The Joys—and Trials—of the Open Road: Is the RV Life for You?

For many soon-to-be thriving retirees, the date circled in red on the calendar marks the day when they slip the bonds of home ownership, climb into their RV, and embark on an open-ended journey to go wherever they want, whenever they want, unfettered by mortgage payments, lawnmowing, school schedules and soccer practices, or any of the other duties that go along with living at a fixed address. For the adventurous at heart, the call of the open road is strong, and the prospect of moving around the country at will is enticing.

But lest you think that life on the road is all fun and games, there are a few things you should take into consideration as you plan your transition from nine-to-five laborer and homeowner to RV vagabond. Even experienced and committed RV-ers will tell you that the highway life comes with certain complications and limitations that you need to know about.

  1. RVs can be expensive. Think of it like buying a house—on wheels. The more room and amenities you require, the more you’ll pay, both for the purchase and for the upkeep. Recreational vehicles fall into three general categories. Class C RVs typically feature a large truck cab attached to an RV chassis. Class Bs are basically vans, fitted out with a bed and other furnishings and often a water tank and a toilet. Class A RVs are the large, bus-like vehicles that function much like a self-propelled mobile home, with showers, large beds, sitting areas, sinks, toilets, and even kitchen appliances. Class A RVs can go anywhere from $60,000 to $500,000. Tow-behind trailer RVs are typically the most affordable, ranging from a small pop-up trailer that can be purchased for $6,000 to the large, fifth-wheel trailers that carry price tags in the $18,000–160,000 range.
  1. RVs require upkeep. Just like a house (which RV-ers refer to as “sticks and bricks”), an RV has to be maintained. Unlike your car, RV maintenance goes beyond the engine, power train, brakes, and tires. Depending on how lavishly your vehicle is furnished, you may also need to pay for appliance repair, redecorating (who wants to live in a space that’s stuck in the 1980s?), wastewater system upkeep, heating and cooling systems, and other maintenance needs. Also unlike your sticks-and-bricks home, RVs depreciate in value, year after year.
  1. RVs are costly to fuel and insure. Especially with fuel prices headed upward, the cost to keep your RV’s tank full can add up quickly. Most Class A RVs will get no more than eight miles per gallon, giving them a typical crusing range of just over 300 miles, and based on today’s gasoline prices, each fill-up will set you back well over $100. Diesel-powered RVs get better mileage, but they’re also more expensive to purchase, and diesel prices are higher than for gasoline. Insuring your RV is another thing to consider. While most auto insurance policies will provide basic coverage for a pull-behind trailer, extra protection for things like campsite liability (damage that occurs off the road), emergency expenses (if your RV breaks down for an extended period of time and you incur costs for lodging and transportation), and other add-ons can easily run the annual premium for your coverage in excess of $1,500.

For those who still think they’d like to sample the RV life before committing to a purchase, there’s a network of “Air BnB for RVs” that will allow you to try before you buy. Many RV dealers, for example, will rent vehicles for a limited period of time, and the website allows users to match their travel plans with available rental vehicles.

For those whose ideal retirement includes travel, volunteering, spending more time with the grandkids, or some combination of all the above, I specialize in designing smart, individualized strategies that can help to provide for a secure, satisfying retirement lifestyle. Most critically, I am a fiduciary, which means that I am legally and ethically obligated to provide advice and recommendations that place my clients’ best interests before everything else. Click here to download my report, “The Fiduciary Standard and the Individual Investor,” to learn why it is critical to have a trusted advisor guiding your retirement strategy for 2021.


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