Now that we’ve passed the month and a half mark in our long-term, RV adventure, I think it is safe to say we have lived in an RV.
In fact, since October of last year, we’ve lived in our RV almost as much as our house in Florida.
Most people have a preconceived notion that living in an RV and traveling around the country is expensive.
I certainly did.
It definitely can be expensive but also it doesn’t have to be.
In fact, many people could actually cut their expenses significantly by adopting the lifestyle, and living like a retiree now, verses later in life.
Keep in mind that these are our required expenses. They don’t include our optional expenses such as paid experiences, eating out, or gift shops.
The nice part is that there are so many to pick from and many are free or cheap with a little research.
Our Expenses for March
This is fantastic, and it includes a $25 charge for canceling one campground because we found free camping.
See below on how to get free or really cheap camping.
Food and necessities: $626.20
I use “necessities” very loosely here. These are our Walmart or grocery store visits but not everything was a necessity.
However, I’m not going to spend the time to break it out.
How much is a legitimate expense? I’d estimate $400-500.
For instance, this includes our DEF purchases as well. On travel days we go through 2.5 gallons a day.
This is a surprising expense for us. We’ve been trying to handle laundry at least once a week of not every 5 days or so.
Each time we go it is about 20 bucks.
Be sure to bring lots of rolls of quarters.
At first glance, that seems like a lot and it is for fuel. But when you think of it a different way it isn’t that much. For instance, we only paid for campgrounds twice since we left a month ago for a total of $190.
Here’s how living, working, and traveling in a camper has been cheaper than our traditional American dream in Florida.
We Travel Slowly
As you see from above, fuel has definitely been one of our most expensive parts of the mid experience.
We drive a 3 quarter ton pickup truck with a 30 foot toy hauler weighing about 12,000 pounds loaded.
That eats up fuel pretty quickly.
On travel days we typically fill up twice.
Plus, not broken out on this list is the price of DEF for the truck (included in Groceries and necessities).
When we camp, we typically do for 5-14 days.
Camp for free (or cheaply)
We have 3 main camping memberships that give us free or cheap camping, most places we go.
1) Thousand Trails – This membership gets your 2 weeks of free camping at one of their many parks around the US.
There is also some other things you can do to maximize this membership if you are traveling such as staying for no more than 4 nights at a park so you can go right into the next park.
There are also upgrades that give you many more park options, increase your stays beyond 2 weeks, and have an earlier booking window.
2) Passport America – This one isn’t as well known as some of the others but we love it more than many of those.
This membership is inexpensive and often gets you 50% campgrounds.
3) Good Sam or KOA – These are the more well known memberships but I find them lackluster. You usually save 5-10% on camping at their locations but will only pay for themselves after 10-15 visits.
Whereas, with both Thousand Trails and Passport America, using them once for a week at a time has paid for themselves.
State, National Parks
Plus there are other memberships and BLM, state or national parks which are typically cheap of free to stay at.
Combine that with a National Park pass – America the Beautiful and often there are added discounts.
At our current campground (national recreation area) we are paying $7 a night instead of $14 thanks to America the Beautiful Pass.
Plus we have this view.
In addition, for many stop over night we stay at a local Cracker Barrel, which usually allow campers to stay overnight.
When we stop here, we typically buy something such as coffees or a family meal. But for $30 to feed the family after a long travel day (average campground is $20-40 a night) and no charge to stay the night right off the interstate, this is a no brainer.
Total March Expense: ~$1500-1600
Considering that the typical American dream is much more expensive than this, we didn’t really count pennies on the trip, and we traveled from Florida to Arizona and did everything in between, we felt this was pretty darn good.
Many people spend that on a week long vacation, and this is for the entire month of March.
At home, you have more responsibilities
Between errands, carting the kids around, and chores, most people would agree that when you are at home, you always have something that you need to do.
On the road you do too, but it is on a much smaller scale.
Full house cleaning can be done in an hour.
There is no need to mow the lawn.
And you are in a small space so laundry can’t possibly pile up for too long.
Your house is expensive
The average house in the US is between $200,000-$300,000.
You can get a really nice camper for $10,000-40,000 – call it 10%.
If you are using it as a home of sorts, this doesn’t seem as expensive in comparison.
Your house is bigger and requires more maintenance
The more things you have, the more things there are to break.
Having only the necessities and favorite wants limits the maintenance you need to do to only the essentials.
At home you collect things from Amazon.com
I used to poke fun and Kristi for wanting to go shopping at the store, whereas I’d simply order online.
Then we joined Prime and she started shopping online.
Now we both do and the credit card statements have grown bigger.
The joke is on me.
Amazon has made online shopping way too easy.
At home we buy a bunch of crap we don’t need.
In a camper, you are limited on space so you are much more thoughtful with your purchases.
Plus your address changes frequently so Jeff Bezos can’t find you.
Barrier for most: Remote or Flexible Work
If there is a barrier for the average Joe that wasn’t an excuse it would likely be this: “My job requires that I go to it.”
That could definitely be a legitimate reason not to do this. However, I’ve also seen where many people in traditional jobs actually do make it work.
For instance, we met a family where the mom was a nurse, and then started doing 3-6 month contracts in various hospitals in different states.
They travel very slow, staying in one area for 3-6 months.
Another family rarely leaves the same 2 mile radius except for extended weekends and vacations (where they just pull their house where they want to go).
Instead they use a free camping membership (see above) and bounce back and forth between campgrounds in their area, where they go to a local church, the kids go to a local school, and otherwise live very normal lives.
They just didn’t want to be chained to their desk.
Then we met a family that works at an airport and does more shift work (week on, week off). Instead of driving to work each day, they live wherever, fly to work for the week, then collect the highest level of hotel points for when their RV is in the shop.
