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How to Prepare for Full-Time RV Living: Tips & Checklist

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Let’s face it, being a nomad in today’s society isn’t really “normal.” Wherever you are, you’ve likely set down roots, and it takes time and effort to pull those up and create another, drastically different life for yourself.

What will you need on the road? What stuff should you get rid of, and what should you keep just in case the dream doesn’t work out? Preparing for life on the road isn’t easy, but I promise that all the work is worth it. You just have to take it one step at a time.

Here are the best tips that helped myself and others transition from a stationary life to a life on the road.

How to Prepare for Living in an RV Full-Time

The following tips were vital to my husband and I creating a stable, enjoyable life filled with constant travel. While your exact needs may differ, these suggestions should be helpful regardless of your exact plans or preferences.

1. Set a Date

Before you dive into the details of this transition, you first need to set a departure date. I know that might sound a bit overzealous. After all, how do you know how long it will take to prepare for living in a camper full-time?

The truth is, you don’t. But if you don’t give yourself a deadline then there’s no real sense of urgency, and there’s a good chance you’ll still be talking about going on the road this time next year. A departure date makes all your planning more real, and certainly more urgent. And that is a great motivator for making this dream happen.

How much time you’ll need depends on your current lifestyle. For instance, if you own a home, then you first need to decide if you’re going to sell or rent it out, or keep it. If you decide to sell, you’ll have to prepare your house for sale, which can take quite some time depending on how much there is to do.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to set a “final” departure date. It’s often easier to create milestones for yourself. For example, you might want to set a specific date to buy your camper (if you don’t already own one). You can set a date to have your domicile (legal residency) state set up, a date for having your home completely decluttered and purged – you get the idea. The point here is to commit. Set a date, and get to work so you meet it.

2. Make a To-Do List

Your first to-do list is going to be long, but it helps to write down everything that needs your attention. Your first, simple to-do list might look something like this:

  • Research campers
  • Research domicile residency
  • Start decluttering
  • Organize a garage sale
  • Research how to earn a mobile income
  • Research health care options
  • Research where to camp
  • Choose a mail service
  • Cancel utilities

Every to-do list is going to vary widely because each person’s situation is unique. To start, sit down and make a list of what it will take to uproot yourself and hit the road. As you cross items off your list and learn more about transitioning to full-time RV living, your list will grow longer and more detailed.

3. Simplify

You will need to take daily steps to simplify your life and declutter your home. What you choose to get rid of will depend on your plans. For example, is your goal to travel for a year and then settle back down in a home somewhere? Do you want to put some things in storage in case living on the road doesn’t work out, or would you rather jump in with both feet and only keep what you’re taking with you in your RV?

Only you know the answers to these questions, so think carefully about what you want as you go through the process of decluttering. This level of decluttering can be draining and emotionally intense, especially if you decide to get rid of everything. However, it can also be incredibly liberating to pare down your things to the minimum.

  • Schedule Time Daily for Decluttering and Simplifying. Even an hour a day will, day after day, make a big difference.
  • Focus on One Small Area at a Time. For example, one drawer, one shelf, or one wall of your closet. Keeping your focus on one small area at a time will help prevent you from feeling overwhelmed. Small areas also make it easier to see progress, which is important for staying motivated.
  • Make a Decision. Every time you pick something up, whether it’s a piece of china or a piece of paper, make a decision about it: keep, donate, or pitch. Don’t lay it down to think about later. Always make a decision.
  • Take a Picture of Your Donation Pile Before You Take It to the Thrift Store. This is another great way to remind yourself that you are making progress.
  • Have a Giveaway Party. Make decluttering fun by hosting a giveaway party. Invite neighbors, friends, family, and colleagues over to take what they like. Mark giveaway items with a green sticker. Use red stickers to mark the items that you’ve decided to keep.
  • Consider Renting a Storage Unit. Storage units are expensive, but they can help ease the pressure of the decluttering process, especially if you have a lot of family items you just can’t get rid of. Many full-timers start off renting a storage unit and, over months or years, return to it in the middle of their travels and slowly empty it out. Once you get on the road, you might find that your attachment to these things lessens over time.

