I have compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions to help reduce the amount of individual emails I receive with general questions. If you have a question related to Full-Timing or RVing, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will still reply to individual emails; however, common questions will just be posted here. PLEASE put “TMN question/comment” in the subject line or it may get deleted as spam.
What exactly does Full-Timing mean?
When someone says they are a “Full-Timer” or “Full-Time RVer” they mean that they live in a recreational vehicle year-round. Most travel several months out of the year, while some may only travel between one or two spot each year. And there are those who never move their RV at all, yet live in a RV park or resort year-round.
What do you need to know about Full-Timing?
For whatever reason(s) you decide to go Full-Timing, you should try it out first! If you have never been in a RV, I would recommend renting one for at least two weeks so you get the experience of living conditions and see if you are comfortable driving one. Many larger RV parks offer fifth-wheels or travel trailers for nightly rental (the RVs stay in the park) and this is a great way to get the feel of Full-Timing.
Full-Timing is not for everyone. One of the biggest issues involves the limited space and lack of privacy – not only in the RV, but also at the RV park. Most older RV resorts were not designed for larger RVs and slides, so you may find your neighbors RV are much closer than you’d like. Open windows mixed with loud TVs, radios or talking can carry several camp sites away.
A RVer is no different than owning a house – there are annual maintenance and repair costs. If you purchased a motor home and it needs engine repairs, you may find yourself living in a hotel until the repairs are made. Those with a disabled tow vehicle may find themselves stuck in a campground without transportation until their truck is fixed.
It takes a great deal of compromise to be a Full-Timer. So before you leap into it, try out the RV lifestyle.
Aren’t campgrounds and RV resorts expensive? Do I need to join camping clubs or buy a site somewhere?
Many RVers will agree that campgrounds, RV parks and resorts are over-priced – especially for those who just pull in for the night and leave early the next morning without using any extras (i.e. pools and other recreation features).
Most will blacktop boondock at travel centers and truck stops or find business which will allow overnight parking (like most Walmart stores – but always check with management) to avoid paying high rates for just a few hours at a campground.
Rates at campgrounds, RV parks and resorts are usually less expensive if you get the weekly or monthly rate. However, most parks will require extra deposits for those taking advantage of the monthly rate. Another thing to keep in mind is staying during off-season for the best rates. You may find a savings of $200-400 less per month (like Florida) during the off-season.
Many may work seasonally for their site at a campground or volunteer at a state park as a camp host. Hosts work minimal hours each week for their site and some state parks can offer extras such as laundry, local telephone and newspaper service for their volunteer hosts.
Some parks offer specials – stay a handful of nights and get a few free. Watch for coupons at Welcome Centers and park websites. Ask the park if they offer discounted rates for veterans, active military, law enforcement, firefighters, seniors and participate in membership programs like Good Sam. And don’t forget that casino camping is a great way to get amenities for a low price.
If you join a camping club, you can get additional discounts at parks throughout the US/Canada. Passport America usually offers 50% off rates at participating campgrounds which is a great deal. However, you should consider the cost of the club you are joining and see if the costs will benefit you. If you join and stay at only one participating park and save $12, but the yearly club membership costs $30… well, it wasn’t worth joining!
And keep in mind the location and amenities offered at the parks. You may think $24 is a great overnight rate with your discount card, but if you read information about that park, they might not offer full hook-ups or allow the discount on weekends/holidays.
If you consider “buying” a RV site to have a place to stay several months out of the year, you should take it as seriously as you would buy a house or condo. Read everything and if you don’t know or understand something, ask questions! You may find you can only stay at particular times and that the park may be able to rent your site during the remainder of the year. Or you may have to leave your RV there year-round but you have to leave it vacant after 6 continuous months!
RV stays can be affordable, you just have to do some shopping around and learn the tricks of the road!
What about mail service while you’re on the road?
If you join an organization, such as Escapees, you can pay for their mail forwarding service. There are also several companies who cater to Full-Timers mail forwarding. Services vary from sending mail in bulk to opening (with your permission), scanning and emailing your mail directly to you. Prices vary for these services.
