IN 2015, ELISE HAUENSTEIN WAS ON AN RV getaway 15 miles from her home in Ohio. She was sitting outside and relaxing when her husband, Rick, turned to her. He asked me, What do you miss from home, being down here?’ I said, Nothing maybe mittens, if it gets cool but besides that, I don’t miss anything.’ So, we decided that’s it we’re done.
They returned determined to sell their house so they could travel the country. They lived full-time in a fifth-wheel trailer for several years, until they settled back down to become the co-managers of Creekside RV Resort in Punta Gorda, trading their RV for a house.
It was a 41-foot Crossroads with five slides, so it was a big boy, and there was a lot of room and storage space, Ms. Hauenstein said. Our kids actually thought we were dying. We informed them right before Christmas that we were going to do this, and they were thinking, There’s something wrong medically, so they’re going for their last hurrah.’
The exact number of people living full-time in RVs in the United States isn’t known. Estimates range from the half-million people identified in a University of Michigan study to a claim of 1 million full-timers made by the RV Industry Association.
The estimates represent the equivalent of a city’s worth of people who identify as members, and Florida attracts full-timers, between the warm weather and lack of state income tax. Just as there are many types of domiciles, budgets and lifestyles among the residents of a city, so there are among full-time RVers. And yet, full-timers also share the camaraderie of a common bond similar to that found among band or sports team fans.
People are so helpful, said Katie Deits, originally from Palm Beach County, who has lived in a 28-foot Airstream trailer since 2019. The first time I was trying to back into a space in an RV park, the people parked next to me said, Come on, we’ll help you.’ People are friendly and very willing to help in any way, so that’s nice.
Giovanni Di Stadio and Jack Lighton, from Palm Beach County, also noted this camaraderie when they moved into a 45-foot Class A Entegra Cornerstone luxury motorcoach with their three rescue dogs in 2019.
One of the major things that we have noticed is that the whole RV community, regardless of what class RV you’re in, the people are amazing, Mr. Di Stadio said. If you or your neighbor needs help with something, everyone is willing to immediately come out and help. Everyone waves and says hello. We have made some of the strongest friendships with people from all across the country and all walks of life, from captains of industry to you name it. We have run into everybody, and it’s so fun.
More than one way to RV
Just as there are many types of RVs, there are many approaches to living in them long-term. Some fit the stereotype of RVers who ramble down the road in a motorhome, such as Jack and Rose Likens, who write the blog Shell on Wheels about their travels in a Class A. Ditching their South Beach condo, they’ve visited all lower 48 states, plus five Canadian provinces, both workamping (individuals who travel the country and work) and selling Rose’s jewelry at art fairs to supplement Jack’s military pension. Typically making 50 to 70 stops per year, Southwest Florida has made their camping list every year, especially to shell at Sanibel to collect materials for Rose’s artwork.
For us, it’s been fantastic, Mr. Likens wrote by email. We are almost to six years when we initially told ourselves, Let’s do at least two.’ It has, however, been different than we anticipated. Rose assumed we would be doing more dry camping out in the middle of nowhere, such as on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land out west.
Jeanne Martin, who is traveling in a 19-foot Class B Roadtrek Simplicity van conversion with her hound-mix dog, Chyna, changes campsites frequently. A professional graphic designer and artist from West Palm Beach, she is on an extended cross-country journey this year to collect photos and videos for a creative/ travel blog project she plans to publish upon returning to her home this winter.
Last week was the longest I spent anywhere, she said. I spent a whole week at a state park in Montana. This place I’ve just pulled in, I’m going to stay here two days because it’s so beautiful and the internet is good. So, factors are how’s the internet because I’m doing work, how pretty is it and what’s the cost?
Not all long-term RVers care to change campsites so often. Part of why the Hauensteins bought their 41-foot fifth-wheel was that they planned on extended stays.
My biggest problem with full-timing was doing those little two nights stays, Ms. Hauenstein said. I hate those. I don’t want to stop for two nights and then move. I like to sit, relax and enjoy for a while.