Books like “The Joy of Less” can also help guide you through the process of simplifying and decluttering.

Simplify Life Declutter Home

4. Outline Your Necessities

You’re going to wrestle with what you’ll need to take with you on the road. I promise that you will need far less than you think you do. And no matter how well you plan and analyze the things you take, you’re probably going to make mistakes; that’s part of the process.

Clothing
How much clothing you take will depend on where you expect to travel. Most full-time RVers follow the weather, meaning they head north or west during the summer, and south during the winter. Constantly living in a mild climate means you will need few thick and heavy clothes.

For example, my wardrobe had to fit in a tiny closet. When we hit the road, I took:

  • Five t-shirts
  • Two pairs of jeans
  • Two pairs of shorts
  • One pair of pajamas
  • Two button-up denim shirts
  • One sweatshirt
  • One wool sweater
  • One long-sleeved thermal
  • One raincoat
  • One denim jacket

And that’s it. As scanty as that might seem, I found that I didn’t need more clothing than this. You might be able to get by with a small wardrobe or, if you have the space, you might want to take more with you.

The trick to putting together a workable RV wardrobe is to choose clothes that all look good together (so you can easily mix and match), and to choose clothes that you can easily layer if the need arises. Chances are, you only wear 20% (or less) of the clothes you have in your closet. Choose the pieces that you wear the most, and purge the rest.

Kitchen Tools and Dishes
Take a look at the tools you use most in your kitchen. Which of these items can’t you live without? Which will you have room for in your camper? You might be surprised at what you find you need (and what you don’t) when you start living in your RV. For example, I foolishly brought along our blender when we left, assuming I’d continue to make smoothies as I did at home. I didn’t use it once and ended up donating it a couple months later.

On the flip side, we bought a Crock-Pot a month into our trip because our camper didn’t have an oven, and we ended up using it three to four nights a week. We could plug it in outside and let it simmer all day. It was, surprisingly, one of our most useful kitchen tools, even though we’d rarely used one at home.

We met a full-time couple in Texas who brought along their bread machine, and used it daily. For them, freshly baked bread was a necessity, and their bread machine was worth the space. Another full-timer relied entirely on his InstaPot pressure cooker for fast, hot meals. So, your choices on what to take will be as individual as you are!

Remember, pulling a camper means it’s going to shake constantly when you’re driving. This shaking is equivalent to a constant, 3.4-magnitude earthquake. We took two glass plates and two glass bowls, for reheating food in the microwave, and we protected these with dish towels when we moved to a new spot. All of our other dishes were enameled steel “camp plates,” which we loved.

On the other hand, we met plenty of full-timers who had only glass dishes and cups, because this felt more like home for them. They packed them all up every time they moved and felt it was worth the effort.

Decorations
Campers have few spots for knickknacks and decorations, but RVs can also be notoriously sterile looking. You’re going to want to take some things to make your little home cozy and inviting. For example, use rugs to add color and soften up your space. Plants can also add life and vibrancy to your home, and help purify the air. I had two hanging plants in our minuscule camper, and they made the RV feel cozy.

We hated not having any art on the walls, so we ended up decoupaging small printouts of our favorite pieces right on the walls. You can also use 3M Command Strips to hang up prints or photos or invest in a digital picture frame. Remember, though, the shaking that a camper goes through while traveling can be intense, especially on bad roads. Quakehold is useful for securing things (like artwork and small plants) so they stay put.

You’ll also want to think about your outdoor space. Most full-timers spend a lot of time outside, and the “patio” is often the first thing to set up when you move to a new spot. Will you want a hammock? Folding chairs? A grill? Solar patio lights? A lightweight outdoor rug? We spent far more time on our patio than we did inside, and the outdoor furniture and decorations we had were worth the effort to take down and put up each time we moved.

5. Join RVing Clubs

There are several organizations that will help make living in an RV full-time easier. In addition to the great discounts on campgrounds, these clubs give you access to a wealth of valuable, insider information from people who are already living on the road. We learned a lot from forums before we left, so it’s well worth the investment to join a few months before your departure date.

