During the process of becoming full timers we couldn’t share our plan with everyone, so in September of 2013 I starting writing what I was feeling in the hopes that eventually when the dream became a reality I could publish what happened. The steps often overlapped so I have posted them in the order they were started.
1. Deciding to seriously pursue full timing and creating a plan – I could write a book about this process, but basically it boils down to tons of research, lots of communication, and being very honest with yourself about what you want, and what you are willing to give up to achieve it. For us the decision was made almost instantly and then reaffirmed over and over as we learned more about the full timing lifestyle. I like to work from a 5 year plan. I started doing it for my career 10 years ago and it has worked very well because many of those goals took time to develop and it allowed me to make decisions in the short-term that furthered a long term goal. So I started with a 5 year plan but because we wanted to go full time as soon as possible thinking that far ahead was making me crazy. In the beginning, there were way too many unknowns for us to make many of the decisions and we got mired down in an “analysis paralysis”, over-thinking every decision.
Finally, when we reached a high frustration level, we sat down and talked, and decided we would make decisions based on what would work for the first two years on the road. Largely this has worked out, although there were still many decisions that were a leap of faith. For a planner like me that was pretty tough, but eventually we made a loose two year plan, but tried not to get to bogged down in all the details, especially in the early stages. Things did evolve over time as we got more information and our life circumstances changed, but we held pretty true to the plan we started with. The main thing is as you go through the process don’t lose sight of your overall goal!
2. Select a Trailer or Motor home – This was a major discussion for us as Lee wanted a motor home and I wanted a fifth wheel. We spent a lot of time talking about the relative merits of each, but for us it ended up coming down to price… as the motor homes with the features we wanted (Class A, Diesel, Slide outs) were much more expensive than a new truck and 5th wheel. Once we actually looked at what was available in our price range the decision was a relatively easy one.
3. Select a specific 5th wheel – We chose to go to a large RV Show and spent 2 full days walking the lot and looking at every fifth wheel that met our minimum requirements. Since this was going to be our new home we carefully weighed price, options, and layouts. You can read about that experience here. We knew that as a couple we needed to on occasion “go to our separate corners”, so separation of space was absolutely critical. I also have some issues with claustrophobia, so ceiling height in the bedroom was a key factor. By being completely honest and understanding that what might work for weekends or short trips would not work for every day, it really reduced the number of models that were in the running. Once we narrowed it down, the key decision factors were weight, price, comparative storage space, manufacturer, and cosmetics. The Open Range 386FLR was the overall winner for us.
Once we selected the model we wanted we had to find a dealer and a specific unit. This was tougher than expected as prices were all over the place, and we ultimately looked nationwide because in some cases it would have been cheaper to buy in another state and drive it back. I spent a lot of time on RVTrader.com…which is a really good site and has a great IPad app. We ultimately found a 2013 model relatively close to us and since the 2014’s were coming out it was at a “rock bottom” price of $55K. The after-market costs of wiring for a generator (along with a washer/dryer and the hitch) brought the overall price up to $65K , but with our trade-in of $15K it took us to $40k which seemed very reasonable. We were all set and ready to commit, but the dealer started putting on some pressure for an earlier sell (we were adamant the truck had to be purchased first) which annoyed us so much that we started looking for other units. I went to the Open Range website and found one of their recommended dealers that was not on RVTrader, and they recommended another approach.
If we custom ordered a rig it would come with the generator and we could add wood blinds, double-paned windows, a larger refrigerator, switch to a queen sized bed, and have the factor remove one of the couches so we could put a desk in. This unit (including $15K trade in) came back at $5, which was $17K more but also brand-new and exactly what we wanted. That’s what we decided to do. Best advice on all of this…take your time and remember you don’t HAVE to do anything. You’re going to be living in this RV for a long time, so make sure it’s right. Update: Two years later we absolutely love our rig. Most of the people we know have traded in their original rig for a different one and we are so glad we made the right choice for us the first time.
4. Selecting a truck – Once we selected the type of camper at the RV show we met with an onsite Ford Engineer who spent a lot of time with us spec’ing out the truck we would need for our specific fiver. You could certainly accomplish the same thing with research, but having an outside opinion (not the RV dealer or the car dealer) was fantastic and highly recommended. He suggested we forego the four-wheel drive (to save the weight and expense, and because we wouldn’t be living in places where we needed it) in our Ford Super Duty and we special ordered exactly what we wanted from the dealer based on his recommendations. This ended up being a terrific experience as we could pick every option and the colors that would match our new fifth wheel.
The one downside was the 8 week order cycle, but getting exactly what we wanted was definitely worth the wait. A more difficult part of this process was determining which cars to trade in. We had three cars and ended up trading in them all for the truck. This will reduce our overall debt load and minimize the bills we need to pay off before we go on the road. It was hard for Lee to trade in his paid off convertible, but an important step for us on our new journey. Update: The truck has been great and perfect for what we have used it for. We continue to be grateful for the help that engineer gave us. My only complaint is the passenger seat is not that comfortable. If you are test driving a vehicle, don’t forget to pay particular attention to that as the two seats are not always the same. .