But don’t forget the U.S. Postal Service will forward your mail temporarily (up to a year) for free. You can get it forwarded longer for a rate of around $17 a week (with one-time sign-on fee). Postal boxes for six months or longer are a great way to keep your mail secure if the RV park you are staying at is rather large (too many people handling mail) or it doesn’t have private mail boxes (PMB) for you to rent during your stay.
If you are worried about paying bills, consider looking into electronic options such as automatic withdrawal/deposit. If this is something you don’t like, then consider calling the companies and see if they will take your check information over the phone. Most will do this, plus give you a receipt number for your records. Money centers (like in Walmart Supercenters) also offer bill pay services for a minimal fee.
I’m worried about safety while traveling. Are truck stops and campgrounds really safe?
As with daily travel, you should always be alert of your surroundings and use common sense. When pulling over in truck stops, travel plazas or rest areas (esp. at night) watch the area where you park (make sure it’s well-lit and within view of the facility so others can see if you need assistance or you can see if anyone is near your rig).
If you are blacktop boondocking or overnighting, make sure you don’t answer your door at night and to leave the scare lights on your rig. If there is a knock on the door and the person appears to be law enforcement or someone “official” from the facility (such as an employee with ID) open a window near the door area and ask what they want. Make sure to keep your phone handy in any case. Although we’ve never experienced this (thank heavens) there are folks who have opened their doors to get mugged and robbed. Always think safety!
Another thing which we have noticed appears to be on the rise is panhandlers. We were outside Orlando and stopped at a Flying J and a panhandler approached us at the pump. When we were in Pensacola we were a bit shocked at the number of panhandlers in the Walmart parking lots. And we have been hearing about the panhandler problem in San Antonio and other major cities. Times are tough, but don’t let your guard down. Be mindful of your surroundings at all times.
When you are on the road, don’t “advertise” a wad of cash or a wallet of credit cards. Consider a travel belt to wear under your clothing if you are carrying extra funds. And never, ever put all your money in your wallet. I’m always amazed to see how “trusting” (and by that I really mean foolish) folks are when it comes to their purse or wallet. You’ve probably been to the store and have seen an open purse with cell phone and wallet peaking out – the purse just lying there in a shopping cart – with the woman on the other end of the aisle looking for something. Don’t be foolish with your money and identification!
You may not have to worry as much in private RV parks as they usually have security, gates, gate cards or key-less remotes. But the same rule applies – no answering the door at night. If someone knocks on the door, open a window near the door area and ask what they want.
One thing I advise is that you keep the campground information handy – phone number, address and after-hours number. This can often be found on the front or at the top of the park’s site map. This way if there is a problem, you have all the information available to contact the manager or police if necessary.
And please, please, please – lock your doors!!! Even in a secure campground you should lock your doors when you are not going to be near your site.
What do you do about storage?
One thing Full-Time RVers learn very quickly is that you can’t take it all with you. Most smaller motor homes and travel trailers have very limited storage space. Larger motor homes and fifth-wheels usually do have adequate storage, but extra items (such as a washer and dryer) take away from this valuable space.
You can’t live in a RV and own 40 pairs of shoes. Oh you could, but you wouldn’t be taking any food or supplies with you! Full-Time RVers have found the delicate balance of living with the basic needs of life and their personal wants.
We learn to simplify our needs and reduce our wants. You may need a skillet to cook your eggs in the morning, but do you need 6 different sizes? Only if you are a traveling chef! Full-Timers think about items that will be used the most often or items that offer multiple uses. If we don’t use it, we don’t need it!
We also have to live by the unwritten law of “In-Out-In”. If we want to bring more items in our RV, we must eventually move some out to allow room for more to come in.
Oh, you can still keep the holiday decorations and the creepy porcelain doll Aunt Edna gave you when you where ten years old, but you have to pack wisely. And another thing to contend with is moisture. So the things you do bring in the RV need to be packed not just to save space, but to prevent moisture.
