Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.– Charles Kuralt
From the time I was a child I took elaborate and lengthy road trips with my family. My mother loves to travel, and when we were young we didn’t have the money to fly, so we took to the roads and tent camped at night to keep vacation costs reasonable.
My mother and aunt are energizer bunnies to this day that go and go and go. They had every hour of every day of our road trip vacations planned in detail from morning to night. After most vacations we’d need another vacation to recover from all the traveling, seeing, doing, and visiting.
Kathy’s family was surprisingly similar. They’d take long and exhausting road trips from Massachusetts to California and back – 6,000+ miles – in just a few weeks time. Hows that for a relaxing summer vacation?
Naturally when Kathy and I first started hanging out, we planned several trips. We took a trip to Canada and Montreal, did many local day/road trips, and actually flew to California for a change.
When we moved to California from Massachusetts we planned an elaborate 12-day road trip from our U-haul. We camped in state and national parks, and did all our sightseeing from our U-haul. When we got to California, our road tripping and sight seeing increased exponentially.
One year we took a 9 day trip from Southern California to Colorado Springs, CO that featured stops at 4 Corners, Mesa Verde NP (I still use the mug!), Durango, Great Sand Dunes NP, Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods, and Manitou Springs, and on the way back the Royal Gorge Bridge, Aspen and Vail, and Zion NP in Utah.
The next year we took a trip through the southwest and targeted the Grand Canyon, Sedona and Jerome, the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert, Canyon De Chelly, with Zion NP and Las Vegas on the way back. Again, we were exhausted by the end of the trip.
Of course that wasn’t the end to our road tripping madness. Armed with my impressive photo collection from past trips I hatched a plan for an even more ambitious road trip.
The following summer we tested the hypothesis that maybe more stops would make us less tired, so we drove a massive loop up to Seattle Washington with stops in Solvang CA, Redwoods NP, Oregon Caves NM, the Olympic Peninsula including the Hoh Rainforest and Olympic NP, A ferry ride to Seattle, Pike Place Market, Mount Rainier NP, Mt St. Helens including a hike through Ape Cave, the Columbia River Gorge including all the waterfalls, Newberry Volcanic Monument, Crater Lake NP, and to cap it off we visited Sacramento and toured the California State Capitol Building!
Finally we got it. Too much is too much. By trying to see everything notable within a hundred miles of our driving path, we were exhausting ourselves and not enjoying most of the journey – let alone enjoying our destinations.
There’s a difference between being a traveler and being a tourist. In the words of Paul Therouz “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” Which is a simple way to say that tourists don’t take the time to get to know a place. They visit, snap a few pictures, and move on to the next destination – exactly like what Kathy and I did for years.
He who has seen one cathedral ten times has seen something; he who has seen ten cathedrals once has seen but little; and he who has spent half an hour in each of a hundred cathedrals has seen nothing at all.– Sinclair Lewis
Don’t get me wrong – we covered a lot of ground and saw a lot of things on those trips – and I have the photos to prove it. That said my photos are about the only thing we have from each destination. By taking less than a day – and sometimes just hours – at each stop, we didn’t have the time to relax and enjoy the places we visited let alone fully explore and experience them. We passed through and saw what we wanted to see and moved on.
How this Applies to Full-Time RVing
I told you our story because a lot of new Full-Time RVers do exactly the same thing we used to do in our road trip days. Cut free from their stationary lifestyle, they have a backlog of places they want to see and things they want to do, and then set out to do all of those things as fast as possible.
Before they know it, they’re completely exhausted and possibly broke, and then either: A – they go back to a stick & brick (house) life with tales of how difficult and expensive it is to live in an RV full-time, or B – they slow down and figure out the truths I’m sharing with you in this post.
Truth #1 – The Faster You Travel, The More Money You Spend
This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s much worse than you think. There are lots of ways that traveling quickly costs you significantly more than not traveling slowly in an RV.
