Read an Excerpt
LIVING ABOARD YOUR RV
By Gordon Groene, Janet Groene
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2012The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Song of the Open Road
We woke up to a thin, cold dawn and the pounding of a patrolman's fist on our camper door.
"Move along," he said, not unkindly. "I've let you sleep since two o'clock this morning, but it's six now and time you hit the road."
No, we weren't homeless alcoholics sleeping off a cheap drunk under a tent of yesterday's newspapers. We were young, able, self-sufficient adventurers who had stopped late the night before in a highway rest plaza, and we had overslept the two-hour limit.
Our visit from that policeman was just another in a long series of reminders that in shedding our old style of life and adopting a new role as full-time wanderers we had shed a lifelong mantle of respectability. Our new life baffled some people, amused others, and enraged more than a few.
What had we gotten ourselves into?
What It's Got, What It's Not
Close your eyes and picture the free, roving life on wheels. Immediately you imagine a cozy, self-contained camper beside a rushing, trout-packed brook. You have no deadlines, no lawn to mow, no leaves to rake, no committees, no neighbors to be stuck with year after year. You fantasize about a life with no ties, no traps, no taxes. The full-time RV life is all you hope for and much, much more. But it also means a break with treasured possessions, with status, with symbols, with Your Place In Life.
Can you handle it?
The RV itself is a red flag in the faces of politicians in some cities, where special laws have been passed against RVs simply because they are RVs. In some communities you can't park an RV at the beach or the park even if it fits in a car-size parking place. Other communities have laws prohibiting RVs from staying within the city limits overnight, and a few don't want you in town anytime. There have been times when we have been hassled, threatened, vandalized, and humiliated.
It isn't our aim to talk you out of following our mud flaps, but we do want to prick your dream balloon enough to bring you back to treetop level. Knowing that there will be bitter with the better will help you to make necessary adjustments in yourself, in your dealings with society, and in your relationships with family and spouse.
In the Beginning
For us it all began in Danville, Illinois, where Gordon was a professional pilot for a large corporation. He liked the company and the job, and he valued his professional relationship with his coworkers. We both liked friendly little Danville, which was large enough to have good shopping and a nice mix of people, yet small enough that I could do most of my shopping by bicycle. We were only ten minutes from the airport, our church, or a night on the town and an hour from a major university town with theater and concerts.
Still, we began to toy with the idea of early retirement. One of our friends had died of a heart attack at 41, another of leukemia at 38. What if time ran out before the traditional retirement age of 65?
The Ties That Bind
You're probably wondering how we could even think of dropping off the edge of the world with all the family obligations one usually has at that stage in life. First it's the children, then the grandchildren, then the care of your elderly parents—an unending treadmill of obligations. However, people differ in how they handle such "obligations."
We met some young parents who became full-time travelers not despite their children but because of them—either because they wanted to spend precious years traveling and learning together while the kids were young or because they were determined to get their children out of an environment they perceived as too materialistic, too violent, or otherwise not up to the standards they wanted for their families.
Homeschooling, once just an oddball way of educating kids whose parents were missionaries or who traveled with the circus, is being used today by thousands of parents at home and on the go. Most feel that they can provide a better education than the schools can, citing such public-school problems as weapons, drugs, and overcrowded classrooms. With "home" schooling now available, affordable, and growing in popularity, children can travel full-time and still get a first-class education.
We've met many liveaboard children who have received some or all of their early schooling through homeschooling, and there wasn't a brat or a dunce in the bunch. Do an Internet search on "home school" or "homeschool" and you'll uncover a huge treasure trove of accredited schools, learning options, resources, and support groups. Do your homework to make sure you get the best program for the best price, with the most portable and credible credits for your child's future career or entry into college.
If you own real estate check with your local school district, which may offer free homeschooling programs providing you return once a year or meet other requirements. Do an Internet search for almost any homeschool topic from "home-school+prom" to "homeschool+math+tutor" to "homeschool+Lutheran" and you'll find a wealth of material ranging from free courses to forums specific to that topic. See chapter 12.
It's true that many people prefer to stay put until their children are grown. Others feel that they must stay with elderly parents, a shut-in sibling, or a family business or farm. One of today's most common dilemmas is that of the "sandwich" generation, in which middle-aged people are saddled with the care of their aged parents just when their own children get divorced and move back home with their children.
We've heard just about all the reasons why you can't go. They range from very good ones to mere cop-outs. The truth is that you probably can take to the road in an RV if you and your spouse or companion(s) or family make the effort to work it out.
If you think you can't go because you don't have a spouse or family to travel with, think again. Legions of singles, both men and women—widowed, divorced, never married, available, and unavailable—are out there fulltiming and having the time of their lives.
