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Is RV Retirement Living Right for You?

Mary Gormandy White
Couple standing in front of RV

The idea of RV living is can be very appealing to retirees, but there are a number of important factors to consider when deciding if RV retirement is the right option for you. As with most lifestyle decisions, there are pros and cons to consider. Ultimately, only you can decide if an RV lifestyle is the right choice for your retirement.

RV Living Space Constraints

Traveling in an RV for vacation getaways is very different from full-time RV living. Even small homes and apartments have more square footage and storage space than an RV. In order to be able to adapt to RV living in an RV, you'll need to be prepared to significantly limit your material possessions. There will be no garage, no shed, no junk closet, etc. when your primary home is an RV. The larger RV you get, the more space you'll have - but it still won't be the same as a home. If you're looking forward to decluttering in retirement, this part of RV living may appeal to you. However, if you have hobbies that use a lot of equipment or otherwise enjoy a lot of "stuff," RV living could pose a significant challenge.

RV Towing/Driving Considerations

Along with the greater space afforded by a larger RV comes additional challenges with driving or towing a massive vehicle. If you have one of the larger Class A motorhomes (one that weighs more than 26,000 pounds), you may need to get a special driver's license, depending on your state. Even if a special driver's license isn't required for your unit, RV travelers must have excellent driving skills specific to operating a very large vehicle and be comfortable hooking up and towing large trailers. While you won't have to hook up a travel trailer to a tow vehicle if you have a motor home, you'll still need to tow a vehicle behind your motor home so you have transportation when your motorhome is parked at a campsite.

Couple standing in front of RV

Cost of Purchasing an RV

Recreational vehicles can range from a few thousand dollars for basic travel trailers to millions of dollars for high-end luxury motor homes. RVs designed for full-time living can easily cost as much as - or even more than - a house or condominium. If you're planning to set up an RV on your own land rather than traveling in it, you can probably get away with an older model. However, if you plan to travel extensively in your RV, you'll probably want to consider a larger unit that is new or only a few years old. You'll also want select a model appropriate for winter camping since you'll be using it all year.

  • RV dealers offer financing, but if you're going to be living on a fixed income in retirement, taking on a large payment may not be the best idea. Even small payments can be more costly than they seem at first, as you could find yourself having monthly payments for many years.
  • If you're selling your home to pay for your retirement, consider that campers depreciate rapidly. If something happens to cause you to need to return to a traditional home, you won't be able to sell an RV for anywhere near what you paid for it.

Keeping Your Traditional Home

If you're planning to keep your existing residence as a home base while you take to the road for your RV retirement, that will help ensure you have a place to go if the time comes that you need to stop traveling. However, even if you don't have a mortgage, there are still costs associated with maintaining an unoccupied residence. You'll still have to pay utilities, insurance, lawn maintenance, homeowners association dues, etc. You'll also have to have someone available to check on the property periodically. Another option would be to rent your residence while you're on the road, either via a standard lease or through a vacation rental company like Airbnb or VRBO. This would allow you to generate some income from your home, though managing rentals will take some work on your part.

Couple sitting outside RV

RV Campsite Costs

Unless you own a piece of land where you plan to park your RV most or all the time, renting RV space can be extremely expensive. Nightly RV camping fees typically run between $30 and $50 per night, though they can be even higher at popular destinations or upscale RV resorts for seniors. You can reduce the expense of campsite fees by seeking out campgrounds that offer monthly or seasonal rates and staying put for a chunk of time. For examples, snowbirds tend to say in warm climates during the winter and cooler climates during the summer. You can also keep overnight campsite expenses low by stopping at truck stops or Walmart parking lots when you're in transit.

RV Travel Fuel Costs

Even beyond the cost of renting an RV spot, the cost of fuel has to be taken into consideration. If you're planning to travel extensively in your RV, expect to spend a lot of money on gasoline or diesel. Depending on fuel type, weight, driving conditions, etc., RV gas mileage typically ranges between six and 14 miles per gallon. While the idea of driving coast to coast might seem exciting and fun, considering the cost of driving cross-country is an important reality check to consider.

RV Maintenance

If you're living in your RV full-time, you'll need to keep it in tip-top condition, though proper maintenance and repairs as needed. While some repairs can be handled as DIY projects, others might require putting your camper in the shop. If you're living in your RV, you'll need to make alternate arrangements if your unit has to be in the shop for multi-day repairs. This can lead to hotel stays and other unexpected costs.

Access to Healthcare

Depending on the type of health insurance you have, you may find it challenging to get care or coverage when you're out of your home state. Health insurance policies can vary widely from one state to another, so make sure you clearly understand how your coverage will apply during your travels. For prescriptions, you'll want to use a pharmacy that has locations across the country so you can get refills regardless of where your travels take you. For medical care, though, depending on your coverage, you could find yourself with extensive out-of-network fees or uncovered care if you get sick in another state.

Exploring RV Retirement Living

There are several options for RV living, from full-time RV travel to setting up a permanent RV camp as a second home or just taking occasional trips in an RV. If you're still exploring whether an RV retirement is right for you, the next step might be to start getting a realistic sense of what it would be like. Rent or purchase an RV and take an extended trip - one that's longer than a typical vacation, but that doesn't involve you selling everything you own and taking to the road for good. Track the related expenses so you get a realistic sense of what RV living will cost. Keep a travel journal to record your day-to-day experiences, from cooking on the road to what it's like to be stuck in an RV when the weather is too nasty to go exploring. This will help you get a sense of what you enjoy about RVing and what you find stressful so you can make an informed decision about RV retirement living.

Is RV Retirement Living Right for You?