Most campgrounds and RV resorts have yard sale days or trader shelves (usually books, games, puzzles, maps, craft supplies) where we can unload some of the extra stuff we have picked up. Many of the Full-Timers I know donate their items to local charity thrift shops or use services such as Freecycle or BookCrossing.
What are Seasonal RVers? Why does everyone go to Arizona, Texas or Florida?
When someone says they are a “Seasonal RVer” they mean that they only live in a RV for one or two seasons out of the year. Some Seasonals may actual travel with their RV, while others may have their units already in storage at the “seasonal” location. Many RV parks that offer storage will also place your unit and set it up for you for an additional fee.
Usually the Seasonal RVers are on the road during the winter months and the RV is conveniently located in a warmer climate, such as Florida, Texas or Arizona. There are regions in these states that cater to RVers or “Snowbirds” – offering RV shows and special discounts. Arizona is also popular for boondockers.
Can younger people and families really live year-round in a RV? How do their children go to school?
Although most people think of Full-Timers as retired folks, a growing number of younger singles/couples and families are on the road these days. With changes in the economy, it makes more sense to down-size and be mobile. Why be stuck trying to pay a house mortgage in any area with no jobs? Being mobile you can go where the jobs are.
And not all the jobs are for the hospitality industry. If you do your research, you will find a handful of companies in need of hourly and salaried employees who can and are willing to travel. These positions can include benefits, vacation pay, insurance and even reimbursement for your camp site fees.
RV manufacturers have created layouts for families, including two bedroom designs. And with the addition of slides increasing space, a family can live quite comfortably in a RV year-round.
Most Full-Timing families road-school (like home-schooling, only mobile) their children. There are services available for those who road-school, including special programs and tutoring. And for those who are in an area long enough, some choose to enroll their children in the local school system.
How do you handle severe weather situations?
Although RVs can withstand moderate winds, they are not intended to be used for shelter in any type of severe storm. All Campers should invest in a NOAA weather radio or weather alert radio. A good one can be purchased for around $30 and in the event a storm Watch or Warning is issued, you will have the latest information. For more information on RVing in severe situations, check out my book On the Road to Disaster.
Two years ago we went through a severe outbreak of tornadoes and without adequate shelter facilities at the RV resort, once the warning was in effect we grabbed our hardhats (I grabbed my souvenir one from Hoover Dam!), a couple stiff pillows, a blanket and flashlights and made a mad dash to the Silverado. We buckled ourselves in and drove to a low ditch-area near the park entrance. Moments later that area appeared to be a drive-in, as other Campers did the same. Fortunately we only had rain and high wind gusts at the park; unfortunately, a mobile home park down the road (1.5 miles) had a tornado touch-down. Thankfully no one was injured but several homes were destroyed.
Sometimes you have to make the best of a bad situation. Keeping alert of the weather and having a type of emergency plan can keep you and your family safe.
How do people live and work while RVing?
Not all Full-Timers as retired folks with healthy retirement accounts. Many retirees rely on work-camping to help supplement their fixed income, as well as a growing number of younger singles/couples and families have work-camping contribute or even be the sole source of their income.
Work-camping is defined as someone who lives in a recreational vehicle while working. Work-camping jobs are mostly in the hospitality industry, however, if you do your research, you will find a handful of companies in need of hourly and salaried employees who can and are willing to travel. These positions can include benefits, vacation pay, insurance and even reimbursement for your camp site fees.
Unfortunately, some of the top “sources” for this have begun to influence or try to create standards for this field. And by doing so, they have turned many paid opportunities into work-for-site or “volunteer” positions. One of these sources is now charging to teach you how to get a job while RVing and trying to encourage participants to have a “small business” on the side. You should not have to pay someone to get a job – especially one that most RV parks and other outdoor hospitality businesses will gladly train new workers. And, if you find yourself in a work-camp position that wants you to put a “deposit” down on your site, please reconsider finding another position. This appears to be a frequent “scam”, with most of the parks located in Arizona.
