When my husband took a traveling job that kept him on the road 46 weeks of the year, he found himself in some very low quality hotels due to the geographic demand of the wind-energy business. After a couple of run-ins with bed bugs, he was done with it. So, using his living expense stipend we decided to purchase a trailer. It seemed like a perfect fit. He would have a clean, insect free home, with a kitchen to keep his food expenses down, and could potentially bank more of his living stipend if we worked things out properly.
We decided on a 26″ Salem Cruise Lite by Forest River. We love it! Overall, it cost less than $20k to purchase. The build quality is quite low, but so is the cost. If we could do it again, we would probably have pursued a higher quality trailer since it would incur so much wear so quickly. If you are a handy person, this is not a big deal. Here are some things we learned from this 2 year endeavor. He stayed in places like Kentucky, Oklahoma, Texas, New York, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
1. Weather is a big deal. We are from Southern California and our extreme weather is 115*F in the desert in the summer. If you will find yourself in any corner of the USA at any time of year, watch out. Even Oklahoma can get dangerously cold. We found ourselves investing more money into winterizing the trailer than we had hoped. Electric infrared heaters, using whole tanks of propane in a couple of days, electric blankets, wool blankets, busted pipes, insulating panels…all to make the rig barely bearable at night in -5*F weather. This is not an exaggeration. Waking up freezing in the middle of the night in January is very concerning.
2. Campsites close in the winter in many places. My husband found himself commuting further to his worksites because there were few sites to choose from. Having more campsites to choose from in an area is important if you want to avoid crime and keep your costs low.
3. Cash business. If you intend to deduct your rent costs then keep track of receipts. If you are seeking a monthly rental rate then expect to pay in cash. Ask for a receipt if you want to use it on your taxes. Also, when my husband had to leave a site halfway through the month, they rarely returned his prepaid fees.
4. WIFI is typically poor. You may have to go to the recreation center and it is not always operational as promised. Usually, campsites are far from cell towers so you can’t use your own. Satellite kits can run several thousand dollars. We just did without TV and planned trips to a coffee shop or the rec-center to connect for an hour to FaceTime and such.
5. Propane can run out quickly if not rationed well, which is why we purchased electric heaters. The cost of propane in some places was $30 to fill both of our tanks. That can add up in the winter. We had a tank stolen while at one campsite. Lock them and check on them regularly.
6. Some sites charge rent plus electric and/or water. That was an unforeseen expense. Rent charges normally range from $30-$45/night at a monthly rate. We have seen rates as high as $100/night without monthly discounts, but that is far from normal.
7. Rest stops can be very dangerous after dark. On a highway rest stop in Southwest Texas, my husband came across a family who had been tied up, gagged, and held at gunpoint while their RV and truck was ransacked. He missed the whole ordeal by just 2 minutes.
8. Frozen waste tanks are difficult to empty. Are you seeing a trend here? The winter can wreak serious havoc on your rig. Take preventative measures. It is possible to buy a “winterized” rig, BUT if you live in sunny SoCal you may not be able to find one. We would have at to place a special order and didn’t have the time to wait. Plan for this. It may be worth the extra fee to be weather-ready.
9. You will need a basic tool kit and a knack for creativity and resourcefulness. Some duct tape, a screw driver, a wrench, and extra rags will save you in a pinch. The manufacturer warranty covers nearly none of the lifestyle necessities inside the rig and you will need to take your rig to a shop for several weeks for that type of a repair. If this is your main living space, you won’t be able to do that.
10. RV loans are tricky. Even with excellent credit, recreational vehicle loans are expensive. At a time when a prime auto loan comes as low as 1.25% APR, an RV loan is 7.5% APR. With research I found that most lenders only offer a very long term loan because, typically, these loans are upwards of $100k. Very few banks and credit unions even offer a loan for RVs but I found a 5 year loan at 3.75% for 100% financing through Foothill Credit Union in LA County. Do your research and it can save you a ton of money.
11. We should have taken better care of the trailer tires. You can get covers to place over them while parked so they aren’t exposed to the elements. They are inexpensive. You should also rotate the tires if you will be towing your rig often. Doing this probably would have prevented that blowout we had last month. We are already due for new tires.
12. If your find yourself storing your rig, it is pricey in a big city. Local SoCal facilities charge from $150-380/mo. Yikes! The cheapest places expose the rig to the sun and are in high crime areas. Think ahead. Someday, you will likely have to park your rig and storage is a perpetual payment.
Overall, we are happy with our choice. It didn’t save us money, but we got an RV at effectively no extra cost. He loved living in it compared to the hotels and many of the campsites were near some beautiful places. Not all of them were beautiful, but many of the people are quite friendly and your home goes where you go.