Our Year in an RV – What We Spent & How We Did It

BAMF the RV Moterhome

So how do committed boat people end up in an RV? Easy. On a spur of the moment whim.

When we headed off into GypsyNester territory, we kissed our friends good-bye — telling them we were on our way to sail the seven seas.

So what happened?

After nearly a decade of living on a tiny rock in the Caribbean we had been fairly isolated from folks up in the mainland. We hadn‘t seen our stateside friends and family in ages.

We figured we should catch up with everybody before we unfurled our sails. But how?

Yosemite National Park

Planes, trains and automobiles, not to mention hotels, motels and restaurants would bankrupt us before we managed to see half of our neglected kinfolk.

They are literally scattered from sea to shining sea.

Had a blast at Mt. Rushmore

One day David blurted out, “What about an RV? We could take our time, hit the hotspots in between visits and we’d have our bed with us everyday.”

Our GypsyNesting pact was that we wouldn‘t tie ourselves up with plans. We wanted spontaneous adventure.

This seemed pretty damn spontaneous, so Veronica enthusiastically said YEAH!A bit of research was needed since we knew less than squat about the RV lifestyle.

We made a list of things essential:

  • * David has to be able to stand up in it. It’s not like he had to ward off offers from the NBA — but everyone deserves a couple yards of vertical space.
  • * It has to have one of those over-the-cab sleeping quarters thingys so we wouldn’t have to make up and tear down the bed everyday, because we both knew that we wouldn’t.
  • * It can’t be so long that we can’t get into cities or park in regular parking lots.
  • * It has to be old enough that David could tweak the engine. No on-board computers or fuel injectors for David.
  • * It can’t have any weird smells. Smells mean damp — and damp is not your friend in a motorhome.

David took our list and did what we always do — he Googled (though we wouldn’t suggest Googling “weird smells” — not pretty).

After a few days of studying up, David had a pretty good bead on the situation. Veronica, for her part, ooohed and awwwed over his finds.

There are amazing amounts of RV buying resources on the web, but sometimes the best deals are on eBay.

Again, when you have no plans you end up doing things unexpected — really, what sort of idiot buys an RV on eBay?

A seller in Chicago had a listing that fit the bill perfectly. We emailed Chicago Dude and set up a test drive for a couple of hours before the auction closed.

It was love at first sight — twenty three feet of rolling luxury. It was an oldie but a goodie — an ‘83 model Tioga on a Chevy chassis
with a good old 350 V-8.

Funky, ugly neutral “earthy tones” with wheat stalks on the “wall paper.” But he was well laid out, everything worked and the weird smell issue was nonexistent.

We figure we stole it for $3,200 — Chicago Dude cut us a great deal during the test drive, “I like you two, you remind me of old hippies — you should have this motor home,” he said.

Uh. Okay. Thanks.

We spent about a thousand dollars more on prettying up the interior and a once over for safety’s sake. A little grease and a brake job and we were on our way.

We didn’t delude ourselves, we knew were engaging in a race against time. We fully expected to be stranded on the roadside at some point — but figured we could see a bunch of loved ones

The stranding never happened. Thirty thousand miles later, our funky home on wheels is still running like a scalded dog.

A few months into our new venture, we rounded up our offspring, The Piglet, and Decibel and The Boy, for a jaunt up to Montreal.

Decibel instantly fell in love with our “good old coach” (a description his “once over” mechanic had used).

She dubbed him BAMF. Please keep in mind that Decibel hails from NYC before Googling “BAMF.” The name stuck.

Flash forward a year. BAMF has taken us to thirty-four states, three Canadian provinces, fourteen National Parks and a beautiful seaside town in Mexico. It’s been an amazing journey.

We had no idea what we were doing, but we sure learned a lot, so we’d like to share some of what we discovered along the way.

Having invested less than five grand in BAMFy, we were inspired to do the whole year on the cheap.

We procured a Good Sam membership card and a National Parks annual pass and blindly hit the road.

Let’s start with what we spent:

Gas $7,413.97
Campgrounds $4,317.39
Vehicle
Maintenance
$2,483.23
Interior
and systems
$867.43
Oil
Changes
$436.45
Propane $352.55
Tolls $40.50

For a grand total of $15,911.52. That comes to just $1325.96 a month. Considering we had no mortgage, no utility bills, no cable, no yard — it was one heck of a deal.

Now the nitty-gritty:
BAMF is old. He doesn’t have all the pretty bells and whistles found on those newfangled behemoths. He averages about 8 miles to the gallon — not exactly aerodynamic. But he does have a stove, a refrigerator, a sofa, a dining table and even a bathtub. And we learned to adapt.

