by forum member Seilerbird (aka Tom)
Several forum members have suggested that I start a thread on "Fulltime Boondocking". So I read through the articles in the library looking to see what advise I could add that would be useful, since there already is a wealth of great articles in the library and a lot of great threads on the subjects. I decided to do a checklist of things that you should consider and do before driving your first mile as a full timer. So this thread really won't have anything to do with boondocking, just getting ready to full time. I am positive I have left a few things off, so any suggestions to add to this list are certainly welcome.
A full timer is someone who lives in an RV year round and also uses it for traveling. Becoming a full timer requires a lot of steps before you can actually begin. I have tried to list every step I could think of. I am only including a bit of information on each step. The RV Forum is an excellent resource to further explore any of these subjects. These steps are not in order as each person's order would be different.
The first step though, is obviously to make the decision to become a full timer. It is a huge commitment and all parties should be equally enthusiastic in order for it to be a pleasant experience.
Buying an RV should be the next step but first you will need to decide which type of RV you are going with (e.g. a Class A, B or C, a fifth wheel or a travel trailer). You can buy a $1,000,000 Class A or a $500 tent trailer and still be a full timer. However the vehicle of choice for the vast majority of full timers is the Class A, due to it's large basement, towing ability, insulation, internal roominess and how cool they look. But you can full time it in a tent if you wish. It takes me an average of about three months to shop for an RV when I am in the market. I have found eBay and Craigslist to be the best online resources. The most important considerations, in my opinion, are the floorplan and the price. If you are unhappy with the floorplan you will never be happy with the RV. The best advice I can give you, if you have never owned an RV, is to rent a few before you buy one. That can save you from making a multi-thousand dollar mistake.
If you are going to be driving a motorized RV that is over a certain weight limit, over a certain length, or has air brakes you may be required to get a Class B license so you can legally operate it. There are 15 states that have licensing restrictions for RVs currently. You will need to check to see if your state is one of those. You need to be legally licensed in the state that is your domicile and then you can drive legally in all 50 states, no matter what their licensing requirements are. You can check your state's licensing requirements here: http://changingears.com/rv-sec-state-rv-license.shtml.
One of the big questions when buying an RV is "should I get the Extended Warranty?" I highly recommend it, but don't buy it from the dealship you buy the RV from. Go online and get prices.
Roadside assistance plans are wonderful. I use Coachnet and I am very happy with them. They offer the usual services of towing, fuel delivery, locksmith, etc. But what I really like is 24/7 technical assistance via phone. You have any type of problem with your RV and you can call them up and get some answers to your problem. $99 a year, don't leave home without it.
You will need to stock the RV with your personal items. There are certain items every RV should have with them. There are checklists available in the RV Forum Library that list the basics. But basically you need to take your clothes, some tools and some kitchen appliances. I would suggest that unless you own a really special set of tools, that you go to Sears, Kmart, Walmart or someplace like that and buy a new set of tools. One of the sets that have 100 to 200 common tools in a plastic molded case for $79. The advantage of this is the plastic molded case; A tool box full of loose tools on a bumpy road will drive you nuts.
It is important to get familiar with the dump station procedures before you hit the road. Using a dump station is really simple, but there are a few things you can do and end up getting a bit stinky, so it is best to make sure you have all the necessary hoses and fittings and that you feel comfortable with the procedure. Most full timers, including myself, do not use chemicals in the black water tank. That may sound counter-intuitive but it does work better.
It is also very important that you become very familiar with tasks such as leveling the RV with the jacks, opening and closing the awnings, stabilizing the RV and opening and closing the slides. Practice this in your driveway if possible until you are comfortable with the procedures.
Most people feel mildly uncomfortable driving a large RV or towing one at first. You should take time to practice. A large parking lot is a good place to start. Going out on a shake down cruise is a great idea. Pick an RV park close to home and spend the weekend there. Make sure you are close to a Camping World or a Walmart so you can go pick up the things you have forgotten. While you are on the shake down cruise keep lists of everything that you can think of that you need to fix, change, repair, remove or destroy. Get it all fixed before you hit the road for good. After a while most RVers report that driving any RV isn't that much different than driving a car. It just takes a while to get used to it.