Another thing to keep in mind, is that some parks will advertise for workers and say that your compensation “package” is at a particular value. Please do your homework on this. If you do the math, you may find you are actually paying to work for them. For example, the camp site costs $800 a month and if you find that the hours they are requiring you to work (work-for site), may exceed that amount. You may be paying double of what a paying guest is! And, yes, this does happen to people. Unfortunately some people are very adamant that this is a fair exchange when it is not. If you are paying more for your site than a paying guest – you are overpaying! You might as well be a guest of the campground, pay for a site and then find a position outside the campground to fairly earn what your time is worth. I think the reason that some “seasoned” work-campers are so stubborn about this is that like where they are and that they receive extra “perks” in their work-for-site – such as free propane or laundry allowance. But if you figure in the cost of propane or whatever perk it is, you are actually paying for it with work hours!
Depending on the work and location, most outdoor hospitality jobs range from $7.25 – $10.00 hourly, with those being more specialized positions at $11.00- $13.00 hourly. However, be forewarned that the positions that pay the most may not include a site (and you pay for it each month) or they say that they will pay you after your site is paid for (meaning they deduct the hours you work and anything exceeding it will result in paid time). And remember, hospitality positions are not guaranteed hours. Most businesses reduce or increase works hours in accordance to the number of guests they have. Do not count on working 40 hours each week in the early or end/off season. If your employer requires you to work 24 hours a week for your site and you can barely get 24 hours in each week – then you may find yourself owing them hours later in the season. Over a period of slow weeks, this could accrue to a sizable number – especially if you were promised pay for hours worked over the weekly 24. You may work all season and not receive any pay.
If the position speaks of a “bonus”, ask questions! Some employers use this term vaguely to get applicants. A bonus is usually a one time payment at the end of the season – often a particular percentage or monetary value of the hours you worked per season. Some employers may give a bonus set on how many seasons/years you worked for them or give everyone the same amount. Yet, some employers say they offer a bonus when actually it is an extra amount based on “job performance” or a seasonal “review”. Be cautious of work-camp employers who do this and asked about how this is calculated (ask to see the guidelines before you accept the position) and ask on-average how many employees do receive a “bonus” each year. Ironically, some of these employers “forget” they offer a bonus or will only offer it to a select few who (i.e. people they get to do extra duties like wash the owners car or do laundry/housekeeping for on-site owner/manager). Another example is like theme park which hires work-campers and tells applicants they receive a bonus – but in actuality it is not a bonus but compensation for your camp site which you pay for all summer working for them! So you are not receiving a bonus – you are receiving “reimbursement” for money you paid them to live there and work for them all summer!
When speaking with potential employers – question everything! Find out about your camp site (30 or 50 amp? Water pressure and quality? Sewer, septic, honey wagon or dump station? Will you be forced to move to another site during your stay?) and about the position and duties. Ask about your supervisor’s or manager’s schedule – do they get weekends and holidays off? If you are working outdoor hospitality, remember that the busiest times are the weekends and holidays.From experience we have learned that resorts that have no “decision makers” and “action takers” on hand during peak times are often ones that go through a number of workers each season because of the stress. Remember, if you are driving a great distance to work and live in an area, even short-term, you want to make sure it is right for you!
If you place an ad for work-camping, make sure to include what you want in it. If you want full-hookups and wages, indicate that. This way you won’t be contacted by employers who can’t offer you pay or whatever else you require. And, if you are contacted by these employer, politely acknowledge that you received their email or phone message; however, their compensation package does not fit your needs.
And don’t forget that most work-camping jobs are in the hospitality industry. This type of work is not for everyone. So if you don’t like to work with the public or just don’t like to associate with “strangers”, than campground/RV resort/RV park positions might not be for you. Not everyone is a Happy Camper!
Most work-campers you speak with will quickly tell you the romantic pros… but believe me, there are just as many tragic cons. If you are considering work-camping, please use common sense and know your rights. If you find something, consider getting a written contract signed by both parties. Include all pertinent information, such as dates, benefits received (i.e. site, wages, perks), average work hours and duties performed for the hired position(s). And remember, if something sounds too good to be true, than it probably is!
