Managing Expectations as a New RVer

Full-time travel may look like a vacation, but it isn't always.

Brooke Baum Brooke Baum  |  07.16.2017

As much as you may try to be realistic, it is very easy to get your hopes up as a new RVer. When you are first handed the keys to your new (or new to you) home they feel a bit magical. You let your imagination run wild with ideas of how perfect this new lifestyle will be – all the places you’ll go, the adventures you’ll have. And, of course, your dreams don’t include breakdowns, bad weather, sickness or other common stresses. You are an RVer now! You are living the dream. All you need is your rig and an open road.

So, you set off on your journey assuming the happiness that surrounds you will guard you against the realities of life. You have read the owner’s manual as well as countless blog posts and are prepared to face anything that may come up with a smile. But, then things start going wrong, and you definitely aren’t smiling.

Sound familiar? We recently did a recap of our first three months as full-time RVers, and it did not look like we imagined. For some reason, we thought that our Winnebago would transform us into full-time versions of our vacation selves – carefree, eager for adventure and immune to anything distracting from our happiness. Not so much.

We’re yet to wake up in time for the sunrise, we haven’t done nearly as much hiking or biking as we planned, our goal of slow travel was lost a few hundred miles ago, and we have all had our share of meltdowns – even the cat!

Rarely have things gone like we expected and there have been more stressful moments than we could count. But, although it wasn’t the honeymoon-esque intro to RVing we hoped for, it was still pretty dang magical at times. We watched fireflies, explored new places, woke up to birds singing, spent quality time with new and old friends, gazed at jaw-dropping views, laughed at our mishaps, and most-importantly, got stronger as a team. It isn’t quite the relaxing escape from “real life” we dreamed of, but it is a life we are excited to be living and the challenges we face are much more rewarding.

After three whole months, we are far from pros at this. However, we do have some helpful suggestions for managing expectations and lessening stress when you are first hitting the road.

Be prepared for a few fixes.

When you buy a new home, the first weeks are spent writing down little things that the builder needs to come back and fix. This is a well-known situation with sticks-and-bricks homes, but for some reason with RVs, people are surprised when this happens. This is probably because cars should be ready to drive off the lot with no problems. However, you didn’t just buy a car.

All the components of the RV shake and move as you drive down the road. And, whether you are the first or fifth owner, something is bound to need fixing. We suggest spending the first couple of weeks testing out your RV while you are still near the dealership or a trusted mechanic. Luckily, nothing big needed work on our RV. But being able to get the couple of little things fixed (like a leaky faucet and a cabinet that didn’t stay closed) really helped ease our stress.

Allow for flexibility in your plan.

If you have a multi-month agenda with a strict timeline, you are bound to be disappointed. You never know when your RV, traffic, weather, or other unexpected drama can alter your plans. Leaving a little wiggle room is always smart. And, in our opinion, we’d rather have to crash at a Walmart than waste money on a non-refundable reservation we never got to use.

However, for those that need a plan, make sure you know what the cancellation rules and fees are at the campgrounds and RV parks you have booked. And it is also smart to give some time padding when planning your route to avoid major stress. We’d suggest 4-5 hours extra for long drive days.

Look for the silver lining.

This can be extremely difficult, especially when you let your hopes get way up there. But, if you can take a step back and look at the situation as an outsider, often you will see some meaning or positive outcome. Maybe that bad weather allowed you to meet a new friend? Perhaps that wrong turn brought you to an amazing view you would have never seen? Or maybe things didn’t go your way so that you could help someone in need?

Immediately after buying our RV, we helped one of our family members bury the love of her life. The loss was tragic and unexpected, and it was the most emotional, confusing experience Buddy and I have had in our ten years together. Although it wasn’t how we wanted to spend our first weeks, we knew we ended up nearby at that time for a reason.

Being able to just be there and help however we could was something we never would have been able to do – at least not for as long as we did – without our RV. Bad things are bound to happen. But sometimes there are hidden blessings. And other times, you have the opportunity to be a blessing to someone else.

