Why are so many fulltime RVers calling it quits in 2020?

 Why are so many fulltime RVers calling it quits in 2020?

Family vacation travel RV, holiday trip in motorhome, Caravan car Vacation.

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.

CLICK HERE to listen to what they have to say in the RV Podcast Interview of the Week

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

photo of fulltime rvers are finding overcrodd campgrounds
Fulltime RVers are frustrated by so many overcrowded campgrounds

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:

CLICK HERE for our mega-post on where you can STILL find Cheap and Free boondocking spots

CLICK HERE for information on our Beginners Guide to Boondocking to learn how to boondock the right way

The time cycle of fulltime RVing

photo showing fulltime rver
There comes a time…when fulltime RVers realize it’s time to contemplate coming off the road

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

photo of fulltime rver in crowded rv
Decisions…decisions..decisions are a daily requirement for fulltime Rvers that 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.

Health concerns

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.”

Missing family

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.

Happy Trails!

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Mike Wendland

Mike is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road. He enjoys camping (obviously), hiking, biking, fitness, photography, kayaking, video editing, and all things dealing with technology and the outdoors. See and subscribe to his RV Lifestyle Channel on YouTube, where he has hundreds of RV and travel related videos. His PC MIke TV reports, on personal technology are distributed weekly to all 215 NBC-TV stations.

23 Comments

  • My husband and I were sailors. But we found that the “water” was getting pretty crowded. Anchorages were full. Finding quiet places was harder and harder. So we switched to RVing. We did that for about 10 years, but now find the same issue. There are just too many people. Not enough quiet, undisturbed places. And…. unfortunately, there are lots of folks out there who treat the woods as a bathroom. We found what should have been a nice boondocking spot just a few weeks ago, but it was surrounded by toilet paper and used diapers. We live in a beautiful, rural area and find that going to campgrounds now is like going to live in a city. Crowded. Smoky. Loud. We would prefer to stay at home. We sold our RV last week.

  • I’ve been warning about this for years. The young professionals are taking over the boondocking campsites that use older seniors have waited 40 hard earn years to do. So it isn’t fun anymore exploring spots that ware unique and unpopulated, because they are crowded! And now with COVID, everyone wants a RV. I’m glad I put off getting an RV until I fix my knees. One knee down and another to go. Maybe those pesky youngsters will return to their offices soon!

  • Wondering.

    Full time RV’ing is something that people that has lived in regular houses romanize about But I think probably won’t last the rest of their life.
    And while some bloggers and others after 3-5 years are hanging it up. Is this normal cycle and those people being replaced by new full timers and keeping the numbers same or near or is there a actual drop in full timers? I don’t know this answer just asking. ??

  • Wow we’ve had an RV for a year. Haven’t used it this year yet because of these concerns. Hope to go in Sept

  • My wife and I have noticed that many of the full time RVers that we loved to watch on YouTube are setting up some sort of a base. Neither of us are really of a mind to live in such minimal space full time. We still work as teachers (that’s now questionable given the situation) and the plan was to go away for each of our 9-12 day vacations and about 6 of the 9 weeks of our summer vacation, and maybe a long weekend or two. That happened in 2019 but 2020 we haven’t seriously considered it canceling all our plans and stay close to home in the suburbs. But there’s no question that there’s been a boatload of YouTube channels that are moving from full time to at least having a base if not primarily living there. Less Junk, More Journey. Nomadic Fanatic. Drivin’ and Vivian’, AStreamin Life, CamperVan Kevin, Dan and Jen, Trent and Allie are some of the channels we watch where there’s a home of some sort in the mix now. And Keep Your Daydream has that rental cabin now. And at least 4-5 other channels we follow were already that way. But there have been 3-4 replacements of full time living in an RV so it may just be that there’s a natural pattern to these things. I can imagine after retirement spending 1/3 of the year on the road. Maybe even 50%. But I just don’t crave a 100% nomadic life and I suspect a portion of those who try it will discover it’s not for them.

  • I’m sitting here planning on being a full timer in the next 8 to 10 months. At least I WAS planning on it. But after reading this blog and all these comments I’m not sure about it anymore. I’m pretty bummed out right now.
    Maybe I should change the type of vehicle I plan to buy. Get one with four wheel drive so I can go to places that most other RVer’s can’t get to. Lol.

  • Good article. Life happens. I think we did it right (for us.) Fourteen years full time. Sold the house and took to the road in 2003 with no visible means of support, only savings. We developed Geeks On Tour. We were in the right place at the right time. We up-sized 8 years later and traveled on. A few years ago, on a coast to coast, it was time to get a newer RV. Then, Life presented us with a new possibility. Chris’ mom’s townhouse was available. Decision time. We downsized to a Roadtrek as RVing is in our blood and quitting was not an option. We became part-timers, still on the road for work. We loved the full-time life and would likely still be out there were it not for the opportunity of S&B. We are lucky to have choices and flexibility. Our business has gradually made the transition to online. Good thing because all the RV rallies we relied on for a big chunk of our income have canceled due to the pandemic. So sad. Hugs.

