For millions of people, living the American dream means living fulltime in an RV. You’ve probably seen the tv show Going RV. The one where people look at three RVs that they believe will suit their RV lifestyle. At the end of the show, they pick one and head out on the open road.
While we (thankfully) didn’t go on the show, we did spend over a year looking at RVs at local dealers, doing research…a lot of research…on what we wanted, and stopping in campgrounds to talk to the people who are already doing it. That’s when we came up with what we knew would fit both our current and future untethered life on the road.
Knowing what we know now from all the research and having put in several months, campgrounds, and miles on the road, watching shows like Going RV is almost laughable. Here’s why:
1. The Shower. Everyone looking at RVs who says, “Oh, this is nice! I can fit in here,” about the shower, put that notion aside. First of all, my fiancé is 6’7” and he fits just fine in our 5th wheel’s shower. So yes, if you’re shorter than that, you’ll be fine. But, here’s what the sale person isn’t telling you…you spend MAYBE three minutes of your day in that shower before the hot water tank runs out and you’re rinsing your shampoo or conditioner out with cold water. Don’t let your decision be based on a shower that you spend three minutes of a twenty-four hour day.
2. The Closets. RV’s are not houses on wheels. They are apartments, at best, on wheels. Yes, they are home when you move in, and they are wonderful, but our 39’ 5th wheel, which is on the larger side, is only about 500 square feet. You’re simply not going to have the walk-in closet space you might be used to. Research says we only wear 10% of our wardrobe. That little statistic might come in handy when you pack your RV. It did for me.
3. The Oven. RV ovens are small. There will be no 14-pound Thanksgiving turkeys in there. But, you can bake a batch of brownies and a meatloaf. We mostly use the stovetop and the outdoor grill. Our microwave is a convection one, but we don’t use it much except to reheat coffee.
4. The Toilet/Black Tank. I’ve never, ever seen the sales rep on the show mention the black tank, let alone where the hoses hook up or how to empty the tank. They’re happy to show the outside kitchen or television, but goodness, no, don’t bring up the black tank or people will run away and wonder why they ever thought about RV living. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, rent the Robin Williams movie, RV.
5. The Television. Aren’t those nice, big tvs great? Just like home! Except at home you probably have full cable service and wifi that you run Netflix on without buffering. Out on the road, you’re lucky to find a campground with cable. Most offer digital antennae reception. Sure, you can run Netflix on your hotspot, if you have good wifi service at the campground and at 10 o’clock in the morning because at night, EVERYONE is on the wifi and it slows down to a turtle’s pace. In other words, remember that outdoor tv the salesman boasted about? Well, we use the radio under it more than we do the tv itself. Though, I will say we have been able to receive about 10 to 15 local channels via the digital antennae at most campgrounds. Just remember to put the antennae down when you leave.
6. Internet. As mentioned above, most people tap into the wifi at night. Since I work from home, I do most of my critical wifi required work during the early morning hours when most people aren’t on the internet yet. There have been several occasions where I used my phone or iPad as a hot spot because it was simply better reception. We now have an unlimited data plan.
7. The Refrigerator. Most RV refrigerators are basically a step up from dorm size ones with a freezer. However, they do have “residential” size fridges, which was standard in our 5thwheel. Much like the oven, and the closets, space is limited. However, we can comfortably store enough food for two for a long weekend or up to a week depending on what we buy.
People think RV living is for retired people, but it’s not at all. Millions of people are doing it now, and a good majority of them are young. Join some RV groups on Facebook and you’ll see the diversity in age and backgrounds.
We love our life untethered because our backyard can be the mountains or a lake or the ocean. We never have to mow a lawn, rake leaves, or shovel a driveway again. If we don’t like our neighbors, we can move…though, I will say, we have met the nicest people in campgrounds and have made life-long friendships.
We started a YouTube channel and V-blog on our adventures. Since we have two black labs, it’s called Black Lab RV Adventures. We do campground reviews, travel tips, how to set up at a campground, 5th wheel hitch recommendations, and much more. Stop by and take a look inside the RV life.
In the meantime, since this is a series, we will continue to add to Living Life Untethered in an RV…
Somewhere in our research we read that most RV owners will purchase three RVs in their lifetime. Many start with a pop up and upgrade to a travel trailer and then a 5th wheel. Others might go from a tent or pop up to a B or C-class to an A-class. That said, we bought our 5th wheel from a couple who was going to purchase an A-class. It really comes down to a matter of preference, lifestyle, and affordability.
We chose to go straight from a tent to a 5th wheel for several reasons. Before we met in late summer of 2015, we had both been somewhat casually looking at small travel trailers; however, after we started dating and in our first two years together, we looked at a lot of RVs and started to realize a travel trailer was going to be too small. We had also made the decision to go fulltime in the next few years. So, the lenses we had once looked through from that of two single people, each with our own dog, to now being the lens of a couple with two dogs. When we also factored in Stephen’s height at 6’7”, travel trailers were quickly ruled out.
Again, it came down to lifestyle and preference. After looking at dozens of RVs online and in person, we decided on a 39’ Prime Time Sanibel 3500. We loved this model because it came standard with many features that we wanted, such as: a king size bed, four season insulation (down to 0 degrees), a dinette with chairs instead of benches, a built-in desk and chair (aka our office), central vacuum, residential refrigerator, auto leveling jacks, and though we don’t have one installed, it does have washer and dryer hookups if we decide to install those down the road. They are in the closet, so it would mean giving up space in there. So far using campground laundry machines has worked just fine.
We chose to buy used and not to buy from a dealer because they charged ridiculous “cleaning” fees. It shocked us that they charged nearly $1,000 to clean an RV before delivering it to the new owner. You would think that it would have been cleaned after they bought it from the previous owner. But, no, several of the ones we looked at in the dealer lots had candy wrappers in cabinets, liquid stains on countertops, etc. They put NOTHING into them until they sold it, and then they pass that charge onto the new owners.
We went on RV Trader and found a good number of Sanibel 3500s near us, and after making offers on four different ones, we finally came to an agreement with a couple down in South Carolina. They owned it outright (note: much like a car, you can’t negotiate very much with people who have loans on their RVs. Thanks to how much and how quickly they depreciate, many people are upside down on their loans or own close to their asking price, which leaves no wiggle room for negotiations).
In the fall of 2017, we drove down to Columbia, South Carolina to pick it up. This was our first big adventure, and it was both exciting and scary. Here we had our new-to-us 2006 Dodge Ram 3500 to tow it with, an Anderson Hitch (which came highly recommended), our two black labs, and our dream lifestyle was just 300 miles away. When we left Ed and Mary’s driveway towing the Sanibel, we looked at each other and said, “Oh my God! What did we just do!” But, other than getting engaged eight months, it was the best decision we could have made.
Our first big trip was to Camp Hatteras in the Outer Banks (OBX) of North Carolina. Since it was early April, there we no summer crowds. The RV Park was about 30% full with a mix of pop ups, travel trailers, C and A classes, and 5th wheels like ours.
We arrived on a Thursday afternoon and our spot was sound-side, which we backed right into. To get to the beach, all we had to do was walk across the street and through the campground parking lot. It opened up to a long stretch of beach no matter which was we looked. Out favorite time to hit the beach was at sunrise. Lucy loved to dig in the sand while we photographed the beauty around us.
Our five days there were spent photographing lighthouses, trying out local restaurants (aka the ones that stay open year-round, not just when the tourists are there), and taking long walks on the beach. In other words, we started to get a taste of all the reasons why we bought our RV.