After a year of full-time RVing, there are a few things I would like to get off my chest! Prepare for a rant. In this article, I want to share the top seven things I wish someone had told me before we left our stick and brick home for the open road. If you haven't read our story you might want to check out RV 101 - So You Want To Be An RVer?.
So here they are, My Top 7.
#1 Your First Months Will be Hard!
Ok, where was this statement when I needed it? Sure, there is a ton of freedom, but you just spent months downsizing everything you own. When you are most exhausted, you are thrown into a totally new adventure with a TON to learn. Think you know something about RVing? You are wrong. Until you live the in an RV full-time, you have no idea what you are doing.
Our first few months consisted of statements like "What was that?" "What's that smell?" "Where are we going to park?" "OMG we can't turn around!" You get the idea. It seemed like every day was a new layer of stress. Sure, there were moments where we were smiling, but there were a lot more moments when we were pulling out our hair!
Did we think about quitting? Possibly, but we didn't admit it to each other. Somehow we knew we had hit a steep learning curve and had to survive to thrive.
If I had known how hard our first few months of full-timing would be, I wouldn't have started. PERIOD. Do I regret the RV life? No! At eight months, something shifted and we not only understood our rig, but we had a foundational understanding of what we could and could not do.
One day we woke up and the adjustments felt easy. I no longer struggled with keeping everything perfectly clean. Brian began to feel like he was at home. We knew what sounds the rig made and why. We had an arsenal of people to call if we needed repairs. We had learned you can't take a 66 foot rig down small town streets and expect to easily turn around.
So, here's my encouragement to you! If you are struggling in your first few months, you are not alone. It's an adjustment. Stick with it and cut yourself some slack. You have taken on an entirely new life and you don't yet know the rules. Hang in there. You will!
#2 RV's Need a Lot of Maintenance.
We began dealing with unexpected repairs from week one. This was a huge shock! Somehow we had gotten the impression that RVing was a carefree way to live. No more mortgage or lawn, what could there possibly be to fix? (Insert hearty laugh)
The truth is, an RV is an apartment on wheels. You are dealing with all the components of a small living unit and a truck together. Oh, and did I mention that your house experiences an earthquake everyday you travel? Yep! Your home is shaking up a storm, resisting wind, weaving on curves, parking in uneven spaces. You get the picture? Your new house is going to need some serious care.
Someone should have told us that from the beginning. I am so sick of seeing the internet filled with these cute before and after photos of RV interiors. There is a lot more to living in an RV than painting the cabinets and adding a new floor.
There are tires, water pumps, starters, leveling systems, septic systems that all need to be maintained and on occasion, fixed.
At first, I thought we had bought a bad rig. Turned out we bought the top of the line Class A in the industry and had very few repairs compared to other people. How do I know? I started to ask!
While work camping for six months in the Midwest, I met hundreds of RVers from all over the U.S. They were all in the process of having something fixed. It's just a part of RV life.
Did this upset me?
Strangely enough, it actually comforted me to know we were not alone. In fact, we were facing very few issues in comparison to lesser built RVs. This was freedom! Of course, it was easy for me to say. I wasn't the one fixing things or trying to figure out where to have repairs. Brian felt a ton of pressure.
Bottom line, if you full-time, you better budget both time and money for maintenance. Even if you buy new, there will be many issues that have to be fixed under warranty. Keep a flexible attitude. At some point, things will balance out!
#3 Finding a Place to Stay May be Harder Than You Think.
If you own a Class B RV, you probably haven't had this problem. If you are a 42 foot Class A pulling a motorcycle and full size car that totals 66 feet, then you may understand.
Bigger isn't always better. While I wouldn't want to own a different type of RV, I wish I had known just how challenging a large rig would be. Imagine parking a semi and you have a good idea of what we experienced from day one. Since we had never driven a semi, we had no idea that they aren't easy to park. Add in the fact that we are pulling a tow dolly and can't back up, and I am sure you can imagine our frustration.
While fifth wheels sit high off the ground, most Class A's do not. This means that every curb, every incline and every parking space must be considered with care. We learned that RV parks with grass pads aren't good for a 44,000 pound rig! (YOU SINK). We also learned that if a Walmart parking lot says NO TRUCKS what they really mean is, "Anything oversized is not going to fit. DON'T TRY IT."
If we are traveling without a firm destination, we must allow time to consider various parking options. The first couple of places may not work out. The incline might be too great, the ground too soft, the exit too steep or the tree branches too low. Many RV parks are not big rig friendly, even when they say they are.
Always have a backup plan and find a place EARLY! The later you drive, the harder it is to find a place to park. It can be frustrating and dangerous, especially if you are towing! Now we follow a strict rule. We begin looking for a place for the night no later than 4 pm (except in the summer). If it gets dark early, we park early because it's better to be safe than sorry!
Do you plan to Boondock instead of stay at RV parks? Plan on some serious research, trial and error.
#4 More Cleaning Less Time.
Ok, here's a pet peeve of mine. There are a gazillion websites that talk about the joys of downsizing to a tiny house. They tell you everything has a place and tout the ease of cleaning 400 square feet as opposed to 2,500. As a neat freak, I read these blogs and thought "What's not to love about that!"