Veronica dubbed the toilet and mirror bathroom combo her “vanity.” Everything had to be stowed each morning to avoid deadly projectiles when rounding corners or applying brakes.

We learned how to heat things up without a microwave. We made coffee on the stove. And we arose each morning to a new scene out BAMFy’s windows. It was heaven.

Campgrounds were an every-other-day luxury. The off-days were spent at free sites known in RV lingo as boondocking or dry camping. Wal-Mart parking lots, casinos, government lands and, in a rare pinch, truck stops were utilized.

As with so many aspects of living on the road, the Internet was incredibly helpful in finding these locations. There are several websites dedicated to listing these
places.

For days spent boondocking we carried two battery packs and an inverter. This gave us enough electricity — combined with our laptop batteries — to write, catch up on correspondence, plan routes and watch movies. Frozen water jugs were placed in the fridge to keep food fresh. On campground days we charged our battery packs and froze our jugs.

Wal-Marts:
“ARE YOU FREAKING NUTS?!” Veronica exclaimed the first time David suggested staying at a Wal-Mart. Apparently ole Sam Walton was a big time camping nut and many, but not all, stores allow overnight stays.

Sites on the Internet list the stores that accommodate overnight stays — but their accuracy is less than stellar. We learned to make alternate plans — just in case.

It’s very rare to be alone in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Usually there are quite a few fellow blacktop bivouackers. One particular SuperCenter in Bozeman, Montana was a veritable RV rodeo.

Because of its proximity to Yellowstone, we met people from all over the world at the Bozeman Wal-Mart — our favorite was a German couple in a VW bus with a two-year-old son. Their goal was “drive” around the world in their little pop-top hippie wagon — they were headed for Washington State and then all the way down the coast to the tip of South America. There they would catch a boat to New Zealand. Somehow, we didn’t feel so crazy anymore.

Campgrounds:

Campgrounds vary wildly in size, price and amenities. Basic hook-ups… water, electricity, sewer service and, increasingly, wireless
Internet are standard.

Like real estate, prices are based on location, location – and location.

A parking spot packed in inches from your neighbor might run fifty bucks if it’s near a popular tourist attraction. Beautiful wide open spaces can be as little as ten or fifteen dollars out in the sticks.

Camp Among the Redwoods

Sometimes we paid strictly for the view. State Parks in California, with no hookups at all, run thirty-five dollars a night, but were worth every penny to sleep in the shade of the redwoods or wake up gazing out over the Pacific Ocean.

The best campground on the continent!

Our choice for the bargain of the continent has to be the RV park in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

Everything we could ask for — Internet, full hookups and a site on prime beachfront property for twenty bucks a night.

We also had the exotic pleasure of fresh shrimp delivered right to BAMF’s door.

KOAs are usually very nice. They have all the stuff vagabonds need like Internet, laundry and a little store that sells everything you need to make s’mores — but they cost a bit more than your Mom ‘n Pop campsites.

We joined their “club” for the discounts and the convenience of a great online reservation system. On the KOA website, we could prepay, gather info on each campground and best of all, not have to worry about getting there before they closed for the night.

They can be a bit TOO “family friendly” for us old heathens. The mayhem of hay rides, dance parties and crazy youngsters aboard bikes is not really where we’re at these days. BUT — if we ever have grandkids, we’ll be there in a heartbeat.

Internet Access:
Many campgrounds offer free or very cheap wireless service. Generally these were the ones we sought out.

When boondocking or on the road we surfed a lot on our iPhone and made good use of our laptop connect wireless card. The card plugs into a USB port and connects through a cell phone signal. It works amazingly well on 3G, so-so on Edge and not at all in the boonies.

We spent scads of hours in coffeehouses and libraries to utilize their wifi services. These are great places to meet people and feel the pulse of the towns we visited.

Phone service:
Since we have an iPhone with AT&T this is all we can speak about.

The pros:
Internet right in the palm of our hands for Googling on the go.

GPS! Nevergetting lost — okay, getting lost less often. Don’t know how we ever got along before GPS.

There’s an ap for that! Cheap gas, restaurants, coffeehouses with free wifi, Wal-Marts, campgrounds, sewer dump stations, movies and just about anything else under the sun.

The cons:
Huge areas without service when off the beaten path, especially out west and the upper midwest. Outside of the cities there’s no rhyme nor reason to the coverage. We had five bars and 3G service on a little boat in the middle of the Atchafalaya Swamp yet no service at all blocks away from a major university. Go figure. We learned to adapt.

Mail:
The Internet makes taking off in a BAMF so much easier than a few years ago. All of our bills are paid online, most automatically, so mail is much less of an issue.

