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Expectations vs. Reality: The Truth About Full-Time RV Living

It seems like everybody and their brothers are jumping into full-time RV living. Whether embracing the lifestyle to save money or travel, it can be a rewarding way to live life. However, there are a lot of misconceptions about what it’s like when it comes to day-to-day RV life. Many dive into full-time RV living without realistic expectations.

Today, we’re looking at the truth about full-time RV living to help you understand the whole picture if you’re considering the lifestyle. Let’s get started!

The Full-Time RV Life Might Not Be What You Expect

We can thank the various social media platforms for helping create unrealistic expectations regarding full-time RV life. While many RVers share their adventures on social media, very few share an authentic depiction of the lifestyle. Does the lifestyle have its perks? Absolutely. However, there are still stresses, bad moods, and awful travel days.

If you go into RVing full-time with the expectation that it’s nothing more than a long vacation, you will be in for a surprise. The lifestyle can be incredibly rewarding but also incredibly difficult and frustrating at the same time. It takes some adjusting, but we’d be lying if we said the lifestyle was for everybody. Those who want to embrace the lifestyle, push through the challenges, and adjust their expectations.

The Best & Worst of Fulltime RV Living - 1 Year on the Road Highlights

Can You Really Live in an RV Permanently?

There are people throughout the country that live full-time in their RVs. Some take their rigs on the road and travel, but others sit stationary for the entire year. RVs may be smaller than a typical residential home, but they have everything most people require from a house. Some have multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, and you can renovate them to meet your preferences and lifestyle.

However, it’s also important to know that not all cities or counties are as accepting when it comes to living stationary in an RV. Some areas have strict local rules and regulations regarding what constitutes a dwelling. The areas with the most stringent laws often don’t classify RVs as dwellings; thus, owners can only live in them for a very short period. You’ll want to check your local rules and regulations if you plan to set up your RV for stationary living.

Pro Tip: Can you identify the differences between weekend roadtrippers and full-time RVers? Check out our Guide to Identifying the ‘Lifers.

Man working on laptop in Rv while woman makes coffee
Living in an RV full time is exciting, but also hard work.

How Long Will an RV Last Living in It Full Time?

RVs typically have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years when maintained properly. However, living in them full-time increases their wear and tear and reduces their life. If you maintain your RV, you can expect 10 to 15 years. However, most RVers sell or trade in their RV well before it gets close to this age.

That said, not all RVs are created equal. Some RVs will better suit full-time living than others. You need to look for build quality, layouts, and features that weekend vacationers might not value the same.

➡ Find out what makes the best RV for full-time living.

Expectations Vs. Reality: The Truth About Full-Time RV Living

Having appropriate expectations when it comes to full-time RV living is important. Having unrealistic expectations isn’t healthy and will likely set you up for tremendous disappointment once you move into your rig. Let’s look at several truths when it comes to expectations versus reality. Let’s get started!

It’s Like You’re Always Camping

Many RVers expect that life will feel like they’re always camping when they embrace full-time RV living. However, that’s far from the truth. Even if you’re staying in campgrounds, you’re not likely going to feel like you’re camping all the time.

Many full-time RVers rarely have campfires or use any of the campground amenities. They’re busy venturing out to experience a new area, working, schooling, and maintaining their RV and tow vehicles. Will there be times when you feel like you’re camping? Absolutely. However, they’re not nearly as often as many expect.

Pro Tip: Make RV camping easier with Our 10 Favorite Motorhome Accessories We Couldn’t Camp Without.

Campfire in front of RV parked at campsite.
Full-time RVers often are busy working, schooling, driving, and more, so they don’t always have time to sit around a campfire every night.

Full-Time RV Living Is Always Cheaper

A common misconception floating around the RV community is that the lifestyle is always cheaper. However, while full-time RV living can be cheaper, that’s not always true in most circumstances.

Monthly payments on a tow vehicle and RV can easily exceed the costs of a house payment or rent. You also must consider the tremendous amount of fuel it takes to move from point A to point B when towing. There are also costs of campsite reservations that can be $30 to $60 per night, depending on where you’re staying.

Is it possible for full-time RV living to be cheaper? Absolutely. However, many travelers find that unless they stay for long periods in places and aren’t careful, they can easily spend just as much each month as they did in their sticks and bricks house.

Pro Tip: With gas prices rising, now more than ever, it is important to save money on gas. We took a closer look at one way you can save at the pump.

Mortons on the Move fifth wheel RV driving on dirt road.
It is possible to save money while RVing, but full time traveling isn’t always the most affordable option.

Expensive RVs Won’t Disappoint You

Sadly, things will break on your RV no matter how much you paid for it. A healthy dose of DIY skills is a handy prerequisite for jumping into RVing. As a result, you will need a handful of tools available to take care of the minor issues. For more extensive issues, you may need to call a mobile RV mechanic or take your rig to a professional service center to complete the repair.

If you’ve spent a lot of time driving on roads, you know that some are better than others. Potholes and bumps in the road can cause your RV to shake and vibrate like crazy. Screws will come loose, and items will wear down over time. This is why it’s essential to inspect your RV regularly, looking for any potential issues.

