Driving with Donna: The Pros & Cons of RV Retirement
Posted: December 20, 2023
Categories: Travel & Lifestyle
Driving with Donna: The Pros & Cons of RV Retirement
We didn’t choose to live in an RV during retirement so much as we just happened to fall into it. On June 14, 2020, while driving over Beartooth Pass in Montana in my little blue Mazda 3, we saw a motorhome lumbering up the switchbacks, and we casually pondered what life in a recreational vehicle would be like. We spent the rest of the ride back to Billings very lightly discussing the pros and cons of just renting an RV to help us travel more easily during the pandemic.
Later that evening, I sent Vic a link to an article about choosing what type of RV one should rent. A week later, we put a deposit on a new 5th wheel toy hauler. Two days after that, we traded in my “zoom zoom” for a gently used F-350. What can I say? It was during the pandemic, and we had nothing but time to do research!
The RV was due for completion in early September, so we had about 10 weeks to prepare for full-time RV living after less than two weeks of hatching, researching and acting on the idea.
Preparing for Full-Time RV Life
For background, this flurry of activity happened while we were more than 2,000 miles from either of the cities that we called home. Our lives together started just 10 months earlier, having met on a camping trip in Maine the previous August. We spent our first months together road-tripping and house-sitting, then by March, we were watching the world slowly shutter and travel opportunities dwindle.
Neither of us having living space for a partner in our own homes that we each shared with family, we booked a rental in the most wide-open place we could find – Montana.
Preparing for retirement wasn’t something we did together, and quite frankly I hadn’t done it at all. I was still volunteering, working as a genealogist and generally filling my time with speaking engagements and resident volunteer experiences. Vic had only recently retired when we met, still adjusting to life without an alarm clock.
So, while some spend people time during their mid-life years daydreaming of what retirement may look like for them, we quickly fell into the RV retirement lifestyle as a matter of adventure and survival together.
As it turns out, it was the perfect choice, and we feel like we got it right from the very start. However, we have met several couples on our journey who gave up their family home to travel full-time in retirement, and after just a season or two, decided it wasn’t for them.
Why Choose RV Travel During Retirement?
Some people chose RV retirement to adventure and explore the U.S. at a slower pace. Others do so because to stay in one place, with no job, and perhaps no family nearby, would be depressing and lonesome. Still others land on the idea as an economical way to have homes in different places. Regardless of your why, there are certainly a few things to consider when contemplating RV retirement.
The Pros of RV Retirement:
- When you misplace something, it’s usually not hard to find since you live in such a small space.
- Forgetting where the peanut butter is at your grocery store isn’t a sign of dementia, it’s probably just a different grocery store.
- You’ll never lose frozen meals to the back of the tiny freezer.
- Birding is a great hobby.
- You can travel to see all your family.
- You can count on neighboring campers to share their pets with you.
- RV maintenance becomes your new hobby.
- Every day brings new trivia games: Where are we? What state was that place we liked the burgers? What day is it?
The Cons of RV Retirement:
- Campground utility posts are never more than two feet off the ground, so stooping and bending are inevitable.
- 25-foot, 50A power cords weigh a ton.
- You’ll become a birder.
- Your family expects you to travel to come see them.
- You can count on your neighbors to always share pets with you.
- RV maintenance becomes your new hobby.
- You realize Jeopardy is never on the same channel at the same time across different states.
Other Things to Consider:
All that is to point out that what some people may enjoy about RV life, others will find challenging. Here are some other things to consider before you hit the road for RV retirement:
- Are you generally healthy and able to do the physical chores related to daily RV maintenance, set up / tear down, hitching up and hauling?
- Do you have medical concerns that require regular visits to the same doctor?
- Will you desperately miss your grandkids if you can’t be near them all the time?
- Are you able to leave behind hobbies that require special equipment and lots of space?
Ask Me About the Black-Capped Vireo!
For us, the biggest advantage to RV retirement has been the ability to travel and live together as a new couple, exploring things together for the first time and the ability to choose how we spend our free time. We have volunteered at several national and state parks, meeting wonderful people and seeing amazing sites.
We’ve also become temporary experts at random things, like the black-capped vireo bird, migration and mating patterns of the golden-cheeked warbler in Central Texas; the significance of Andersonville Georgia during the Civil War; barrier islands and ferry schedules in the Outer Banks; Longleaf Pine forests in central Florida; and the campground map at Cape Lookout State Park in Oregon.
Reasons Why RV Retirement Isn’t for Everyone
The drawbacks to RV Retirement are generally the same for anyone considering full-time RV life. But the term “retirement” typically denotes a specific age-related demographic that might encounter special challenges not typical of younger full-time RVers and families.
