Full-Time RV Living: Nomads!

Visiting Llama Land

Five years on the road! It’s hard to believe that Steve and I have been on this adventure for five years between hiking and full-time RV living.

In case you’re new here, my husband and I had long-lasting corporate careers that we traded in for a life on the road! First, we sold our home of 20 years to experience living in downtown Portland, Oregon. That’s where we rented an apartment for a year, walked to dinner most nights, held parties in the rooftop garden, and experienced all that downtown living had to offer.

Next, we worked with a financial advisor to plan for 18 months off work starting in March 2019. We planned to hike the 2,652-mile Pacific Crest Trail before exploring SE Asia and then returning to “civilized life.” Like all well-made plans, those months have now morphed into five years.

Since we just completed our first five years of nomad living, it’s a good time for reflection. We’re looking at the realities, lessons, and experiences of five years on the road. So keep reading to hear what full-time RV life looks like for us and our upcoming plans.

The Beginning: Transitioning to RV Life

When we moved from our house to the apartment, we put some furniture and a whole lot of woodworking tools into a storage unit. Then, when we started to hike, we added the rest of our furniture to the unit. It’s full now!

Feel free to take a detour to read about life on the Pacific Crest Trail. It was full of challenges, which we marched through to make the hike our own. A couple of months into the hike, I bought a camper van. Then, I followed Steve through the rest of the trail, supporting him along the way and doing my own version of daily hiking without a heavy backpack and tent.

That camper van introduced us to the possibility of RV life.

Leading Up to Full-time RV Life

Here’s a quick recap of deciding to change to a nomad lifestyle in an RV.

  • Steve’s hike ended early with his Dad in a Colorado hospital, making it very clear he could no longer be Estelle’s full-time caretaker. Steve’s mom had vascular dementia, which caused her to pack and leave home every day in order to “go home.”
  • We moved them into a secure facility for her and independent living for him.
  • Then, we headed back to Portland to be with my Dad and sisters during his last weeks of life.
  • Next, we traveled to Thailand and Vietnam. But a world pandemic invited us to abandon the trip and return to the States.
  • We moved into Steve’s parents’ now-empty home for the COVID shutdown. We sorted their belongings, sold their car, and eventually the house.

During the shutdown, we began exploring the RV lifestyle. It allowed us to travel but stay somewhat quarantined from other people. That was quite an age of social distancing!

We knew my camper van was too small, especially since Steve couldn’t even stand up straight in it. So, we sold it and checked out Class A’s and truck campers. Then, after much deliberation, we bought a used Dodge Ram 3500 dual-rear-wheel truck and a new Arctic Fox 990 truck camper.

RV Nomad Lifestyle

Initial challenges and adjustments occurred as we learned the ropes of RV maintenance and living. If you watch some of our early YouTube videos, you’ll probably wonder what the hell we were thinking! Honestly, we often wondered the same thing as RV life challenges aren’t for the faint of heart.

For instance, there’s that one time we emptied the tanks before we had a solid routine down. I put the hose into the ground receptacle and opened the black tank lever. The pressure was so great that the hose flew off the ground and whipped all around. And yes, as you can imagine, liquid poop started flying through the air.

Steve took several steps backward, but I threw myself at the hose, tackled it (in slow motion), and shoved it back into the ground pipe. Obviously, this ridiculous spectacle couldn’t happen in the privacy of our campsite. No, it was at the RV park’s main dump station!

Can Your Relationship Survive A Shit Shower? ;)

Nowadays, we do things differently. For example, if something like that were to happen now, I would quickly close the black tank lever. Then there’s no shit to hit the fan!

But I also now know to open the gray tank first. I give it a few seconds to ensure our hose is connected correctly to the camper and on the ground. Then, I close it and empty the black tank.

This added layer of caution comes from witnessing a poop fountain whipping around like a 1970s Water Wiggle toy.

Let me tell you, I learned two things from that experience.

  1. Steve saved himself first.
  2. Real life events can actually happen in slow motion!

Live and learn, my friends…live and learn.

Image credit: eBay

Daily Life on the Road

You might wonder how we manage daily life in an RV. We usually have some form of routine and structure, but it’s flexible. For example, I sit in bed with the blankets piled up as I type this. It’s a rainy, cold morning in British Columbia, and I honestly didn’t feel like getting dressed. Instead, I pulled a sweatshirt over my pajamas and called it good.

We wake around 8 a.m. (or so), and then Steve makes coffee. We eat breakfast of string cheese for me and a bagel with yogurt for him. We’ve found a morning RV living routine that works for us. If we’re staying put, I’ve been trying to work out and go for a walk/run while Steve eats breakfast. Then we’ll both sit at the dinette to work for a couple of hours.

