One of the first investments I made after retiring was the purchase of a small motorhome.
My wife Jayne and I both wanted to travel but were not sure what the best mode of travel would be for us. While I was working, we went on cruises and several road trips with friends. Now we wanted something more. We thought the RV lifestyle was something to consider as we both enjoyed the freedom of road tripping and knew this would be a good way to see the many nooks and crannies of North America. Since the day I drove the RV off the dealer’s lot, we have traveled on average 10,000 miles annually, spending time in 45 states with plans to tour the remaining continental states in the next two years.
The motorhome has been a wonderful way to travel, sharing experiences together and with our children. We have explored national parks, museums, monuments and other wonders of this great nation. Along the way, we have made new friends, renewed acquaintances and have loved every minute of our time together.
During this decade, Jayne and I have learned countless things about living the RV life. And while the experiences we have created could fill a book, there are a handful of lessons that stand out.
Lesson 1: Know what you want, how you’ll use it and your budget.
In the time between dreaming about the RV life and actually purchasing our motorhome I spent time researching available models and manufacturers. I built spreadsheets comparing RV travel expenses with what it cost to travel by auto or air. I lived vicariously through my friends' travel experiences, taking notes of their trials and tribulations. When opportunity presented itself, we toured factories to watch motorhomes get assembled.
After years of research, Jayne and I settled tentatively on what we were looking for in a motorhome. Our checklist included:
Economical (11-17 mpg)
Easy to drive
Safe (air bags and 2+ exits)
Sleep at least 4
Haul at least 4 people
Diesel (for economy and engine life)
Self contained for off-grid, dry camping
All this pre-planning was used when I walked onto a recreational vehicle dealer’s lot to investigate a slightly used 25 foot Winnebago class C diesel motorhome.
Lesson 2: Make financial decisions with your partner.
I went to the dealer’s lot solo intending to check out an eight-year-old RV with under 4,000 miles on the odometer. It had been in storage for 5 years before moving to the dealer’s lot where potential buyer after potential buyer passed it up. Everyone that looked at it assumed it was a lemon but I recognized it as a unicorn.
This RV met the checklist we had assembled and appeared to need only a good detailing. So I went ahead and negotiated, had it inspected, financed and purchased the RV all without my wife’s knowledge. I then drove it directly to an auto detailer who made the vehicle look brand new inside and out. Afterwards, I drove it home, parked it in our driveway, and asked Jayne to look out the window overlooking the driveway. As I pulled open the curtain, I excitedly announced, “surprise!”
I do not recommend anyone do this, but, knowing my wife, it was the only way for us to get into the world of RV travel.
The entire time we were looking for motorhomes, Jayne would always find something wrong with them. There was always the showstopper. It could have been a simple thing like the color of the furniture or something more serious like blood stains on the carpet. However, there was always an obstacle that prevented us from making the plunge. Having been married to this woman for more than forty years, I understood she was afraid of committing a large part of our retirement finances to something she (or we) might not like.
I took the attitude of ‘what could possibly go wrong’, and trusted that the big reveal in the driveway was going to tell me everything.
I watched Jayne’s face as she looked out the window at the shiny, freshly detailed motorhome. I could read every emotion on her face – surprise, anger, confusion, anger, resolve, and (finally) realization I had purchased the RV.
Our first outing sealed the deal. We took a little shakedown day outing through one of the local state parks. Jayne was stoic. She sat in the passenger seat, eyes straight ahead, not saying anything. We cruised past corn fields getting put to sleep for the winter and down shady back roads full of fall color.
We arrived home at dusk and were rewarded with a magnificent sunset, one only seen in the Midwest countryside. Jayne turned to me and revealed her white flag, a pad of paper with a honey do list scribbled on it. “Ok, Ron, this is our camper. I want you to change this, this and this.”
My next mission was to listen to my wife.
Lesson 3: Customize your space to suit your needs.
An RV is the ultimate tiny home on wheels. Storage is scarce and oddly shaped. And when there isn’t much space, every space matters. Jayne and I scrutinized the RV, identifying areas that needed to be tweaked or personalized. This wasn’t something we solved right away, but something that required multiple trips for us to truly understand what was needed to optimize the space efficiency.
“If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.” ― Red Green Show
Every RV is different as are their owners. Keep an open mind, learn to compromise, identify pain points and work towards solutions that will help make your trips as safe and comfortable as possible.
Lesson 4: Make the RV your home on wheels.