The really big step is selling your house or terminating the lease on your dwelling. Once you have accomplished that step then the biggest of all the steps is next.
Getting rid of most of your belongings is an unbelievably horrible chore. But once you are done it is so liberating. Most people could not fit the contents of their garage into a gigantic motorhome so this means that you are going to have a lot of stuff to unload. If you are not 100% positive you are going to be full timing forever you might consider getting a storage garage and just storing everything. But in my case I realized that when I die someone is going to have to go through all my stuff and decide what to do with it. I think it is better that I got rid of all this stuff myself. You will need to sell, give away, throw away or take with you everything in your possession. You will not believe how much stuff you have actually accumulated in the last 40 years. You will also not believe how easy it is to get along with only the bare essentials.
I did an optional step and that was to digitize my entire life. I scanned every important document into my computer. I scanned in every important photo. I converted all my CDs to MP3s. So now I own no CDs, audio tapes, VHS tapes, magazines, newspapers, photos, books (except and atlas and field guides) or any media except DVDs. They all take up way too much room on a shelf but hardly any room on a hard drive. I am pretty fanatical about backing up my hard drive.
A laptop is almost a requirement for full timing. Unless you are a dedicated computer hater you should buy a laptop. You can get a nice full sized laptop with a 15.6 inch screen at Walmart for under $400. It is possible to use a desktop in an RV, many people do. But desktops suck power compared to a laptop. So if you do use a desktop you should be hooked up to power most of the time. And if there are two avid computer users you might consider two laptops and a router or MiFi. It is important to back up your important data regularly twice. Keep one back up in the RV and mail the other one to a friend or relative. Off site backups are very important.
There are many ways to connect to the Internet. Cell phone, tethered phone, air card, satellite, or WiFi to name a few. I prefer using an Air Card, like the ones sold by Verizon, Sprint, etc. Basically you get a 5 gig connection to the Internet that works almost everywhere you go. You can even send and receive email as you are riding down the road. $60 per month is a bargain. You will be able to find dump stations (Sanidumps.com), weather, campgrounds, road conditions, gas prices and of course The RV Forum is always here and ready to answer your questions and solve your problems.
Bookmark all of the important RV sites on your laptop, such as The RV Forum, Sanidump, Overnight RV, etc. I also recommend buying a few RV related books such as Woodalls Campground directory and a book on general RV maintenance. Yes, you can get this info online, but if your power goes out and you have no Internet a book becomes very handy. I also keep a few field guides for identifying birds, insects, mammals and butterflies on hand.
It is also very beneficial to have set up every open account you have online so you can pay your bills and monitor your accounts online.
A GPS is also almost a requirement for full timing. Do not look for the cheapest one you can find. The maps will be out of date. Spend at least $150 to get a good one. Some of them are designed for truckers with the overhead clearances listed, but I find that unnecessary.
However don't come to the conclusion that since you now have a GPS you will no longer need a paper map. You will need a good map now more than ever. I suggest going to Walmart and buying The Road Atlas by Rand McNalley. Walmart sells it much cheaper than everyone else and the Walmart version is a special edition with all the Walmart and Sam's Club locations listed. This is very handy since many Walmarts allow RVers to spend a night for free in their parking lot.