5. Pre-Delivery Inspection and taking possession of the RV – Lee spent some frustrating time trying to schedule the detailed PDI on our new unit. All three people in the service department he talked to strongly discouraged the need for it. They gave him a song and dance about how unusual it was and a brief walk through would suffice. Thankfully we had done our research and read many horror stories about folks who signed the loan papers and then found all sorts of issues and we were adamant. Lee explained to the Service Manager that we were going to have a detailed walk through with their tech or we wouldn’t be signing the loan. They changed their tune, but I was amazed they are giving us so much trouble. You wouldn’t buy a house without an inspection so why would you buy a home on wheels without one. Because the walk through was in March we were unable to run water through the system. We had to take on faith there were no major water issues (turns out there were not) and we couldn’t test the washer/dryer (which ultimately needed to be replaced). Luckily there were no major issues, but we had a few things pop up later when we stayed at the seasonal site that were a real pain to get fixed after the fact. My advice test everything and pay close attention to anything installed after-market because that is where most of my friends have had issues. All of that being said, taking possession of the RV was a very happy day!! Update: We have been extremely lucky with how our rig has held up compared to others, but that have more to do with luck/providence than the inspection we did. My best advice here is absolutely, positively buy an extended warranty.
6. Becoming debt free – We are not independently wealthy. We have spent most of our money on our three kids and although we have money in 401K, we didn’t have have much in other types of investments. We knew selling our house would never give us enough money to pay off the camper, truck and the debt so we knew something had to change. As a starting point, we instituted an austerity program and went through all of our bills one at a time to see where we could reduce. Some of the opportunities we found included removing extra cable boxes and features ($108 a month in savings), removing some monthly fees from various companies ($45 a month in savings), and reducing our weekly grocery spend ($200 a month in savings). We became credit card debt free in March 2014 and what a great feeling that was. We still had the truck loan and the RV loan, but hoped the house sale would cover most of that debt.
Unfortunately, the real estate market in our are was very depressed and despite aggressive marketing we received no offers. We kept lowering the price and finally received an offer that was a little less than we had initially paid for it. We had all the equity we had built up over the last 12 years, but no additional money from the house increasing in value. We were left with two choices: Wait until we received our asking price, or accept the price and take some debt on the road. In the end we decided we couldn’t wait another year for the possibility the house might sell and went on the road with truck and RV payments. I took a large bonus check I received and made 24 months worth of payments on the truck, so at least we would have some breathing room there and we hoped the cheaper lifestyle would allow us to pay off the remaining debt as soon as possible. It was not an easy decision and definitely not one to be made lightly. Update: We paid off our truck with the buyout money I received when I left my corporate job. We still have a loan on our RV and payments of $400 a month but that is absolutely manageable. The only way to eliminate that debt would have been to wait on a higher price for the house or move into an apartment for a couple of years. We chose to go on the road and I don’t regret that decision one little bit.
7. Getting rid of stuff – More than anything else we did, this process really brought out strong feelings about the choice we had made. There was pain, sorrow, and a strong feeling of being free when it was done. It was hard to give away 25 years worth of stuff and the only way we got through it was to do it in stages. One of the first things we did was take advantage of a holiday where all of our children were together and we spent a day going through our possessions and putting colored stickers on items that the kids wanted. Knowing some special things were going to a child made all the difference in most cases and it was a wonderful opportunity to spend bonding time with the family. There were laughs, and tears, and stories but at the end both Lee and I felt like we had done something very special and completed a huge task on our checklist in getting ready to go full time.
The things that were left were much more difficult. You will NOT get what those items are worth if you try to sell them. It isn’t going to happen, so make your peace with that up front. The Goodwill donation website has a guide for pricing, and although each individual item is small in value it can all add up to a nice tax write-off. What made all the difference for us was when we decided to get a storage unit. Some people are adamant that they will have no storage but we decided to get a small one and that me to keep some things I was not ready to get rid of. I have no doubt most will go eventually, but it made the process MUCH less painful for me.
The books were by far the worst for both of us. We had a full library of books. I had kept books from when I was a kid and I became extremely emotional as I boxed them up. Two things made it possible for me to get through it. First, they went to the local library as a donation and second, I kept a small group of my favorites and found a place for them in the camper. I set the date for the big garage sale and discovered we still had a ton of stuff left. My garage was overflowing. I put an ad in the local free shopper and had my kids promote an extra 20% discount for friends on Facebook. It was a brutal two days, but I made over $1,000 which we ended up spending on a Sea Eagle Kayak, one of the more expensive things we wanted to get before we left. The ability to spend the money on a luxury purchase made it a little better, but it was a ton of work. Luckily one of the “pro buyers” came at noon on Sunday and offered us $290 for everything we had left. If it wasn’t for him doing the cleanup it would not have been worth it.
