’s been epic! Before you know it you’ll be back home recharged and excitedly planning your next trip. It’s the part-timers cycle of things!
I can fully relate to James need to “tinker” in the shop.
There is nothing better than listening to a podcast or favorite tunes while working on a project in your shop that has been buzzing around in your brain for weeks. You get to use your technical / abstract reasoning side of your brain, and all those cool expensive tools. After all the challenges and set backs, that idea for a better mousetrap that fits your exact needs is a reality sitting on your workbench – so satisfying !
Spoken like a true engineer-brained soul! xo
Interesting perspectives about Part vs full Timers. I too can’t imagine full timing in my T as its quite small. But really it the “Three Faces of Me. I like and want it all.
I love to travel and for the past many years I’ve been globe trotting via planes, trains, luxury coaches and high class hotels. My travel in the US has been mostly extra days tagged on to a business trip in the BR days–before retirement.
Its nice to pack a twenty pound bag and grab credit card with a nice high limit and see the world. Escorted around, getting as much in as possible in each trip to places of cultural interest. But there are limits, a glimpse of country’s beauty, little interaction with nature and limited interaction with the local wildlife both animals and people.
My next face is the homebody– the one that loves a nice brick n sticks home. Comforts of home, room to move around and ohhhh that big perfect bed and bathroom with no limits. Water, flush, public utilities endless wifi. Friends, family AND stability. Familiarity. And then when the going at home gets humdrum then it time for an adventure.
The third face of me is heading out in the Travato for an adventure. I more of a Coddilwompler a destination in mind but no hard plans and lots of time for diversion and exploring. Its a great challenge and much more work than hanging at the sticks n brick. Packing, loading, and unloading then planning, worrying, lots to figure out. Finding a camp, unloading, setting up figuring out the plan of the day then getting out to see the sites. Hiking biking finding transport in parks, tours etc. Then there is dealing with the unexpected, so far nothing major in my first 18 months. I’m sure one day there will be an epic story to tell around the campfire. But of all my travel memories, whats etched in my mind is the beauty of the Tetons and other park vistas, the amazement of wild ponies walking by my camp and the hikes and views in Acadia and the fun people I’ve met in my T.
I still haven’t figured out my time limit for Travato travel, two months is the longest so far but will keep pushing my limits. Of course being retired allows me flexibility but after a while “the call of the wild” morphs to the mantra “theres no place like home” time to recharge – reload- reconnect and clean up and start planning the next adventure. The new cycle of life.
And here I sit at my sticks and bricks outside by the pool, a drink in hand, endless Wifi and a nice view. But I have my National Parks guide out and Rand McNally planning my next getaway in three weeks to the West. If you see Silver Alert in Glacier, Badlands Yellowstone or points South stop by. We can share a chilly and some road tripping tales. Signed the Three Faces of Me. Cindy Broyles
Dear Three Faces,
Your comment was a delight. Enjoy that poolside drinkie and I’ll look forward to seeing you in a park someday soon.
Your Fellow 3-Faced Sister,
Every single one of your points resonated with me. We both still work (in IT) but only I can work remotely. My husband has a workshop he wouldn’t be able to give up, and we have 2 3-year old cats. While we have a 38ft Class A, that is still way too small for them to be cats. We all need to know we can get out of the RV at some point. We constantly dream about what life might be like going full time, but you are right…anywhere you go, there you are. I just can’t see it happening for us to be full time on the road. But I envy those who are doing it!
Ah the good old workshops. Killing full-timer dreams everywhere. 😉
SO well said, Stefany! I was forced into early Retirement by some serious Health Issues. I immediately bought my B Campervan to explore this beautiful Country, met some AMAZING People (It was such a joy FINALLY meeting you and James ♥️). Started out part-timing. It has now evolved to full-timing. Almost 5 years. Originally from NJ, I wanted to get away from the bitter cold that comes with the Winter months. I’m in Key West 6/7 months a year and Travel the rest. Having said that, I really enjoy going back to my Home State every Summer (Currently at the Jersey Shore). Reconnecting with family and friends is PRICELESS! So I can completely relate to having a Home to return to. Full-timing isn’t for everyone, but I am enjoying it! Sending Hugs
Yep there’s a certainly personality type who thrives in the full-time RV environment… you definitely fall into that category! So glad you’ve found a way to overcome health challenges and still live a wonderfully adventurous life. Keep on rocking it, Angel; rooting for you!
Love, love, love this piece. Thanks for writing it, Stef.
We’re the same way. Miss Ellie is our escape pod. Though we’re “retired”, we work for a lot of charitable organizations that keep us busy. And there’s our back garden oasis. And a community that we love. The RV is the thing that lets us and our dog Shadow explore the West a couple of weeks at a time. As great as the Travato is, there’s only so much peripeticacism we can do at one time. It’s great to have a home base to come back to.
