Face it. You can't take it with you, or at least you can't take it ALL with you. When deciding to live your life on the road, you have to choose which items to bring and which to leave behind. Luckily, most RVers can now leave all their paperwork behind.
Gone are the days of carrying taxes, receipts, and necessary papers in banking boxes. Today, the modern traveler can digitize their entire life and keep it in their pocket. There has never been an easier time to travel than today.
With that said, you don't just wake up one morning and find yourself completely paper-free. Choosing to minimize your paperwork takes time and method. In this article, we will explore a simple step by step process for leaving the paper pile behind.
When facing a monumental task, it helps to discover your personal "why" before you begin your challenge. Let's start by looking at the advantages of living a paperless lifestyle. It will give you the motivation you need to make the change.
7 Benefits of Paperless Living For FullTime RVers
1.) Cut The Clutter. One of my favorite anonymous quotes goes like this, "Maybe The Life You've Always Wanted To Live Is Buried Underneath Everything You Own." The term clutter is defined as, "a collection of things lying about in an untidy mass." This "disorderly mass" takes up space, and when space is at a premium, disorder impedes movement and reduces your overall effectiveness.
Paper is like that. Owning a mound of pure paper stacks up burying your good intentions. If you live in an RV, look around and find your pockets of paper. This might be books you've never read, personal documents, maps, guides, manuals, warranties or just mail. Now imagine each of those same areas empty! If you are anything like me, you will be delighted! Suddenly, you have oodles of storage space where moments before you felt completely enclosed.
2.) Stress-Free Living. Ask any professional organizer and they will tell you that an abundance of "stuff" adds to our unconscious state of stress. There is nothing more stressful than needing to find a document, opening a drawer and finding a mishmash of papers that have shifted with travel. Now, you have to stop what you are doing to sort through piles of this and that. In a paperless word, you organize with tag words, key phrases that help you locate your document online in seconds. So, which process sounds less stressful?
3.) Saves You Time. We just talked about the stress of sorting papers; now consider the amount of wasted time spent with each search. I don't know about you, but I could sure use some extra minutes each day. Paperless living provides an opportunity to gain back precious moments spent in frantic searches.
4.) Travel-Friendly Access. In the past, an RVer might have had to store personal paperwork in a bank security box or storage area in their domicile state. It just wasn't practical to travel with your most important life documents. Today, paperless living makes this fear obsolete. Using your cell phone and cloud storage you can immediately access copies of your birth certificate, social security card, passports, copies of death certificates or military discharge all with a couple of quick taps on a screen. How's that for amazing?
5.) Save On Printing. The digital revolution eliminates the need for hard copies. Simply email a copy of your document and forgo the need to print it out. You saved a tree, and you saved your pocket book! No need to stock up on ink and paper. A few clicks of the mouse is all that's needed!
6.) Be Fire and Water Safe. In the old days, valuable papers were subject to fire and water damage. Your best option was to store your items in costly emergency safes or a bank security box. Today, your RV can burn down, and you need not worry about your paperwork; just access your files from your phone or laptop. Everything you need is accessible even in the worst of situations (If stored in the cloud, they are still safe even if your phone and computer are destroyed).
7.) You Can Secure It. Digital copies can be encrypted with high-security passwords and fingerprint scans. Don't assume that if your information is stored online, it is readily available to criminals. Nothing could be further from the truth. Digital storage allows you to choose a high level of security for sensitive information. You can access your paperwork from anywhere, but only YOU can access it.
The benefits of traveling without paperwork are undeniable, so if you are ready to take the plunge here's what to do:
1.) Opt Out of All Junk Mail. Did you know you can actually opt out of all junk mail? It's true. Companies like DMAChoice.org allow you to create an account and pick and choose which mail you want to receive, including junk mail, catalogs, political flyers and more. In fact, if you really want to get rid of junk mail, this service can also help you opt out of the email that is clogging up your inbox. You can still receive items you specifically request; it just eliminates what you don't want.
2.) Embrace E-Statements. Nearly every company offers electronic billing for everything from cable and utilities to banks and credit cards. Recently, I changed my RV insurance policy without the need of any paperwork. RVinsurance.com offered online paperless policies and emailed me printable insurance cards within minutes of my policy taking effect.
Make a list of your monthly bills and take the time to sign up for the e-statements on each website. In the beginning, you will need some patience. It takes a while to create a username and password account for each bill. Remember, this is a one time process that will benefit your travels, and the end result will save you time and money.
3.) Begin Paying Your Bills Online. Nearly every company allows you to pay your bills automatically through automated withdrawal or e-checks. Typically, you will be notified of a bill and payment by email. In some cases, you can also choose a text or SMS notification. If you don't trust the automated process, you can manually release funds from your bank online. Either way, you are avoiding a stack of unnecessary paperwork.