Then get some 1/2" colored stick on dots and some highlighter markers (both available in stationary) and go to work planning your first few months on the road. When planning out a route take into consideration the weather, the number of tourists, the mosquitoes and other factors that might apply locally, like conventions and festivals. Or as an option you can use the My Maps feature of Google Maps and draw a custom route online and then share it with your friends. Here is my current map: http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?hl=en&ie=UTF8&msa=0&msid=101303567043899967803.00047ba4332df200e24bb&ll=34.741612,-102.216797&spn=42.133603,79.013672&z=4
A cell phone for every member of your group should also be mandantory. I personally feel no one should ever be without a cell phone on their person, especially when you are in places like campgrounds and the woods. If you fall down, hurt yourself, witness a crime or need someone to bring you a beer, cell phones are necessary. The cheapest and best (according to Consumer Reports) is Tracfone. You can have a Tracfone account for as little as $10 for a phone and $7 per month. I have used Tracfone for the last 8 years and they work just about everywhere I go in America.
One last item that is almost mandantory is a Tire Pressure Monitoring System, or TPMS. It is a little device the size of a nickel that screws onto your valve stems and transmits the tire pressure to a little screen that sits on your dash. If one of your tires starts to lose pressure the monitor will alert you so you can stop safely before the tire loses too much pressure. A blowout on a motorhome can be a several thousand dollar event since the tire can do so much damage to the body of the RV. A decent 6 spot TPMS can be had for $300. Many Rvers, including myself found the TPMS paid for itself in the first year.
If you wish to have satellite service for your TV in your motorhome you will need to choose between Dish Network and Direct TV. It takes four pieces to make a satellite TV work in an RV. First you need a satellite dish. The satellite company will provide you with a dish and a tripod that you must set up manually. If you move frequently this becomes a royal pain, if you are stationary most of the time it is not that big a deal. Most full timers go with a roof mounted dome dish. They start around $1000 plus installation. You will need a Receiver to decode the satellite signals. The satellite company will provide one but you can provide your own. You need a TV, of course and you need an account with a satellite provider. But do not sign up for local channels with the satellite company. You need to sign up for Distant Network Services (DNS) from All American Direct. You must prove you are an RV owner by submitting a fax of your registration. This gives you the four network feeds from both the east and west coast for a small fee per month. Here is a site that explains it deeper:
I have found it very handy to designate one small area of your RV as the Charging Center. Since electricity is such at a premium on the road most people will gravitate towards battery powered devices instead of 110V powered devices. However, a lot of them will need to be recharged, like your cell phone, camera, laptop, etc. I found a spot in my RV that has a drawer and a 110 outlet and I put all my chargers, extension cords and batteries there.
It is imperative that you establish a domilicile somewhere. This is an extremely complex issue, especially if you still own property. There are several states that are more RV friendly than others, such as South Dakota, Texas, Florida, Nevada and Montana. I have my checking accounts, savings accounts, legal address, PO box, voter registration, vehicle registration, drivers licence, phone number and everything else all located in one state. If you have a lot of assets it would be wise to discuss this with your lawyer.
Snail mail is one of the biggest pains of full timing. It took me a few years to figure it out. I started with having my mail sent to a relative and having her forward it to me, but that got to be a pain for her. So I found a mail forwarding service. All the RV friendly states have them. Texas has the Escapees Club which gets high marks from many RVers. A mail forwarding service is a mail box, like a PO box, that is to hold your mail. Unlike a PO box though, you are notified every time you get mail, via email, telling you that you have received a piece of mail and who it is from. Then whenever you choose they will forward your mail to you. It cost me $10 per month for my box and $2 plus postage to forward the mail. The secret is to only give your new address out to some who has a need to know basis. Keep the address as secret as you can so you won't get any junk mail. Receiving mail on the road is not too hard. You can get your mail delived to MOST post offices via General Delivery. However, not all Post Offices handle General Delivery so it is important you call the Post Office you want to receive your mail at and make sure they handle General Delivery. And ask what Zip code you use for General Delivery.
I consider having an online email account very important. Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail accounts are wonderful because you can access your email from any computer in the world that has Internet access and they are free. If you are on the road and your laptop breaks or is lost or stolen you can go to any library or almost any hotel lobby in the world and get your email. The nice thing about opening up a new online email account is that you lose all the spam that has been plaguing your regular email account. Then you become very selective as to who you give your email address out to.