  • Escapees RV Club: We joined Escapees and found it to be well worth the $40 annual membership fee. You get great discounts at over 1,000 campgrounds (up to 50% off), a top-notch forum board, a job board exclusively for RVers, and access to their mail service. We used their mail service exclusively and never once had a problem. You can find more information about using a mail service here.
  • Good Sam Club: With Good Sam, you get 10% off at over 2,100 campgrounds. Another huge perk is their gas discount; at Pilot or Flying J gas stations, you get five to eight cents off per gallon. That alone can quickly pay for the $27 annual membership fee. You also get up to 30% off at CampingWorld, and many other perks.
  • Passport America: With Passport America, you can save up to 50% at nearly 1,900 campgrounds in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The annual fee is $44.
  • Harvest Hosts: We didn’t know about Harvest Hosts when we were on the road, but I sure wish we did. Harvest Hosts put you in touch with farms, attractions, and wineries that will allow you to stay on their land for free, for one night, as long as you’re self-contained. This means they don’t provide hookups or restrooms. On the upside, you get a unique, beautiful, quiet place to camp, for free. The annual membership fee is $44.

Before you join any club, pay close attention to the fine print. Many campgrounds won’t give club discounts on weekends or holidays. And, you should look at which campgrounds are part of each club’s network. Randomly pick some that are on routes that you would like to travel. Are these places that you would realistically want to stay? What amenities do they offer? (Don’t dismiss how much you’ll appreciate any campground having a washer and dryer on the premises!)

These are four of the most popular RV clubs, but there are dozens, if not a hundred or more, out there. You can find a comprehensive list of RV clubs here.

Join Rving Clubs

How to Increase Your Odds of Success

1. Create a Vision Board

If you’re anything like us, there will probably be some days when you’re ready to throw up your hands and declare that all this work preparing for life on the road just isn’t worth it. To combat this, it helps to create a vision board.

A vision board can help you reach your goals, and help you stay motivated when things get tough. To make one, simply cut out pictures from magazines, or print off pictures from the Internet, that illustrate what you want life on the road to look like, and make a collage on a large piece of poster board.

For example, you could put up a picture of the camper you’ve chosen. You could cut out pictures of a national park you’ve always dreamed of visiting or put up pictures of family that you want to visit. Whatever makes you happy and excited about living life on the road should go up on the board. Again, the vision board will help remind you why you’re doing this, which will help on those days when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

2. Do Trial Runs

Do whatever it takes to go on trial runs before your final departure date. The longer you can be out in the camper, the more you’ll learn. Trial runs will help you figure out what you need to take with you, and what you can safely get rid of.

Another idea is to move into your RV full-time but stay in your hometown for several weeks or months. This can help you get acclimated to RV life without the stress of traveling and “living” in an unfamiliar town. Moving into your camper can also make it easier if you have to sell your home or phase out of your job.

3. Make Time for Family and Friends

Transitioning to a life where you’re always on the move means saying goodbye, at least for a while, to family and friends. It’s important to make time for the people you love as your departure date gets closer. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself visiting a ton of people at the last minute (when you have a million other logistical details to take care of), and getting exhausted and stressed in the process.

Find a way to stay in touch with your community while you’re prepping to leave, by starting a blog or joining Instagram. Online platforms will make it easier for friends and family to be part of your adventure and stay connected.

4. Go Paperless

Start transitioning to a paperless (or paper-reduced) lifestyle. Remember, all your mail is going to have to be forwarded to you from your mail service, which means bills can quickly become overdue if you’re not careful. You can avoid this by signing up for e-billing, or automated billing, for your cell phone, credit cards, health insurance, auto insurance, and other financial commitments.

Final Word

The planning process can be intense. However, all the hard work is worth it when you finally hit the road, knowing that you’re free to go wherever you want and be home at the same time. We were giddy when we set off on a foggy morning in November, on our way to south Texas to escape what was going to be another brutal Michigan winter. Your own D-Day (Departure Day) will be just as exhilarating.

What questions do you have about the planning process? If you’re currently full-timing (or in the middle of planning to make the leap), what tips or suggestions do you have for other readers who are about to start planning?

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they're often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.

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