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Before You RV Across America – a planning timeline

Everyone has a bucket list.  Mine is primarily filled with beautiful destinations that I want to visit before I’m 50.  I’ve traveled through many European countries but have only seen a handful of US states.  So as a family we decided “why wait?”

Let’s go see the world – in an RV.

RVing isn’t just a pass time for the baby boomers who are over 65 and retired.  In fact, it seems more and more millennials and the Gen X crowd want to live in an RV full-time for work and travel.  It can be a great way to save money, have a smaller footprint in a “tiny home,” or just to be closer with your family. Simplifying our life, downsizing our stuff and prioritizing time together all seemed like great ways to improve our health and relationships.

This is a big adventure, so knowing your “WHY” will help you make the right decisions.  That’s why at least six months before you go full-time, your RV dreams need to turn into some actual planning and prepping.  Here’s a complete timeline to help you live the dream:

Decide to RV – 6 months or more prior

road trip, national parks

We decided late in 2017 to RV full-time across America to see all of the National Parks and all 50 states. We want to travel while we are young and healthy and can enjoy it as a family. For us, that meant a year or more in the RV and selling our home, selling our business and homeschooling our youngest.  Those decisions seem almost easy compared to deciding on what RV to buy – when there aren’t any RVs (to speak of) in our state.  Living on Maui limited us to online only research of what type of RV we needed and what we could afford.  Neither of us had ever traveled in, let alone lived in an RV.  So obviously, what we really needed was hands-on time in an RV to help decide what we liked and what our family needed. So we planned a trip to visit some dealers in Las Vegas and Arizona in January 2018 – 6 months from our kick off date.

Picking a start date is another big decision.  We chose to wait until the summer right after our son graduates high school to begin our journey although we considered waiting three more years until our youngest finishes school.  In the end, life is too short.  Whenever you choose to go, you will inevitably wish you had done it sooner.

Our decision to RV also means we have to set up residency in a mainland state to avoid getting a CDL license to drive the RV.  The state of Hawaii doesn’t have an exemption for RVs.  We have chosen to set up Florida as our domicile state, using my in-laws’ address (they will forward our mail) and we will apply for Florida drivers licenses.  Other positives about this change is that Florida has no state income tax, has pro gun laws, and has similar weather to Maui.  Having family there is icing on the cake so we will store things with them too.

South Dakota and Texas are also friendly to full-time RVers and homeschoolers when you factor in their vehicle registration laws and school/grade level requirements etc.

Do Research – 5 months or more prior

Before going to see any RVs, we did some research to have background knowledge.  At the time, I didn’t even know what questions to ask.  So my husband and I joined some Facebook RV groups, watched vlogs of RVers, googled some makes and models, bought books on the National Parks to research their restrictions and limitations, contacted some campsites and clubs for their fees and reservation policies and of course we talked with friends who already were RVing. Everyone had a story to share, be prepared to take lots of notes.

There are five in our family, however we may only have 3 or 4 full time, due to college and work.  However we knew almost immediately we would want a 5th wheel for the space and a truck so we could explore once we set up camp.  Just keep an open mind about the other styles and an eye out for a great deal.

There are primarily 7 levels of RVs and Motorhomes to fit your needs, goals and budget:

Motorhomes

  1. Class A – the largest and most expensive, self contained home on wheels
  2. Class B – camper van
  3. Class C – midsize, built on an existing truck and van chassis

Towable RV

  1. Fifth Wheel – features a gooseneck connector that attaches inside the bed of the tow vehicle, can have up to 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms.
  2. Travel Trailer – built on a trailer frame and connects with a tow hitch, can have a large living area, be simple or have all the conveniences of home.
  3. Toy Hauler – Combines the features of a travel RV trailer and sport utility trailer with a garage in the rear with a ramp that can double as a patio.
  4. Tent trailer – smallest towable RVs available
solitude, rv shopping

Grand Design Solitude

We visited websites of the different manufacturers to see all the available options and we read reviews of the make and model we were interested in.  Needless to say, the best information comes from those using the same RV the way you want to, i.e. full-time for us.  RV manufacturers sent us their brochures with floor plans and we narrowed down our wish list.

Since there will be up to five of us, we have to have a bunk room or sofa beds.  Available options and floor plans seem endless: a second bathroom, washer and dryer, a bathtub, full size appliances, and skylights were high on my list.  Unfortunately, you can’t have everything due to the weight limitations of your tow vehicle.  I realized what is underneath the living quarters is also very important. Look at all of the options for your storage, ease of access, outdoor cooking and entertainment, size of the tanks, and generator.  We won’t be traveling in the snow but there is an option for a four season insulated RV.