There were some nice moments, such as when my daughter’s friend who just moved into her own place came over and I loaded her up for $50. Also, we sold all of our old camping gear…tents, sleeping bags, camp table, etc to a nice couple for $50. She mentioned they were having a tough time since moving here from North Carolina and needed some time away and I gave her everything camping related I had. My favorite was giving this nice Easter tea set to a little girl who didn’t have much money and selling our dining room table to her dad for $20. Those moments felt great but they were countered by the unpleasantness of watching people “paw” through our stuff and a strong emotional reaction watching people “paw” through our stuff and on occasion make rude comments about things. Honestly, if I had to do it all again I would list the big ticket items on Craig’s List and donate the rest. Update: I have no reqrets at this point about the storage unit. We haven’t been able to get back and clean it out, but our two kids are now splitting the cost with us so it is only $20 a month. I will say I can only remember a few items that are in it, so I am guessing we will have another big purge when we finally get back there.
8. Preparing the house to sell – I recognize this might be very painful for some people, but in our case selling the house was more of a chore than an emotional event. It was never our dream home, and we’ve been talking about leaving the New England area as soon as our kids were grown anyway. It was the most physical work of any of the steps however; Lee painted the entire interior of the house and I cleaned the wood paneling on the outside. I also took on Murphy’s oil soaping all the woodwork which was a ton of bending and kneeling. Cleaning carpets, washing windows, you know, all the things you rarely do. Because of the weather, we had to wait until March to start and the outside activities were particularly challenging because it rained quite a bit. It delayed us getting the house on the market a bit, but such a relief when it was done.
9. Selling the house – This was by far the most painful part of the entire process for us. Not because we loved the house, but because it took so long to sell. We personally know four full-time couples who sold their house in three days, so we know for many people the process is quick. Unfortunately our local real estate market is very depressed and it took over six months for us to get an offer. I know there is some pain to a quick sale, as folks need to scramble to get all the purging done, move out, and get settled in a VERY short time frame. As challenging as that is, the waiting and having the choice be in someone else’s hands is excruciating. I don’t use that word lightly. When you have decided you want to do something momentous with your life, once the decision is made you just want to go.
We purged, painted, and cleaned so much so that the house didn’t even look like our home anymore. That was weird and unsettling and made the wait worse. The only thing that made the wait tolerable was that we spent almost all of our time living in the camper at our seasonal site. We priced it reasonably (around $5K under the appraisal), but despite a strong initial open house attendance nothing happened. After two months and no offer we sat down and had the hard conversation. How much did we need (as opposed to want) for the house? We tallied up what we had left on the mortgage and what we owed on the truck and made that our rock bottom number. I say rock bottom, but obviously we could sell the house for what we owed on it, but didn’t want to take a truck payment on the road with us. So we felt unless we could pay off the truck what was the point in taking less on the house?. We dropped the price and still no offer. We changed the language on the offer, threw in some extras and still nothing, and the summer was ticking away. Every time someone came to see it we would get our hopes up but no offers. Very few houses sell in New England in the winter so we started facing the reality we might have to wait through another winter. It was really tough, because every couple we had become friends with at the RV-Dreams rally sold their house and started and we were the only ones left.
Finally about 6 months after putting the house on the market we dropped to a new low price and received two offers, but they were significantly less than we paid for the house 13 years ago. We countered, but in the end we knew we were not going to get what it was worth and we were faced with the choice of waiting or just letting the money go. The amount wasn’t insignificant ($30K in equity) and we knew if we accepted the offer we would not be able to go on the road debt free. For a variety of reasons we accepted the offer. I was concerned about what would happen when a new batch of inventory hit the area next spring, we really didn’t want to wait out another winter, and the entire situation was putting significant strain on our relationship. Also, we were both experiencing a ton of change in our work life and the sooner the mortgage was behind us the better. For us it boiled down to the thought we could always make money but we would never be able to get back the time. It wasn’t an easy decision nor one made lightly, but for us it was the best one we could make at the time. Thankfully at the same time the offers came in my boss stated he was taking early retirement. I wasn’t sure if me working on the road would be OK with my new boss, but he was very open to it, so the guaranteed income (at least for awhile) made the decision that much easier. I don’t think I could have made it if I didn’t have guaranteed money coming in. Update: I don’t miss the house at all, but I have met people since then who have beautiful homes and if that had been my situation this would have been a much harder choice. Now I think that if you have a beautiful home and the means I would try the lifestyle first before selling the house. This life isn’t for everyone and you can’t really know until you get out there. If your house doesn’t matter that much to you, sell it and don’t look back. It’s very freeing.
10. Picking a new home state – This was much harder than I thought it would be. I started an excel spreadsheet to compare the states with columns including State Income Taxes, Registrations, RV Club presence, Drivers License renewal, Vehicle Inspections,Vehicle Insurance rates, Life Insurance rates, Health Insurance availability and rates, State Residency Requirements, Mail Forwarding Services, and Voting Registration. I completed the matrix for a few states, Florida, South Dakota, Texas, New Hampshire (because we live there now), Ohio (because this is where our families are), Washington State, and Wyoming. We narrowed it down to South Dakota, Florida, and Texas and initially selected South Dakota as our best option. Then things started changing.