4.) Sort The Papers. Yep, it's time to look at the growing pile of old paperwork shoved in the corner. Now that you have done away with junk mail and embraced online bills, you can begin the process of sorting and purging. This process takes discipline, so focus on the benefit of being paper-free and don't get bogged down with the process.
Take the time to sort paperwork into manageable piles. Keep papers important to taxes like bills, w2, investments and expenses in one bin. Sentimental papers should be held in another bin. Make your decisions in rapid succession when deciding what to keep and what to destroy. Keep moving forward until one small area is complete.
5.) Digitize Important Documents. When everything is divided, look at the documents you intend to keep in electronic storage. These items will require a labeling system so you can easily find them online or on a hard drive. Once you decide on a tag or labeling system, stick to it. Don't change the pattern part way through the project. Instead, create a master document that will help you navigate your files in the future. Remember, the goal is to save time by quickly accessing relevant paperwork. Sloppy labeling makes for a digital nightmare. Be sure you can find your documents after you have scanned them.
At the bottom of this article, I have added suggestions for the digitizing and storage process. There are several apps and scanning tools that are helpful.
Always make a copy of your digital files. I recommend you use both cloud-based and hard drive storage. You can also leave an emergency hard drive at the home of a close family member for access in case of a worst case scenario.
6.) Use A Cell Phone or Tablet For Notes. Embrace the digital revolution by scribbling your lists on a tablet or smartphone. Google Voice and Siri (IPhone) can be voice operated and create short lists, notes, and even calendar entries. TADAH! You have not only eliminated the use of paper, but you have the note with you when you need it since you stored it in your smartphone.
Are you a recipe lover? Why not create a digital account with AllRecipes.com. This app connects easily to your tablet and allows you to store personal recipes, as well as access the AllRecipes website. Simply prop your tablet up in the corner of your RV kitchen and you have everything you need to make a fantastic meal.
7.) Digitize Your Signature (power pad app). On occasion, you will need to sign official documents. Did you know that you don't have to print the paper out, sign it and mail it? Using an app like PowerPadLite, SignEasy or DocuSign give you the power to add your signature with your finger. You can also utilize electronic fingerprint scans that connect with a USB and authorize your official signature to be added to important documents.
8.) Use An Electronic Reader. Why lug books down the road when you can travel with an Amazon Kindle? A Kindle can store upwards of 1,000 books in an amazingly compact space.
If you already own a tablet, you can save even more space by downloading the Kindle App along with a Zinio App. The Kindle App will allow you to use your tablet as an e-reader, while Zinio will allow you to subscribe to magazines in an entirely digital format.
Love books and hate spending money? Join the library in your "hometown" and use your library card to check out digital media like ebooks and magazines all for free!
9.) Send Online Gifts and Cards. Traveling in an RV means I don't have room for wrapping paper, gift bags, and birthday cards. With digital living, I can still participate in life's little celebrations without taking up precious space. Here's how:
Start an account with Hallmark.com. Using your account, you can pick and choose from a wide selection of greeting cards. Just pick a card you like, tell them what you want it to say, and the company will make the card, print your message and send it to the one you love! Want to add a gift? It's as simple as a few extra clicks.
Owning an Amazon Prime Membership also makes gift giving easy. I can shop for a variety of gifts, have them shipped and gift-wrapped without ever having to touch the item. How's that for convenient?
Ok, so at this point you are convinced that paperless living and RV travel go hand in hand. So, let's take a look at a few of the specific products needed to make this change happen.
First Question: Are You Using A Mail Service?
While our goal is to eliminate paper, we have to assume that you are still receiving some form of physical mail. In my case, my Mom collects our mail and sends it to us every few weeks. Other travelers choose to use mailing services that provide both a physical address and a forwarding service.
Here's the key: choose a mailing service that can scan your mail and send it to you in digital files (or in my case convince your Mom!). Companies like the Traveling Mailbox allow you to view your mail online and then forward it to the organization app of your choice. When your mail arrives, they scan the envelope, which allows you to choose what you want to do with it. They will then physically send it to the location of your choice, scan and email it, return it to the sender or even just shred it. Prices start at $15 a month. The Traveling Mailbox also offers check deposits and fax line options.
Escapees RV Club has provided mail forwarding services since 1985 and has recently upgraded to mail scanning services for only $10 a month. Note: You must be an Escapees member to use this service.
Second Question: How Will You Scan Your Existing Paperwork?
Unfortunately, your current paperwork will not scan itself. You will need to invest in a digital scanning option. The good news is there are lots of options at a variety of price points. Here are a few of my top picks starting with the most affordable and working my way up to the granddaddy of scanners.