We usually eat some form of fancied-up ramen for lunch before going for a walk. Then we might work for another hour or two. I typically cook dinner, but Steve does a fair amount of cooking, too. Then we go for another walk to explore our location.

Finally, we settle in for the evening with a movie or current TV show binge that we’ve downloaded. We used to use our phones to download and connect to the TV. However, we now use Steve’s Mom’s iPad, which works perfectly.

full-time RV living
Enjoying Kootenai Falls in Montana

Traveling Day Schedule

Now, if we’re traveling, our day looks a little different. The night before, we select a destination- campground, boondocking spot, family’s home, or friends’ home.

  • We wake up before 8 a.m., stow loose items in the truck camper, and then hit the road.
  • Then, we often find a McDonald’s for coffee on the go.
  • We drive about two hours at a time before stopping for a stretch and driver switch.
  • We grab a quick lunch in the camper or at a fast food restaurant, then drive until an hour or so before dark.
  • Finally, we eat dinner, text with the kids and siblings, watch a show, and then turn in.

Remote work in an RV

We still need to work, so we’ve been doing a lot of freelance writing. However, our jobs have mostly dried up over the last year due to increased artificial intelligence. Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for AI—but it has taken away much of our freelance income.

Also, freelance work means you’re always hustling for the next gig since most are temporary. For example, yesterday, I applied for several part-time remote jobs. However, contrary to public belief, there aren’t many of them. Yes, you can work full-time remote jobs, but the part-time ones are harder to come by.

We’re both working for a company to help train AI and I think it’s a lot of fun, but Steve pretty much hates it. It has timed projects, so when one ends then you have to wait a week or so to get assigned to a new project. Always a hustle. So, drop me a comment with any remote-work tips!

Full-Time RV Living Connectivity

This summer, we’re heading back to Alaska for the second year in a row. It’s beautiful there, but our grandson is the biggest draw!

We learned last year that we didn’t have the greatest connectivity with AT&T and zero connectivity with our T-Mobile MiFi (it’s all roaming in Alaska). So, this year, we bought a Starlink.

It seems to be working well for us. Check out this little video of our current location. I have two bars of AT&T cell service, but otherwise, we’re totally off-grid. And the Starlink is coming through!

Of course, we need connectivity for working, blogging, and YouTube uploading. But, more importantly, we need it to stay in contact with family and friends. I hope Starlink will allow us to FaceTime with our family more easily. We’ll let you know what we think of it as time progresses.

The Joys of RV Living

During our full-time RV living experience, we’ve found a lot of joy. Steve is my best friend, and I love spending time together. Having time to spend is likely the most significant source of my joy throughout this nomadic living time.

Along the same line, we also had plenty of time to stay with my Dad when he died. And then, this past winter, we had time to spend with Steve’s parents during both of their journey endings. While we are away from our family (which is super hard), we also get concentrated time with them. And there is much joy in spending time with our children and grandchildren. Plus, we’ve visited with siblings whom we wouldn’t usually see. So, that’s been great, too.

In addition, the nomadic lifestyle allows us to explore the country and even the world as we hike, RV, and fly around the globe.

  • We have the freedom and flexibility to travel and explore new places.
  • We get to experience the beauty of nature with access to national parks, scenic routes, hiking, and meeting other travelers.
  • Our unique experiences and adventures include memorable moments from different US or SE Asia locations.
Denali National Park full-time RV living
At one of the bus tour overlooks in Denali National Park, Alaska 2023

The Challenges of Full-time RV Living

However…it’s not all about getting sunshine blown up our asses! There are a lot of challenges that come with this RV lifestyle.

Maintenance and Repairs

One big challenge is that our truck is almost twenty years old and needs frequent love to stay on the road. We’re talking multiple BOAT dollars for just about every repair. If you’re unsure what I mean, BOAT $$ = Bring On Another Thousand!

Since we leave our truck camper, Cupcake, on the rig almost all the time, it puts extra wear and tear on the truck’s systems. Since buying the truck in 2020, we’ve accumulated about 66,000 miles. That’s a lot of miles carrying a lot of weight. So, we’ve invested in a new transmission, front end, driveline, transfer case, air conditioning system, three sets of Timbrens (although we only paid for the first set), tires, and endless routine maintenance tasks. It’s expensive to be a full-time RVer!

The camper has only needed a few repairs, but we’ve certainly made investments to improve our quality of life. For instance, Steve upgraded our solar system, we got better foam cushions for the dinette and a higher-quality mattress, installed shelves, and purchased small items like baskets that contain clutter.

We resealed the exterior of Cupcake a couple of summers ago and plan to do it again sometime this summer. So, the truck camper has minor maintenance and repairs compared to the truck itself.