The Affordable Care Act (the most common health plan for full timers who work) offered limited options in SD and those companies were not covering full timers. More importantly SD requires a 3% one-time excise tax on vehicles purchased out of state. If you paid sales tax <3% in your home state you only have to pay the difference, but in our case since we are in a no-tax state we would get hit with the full amount (over $3K). Luckily we went to the RV-Dreams rally and heard two great seminars; one on home state selection and the second on insurance presented by Kyle from RV Health Insurance. Kyle provides assistance to full-timers looking for insurance options and his online matrix is fantastic. Although we didn’t make a final decision at the rally we did narrow it down to Texas or Florida. We picked Florida because it was more convenient for us since we have family on the east coast. Since this decision can effect several budget items (healthcare, RV insurance, life insurance etc) we knew we needed a final decision to determine a budget, but since it is painful to change your home state we wanted to make sure we got it right. For us the health care isn’t a factor, because I stayed with my current job. But for many that figures heavily in this important decision. Here’s an example: I underwent a full physical to make sure I didn’t have any major health issues before going on the road. In the course of those tests I had an MRI (cost was $6K before insurance) I am mentioning this because the insurance company negotiated the cost down to $1800 and I was stunned by the difference in what was charged and what the insurance company negotiated. I talked to my mom who is a nurse and according to her hospitals over charge knowing that they will be negotiated down to the medicare rate because they want over time for their medicare rates to be raised. They can’t charge private insurers more than medicare so it’s basically a big game to charge way more and then take much less. My point is: healthcare matters and it could be your number one budget decision when making the FT lifestyle decision.
Once we made the selection actually changing your state can be quite difficult. Originally I wanted to use Escapees but their Florida address is only for permanent residents and the mailing address would still be Texas. I was uncomfortable having two addresses in two different states so based on the recommendation of two friends chose St. Brendan’s Island for my mail service They were very helpful, but it was a multiple step process. First you need to setup an account with a $100 deposit. Then send a notarized release in the mail so that they have permission to handle your mail. In order to get drivers licenses in Florida you need two pieces of mail from a bank or insurance institution sent to the new address. Fidelity, a local bank NBT, and American Express all changed with no issue but Bank of America absolutely refused to change our permanent address to a mail service which put us in a difficult position. In the end we changed our mailing address for BOA and requested a statement was sent to that and left our permanent address as our old home address. We would just change banks, but our RV loan is through them so it’s not that simple for us.
Many people change to a relatives address to get around this, but we had no one we could use in Florida. If you decide to go this route, keep in mind they will need to sign an affidavit for the state of Florida stating that you do live with them. Once the two pieces of mail (addressed to us) are delivered we need to make the 3 hour trip down to Green Cove to get our drivers licenses. Theoretically we could go to any DMV in the state, but since the local DMV is familiar with the company we thought there would be less hassle if we went to the one close to them. This turned out to be a great decision as the folks at the Courthouse and DMV were super helpful. First we went to the Courthouse in to establish domicile. It cost $15 each (Visa/MAster Card card accepted) and all we needed was our old state driver’s licenses to get this done. No lines and took about 10 minutes. Next we drove next door to the DMV. On Weds at 10am there were only two people in line in front of us. Driver’s licenses required a birth certificate or passport and proof of SS# (SS card, W-2, or pay stub. If you have a clean driving record they do not require you to take the written test, just an eye exam. If you do not have a clean record they can require a written and/or driving test at their discretion. They took the pictures immediately and printed the licenses. Cost was $44.25 each and all major credit cards were accepted. They also registered us to vote right at the DMV, which was great. It’s free and they give you a card with numbers to call if you want absentee ballots. Finally vehicle registration which was the most difficult. It requires a VIN# verification of the truck, car, or motor home (none for the 5th wheel thankfully). If you drive the vehicle to the DMV they will walk outside and fill out the form there. You also need titles for the vehicles in hand. If you own them outright no issue. If the bank owns them, you need your loan account number and the address the DMV can write to to request a copy of the title. We had titles but not the actual ones (7 states in the US require the banks holds the title until the loan is paid off and New Hampshire, where we came from, just happens to be one) so we didn’t have the actual title in our possession and that’s what the Florida DMV needs to see. This surprised us as I have read nothing about this requirement anywhere but luckily the DMV person Cheryl was extremely helpful and walked us through it. Truly the best DMV experience I have ever had in my life.
Update: I just requested my first absentee ballot and that process was surprisingly easy. We did have a problem with the mailing address though when American Express contacted us and said we had to provide a different address. According to them they were working down a list to comply with new government anti-terrorism regulation that doesn’t allow mail service addresses. We ended up using Lee’s parents home in Ohio and since we do everything online we shouldn’t have an issue until it’s time to get new cards.
11. Determining a budget– This was a step both of us shied away from. We’ve never been great at talking about money and when you’re raising three kids most of what comes in goes right back out anyway. And in some respects we didn’t need to. But when we talked about what this life would look like, money really does matter. Many of your travel decisions are based on budget and when you have to generate income on the road it becomes much more complicated. After talking in circles, I sat down and put together three budgets using the spreadsheet available from RV-Dreams. . The “Best Case” scenario, where we had steady income, was $46k per year in expenses. Please keep in mind this was NOT based on what we consider an extravagant lifestyle. It was reasonable fees for campgrounds, health insurance, fuel, and good access to internet, cell phones, and TV. The “Middle of the Road” budget involved minimizing gas, work camping to cover the bulk of campground fees, and being frugal with all other categories, was $36k. “Subsistence Living” was $24k and involved minimal internet, no pay TV, minimal cell, and frankly was not a lifestyle I was interested in.
