Choosing to live in a recreational vehicle full-time in retirement can shrink costs and boost life satisfaction after a working career ends. Full-time RVing comes with challenges, including finding good healthcare and coping with fuel costs. However, the opportunity to travel widely while also spending less than many stationary retirees makes it an appealing option. A financial advisor could help you put a retirement plan together for your goals and needs.
RV Retirement Basics
RV ownership is widespread, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) trade group, with approximately 11 million households possessing some kind of RV. Of that group, a 2022 RVIA report found only about 1.5% are full-time RVers. However, 43% of full-time RV-dwellers are retired, suggesting it’s a viable choice for at least some retirees.
The ability to travel more or less constantly is one appeal of RV life. RV-dwelling retirees report that visiting the many scenic, historic and recreational destinations in the country both stimulating and relaxing. With the freedom to go nearly anywhere, RV-dwellers often more easily can spend time with far-flung family members, improving their ability to maintain important relationships.
Full-time RV Finances
A key benefit of full-time RVing in retirement is that it is usually less expensive than living in a conventional stationary home or apartment. Housing is most people’s biggest expense, consuming $21,409 or nearly 35 percent of the average household’s expenditures in 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Living in an RV can cut housing cost significantly. For one thing, an RV costs much less than even a modest house. Prices vary widely depending on the type of RV, but small camper trailers can be had for as little as $10,000, while luxurious Greyhound-sized motor homes may cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Travel trailers that can be towed by a standard pickup truck or large SUV, the most popular type of RV, average around $30,000. Lenders will often finance RV purchases for 12 years, making payments affordable even on a tight budget.
Once an RV is acquired, a campsite providing connections to water, electricity and sanitary drains costs around $30 per night. Commercial campgrounds offering amenities ranging from free wi-fi to pools and laundry facilities, can cost more, including up to hundreds of dollars per night near major tourist destinations.
Campgrounds operated by the states and federal government are often much less, as low as several dollars per night. And for RVers who want to stay in one place, it’s possible to negotiate long-term rates as low as a few hundred dollars per month, including utilities, even in commercial RV parks with plenty of amenities.
For ultimate economy, some RVers camp for free on public lands such as the many millions of federally owned Bureau of Land Management territory, most of it in the western United States. Boondocking, as this practice is known, means going without amenities and may require upgrading an RV to use solar power instead of plugging into campground electricity.
RV Life Costs and Concerns
Gasoline or diesel to power a tow vehicle or motor home can be a sizable outlay with motor homes and truck-trailer combos getting as low as single-digit miles per gallon. When fuel prices are high, this can cut into an RVer’s mobility and may mean staying one location for a while or traveling shorter distances.
Health insurance can also be different for retired full-time RVers. While standard Medicare coverage is accepted by healthcare providers nationwide, Medicare Advantage policies are generally geographically restricted. It’s always wise to read the fine print on any insurance policy to make sure it will cover treatment that may be required anywhere the retiree may travel, but it’s particularly important when not living in a fixed location.
Living full-time in an RV can help retirees stretch their budgets while also enjoying the freedom of a nomadic lifestyle. Full-time RVing is nearly infinitely flexible, allowing retirees to stay on the move constantly touring interesting new destinations, or remain in one place for months or years at a time.
Retirement Planning Tips
Whatever your plan for retirement living, a financial advisor can help you make the right moves to financially support your choices. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
If you’re keen on the idea of moving to a new place in retirement, SmartAsset identified and ranked the places where retirees are moving.
If you’re unfamiliar with RVing but like the idea of retiring to a trailer or motor home, consider renting first to try it out. RVs of many different types can be rented for rates as low as $100 a day and testing the experience for a weekend or a week can teach you more about the lifestyle than any amount of research.
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