Noelle smoothing out new sealant

Space constraints: Living in a small space and organizing effectively

Another challenge of full-time RV living is the tiny living space. Steve IS my best friend, but sometimes, 24/7 togetherness is too much for any relationship. He’s said he also sometimes feels overwhelmed by my close proximity to him. It’s part of living in an RV. You’re together through every burp, fart, and diarrhea experience.

We try to give each other personal space to combat our physical closeness. Of course, it’s easier for one of us to go outside during sunny weather. But I often sit in a lawn chair with a book while he works at the table. Sometimes, one of us will walk to the store or explore the area alone. When the camper is off the truck, we leave each other behind for shopping or truck repairs. It is weird when the truck drives off and leaves you in the camper, though.

Staying Organized In An RV

Another challenge of the small space is staying tidy and organized. I don’t do well with clutter, but when you’re living in an RV, there’s always clutter! For example, we each have baskets that sit on our dinette benches. Essentially, we both have our own junk drawer.

Mine has games, a yoga mat, notebooks, cookbooks, a laptop, stationery, bug spray, Ball jar lids, hats, and gloves. There’s more, but this list gives you a good idea of my “junk drawer’s” contents. Yes, it’s all contained in one basket, but there’s no lid, so it looks cluttered.

We try very hard to stay organized, but one of us is still constantly losing something. You wouldn’t think things would be hard to find in such a small space, but they are.

RV storage Full-time RV living
Over the sink storage is usually somewhat organized

Health And Safety: Staying Healthy On The Road And Dealing With Emergencies

We have health insurance with the state of Oregon, and we see the preferred doctors once a year. It’s basic healthcare, but it meets our needs. When we’re on the road, and something comes up, we pay cash at urgent care.

We use CVS for prescriptions, so we can get refills anywhere in the US. We also use Good Rx for discounted prescriptions if we’re outside Oregon. We’ve also refilled medications in Mexico and Vietnam, both at a fraction of the cost of the same medicine in the US. I’m not worried about quality since the drugs come in their original boxes. We also haven’t had any problems returning to America with medicines from other countries, but we’ve only gotten 90-day refills.

We went to the dentist in Bangkok and had a good experience. The office catered to Western travelers, so the staff spoke good enough English. A driver picked us up at our hotel and returned us after the visit.

I’d definitely consider dental care in Mexico as well. We went to Los Algodones, near Yuma, Arizona, which is 100% a destination for Americans and Canadians to get affordable healthcare, dental care, and prescriptions. The whole town is set up to serve visitors from the north. People we met said they saw top-notch dentists with clean and professional offices.

Full-Time RV Living Financial Aspects

You might be wondering what it costs to live in an RV full-time. Well, I already discussed truck repair costs. Overall, we don’t save much money living full-time in an RV compared to living in a house.

One of our main expenses is diesel for the truck. We get about ten miles to the gallon, so travel days cost $100-200 in fuel. We boondock (dry camp) as much as we can. That not only saves money, but we get to stay in nature’s backyard, so how cool is that?! We also like to eat out occasionally, see movies, go to museums, and explore towns in addition to the backcountry.

We’ve met other full-time RVers who say they live on a couple thousand dollars monthly. That lower dollar sign is good for them, but it has yet to be our reality. Of course, if you have an RV at a park and live there full-time, then your expenses will be lower than ours. But we want to see the country, so we have high diesel costs. And that leads to more truck maintenance. And so on.

There are RV memberships, like Thousand Trails, where you pay an annual fee and then stay at their campgrounds around the country. We’ve talked about doing something like that, but we’re enjoying boondocking more than RV parks. So, it might be something we explore more in the future.

Community and Social Life

It’s hard to have a sense of community doing what we do. We don’t currently have other full-time friends, but we do have friends we’ve met in the hiking and truck camper communities with whom we visit and stay in touch. In our first couple of years on the road, we had better contact with friends back home. However, maintaining some of those relationships has been more of a stretch as time passes.

We’ve attended one truck camper rally in Arizona, which helped us build friendships with fellow nomads. We plan to join more RV rallies and meetups to share and hear more campfire stories. Last year in Fairbanks, we randomly saw a couple, Dennis and Linda, who we’d met in Arizona. So it was super fun to share pizza and beer and catch up on their adventures. We compared Alaska notes and still keep in contact via text.

Small interactions help meet our need for companionship. We both value having close personal friends, but we also acknowledge that right now, it’s a little challenging. We’re talking about our next steps in life, and we both know that rebuilding a community of close friends and family is super important.

Personal Growth and Reflection During Five Years on the Road

Interestingly, we have a specific time frame that is clearly delineated with a before and after.

  • Before, we lived in a house and had corporate careers. We worked to live, but we were close with family and friends. 
  • Now after, we live in an RV and work part-time side gigs. We aren’t flush with spending money but have enough to do things we like.
  • We have good relationships with our family and some solid friendships, but we likely aren’t as close in some ways as we used to be.