Smart Phone Apps - Scanning a document can be as simple as snapping a pic on your phone. A simple picture is particularly useful if you want to save a receipt in record time. Smartphone apps are inexpensive (sometimes even FREE) and do a decent job. You will not get the same quality, however, as an actual physical scanner.
CamScanner - $5 a month will give you features like cloud storage, and it works with any Android, IOS or Windows-based smartphone. There is also a free version of this app.
Genius Scan by The Grizzly Labs - Andriod, IOS, and Windows ready. Easy to use and the $7 app upgrade is definitely worth the cost. This program will allow you to upload to electronic services like Dropbox and Evernote.
Scannable by Evernote - If you love IOS and Evernote, then this is the scanning app for you. Scan everything from business cards to multi-page documents with ease. Works on your phone or tablet.
Handheld Scanners - Portable handheld document scanners are easy to use. Most are the size of a thick ruler and will scan both documents and photographs. Prices range from $25 to $100, and they vary by DPI (dots per inch) quality. Personally, I own a mid-range unit made by VuPoint, and it works perfectly for me. Just place the scanner on top of the paper and slowly pull downward until the wand has gone over the entire document. The information is then recorded onto an SD card that can be moved to your smartphone or computer.
Doxie Go and Go Wifi - The Doxie Go scanners are portable document scanners with rechargeable batteries. They range from $175-$250 depending on the model. They are a portable document scanner that pulls the paper through the scanner and then sends it to your favorite organization app. Doxie's are known for excellent performance and have high ratings on Amazon.
Fujitsu Scansnap - This is the King of portable scanners, and it's easy to see why. You can load the reading tray with a variety of size documents all at the same time. Scan your birth certificate, a photo, a coupon and a wallet size credit card all at the same time. The automated feeder will pull the paperwork through the scanner in record time. The Scansnap immediately records BOTH SIDES of the document and puts the information into a PDF or sends it to the organization app you use. While these scanners are super cool, they are also expensive. Plan to drop at least $500 if you want to go this route.
Third Question: Where Do You Actually Store The Data?
At last, we scanned all our paperwork and are ready to save it somewhere. Let's take a look at a few of our options.
Evernote - This popular app can organize and store just about anything. If you are new to Evernote, you can take an online class devoted to the ins and outs of this fantastic program. Their website claims "Evernote is The App To Manage It All."
Evernote Premium is $70 a year. I would recommend this upgrade if you plan to archive more than a few items. With this app, you can stay organized and easily access all of your information. To look at the options, CLICK HERE.
Shoeboxed - I have used this service and LOVED IT. Shoeboxed allows you to mail them just about anything. Just shove it in one of their prepaid envelopes and they will scan it for you and organize it for online access. You can also use their app to scan receipts as you go and upload them into their system. Shoeboxed creates expense reports, business contacts, mileage tracking and helps make tax prep a breeze. They provide pre-stamped "magic envelopes" that you fill with paper clutter. They take it from there. Prices start at $10 a month. Classic and Business accounts cost more, but offer QuickBooks online integration, and you can change plans at any time.
FileThis - An electronic bill organizer that offers digital security with on time payments. It combines all your accounts into one easy to read dashboard while providing bank-level security. This service gives you all your account information in one location, and allows you to connect tax information and personal health documents with your day to day accounts. FileThis offers several options for payment including a Free and $5 a month option.
Thumb Drive - A thumb drive is a USB data flash drive. Basically, it's a small, portable memory device and can be used to store copies of your data. A large drive will hold up to a couple terra byte of data for about $60. You can store and access your information on any computer using this system. It is lite and very portable, however, they are easily damaged or lost. I suggest owning multiple thumb drives, but repeating the data; that way, if one should break, you still have the information elsewhere. If you are traveling with "secret documents" like Jason Bourne, you can purchase a $600, military grade encrypted unit. See, even Jason Bourne moves paperless. (smile)
Google Drive, Dropbox or iCloud - These file hosting services offer free and paid applications. In it's simplest form, you transfer your digital data to one of these sites, and they store the information for you. You can create files for your data and store everything from digital paperwork to audio and video files all in one place. These "cloud" services can be accessed from nearly any device and provide a fair level of safety. For increased safety, you might want to consider something like BoxCryptor. BoxCryptor connects with your cloud storage of choice and encrypts your data BEFORE it gets to the cloud. $50 a year provides encryption on all your files and devices.
Traveling the country is an unusual lifestyle, and you never know when you might still need an old school, paper check! Believe it or not, this is the one item I would not recommend replacing. If you need a check, a digital file just won't do. The good news is a book of checks doesn't take up a lot of space.
In the end, it's up to you to design a paperless system that works for your RVing lifestyle. Start small, but keep at it. In no time at all, you will find yourself loving your new digital lifestyle!