Hundreds of examples show that you can do it—alone or together, young or old, as a couple or with a group—as long as everyone is on the same wavelength.
"But," you say, "I'm handicapped." Fulltiming is not only possible for you, it's sometimes the best choice for persons with many types of disabilities. For one thing, it is the only lifestyle that allows the physically challenged of any age to enjoy their share of camping, fishing, and sightseeing in our state and national parks.
Financial problems? Fulltiming can cost pearls or peanuts, and we'll tell you how.
Career not portable? We've met fulltimers with a variety of professions, from publishing to plant care, catering to wood carving. The Internet makes it possible to conduct business in thousands of fields, no matter where you live.
In the pages that follow, we focus on the who, why, when, where, and how of this very possible dream.
What Kind of Fulltiming Life for You?
RV living is not one lifestyle but many. Much of your happiness and success in full-timing depends on finding just the right niche for yourself. For many people the camping itself is the whole nine yards. They delight in camping clubs, camp meetings, RV shows, RV rallies, group caravans, and campground get-togethers.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who camp to get away from it all. They avoid destination campgrounds and memberships because they don't want to clump with other campers. They may be good neighbors, always willing to pitch in on a project or lend a hand with a repair problem, but they don't want to mingle with other RVers, either because they prefer to keep to themselves entirely or because they have a very full life quite separate from the camping scene.
Fulltimers come from all income and age brackets. Some are financially independent retirees; some have reached retirement age but must work at least part-time. Some work at professions that require them to live in one place for several months at a time. Others live in an RV because it provides a movable home while they pursue some special hobby or profession, such as sports car racing, fishing tournaments, surfing, lecturing, archaeology, working carnivals or rodeos, or creating and selling artwork or crafts.
Some fulltimers are constantly on the move, never content to stay in one spot for long and always excited about what they'll find around the next bend. Some camp in one campground each summer and in another every winter. Still others buy a campsite and rarely leave it. For us, the motorhome makes a comfortable home and office when we're on assignment as a travel-writing team, but we've never attended an RV rally (where thousands of rigs gather for a few days of trading tips and camaraderie) or participated in an RV caravan (where a group of RVers, led by a trailmaster, travel together).
For some, the RV is merely the vehicle (pardon the pun) that serves a particular lifestyle. For you, the RV alone may provide the life you're seeking. We're all part of the camping family, so vive la différence!
Exploding Some Myths
Before you get too far into your planning, we may as well hit you with some hard realities, the kinds of things you don't read about in the ads.
Myth: By living in an RV full time you can live on almost nothing.
Reality: Fuel, oil, tires, insurance, and turnpike fees cost more all the time. Campgrounds are rarely free; it's not uncommon now to pay $60 per night. You can't outrun the insatiable tax collector either. You'll pay taxes on almost everything you use or buy on the go: sales taxes when you buy the vehicle, yearly license fees, property taxes (because they are reflected in campground rates), and federal income taxes.
Myth: Wanderers have no responsibilities, no cares, no problems.
Reality: You'll have most of the same problems you've always had—staying on a diet, cooking and cleaning, making ends meet, doing the Christmas shopping, touching up the gray, grooming the poodle—plus many new ones, such as finding acceptable campsites, staying alive on the highway, and getting along with your mate in less space than a German shepherd is allotted at the dog pound. You'll be living in a very complex "house," that includes living quarters, sewer, waterworks, engine, and chassis, all of which you'll have to manage yourself.
Myth: It'll be like a second honeymoon, just the two of you on an endless highway of travel delights.
Reality: After a couple of weeks in close quarters you may start thinking about divorce, if not murder.
Myth: No more winter.
Reality: It is possible to follow the seasons, but so do crowds and high prices. On the other hand, if you stay in a cold climate in winter, heating costs will be high and comforts elusive. Each of us must find his or her own affordable, practical, geographic comfort zone.
Myth: Wide-open spaces.
Reality: Only in RV ads is one camper given exclusive rights to the entire Grand Canyon. In most campgrounds you'll be closer to your neighbors than you ever were back home.
Myth: Personal problems will melt away once you're on the road.
Reality: Troubles are an unseen trailer that follows all of us everywhere. If you're in a bad marriage, are in debt over your head, or are addicted to harmful substances or habits, fulltiming won't change you. Look at the RV life as an avenue to new adventures and successes, not as an escape. It isn't one.
We thrived on fulltiming for ten happy years. If there is a secret to our success, it's that we not only expected difficulties but welcomed new challenges. In exchange for the hardships of full-time travel we formed priceless friendships with folks in many states and nations, and we were freed from former careers to develop an entirely new life as freelance writers. Best of all, all those miles of roaming allowed us to live in many parts of the country and take a leisurely assessment of them before deciding where to put down roots.
