On September 7, 2019 we drove from Huntsville, Alabama to Ft. Myers Florida to pick up Bessie (our 5th wheel). We immediately towed her four miles to the nearest campground so that we could attempt to figure out RV life. It’s been one year of full-time rv living for us and we are still trying to figure it all out, but we love it.
When we bought Bessie, we weren’t sure how’d we’d actually feel about living in an RV, but we were set on trying it. By the time we finished the trip home (a week later) we were sold. I told Brandon that I didn’t know what his plans were, but I wasn’t going back to the house. And, so full-time rv life began.
It’s been a whirlwind of a year. The first nine months we were mostly stationary, but we still moved. During that time we stayed at six RV parks/campgrounds in North Alabama and took one trip – driving about four hours to Memphis TN.
In June of 2020 we were finally able to hit the road and become full-time RV travelers. We’d sold Brandon’s house and Bessie was finally and officially our only home.
Do we still love our Heartland Bighorn 3875FB?
It’s complicated. We do still love this rig, but we have found that (as we knew when we bought it) it’s not really well suited for full-time travel.
The Bighorn 3975FB is perfect for a semi-stationary life. It’s big and roomy at 42ft with three large slide outs. It has a huge master bathroom that makes sharing the space so nice, with a washing machine and room for a clothes rack in the bathroom.
The living area gives us tons of space for our individual work spaces, and the kitchen is amazing. Really there’s only one thing we don’t love about Bessie and that’s the same thing we love most – her size.
As wonderful as her size is on the inside, that size has been a problem when it comes to finding sites. We are too big for national parks and even many state parks. We’re even too big for some private parks, especially the ones that stack you in like their putting you in storage (but really all rigs are too big for those places).
We knew that the length would be an issue, but we bought her anyway. Because we love the layout. That said, we will be looking at new rigs (don’t tell Bessie) when we get back to Alabama for Christmas.
Do we still love full-time RV living?
Absolutely! Neither of us have any desire to return to a typical house, even when the time comes to settle down again. And, we have no desire to settle down again anytime soon.
If it weren’t for doctor’s appointments and family we’d stay on the road. If it weren’t for COVID, we’d still stay on the road and just fly back to Alabama for a couple of weeks.
Our approach to full-time RV travel
Everyone is a bit different in how they approach full-time RV travel. Some prefer to plan every leg of their trip before they depart, others are happy to pull into a campground on a hope and a prayer that there will be an space to fit them. We are somewhere in the middle.
We like flexibility, but the idea of just showing up in our 42′ Bessie and hoping for a space stresses us both out. Some parks are too tight for us to even easily maneuver with Bessie, so we do prefer to know ahead of time that they can fit us in before we arrive.
While we won’t just show up at a campground, we also prefer not to make reservations in advance (especially when a deposit is required)
What we’ve learned in a year
We’ve learned so much in the past year, and we still have so much to learn.
RV life isn’t the easy life. Must be nice to just travel the country, yeah it is. But, it’s also a lot of work. There’s a lot of maintenance involved in owning an RV. And, things never break when it’s convenient. Like when we had both toilets break at the same time, or when our slide got stuck and our water source froze on the same day/night, leaving us stuck in a spot where we couldn’t get water, only to get moved and then get flooded out of that park soon after. This life is not for the lazy.
Sometimes the best stops are the unexpected ones. As I write this we’re sitting in a hole-in-the-wall campground on the base of the Rio Grand. I booked this spot only because we needed a place to stop for two weeks until we could get a spot in Silverton. A spot that wasn’t terribly expensive (because everything in Colorado is expensive). We meant for this spot to be just a place to kill time, but it quickly became a destination, to the point that we decided to stay here instead of going to Silverton. Bonus, it’s cheap and by extending our stay it got even cheaper.
No matter how much Youtube you watch, you won’t be prepared. We watched a LOT of Youtube leading up to buying our rig and we’re glad we did. It saved us a ton of time and trouble. Youtube helped us know what we wanted in a rig and find it. The day we picked up Bessie, we sat in the air-conditioned truck watching KYD show us how to hook everything up, before we attempted to do so in 100 degree heat. Youtube has saved our butts many times, but it did not prepare us for all that RV life would entail.
You have to be OK with chaos. This life will probably suck if you are a control freak, you’ve got to be able to pivot and just adjust on the fly. We both have a bit of control freak in us and there are so many things in this life you can’t control. We’ve had to delay leaving because of a flat tire the day before we planned to leave. We’ve added a stop to avoid having to drive as long only to arrive and find that the site wouldn’t work for our rig (so we spent the night basically boondocking). We’ve gotten a call from the park we were in saying that we had to come move our rig right now before the park flooded so bad we couldn’t move it.
Don’t rely on just one source for parks/campgrounds. There are so many lists of campgrounds out there, whether it’s Google or Good Sam or RV Trip Wizard.
I’ve found many campgrounds on Google that aren’t on campground lists, and I’ve found campgrounds on the campground lists that don’t have websites or show up on Google, and others that haven’t been open in years.