It’s easy to see some ways I’ve grown in this clearly defined period.

  • I’m much more adaptable now, but previously, I wanted all the details planned before embarking on any holiday.
  • I’m flexible and more relaxed.
  • I can see where Steve is more relaxed now, too.

Beyond the Work/Home Balance

It’s not just that we have less stress from work/home imbalance. Instead, we have a sense of freedom like I’ve never experienced.

I’ve gained confidence and resilience from the freedom, but I’ve also grown more introverted. On a recent trip home, I joked to one of our kids that there’s a good possibility we’re hermits and weird now, but we just don’t know it. Our daughter laughed but didn’t deny what I was saying. So, who knows?

The journey has taken us to physically and emotionally unique places in five years. We’ve seen amazing sites, but we’ve also lost our remaining three parents, and that takes an emotional toll. So, it isn’t easy to separate how we’ve grown from full-time RV life compared to simply full-time human life.

Steve and Noelle in front of stupas and ruins
Nomad life in Thailand!

Future Plans for Full-Time RV Living

We aren’t positive about what the future holds. In many ways, I’m ready to have a home base, but I still want to continue traveling and exploring. Steve is less prepared to settle down, but we need to bridge the financial gap between now and retirement. So we’ll probably have to get regular jobs at some point. Maybe live stationary, work for six months of the year, and then travel the other six months.

Me: “Get a job, settle down.”

Also me: “What would you think of going to an ashram in India this winter? Then maybe head over to Bali?”

It sounds like the ashram and Bali might win. So, if you know any good remote gigs that let you work anywhere in the world, drop me a comment. ;)

How about you? Got any future plans for adventure? Tell us about them!

Tips for Aspiring RV Nomads

Are you thinking about the RV life? Do you want to wake up on the side of a lake where it was 60 degrees when you went to sleep, but you woke up to snowfall? If half your body being covered in mosquito bites at any given time appeals to you, then maybe the RV life is for you!

Of course, we advise renting an RV for a weeklong trip and getting a feel for it first. We didn’t do that, but we maybe should have!

Here are a few more things if you’re considering RV life.

  • Set realistic expectations for how much space you can truly live in.
  • Think about what you plan to do with your household possessions. We gave away and sold about half of our belongings. The other half is in a climate-controlled storage unit.
  • Can you get comfortable with not showering daily and taking Navy-style showers when you can?
  • Check out some RVs and then find out if the brand or style has rallies and get-togethers for owners.
  • Watch YouTube videos that show what everyday life is really like. Here’s our YouTube channel.
  • Join Facebook RV groups to meet like-minded people, learn, and share adventures.
  • Follow full-time RVers on Instagram or Pinterest.
  • Check out our article about how we chose an Arctic Fox 990 truck camper. We looked at different RV classes and decided this was best for our style of travel.
  • Grab our free checklists for buying your new or used RV.
  • Leave us a comment below, and we’d be happy to connect to hear your plans.

Conclusion: Full-Time RV Living – Five Years on the Road

Here are my final thoughts on the RV lifestyle: Is it worth it? Absolutely! Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

We’ve grown, laughed, cried, and seen more places than we could have imagined. We’ve met many great people who came into our lives for a day, a weekend, or a lifetime. Yes, we miss our children and our grandchildren. But we also know they’re in the “sustaining their own careers” stage, with their own growing children and all the busyness that entails. So, we hope we’re capturing great moments with them while still exploring like the adventurous souls that we are.

I hope I’ve encouraged or inspired you in some way to pursue your own adventure. It doesn’t have to be big and life-changing. But, if you’ve looked at some of our photos and think, “I want to see that, too,” it’s a win!

Just think. You, too, could experience your very own poo fountain. And who wouldn’t want something as glorious as that?! Seriously, though, connect with us in the comment section. We want to hear about your adventures!

Remember to subscribe for tips, stories, and inspiration from fellow RV nomads. And please hit the share button to inspire others to join the journey!

Also, stayed tuned…Steve’s making bracelets and you’ll be able to get yours soon!

1 Comment

  1. Definitely not somebody married to Mary Poppins

    “Steve saved himself first”.

    Of course. The primitive part of your brain instantly knows two things…First is that you’re not gonna die from it (which is why he didn’t save you first), and second that is unpleasant enough to avoid if possible. A bear? He’d instantly be between you and the bear, and edging both of you away as quickly as possible. A nutjob with a knife or gun? Again, instantly he’d be between you and the threat, but he would be telling you to run while standing steadfast. Instinctive behavior with women and children. Though it seems as if some people aren’t wired that way these days

    I can’t imagine that you were even mad at him. 😁

    At least you didn’t get it in your mouth. Or…?

    Great article. Your writing voice is engaging and warm.

    Reply

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