Lee was totally on board with boon docking the bulk of the time to make that work but that was way too big of a leap for me. The discussions were tough, taking place over a weekend and including breaks so we could both cool down, because the numbers really showed us what our life would look like. There are numerous ways to full time and until we looked at budgets we had not talked in detail about how our day-to-day life would be. Turns out we had very different ideas about what the day to day looked like. At the end of it though we had a much better idea of what we needed on the road and it really drove home how important it was to be as debt free as possible. Update: We have multiple budgets under our belt now and I post all of them online with explanations. The first year was the worst and we are seeing costs go down in subsequent years. It’s not easy though and for us requires constant vigilance. My advice is do be honest with yourself because it is very difficult to change your spending habits overnight.
12. Figuring out how to make a living – We knew we would have to work on the road but weren’t exactly sure how we would make money. I didn’t know if my company would allow me to work from my RV and Lee knew he would be leaving his job. The budgets made it clear that the income stream would not be insignificant and since most people in this lifestyle don’t work full-time (either retired or have investment income) we were a bit lost. I like working, and didn’t have a problem with taking my skills on the road, but what skills would be marketable and how would we use them? The first thing we did was inventory what we could do. Since we have both worked since we were kids (we actually met at our first jobs when we were 14 and 16) it turned out there are many things we could do. Lee is a videographer by trade. I am a project manager and business analyst. But in our past we have both worked in restaurants, retail, and Lee is an incredibly handy guy. For us it was very important that the financial responsibilities did not all fall on one person.
When our kids were small one of us had the primary job making the bulk of the money and the other worked but focused more on the kids. We traded this role back and forth several times over the years as our job changed and it worked well. This life however was going to be different and no one person should be responsible for it all. This is where Howard and Linda from RV-Dreams were incredibly helpful. They have investment income, but were committed to covering their annual expenses by working and as a couple they tried several different ways of making money over their 8 years on the road. I had an opportunity to have dinner with them prior to going on the road and they gave some great advice about having multiple revenue streams (so if one area slows down you can rely on others) and really how easy it is if you want to work to find ways to make a living. You just have to think outside the box a bit and be creative. Once I was convinced we could make a living, the question quickly became how to balance how we wanted to live with what we had to do to finance the life. Again at this point I was assuming I would not be able to continue in my current job and we would need to rely on our other skills.
With this in mind we decided it would be very valuable if Lee became a certified RV tech. Not only would this allow him to work on our own camper but also sell those services down the road and it would make him more valuable in a work kamping situation. We found a “hands on program” in Florida and determined our first investment would be Lee going to that school. For me things were more difficult. I was frankly intimidated by the idea of starting my own business since I have worked for the same two companies for 22 years. I vacillated back and forth between staying in my current job, trying to consult, or just following Lee around and work kamping. I am not afraid of hard work and would fine with cleaning bathrooms if the view was great, but I really like what I do and did not feel totally ready to give it up. We spent a lot of time talking to our friends who were already on the road about what working looks like and realized there are trade-offs. The question is and was what trade-offs are you willing to make. If you both are working you also have to sync those plans with each other and it becomes even more complicated. Luckily Lee is more than willing to give me the space and time to work through this and right before we sold the house I got a new boss who doesn’t care where I live. So for the time being I am staying with my current position and will follow Lee as he decides how his new work life will work. I have no doubt this will evolve over time, but since we are taking some debt on the road it is important we have a solid foundation to start and staying with my current employer gives us that.
Update: Lee has graduated from RV tech school and is now certified. This has not been a huge money maker for us largely because we travel too frequently for him to pick up much work. I took a buyout in my corporate job after one year and we lived on the severance for several months. Now we make money as we go with a combination of video work, work kamping, and RV repair work. I would like to do some consulting also, but all the work I have found in this area requires us to be in one area for more time than we are prepared to be in one place. It’s definitely a balancing act and not easy, but I will say I am now convinced that we can find ways to support ourselves on the road. The question remains what compromises to the lifestyle with that require and will it be worth it in the end. The jury is still out.
13. Setting up our small business – Because Lee was going to work on the road, I needed some information on how to form a small business. I have no experience at all, having worked in large companies my entire career so this was a big hurdle for me. At the advice of a friend I contacted the local Small Business Association and found out they offered free business formation and counseling assistance. I made an appointment and had an absolutely terrific experience. I received basic information, CPA referrals, and advice on creating a business plan and all for free. The first big decision is whether to create an LLC or a sole proprietorship. There are numerous pro’s and cons for that decisions and if you decide LLC you have to know where you want your home state to be. I talked to three people I trusted and one has a sole proprietorship, one an LLC, and another an S Corporation so it really is a very individual decision based on the nature of your business and your financial expertise. One of the drawbacks for us of forming an LLC is we would need to register it in every state we work in. So I initially decided a sole proprietorship was best for us but it would need to be coupled with very good business insurance.