#1 – Fuel. Every mile you drive your RV costs north of a dollar when you factor in fuel costs, wear and tear, maintenance, and depreciation. Wile some of that is lost value, much of it is cash out of your pocket. A coast to coast drive of 3000 miles will set you back around $1,000 in fuel (3000 mile / 9mpg x $3gallon = $1000), and I’ve heard of people driving 20,000 miles in their first year of full-time RVing which would cost around $7,000 at today’s fuel prices!
We stick to 500 miles of RV travel a month on average. That works out to $187 in fuel every month, or $2,250/year which is workable, especially considering our tow vehicle (a Honda Fit) gets 35mpg average fuel economy for our local day trips.
#2 – Campgrounds & RV Parks. The majority of campground and RV parks have weekly, monthly, and even seasonal (3 or 4 month) rates. By taking advantage of longer-term rates you will save a lot of money.
For example, a typical RV park charges $35/night for a full hook up site (some more, some less). If you pay the daily rate over the course of a month, you’ll pay more than $1000 in rent. Many of these same RV parks have weekly rates of $150 – $180, and monthly rates of $500 or less.
Paying Weekly or Monthly rates can save you $500 a month, or between $4,000 – $6,000 a year, vs. paying daily rates.
We use campground memberships to keep our monthly rental costs even lower. I’ll be writing an article about this soon.
#3 – More Things to See and Do . . . That Cost! One of the great things about living in an RV is that you get to travel to scenic and interesting destinations. Most interesting places have lots of things to do, and most of those things cost money.
When you live in an RV full-time, it’s easy to feel, act, and spend as though you’re on vacation. Each new destination has exciting state, national, or regional parks, amusement parks, cities, tours, festivals, concerts, movies, museums, and restaurants – there are so many things to see and do! And that’s to say nothing of the shops and shopping, breakfast diners, tourist traps, fudge and ice cream shops, breweries and pubs, and the numerous other spendy distractions. We don’t know many people who can afford to live like they’re on vacation 365 days a year.
We have to pick and choose the events we’re going to attend, and we stick to a monthly budget so that we don’t overspend. It’s tough, because there are so many great things to see and do pretty much everywhere in our country, but budgeting is necessary if you want to continue to be able to see and do those things.
Back to my original point, by limiting our travel, we limit our exposure to new towns, cities, restaurants, and events. In the two or three weeks we spend in an area, we can budget enough time and money to do most of the things that catch our interest. By the time we leave an area, we have a good feel for the place – and a plan for things we’ll see and do when we go back some day.
Truth #2 – The Faster You Travel the Less Time You Have
When we travel (what we call travel days), the act of traveling from one place to another takes up most of the day. We wake up in the morning, have a cup of coffee and some food, and then we pack everything up. Bikes go on the roof of the car, screenhouse and yardstash have to be packed up, patio furniture, patio mat, water, power, sewer (including emptying and flushing tanks), plus everything on the inside of the RV needs to be put away and organized for travel. Finally we need to connect our tow car, make sure all the lights are working, and then we’re off.
We’re pretty efficient and can go from fully setup to travel ready in about 90 minutes. That usually puts us on the road at 10am. Most travel days we target 350 miles give or take, and that works out to 6 hours of driving. We stop for fuel and lunch, and that usually gets us to our next campground by 5pm. By the time we’re set up, it’s 6:30 and we’re ready for dinner. That leaves us an evening, but not time to see or do much.
Now picture that instead of doing this every 2 or 3 weeks, you’re doing this every 2 or 3 days! That’s way too much time invested in the act of traveling without enough time to enjoy the life you’re living.
A big part of why we live this life is to enjoy our time in the morning – drinking coffee, listening to the wind blowing through the trees, watching woodpeckers hop branch to branch and squirrels chatter at each other from tree to tree. Trading this precious time for more travel days would degrade the quality of our lives considerably.