The thing is, none of them are complete, and none of them give a complete picture of what you can expect when you arrive. I’ve found that the overall rating for a park varies greatly depending on which site you the reviews are posted on. A great campground might only have a 3/5 rating on RV Trip Wizard, while it has 5 stars on Google, but you have to read between the lines.
Pay attention to the deposit /cancellation policy when booking in advance. While we typically don’t book in advance, we felt we had to once we realized how tough it was to find open sites in some areas of Colorado. We generally budget our camping with each of us contributing to a joint bank account. We ended up booking four sites in one day and one of those had a 100% nonrefundable deposit. That deposit hit our bank the same day we checked into another campground and overdrew us, causing a little stress. Luckily, the campground in question turned out to be great or it could have caused even more stress.
Enjoyable traveling is a delicate balance of planning and flexibility. At least for us it is. While others may prefer to have every bit of their trip planned out in advance. We’ve found that a balance works well for us. We rarely book a site more than a couple of weeks in advance, usually opting to book the next site once we are in the previous site and comfortable with the date we plan to leave. We prefer flexibility, but not to the point of driving into a campground on a hope and a prayer that they’ll have a site for us.
Spending a few extra dollars can save you a LOT. We are so thankful for Changing Lanes and their list of essential RV items. We bought almost everything on it and we’ve used everything we bought. There are several items that we’ve seen many RVers do without that we know have saved us quite a bit.
- Sidewinder Sewer Hose Support that keeps our sewer hose off the ground and makes sure that it has a good angle. We’ve heard from other RVers that have had to replace their sewer hose way too often after being hit by weed-wackers. The Sidewinder keeps it up off the ground.
- The sewer hose seal/ aka donut – without this our sewer hose would have popped out so many times leaving a nasty mess. Even with this we’ve had one park where our hose didn’t want to stay put.
- Happy Camper has helped us avoid that sewer smell in our camper. How do we know it works? Because we went a few weeks without it and just before bed one night the worst smell took over our camper. That smell was actually the gray tank (not the black) which we usually leave open. But, since we’ve been moving more we’ve been leaving it closed to make sure we have enough liquid to flush the hoses after we dump the black tank. Only problem was I forgot to put the Happy Camper in the gray tanks, and you’d be surprised at how bad a gray tank can smell when it’s full.
- Surge protector has already saved us once. We found when we went to move from a site we’d been in for two months that our surge protector (and the box it was plugged into) looked a little fried. Turned out the box had gone bad while we were hooked to it. It still worked, but we’d started having some issues with power flickering. We attributed the flickering to weather, but if we hadn’t had a good surge protector we’d have had much worse.
The worst experiences of our RV life so far
The month when everything went wrong. After three months in one place we were ready for a change, so we moved about 30 miles away. The campground – Point Mallard Park – was great. The problem was the bad power pole, frozen water source, stuck slide-out, and flood that all happened within a couple of weeks.
Our trip to Memphis. This was our first major trip in the RV after bringing it home. We’d had it about three months. We went to Memphis so we could hit IKEA and stayed at Tom Sawyer RV Park just across the bridge in West Memphis AR. The trip was just stressful, from terrible roads that left things in our RV broken to staying up most of the night on New Years Eve because people were shooting automatic weapons on the river right next to our RV park. It just wasn’t a fun trip. They won’t always be fun trips, but it least we had an amazing view.
One night in Missouri. The park had great reviews and looked awesome. Sadly, our review was not so stellar. The one site available that would fit our rig really didn’t fit our rig. It was a double pull-through on a washout, and there was no way we could level our rig. In the end, we left the slides in. At least we had power (a major plus given the 100 degree weather).
Our best RV Life experiences so far
Navarre Beach, FL – We stopped at Emerald Beach RV Park in Navarre Beach on our way back to Alabama after purchasing Bessie. This was when Brandon realized just how enjoyable working remote could be, and that he really could work from anywhere. It didn’t hurt that the park was right on a private beach with amazing sunrises and sunsets.
The Black Hills – We spent three weeks in the Black Hills and would love to have stayed longer. This was the first time we really took the time to enjoy a new place and being able to do so with all the comforts of our home couldn’t be beat. All the awesome things we were able to see and do certainly didn’t hurt.
Quarantine at Lake Guntersville – We arrived at Lake Guntersville for the RVE Summit just days before the country shut down. We couldn’t have picked a better place to be quarantined or a better group of people to be quarantined with. We were “stuck” with beautiful views of the lake and Instacart delivered. What’s not to love.
When we rate our trips, we rate them on a scale of Navarre to Memphis. Navarre being the best and Memphis being the worst. We’ll be OK if those continue to be the the points we measure by.
A year later and we’d do it all again. Even though we know we want to change rigs, we’d still buy this one again. It will be hard to find a replacement because we really do love this rig so much, and we aren’t willing to settle just to downsize.
We’re still glad that we were mostly stationary for a while giving us time to really get used to RV life and to our rig before taking it out on the road full time.
All of the negatives have been worth it for the positives that are so much more memorable. Worth it for the places we’ve been able to see as we’ve traveled and the friends we’ve made along the way.
We have no plans to stop traveling any time soon. We find it funny to think about how we’d really like to come back to Colorado and see more of the west but it will probably be two years before we are back this way. So, yes, we are planning to still be traveling two years from now.