How-To Afford a Life of Full-Time RV Adventure
While many people are happy just to RV over long weekends and during the summer, the fantasy of hitting the road full-time can be seductive. It’s even more tempting when you learn that for many people, it’s not a fantasy at all, but a realistic way of life.
If you’ve ever dreamed of pursuing a nomadic lifestyle filled with gorgeous landscapes, untouched nature, new friends, and daily adventures, we’ve got a treat for you. We asked Amanda from The Adventure Bones to share a detailed account of how her family of five budgets for full-time RV living. So in her own words, here’s how they make it work living on the road year-round.
A Family of Five On the Road
Since we started RVing, people have always been curious – How much does it cost for our family of five (plus a dog) to live and travel full-time in our RV? Let’s take a look! I sat down with our monthly and yearly budget so I could give you the most accurate, up-to-date numbers about what it takes to live this lifestyle.
Work & Income
For employment, Darren and I both work as RV resort managers, plus we make money selling insurance and creating content online.
We’ve met “full-time”people on the road who have all kinds of travel-friendly jobs. Sometimes they have seasonal jobs or jobs that temporarily place them in a specific location, like harvest workers, travel nurses, line workers, etc. Other people have 9-5 office jobs they can do remotely, or freelance jobs where they can assign their own schedules. There are jobs you can pick up while you travel, like our resort manager jobs, where we help run a campground while we stay there. Or you could work at a national park for the summer, or help run a ski resort in the winter (as long as your RV is equipped for cold-weather camping). There are tons of online job sites that cater to full-time travelers, and Heartland has a great blog about different types of road jobs and different job sites you can reference to get ideas.
In June 2021, we purchased our current RV, a 2021 Heartland Bighorn Traveler 39 MB. When we sold our house, it was at the peak of the market, so we were blessed to be able to pay cash for our fifth wheel. We also had enough left over to pay off our debts before we hit the road. It was important to us to start our full-time RV life with as few bills as possible, so not having an RV payment was a huge perk for us.
We didn’t want to go without insurance, although finding a policy was tricky. We needed one that would cover full-timers so we didn’t have to lie about living in an RV if we ever needed to file a claim. Progressive met our requirements with fantastic coverage for $178 per month. Our RV is registered in our home state of Louisiana, which is a state with notoriously high insurance rates. You may be able to find cheaper policies depending on your home base. Be sure to do your homework because rates can vary widely.
There are as many different types of campgrounds as there are different people and preferences. When we’re not managing an RV resort, we balance our travels between reservations we pay for ourselves and campgrounds we partner with in exchange for a free stay.
We also love boondocking when we’re out west. The weather is almost always perfect, and we love the wide-open spaces and incredible views we gain in exchange for giving up electric, water, and sewer hookups.
If we aren’t out west, we choose between inexpensive state parks that cost under $40 a night on average. When we’re craving more of a luxury experience at a resort that could charge as much as $100 a night, we budget accordingly. This is where being a content creator has its perks, as it enables us to partner with higher-end luxury RV resorts and secure a site in exchange for work.
Our tow vehicle is a 2020 F350 dually. It’s a pre-owned truck we bought in 2021 for just under $80,000. Unfortunately, we bought it at the peak of inflation, so the payment is pretty high at $1478 per month.
Thankfully, we paid cash for our second vehicle, so we don’t have a payment on our Chevy Cruze. We prefer to have a second, smaller vehicle as our sightseeing and errand car. A compact sedan is much easier to navigate through cities and national parks than our truck. The Cruze gets an average of 40 miles per gallon, so our fuel expenses are slightly more than those traveling with only one vehicle. But being able to get around easily outweighs that cost for us.
Both of our vehicles have full-coverage insurance, and up until last week they were registered in our home state of Louisiana, costing us $404 a month for both. When we transferred our registration to our new home state of Tennessee, that cost went down to $178 per month for the same coverage. Like RV home insurance, car insurance varies greatly depending on where your vehicles are registered.
Our truck gets an average of 10 miles per gallon while towing our 16,000 lb. fifth wheel. Diesel costs vary greatly by location. We use apps like Gas Buddy and Mud Flap to find the best-priced fuel on our route and to get discounts or cash back on diesel. When we’re not traveling between campgrounds, our fuel costs could be as low as $75 a month, and when we’re traveling and towing regularly, it could be as high as $600 or more.
When we sold our house, we eliminated a lot of traditional bills such as a mortgage, water, electricity, etc. But in our RV, we still have to pay for monthly expenses like our own internet service, streaming services, cell phones, and groceries. Our internet provider is T-Mobile, and we pay $55 a month for reliable service. We also indulge in Netflix, Hulu, and Peacock to watch our favorite shows, which total $35 per month combined. We use Spectrum Mobile for our three cell phones and pay $238 a month total for unlimited data.
Our grocery budget each month depends on our location and preferences. No one in our family requires a special diet, so we eat a wide variety of meals. Each Sunday, I plan our meals for the week and shop accordingly. It helps us budget and keeps us from buying foods we don’t need.
With a family of five, eating out gets expensive, so we don’t do it often. But honestly, it’s pretty easy for us. We’re from South Louisiana and used to well-seasoned Cajun food, which means a lot of restaurant food tastes pretty bland to us, so we prefer to cook at home. We make room in our budget for organic meat, but that’s the only organic food we buy. Our family spends about $220-250 per week on food.
Entertainment and Adventures
Our budget for entertainment and fun varies each month depending on our travels. When we know we’ll be stationary all month, we use the money we save on fuel to budget for fun local experiences. These can be as minimal or extravagant as you like and may depend on who you’re traveling with. For example, if you have a bunch of young kids, paying for admission to a theme park or even a museum can add up quickly, and they might be just as happy at the campground with some hands-on enrichment like a scavenger hunt or building sand castles. If you’re a couple or a smaller family with older kids, it may be worth it to pay for an educational tour of a local or national landmark, since everyone will be old enough to thoroughly appreciate it.
But there are always fun, free activities, no matter where you go. Lots of campgrounds have their own events with a variety of kid- and adult-friendly activities right on-site. Many museums, botanical gardens, and historical sites have specific days or hours when they offer free admission. And there’s no shortage of suggestions online for what to do in any given location.
The Cost of Travel
So, how much does it cost to live a full-time RV lifestyle? The answer is: it’s up to you! Some people love to travel luxuriously, staying only in resorts, eating wonderful meals at the best local restaurants, and enjoying the fruits of their labor. Other people rely almost exclusively on free and inexpensive campsites so they can travel more freely and not stress over every last penny in their budget.
But whether your budget is large or small, one thing is true for every RVer we’ve met. This lifestyle gives you opportunities and experiences you’d never experience otherwise, and that makes it worth all the budgeting, sacrifices, and unexpected expenses in the world.
If you’re thinking about giving full-time RVing a try, do it. There are so many people out there who can teach you what you need to know, both online and in real life. And you won’t regret the lifelong memories you’ll make along the way.