Have you ever considered taking a long sabbatical to really explore what you want to be when you grow up? In May of 2007, Jim Nelson and Rene Agredano did just that after their beloved dog Jerry was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer (their three-legged love story is featured in the PBS documentary Nature, Why We Love Cats and Dogs). Although Jerry now travels with them in spirit, seven years later they are still full-time RVers roaming North America with their second three-legged dog, Wyatt Ray, in search of fun times, good food and great people.
As non-retired, location-independent nomadic entrepreneurs, Jim and Rene teach others how to support the full-time RVing lifestyle they love so much. They earn an income a number of different ways, from freelance writing and making jewelry for dog lovers, to graphic design services and WordPress Guru insight. Together they manage various websites and online stores, as well as finding great workamping jobs. Jim and Rene also teach others how to earn money from home in their e-book, Income, Anywhere!
LIVE WORK DREAM PART 1: PREPARATION FOR MAINTAINING THE FULL-TIME RV LIFESTYLE WITH JIM NELSON AND RENE AGREDANO
Go to Part 2 here > CAREER, FINANCIAL CONSIDERATIONS AND PLANNING FOR FULL-TIME RVing
What is the first thing you did to plan for your life on the road as full-time RVers? What steps did you take to “plan your escape from your old conventional life?”
The first step we took was we read a book called “6 Months Off” by James Scott and another book called “Smart Couples Finish Rich” by financial guru David Bach. Both had excellent planning strategies for pinpointing your dreams and how to implement them.
There was a lot of planning that went into our great escape from a “default life.” Long before we researched what RV we wanted to buy, we took a close look at our lifestyle and our dreams and what we wanted to accomplish in our time here on earth. It wasn’t until we studied the books and got on the same page about how we wanted to live (which doesn’t necessarily mean we agreed on everything) that we researched more logistical aspects of what RV would serve us best and what life on the road could look like for us.
How important is it to plan for your life on the road and have a goal setting strategy?
When it comes to this topic, we like to quote the radio host and debt-free guru Dave Ramsey, who says that “the difference between a dream and a goal is a plan.” What this means is that if you don’t put your goals on paper, or if you don’t write them down and make a list of what you want to achieve, you’ll be dreaming the rest of your life, not doing.
How has proper planning enabled you to stay on the road financially as full-time RVers?
Each month we sit down and create a budget. It sounds like a pain but doing so helps us realize what expenses are coming up, which spending areas are working for us and how to determine whether or not we need to make more money to cover upcoming expenses like property taxes or vet bills. Having a monthly budget lets us know what expenses to plan for at certain times of the year so we don’t end up with huge surprises. Planning also helps us determine which revenue streams we need to develop. For example, when we hit the road we planned for a year on the road in which we would live off our savings. This brought a certain comfort level to us but by the time we realized we wanted to continue the full-timing lifestyle, we made a new budget and plan to figure out a way to pay for it. Budgeting together brings us closer to reaching our dreams because we’re on the same page about how close or how far we are to achieving them.
You state in your publication How to Plan and Pay for Your Full-time RVing Lifestyle: “By comparing similarities and differences about your desires, dislikes, skills, and expectations about work and leisure; you’ll get on the same page about what your new lifestyle might be like.” Can you explain how important planning, asking questions, and an in-depth analysis is before going on the road?
Sure! What this means is that you’re trying to avoid big deal breakers before you’re already caught up in the situation. For example, if you invest thousands of dollars in solar because one person wants to go boondocking all the time, only to discover that the other person likes to be online and play video games all day long, that’s a waste of money because no amount of solar can feed desires like that. You have to get on the same page with what you want out of life or you’re never going to enjoy it together. And by doing the planning exercises that we describe in our book, you’re going to uncover a lot of unknowns and open discussions that will help you determine answers to anything from how to choose the best rig for you to how and where you want to camp.
You mention that “full-timers must have flexible personalities.” How necessary is it to be flexible as full-time RVers and not expect everything to go your way on the road?
In our previous life, I was an amazing travel planner for the short trips we used to take. I would plan every day from start to finish. Rarely did our trips veer from course, it’s so easy to have a predicable “adventure” when you’re only on vacation for a few days a year.