Others live in their RVs more as if they were mobile homes, staying in one RV park much of the time. This is the case for Shelly Finger, who lives in a 37-foot fifth-wheel trailer with her husband, Greg, plus two cats and a dog. After eight years of seasonal workamping on the road, they settled down in 2014 to comanage Neapolitan Cove RV Resort in Naples year-round. When they leave for trips, they take a tent rather than move the RV.
As to why they’ve settled in one place, Ms. Finger said, The traffic, to be honest, you’re driving, and it just got to be work. It was stressful making sure you had a job because, in the winter, there’s tons of people who want work in the South. It wasn’t fun anymore, and we were always drawn back to Florida. So, when this job opportunity came available, we decided to cool our heels a bit.
To accommodate RVers who want the security of a home base, some RV parks offer long-term rates, multiyear leases and even outright sales of campsites with full utility hookups. The home base lease and purchase options can also help to solve the legal conundrum of needing a physical address since entities such as the DMV and banks don’t like P.O. boxes, and relatives may not like forwarding mail. Camping at a home base describes Ms. Deits, who still works full-time as executive director of the nonprofit Florida CraftArt in St. Petersburg.
I rented an apartment for three years at $2,000 a month, and I thought, This is ridiculous spending this money and not getting anything for it,’ Ms. Deits said. So, I thought, Maybe I could get an Airstream.’
The iconic silver bullet trailer was her go-to because her parents homeschooled her as they spent from 1959 to 1962 traveling the country in an Airstream before settling into the oceanside Briny Breezes RV town near Boynton Beach. While she stays near work most of the year, she takes the Airstream with her when she visits family.
I think it allows more freedom than living in a house or rented apartment, she said. I can pick up and go, and I have everything with me.
Mr. Di Stadio and Mr. Lighton still own businesses in the Palm Beach area. An interior designer, Mr. Di Stadio owns Interiors By G. The former president of Loggerhead Marinelife Center, Mr. Lighton now serves as a management consultant to the center and other clients through his Jack Lighton Consulting LLC. Living full-time aboard their motorcoach affords the busy couple the opportunity to take vacations when the opportunity presents itself.
Our first couple of trips after we bought the bus, we would go on a trip and we would literally say, Oh, we have to pack, Mr. Lighton said. And then we would look at each other and start laughing because everything already was packed.
More than one type of RV to choose from
Just as there’s more than one way to full-time, there’s more than one type of RV to choose from. Even within a single class of RV, there are many different options to suit different living situations, from singles to couples to entire families.
Ms. Deits’ attraction to Airstreams goes beyond childhood nostalgia. She likes that the classic, sought-after trailers hold their value because they have a reputation for being well built, yet they’re affordable compared to a motorcoach, even with the Suburban she bought to pull it. She can operate everything on the Airstream herself, to include lifting the hitch. Although she’s never pulled a trailer before, she’s found pulling the Airstream a breeze literally.
Because Airstreams are easy to tow, you hardly feel like you have anything behind you even though it’s a 7,000-pound vehicle because they’re shaped aerodynamically, she said. The air flows around them.
Ms. Martin felt a conversion van was the best choice for her adventure because it’s the RV that’s closest in size to the truck she once had driven. It fits into any parking lot, so only parking garages present a problem because of the RV’s nearly 10-foot height. Yet within the self-contained van she has battery-supplied electricity, convertible couch/bed, TV, gas stove, microwave, refrigerator, toilet, shower, heat and air conditioning. She did say she overestimated the storage space in the van, so she frequently finds herself shifting possessions into the driver’s seat when camping and back to the couch when driving.
I was worried about navigating something that was really large, she said. It was overwhelming to me when I looked at it. But when I looked at this 19-foot van, I felt I could manage it.
How long RVers expect to stay in one place also factors in. Fifth-wheel trailers have higher ceilings and are roomier, which make them appealing for full-timing, but it also makes them more challenging for frequent moves. However, parking a motorhome for an extended stay isn’t ideal for its engine and drivetrain.
Everybody asks, What’s the best?’ Ms. Hauenstein said. Well, they all have their pros and cons. My husband was in the automobile industry, so he knew having the motor on a motorhome sit for months on end, it’s not good. Plus, you’re paying for insurance for a motorized vehicle that’s not being utilized, except for every so often, so that’s why we went with the fifth-wheel. But to pull it, we needed an F-350 (one-ton pickup). Well, now you’re unhooking and going into a tourist area, where parking can be raunchy, and you’re trying to park an F-350.
