How to Retire on the Road in an RV

Emily Guy Birken

Seeing America on the open road in the comfort of a recreational vehicle (RV) is a common retirement dream. Not only can you experience all the wonders our country has to offer, but you can also carry all the conveniences of home along with you. Retirees can scratch their travel itch in an RV — while maintaining a sense of freedom and independence that traditional traveling does not offer.

Before you commit to spending part of your retirement on the road in an RV, you need to make sure you have answered some important questions. Here’s what you need to know if you are considering taking your retirement on the road in an RV.

Just How Much RV Do You Need?

Though we use just one term for RVs, there are huge differences among the various types of motorhomes, towable trailers, and pop-up camping trailers that all share the general description “RV.”

Most Common Types of RVs:

  • Class A Motorhome. These are the largest recreational vehicles on the road. They can measure as long as 45 feet and offer a number of homey amenities for RVers who plan a lengthy stay on the road. However, these motorhomes are the most expensive, and some drivers may find their size intimidating — although you do not need a commercial driver’s license, or CDL, to operate one.
  • Class B Motorhome. This class of motorhomes can also be referred to as camper vans, and they are much smaller and easier to maneuver than their Class A counterparts. These types of motorhomes offer a comfortable sleeping area, bathroom, kitchen, and sink. Although, having more than two people or taking a longer trip may feel quite cramped. These RVs are less expensive to purchase than Class A motorhomes, and they are also much cheaper to maintain.
  • Class C Motorhome. Class C refers to mid-sized motorhomes built on top of an existing truck or van chassis, and they offer a comfortable temporary home for families or groups. These RVs may stretch as long as 25 or 30 feet — making them somewhat easier to drive than the Class A motorhomes. The cost to buy and maintain Class C motorhomes is less expensive than Class A, but more expensive than Class B.
  • Towable Trailers. These RVs are built on top of a standard trailer frame, and contain living spaces that are as simple or luxurious as you want. Any vehicle that can handle the weight capacity — such as pickup trucks and some SUVs — can tow these trailers, which means you do not have to purchase an additional vehicle if you already own one that can handle towing. Trailers can vary widely in price, depending on the amenities.
  • 5th Wheel Trailers. These are very similar to towable trailers, except 5th wheel trailers have a gooseneck connect that attaches to the vehicle. The gooseneck makes towing and maneuvering these trailers easier than regular trailers, but you must use a flatbed pickup truck for towing. The gooseneck also offers additional interior living space. As with towable trailers, the price of 5th wheel trailers depends on the amenities.
  • Pop-Up Camping Trailers. Also known as foldable or tent trailers, pop-up camping trailers feature collapsible compartments that can be folded away during towing to reduce their external profiles. They are easy to tow and light enough for some station wagons and sedans to handle their weight. However, there are generally minimal to no bathroom or kitchen facilities in these trailers. Their folding design also does not allow for storage of supplies and equipment, which must be transported separately.

Deciding which kind of RV will be right for you depends on a number of factors: how far and how often you want to travel, whether or not you plan to go off-road during your jaunts, and how well you get along with your traveling companions.

Should You Rent or Buy an RV?

It’s a good idea to start your RV travel plans by renting different types of vehicles to determine which will be the best fit for your plans. You might also want to simply plan on renting an RV anytime you feel the call of the road, rather than buying one.

That’s because even travelers who are sure they’ll be using their RV every few weeks may find that it is cheaper to rent. According to the Fun Times Guide, the typical RVer only gets behind the wheel 27 days per year. This means that a typical RVer who purchases a three-year-old RV on credit “will pay a premium of $200 more per day [of RV use] for the privilege of ownership versus renting. To make ownership financially worthwhile, you need to use your RV about 40 days per year if you buy the RV outright or about 50 days per year if you buy the RV on credit.”

How Will You Handle Ill Health on the Road?

Illness can strike anywhere, even when you’re on vacation. This becomes more likely if you plan to spend significant time in your RV. While it’s easy to shrug off the sniffles on the road, you should have a plan in place, just in case you come down with anything more serious.

In particular, do you know how you will find a doctor to treat you if you’re far from home? Retirees who are already on Medicare Parts A and B will be able to receive hospital and medical care in case of a major illness. If you are on a Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) plan, however, it may not cover you for anything other than emergency or urgent care, since your plan may specify that you are not allowed to see providers outside of your network.

While these limitations should not keep you from traveling, it’s important to know what they are before you start exploring the length and breadth of the country. Travel medical insurance can help cover a gap in your health care coverage if your insurance or Medicare plan will not cover you on the road.

Do You Need Additional Insurance for Your RV?

Your existing automobile insurance policy may cover you behind the wheel of your RV — but you should consider purchasing specific RV insurance for your jaunts around the country. That’s because automobile insurance is not geared toward the specific needs of an RVer and it leaves some pretty significant coverage gaps.

RV Insurance Coverages to Consider:

  • Total loss replacement.If you buy a new RV and experience a total loss within the first five years, this coverage will replace your totaled RV with a similar unit. RVs depreciate very quickly, which is why new RV buyers may want this coverage.
  • Replacement cost of personal belongings. Automobile insurance policies will cover belongings in your vehicle, but it is a limited amount of coverage. RV policies allow you to include all of your personal belongings within the RV for the most damaging events.
  • Campsite liability. This is similar to homeowners insurance coverage for when you park RV at a campsite.
  • Emergency expenses. If your RV is damaged while you are away from home, you will need to stay elsewhere while it is repaired. This coverage will reimburse some expenses related to lodging, food, and travel home, provided the damage occurred more than a set number of miles (usually 50 miles) from your fixed residence.
  • Higher liability limits. While you could carry the minimum liability limits on your RV, most RV insurance policies provide for much higher liability limits than general automobile insurance. Since RVs have a much larger profile and footprint than cars, they can potentially cause a great deal of damage in an accident. Getting a higher liability limit can help protect you financially in case of an accident.

Are You Prepared to Handle Routine RV Maintenance?

Like your home and your car, your RV needs regular maintenance. Some of this maintenance is no different from the tasks you perform for your commuter vehicle — changing oil and filters, checking tire pressure, and the like.

However, some RV maintenance requirements may fall somewhat outside of your comfort zone. These requirements include:

  • Covering your roof.
  • Running your generator two hours every month.
  • Emptying and maintaining your waste water holding tanks.
  • Watching your window, door, and roof seals.
  • Opening your vents.
  • Lubricating your slide-out rails.
  • Monitoring propane gas levels in your tanks.

Any prospective RV traveler who feels a little hesitant about handling these issues may want to start by renting before committing to buy.

RVing: The Great American Retirement

Whether you have always dreamed of traveling the country by RV, or it is simply one of many travel options for after you retire, it’s important to know what you’re getting into before you get behind the wheel of an RV. Thinking through all of these details beforehand will help ensure that you will be a much more relaxed and happy camper once you get on the road.

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