However, after hitting the road it took me less than a month and a few temper tantrums to accept that despite my best attempts at planning our road trip, living on the road is much different than vacationing. I had to be OK with the fact that a life without day-in/day-out routines means that your day may end much different than you anticipated. After all, that’s why we chose to live this way, unpredictability means you’re in for real adventure, not a canned Disneyland vacation. A favorite mantra of mine goes like this:
“At its core, adventure is the willingness to commit to an uncertain outcome with an open heart and an open mind.” – Matt Walker
The other reason for learning how to roll with the changes? If you live with someone 24/7 in a small space, whining, pouting or arguing is incredibly destructive and can quickly put a stop to your road trip (and sometimes your relationship).
In How to Plan and Pay for Your Full-time RVing Lifestyle you ask the question, “Can you chart your own course without being influenced by what others think?” How has this way of thinking made you more determined be on your own path? What sets RVers apart from other people who do not choose the RV lifestyle?
When we told friends and family that we were hitting the road, they thought we were insane. Most people would never dream of doing something like this, whether they’re young and working-age like us, or retired and ready for those “golden years.” The majority of people want to believe in the illusion of a steady job and security; putting down roots and staying in one place is part of that fantasy. When you tell them that you aren’t buying into it, that you want to live differently, you’re perceived as a threat to their illusion of security. Consequently, many well-intentioned people will do all they can to discourage you from full-timing and living outside the norm. You have to believe in your dream enough to go for it despite that kind of resistance.
Regarding families with children who want to go full-time RVing, what should they include in their planning strategy?
A good sense of humor and a thick skin! It’s the families with kids who get the worst flack from well-intentioned friends and relatives who think they’re completely insane for wanting to pull the kids out of school and travel. You’ll be accused of being a bad parent, dumbing down your kids, you name it!
But if anyone has proved that the benefits are far greater than you’d ever dream, it was Kay and Joe Peterson, the founders of Escapees, the world’s largest RV support club. With no moral support from relatives, the Petersons hit the road in the early 1970s with their two high-school age children. Those kids weren’t damaged in the least, they turned into awesome adults and are now running the Escapees organization!
But seriously, there’s a great little book that the group Full-timing Families published called “How to Hit the Road” that’s all about how to plan for a life on the road with kids. You’ll find it on their website.
What support is there for families with young children or teens who decide to become full-time RVers?
Full-timing families are so fortunate, there is so much more support available online compared to just 10 years ago. Groups like Full-time Families and Families on the Road are huge! They have rallies, online chats and forums and offer incredible wisdom and insight to families who are just beginning to dream about the possibilities. Once you’re on the road, they host many opportunities to attend kid-centric rallies, connect with other full-timing parents and learn about everything from homeschooling to toilet training on the road. As a result, many of these families will caravan from place to place, kind of like a rolling school house / party! I see a lot of great community-building going on with these groups.
How should you handle pets that are not prepared for going on the road and may not adjust well to changing environments? What steps can people take to make the transition to full-time RVing more acceptable for their pets?
Jim and I don’t have human kids, but we have been on the road with two different dogs. Our first dog Jerry was born to be a road dog, he took to this lifestyle like a pro. However when Jerry passed away and we adopted Wyatt, a tough German Shepherd who came from a hard life in Oakland. We were in for the ride of our lives. Already anxious and unsure about life, he went from a bad situation to one where every day was different, and he had a difficult time adapting. Today’s he’s an old pro, but it took four years of working with behaviorists, reading many books, doggie Prozac and being extremely patient and understanding about his point of view.
Nobody ever has to leave an animal behind just because they think the animal won’t adapt. If someone is planning to full-time and has the time to get their fur kids ready for the road, get in touch with a certified animal behaviorist (not a trainer) to learn how to prepare you and your pet. Even if you think your pet won’t adapt, chances are you’re just not seeing the world as your animal sees it and adapting your circumstances to make it easier for them. A behaviorist can help you both make the transition so that there’s a lot less stress. Travelling is SO much more fun when you have your best friend with you.
How would you recommend that full-time RVers handle any health issues that may arise?
We have a good friend who recently got very sick while driving along the interstate. He’s a solo RVer and had to deal with the situation all alone. He ended up having to leave his RV somewhere so an ambulance could take him to the hospital and it was incredibly scary for him. He never thought about what he would do in this kind of scenario.
My biggest piece of advice after listening to our friend tell his story: listen to your instinct. If you’re not feeling well or think you might be getting sick, take a break and rest. Also, don’t go without health insurance, and make sure your insurance covers you in every state.