But I nearly spit my wine reading about James’ running to the HD 5 times a day in high project mode. Describes me to a T. Dawn’s nodding her head…
LOL! Oh yep, with your first online comment I instantly knew you were another ‘James’ lol, and now hitting me with an Aristotelian idea too, further solidifying my theory! Can’t wait to meet Dawn! 🙂
Thanks for this article. I’m a part-timer on an extended wandering trip. I’ve been on the road now for 3 months. With that being said, I always told myself if I’m tired of it I can go home. Friends ask why I don’t continue with the traveling full time, the truth is I need the security of having a home. I need time to process all the wonderfully amazing things I’ve seen. I need time to look and appreciate where I’ve been. One point I disagree with you is I have changed. After 40 years of caring for people, I am able to care for myself…something I missed along the way.
I love what you said about needing time to process your travels… I totally get that. It’s something I do too when I’m back home and never really thought about.
And awesome RVing has changed you, I certainly don’t doubt people change. But I still maintain that comes from within. YOU created that change to meet your new environment! The RV itself isn’t an automatic creator-of-change. <3
A lot of great comments, many are so true for me. I know I will never be a “full timer” for many of the reasons expressed by you Stefany and Graham and others.
Great write up Stefany…. and James I hope that image embedded hopefully for a short while of you looking out back rapidly fades away.. LoL
We all do, Ed. We all do.
Your reasons for part time RV are somewhat similar to ours. We NEED house time! (Hubby is also an engineer and “tinkers” with various projects constantly!)
We have two houses (one in Colorado which has been our home for 43 years, and is our preferred location in summer, plus one in Texas so we can be close to our four adorable grandkids for part of the year. ) The RV (Winnebago 170X) is for our getaway time, and we love to wander in it without any schedule or definite plan. State and National Parks are our preferred locations. We are not at all into RV resorts! The Class B gives us so many options of where to camp.
This is probably a strange combination for some people, but it is perfect for us, and we are so fortunate to be able to do it this way!
How fortunate you are to have a second home close to the grands! Sounds like the best of all worlds to me. 🙂
This is the perfect punch list to remind ME of why I do what I do.
As a Solo Traveler, some of the issues and opportunities are magnified. But, to quote both Dorothy and Willie, “There’s no place like home,” and “I can’t wait to get back on the road again!”
Ah yes, solo traveling certainly does pose its own set of challenges (and joys!). In all our years I’ve only done 2 solo trips, and I quickly learned how very different it is!
Steve has a great point. I also travel solo and I like having two lives – home and road. I live at a beach resort and it can get rather crowded sometimes so travel can be a relaxing get away. Ironic…
Also, as a senior, I find my life is sometimes centered around trips to the doctor and drug store. Traveling for more than 2 months at a time can require a lot of planning.
I think full time or part time is so personal. I would ask why do you travel? Do you live in an RV to save money, to see more places, to stay in one place longer and/or are you looking for the best place to call home? These are just a few reasons why someone would be a part timer or full timer.
We spend three months in Europe traveling in our RV that we keep in France. We also spend three to four months in our RV here in the US, spending some of that time in Mexico.
But we always know we can go home and change our daily work routine.
We like the change it keeps us always looking forward to our next adventure.
And I agree with you, we find after three months of RV travel and living in 40 or 50 sq ft. of space it is nice to walk around the house and the neighborhood.
But like all the different types of RVs the owners have to answer why they travel in an RV.
Wow, you keep an RV in France, as well as your rig here in the US, how interesting!!! I could see James and me doing something like that too someday… LONG before we ever considered full-timing. 🙂
This article on the merits or considerations of full or part time RVing was great, and the fact that it was made by somebody so closely identified with the RV industry made it even better. I agree that different opinions make the world go around, but the points made are so true–you don’t become more interesting or adventurous by living in an RV and your problems don’t go away. I whole heartedly agree with the concept of wanting it to be like a vacation. Thanks for a great article.
Yep, RVs alone don’t create happiness, although that’s the (unrealistic) expectation dumped on them sometimes. Creating happiness is up to the people driving them. ❤️
Hi, love your reasons for part-timing it, and we have has similar experiences. We have been following you guys for close to 4 years now I think and met you at the Hersey PA Show, 2 years ago.
My wife and I have been full-timing it for almost 5 years and still love it. I am a travel nurse and work in the emergency room. I typically work 13 week assignments which give us the opportunity to explore an area more in depth then say for a few days or week.
We still love traveling and seeing new places. Recently we “stop parking our self” in an RV park, taking advantage of the lower monthly rates and choose to get out and explore more in our rig. It has really been great, often finding very nice “free” boondocking sites. By mixing it up, we breakout of the same routine that still can find you whether full-timing or not.
Look forward to more stories from you guys and Mel…
Hey there Glen! I’m glad to see some happy full-timer perspective here, thanks so much for commenting. It seems to me that the ‘mixing it up’ you mention is key to happy full-timing, and keeping it feeling fresh and adventurous.
And hey thanks for your work as an ER nurse! An intense, but desperately needed profession, and I’m so thankful and grateful for our nation’s nurses. ❤️❤️❤️