  • Yes, there is overcrowding. Yes, things break. Yes, you now have to plan further in advance than before. Yes, money is tight. But there is still, for us, no other way we want to go than the full time RV life style. We have had to make adjustments, and we’re still having to make some. But this is the lifestyle we love and we’ll adapt and move forward. I’m also willing to bet that by this time next year things are not going to be so bad. I say that because I’m willing to bet also that by this time next year there are going to be a glut of used RV’s for sale. Mark my word all of a sudden all these new RV’ers are going to discover that what they bought is quickly falling apart. They are going to discover the constant repairs that are necessary. They are going to discover the long wait necessary for repairs. They are going to discover that they are upside down in their payments and those payments are sucking the lifeblood out of them. They are going to discover that the nomadic lifestyle that they though would be so romantic is not really what they envisioned it would be. It’s bound to happen. Too many bought rigs without stopping to think about what they were really buying. Too many embraced this lifestyle without clearly thinking it through. Just watch the show “Going RV” on DISH and you’ll understand what I mean. To me it is the best comedy RV show on the air. So we’ll be patient. We’ll evolve and keep on doing what we’re doing. All things considered, we’re still having the time of our life.

  • We camp in the Nicolet national forest here in Wisconsin. We go up on Sunday morning and get a site. During the week people come and go. When Friday rolls around the campground is full on our walks. Come Saturday morning some of the campers who are up for the week go home on Saturday.
    My uncle camps in the Ottawa national forest. The campground they camp in is 20 miles down a gravel and dirt road. My uncle said this year the campground is full. Last year he never had trouble finding a site. My uncle said there are two other campgrounds close to where he camps in the Ottawa national forest. One campground gets some use. The other campground gets no use. This year due to covid 19 my uncle said these two campgrounds are full.
    One day I hope to be a full timer on the road.

  • LOL – your! door and inverter – cute way written -We just returned from the U.P. Michigan and yes campgrounds were full and yes after going over road construction in Calumet the curb did our Roadtrek 190 Popular gray/black water connecting pipe some damage. (our RT has little clearance) We had to spend precious time at a repair shop, but Thanks to “Toucan Sams Auto Repair” – he squeezed us in, fixed our connector and had us out of there in no time at all .———-
    I totally understand the trial and tribulations of RVing and we are only part timers! Still tons of fun though!😎

  • I love articles like this! Everyone needs to sell their RV back to their dealer and buy a house.

    We have an agreement to talk on New Years Day to check in and make sure we wanna stay full-time. Personally I can’t see stopping. This year we have spent more time on monthly stays than our typical 2-3 days. But it’s been for a variety of reasons.

    I’ve done a couple of renovations that would have been tough while moving every few days. And I’ve kinda had fun doing the work on the joy.

    Overall we haven’t had a problem finding sites. Even on 4th of July. Of course, our site aren’t the same places that weekenders love. We try to avoid those especially on weekends.

    I’m glad all of the bloggers are settling down! I would imagine getting sponsors has been difficult. I know some of the current events podcasters have stated they are having a hard time getting advertising.

    This is a unique lifestyle that I can see only appeals to a limited number of people. And with the whole covid, a lot of the tourist attractions are definitely closed. But I’m still having fun. And we are in year 4. And we had never done this before.

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  • Great article, easily one of your best yet.

  • A very good article. For us the full time RVing was always planned to be temporary. We have lived in a comfortable Grand Design fifth wheel for three years now. Summers have been spent camping at developed property we own in Ohio and we take care of medical checkups and visit family. Three fourth’s of the year, we have been exploring the country and having the time of our lives. Because of COVID, we decided to build the modest retirement home on our property this year and take a break from RVing. The full time RVing has been life changing and we have seen and experienced so much it is impossible to describe! This has been much more than I ever dreamed it would be. As far as RV breakdowns and mishaps, we have been careful with maintenance and mostly able to fix things ourselves. A sticks and bricks house also needs care and maintenance. Planning excursions and trips is a joy for me so that is never a problem. After three years I am getting pretty good at it!

  • Look at the demographics. RV bloggers are hanging up the keys because there are too many people chasing a finite amount of revenue from ads and sponsorships. The whole “monetize your lifestyle” fad is over, not just for RV bloggers, but for lifestyle bloggers and influencers in general. It’s a blog-eat-blog world out there, and it’s not as easy as it once was to keep up appearances while producing content on a rigorous schedule.

    The other demographic leaving the lifestyle are older folks simply aging out. At a certain point, age and health needs make fulltiming impractical. They move into senior living communities where they already have friends.