If you arrive to a job and find that you have been lied to or intentional mislead, then do not feel guilty about leaving – no matter what popular work-camping sites will tell you. These so-called editors/writers have not truly work-camped and they do not know what conditions are like. We have encountered work-campers who have been verbally abused, intentionally targeted by other workers (often local, non-campers) or taken advantage of (delayed pay and unpaid overtime) and according to some work-camping sites these people are “flakes” for leaving their “generous” employer in the lurch. Nonsense! You have rights – why stay in an unsafe working and living conditions? Don’t feel guilty, feel blessed you had the sense to leave before it got worse!
What do work-campers do between jobs?
For those working or work-camping, there often is a brief period of down-time between jobs. A winter seasonal position in Central Florida may end in early April, but the summer position taken in Northern Michigan may not begin until mid-May.
Many year-round work-campers use this down-time as a vacation period, often using their last positions “end of season” bonus or travel allowance (if offered) as a way to fund their free time. Some also use this time as an opportunity to to visit other campgrounds and RV resorts that are known to hire work-campers, as a means to scout them out!
But for those who prefer or require a more economical solution, blacktop boondocking or staying at county and state parks are often the most inexpensive stays. I’ve mentioned blacktop boondocking or “overnighting” before. This is setting up a dry camp at a business or property that allows overnight parking, such as Walmart or a truck stop. Between the NEXT EXIT guide, the WALMART ATLAS and a handful of smartphone apps, a series of overnight stops can easily be planned before you leave your present position.
County and state parks offer basic amenities at a lower price, however, keep in mind most of these campgrounds are limited in space and are often not very accommodating to Big Rigs.
Another inexpensive option is casino camping. Now casino camping varies – some casinos offer overnight parking areas for RVs and trucks, while some casinos off full-amenity RV resorts. There are several publications and websites dedicated to casino camping, but often the best source is visiting the casino’s website. Don’t be afraid of casino RV resorts – often the low price will surprise you! One of our favorite parks is only $20 a night (and they often have a coupon on their website offering stay 2 nights, get 3 more nights free!) and they offer level oversized pull-thru sites (no blocking required), HS WiFi, extended cable, shuttle service, security, laundry, free breakfast on weekends, pool, fishing, tennis, convenience store and more. Why so low of price? Remember, casinos don’t want you wasting your time setting up camp and having to leave the property. They want happy, preferably playing guests. And even if you’re not a casino person, ask at check-in about guest perks in the casino. Many casinos will offer RV or first-time guests a free buffet (usually a $10-20 value) and even free play (comp money the casino gives you to play). One casino we stayed at in California gave us free buffets and free play. After enjoying our meal we played the casino’s cash only to win enough fuel money for the next leg of our journey!
Another option is a perk that some companies offer to their work-campers – free overnight stays while traveling to your next position. KOA is such a company; however, you need to be a registered member of their KOA Workamper program to be eligible for this. Membership is under $40 a year. They will issue you a series of vouchers that are good at KOAs en-route to your next position. This offers an interesting opportunity to visit other KOAs and introduce yourself as a KOA-trained work-camper – possibly leading to a future position at that location.
The most important thing to remember between jobs is that you do need rest. After all, you just spent a season working a busy park and are traveling across the country to do it all over again. Try to take a few days to recharge your batteries so that you arrive at your new position feeling refreshed.
Now that being said, let me tell you a few “tricks” that well-seasoned work-campers use! When you pull into your next position, nothing says worn-out work-camper like a tired driver and a dirty RV. So what do seasoned work-campers do? They arrive at their next position a day or two earlier than anticipated and find a campground within a thirty-mile radius of where they will be working and stay there a night or two. Try to find a campground that will allow you to wash your RV (most have a small charge for washing) and get that road-grim off your rig. Then email or call the manager of the park you will be working at and let them know you are still “on schedule” and give them an approximate time for your arrival date. This allows them to notify staff of your arrival and reminds them to have your campsite ready. Once that is done, crank-up your air-condition, take a hot shower and relax!
