In many ways nothing prepares you for full-time RV life. You simply have to jump in and figure it out. Perhaps, it’s less true for those with RVing experience, but even for them full-time RV life can be a shock to the system. Why? I think it’s because so little of “normal” life mimics living in an RV and the constant location changes. The list I’ve compiled of the most common RV mistakes comes from both personal experience and talking to fellow RVers. So, if you are thinking of taking the plunge to full-time RV life, try to avoid these RV mistakes. As a result, you make room, as the saying goes, to go forth and make new RV mistakes.

Mistake #1: Treating RV Life Like a Vacation

The first mistake is actually one I didn’t make. I heeded the warning of others before me and so I avoided this trap. But I’ve heard it with such frequency that a list of newbie RV mistakes isn’t complete without it.

From sticks-and-bricks life, it is easy to walk into RV life with a vacation mindset.

And it’s obvious why. You travel to a new place to see and do new things. Travel. Adventure. Fun. New experiences. Sounds like a vacation to me.

When people talk about vacations you hear words like bucket list, eating out, doing nothing, doing everything, staying up late, relaxation, drinking too much, eating too much, souvenirs, go-go-go. You don’t hear words like moderation, exercise, going to bed early, cooking, vegetables, budget.

Green beans, zucchini, green onions, red and yellow tomato and other vegetables on a table.
My RV life includes trips to local farms and Farmers Markets.

To me, this mistake boils down to a single thing. Money. Yes, you get the fun and excitement that comes with ziplining, helicopter site-seeing, white-water rafting, trying new cocktails, eating dessert with every meal. You get the thrill of a novelty purchase like a purse in the shape of a dog house or t-shirts with the name of your destination emblazoned on the front. But it all comes with a price tag.

A vacation mindset gives you permission to “treat” yourself. And treat is just another word for blowing the bank.

How to Avoid this Mistake: Create a budget before you get on the road. Stick with it. So, if your budget allows $100 for eating out every month you might have to pass on the 5-course 5-star restaurant. Or know, if you eat there, you won’t be eating out the rest of the month. A budget makes you know it’s ziplining or white-water rafting, not ziplining and white-water rafting. A budget asks you to ask yourself just how badly do you need that sparkly pair of socks that light up at night.

Even if you make this common mistake–or even if you make it despite having a budget–the good news is that almost everyone figures it out. And adjusts.

Once you’ve been a full-timer for six or so months, it gets easier. By that time, you start to understand the rhythm of the life you chose. You settle in. You find balance. Just keep reminding yourself this is real life, not vacation life.

Mistake #2: Trying to Do Too Much, See Too Much

This second mistake is similar to the first but different. I think the vacation mindset is about budget and money while trying to do too much is about burnout.

Woman in red dress holding shiny gold coins. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
We are drawn to shiny objects.

It’s the shining penny syndrome. Or, FOMO. Fear of Missing Out. When you go into full-time RV life, everything is new and different and exciting. In other words, you want to try every restaurant, go on every adventure, read every information sign, visit every museum and go on every hike. You don’t want to miss a single thing.

In other words, it can be easy to fall into the guilt trap if you don’t experience it all. You feel so lucky to be living the RV life that it gives you a sense of obligation to make the most of it. At least that’s how I felt at the beginning. I knew, with so much to see in this country, I’d unlikely repeat locations. So, if I was never going to be back, I felt had to see and do everything, even things I wasn’t particularly excited about.

How to Avoid This Mistake: It sounds obvious, but give yourself permission not to do see everything. And, one of the ways to do this is to look at all your options before you arrive and decide what appeals most.  

Consequently, this approach can make for a better experience. How? Because you are actively, consciously choosing which things spark your mind and speak to your soul.

In Fredericksburg, Texas, the National Museum of the Pacific War (WWII) is number one on every “things to do in Fredericksburg” list. I went back to their website several times trying to get excited about it. But I just couldn’t. In the end, I didn’t go. At that point, I’d only been RVing a few months so that decision came with feelings of guilt and thoughts of “I should go.”

But with more experience under my belt, now I am okay with finding a walk I enjoy and doing it repeatedly in an area rather than seeking out new ones. I’m okay with passing on the big “must see” museum in lieu of one in an old house run by the local historical society. Those museums are more my speed and I enjoy them immensely.

Heart drawn in sand.
I drew this on a beach in Oregon.

But don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with big museums, nothing wrong with the Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg. My point is simply to acknowledge that this is my journey. The fact that I am not drawn to military museums doesn’t mean I’m less patriotic than the next guy, it just means I am not fascinated or engaged when I visit one. It means I understand my own heart.

Your journey might incorporate your love of airplane museums. Or military museums. Or your journey might emphatically not include any museums.

Rest assured, you can have a complete and fulfilling experience in a new location without seeing and doing every single thing the area offers. Giving yourself permission to not do and see everything may also might mean giving yourself permission for non-adventure days. RV life doesn’t have to be the go-go-go life.