Fellow RVers we’ve met who have given up RV retirement have done so for a variety of reasons. One lovely couple we met while volunteering in Texas had been full-time RVing for several years and had given up their sticks and bricks house, living solely in their motorhome. He had some new heart-related challenges, needed knee replacements and was no longer able to maneuver easily in and out of their motorhome. Since he would need several months of follow up care and therapy, they purchased a home base near Austin and decided to keep the motorhome so they could continue to do resident volunteer work when he was more able.
We also met a work-camping couple in North Carolina where the husband was loving RV life, but the wife was not happy at all. She missed her family and often left the park to stay with her sister nearby.
Several couples we’ve met had grandchildren that helped them determine where they would take the RV and for how long. And still, others realized they just missed having a regular social network and the comforts of a larger home or yard.
Another couple we met had upgraded from a 30' travel trailer to a Class C with a small toad so they could more easily maneuver into campsites and didn’t struggle with the physical aspects of setting up camp.
The Many Ways You Can Retire to Living in an RV
There are many ways to do RV retirement. You don’t have to always be traveling or always be in one spot. You can hire out special and even routine maintenance if you aren’t interested in or able to do it yourself. You can even hire out someone to move your RV for you. Some RV parks have “seasonal sites” where you can park your RV full-time, but just visit it during the preferred season or just on weekends at your leisure.
You can volunteer in different places to keep yourself engaged and busy, and you can do it for as little as one month or as long as one year, and you can return to the same place or always go somewhere different. You can be a “snowbird” and go home when the weather suits you. Home can be a new place each year.
Every year, as we’ve settled into our wintering-over campsite, we reflect on the past year and toss around ideas for the next. We went full-blast the first year, always on the go, and in a new place every two to three weeks. The second year, we slowed down and visited a few spots for a little longer. This past year was a hybrid of both. We lingered into May volunteering in two places for about five months, then spent six weeks traveling the Northeast before setting up for a month in Maine.
Next year, we will change it up again. We will put the RV into short-term storage and leave the country for a few weeks, returning to volunteer in Oregon for the summer before heading back south, and perhaps another trip abroad.
Advice for Those Considering RV Retirement
The best advice I have for anyone considering RV retirement is to understand that nothing about an RV or RV life is permanent. You can always change your mind about the location, the equipment and the pace. Flexibility is key — mental and physical!
For those of us enjoying it, it is the most freeing and wonderful experience. I asked fellow travelers and Lippert Scouts to help me with some photos for this blog post and they came through with some amazing and inspiring photos and comments. Please enjoy them below!
Overall, the ability to take your home to wherever you want, whenever you want, and enjoy all the family and friends you want was the common motivation for keeping us with the RV lifestyle, despite some bumps in the road. Now, what day is it again?
“Being retired and living the RV life means enjoying the beauty of this country. The flexibility of being able to wake up next to the ocean, lakes, mountains, desert, and forest has been amazing!”
Photos and caption provided by Lisa Lowery
“Ahhhh, retirement! When you get to take your trailer wherever you want, whenever you want, because there's no job holding you back. Photo taken at Devils Tower KOA.”
Photo and caption provided by Dawn Kirk
“’Imagine’ escaping chores and responsibilities for the mountains anytime you want! That's us! 2 Retired Navy Seabees and Ruger too!”
Photo and caption provided by Chris Spillard Williams
“Enjoying the natural beauty of Badlands National Park, while boondocking on the ‘wall.’”
Photo and caption provided by Heather Strong of followingoursunset
“Beautiful fall camping in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada. When you’re retired it’s quiet when the kids are in school.”
Photo and caption provided by Kevin Constable
“This is at our summer retirement spot located in DeTour, Village Michigan. In the winter we like to be surrounded by palm trees!”
Photo and caption provided by Henry Huizenga
“We’ve come alive in our retirement, what we call ‘Our Next Chapter.’”
Photo and caption provided by Pamela Neth
“Nothing like off season camping to get away from the crowds.”
Photo and caption provided by Audry Lambert
“Beautiful sights to see with nothing on your mind but relaxation.”
Photo and caption provided by Judith Green Jones
Lippert Scouts Donna Weathers and Vic Mulieri are retired veterans who have been traveling the U.S. full-time for the past two years. They alternate their time between months-long volunteer gigs at state and national parks and road tripping in between those opportunities. Unencumbered by deadlines, pets or kids, they often have no idea what day it is and have forgotten how to set alarms. Their home on wheels is a 5th wheel toy hauler, and they love exploring the outdoors, historic places and great restaurants wherever they visit. To follow Donna and Vic’s RV adventures, be sure to subscribe to Donna’s blog at wheretonowus.travel.blog.