And toilets – well there are so many options here I would have to write an entirely dedicated blog.  With different needs and so many different technologies, it would be good to do your research on this if you are wanting to save water, save the environment, or just learn which ones are easier to use, clean and upkeep. Did you know that there is even special toilet paper made for RVs?

Remember to factor in if you have pets and what their needs are.  I noticed many of the RVs had built in food/water bowls in the kitchen.  The toy hauler with the rear and/or side patios may be a great way to have a safe, enclosed area for a smaller pet.

Get Hands On – 4 months or more prior

In January, we flew to Las Vegas for a work convention and then drove to Arizona for a college visit.  Being from Hawaii it is habit to tie in other side trips, which is why we also visited an RV dealership and the Grand Canyon!  It was an amazing trip.

Grand Canyon South Rim

We stopped at Affinity RV Service and Sales in Prescott.  Luckily, they had several different makes and models on the lot.  Jayco, Thor Freight-liner, Winnebago, and Grand Design were our top four.  With all five of us standing inside the Freight-liner, it was obvious that a Class A or a Class C wasn’t going to work for us.  Note: My kids are 15 years old and up and my son and husband are over 6 feet tall.

We looked at and touched everything in the RVs.  We got a real feel for the seating in the living and dining areas, how many people fit in the kitchen, how much of our stuff would fit in the closet, actually laid on the beds, crawled in the storage areas, worked the awnings and slides, got the down and dirty of how to work the tanks, learned what kind of hook up for the truck was needed and how much a generator cost. At the end of the day, it’s only 377 sq ft.  It’s small.  Thank God for pocket doors. Do we really need a king size bed?  Where would we put a safe? Is there a place for me to do crafts? What about privacy?

There are many additional things that you will need to buy that I wasn’t even aware of: Sewage hose, fresh drinking water hose, storage containers, tools, plugs/extensions, surge protector, water pressure regulator, stinky slinky etc.

Even without a bathtub, second bathroom or washer and dryer, the budget was going to have to be increased to buy a bigger truck to tow the size of RV we wanted.

rv interior, rv shopping

We compared the RVs at different dealerships and we got a few different sales pitches and a totally different feel with each salesman. Overall, we walked on three different lots and called several other dealerships to get quotes on the same vehicle. I also spoke with dealerships in 4 different states – laws vary so keep that in mind if you plan on buying out of state.

Renting an RV for a week or more would be the optimal way to get hands-on experience with your comfort level and ability to live in, drive/park and operate all of the equipment. When purchasing the RV some dealerships allow an overnight stay in their parking lot to work out any kinks. Once you buy, find out if your RV manufacturer has online support groups and sign up.

When considering your budget, you will need to consider new vs used, depreciation, financing and the warranty and of course taxes.  Ask about any hidden fees or charges.  Although we already had Geico car insurance, we found that Costco insurance was the cheapest so we changed over.  We also added AAA and Passport America memberships for their discounts.

Ask about the dealership’s onsite financing and compare it to your own bank or credit union.  We found that they will have comparable rates and because we were out of state it just seemed much easier to use the onsite company.  It can be financed like a house up to 20 years to keep payments very low.  Do your due diligence and don’t be rushed if it doesn’t feel right.

We found an amazing deal for a Ford F350 at a dealer close to the RV dealership in Florida so we ordered the truck. The primary focus was its ability to tow the weight of the RV and sit up to 5 comfortably. Luckily it also has the hook up for the gooseneck, back up camera, special mirrors, and the bed has a spray liner.

Downsize – 3 months or more prior

We live in a 3500 sq ft house on a golf course in Maui and the RV has about 377 sq ft. – “Downsize” is an understatement.

After 20 years together it’s amazing how much stuff we have that we don’t need or don’t use.  I chose to start downsizing early because I didn’t want to rush this part of the process, especially since we have many other big events in the next couple of months.

We chose to close our brick and mortar business because we did not want to be absentee owners and we also chose to sell our home instead of rent it out.  This took a lot of convincing for me because I love my house and living in Hawaii.  However, I can always move back later, but for now, we wanted the financial freedom that selling affords us.

If you sell your home, contact your account for the tax ramifications if you don’t purchase another traditional home in the same year.

The furniture would cost too much to ship and store so we are only keeping the most cherished keepsakes in storage and taking a few items and clothing that will fit on the RV.  The rest we are donating or selling in garage sales, on Facebook, Craigslist or eBay.  If we decide to buy a house again we can always find new furniture.  Really, it’s just stuff.

Giving myself time to go through everything has also been a blessing. I found things I thought were lost, I have enjoyed looking through pictures and finishing scrapbooks, and I have gifted special things to friends and family.  Moreover the process has helped me to really know what is important.  I’m not a minimalist by any means, but simplifying is liberating.