Next we picked names and started working on logos. It sounds easy but the name is important and nailing this down made me feel better about the direction we were taking. I tried some online logo makers but really didn’t like the end product. I went to a company and they wanted $2,500 for logo creation…give me a break. Finally a friend of my daughters (who is fresh out of design school) helped us and for the bargain price of $350 we got a really cool and unique logo. I anticipate more work in this area such as setting up the accounting, networking, marketing etc. So I think whatever jump you can get on these tasks prior to going out on the road is a good thing.
Taxes, of course, are a huge concern. When we were really young Lee worked as a 1099 employee and we didn’t hold enough taxes back and ended up paying the IRS for 18 months. The penalties and fees about killed us and I don’t EVER want to be in that situation again. I ended up using Travel Tax, which is a small company that specializes in mobile workers. I set aside lots of money for the first full year on the road’s taxes but we actually ended up getting a refund, so I am feeling much better about things.
Update: This area continues to be challenging for us two years later especially in the area of marketing our services. Our travel schedule makes it difficult to build long-term relationships with people and most of the jobs we have gotten come from people we knew in our prior life. That being said there are enough work kamper jobs out there that we don’t have to make tons of money from our small businesses, it’s just not the type of work I personally would prefer doing. Still a work in progress.
14. Going electronic This may not be a big deal to some people, but we have collected a ton of media of the years, and we were uncertain how to handle all of that stuff. So we put together a plan on how to handle everything and spent a chunk of the winter dealing with it. I scanned all of the pictures we had (this took several hours of work over multiple weekends) using a Pandigital scanning wand. http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2406161,00.asp
Lee spent several weekends transferring home movies on video tapes to electronic formats. We also decided to put all the electronic media on a Solid State USB drive. Basically this is like a USB drive but never wears out. The rule of thumb, according to Lee, is to calculate how much storage space you need and then double it. Finally we had our movie collection. We have over 1,000 movies. I know it’s ridiculous, but we love movies. We talked going electronic but it was way to much work, so I bought (on clearance) several “books” that hold 126 DVD’s a piece for easy storage in the camper. We gave movies we didn’t care about to our kids, and I spent a couple weekend putting the rest in the books in alphabetical order. I couldn’t believe how little space they took up in these books and a wall of DVD’s became about 10 books we could easily fit in the camper. Update: In order to free up space in the rig Lee is slowly going through all the movies and making them digital files. We have donated several to the campground we are hosting at and started a Lend a Movie program here. The rest we will probably find homes for as we move around, but I am glad that we are getting rid of them all. We rarely watch them, they took up too much space, and where they were stored it was often more trouble than it was worth to get them out. I am super happy we did all the pictures upfront though because I reference those all the time.
15. Deciding what to do with pets – I am a pet lover. I have had dogs and cats my entire life and initially felt like we would take our dog on the road with us. After much discussion though, we determined that it would be best if we found another home for her. First and foremost she travels very poorly. Even trips to the vet are challenging. Secondly, we were really honest about whether we wanted the additional responsibility. We don’t know what our life on the road will be like and adding the limitations of a pet, especially in the beginning stages seemed like a really bad idea. That being said, its a very individual decision. Many people full-time very successfully with pets ( all of our rally friends have them) and hopefully sometime in the future we will add pets back into our lives. My daughter found a great forever home for Molly with her best friends parents and I had no worries that she would be very happy and well cared for. It happened so quickly though, I did have a tough time with it initially. This was the first decision we had made that was 100% related to full-timing. Selling the house, downsizing, getting out of debt, even buying an RV and a truck were all things we could have done whether or not we decided to full-time, but we never would have given our dog away. Suddenly (for me) it got very real. Update: We have been pet free for nearly two years now and mostly I do not regret it. That being said I never promised to be pet free for the rest of my life so we will see. Lee on the other hand remains adamant about no pets. I believe that when it’s time a pet will come my way.
16. Dealing with life changes during the process – While you are preparing to go on the road, life continues, and there is a good chance a major life change will occur during your prep period. This change may make you completely re-evaluate what you are doing or in some cases make you put the dream on hold for awhile. We are friends with one couple who put the dream on hold for three years as they cared for an elderly relative. Others experience job loss, illness, or becoming a grandparent, all of which can change the plan. For us two major things happened in the year we were waiting. First my grandmother died. We were very close and going home and spending time with my family and talking about my new dream really solidified the decision. It’s common to really evaluate your life after a funeral and I came away from that experience more committed than ever to taking advantage of the time Lee and I have remaining. Update: About two months after we went on the road my grandmother passed away. I happened to be in Florida at the time and was able to be with my grandfather the next morning. In this case being mobile was a benefit, in others it will notbe. My middle daughter got married a year later and again being on the road was a huge advantage. She lived in another state so we got to spend a month with her preparing for the wedding and that would never have happened before.