No matter how you spend your down-time, make sure you arrive at your next position a Happy Work-Camper!
Do you have any regrets giving up a house and furnishings for life on-the-road?
The only big regret I personally have is that I should have purchased a digital camera before we set out on-the-road. I have the endless project of scanning in each of my photos for the first several thousand miles! But as for a house, furnishings and other “stuff” – not really. Again, this is not something for everyone. Some folks need to be surrounded by stuff, but for those who learn to “let go”…well, you discover what freedom really is. I have written about this before in posts. Browse the “Archived Posts” section on the Home page for more information. I am happy to be a Full-Timer.
What happened to…?
THE BICYCLE RACK – I have been getting a lot of questions regarding the bicycle rack that was added to our fifth-wheel… some observant folks noticed it is no longer there. When we started our full-timing journey, we purchased some folding bikes and placed them in our main storage compartment. A few thousand miles later we realized that was a bit inconvenient and added the rack to the back. For a time it was very convenient and when the bikes were in use we could just chain them to our tripod. Yet the last two years we found that many campgrounds and RV parks have either no place (gravel or stone roads) to ride or it is too dangerous (with traffic, hills, etc…) for them. So we donated them to charity and took off the bike rack. However, you may now notice a surf-fishing cart has been added to the back!
THE RVING & WORK-CAMPING POSTS – A couple of people wanted to know what happened to the informative posts on RVing and work-camping that I had at the start of TMN. To be honest, it seems everyone with a RV is writing about these subjects now. There is so much information out there these days and unfortunately, some of it is misleading. I blog in the interest of sharing, not selling advice or charging folks to learn how to work-camp. I am always open to share our experience and am not one for saying there is a right or wrong way to do anything. Unfortunately a lot of those writing about these subjects are highly opinionated and generate some rather heated and harsh debates. I am just not into drama, as you can tell from my DVD collection. The past few years I have been focusing on traveling and places to see in the U.S. But you are always welcome to contact me regarding work-camping or full-timing. As you can tell by my previous posts at TMN that I will tell you the pros and the cons.
MOLLY MILLER – The Propane Game had a teaser for book three, Dying to Work Camp and it was a literal cliff-hanger. So if you didn’t get a chance to read it yet, don’t worry, Molly (and Jove & Mystery) are back in the third and forth campground mystery. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but there will be additional books in the Campground Mystery series… so don’t worry too much about Molly. She’s a tough cookie! Look for the fifth book, Without a Hitch, Fall 2016. All my books are available online either from the publisher or in a few cases Amazon.
THE STRIPES – Yes, the burgundy stripes have been removed from the fifth-wheel and extensive detailing and polishing has been done to rid us of that ruddy albatross! Although we have found that we are not the only ones who had the problem. Be assured that the next RV we get will have each decal glazed with Aerospace Protectant.
What are those funny things on the Chevy you ask? They are radio antennas, as all three of us are licensed amateur “ham” radio operators. If you are a fellow ham, feel free to email me for our call signs.
Is there any place you would like to visit again or recommend others visit?
My top travel advice is not to pass by any U.S. National Parks without stopping! And certainly don’t forget the amazing state and local parks.
There are several regions of the country we enjoy and plan to visit again. One of our favorites is the North Olympic Peninsula in Washington, which is home to Olympic National Park…and vampires and shape-shifting wolves.
We love various areas of California and if someone has time to explore the state… it is definitely one that you should consider getting a state park pass and explore as many of them as possible. Followers of TMN know I can’t say enough about Bodie SHP! A trip to Truckee (Donner Pass – Donner Lake) is unforgettable and I honestly can’t tell you how many times we’ve made that trip. At least a dozen, I think!
Taking a tour through Gold Country is well worth a visit if you are headed to California. We have made that drive a couple times and never tire of the winding roads and beautiful views.
There are several places we plan on returning – from Roswell and the Badlands to George Washington’s Mount Vernon and LBJ National Historical Park – and no doubt that list will keep on growing! America is a beautiful country – see and do what you can, while you can. 🙂
Updated: June 26, 2016