Another way to downsize, if you haven’t done it already, is to go paper free for all of your accounts.  Banking and bill paying can be done on a laptop or smartphone. There won’t be any place for paper files on the RV anyway.  If you have to keep them, scan them and save them on the cloud.

Get your books on amazon prime or a kindle and download movies to your iPad.

Another way to keep things minimal on the RV is to store seasonal clothing and items and switch out when necessary.

Get a Financial Plan – 2 months or more prior

RVing is cheaper than a traditional sticks and bricks home, however, if you haven’t won the lottery you still need to make money to cover your living expenses.

We expect to spend less than half of what we do in Hawaii each month, approximately $4800.

  1. $1200 for RV and tow vehicle
  2. $600 for gas
  3. $500 – $1000 for campsites
  4. $200 insurance
  5. $800 for food
  6. $300 cell phones and internet
  7. $200 entertainment/entrance fees
  8. $500 other misc bills

*we are putting aside additional money for repairs and unforeseen issues that may arise.

We won’t be stationary so working has to be primarily remote.  Jobs that can be done on the road for extra money or even full time are: Blogging, teaching online, making and selling crafts on etsy or ebay, photography, virtual assistant, traveling nurse, direct sales, handyman, working at campsites, temp jobs or any remote/online job.  Of course, living off of one income, your savings or a pension are other options.

The earlier you develop your online business or create possible work relationships the better.  Think outside the box.

I plan on keeping my online store open and teaching classes on the road to have some extra revenue.  I contacted my vendors, attorney and bookkeeper for help on doing this in different states as we travel.

I own a sporting goods store and teach self defense and firearms safety.  Everything can be drop shipped to your home and classes can be arrange nationwide – I’ll come to you.

Check out my website for awesome products or contact me if you need any training CentralGunsandAmmo.com

Tie up loose ends – 1 month or more prior

map, travel, rv, road trip planning

This is crunch time!

Give notice at work or to a landlord.  If you haven’t yet – buy the RV and tow vehicle. Pack, store or ship anything that isn’t going in the RV.

Have an organized plan before packing so that you can find what you need. Be sure to pack an “unpack me first” box that has your necessities, separate boxes that are for the RV and inventory and label boxes that are going into storage, take pictures of special items and attach them to the inventory list.  Inquire about insurance if you are using a moving or storage company.

Find the route you’d like to travel and contact campsites for reservations.  I suggest joining some RV clubs to get the discounts.

  1. Passport America
  2. Good Sam
  3. Thousand Trails

Make reservations early or plan on staying a little further away from large tourist areas.  So many people want to be in the south for the winter that many make reservations 6 months to a year in advance, however, some places only book 90 days out.  In a pinch, Walmart may allow you to camp overnight in their parking lot.

If you have kids, register your child for homeschooling. We chose Florida Virtual School. Get the necessary materials and books to home-school. To make the transition easier and to find friends on the road, join a homeschooling support group and find out about meet ups, play dates or study groups.  I joined Facebook private groups for Full-Time RV Families and Full-Time RV Moms.

Find doctors and emergency clinics that will take your insurance on the road. Arrange for your prescriptions to be filled on the road or mailed to you.  We use Safeway which is part of a nationwide chain and will have access to our records.

Change your address or make arrangements for your mail. There are companies that will sort your mail and dispose of junk and either forward it or scan it for you for a small fee. Amazon prime will ship your purchases to your RV camp. Check with the front desk of your camp regarding their mail policies. Or if your trip is short, USPS will hold your mail or do a temporary change of address. We have family that will forward our mail for us.

Set up your banking online so that you can access and manage your money and bills from anywhere. There are many banks that allow you to sign up online too. If you need emergency cash, Walmart allows you up to $100 cash back on purchases with no fees.

In addition to mail forwarding, some companies also offer job boards, help with domicile/residency, education, trip planning and camp discounts.  There are many more, but here are my top three:

  1. GoodSamMailService.com
  2. Escapees.com
  3. Sbimailservice.com

Make sure your phone plan will roam and you’ll have internet access.  We signed up for unlimited talk, texts and data with Verizon for the whole family.

Set up your own blog or Instagram dedicated to your journey.  It will be a great way for your family and friends to follow along. My daughter showed me how easy WordPress is and it’s an amazing way to journal this adventure.

I’m sure I’ll add more to this list after we get on the road.  We know things will come up and we are learning to be flexible and to laugh at the little things.

Enjoy it

Most of all, explore and enjoy your hometown before you hit the road. Get together with friends and family. Take lots of pictures. Then go live life. Be happy.

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