Here's what they don't tell you. They don't tell you that everything you own is traveling with you. You have to move item a to get to item b that sits next to item c which also has to adjust. This leads to a continual clutter that must be adjusted in order to keep your new tiny space clean.
If you are living alone, it's probably pretty easy. If you are living with a spouse, animals and or kids, it's an entirely different story. Things get moved and that makes a visual mess.
Need the Windex? You may have to move three or four items to reach it. Want something in a cabinet? Ditto.
At first, I found myself endlessly cleaning trying to make everything perfect. In time, I discovered a few systems that saved my sanity. I also began to cut myself some slack. Life was messy and while I wanted things clean, I had to realize this was now my living, working and traveling space. It took a few months to get this through my brain.
#5 You Need Less Everything.
This seems obvious until you find yourself at the grocery store buying sizes that will NEVER fit in your cabinets or fridge. Sure, you use to buy toilet paper at Costco, but not anymore! Here is just one more adjustment I wish I had been warned about.
It's going to take time to find the right items for your pantry and your medicine cabinets. Once you have a system, you can repeat it over and over again, but cut yourself some slack. It will take time.
Three months into full-timing, I foolishly ordered a set of liter size shampoo and conditioner, along with a giant can of hairspray. I didn't even think about the purchase because it's what I always bought. Not anymore! Do you know how hard it is to store toiletries that big in an RV? HARD.
Every rig is different, but in time you will create a master buying list that works for you. In the meantime, don't be surprised if you can't fit something and want to throw it out the window!
#6 Work Camping Jobs Are Easy To Get.
From the beginning, we knew we wanted to try work camping. If you are not familiar with the term, work camping is the art of traveling somewhere to work in exchange for an RV spot and for pay. There are actually entire websites devoted to finding these types of positions. Buy an inexpensive membership, you can post your resume online and apply for work with a few simple clicks.
Here are a few of the best places to look for work camping jobs:
In the beginning, I had no idea there were work camping seasons! If I had known this, we wouldn't have started RVing in November because it’s generally too late to find work. It was really frustrating to try to teach ourselves how the work camping industry worked.
Here are a few tips that I learned:
The biggest season is summer because all 50 states offer camping and resort activities.
Employers begin hiring for spring/summer in December and sometimes even earlier.
Jobs range from helping run a campground to running a booth at RV shows.
Not all employers want to pay you fairly. Many want you to work a lot of hours just for your space rent. Count the hours versus the value of what you are receiving. If it doesn't pay at least minimum wage, look elsewhere! You may be asked to work a lot more than they originally tell you. Don't be surprised if you aren't paid. Look for positions that state PAID FOR ALL HOURS WORKED. This is key.
State and City parks also hire during the summer season. If you have a particular area you are interested in staying, search for park systems in that region. Paid winter work is the hardest to locate. Most winter work is exchange only. This is because there are only a few states that have camping in the winter and everyone wants to be where it is warm. Begin searching for winter work in May and keep at it. There are several RV parks in southern California that offer hourly wages along with space rent. Texas, Arizona and Florida are filled with snowbirders willing to trade without pay.
#7 Work Camping Can Be A Nightmare.
Someone has to say it! Work camping can be a nightmare. Do a little research and you will read the horror stories. You may be asked to sign a contract obligating you to a season of misery. Our first work camping experience was a true boot camp. The rules changed from day to day and we were continually confused about our roles. After a few months, we were accused of things we didn't do and spied on with cameras. This wasn't worth the hassle nor the mental distress. I have no doubt that is why many RV parks find themselves with "sudden openings" that they advertise in Workamper and other online job sites.
Here are a few tips and tricks:
The more concerned they are with contracts, rules and job descriptions, the more likely it is that they will micro-manage. Believe it or not, what works in the "real world" is often the opposite in the work camping industry.
Talk to people who have worked for them before. Check forums and post questions. No matter how great a job sounds, it's worth checking out before you drive cross-country.
In most cases, you aren't making over $9 an hour plus your parking expenses (And this is a good scenario). While I believe in honoring your commitment, don't think you have to stay in a bad situation. You are not the first RVer to cut and run. Do your best by the company and work hard, but don't stay in an abusive situation. You rarely need references. Did a job not work out? Don't be overly discouraged. There are many work camping positions that will not check your former employer. This means if something goes south, you don't have to stay just in order to gain a reference.
Want to work at a specific park? Why not pay to park, observe the place and then apply to work when they have an opening. This is a great way to see if a setting is right for you. Remember, most commitments in this industry are between four and eight months, so it's a good thing to know if you like the place before you start.
That's it. End of rant. In the end, we decided to keep RVing. The first six months were definitely the hardest, but we made it through and learned a ton. So what about you? Are you considering the RV life? If so, I hope you will take these seven items to heart. Don't be discouraged when things don't go perfectly at first. There is a learning curve that must be embraced!
Reading other people's stories can help you prepare for your own successful journey.
RVing is not for the faint at heart. It's for adventure lovers who never give up! Is that you? Join the party!