You ask an important question: “Are you confident that becoming a full-time RVer is something you want to do indefinitely, or are you more comfortable just testing the waters for a limited time?” How do other RVers that you know of answer this question?
We have met people who thought they were cut out for it only to realize that half the couple wasn’t. They clearly didn’t ask themselves that question from the beginning. Some people don’t need to ask this question because they’re more freewheeling, they play it by ear and keep an open mind, and check back with each other often. If you are comfortable with constant change you might really enjoy it. But if you like more routine in your life, you may want to reevaluate this lifestyle before you leap into it.
How important is it to purchase a four season RV for full-time Rving?
Many future full-timers will buy a RV and shrug off this suggestion, thinking that if the weather turns cold they’ll just fly south. But I can’t tell you how many times that weather has surprised us during our travels and we’ve been caught in nasty, freezing conditions. On more than one occasion we’ve gone to bed to 70 degree weather and awakened to snow on the roof! We chose our Northwood Arctic Fox fifth wheel especially because of its reputation for being a rugged, four-season RV and it hasn’t disappointed us once. While other RVs holding tanks freeze up and ice forms inside the widows, ours keeps us toasty warm in those conditions. Also, during extremely hot weather, we stay much cooler than someone in a less insulated RV.
How will the size of your rig, travel trailer, or Class C motorhome define your RVing experience, especially where you end up parking or driving it?
You just answered your own question; it will determine how adventurous you get to be, whether or not you will ever leave pavement, how easy you will be able to get out of tight situations, and how comfortable you are just living there. It will determine what you spend for maintenance. You have to go with something you can afford, which may not necessarily be the RV of your dreams. It’s a fine line, if you end up with something you hate you’ll end up like Rene who often hints that we could use a bigger RV!
Do solar panels make it easier, economical and more convenient to power your RV and would you recommend all RVers get solar panels or does it depend on their needs and the amount of parking and/or driving they are doing? The solar power decision is really dependent on a RVer’s lifestyle. Does going solar make it easier?
No, by all means it’s far easier just to plug in, but what fun is that? At least that’s how we see it.
Solar is only economical if you use the system enough to pay off your investment, a system is spendy. First you have to factor in how many days not paying for rent each year will help you break even on your investment and then determine whether or not it’s worthwhile (most high-quality RV solar systems require a three to five year payoff).
You also have to make sure you invest in a system that meets your needs. A solar system is not economical if you only spend $1,000 and it doesn’t give you enough power for your lifestyle. Some people buy one solar panel and it does nothing for them, and they wonder why they’re burning up their batteries.
What advice would you give RVers who want to set up their solar system, especially if they plan on working out of their RV long-term or if they want to go dry camping or boondocking?
See above answer. Then do a power audit to determine what your solar power needs are, then reach deep into your wallet and spend a little more money and invest in a system that will meet your needs for the long term.
A little technical tip we learned in Southern California is to mount the panels in such a way you can tilt them, to get the most power you can from the panels you have with more direct sunlight. Also, get an adequate generator for your system, it’s an integral part of any solar panel system. We love our Honda EU2000 because it’s super quiet and meets our needs when solar panels aren’t enough to keep our devices going.
You might also want to consider overhauling your interior RV lights with LED system to put less strain on your batteries. Finally, always be good about maintaining your system. For example, checking to make sure your batteries are topped off with water if they aren’t sealed, and keeping panels clean because that can increase your performance are all good ways to improve your solar power system’s performance.
Should RVers purchase an extended warranty on their RVs? Has it helped you save money that otherwise would have added to your costs?
When considering an extended warranty, RVers should determine whether or not they can self-fund and pay for unexpected expenses. If you have technical aptitude and you can do stuff yourself then it might be more economical if you do it yourself.
If you think you want one, always read the fine print before buying. For instance, know what’s covered in your policy and don’t buy it if you can’t get a straight answer. Don’t just fall for the first one because you’re at the dealer; take it home and comparison shop. You can always get one after you purchase your rig.
For people who may not want family members or neighbours to open their mail, do you know of any other mail retrieval options for full-time RVers?
Yes! We love Escapees’ mail service. They charge a reasonable yearly fee and their service is top-notch, they’ve never let us down once since we enrolled. Lots of RVers use cheaper mail services but Escapees is the only one that truly understands the RVer lifestyle, especially when it comes to things like going up to bat for members whose banks are giving them a hard time for having a non-standard residential address. We wouldn’t trust anyone else to handle our mail.