17. Attending a Rally – We attended the RV-Dreams Rally in April 2014 and it was one of the best decisions we made during the entire process. Not only was the seminar full of very important information, but we also met the most wonderful people who became our core support system through the transition. The people were all different ages and circumstances, but we all immediately clicked because we were going through similar things at the same time. Talking to other people have similar experiences made me less like a crazy person and more like one of the cool kids who had figured out the secret 🙂 The agenda for the rally was also very good. It combined maintenance classes ((which I really needed), and full timing specific classes like the emotional aspects of full-timing and working on the road. I highly recommend attending some sort of rally. I can honestly say I am not sure if we could have done this without that experience and the friends we met there. Update: More than anything else we have done this is the gift that keeps on giving. Since going on the road in November 2014 we have maintained relationships with most of those friends. When we went back to a rally two years later as somewhat experienced full timers, we still found the experience extremely valuable. All I can say is magic happens at those rallies and I give them my highest recommendation for anyone thinking about full timing or newly on the road.
18. Convergence of Events – When we got back from the rally and had a moment to breathe we got hit with numerous major life events happening at the same time. Our youngest daughter was graduating high school and she got accepted into the Air Force. At my job, seven out of fifteen direct team members were downsized, including my boss and a couple of very close friends. We set up our seasonal campsite and although we were excited about having a place to camp for the summer, the spot itself was less than optimal. We picked it more for closeness to the house and Lee’s work than because it was a place we wanted to be. Lee said it was sort of like getting a half a piece of pie. It was good but made us really yearn for more. Lee was going through major contract negotiations at his work which was stressful and involved lots of late nights. And most importantly we realized that our dream was really happening and no longer idle speculation which brought with it a ton of emotions.
For those of you who have had children it was not that different than the 9th month of the first pregnancy. On the one hand you want it to be done and on the other hand you’re scared to death about how your life is changing. We tried really really hard to give each other lots of space and to be as nice to each other as possible and overall I think we did well but there were some tough moments and we had a couple major fights along the way. As I talked to many of my friends from the rally and on the RV-Dreams forum I really do think that every person who selects this dream goes through at least one time period where everything happens at once and you feel completely overwhelmed. Maybe it is God/Universe’s way of saying this is a momentous decision and should not be entered into lightly. The trick is to breathe, keep going, and remember this to shall pass. Update: We had a couple more of those moments once we became full timers where everything seems to happen at once, and the advice to breathe, keep going, and remember this to will pass is valid. I will add though that sometimes it is ok to stop and breathe. There is a sense of go-go-go in the lifestyle, especially initially, and sometimes it is equally important to stop.
19. This is really happening – I think most people go through a holy crap moment (or series of moments) where they think “this is really happening!’ You plan, dream, and talk it to death and then one day you realize “this is really happening”. For me there was a “holy crap” moment that I was unprepared for. It’s not a feeling of regret but more a shot of pure fear. The closest thing I can think of is when you decide to go on the roller coaster, wait in line for the roller coaster, get in the car, get belted in, start down the tracks, go up that first hill and there is a pause while the ride designers in their infinite deviousness give you a moment to see what is going to happen next. That was what my holy crap moment felt like and it was pretty intense. I wonder how many people change their minds in this moment…because with full timing (unlike being strapped into a roller coaster) you can get off at any time. But then again maybe you can’t. You might have sold your house, quit your job, and/or gotten rid of your stuff. At a certain point it’s not that easy to just stop and change your mind. You would have to put your old life back together (if it would even be possible) and there are reasons you wanted to leave your old life to begin with; those haven’t changed. So you can change the dream but whatever you do it is extremely likely your world will be different. After all you have just gone to a considerable amount of trouble to turn your life upside down. As in a roller coaster ride all you can do is take a deep breath and hang on.
20. Living in the RV at our seasonal site – During the process of selling our house Lee and I were driving each other crazy. When Kay, our youngest daughter, left it was even worse, so we decided to stay full time in our RV on a seasonal site as a trial run. Although I certainly would have loved to be among the 72 hour sell the house club, I will say the extra time allowed us to work through some things. First we finished all the purging and prep work. You have to leave a certain amount of stuff in the house for showings, but everything important went into either the camper or storage. The advantage of moving stuff to storage prior to selling the house was it helped us really see what we could live without. I do recommend this approach. It’s a nice way to emotionally deal with your stuff prior to actually leaving. Second we learned a lot about living in such a tight space. We worked through some relationship issues caused by the tight spaces without the additional pressure of being on the road. Again, happy for those who just up and leave, but if you’re waiting you should make the most of the time you have.
Because we did not camp much before deciding to do this, I think it is a huge benefit for us. This lifestyle is not a vacation, so you have to know how to deal with every day things in a small space. I would have traded it all for a 72 hour sale and quick departure, but I think God/the universe knows what it is doing and we needed the extra time to adjust. Update: Looking back I think this time was critical for our success. We worked through so many things that first summer in the relative safety of a seasonal site that we didn’t have to deal with later. For us it was definitely a blessing.