Additionally, it’s common for full-time RVers to slow down. Most RVers say they have a slower pace of travel in their second year, once the shining penny fades. Just a little.

So, avoiding burnout really comes down to figuring out the best pace for you both in terms of frequently of travel and how much you want to see and do on your non-travel days. It’s a balance and if you are new, you will find it. It can take time but you will find the perfect rhythm for you.

Mistake #3: Not Seeking Out Community

Okay, this one is going to sound a little contradictory. On the one hand, you meet and talk to tons of people on the road. A campground probably gives you more opportunities and exposure to more people than, say, a boondocking spot. But even boondocking spots often have others nearby.

On the other hand, while those many interactions can stave off feelings of isolation and loneliness, those same interactions are generally superficial. You’ll answer questions about your rig, where you are from, where you have traveled and where you will travel, whether or not you work, etc.

Lots of people sitting at round tables in a ballroom.
One of my communities is RV Entrepreneurs. Here we are at dinner during the 2019 RVE Summit.

So you find yourself in the same conversation over and over again. These are the getting-to-know-each-other conversations. But sometimes you crave more. You want a deeper conversation. You want to feel a connection to other human beings rather than just bouncing off one another like bumper cars.

And, I should say, I think this is true even if you travel with a partner, spouse or family. This isn’t a solo RVer’s problem.

How to Avoid This Mistake: The best way to not have this one on your list of RV mistakes is to join a few groups. You’ll have no trouble finding your tribe. There are groups out there for everyone. People in those groups stay connected through newsletters, Facebook groups, forums and emails. They get together formally (like a rally, summit or conference) and informally.  

So, you start off by having something in common and then you interact on a regular basis. And over time, you’ll develop friendships. Since you’ve already gone through the getting to know each other phase, subsequent visits can strengthen your connection. Therefore, conversations become deeper.

Four white trailers in camping spots next to a lake.
Oliver Trailer owners is another of my communities. Here are four on Lake Guntersville during our rally in 2018. Thanks to my friend Mike Jones for this shot.

Since you are keeping in touch, you’ll find yourself in the vicinity of new-found acquaintances and friends. The close proximity can sometimes work out that you are able to meet up whether for a meal or to stay in the same campground.

Similarly, I also know people who feel such a strong connection, they end up caravanning together for a while.

The bottom line for not making this newbie mistake is to know that you must take action. Joining a group, attending a rally or asking someone you meet while out walking your dog to coffee are not passive. You can make meaningful friendships on the road, but just like friendships in regular life, they take intentionality and work.

Mistake #4: Thinking RV Life is a Cheaper Life

This mistake comes with a disclaimer that this RV mistake may not be true for all full-time RVers. Full-time RV life is different for everyone and it runs the full range of the spectrum.

Without a mortgage or rent and associated expenses, it can be easy to think living in an RV is practically free. And it just isn’t. There are campground fees for those whose style is hookups. But even boondockers incur expenses because some boondocking areas have fees (albeit, much less than a campground) but there are also fees for dump stations, water, etc.

Additional expenses to take into account are continuous maintenance costs. Even if you fix things yourself, there will be things only a professional can do. And that needs to be considered in your annual budget. Plus, even with the repairs you do yourself, there are material costs.

And, because you are traveling, it’s likely your monthly gas expenses will be noticeably higher than in your pre-RV life. Additionally, you still have to buy groceries, take your pet to the vet, do laundry, maintain health insurance plus full-timers insurance for your rig and vehicle, etc.

Just before I got on the road, I read an article by a couple who walked into RV life believing it was going to solve their money problems. And less than a year later, they decided to give up full-time RV life. They had several reasons, but the biggest, by far, was money. It just wasn’t the solution they expected it to be.

Lots of research and planning will help you to avoid this mistake. A realistic budget based on what others have shared is a place to start. In the case of the couple who quit, they had financed their RV so once they added in additional insurance, campground fees, maintenance and additional gas, they found they really weren’t saving much above the rent they had been paying.

That caution said, I know many frugal RVers who live on about $1,000 per month. These are boondockers and workampers, who don’t travel far, who severely limit adventure and eating out expenses. And it works for them.

The budget I started with was $3,000 a month. As a result of heeding others’ lessons, I figured high for everything. The reality for me has settled in at an average of $2,200 per month and that’s with neither my trailer nor my van financed. 

So, the bottom line on this mistake is that RV life can be a cheaper way of living but you have to allow for costs you didn’t have in sticks-and-bricks life. And to create an accurate budget, you must have a good understanding of how much traveling you’ll do, whether or not you’ll stay in campgrounds and how often you want fee-based adventures including eating out.

What RV Mistakes Did You Make?

The list of RV mistakes newbies make is usually a long one. Some silly. Some serious. But we all have to go through it to get to the other side, the side where “newbie” no longer applies. We all make different ones but the ones listed here are those that I’d heard over and over again. 

What newbie RV mistakes did you make? If you aren’t on the road yet, what newbie RV mistakes have you heard most often and what will you do to avoid them?

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