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An Alternative Lifestyle--Living and Traveling
Full-time in a Recreational Vehicle

  An Overview

The concept of full-timing is fairly simple. Today's modern motorhomes, travel trailers, and fifth-wheels provide comfortable accommodations even though they are a good deal smaller than the average home. Our first motorhome was not a large one, and although our new one is bigger, it is not as big as a small apartment. But we have the United States as a back yard. Since we are generally in warm weather, much of our time is spent outdoors. Even if it's raining, we can use the picnic table under our awning. 

It's not necessary to leave conveniences behind. Today's RV is equipped with a refrigerator and freezer (operating on both electric and propane), television (sometimes two), air conditioner, microwave oven, conventional and/or convection oven, and many other options, depending on the model and pocket book. Some have a washer and dryer, ice maker, and friends of ours even have a small water softener in their motorhome. Another couple we know has a dishwasher. Our favorite on-board possessions are a laptop computer, a full size personal computer (PC) and printer. The laptop computer works (with attachments) on either alternating or direct current, depending on whether we are plugged into a power source at a campground or in a remote area using our house battery. 

The goal then, of a full-timer, is a different lifestyle, not a harder one. This comfortable lifestyle is possible when combining a modern RV with the availability of thousands of public, private, and membership campgrounds all over the United States, Canada, and Mexico. There are also many scenic spots that full-timers can call home for a while where camping is permitted even though it is not designated as a campground. 

Full-timers can "live" in a country club type park complete with luxurious full hook-up sites, heated pools, hot tubs, sports courts, billiard rooms, ballrooms, and restaurants. These parks often have a professional activities director, and guests can keep very busy with everything from wood working to square dancing. Other commercial campgrounds are comfortable with wide, beautifully landscaped sites, full hookups, and a pool complex without all the scheduled activities. Most have a nice lounge where folks can gather for cards and games. Some have big screen televisions and weekend breakfasts or once-a-week potlucks. The price ranges are as wide as the amenities offered. 

On the other end of the scale, the remoteness of a state or national park campground has its own appeal. Instead of television, entertainment consists of watching the wildlife, beautiful scenery and sunsets. Instead of the radio, music comes from the birds and the wind rustling through the trees. And instead of tennis, exercise is walking or hiking the trails. The hook-ups range from full (rare), to water and electric (more common), to rustic (bare bones--wilderness type), and the prices are very reasonable. 

The concept becomes more interesting when considering the economic aspects of full-timing. Campground fees take the place of rent, utilities, property tax, maintenance costs, and other fees associated with home ownership. We have budgeted $175 a month for campground fees and have not hesitated to treat ourselves to some luxury sites (in addition to membership parks) when we feel like it. After six years of full-timing, we find this figure excessive because public park fees, membership parks, and occasional free parking offset the cost of luxury parks. In the luxury parks, monthly rates are often within our budget. Many full-timers think that our $175 budget is extravagant because they boondock--either out of necessity or just plain fun. 

Boondocking means camping free. It can be anywhere. Boondockers may camp in roadside rest areas, on beaches, shopping center parking lots, church parking lots, deserts, fair grounds, and almost anywhere they can safely and legally park. Sometimes it's just for overnight in a rest area, or for many days in a scenic spot on the desert or on a beach. Often other boondockers are camped in the same area adding to the fun. The practice requires a self-contained RV (which most are), and ingenious methods of providing electricity and water to the RV for extended stays. Therefore, good water conservation methods and efficient waste disposal are a way of life with the long term boondocker. We will not be discussing in-depth methods of boondocking. If interested in learning about this facet of full-timing, we recommend reading Survival of the Snowbirds, by Joe and Kay Peterson, founders of the Escapees Club. To obtain a copy of this book write to RoVers Publications, 100 Rainbow Drive, Livingston, Texas, 77351. The cost is $8.95 plus $1 postage and handling. 

Whatever the camping preference, it's available in this wonderful land of ours. Our personal preference is campgrounds with full facilities interspersed with stop-offs at national parks. We have a goal to visit every national park in the continental United States, and we are well on our way. We use full service parks because, after all, we DO live in our RV year round. It's not like we are on a short camping trip, after which we will go home to all the conveniences. We like electricity and running water and don't mind having heated swimming pools, saunas, hot tubs, and tennis courts either. 

Although there are some young people, and a fair number of Baby Boomers full-timing, the nomadic lifestyle is particularly attractive to retirees for obvious reasons. Most retirees have left the job market and no longer have day-to-day family responsibilities. Full-timers have discovered that even with a modest income (in some cases only social security), they can enjoy a satisfying, travel filled retirement previously available only to the wealthy. This is possible because their full-time wanderings represent their total daily living expense. They are relieved of maintaining a house or apartment and the concerns associated with absentee ownership. The financial aspects of full-timing are discussed fully in Chapter 10. Financial considerations will be an important part of this book. 