    Undoubtedly COVID is influencing people as well — what’s the point of a mobile lifestyle when there’s nowhere you can actually go? We’re lucky to have a home base in an SKP Co-op park. The weather sucks right now but the rent is cheap. The only other option is to compete for space in an overcrowded campground costing as much as a hotel or a big city apartment.

    Tough times, tough choices.

  • We just started fulltime travel last year. So we’re 18 months in. I read the article by Drivin and Vibin and it came across to me as “we used to have all this space and now we have to share”. Maybe so but we have had no problem finding campground availability where we want to travel. Maybe the issue is too many people looking for the popular spots. Or too many people looking for work camping jobs that pay like a “regular job “. I know that we love this lifestyle even with the complications from this virus. We were “stuck” in Texas, had to cancel reservations in Missouri and Kentucky. We missed out on plans for our 20th wedding anniversary. BUT we were welcomed in the Texas campground and made to feel like family. Kentucky got rescheduled for this fall. Missouri will be rescheduled as well.
    My point is you have to be flexible to a larger degree than of you were reworking vacation plans but, for us, it’s been worth it. We’ve made some wonderful friends. I’ve learned to ease up when things don’t go according to plan. And even more importantly…the adjustments to our plans can sometimes work out to be a great thing.
    And Texas is now a “new home base” for us! They’ve got some great people in that state!

  • Great story! I like the approach you and Jennifer take. Your sense to of adventure makes RVing fun. You revisit your favorites and are always out exploring. You all also seem to pace yourselves quite nicely.

    I think the key to being successful is enjoying the journey as much as the destination.

    Happy trails!

  • My wife and I spend about 50% of our time in the RV during warm month and about 33% overall average for the year. Wcontinue to enjoy very much the RV life style (also the RVLifestyle :). In the Midwest, we have found some state parks and COE campgrounds with some very nice lakes and even some nice beaches (although, once you have experienced the vast, uncrowded beaches in South Australia, where our son and his family live, you do tend to get a bit spoiled). By going to some of the less popular, but no less desirable, RV destinations in the Midwest, we have found that we have been able to avoid many of the issues described in this very informative article. The “mountains” in the Midwest may not be quite so high as those in Colorado or Utah and the beaches may be on lakes instead of the ocean, however, if you can deal with the summer heat and humidity, you may want to spend some time in ”fly-over country.” The afternoon on a hot day can be a great time for a siesta in your RV or screen room.

  • We’ve been full time 8 years, mostly because we have to be. We are both full time artists and we travel all over for art shows. Doesn’t make sense to have a house we would rarely be at. We have a lot of artists friends that do the same thing. We started noticing the trend a few years ago, and the biggest problem is everybody has to broadcast where they are staying, especially boondocking spots. Which we boondock probably 99 percent of the time. So what happens then, everyone goes to these places and they are crowded and destroyed. All the bloggers, and you tubers ruined fulltime RV life for the rest of us that just want to go about living our lives. So, I hope they all go back to houses so we can just continue our lives.

  • I enjoyed stealth camping in towns. I would spend lots of time in libraries and parks and eat out. Then the libraries closed and takeout only took over the restaurants. No more fun. I’m off the road now…

  • I am going to get a “new” RV in a few years – one that people are buying or bought this year (Covid travels). Then they are going to go back to their usual travel again :).
    Why does everyone feel the need to TELL ALL of their great spots!! 🙁 They are ruined now 🙁
    Sunset Magazine started asking folks to share their favorite “_____”, Then it was another Share your favorite beach, camping spot, lake, secret……. HEARTBREAKING!!!
    Bloggers like yourself and others who keep encouraging ( almost pushing) for people to try boondocking! PLEASE stop sharing! Lots of newbies &/or folks who don’t care have no idea about “Leave No Trace” practices! My parents, who used to take us out camping quite often throughout my growing up years always made us “clean up the campsite better than you found it!” That gets REALLY disgusting now and very time consuming 🙁
    You bring it in – YOU take it out!!
    Thank you for cleaning up after yourself – your mother doesn’t live here! 🙂

  • […] Why are so many fulltime RVers calling it quits in 2020? […]

  • For the last 5 years, my hubs and I have been researching and planning to buy an RV so we could take off for 6 months a year. Well, he retires next Friday and I’m beginning to have 2nd and 3rd thoughts about that plan – even before this article was published!
    We are tenting motorcyclists and just came back from 2 + weeks on the road. We found many of the same issues that were noted in the article. I agree that TV shows such as GoingRV and others paint an unrealistic picture of RVing. Some of the buyers on the show are pathetically naive.
    I don’t want to buy an expensive RV only to go park it in a spot with 50 other “campers” only 15 feet away. That’s not what I’m after. I long for solitude. Peace. Nature. Unfortunately, I feel that goal is no longer attainable.
    Maybe we need to wait another 5 years. By then the madness may have settled down, the newbies will either become responsible campers or give up camping, campgrounds will have adjusted to increased demand and the virus will be gone. Hope we both live that long! Thanks for the thoughtful article.

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