We have a post office box where The Boy is going to college. He picks up our mail once a week and throws 90% of it straight in the trash. We had him forward the very few important things to us when we were with family, otherwise he just hung on to it until we saw him next.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Did we miss something? Please feel free to ask us questions or make suggestions by leaving a comment!


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48 thoughts on “Our Year in an RV – What We Spent & How We Did It”

  1. Hello,
    Enjoyed your overview of full time RV living. We currently have a fifth wheel on property that we own in the Smokey Mountains of TN and stay there on weekends, vacation, and holidays. We have traveled to Alaska and rented RV’s for several weeks at a time, never having an agenda and just going to wherever the road takes us. We plan to sell everything we own in 6 years (retirement) and travel for at least full 2 years in a full size RV. We will then establish a home base somewhere after the trip. Your blog also mentions what we have found to be true……….there is a whole nother world out there to be experienced and making memories is what life is all about.

    Kind Regards,
    Dale and Naomi Crow

    1. Hi Dale & Naomi,

      Thanks for stopping by and saying hello. Hope you enjoy your time in an RV as much as we did.

  2. New here. Love all the info, Iam just talking to hubby about leaving San Diego, and renting out our home, I am quite stressed..one week empty grandnesters

    1. We have been self employed most of our lives so we have always had private coverage. Luckily we are both healthy so we can go with high deductible.

  3. Another boondocking possibility: church parking lots (except on Saturday night 😉
    I have only been rousted one time [in Indiana] but fortunately I had a letter from my minister [in CA] vouching for me and the officer went from threatening to “I’ll have Jimmy John [his deputy] swing by and check up on you during the night.”

  4. I just ordered your book and can’t wait to read it! My husband and I are somewhat empty nesters with 2 married daughters (27, 25) and a son who just finished (barely) his first year of college. We also refer to him as “the boy”. LOL. We have a seasonal campsite on Cape Cod and have often thought of trading it in for something more mobile. I am a teacher so potentially I could do this in the summer but hubby would have to rethink his work schedule. I love your thought about being empty nesters. I was a completely devoted mother for 20 something years. I worked at home doing daycare and was mom to half the town. People wold ask me how I was handling the kids being gone and were surprised when I say “I love it”. I am excited about this new chapter in our lives!!

  5. I have considered buying a motorhome almost exactly like the one you own. It was a huge relief to hear you weren’t plagued with breakdowns and expensive repairs ! That was my main worry, that a older rv could hold up to the rigors of long distance travel. Really interesting site. Stay safe and thanks for sharing !

  6. This sounds amazing. Its actually what my partner and I plan to do next year together.

    Just out of curiosity what the cost per person? Or just all together? 🙂

    Thanks!1

  7. Sounds fantastic! We’ve always wanted to try a 6 month or so North American road trip and this makes it sound quite possible. Need to keep the house a bit longer as our girls are in bouncing back (boomerang?) phase. Made me laugh…we also have a Decibel.

    1. You can find good deals on older motorhomes. Our original plan was to run it for awhile then sell it, but we ended up going on and on and on. Six years later we are on our second “BAMF” and still going strong.

  8. Wow this has me seriously considering renting the condo out and hitting the road. I could even stay in my home town when I want to work and then travel when I’m not busy. Love this post. Super helpful. Will be sharing!

  9. Another place to dry camp is a hospital parking lot. Find a dark corner of the lot and park. You will be left alone. They just think you have a family member in the hospital.

    I’ve stayed in hospital parking lots all over the U.S. and Canada. Some hospitals even have campsites set up on their property that you can stay at for a fee. Cleveland Clinic is one that has a campsite. It is in a fenced enclosure behind the Cleveland Clinic Guest House.

  10. Hi! We just sold our boat a year ago. After 10 years and 36000 miles we had an offer we couldn’t refuse in Sicily Italy. We are now home in Southern California. We just bought a 22 foot class c 1995 We totally identify with your vibe. We are heading out for 4 months next month covering the south and ending up in Colorado where there is a (believe it or not) Cruisers get together. July 18th. Sailors from all over the world should be showing up…. Lots of lies etc. Maybe we’ll see you there. Thanks for the great info… Cheers Dave and Judy

    1. Very cool! We still dream of cruising the Mediterranean. Our “new” RV is a 22′ 1993 model. The old guy in this story finally gave up the ghost. Won’t be able to make it to Colorado this summer, we are heading up to the Maritime provinces of Canada. Have a great time.

  11. Sounds like a wonderful adventure! My aunt and uncle used to travel around the country in their camper. My uncle travelled a great deal for work and this saved them quite a bit of money. They kept right on going even after he retired. (Went white water rafting for the first time in their sixties.) About ten years ago a storm uprooted a large tree and settled it-yes, you guessed it-right on top of their beloved friend. They were devestated! After reading your article, I now understand why. You do have a way of bringing everybody along for the ride!

