Often people mistakenly believe that being a full time RV’er means you’re on the road full time. Nothing could be further from the truth.
From retirees to the new mobile workforce, many of the people who live full time in an RV stay put for long periods of time. Many may live full time in their RV, but they have a favorite spot that they call home. And in some cases due to financial issues, full time RV’ing might just be their answer to reasonably priced housing.
The different classes of full time RV’ers
Over the past decade of my own full time Airstreaming I’ve seen changes in the community. Younger families on the road. Younger single folks on the road. Some have wanderlust, others consider this a different life style, and some have no other recourse for places to live. What I’ve seen developing over the past decade can be put into a few categories.
- The New Mobile Workforce – Both individual and families living full time in RV’s. They’re working, home schooling, and visiting locations they’ve always wanted to while they work.
- The True Retirees – These folks are often called snow birds. They’re fully retired, they travel with the weather, and they’re enjoying a relaxed lifestyle after putting their time in.
- The Work Campers – These can be both young and old individuals. They move from park to park doing part time work in exchange for a place to stay and a few dollars in their pocket.
- The Displaced Workers / Low Income Families – Over the years I’ve come across more and more of these folks. After the economic upheaval of the early 21st century, these folks have found a cheaper way to live for themselves.
For myself I’m now part of the new mobile workforce. When I first hit the road I think my journey was as a displaced worker and a dysfunctional life. I’m glad to say that over time it has evolved. During my time in the Airstream I’ve met every class of RV’er. I’ve heard uplifting stories, and I’ve also heard about extreme tragedies. Just like our society as a whole, there’s an entire spectrum of folks in this sub-culture.
The New Mobile Workforce
While I count myself in this group today, many folks would argue that we’re not super mobile. Regularly readers will find us in Prescott, Arizona. It’s our home base of sorts. When we’re working with clients or off on an adventure the Airstream will be rolling to new places. But the in between times find the Airstream parked in Prescott. Why?
Everybody needs a home base. We’ve got a storage unit here for things that just can’t fit in our tiny house. We’ve got a community of friends in the area. And probably also because many people refer to this place as “Everybody’s Hometown,” and that really resonates with me.
For other people in the new mobile workforce the lifestyle might be a little different. For instance, the Curren Family of Currently Wandering, is on the road a lot. Jess, Sam, and their 3 wonderful kids. Sam is a programmer, and he can work from anywhere there’s an Internet connection. Every week you can find updates to their stories on their website, and also discover their next location.
I originally met them in person while we were visiting Organ Pipe National Monument for this publication. We briefly chatted for an evening, but then we had to move along as a new customer was waiting to have a sit down chat with us. Fortunately a few months later the Currens stopped through Prescott for a visit, and we got to get to know them a lot better.
In their case, they won’t be full time RV’ers forever. They are on an incredible family adventure, and they can do it at a young age thanks to being part of the new mobile workforce and today’s tech revolution. If Sam was in a different industry the story would be different. Some jobs require your presence in a brick and mortar building.
Their travels seem to be constantly on going. But they have moments too where stopping and staying for a while seems appealing. During our visit with them Jess put out a blog post for April Fools day telling their followers that they’d be staying in Prescott permanently. Many readers believed it, as they were reporting amazing adventures here. Yes, they could full time here and still be full time RV’ers, but they would they wouldn’t get all of that fun travel in. Trade offs.
Jess shared with us that Prescott is on a short list of places they might like to settle down in. It happened to me the same way, just passing through in 2007 and stayed “extra long.”
The True Retirees
Honestly, I have met fewer members of this category of Full Timer than any other in the past 3 years. Full Time RV’ing is definitely evolving.
True Retirees are exactly what they sound like. They put their time into the workforce, and for their retirement they decided to try something new. Often times these are the folks that park next to us in their massive Class A motorhomes. They’ve got everything they need with them, and plenty of space to work in.
Normally these folks aren’t on the road 24/7. Instead they find favorite parks and resorts where they spend part of the year depending on weather. During the winters you’ll often find these folks in Resorts in Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California. Many also migrate as far south as Mexico where medical and dental services are cheaper, and the Resorts are also less expensive.
This class of Full Time RV’er isn’t roaming around constantly. They’re retired, why would they want to do that. Instead they’re trying to experience the best of both worlds. Winters somewhere comfortable, and summers somewhere equally comfortable as well. They don’t have to “be” anywhere. It’s a pretty cool lifestyle to be sure, and every one of them that I’ve met over the years seem to be enjoying themselves immensely.