Wil and Rachel Revehl are selling their Cape Coral home to purchase a travel trailer for themselves, their two school-aged children and their 100-pound Akita named Zen, with plans to spend two years seeing the country. Mr. Revehl said that the videos RVers post to YouTube have been invaluable as he’s researched trailers that will match with the half-ton F-150 pickup he already owns for his work as executive director of the environmental nonprofit OneTree.org. And it’s a question as much about what his truck can stop as well as what it can pull.
The YouTubes really gave me insight into how we should decide, Mr. Revehl said. When you’re coming down a mountainside at 60 mph, you’ve got to be confident you’re going to be able to stop that trailer because it would put a quick stop to the fun if you go careening off a cliff. In your mind, you’re going to want the most comfortable, decked-out thing. But reality has set in that with luxury comes weight, and with weight comes, Can you really tow that thing?’ Maybe reality is you can’t have a full-size refrigerator and granite countertops because now you’re talking a 15,000-pound trailer, and a half-ton truck can’t do that.
Granite countertops and a full-sized refrigerator, with double French doors no less, are exactly what’s in Mr. Di Stadio and Mr. Lighton’s RV. A luxury motorcoach that might make a rock band blush, their diesel pusher with air brakes is built to handle the weight of the dishwasher, convection oven, tile floors, washer and dryer, flat-screen TV, home office, two bathrooms, king-size bed, walk-in closet and the fireplace that also are onboard. Beyond the bling, the bus came with built-in safety features that caught the couple’s attention.
We have cameras, so you can see pretty much all the way around the RV and see what you’re about to hit, Mr. Di Stadio said, laughing. And same as with a car, it’s got collision avoidance. I absolutely suggest getting the newest RV not brand new but the newest that you can afford with the most safety features. Get the camera system for sure that’s a lifesaver.
Another potential lifesaver is RV driving lessons with a professional instructor. Although Florida is one of the majority of states that require no special licensing to drive a motorhome or tow a trailer, simply driving a car doesn’t provide the kind of driving experience needed for handling an RV. Lessons with a professional instructor can prove invaluable as well as provide value in terms of insurance discounts.
This is the most extreme defensive driving class you will ever take, said North Port-based Joe Powell, an instructor with RV Driving School who teaches group classes and individual lessons all around Florida. A coach weighs 22.5 tons, but it feels like you’re going 30 when you’re doing 65 mph because it’s so big and smooth, so you can’t tell that you’re traveling at a high speed. And the air brakes are super sensitive, so I try to get them accustomed to the differences because it’s not like driving your car.
Buy used, if possible, for a surprising reason
Everyone said to buy a used RV if possible (although new and used RVs are in short supply because of interest in RV travel because of the pandemic). Unlike used cars, used RVs often had light usage.
However, with any luck, the first owners used them enough to find the defects and get them fixed. Things get even more complicated mechanically with motorhomes, since they have both vehicle systems and house systems that have to be maintained.
We know lots of folks who bought new RVs, and they hate them, Mr. Lighton said. They can’t believe how many things are broken.
The first two years of owning a brand-new
RV, you’re basically living at the dealer. These are extremely complicated machines, and they’re all going to have bugs that need to be worked out.
With the sheer number of miles the Likens put on their motorhome every year, they’re no strangers to repairs. They’ve even had to camp at repair shop lots while waiting for service.
Maintenance is worse on an RV than a car, Mr. Likens wrote. We are used to driving new or lightly used cars for years of maintenance-free driving. This is rare in the RV world. They just don’t seem as well built, but also, they are very complex. Imagine taking a small efficiency condo and shaking it down the road on a truck several thousand miles every year. Our 2007 Four Winds Hurricane has a Ford V10 Triton engine and drivetrain that, so far, are bullet proof, but the house systems are incredibly flimsy. We are loving the extra space afforded by the slide-out sections but remain a bit worried about the sturdiness of what is basically a plastic and press board shell on a truck chassis.