    1. Its easy to grow very attached, they become home. We recently “lost” our original RV (the guy in the picture) when he finally gave up the ghost (threw a rod). We luckily found another nearly identical 10 year newer model and kept right on going.

      Thanks, we really try to share our experiences and make everyone feel like they can come along.

      1. David & Veronica,
        So sorry to hear about the passing of your 83 rv. I was the guy who sold it to you in Villa Park. That was a fun day. I have been following you and glad you had such adventure in her. Be safe in your travels!
        Ed

        1. Wow Ed, great to hear from you! We really fell in love with that old guy, Veronica actually cried when we had to leave it in Louisiana. But we found a replacement that is very similar, a 93. It’s almost like nothing changed.

  12. My hubby and I have fantasized about heading cross-country in an RV. I wanted to do the “sail around the world” thing but being over miles of ocean gave him (and a couple of the kids) the willies.
    Thanks so much for sharing. You have re-lit that wanderlust. (I think that’s a good thing 😉

    Chana K.

    Oh! And hugs for being such adventurous, energizing peeps!

  13. Ohhh….I loved your post and it made me long to hit the road once again. My family spent 18 months in our motor home (that we bought for $4500- not too bad). I can’t wait until my husband and I are able to travel in an RV once again.

  14. Your post are so neat. I really enjoy them. You are living my dream the way that I would love to live it. I am a 63 year old lady with no hubby so it might be a little difficult for me. If I were a bit younger though, I might give it a try. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thanks Ann! We are so pleased to have you along for the ride. Have you thought about doing some group trips? We just came across a non-profit site called RoadScholar.org that works with solo travelers to find trips with like-minded folks to travel with – you might want to check them out. Let us know what you think!

  15. My husband and I are in our 8th year of wandering. We can’t imagine living any other way now. There is another world out there made up of people like us…but no one knows. As far as medical goes..we are also from CA, originally…..it will surprise you how inexpensive medical is if you are NOT in CA. Mexico is another option especially for dental, glasses and perscriptions.

  16. I am so glad you shared your adventure…I am in the process of taking a similiar road….Now I can share this blog with family members that looked at me like I’d grown 2 heads when I first mentioned my plans. I don’t think I’ll be quite as adventurous as you both…but I’m going to give my best! thanks again!

  17. We just bought a rv and looking to hit the road. The harsh reality for us is healthcare.We are in our early 50’s, I am retired and my wife will retire this year.We will now be responsible to pay for our health insurance which will be about $1250 a month.We live in ca.Is there an alternative for us?

    1. We have always been self employed so are used to paying our own insurance. We have major medical with a huge deductable so it is cheap (under $2000 a year) but doesn’t cover any day to day stuff. Got it through AARP. Luckily we are both healthy so we don’t use much health services.

  18. This is a fantastic idea – especially for those who are attracted to the allure of travel and debating whether to retire abroad. As someone thinking of retiring in Mexico, this sounds like a very affordable and appealing option. I linked this to my blog for retirees thinking of relocating to Mexico. I’d love to hear more stories or more posts about your time traveling in the RV and in Mexico – do you have any other posts on the site? Best, Rick

    (retireinnayarit.com)

  19. You are my new hero! Seriously.. I loved reading of your adventures! Sounds like it was a completely amazing experience! One you will never forget. Maybe one day hubby and I will get our road wheels and do a journey like this! Thanks for sharing!

    Hazel

  20. Oh, you guys are still decidedly nautical… That thing is a land-yacht! I’m telling you, there’s very little difference (other than the potential for sinking) between living on a boat, and in an RV! Can’t wait to do this in 16 years!

  21. would love to do that, but I would have to make the choice between traveling or living with my husband who would absolutely NOT like to do that! Sounds like a lot of fun.

  22. My Husband and I have talked about doing this since we are newly empty-nested. We do have a lot to do before we are ready for this adventure though. Cleaning up and selling the house which will hopefully help us clean up our debt is first and foremost. We are hoping to be in position to sell by next spring. I so look forward to the freedom from home-ownership and having the ability to go where and when we want!!

  23. since meeting you guys at the Visitor Center in Lake Havasu, AZ, I have followed your adventures. Thank you for such a fun journey!!!!

  24. Great reporting. After my first year as a short-term (just tying it out) snowbird this past January and February, you just about covered everything . . . except holding tanks and the special fun of roto-rootering them when they back up!
    Would love to check out the site in Mexico – sounds like my dream spot.

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