On the day I headed out on my journey I sent out an email to all my friends and relatives announcing that I was moving and I would be living on the road in an RV full time. I tell them a bit about the trip that I am leaving on and give them all my phone number, new address and email address. I would also suggest that you set up a site to upload photos to or a blog site and then include the address of your site or sites. Many of your relatives and friends will enjoy keeping up with you vicariously.
You will also have to change your address with every business that you do business with. Banks, credit cards, doctors, etc. You can put in a change of address card, but I prefer not to, so that spam doesn't follow me. I contact each one of the businesses individually. With most of them you can do an address change online in a few minutes.
A very important and often overlooked item for a full timer is a safe. You can get a small personal safe at Walmart for under $50. It is not too large so it can easily be placed into a closet. I don't have one to store really valuable jewels and stuff. I am not worried about being robbed. I have it to keep all my valuable papers, my computer backups and stuff like that in. That way if there is a fire my stuff will survive. If there is a crash, my stuff will survive and I know where all my important stuff is located.
If you are taking a dog or a cat with you then you will need to make sure you have their papers, all their shots up to date and a set of really good photographs in case the animal becomes lost. Your pet should have a micro chip and a collar with an ID on it. You cannot cross the border without your pet's papers and you may be asked for proof of rabies vaccination. And be sure to bring a leash. You can't walk a dog anywhere without a leash. If you are taking a cat you will need to establish a spot that can be used for the kitty litter. Most RVers use clumping litter and scoop it daily. I use a covered poop palace and I never have an odor problem. It sits under the computer table at my feet.
You will need to talk to your medical insurance provider. Do not assume that since you have medical insurance that you can get medical care everywhere you go. Every plan has some limits and you need to find out what they are before you have a heart attack in some remote location. You need to explain to your provider that you are going to be travelling all over the country and you need a plan that you can use anywhere in the country. My last girlfriend went through absolute hell with her insurance company because she did not take this step.
If you have any prescriptions that you take on an ongoing basis you need to get them set up so you can get them refilled on the road. This can be tricky because you may need to see your doctor before you can get them refilled. The most important thing is not to wait until you are almost out of a medication before you get a refill. When you do head out you should have as good of a supply of prescriptions as you can get.
And one optional item goes here. It is wise to get a physical, have your teeth checked and your vision checked before you hit the road. You might feel more comfortable if your regular doctors preform these checks. If you are a person who gets these checks yearly then you could plan on returning to your ex-hometown once a year for checkups.
I suggest you to set up three bank accounts in two different banks. Two checking and one savings account. Keep your money split up amongst the three and keep most of your money in your savings account with only a few hundred in each of the two checking accounts. This will bulletproof you in case someone gets into one of your checking accounts and withdraws funds illegally. With most of your money in a savings account and another checking account they can't do too much damage. But most important of all, use national banks only, like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase, etc. Local banks don't work very well on the road. Since there will be no ATM machines that a local bank owns anywhere but locally, it means you will pay a lot of fees to get your money out of someone else's ATM. I usually don't use an ATM to get money. I prefer cash back at Walmart.
If you don't already own a digital camera then you should get one. The first thing you should do is photograph everything of importance that you are taking with you, including all of the people and pets. Photograph your RV and take at least 25 to 50 shots of it. If there is an accident or a theft the photos become invaluable.
I have a Google Document Spreadsheet online that describes every valuable piece of equipement I have with me. I list the model number, serial number, date purchased, amount paid, etc. Very useful if you every have a fire, theft or loss.
All of your important papers should be organized. I bought a three ring binder and some clear plastic insert pages. I put all my important papers in it. They are protected by plastic pages, in a binder and then in my safe. They will survive. And I know where they are.
Ugly as it is I have to mention that you should revise your Will. After you have sold everything and bought the new motorhome then it is time to check your will and make sure that it is correct considering your new lifestyle. Keep the Will in your safe.
And last but not least, prepare yourself to have a lot of fun.