It felt like it took F.O.R.E.V.E.R to sell the house and hit the road. And all of a sudden, my first month of RVing is in the books. Time flew! This new life has definitely required learning and transitioning. Here’s how it’s going.
My Rookie Mistakes
I thought I was prepared to hit the road. Since I didn’t know the history of my 2012 Winnebago, I opted to put in some new equipment, like batteries and higher-end shock absorbers. Plus, I had watched videos and received some tutoring from an RV friend. But the old saying, “you don’t know what you don’t know” rang true.
The three essentials to RVing is a functioning rig, a fresh water supply, and power. And I had issues with all three essentials.
That Darn Check Engine Light
I spent my first two weeks at a campground in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. I broke camp and set out on the narrow hilly road, making my way to Tennessee. After just a few miles, the Check Engine light came on. Oh no! I continued on until I found an old country store where I pulled my rig to the side of the road. There I called Good Sam Roadside Assistance. I ended up sitting there for almost FIVE HOURS, waiting for a mobile mechanic to give me the green light.
I learned a few things. First, Good Sam Roadside Assistance has sucky service! Considering I was three miles from the interstate and maybe thirty miles from Charlottesville, I had higher expectations for timely service. But the real stinker was Good Sam’s lack of communication and failure to provide accurate information. I had to call when they didn’t send a text message with information. Then promises that someone would be at my rig in two hours turned into several hour-long delays. I was so frustrated as I tried to get accurate information. Thankfully, the Check Engine light was a false alarm, and I continued on my route.
- Next time, I’m taking charge. So I purchased a BlueDriver scan tool (affiliate link) so that I can read and clear my Check Engine light. If I am uncertain after reading the code, I can talk to an RV technician through the Good Sam Roadside Assistance service.
- My service contract with Good Sam Roadside Assistance expires in December. I’ll do some research in hopes of finding a more reliable and service-oriented alternative. I’m fine with paying more to receive help when I need it the most.
When I had the RV shop install the hitching system, I asked them to de-winterize the rig. They did, and I figured I was ready to go in terms of a clean water supply. I was so WRONG! I hooked up my RV to the water spigot and out came fizzy and smelly water. It wasn’t the water that was the problem, it was my holding tank and plumbing. Great! What was I missing? Well, after reading through the mammoth owner’s manual and googling, I realized I needed to sanitize the tank (and pipes).
- Clorox was the answer. I mixed the appropriate amount of bleach and water and used the hose to get it into the water tank. It wasn’t easy as I had to disconnect the hoses from my filtration system and I didn’t have a funnel to pour it into the tank. (See my unboxing video). To be on the safe side, I’ve been buying bottled water and just invested in a small Brita water pitcher (affiliate link) so that I can keep cool water in the fridge.
Power . . . What Power?
When I was researching RV life, I knew that RVs had either 30 or 50 amps. But I failed to recognize the significance of that . . . until I learned that A/C + convection oven in my 30-amp rig blows the circuit! Worse, I didn’t know where to find the circuit breaker panel in the RV. I got some help from the campground host and we finally found it, and reset the circuit.
But that’s not all! After my five-hour Check Engine light delay, I managed to sneak my way into Tennessee. There I parked at a Bass Pro Shop overnight. It was hot outside so I ran the generator to get some A/C action. Except . . . the generator didn’t power up the coach. By this time, I was too exhausted to pull out the manual or google. I knew I had to be missing a step, but what was it?
- I asked my Winnebago FB forum and found the answer – I had to plug the power cord into the outlet that was hidden in the box where the power cord was stored. I’ll be ready next time.
The Costs of RVing
There are lots of RVers who boondock – they don’t have power/water/sewer hookups and stay for free on federal lands. When it’s time to get more water or dump the tanks, they head to a dump station and return to their free parking spots. Solar power has made boondocking a lot easier (although solar doesn’t have enough power to boot up the A/C system). At the other extreme, some people drive high-end RV coaches and buy a lot in a fancy resort, where they stay most or all of the year. I’m in between. I want my hookups but I like to stay at state and national parks and Corps of Engineer campgrounds.
Breaking the Budget
My goal is to cap my monthly expenses at $2,000 or less, or $24,000 a year. That’s similar to what I spent while living in my house, and I have tucked away enough funds to pay for at least six years on the road. Here’s a breakdown of my expenses for the first month. In total, I spent $2,500. the top four expenses – campground fees, gas, groceries, and restaurant meals.
- Campground fees: $942. I had reserved and prepaid for all but one of the campgrounds, so I absorbed the cost months earlier. Rates varied from $19/night (I got a special COVID deal at Devil’s Backbone campground in Virginia) to $43/night at Charlestown State Park in Indiana.
- Gas: $436. Wow! About $50 of that went toward the Jeep. The RV is a gas hog and I underestimated how much gas it takes to move from campground to campground.
- Groceries: $328. That’s way too high, but it includes some items I stockpiled when I first set out. I bought a lot of fresh salad mixes and single serving meals, but I don’t have the groceries figured out yet.
- Restaurant meals: $275. Not good! I spent way too much money dining out, but it’s not typical. I was with family and a friend and paid for meals and dined out more than I normally would. However, I have discovered that I love to dine out after I’ve set up camp at a new place. Still, I need to lower this expense.
For sure, I am going to exceed my $2,000 per month goal during the summer months. I have several things working against me:
- I’ll be spending a lot of time in the northeast, where space at RV parks is limited and they charge premium prices.
- My time at each location is limited, which means that my gas expenses will stay at this high level. In fact, I expect my gas expenses to go up as the price per gallon climbs.
I hope to lower my RVing costs in the winter months, when I stay in the same location for a month or more. But, and it’s a big BUT, when I set up domicile in Florida in September, I will have to get a new health insurance policy through Healthcare.gov. Because Florida does not offer pro-rated plans based on income, I’ll have to spend around $700/month on health insurance premiums (with a $7,500 deductible). That’s going to be a huge expense. (I need to grow my income and deduct healthcare as a business expense.)
The RV Experience
I don’t have the RVing life figured out yet, but I’ve had so many moments of total bliss that I know I’m on the right path. The driving and setting up/taking down gets easier and easier. Plus, I may have the happiest RVing cats ever (see their catio). Sure, there are times of loneliness and doubt, and COVID-19 has thrown a damper on the party. But the thrill of experiencing the natural beauty of this country makes up for those moments of trepidation.
So far, my favorite campground has been the Corps of Engineers (COE) campground in Tennessee – Cedar Creek. The campground was right next to Old Hickory Lake and the trees offered shade and beauty. Being close to water and feeling wrapped in nature is the experience I seek. I feel happiest when I am near hiking and biking trails and I can easily drop a kayak into the water.
I still can’t believe this is my life! It has been a giant transformation and I haven’t come up with a consistent schedule yet. The weather dictates much of my life – I want to be outside when the sun shines and inside when the rain falls. And time has taken on a whole new dimension. The bottom line: I feel EXCITED to be alive.