The Work Campers
This is an interesting segment of the RV community. Many of these folks are partially retired, but still not able to make ends meet fully. Other Full Time RV’ers in this class aren’t retired at all, but still wanted to have a more mobile lifestyle. The Work Camper phenomena is big enough to warrant websites dedicated to them, and even a monthly magazine advertising work camping job opportunities.
Work Campers travel to RV Parks and Resorts across the country, and they work at the parks. Either as “volunteers” or camp hosts, or finally, jobs close to the destinations they want to travel to.
One unique example that I’ve heard about from many Work Campers has to be Amazon.com. Every year during the holiday season Amazon needs additional workforce to help process orders and get them out the door in time for Christmas. And every year a large migration of work campers descend on the states of Indian, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas to help Amazon out, make a few bucks, and have a place to stay. I’ve heard very positive stories from some work campers, and some very discouraging ones from others.
The bottom line? Sometimes work campers get taken advantage of. Their employers know they’re semi-retired, and therefore the wages and exchanges for a place to park are well under reasonable incomes. I’ve met work campers at parks who work 40 hours a week for a free site and electricity. Given the fact they’re staying in parks that cost about $500 per month they’re looking at an exchange well under minimum wage. Even those who only work 20 hours per week (a normal deal at many parks) you’re talking about 80 hours a month for $500 in exchange ($6.50 an hour).
In other cases parks can offer fair deals as well. A free site, free electric, and a few hundred dollars a month. It’s pretty split out there though, as park owners see a very cheap labor force available to them, and the temptation to really low ball the value of work campers is there.
Displaced workers and low income households
Sadly, over my 9 years of full time RV’ing I’ve met more and more members of this community of RV’ers. Folks who lost their savings last decade, people who lost their homes, and full time RV’ing became a housing option. People who are “under employed,” show up in this community as well. And retirees who have very tight fixed incomes from their previous pensions and Social Security show up more often than you think in this group.
We keep a site in Prescott Arizona. Even when we’re away from Prescott traveling to clients or places to write about, we maintain monthly rent with the park we stay at? Why? It’s hard to find full time spots for reasonable rates, and we found one. We’re not alone here either. More than 30% of the park’s guests here full time. It’s a win for the park, they have a guaranteed year round income to operate with, and it’s a win for the residents as it’s a reasonably priced location for monthly customers.
On either side of our Airstream we have full time residents. On one side, a retired couple depending on Social Security each month. 5 years ago they downsized out of their home as they could no longer afford it. They bought a used RV and became full timers. They don’t travel with their RV, there’s no cash reserves for that at all. The husband has taken odd jobs here and there, but due to medical issues, that’s recently come to an end.
On the other side of us? A single guy living out of an older 5th wheel. It’s the most affordable living he could find.
Not on the Road As Much As you Thought
In the case of all of these groups, many aren’t on the road as much as you might imagine when you think about full time RV’ing.
For the new mobile workforce, extended stays are often required due to work. They can’t be driving every day and getting their work done. Often times you’ll find these folks looking for locations with good cellular coverage, and when they find a good spot they’ll stay for weeks or months.
In the case of true retirees, they’re usually trying to enjoy their retirement. Driving every day and burning through a ton of diesel isn’t all that relaxing. So they’ll find locations for long term stays based on seasonal changes. Retirees will be on the road for short segments, but there always seems to be a longer term destination with them.
For many work campers, travel leads to a short term job. 3 months to 6 months playing camp hosts at their favorite park that they couldn’t afford to stay at otherwise. Sometimes shorter term engagements and occasionally longer term ones. But their travel is directly based on the next work camping location.
Finally, the low income full timers don’t seem to travel much at all. For them it’s all about their budgets. Quick trips to visit family or friends, but then back to their full time locations quickly. Like any other low income household, it’s all about making ends meet.
In the case of all of the categories, most Full Time RV’ers aren’t on the road every day. They have favorite places to stay, or places with a low monthly cost, and they stick around for a while. While wanderlust calls to all of us, financial realities play a large role in every category of Full Time RV’ers. That’s not to say there aren’t some who are roving every day, but the bulk of full timers often find themselves doing extended stays at locations they enjoy.