Years ago, a friend and his wife visited our home for a weekend with their RV. We invited them in to stay in one of our guest rooms but they politely declined, saying they would rather stay in their RV. They were home there and by staying in their camper, they didn’t need to drag any of their clothing and toiletries in. We were a little insulted, but now that we have lived the RV lifestyle our perspective has shifted and we totally get it.
Now we politely decline guest room offers and stay comfortably in our little home parked in their driveway.
Lesson 5: Things will break. Expect it, plan for it.
Our first RV adventure was a two week round trip between Central Illinois and Southern Arizona. Our goal was to escape the Illinois winter while seeing what RV life would be like. In retrospect, this was a crazy decision.
Our second day out, the engine lost power and went into something called limp home mode. Fortunately, we were close to a major Freightliner repair center and the Sprinter (our chassis) technician had time for us. He found a hose on the turbocharger that had deteriorated while the RV sat in storage all those years. After a parts run and a quick hose change, the repair center had us back on the road by the end of the day.
On the way home, we had a more serious issue.
We were two hundred miles from home with dire warnings of freezing rain and snow in the forecast. We pulled into a Walmart parking lot and performed a fast winterization of the RV, draining the water in our pipes and adding antifreeze solution. We were two hours from home when the ice and snow hit. Within twenty minutes the roads were covered with an icy slush and the RV handled with increasing difficulty. I attributed its ‘squirliness’ to the icy roads. It was the next morning when we unloaded the RV and moved it into storage that we discovered the rear inside dual tire flat and shredded. The sidewalls were completely gone and the tread was hanging on by threads. The 6 year old tires, which had only 6,000 miles on them, were replaced immediately.
This trip taught us so much about ourselves, our RV and the need for advance planning. Concurrent trips have been much less eventful. My engineering aptitude makes me mechanically obsessive. I do my best to keep the RV maintained and always ready for the next trip. After all, you never know when an opportunity for an adventure will arise or when you’ll need to travel on short notice. Plus, my RV insurance offers road assistance which brings peace of mind.
Lesson 6: Plan your adventures
When we start planning for our next trip, we page through travel books, websites and our previous trip logs to find places to go and the best way to get there. We try to avoid interstate highways, opting for a more casual, scenic travel plan. There are several resources highlighting America’s scenic drives that I highly recommend researching.
United States Traveling Books
Campground Location Resources
Kampgrounds of America (KOA): A nationwide chain of independently owned campgrounds. All the KOA campgrounds are clean, close to major highways and relatively safe.
Harvest Hosts: RV membership program that allows self-contained travelers to overnight at unique locations around the country including farms, wineries, museums, breweries, and more.
National and State Park Resources
Seasoned RVers use the 2/2/2 rule for traveling. It means drive no more than 200 miles a day, stop every 2 hours, and stay 2 nights in each place. Some RVers also put an appendix on the rule encouraging drivers to arrive at an overnight destination by 2:00.
During the planning stage of our road trip, we only make reservations for our primary destination. Once reservations are made, we try to leave at least a week early to give us ample time to take back roads and enjoy the drive, stopping often when we find unique or unusual treasures.
The “Exit Interview”
Reflecting on our trip after the RV is unloaded and parked is something we do religiously. One of my boys uses the ‘pits and peaks’ question. The pit is the most challenging part of your trip, while the peak is the opposite, the highlight of your trip. Mostly, I thank God for getting us all home safely and reflect on how to improve the next trip.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do then by the things you did….So what are you waiting for?” - Colin MacRae
Guest author Ron Egolf is reaching for his retirement dream of touring all continental states with his recreational vehicle. Are you planning to RV during the go-go years of your retirement? Are you looking to see what it will take to budget for this lifestyle?
If you have more than $2 million saved and need help from a wealth manager, the Peak Wealth Planning team can assist.
Peak Wealth Planning specializes in helping high-net worth individuals and families plan for the future.
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About the Author
Ron Egolf is a graduate of Southern Illinois University, retired aircraft pilot, certified A&P mechanic, family farmer, and IT Network Analyst. He has used his retirement time to enjoy his favorite lifetime learning interests – furniture making, antique car restoration, boating, firearms instruction and certification, traveling by RV, and making memories with his children and grandchildren.
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About Peak Wealth Planning
Peak Wealth Planning provides concierge services to meet your wealth management needs. Services include: financial planning, investment management, esop diversification, retirement income, insurance, and estate planning advice. Peak Wealth Planning is a fee-based financial advisor based in Champaign, Illinois, and Fraser, Colorado.