21. Planning on where to go first – When we got a contract on the house people immediately wanted to know where we were going first. Most people have a wish list of where they want to go and put together a plan that looks a few months ahead. This is very dependent on your financial situation, but most people have bought themselves a little bit of time to do what they want. Almost every couple we know chose to visit family first and we were no different. My sister lives in Charlotte and was in the process of adopting a baby, so we decided to spend the first 5 weeks near her. We knew we had to be in Florida the first of the year for Lee’s school, but filling the in between time was interesting. Most of us aren’t used to having that much choice. For us we decided that I would pick the campground in the area we had selected, but Lee would pick the site. It’s a lot of pressure because a bad site can equate a bad experience. Plus you have to decide how far in advance you want to pay for. In the case of booking Florida, I had to lock down the whole winter site unseen because the sites fill up so quickly. With Charlotte we had more flexibility (less demand) so we decided to just book the first two weeks and then go from there. The RV community spreads out in the summer months, but in the winter there are relatively few places to go, so prices go up as there is less availability. My point is don’t just assume you can go where you want in the winter. Some planning ahead is definitely called for.
22. Giving notice at your job – I didn’t have to worry about this but Lee had to give notice and it was very stressful for him. He built a small non-profit from the ground up and telling the board he was leaving was both emotionally and logistically difficult. The timing is important, because as much as you would like to give months worth of notice, you would run the risk of losing your job early and until we had a solid contract in place for the house we just didn’t feel comfortable. Other reasons to delay are bonuses, uncertain timelines, or health issues. So picking the when for us and several of our friends was very tough. Once you’ve decided the when then the how becomes very important.
I will say that the people who work for small companies seem to have a tougher time with this. Maybe because in a large corporation you are more easily replaceable, but in any event it’s hard to do especially if you are emotionally invested in your job. Not everyone who jumps into this lifestyle hates what they do for a living. Many of us enjoy our jobs but are not so crazy about the other aspects of our life. For a lucky few, they can take the job on the road but most have to choose the job or the lifestyle. Thankfully, Lee’s board of directors took it very well and since he had a solid transition strategy in place, they were very happy for him and made the exit very pleasant. It doesn’t always go this way, however, so be emotionally and financially prepared for anything to happen once you let your employer know. Update: A year later it was my turn to do this and it was still tough, but I had so many amazing experiences under my belt and much more confidence in the lifestyle that it made it much easier. I am so glad I got to take my job on the road that first year because it really helped me through the transition. That being said, the time came when I felt that in order to really live the lifestyle I had to let the job go. That’s just me though. Lots of people still have the job they came in with and are doing fine.
23. Last minute crazy – Since we are the last of our small group of friends to go on the road, I had the opportunity to watch others go before us. Two of my very good friends said that the last few weeks were the toughest of their entire marriage and they were not exaggerating. I think its a combination of emotion, feelings of loss, and a ton of last minute tasks that need to get accomplished. Most of the arguments seem to happen when you’re trying to do things together and how to get them accomplished creates conflict. Based on good advice, we took the divide and conquer strategy. What Lee owned he owned and the same for me and the other person provided support and tried to stay out of it. It is somewhat contrary to the new life where you will be working on everything together, but in this case I recommend it.
Despite all the time we had we did wait until the last minute on some things. Try not to do this. The extra time pressure is a pain. Some examples, I finally made my will…took me all of 10 minutes on LegalZoom.com, but I ended up spending an extra $10 to expedite so I got the paperwork before we left. I also waited to get the lifetime Good Sam membership. That in conjunction with a pilot fuel card saves you 8 cents a gallon diesel. The bad news, both the membership packet and card will take 4 weeks to get to us so we won’t have it for our first trip. Dumb. We intentionally waited on out internet solution which worked out OK because the price wars between the carriers were in our time frame. Bad news, Verizon was going to make us buy new phones and Ipad but ATT would use the ones we currently had. The double data was a good deal but I was not buying all new devices on top of that. I wanted Verizon but ended up going with ATT. We will see how it goes. So my advice…take care of all the small things (especially those involving having something mailed to you) well in advance of your departure date. Update: ATT turned out to be a fine choice and we held onto that double data plan for 2-1/2 years until finally ATT came out with a good unlimited data plan. I still don’t regret dividing and conquering at the end, but I definitely don’t recommend until the last minute for anything that can be done well in advance. The first six months on the road has it’s own set of stresses so anything you can take care of ahead of time you should definitely do.
24. Saying Goodbye – This was another VERY difficult part of the transition. I am a rip the band-aid off kind of person and when I say goodbye I like to make it quick. That wasn’t possible in this case as we were waiting on the close to happen for the house. Our friends were absolutely amazing. Several people took us to dinners to say goodbye and Lee’s work had a group dinner for us…but it was tough and very sad at times. even though logically you know with social media it doesn’t really have to be goodbye, it’s tough. One of our daughter’s also still lives in Keene and even though she’s been absolutely wonderful about supporting us in leaving it was still tough. The other thing that caught me by surprise was the sadness over leaving the place. It’s been a great little town to raise our kids in and although it’s not the town I grew up in, I have a fondness for it. You want to eat in your favorite restaurants one last time and visit your favorite stores. Even though I was incredibly excited to start the next chapter of my life I was still sad. As my friend Kelly said, it is a lot of change all at once. She’s totally right and I guess my advice for this stage is just own how you feel, regardless of those feelings and hang on the best you can. It’s the last step and your brand new life is right in front of you!!
Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links. There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog. Search Amazon.com here
Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks You can preview the kindle version on Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes. It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.