Give yourself a break.

Every time I talk to my dad, he says “Don’t waste this awesome opportunity to live the life you want.” And I always have the same thought, “Oh no!!! We are totally wasting it! Quick, let’s go for a hike!”

I have made myself feel extremely guilty for the days spent inside vegetating due to stress or just plain laziness. There are people out there that have amazing motivation and energy, but that isn’t us (yet). When we get over-whelmed, we both shut down, eat bad food and nap a lot. It is a habit we are working on breaking, but not one that is going to disappear overnight.

But, when we look back at these initial months, we really haven’t done so badly. We hiked 31 miles, biked 38, and even got out on a canoe at one park – way more than we would have when we were working full-time jobs. Our travels have also allowed us to see beautiful new places and meet dozens of inspiring, passionate people that have made a lasting impression on how we see the world.

We may not be living out the perfect travel dream, but we are enjoying our new lifestyle and continue to be surprised by new reasons to think it is awesome.

Remember the real reason why you began.

Most people RV full-time to travel or experience new things. But what set you on this journey? Was it a job you hated, a life of materialism that didn’t satisfy you, or maybe it was to save money? For us, the main goal was for Buddy to be able to quit his soul-sucking job. Yes, the full-time travel, money savings, minimalism and excitement are all perks. But, if he was still working, none of that would matter.

Even though we are still striving toward building better habits to fit our new lifestyle and there have been some disappointments along the way, he doesn’t have to dial into a conference call tonight, or ever again. So, I’ll call that a win.

And if RVing hasn’t been all that you hoped for so far, give it time and look for those special moments you are probably not paying attention to. After all, you really are living the dream.

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  1. Paula Morrison Posted on 10.23.2017

    We are not full time yet …. However we traveled pretty much the entire summer of 2017. We have a 5th wheel pulled by a non-diesel F250. We soon realized that we should have spent the extra money up front to get that diesel pull vehicle. I would say on our track from Richmond, Virginia to the Canadian border and to Southwest Florida, planning for fuel stops was the greatest challenge. We learned that all truck stops are not RV friendly. Some are too close to the road to pull in or get out. And our beloved Sanibel has the bumps and bruises to prove it. We are getting better at it but in a few years when we sell the brick & mortar home we’ll be better prepared. Also get some form of GPS (or atlas) that shows you commercial truck routes to avoid low bridges or unfriendly road conditions. Lovin’ the life!

  2. Kristi Posted on 08.05.2017

    This was a very inspiring, realistic article and I appreciate your words. We will start our journey on September 16th and your article really put a lot of things into perspective. Most important – live your dream and don’t forget why we chose to do this. Thank you!

  3. Brooke Baum Posted on 07.29.2017

    Tom- Thanks for your input. We have been satisfied with the quality of ours so far, only a few little things that our service department fixed quickly. Although, after being home owners, we are just excited there is way less upkeep. Not having a yard is the best thing! :)

  4. Brooke Baum Posted on 07.25.2017

    Don and Kathy: Glad you agree! :)

    Bert: Happy to help! Hope things become easier. But even so, the rewards far out-weigh the difficulties, in our experience. Happy travels!

  5. Tom the Awning Fixer Posted on 07.24.2017

    Brooke, Buddy,
    The entire RV industry uses the “house on wheels” analogy as a crutch against meeting customer quality expectations. For the price of a good house in Forest City, my expectations are for automotive standards of fit, finish, and reliability. Winnebago is among the best at approaching that goal, but no manufacturer I know of is measuring their customer defect rate in parts per million!

  6. Bert Posted on 07.23.2017

    Great article! Thanks for the reminder. I am only 3 weeks into full time RVing in my Sprinter Winnebago, and have had mechanical issues to deal with. These are good tips you have to help put things into perspective!

  7. don and kathy Posted on 07.19.2017

    How true your words are. Been at this for 8 months and would not turn back!!