Truth #3 – The Faster You Travel The More Stressed You’ll Be
Driving an RV is inherently stressful. You’re piloting a vehicle that has a stopping distance of twice or three times other vehicles on the road, and yet you’re expected to keep up with traffic. You have relatively poor visibility (better with cameras), and have to pay close attention to oncoming vehicles at every freeway on ramp. Big Rigs wag the tail of your RV as they pass, and aggressive drivers cut you off then brake hard to pull off the next exit. You’re often on roads you’ve never driven, and aren’t sure when you’ll find a gas station you can easily pull in to, or a restaurant with a big enough parking lot for your rig. Even if you’re an excellent driver, controlling a vehicle that contains all of your earthly possessions is a little nerve wracking.
I do pretty ok these days, and Kathy has turned into an excellent navigator, so our travel days are a lot easier than they used to be. That doesn’t mean I want to repeat them several times a week! Once every two to three weeks works well for us.
In addition, while ‘fast traveling’ we tend to have a very full ‘to do’ list. The point of hitting all those destinations quickly is to see and do as much as possible, right? Rushing to parks, festivals, events, dinners, visits with family, in quick succession and all on time can get really stressful. This is especially true when you get sick of your schedule and would rather be back at your campsite sitting around a fire with a cold brew!
Truth #4 – The Faster You Travel The Harder It Is To Earn Money
If you saved and invested well for retirement, hit the lotto, or were born wealthy then you can disregard this truth. For the rest of us you either need to make a partial or full-time income from the road. It’s tough to live on Social Security or a Pension alone in this increasingly more expensive world.
While one person can work (write, call, blog, etc..) while the other person drives, this isn’t an ideal situation for either party. I like to have Kathy pay attention to navigation and our route, grab us snacks and drinks, and chat about upcoming plans. If we traveled several times a week, Kathy would be obligated to work during travel instead.
This would also cut into my work, and I’d have to make that time up at night or work longer days. I’d miss client calls during work hours as I’d be driving, and travel days would be less efficient as I’d need to stop to return calls (I need a computer and internet to work with clients).
This would result in less time to see and do – a cycle of constant traveling and constant working. To make matters worse, as we’d be spending more money for all the Truths listed above, we’d both need to work more to be able to afford that lifestyle. It’s a vicious cycle!
More Reasons Why We Think Traveling Slower Is Better:
- When you stay in one place for a few weeks, it feels like that part of the world is now home. You know the local stores, the restaurants, and where to go to grab a beer. You’re not a local, but you’re not a tourist either. It’s a unique feeling that we experience on the regular, and over time it makes the entire country feel like home.
- You can enjoy and use more camping gear. When you stay for a few weeks, it makes sense to set up the screen house, the grill, the comfy chairs and the full patio. If you’re staying only a day or so and are fully scheduled, then why take the time to set up the patio at all? You’re not going to be spending any waking hours in your campsite anyway. Nothing against seeing and doing, but there’s a lot to be said for sitting and enjoying, too!
- It’s easy to get into a competitive mindset when you travel quickly – the 1,000 Places to See Before You Die mindset that involves knocking things off your ‘bucket list’. Traveling quickly increases the opportunity for this type of goal-oriented traveling, as you’ll be close to more of those 1000 places more frequently. I’m not trying to say that visiting, seeing, and doing things is bad. We love to travel for exactly these reasons! Rather, we think trying to do too much too quickly leads to travel burn out, and a competitive travel mindset will only exacerbate this.
- Travel days are less stressful and potentially more fun. As you’re only traveling every few weeks, you don’t feel the same need to rush to your next destination that you do when you travel every few days. You can slow down and smell the roses a little, so to speak, instead of just being focused on getting to your next destination.
There are still times when we do rush. We’ve found ourselves in Florida when we really need to be in Arizona, and miles must be driven and dollars must be spent. That said, by following the guidelines above you can save yourself a lot of stress and a lot of money just like we do. The RVing lifestyle is supposed to be enjoyable, so slow down and make sure you enjoy it!