Another reason Ms. Deits went with an Airstream was she thought that sliders, which most silver bullets don’t have, just looked like one more thing that could break. The Hauensteins had that happen, and they couldn’t get a repair person to come to their campsite.
We were getting ready to leave, and we couldn’t pull out because our slide wouldn’t go in, Ms. Hauenstein said. We ended up calling the manufacturer of the slide mechanism, and they told us what to look for and how to jump the motor so we could get it in to take it to someone.
Traveling with spouses, children and pets
While a solo RVer may go where he or she pleases, when there’s two or more people, it’s critical that everyone wishes to live in an RV full-time and is prepared for the reality of what the lifestyle will entail.
Greg and I work together, live together and we’ve been together 24/7 for the past 12 years, Ms. Finger said. You have to like who you’re with. We were working to make a house payment when we could work different places and see the country. For us, it worked out great. For someone else, it might not. When people work jobs where they’re apart ten hours a day, I think some don’t factor in what it’s going to be like to have to be around your partner full-time.
The portion of RV driving lessons that covers backing into a campsite is sometimes referred to as marriage counseling. There’s a good reason for the joke, though, because this difficult, stress-inducing maneuver is when couples are likely to argue.
It does test the mettle of your marriage, Mr. Powell said. I’ve seen when they’re trying to back-in a towable, and the wife is on the ground trying to guide him. He loses patience and starts yelling. She’s not trying to be overbearing, but she is trying to tell him he’s about to back this trailer into a tree. No matter how long you been married, you have to learn this cohesive cooperation when you’re backing-in, a whole set of rules for your relationship, in order not to lose it. I tell them, when you’re backing into tight spaces, the ground guide is more important than the driver. All the driver has to do is listen and take heed.
Full-timing with children presents other challenges and opportunities. Traveling provides the chance for children to see the places they are learning about in their homeschooling. However, unlike spouses, they didn’t get a vote about the decision to live in an RV. They’re suddenly having to live with parents and siblings in a square footage close to the size of the bedroom they used to have to themselves, which also means they’ve had to give up many possessions and will be away from friends.
My 9-year-old daughter is really excited, but at first it was tough, Mr. Revehl said. She has the most decked-out, Harry Potter-themed bedroom you can imagine, and she was so upset about stripping it down. But she donated the collectables to younger kids, and she was happy to see them get a new home.
Dogs may be more manageable RV traveling companions than children or spouses because at least they can be kept on leashes and typically will come when called, although they probably whine just as much. Full-timers need to be aware that large dogs or breeds considered aggressive may not be accepted at some RV parks. The Campendium website provides a checkbox to filter out campgrounds that don’t accept large dogs. Surprisingly, some full-timers travel with cats. The Likens have a Siamese named Pad Kee Meow, which is a play on the Thai dish pad kee mao, or drunken noodles.
We think a cat is much more RV-friendly than a dog, Mr. Likens wrote. Some might not take to it, but we almost giggle when we look out our window on a rainy day to see the dog owners miserably walking their beloved pooches. Our cat loves to be outdoors with us and tolerates her harness to the point that she will generally leash-walk with us so long as we go slow and in the direction she prefers.
The mystique of a seemingly carefree life often draws questions and envy from the curious when people who live in sticks-and-bricks encounter full-time RVers. Mr. Lighton said that, at parties, he and his husband come across people who say traveling the country in an RV is their secret dream, and these people want advice about convincing spouses to agree to the full-time RV lifestyle.
If you don’t have a strong relationship, Mr. Lighton said, living in 450 square feet, or less, that’s not gonna make it any better. Mr. Di Stadio added, laughing, You may need two RVs! ¦
In the KNOW
The interviewees’ websites
» RV Driving School:
» Creekside RV Resort:
» Neapolitan Cove RV Resort:
» Shell on Wheels blog:
» Jean Martin Creative:
» Giovanni Di Stadio and Jack
Lighton travel Instagram: @
destination_ TBD_ giojack
» One Tree: www.onetree.org
» Florida CraftArt:
» Interiors By G:
» Jack Lighton Consulting, LLC:
In the KNOW
Glossary of RV jargon
» RVers use a lot of subculture-specific slang. Here’s how to know what they’re talking about.
