We're hearing about it almost every day now: fulltime RVers who calling it quits, coming off the road, and moving back into sticks and bricks houses. What's going on these days?
The answer is complicated.
Because there are lots of reasons, all made worse by the realities of the 2020 pandemic.
Most recently and perhaps the most publicized in the RV community was the surprise announcement by our friends, Kyle and Olivia Brady of Drivin' and Vibin' fame, that after five years as fulltime RVers they have put their Airstream trailer in storage, moved into a house and giving up the fulltime life (they will still use the RV for short recreational trips). Kyle lists the reasons in this video but he is not the only one.
A few months back on the RV Podcast I interviewed Kevin and Laura of Chapter3Travels.com, who have been fulltime RVers for nearly five years now and are known for telling it as it is. In particular, they talked about how the fulltime life wears you down after a while and their plans to come off the fulltime RV road and move into a house.
But over the past few weeks, I've heard from or talked to other fulltime RVers- some of them bloggers and YouTubers whose names you would know – and many other “regular” fulltime RVers who have also made the decision to call it quits. Because I don't have their permission to share their names (some of the bloggers and YouTubers don't want that decision publically known because they worry it will affect their income), I won't share names.
But my conversations with them all have shed some light on why so many are selling their RVs or putting them in storage.
How many Fulltime RVers are there?
It's hard to come up with a number for how many fulltime RVers are out there but the best industry guess puts the total at around 1 million. By fulltime, we mean 24×7, 365 days a year, with no permanent address.
There are many more seasonal or almost fulltime RVers – think snowbirds or those who travel from spring to fall, or all summer or even half to 3/4 of the years like Jennifer and me, who are on the road most of the time but still return to our sticks and bricks home every few weeks or month or so.
Conservatively, those “almost” fulltimers probably total about 2 million.
The industry guesses that about 10 million people in the U.S. have RVs. So the 7 million others are recreational users, camping over the weekends several times a year, maybe going on a long vacation once or twice.
So, here are the key reasons why I think so many fulltime RVers are giving it up
2020 as an RVing year has sucked
No matter how hard we've tried to spin it otherwise, this has been a miserable year for fulltime RVers.
Many found themselves stuck on the road early this spring over the COVID shutdown. There were travel restrictions, closed campgrounds, unwelcoming local communities, and a lot of stress and uncertainty. Many went to stay with friends or relatives. Some rented houses. Others hunkered down in campgrounds that were less than desirous.
For many, this spring was far from the adventurous, nomadic fulltime RVing life they had envisioned.
Campground overcrowding has been horrendous
Once the lockdowns ended and travel was again possible, many fulltime RVers found themselves competing for space with millions of new RVers who, unable and unwilling to take traditional vacations (think cruises, European vacations, airline travel, hotels, and social distancing hassles) bought, rented or borrowed RVs and immediately began seeking out campgrounds.
Even now in late August, from readers and on our RV Lifestyle Facebook community of 41,000 members, we keep hearing about how crowded campgrounds are and how difficult it is to get a spot. This is usually the time when RV travel eases. Kids are going back to school. But that's not happening so much this year.
With kids learning online in many places and workers doing their jobs remotely, RV campground competition remains an irritating fact of life. The kids can go to school and the parents can do their job from anywhere… like an RV campground
Fulltime RVers aren't used to such challenges in finding a campsite.
Boondocking spots are being stressed and some shut down
Boondocking was once the fulltime RVers secret happy place. No more. All these newbie RVers have discovered off-grid, dispersed camping, and have made it much harder to find those awesome, uncrowded, and idyllic wilderness spots. And, sad to say, an irresponsible minority of them are leaving behind trash, even emptying their black and grey tanks on the ground.
The US. Forest Service is so disgusted that are starting to shut down dispersed camping in places.
California’s Big Sur area has experienced massive problems with people illegally camping along Highway 1 over the past several weekends. More than 150 people illegally camped along Highway 1 in Monterey County last weekend, generally in turnouts. And they left behind human waste, toilet paper, beer cans and coals from fires. Disgusted officials have closed several roads through Oct. 19 to stop the illegal boondocking.
