Almost every current and prospective travel therapist I’ve talked to over the past few years has considered living in an RV or camper while on assignments. This is a natural consideration, since finding short term housing can be difficult and very expensive in some areas, and the idea of tiny houses has been romanticized as of late. Thoughts of quickly moving from place to place and not having to pack all of your things after each contract should also sound wonderful to anyone who has gone through the dreaded moving process a few times.
These are two of the primary reasons that my girlfriend, Whitney, and I chose to buy a fifth wheel travel trailer after our first experience with short term housing. A negative experience at a place we found on Craigslist for our first assignment left a bad taste in our mouths, and we were desperate for the consistency and less hassle that we thought traveling in the fifth wheel would provide.
While we did find that there are many positives to traveling in the camper, there are also some negatives as well that need to be considered. I hope to provide you with some insight on both the good and bad of living in a camper while taking travel assignments to help you decide if this is a path you’d like to pursue.
If you’ve ever read any of my blog articles in the past, you know that the financial aspect of things are always a primary consideration for me. My choice to pursue travel therapy in the first place was due to the improved financial situation it would put me in, as I imagine may be the case for you as well. With that being said, aside from the perks stated above, another primary reason that we decided to begin traveling in our fifth wheel was that we believed that we would save money on housing when compared to finding short term accommodations. While this is true from the perspective of monthly cost, the upfront costs associated with the camper purchase, as well as insurance, depreciation, maintenance, and increased gas cost must also be considered.
Based on our experience, as well as a survey I conducted comparing the cost of short term housing to the average monthly cost at an RV park, the monthly difference is roughly $400. The results of the survey showed that the average traveler living in an RV pays $700/month at a campground, while the average traveler finding short term housing pays $1100/month. Keep in mind that this is an average based on costs all over the country, so depending on the areas you have traveled to or will travel to, it could be quite different. Over the past 2.5 years we have paid an average of $550/month for our campsites while traveling around the east coast which, when compared to the $700/month above, likely means that we have been traveling to lower cost of living areas with cheaper campground options. Utilities (water, electric, sewer, as well as sometimes cable and wifi) are usually included in the monthly cost of the campground, but occasionally you will pay a monthly rate with an extra cost based on how much electricity you use each month. The $400/month average savings between short term housing and traveling by RV is a significant amount in my book, but it takes time for that savings to make up for the additional costs I mentioned above.
For this reason, the longer that you plan to travel, the more it makes sense financially to go the RV route. I’ve calculated that for most people, the “break-even” point is between 2.5 to 3 years when buying a used motorhome or used camper/truck combo. If you plan to buy a new motorhome or a new camper/truck, then the breakeven point will be significantly later due to the large amount of depreciation that occurs for campers in the first few years after production. Due to these factors, I recommend that if saving money on housing is your main concern, then you only go the camper/RV route if you plan to travel for at least 2.5 years and you buy your rig used.
Ease of Moving
Compared to moving into and out of our short term accommodation at our first contract, moving in the fifth wheel has been much easier both in terms of hassle and time. Since time is money as a traveler, moving quickly can be the difference between finishing a contract on Friday and starting the next one on Monday, or having to take the whole week off to get to the new area. On average, it takes us 2-3 hours to secure everything inside the fifth wheel, unhook utility lines, inspect the rig, hook up to the truck, and get on the road. If we are in a time crunch, we have done this on Friday evenings after work in an effort to get to our next assignment by Sunday afternoon. When we arrive in the new location, it takes us about 2 hours on average to reverse the process and get everything set back up. Compared to a traveler who is finding unfurnished apartments with short term leases, having to move furniture/boxes/etc., and having to set up utilities, the time and hassle difference can be massive. Even when moving to a furnished short term place, we found it took us much longer to pack and unpack than it has while living in the fifth wheel. This will of course vary from person to person based on how much you take with you on assignments, but it can potentially make the moving process a lot less headache.
Safety of Campgrounds
Before buying our fifth wheel, we didn’t really know what to expect as far as the places in which we would be staying. I remember mentioning our idea of buying a camper to a travel therapy mentor of mine who said, “I wouldn’t want to live in a trailer park.” And since then I’ve heard this sentiment from others who are unfamiliar as well. However, this is a misnomer, as a “trailer park” is much different than an “RV park/campground.”
To our delight, most campgrounds/RV parks where we’ve stayed are very nice, often with pools, parks, walking trails, basketball/volleyball/tennis courts, arcades, mini-golf, etc. Generally, the difference between a trailer park and an RV park is that in a trailer park, people live there long term, whereas in an RV park people are only there short term usually. RV parks are generally much more upscale and full of amenities, because people are usually there on vacation. Our average neighbors at the places we stay are older, retired people with very nice campers who are exploring the country. Of course there are some exceptions, and we have been to RV parks where portions of the park are long-term residents. But, we have never felt uncomfortable at all in any of the places tha
t we have stayed, even when walking around the area at night. Overall, we’ve had a great experience staying at RV parks.
These are just a few of the important aspects of traveling in an RV. Stay tuned for “Part Two” of my post to learn more about choosing to travel in an RV as a traveling healthcare provider!
Jared Casazza has been a traveling the country as a physical therapist for a little over three years since graduating in 2015. He travels with his girlfriend, Whitney, who is also a physical therapist, and the majority of their time traveling has been in a fifth wheel camper. He writes about travel therapy, domestic and international travel, as well as personal finance and investing on his blog “Fifth Wheel Physical Therapist,” and he helps mentor new travelers on the site “Travel Therapy Mentor.”