Today as I write, I’m sitting on the bank of a lake, in the sun, in front of our truck camper contemplating the nomad life. I had to position myself several different ways in order to find a working position, where I could see my laptop screen without the sun blinding me. What an awesome problem! Full-time living in an RV has been fantastic and inconvenient and amazing, all at the same time. Noelle here, by the way.
Seriously, today, in the sunshine, life doesn’t get a whole lot better. We got here, to Lake Perry in Beaumont, Mississippi, a couple of days ago. Even the Ranger was taking a day off, so we were literally the only ones here. We wandered the campground, looked out over the different fishing docks and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
After dark, we used our big spot light to see beavers in the middle of the lake and at its edge. They make the funniest chirping noise, which neither of us had heard before. Steve cooked dinner (cod and shrimp risotto, yum) while I first went out to scout. Not knowing the strange chirping was a beaver, I cautiously tip-toed around, swaying the light as I went. Did I mention the “don’t feed the alligator sign?” Yep, it’s a thing I guess. So I was the tiniest bit nervous that the unknown sound could possibly have something to do with the giant reptile!
However, when I first saw the beaver, he was swimming at the edge of the lake. I think he had a stick in his hand, do beavers even have hands? Like raccoons? Anyway, he stared straight into the light and while I logically knew it blinded him to my actual presence, I still believe he stared straight into my soul! Ha-ha, okay maybe that’s a little melodramatic, but honestly he stared straight into the light! Then he transferred the stick to his mouth, slapped the water with his tail, turned and swam away. Steve Googled that behavior and learned the tail slap warns other beavers of dangers. It also frightens their enemies or makes their enemy reveal its location by startling it. I was certainly startled! So fun!
Ok, I got a little side-tracked because I’m so excited about seeing a beaver, but I really want to talk about our nomad life and some of the realities of living full-time in an RV. There are obvious benefits to this lifestyle such as lakeside writing, but there are also disadvantages such as being away from family. So I’ll try to break it down.
Benefits of Living Full-time in an RV
- Our nomad life footprint is small. Yes, we do have a houseful of stuff in storage, for when (if?) we return to regular life, but our regular everyday footprint is small. We just don’t need much out here.
- Clothing isn’t a huge necessity in that we don’t need many clothes. We each have four or five pairs of pants and probably ten t-shirts / sweatshirts / sweaters. We both have a couple pairs of shorts, swimsuits, jackets and down puffies. We’ve used everything we’ve brought so far! I do have more shoes than Steve, but mostly its because they’re little tennis shoes like Keds. I like to switch it up and they don’t take much space.
- It’s easy to control expenses living full-time in an RV. I track our nightly stays and any associated cost. Some months we spend almost nothing for camping, because we boondock and visit friends/family. Other months (like this one), we pay almost every night.
- We purchased a used truck for hauling our camper and needed to put in a new transmission, tires and brakes. Our actual regular truck maintenance cost was around $3000, so hopefully that is closer to a normal cost.
- Food costs are a combination of take-away and cook at home.
- This year we also paid for non-budgeted estate planning at a cost of $5300. It’s the best money we spent all year, as now our (adult) children know our wishes as we age and even after we die. We’ve removed all the guess work and already set up our own Powers of Attorney, in case of an unlikely traumatic event or, preferably, so our kids can aid us during our aging. I should write a separate post about that planning, as it’s too comprehensive to cover here.
- The “Insurance (other)” category includes truck/camper, my stored Vespa and life insurance.
Six months of expenses
Here’s a quick breakdown of our monthly cost percentages. I averaged the total costs from July-December, so you get an idea of where we spend our money.
We technically began living full-time in an RV in mid-June 2019, but I’m only including our full months. Our cost breakdown per month for campground fees is below
July – $30
August – $0
September – $35
October – $257
November – $276.72
December – $28
January, 2021 to date – $380
The differences in costs vary greatly, but mainly July-September reflect the ability to boondock pretty much anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. Also we spent a lot of time with our family then. December same, a lot of family driveway camping. This month we’ve been along the coasts of Mississippi and Florida, where boondocking is more difficult. I’m sure we could try harder, but $18-20/ night for campgrounds with electricity and hot showers have proven to be calling to us more lately.
- This list is in no particular order, so another reason we loving being nomadic is that our days are simple. It’s not entirely dislike thru-hiking. We wake up, get some coffee and decide if we’re staying put or moving on. Sometimes we figure it out the night before, but since we’re living in a truck camper it’s pretty easy to decide and then leave within 20 minutes. There’s not much to put away or store. The ability to drive on or to stay put is probably one of the best things about nomad life. When we got to Lake Perry on Thursday, we thought it was for one night. We ended up staying three nights because it’s just so pretty here. Yesterday we fished all day. Today we’re working a bit this morning and then hiking on the nearby trails this afternoon. We know we’re leaving here tomorrow, but we don’t actually know where we’re going next. Portions of the Mississippi Blues Trail & the Natchez Trace caught our eyes, so we’ve got a vague plan. We do know that next week, we’ll see our friends in Tulsa before heading back to family obligations in Colorado Springs. We’ve certainly spent a good amount of time in Colorado over this past year, more than we expected. However, the beauty of not having an exact schedule gives us availability to meet family commitments in The Springs. And, yep, our own aging parents were a large reason we spent the unbudgeted $5300 on estate planning this year. Having simple days means having flexibility to spend time with family.