It's harder now than ever before to find a good boondocking spot and fulltime RVers are frustrated.
Before we go on with the reasons so many fulltime RVers are quitting, here are some resources that may save you that frustration:
The time cycle of fulltime RVing
There definitely seems to be a life cycle for fulltime RVing.
The first year is always the toughest. There's something about completing a year that satisfies some people enough to be able to say been there, done that, and then move away.
My friend Nick Schmidt of SunshineStateRVs.com tells the story of a customer who bought a brand new motorhome from him. “He said he was giving the lifestyle a year,” said Nick. “Sure enough, 12 months later he returned. Sold it back to me and found a house somewhere and moved into it. He said he did everything he wanted to, went everywhere he wanted to, and was now done. He was happy to call it quits.”
The three-year mark is another time when many come on the road. So is the five-year mark. And ten years is even a bigger one.
RVs break a lot
There is no way to sugar coat it. If you have an RV, you will need to fix things. Often.
This week, for example, we were preparing lunch in our brand new RV when we went to open the refrigerator door, and… it fell off! Our RV is two months old! I got it back on but in three days, it fell off several other times. I called our dealer and they have ordered a new door but, because of COVID, suppliers are still trying to catch up on back orders and there's no certainty when that door will arrive.
That was thing one.
Yesterday, thing two: The inverter shut down. It just stopped. It won't work at all. I suspect a fuse but the fuse for it is in a place I can't readily access so I have an appointment to get that fixed next week. It would be nice if the fridge door was in, but I'm not counting on it.
But fulltime RVers know better than anyone else that frustrations like ours this week are an all-too-common part of the RV lifestyle.
Think of it this way: Traveling down a road, with all the bumps, turns and swaying, is like exposing your RV to a constant 5.0 earthquake. No wonder things break!
But getting RVs fixed is a huge hassle because most RV service shops are booked up weeks in advance.
I've heard horrendous stories from fulltime RVers about having to wait and wait for repairs. Where do they stay when their RV is out of commission? It's understandable that some eventually toss in the towel.
Decision Fatigue takes a toll
I first heard the term decision fatigue in my interview with Kevin and Laura of Chapter3Travels.com earlier this year. Every new place is a new place to learn. Where is the supermarket? Which pizza place is best? Where do we want to be next week? What is plan B if the campground is full? Is there an alternate route around the traffic jam ahead?
The fact is, the RV life does require a lot of decisions, a lot of constant research.
It grinds you down and becomes quite tiresome after a while.
This is a big one. This past week we stayed at a campground in Southwestern Michigan that has a lot of seasonal RVers.
I got to talking with one guy, in his mid 70's.
“We were fulltime RVers for about 10 years,” he said. “Took off as soon as I retired and we went everywhere. A couple of years ago, my wife had a real health scare. Then I developed some heart issues. We decided that we needed to be closer to family and a good hospital. So we bought a seasonal spot here and camp from May to October. But our house is about an hour away and our kids are nearby. Plus our hospital is up in Kalamazoo and we can get there in 45 minutes. We're done with fulltime RVing.”
Like the guy I met this week, missing family and being close to parents, kids, and grandkids is a major reason many fulltime RVers hang it up after a few years.
Eventually, the nomadic life does not equal the draw that comes from being close to family and friends.
That's just a fact of the RV Life.
What about us?
You may have noticed that I've kept us out of the discussion so far.
But I know you are curious.
Jennifer and I are approaching the 10 year anniversary of our RV Lifestyle. As I said, we are not full timers. But we are gone in our RV half to 3/4 of the time.
How long will we keep doing this?
The answer is, as long as we want to. As long as we can. As long as we're still having fun.
For now, we have no plans to quit.
Just the opposite.
We can't wait till we get out there again. As soon as our new refrigerator door comes in and our inverter is repaired.
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