Black water, black tank: Holding tank for sewage from toilet.
Boondocking: Also called dry camping, this refers to camping using the RV’s self-contained house systems because utility hookups are unavailable; while the term sounds as if this is camping in the wilds, boondocking is also done in Wal-Mart and Cracker Barrel restaurant parking lots.
Diesel pusher: A motorcoach with a diesel engine; diesel engines are in the rear of the coach, by the drivetrain, hence pushing the bus down the road.
Dingy: Also called a toad, this is a small vehicle towed behind a motorhome.
Dry camping: See boondocking.
Flat tow: When a small vehicle is towed flat on all four wheels behind a motorhome; not all vehicles can tolerate flat towing.
Four-season RV: An RV with more insulation and both heating and cooling systems.
Gray water, gray tank: Holding tank for waste water from sink or shower.
Marriage counseling: Professional RV driving lessons, particularly the portion where backing skills for towable RVs are taught.
Slide-outs, sliders, slides: A slide-out room that expands the living space of an RV once it is parked.
Sticks-and-bricks: A conventional, non-mobile domicile, such as a house, condo or apartment.
Toad: See dingy.
Towable: Any type of RV that requires a separate tow vehicle, including travel trailers and fifth w heels.
Workamping: Jobs which are typically seasonal that provide a free campsite and utilities; some jobs are volunteer and some include a paycheck; usually camping- or recreation-related.
In the KNOW
Types of RVs
» Motorhome: A recreational vehicle that is self-propelled by an onboard engine.
Class A: Also called motorcoaches, these are the largest motorhomes; up to 45 feet long and 22.5 tons (45,000 pounds) in weight; built on bus or heavy commercial truck chassis; powered by gas or diesel engines (diesel models are called diesel pushers).
Class B: Also called van conversions, these are the smallest motorhomes; 16 to 22 feet long with raised roof; built by converting cargo vans.
Class C: Medium-sized motorhomes; 21 to 35 feet long distinguished by over-cab alcove sleeping berth; built on light truck or van chassis.
» Towable: A recreational vehicle that requires a tow vehicle.
Travel trailer: Conventional trailer with bumper-pull hitch.
Fifth-wheel: Large trailer with semi-truck style fifth-wheel coupling hitch, where a king pin drops from the trailer into the horseshoe-shaped fifth-wheel mounted over the rear axle in a pickup truck bed; distinguished by alcove that extends over the pickup bed from which the king pin drops.
Toy hauler: Trailer with living quarters in front and garage in back for motorbikes, ATVs, etc.
Pop-up: Small, low-profile, foldable trailer featuring fabric or hard-side tent that pops up (not suitable for full-time RVing).
In the KNOW
Helpful electronic resources for RVing
» These are the websites, apps and electronic devices that the story interviewees recommended.
YouTube: Search for videos about all aspects of RV living, including brand-specific RV information, such as how-to equipment instruction videos.
Facebook: Nearly every type of RV has a Facebook group that provides helpful information, such as the Airstream Addicts group.
Google: Specifically search independent reviews and photos of campgrounds and RV parks; RV brands.
RV Trip Wizard: www.rvtripwizard.com, $49 yearly membership.
Harvest Hosts: www.harvesthosts.com, $79 yearly memberships; over 1,300 wineries, breweries, farms, museums offering free overnight boondocking to members who purchase products at the attraction.
Campendium: www.campendium.com, independent reviews and free/ low-cost camping.
Hipcamp: www.hipcamp.com, like Air B&B for camping.
Boondockers Welcome: www.boondockerswelcome.com; places to camp self-contained (sometimes for free).
I RV 2 forums: www.irv2.com/ forums; discussion board for RVers.
Workamping jobs: www.workamper.com; find seasonal jobs that include free camping.
Social network for RVers: www.rvillage.com; find out if other members are in your campground.
RV Consumer Group: www. rv.org; independent RV brand reviews by consumers.
RV GPS: Special GPS unit that automatically routes so that RV drivers may avoid hazards such as low bridges, hairpin turns, etc.