No matter how flexible you are, changing your lifestyle is a tough assignment. In the following pages we'll try and help you through the roadblocks, breakdowns, detours, and potholes ahead.
Exactly how can you begin preparing, right now, for a fulltiming life that may be months or even years away? First, get your priorities straight. Sit down with your loved ones and decide what really matters to you. Then take the following approach to making your dream a reality.
Test the Waters
If your goal really is to live and travel in your RV, stop fantasizing and try the real thing. Rent or borrow a suitable rig and take off for as long as possible. (For more on choosing an RV, see chapter 7, Choosing a Home on Wheels.) A trial run may sound expensive, but it's a bargain compared with what it will cost to quit your job, sell everything you own, take off in an RV, and then find out you hate the new life and want to recapture the old one. We met one couple who took off with great zest and fanfare. They flitted across the country visiting all their friends and partying with old army buddies and then ran out of things to do and people to visit. Somehow, they never came to terms with fulltiming as an ongoing way of life. They sold their rig at a big loss.
Stay "out there" for at least three weeks—more if possible. During this time you'll encounter some of the realities of the fulltimer's life: rainy days when you're shut in until you could scream, mechanical breakdowns, finding campgrounds, putting up with campground neighbors, using coin laundries, getting mail and keeping in touch with your family or business, paying bills online and keeping an ample supply of cash, walking the dog, living in very limited space, and filling your days with meaningful activities. (Believe it or not, some people find it boring not to have a job and a schedule.)
At the end of this time you'll also have a good idea what expenses you'll encounter over the long term as you slip into this new lifestyle: camp fees, phone costs, fuel costs, changes in food and entertainment costs, and probably some unpleasant surprises, such as an unexpected repair or replacement or a run- in with a nasty neighbor or uppity campground operator.
Even so, this is only a hint of true fulltiming. During this rehearsal you'll still have a home to retreat to if things get too rough. You'll still have an address, an identity, perhaps a job waiting for you, and lots more elbow room in the RV than you'll have when you're carrying everything you own. Still, it's enough of a preview to tell you, before you quit your job and sell the house, if fulltiming is what you expected it to be.
Live for Tomorrow, but Don't Sacrifice Today
From the moment we decided to change our lifestyle, we began shopping with resale in mind. Although we didn't have to give up a spacious home, good cars, occasional vacations—the good life in general—we weighed every purchase not only for its present value but for its resale potential. We could have afforded a higher mortgage in a swankier section of town, but we chose instead a big, old, five-bedroom house in a stable neighborhood near good schools, knowing that it would sell readily to a large family when we were ready to go.
Our car was an expensive German make famous for holding its value. Gordon groomed it meticulously, washed off the salt after every winter trip, kept it garaged, and generally treated it royally. It gave us endless hours of fun and good service and then sold for the plum it was.
Our furniture was in solid woods, not veneers, in traditional styles that never lose their popularity. Many pieces were antiques that we had refinished ourselves. Our appliances were good brand names. When the time came to sell out, everything brought top dollar.
That money was only part of our nest egg, but we met one family from Vermont who bankrolled an entire two-year trip for themselves and their two small daughters with money they got by renovating and selling an old house and its antique furnishings.
Get Your Financial Picture in Order
It's easier said than done, but get out of debt. Start by hiding your credit cards. Don't borrow another cent for anything but a real emergency. Start mopping up all the little obligations—credit cards, time payments, petty loans. Keep your eye on the real goal, which is fulltiming, and impulse purchases will lose some of their luster.
Do financial planning for today and for a long line of tomorrows. One couple didn't cut loose from "real life" until they had established trust funds to pay their children's college tuition. Before another couple hit the road, they helped their elderly parents to sell a home they could no longer maintain properly and to get into a life-care facility.
Such planning usually benefits from professional help. There are all kinds of planners, and the letters that follow their names can provide some clues to their backgrounds and experience: an APFS is an accredited personal financial specialist (a CPA who has done further study); a CFP is a certified financial planner; a CPA is a certified public accountant (be sure to find one who has additional training in financial planning); and an MFS, or master of financial science, has a master's degree in investment planning. Financial advisors may have other credentials, but often these apply to specialties, such as pensions or insurance. Be sure to choose a reputable planner; try asking friends for a recommendation.
We went to a fee-only financial planner—one who doesn't also sell stocks, insurance, or other financial products—to get unbiased advice. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors recommends interviewing at least two individuals from different fee-only firms before making a choice. Fees are usually per hour or per consultation; expect to pay $1,000 for a one-time financial inventory.
Excerpted from LIVING ABOARD YOUR RV by Gordon Groene. Copyright © 2012 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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