Dumping Your Tanks Is Gross and Messy

One of the biggest fears of new RVers is dumping their tanks. They’ve likely heard a dump station horror story or two, and it’s caused them to develop a bit of fear. However, dumping your tanks isn’t all that bad if you follow the proper steps.

Wearing protection like gloves, a mask, and goggles can help minimize the gross factor while dumping your tanks. Properly securing your hoses and connections is essential to avoiding an awful mess. Make sure your valves remain completely closed until you’re ready to open them, and then shut them when you finish dumping your tanks. When done correctly, you can avoid getting a drop of gross black or gray tank water on you or the ground.

Pro Tip: Avoid a mess at the dump station by using these tips on How to Properly Use an RV Dump Station.

RV dump tank hoses
Emptying your RV tanks doesn’t have to be a messy experience!

Campsites Are Easy to Get

The RV industry has experienced a massive boom in popularity over the past few years. This means more RVs are out there now than in previous years. Many campgrounds haven’t done much to increase the number of available campsites, so reservations are becoming increasingly more difficult.

While you may have been able to wait until the last minute to reserve a campsite at your favorite local campground, that’s not always the case. More campgrounds are selling out, especially on prime weekends, and campers must book sites months in advance to guarantee a spot. For those who spend most of their time on campgrounds for full-time RV living, it takes tremendous planning and forward-thinking to avoid any potential issues.

You Don’t Need an RV GPS

One mistake many new RVers make is thinking their standard GPS unit will do the trick. Google and Apple Maps may be your go-to navigation app when driving your vehicle around town. However, they won’t cut it if you’re towing or driving an RV. These apps don’t factor in height, weight, or length restrictions. Additionally, because not every road or area is RV-friendly, you can find yourself in a serious pickle by using them.

We recommend every RV own and use an RV-specific GPS unit. These devices not only factor in your RV’s unique dimensions and create a safe route, but they also typically have a massive database of services often used by RVers and full-time travelers. They can make it easy to find campgrounds, fuel stops, and other services you might need while traveling.

Woman comparing gps map and paper map for RV road trip.
Don’t rely on your phone GPS apps when RVing full time.

Your Standard RV Battery Is Good Enough

Most RVs come with a single 100 Ah lead-acid battery to keep the lights on and run any other 12-volt items in your RV. However, unless you plan to spend nearly all of your time camping in a standard campground, these batteries are next to worthless. They require a tremendous amount of maintenance and are sensitive to over-discharging them. You can cause permanent damage to them by letting them discharge below 50%.

Part of owning an RV is getting out into nature away from the crowds. Upgrading your RV battery bank to a lithium battery bank can be expensive, but it’s well worth it. You typically get twice the amount of battery power for half the weight. Even a small lithium battery bank can provide a generous amount of power and allow you to use your RV for longer off-grid camping trips.

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Is Full-Time RV Living Worth It?

Full-time RV living can be an incredibly freeing and enjoyable way of life. However, we understand that this lifestyle isn’t for everybody. Moving into a couple of hundred square feet can be quite the adjustment. You won’t have nearly as much space to spread out, and you’ll likely need to embrace a minimalist lifestyle. Full-time RV living is an excellent way to travel and create new experiences if you can adjust.

Is full time RVing for you? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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About Tom and Caitlin Morton

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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Steve Felt

Sunday 4th of June 2023

I have been RVing full-time since October 2021 and have had my ups and downs from crashing my air conditioner into a tree, breaking the awning twice, experiencing the poo pyramid and learning how to dump for the least amount of yuck time, and recently being unable to remove the hose from the city water connection (had to cut the hose off and now can’t use the water pump for some reason, and I am in Mexico so driving back to the US for a fix has been challenging). But all in all I have lost weight, now have my diabetes under control, have been swimming with whale sharks and sea lions as well as adopting a street stray dog and wouldn’t change anything about that. I am looking forward to going from a 21’ TT to either a 29’ TT or 32’ 5th wheel next.

Mortons on the Move

Monday 5th of June 2023

That is so great to hear! Its always an adventure for sure. :)

Flamingo Moon Campers

Sunday 21st of August 2022

Key to making it work. - a mindset that is if a minimalist, is a DIYer, and can plan ahead or be comfortable enough to wing it! There are many camp grounds and camp sites available you just have to be very flexible and willing to stay 1 night or more in an undesired location to then be able to move or move within one camp ground several times to stay in one area because sites are reserved. Doing without luxuries you have in a home, to include unlimited internet long showers, and the constant maintenance as something will break and need fixing. The more advanced RV become, the more they will break. I only hope that there will not be a major break that will be more expensive than the RV is! Still working my way to full time but we probably will always have a base camp that we can retreat to in case of emergencies

Mortons on the Move

Sunday 28th of August 2022

Great points! Thanks for your thoughts.


Monday 25th of July 2022

I absolutely love full-time living in my RV. I have downsized twice to accommodate my needs. I do also have a storage unit I use to exchange seasonal wares and needs. But living in my 25 ft Thor Axis is all I ever wanted. Sophia (my cat) and I do very well and love being able to just get up and go somewhere new, be it for a short time or a longer time.

My only dread, (fingers crossed it won't ever be so bad), is if I ever have to have my rig in the shop for a lengthy repair. I have backup plans, and will make it work.

So for me and Sophia, it's perfect and so enjoyable ... and that's the mindset where we will live for now.