We also met people that work at various parks across the country until they master the job and want a new one.
Other people work for the campgrounds they stay.
COVID job loss
Another husband and wife both lost their jobs due to COVID, and decided to sell everything and travel for a year to “figure it out.” They mentioned that COVID had actually been a blessing in disguise for them.
And yet other people, like me, work with a team remotely. I’ve met people that work ad a senior manager for companies like Oracle.
So there is not “one way” to live and travel in an RV long term.
For some that is full time. For others it may be a couple of weeks or a month.
The first step is for you to eliminate the thought that there is no way you could do it.
There are always ways beyond what your head chooses to believe, they are just different for everyone.
The first time Kristi and I went to the Grand Canyon was 12 years plus 1 day ago. We know this because it popped up on Kristi’s Facebook memories.
We were in Vegas for our good friends wedding and decided to rent a tiny car and make the 8 hour road trip.
We didn’t think much of it but when we arrived we really understood why they call it the Grand Canyon.
It is because no pictures can do it justice or words can describe just how massive this thing is.
It is quite amazing to see with your own eyes.
We were excited to share this with our kids, even though we knew they were too young to really appreciate it on our level.
On a whim, we discovered a train that takes you to the Grand Canyon, just outside of Flagstaff – near where we were staying.
This was accidentally a good move because the average wait to get into the Grand Canyon by car is currently 1.5-2 hours.
The train ride? 2-2.5 hours but it didn’t feel that long. Plus we didn’t have to fight traffic, we had on board entertainment and history of the area on the train, restrooms for the kiddos and a snack bar.
Wild West Show
The morning kicked off with a Wild West show while they prepared the train.
You board the train and and are greeted by the person in charge of your cabin.
Ours was Amber Rose – she was fantastic. Like Disney Cruise level fantastic. She had been doing it for 17 years.
Throughout the trip, they told you the history and fun facts of different parts of the area as you pass them.
On the way back, those outlaws from the show in the morning even break free from jail and stop the train to rob it.
Probably one of the most memorable experiences for the kids. They tried to get Brayden’s “Gold Tooth.”
We even saw some wild horses and deer on the way back out of the park.
As I mentioned, a photo or video of the canyon will never do it justice.
You just have to go out and check it out.
The Train, good formany, not for all
We had a great experience with the train. But it is not for all.
The train was great if you have kids, large groups, or may be handicapped and want an easy way to see this national park.
There is a hotel at the train station and one at the canyon you can stay at, or not.
If doing a day trip, you are at the park just long enough to see it, explore the buildings, shop for gifts and eat lunch.
If you really want to explore the park by hiking or visiting all of the information centers then a day trip won’t be enough for you.
You should either drive yourself or stay at the hotel.
For example, the best view I’ve seen is at the Geological center.
But the train drops you off more to the west where the view isn’t as “grand” (see what I did there…).
Also, sunset is an amazing time to see the canyon. But when you take the train you are gone by 3:30.
That said, it is a great time if you are trying to create and experience. We would do it again.
Jerome is one of the towns we have heard about from several people – from fellow travelers to Kristi’s grandparents in South Florida.
We didn’t know what to expect but decided to check it out anyway being that we were staying only 25 minutes away.
The town really unique being that it is built on a mountain side, much of the buildings are original from between 1899-1910. It also has a stellar view of the mountains of Sedona and snow-capped Flagstaff in one frame.
Historic State Park
We started the day at the state park, the former hilltop mansion of the owner of the main mining company in Jerome.
This museum had a fantastic collection of mining memorabilia original to this area, plus great scenery.
My favorite exhibits:
Stand over 1900 foot mine
Next door to the museum, you can stand on safety glass over a 1900 foot mineshaft. That’s 2x the size of the Eiffel Tower.
The downtown area is really rustic and artsy. Most shops have stuff from local artists, or even that they are the artist themselves.
One of the first places we stumbled into was this studio with an artist blowing glass.
This was one of Kristi’s highlights of the trip as she has wanted to do this for years. Today just happened to be her day.
The artist at the blown glass place recommended we take the kids to the Kaleidoscope store where there was a line to get in.
They had a ton of unique and hand made kaleidoscopes.
They even offered to take our pictures through the kaleidoscope, free of charge.
Fun historical fact
One fun fact that we learned from the museum earlier that day.
The Kaleidoscope store was in the same building that used to belong to the richest lady in Jerome, who used to run the prostitutes.
One cool thing about camping is that you get to meet a lot of really interesting people.
In fact, it is actually really easy to make friends not only as kids, but also as adults.
Other people on the road or who live in different campgrounds, typically have left their traditional social circles, so love to connect with others when given the opportunity.
And even better, we found campgrounds very diverse in walks of life, experiences, etc.
It is true that some people at campgrounds are strange, but no more strange than the people you might find in an average town or average school in America.
Maybe it is just the seclusion as a result of COVID, but I’d say meeting new people is one of my favorite parts of living on the road.
The kids quickly made friends with some neighborhood girls from California about the same age.
They kept finding plants and flowers that’s smelled nice and insisted that they were herbs and spices.
They decided that it was time to turn them into perfumes and “sell them for free” to the campers around us.
So they placed an assortment of handmade perfumes in the middle of the path where people wouldn’t miss them, and waited impatiently for the right person to walk by.
Potential customers included grouchy old people who quickly declined, friendly retirees (obviously with grandchildren) who politely humored the kids’ requests to try a free sample, and a teenage boy who did t know what to say except to try not to make eye contact.
The first night they made $3 and a piece of candy each from their customers.
Not a bad evenings work.
Another thing that has been pretty consistent at most campgrounds we’ve stayed is the forts the kids have found, made, or contributed to.