In 1988, the television program, 20/20 presented a segment dealing with full-timers, and estimated that there were approximately 200,000 in the United States at that time. Dr. Roberta Null, at the University of Miami of Ohio, recently profiled the full-timer and found the number had jumped to over 700,000. She further reported that 90 percent are over the age of 50, have incomes between $15,000 and $30,000, and 90 percent are married. There are many social and economic considerations involving the decision to be a full-timer, and we will also discuss those. 

The first question that arises deals with the type of recreational vehicle to be used. Many retirees already own an RV that they have been using for vacations or weekend camping trips. Some of these units may be suitable for full-timing if in good condition. The type of unit chosen will involve a lot of tradeoffs. If buying a new or used RV, consider the following items as they affect full-timing plans: average planned length of stay, economic resources, driving skill, space needs, hobbies, geographic terrain to be traveled, local travel and sightseeing, and most important of all--personal preferences. The three major types of RVs that we will discuss are a travel trailer, fifth-wheel, and motorhome. 

What is the most popular choice among the three major RV categories? It's difficult to say, and to our knowledge there hasn't been a survey of full-timer's preference. Our unscientific observations in southern RV parks seem to split out evenly between the three types. These observations, however, may not represent full-timers, since many of the travel trailers belong to "snowbirds" who tend to stay at one park for the winter before returning to a permanent home. A travel trailer (because it doesn't move for three or four months) may best serve their needs. In addition, most are still maintaining a home in the north country, and the trailer represents less of an investment for the three or four months that it is used. The full-timers that we meet on the road are usually in a motorhome (towing a car) or a fifth-wheel. All of these units, and combinations of units, have tradeoffs which we will explore in Chapter 3. 

How about spending 24 hours a day with a mate? You will undoubtedly miss the family. But will that be a problem? How do full-timers keep in touch with the family? These are good questions that need to be explored and Chapter 8 will do that. Another question involves banking and handling daily financial needs, and this book deals with that also. 

Many have shared our experience and found that other full-timers are truly neighbors. They love to help and give advice. Many times we have changed our itinerary because someone said, "You simply can't miss this or that." And guess what--they were right. We would have missed such places as Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands New Mexico. We learned about screen door latches and solar panels from a lovely campground host couple in the Smoky Mountains National Park. Learn about campground hosting in Chapter 6. On North Padre Island, Texas, we learned about the many types of generators available and which ones are quieter. And in Mission, Texas, we had all kinds of advice on washing our motorhome and patching a leaky waste water tank. We are never alone. 

Once the decision is made to full-time, is it irreversible? Absolutely not! Most full-timers know that someday because of health or other good reasons, they may pull off the road. This does not present a problem, and if that time ever comes (we hope it doesn't) it's surprising how easy the transition can be made. We feel that it need not be a financial problem because we have actually saved money. 

So far, we have given you an overview as to what full-timing is, who does it, why they do it, what equipment they use, and where they stay. To give an example of what our life is like, we would like to describe a few weeks from our first year on the road. The scene is a very neat campground in San Antonio, Texas. It has wide campsites and full hookups for $10.70 a night on a weekly basis. During the day we did the laundry at the campground laundromat and did some writing for this book. In the late afternoon we went down to the famous river walk where the whole city was celebrating the final day of Carnival Del Rio (a take-off on Mardi Gras). Dinner was a delightful experience at an outdoor cafe along the river. The next day we visited the Alamo and four historic missions that comprise the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. 

The following week found us in Corpus Christi where we spent a week on North Padre Island ($4 a night and right on the gulf). Next stop was Mission, Texas, where we stayed for three weeks in order to get some minor maintenance done and to relax with golf, tennis, and walking. The country-club- type RV resort we stayed at was typical of many that are available throughout the country. Many of the membership campgrounds have similar facilities. What they all have in common, however, are the people staying there. They have time for conversation and fun. Like so many others where we have stayed, we enjoyed the card games in the evening and meeting people at the get-togethers. After three relaxing weeks and many new friends, it was on to Big Bend National Park, Texas, for hiking, breath taking scenery, ranger programs, more new friends, and some beautiful rustic camping. And on and on and on.... Full-timing makes this type of life possible, because for most of us, it would not be affordable if we had to maintain a home or pay for motels and other travel expenses. 

But, it's not for everyone. The following chapters will explore this lifestyle. You may decide to join us. If you do, we can be anywhere. We may be under a pine tree in a national park, or biking through gorgeous autumn leaves in Vermont, or hiking a trail in a national park, or maybe just enjoying a campfire in a beautiful state park in northern Michigan. We may also be pool-side enjoying the luxuries of a membership park, visiting your church on a Sunday, or shopping at your grocery store. Wherever we are, we will be looking for you. Our redwood sign is on the front of the motorhome--our home. The coffee pot is always on and we would love to visit with you. 

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