- A huge benefit of living the nomad life is day to day freedom of movement. We can literally stop at whim to see new sites, from a Buc-ees Travel Store to a coal mine massacre memorial. See a cool sign, just stop. So awesome! We generally don’t have deadlines, other than family obligations and getting back home to use insurance benefits. So we actually do pull over on a whim sometimes.
- A final benefit of living full-time in an RV is freedom to explore our passions. We hike pretty much any day we choose. We write, take photos, document, vlog. All things we enjoy immensely but don’t have time for in everyday working life. Living simply allows us to explore our art in our own way. Who gets to sit by a lake and write in real life? Me, that’s who!
Challenges of living a nomad life
- Even though we’ve spent a lot of necessary and good time with Steve’s parents and sister, we’re away from our children, grandchildren and my own sister(s). That’s hard for me, for both of us. I miss them greatly. I also miss having friends nearby. Yes, we get to visit friends as we go, but it’s a little different than hosting a weekly book club with my girlfriends. We used to be very active volunteers, so we developed great friendships with couples who we enjoyed dinners and drinks and laughter with. It’s easier to cultivate friendships in a stationary lifestyle. Much harder with the nomad life. We’re making new acquaintances in some FaceBook groups for truck campers, but it’s still not the same as eating dinner with another couple. I guess with Covid, we wouldn’t really be doing that much anyway, so maybe this is a good time to be nomadic.
- Finding somewhere to stay everyday is a challenge, but not necessarily a drawback. Sometimes, the unknown of what’s ahead is difficult for me. I’m an organizer by nature and I like things, people, places to be predictable. There are days when the uncertainty of our plans weighs heavily on me. I like structure. We have very little. I am growing more than I could have anticipated! (So maybe the unpredictability is a benefit?)
- One challenge related to finding a place to stay is our desire to nest in one location. Staying stationary for about three nights is best for us, but beyond that we work to find balance between nesting and moving on, looking for our next adventure.
- Having such a small cooking space means that sometimes our diet is boring. I type that at the same time I already mentioned Steve cooking shrimp and cod risotto the other night. But that’s not the norm, as it took three pans and needed a LOT of cleanup. Usually we eat something we can cook in one pan, which means some form of carbohydrate and protein. Chicken and rice, spaghetti and meat-sauce, potatoes & sausage, a lot of Zatarans boxed meals. We tend to eat a lot of easy to cook and easy to clean dishes. Lunch is generally ramen with an egg and furikake seasoning. Breakfast is generally frosted mini-wheats or oatmeal. Tonight I’m making pork curry with brown rice. For lunch I had a kale salad with anchovy and lemon dressing. It’s easier to eat more regular foods when we’re plugged into electricity and have hot water for dishes. But the sameness of our on-the-road-meals does get a bit boring sometimes.
- That brings me to the fourth drawback of living a nomad life. We usually don’t have electricity or unlimited water. Since we generally boondock, we take very fast water on/water off kind of showers only once or twice a week. There are washcloth baths in between, but I do kind of miss electricity and hot water whenever you want it. Steve said he misses having a dishwasher. That surprised me, but I do miss the sanitizing ability of a dishwasher. I wonder if our immune systems have grown as a result of not having sanitized dishes. Ha! We keep our breakfast bowls in the fridge after we wash them. Partly for storage and partly just in case they aren’t as clean as we’d like them to be. So that’s a thing…no electricity and no access to unlimited hot water.
- One of the largest drawbacks to living a nomad life is actually the lack of connectivity, specifically WiFi. We’ve still not come up with a complete solution, as we mainly park at McDonalds or Starbucks to use their free WiFi. We can use our phones as hotspots, but of course that affects data usage, which leads to throttling. It also means we need a good cell signal, which we often don’t have either. Many of the places we stay have only 1-2 bars of service, generally meaning we can text and that’s about it. So the lack of easy connectivity is definitely a drawback to living full-time in an RV.
- Not having an income ranks up there in the challenges column, but if we decide we like this lifestyle enough, then we’ll have to get more serious about figuring that out. Right now we consider that we write a hobby blog, which we’ve played at monetizing. At some point, we’ll either need to get serious or get jobs!
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So benefits or Challenges to living Full-time in an RV?
The benefits of living a nomad life definitely outweigh the challenges we experience, but the challenges are certainly present. We are more nomadic than many of the RV’ers we’ve met, in that we’re pretty much always on the go. Others full-timers we’ve met are actually more of snow birds, in my opinion. They leave their home, go to a certain location and stay. Then some months later, they return home. Most people we meet are weekend campers.
And then occassionally we have the good fortune of meeting other vagabonds. Then it’s super fun exchanging stories and hearing about their adventures. One afternoon recently, I sat on the ground in a visitor center parking lot with the wife of another vagabond couple. They were around our age and had been along the coast of Texas. We’re hoping to make it there, so you can imagine my excitement when she opened her map and shared her list of boondocking sites. What an unexpected gift! I took so many notes.
I’m learning and growing and bouncing out of my comfort zone on the regular. That’s a huge benefit of being nomadic. I wouldn’t have thought that I’d enjoy this lifestyle so much, but our truck camper is just so dang cozy. It is definitely our home and it’s my happy place.
One day, I’d probably like having a house/home again, but for now, I’m loving living full-time in an RV!