Pros and Cons of Travel Therapy in an RV

**The image above was taken on Friday at our campground on the NC coast.

One of the most common concerns for those contemplating travel therapy is regarding housing. Most people love the hearing about the higher pay and adventure of traveling around this beautiful country but are nervous about the uncertainty of housing. Unfortunately, there is a lot of uncertainty. I’ll go through some of the various housing options, and explain why we decided before ever graduating PT school and starting our traveling careers that traveling by RV was going to be the best for us.

People often ask us if the travel company sets up the housing for you. Yes, there is the option of having your travel company find housing for you, but if you go this route the company will use your housing stipend to pay for the housing which will likely mean $2,000+ less take home pay per month. Also, I have heard stories of people having to commute an hour each way from their company provided housing to their assignment which would be terrible in my opinion. This may be the easiest and most convenient option in some cases, but you will definitely pay for the convenience.

If company provided housing isn’t ideal, then what other options are there? Well, there are a few. You could always travel to places where you have family or friends to stay with, but this would certainly limit your options for location. You can try to find an apartment complex in the area that would be willing to let you sign a three month lease. However, this is often impossible to find. When we were first starting out, we decided to go the apartment route for the first assignment while we saved to buy our RV. We called about 20 complexes in the area of our first assignment, and six month leases were as short as they would go, and in most cases 12 months. So usually this just won’t work when your contract is for the usual 13 weeks (plus there’s always the uncertainty that they could end your contract early and you’d be stuck in a lease, or you may end up extending your contract and your lease may not be flexible). In addition, if you do find a place that will allow you a three month lease, you have to see if it can be furnished or you have to rent or move furniture and set up your own utilities. If an apartment complex doesn’t work out, you can search Craigslist for housing, but this is hit or miss and can be time consuming. On our first assignment we found housing on Craigslist, but it was a bedroom in a house in which the owner was extremely particular about things. We were very unhappy with the set up, but it was the only convenient option in the area. You can look for housing on AirBnB or VRBO. These places are furnished with utilities included most of the time, but you’re going to be paying a premium for this, and, as with Craiglist, it is hit or miss based on your location. You can choose corporate housing which are furnished (which is usually where the travel company will place you if you go that route), but these places know that you have limited options for short term housing so they are not cheap. We spoke to a complex in our hometown about corporate housing and their rate was $2,200 per month for a one bedroom (furnished with utilities) while a normal yearly lease for a one bedroom would have only been $800 per month. You could stay at an extended stay motel, which is generally quite a bit cheaper than corporate housing ($1,200-$1,500 for the ones we’ve priced). However, these are often not in the best parts of town and the furnishings often leave a lot to be desired. The last option is to buy an RV and stay at a campground near your assignment. I will expand more on the pros and cons of this below. We were already pretty sure this is the route we wanted to go, and after our bad Craigslist experience, it solidified our decision. We never wanted to have to pack and move our stuff again or risk being in another housing situation we hated. A camper was the only option that made sense for us.

Neither Whitney nor I had ever spent even one night in an RV. We were complete beginners, but we knew that it would be the only way that we would continue traveling. We started reading and learning about campers and trucks back when we were still in PT school, and really started narrowing down our search several months before we were planning on buying. We went to an RV show while we were first starting to learn about them in our last year of PT school, and as time grew closer to buying, we scoured every RV sales place near us as well as the internet for sales in Virginia and surrounding states. After looking at hundreds, we determined that it would be better for us to air on the side of buying something too big than risk getting a camper that was too small. We found that a fifth wheel fit our needs better than a regular travel trailer. We set a budget of $40,000 to buy both the camper and the truck which meant that we would be buying both of them used. This price was a big factor in waiting until after our first assignment to buy, because right out of school we didn’t have very much money saved up, and we preferred to buy them outright instead of financing. We ended up waiting for 6 months after starting working to buy. During our search, we made a list of all of the features and amenities that we couldn’t live without. After scouring RV lots, Craigslist, and RVtrader.com for hundreds of hours, we found a fifth wheel with a layout that we loved and for a price that we could afford. Then, we found a truck that had the features needed to tow our camper. In the end we paid about $35,000 for our 2009 fifth wheel and our 2005 diesel F-250. This was a big upfront cost, but more than worth it in our opinion. We have now been living in the fifth wheel for our past four travel assignments and wouldn’t do it any other way. Let’s look at the pros and cons of living in a camper to see why we believe it’s the best option for most travelers.

Pros:

  • Cheaper monthly living costs
  • No scouring the internet for short term rentals
  • No packing or moving furniture
  • No setting up utilities
  • Consistency with your surroundings/home
  • Quicker turn around from one assignment to the next

Cons:

  • Initial learning curve for camper living, setup, driving, etc
  • Upfront costs
  • Maintenance on camper
  • Less living space
  • General “camper life” things such as dealing with water tanks, sewer, setup/breakdown

Although we paid upfront costs of $35,000 for the camper and truck, we estimate that we are able to save about $1,000/month on housing costs staying at a campground vs. finding short term housing. Our average housing at campgrounds has been about $520/month to this point compared to $1,200-$1,700 (sometimes much more) for short term housing options with utilities and furnishing included. Add in the costs of maintenance/repairs, personal property taxes, and extra cost of gas, and we probably come out about $800/month ahead. Since we plan to travel for about five years total, the truck and fifth wheel will more than pay for themselves. In addition, when we finish traveling we estimate we will be able to sell the truck and fifth wheel for somewhere between $20,000-$25,000 which will allow us to recover much of that upfront cost. Based on my estimates, we will save about $33,000 by living in the fifth wheel for five years compared to living in short term housing, and this includes a loss of $15,000 on depreciation of our truck and camper.

Finding somewhere to stay while living in the camper is fairly easy- much easier than the alternative. Once we find two jobs that are near each other, we immediately look for campgrounds that are between the two assignments, find prices on their websites, call to confirm availability at the campsite, and make a decision. Usually this can be done in an hour or less if we are able to call during their business hours. This is so much more convenient than just guessing at whether we will be able to find housing between our two jobs. Even if there is an apartment complex on the map, there are again a lot of stipulations as to whether they will have openings and if they can do a short term lease. If you’re going with other options like corporate housing, extended stay motel, Craigslist, or Airbnb, your search is going to take a lot longer and have a lot more uncertainty, all while your recruiter is waiting to hear whether you’re going to take the job or not. Otherwise, if you accept the job upfront BEFORE finding housing, you’re really going to be at the mercy of whatever you can find, despite the cost, the hassle, or the distance, because you already accepted the job.

We have determined that securing everything inside the camper, unhooking everything from the outside and hooking the camper to the truck takes us about three hours. Getting things back out inside, unhooking the truck, and setting up the outside takes about two hours. Total set up and break down time is five hours, so we can usually complete this and the drive to the new location in one day, or at most over a weekend depending how far we are traveling. Due to this quick turnaround, we have so far always been able to finish an assignment on Friday and start a new assignment on Monday, including our biggest move so far from VA to 13 hours away in MA. Since daily and weekly pay is so high as a traveler, missing one day or one week of work due to moving can be very costly, especially since there is no such thing as paid time off between assignments. Also not having to pack boxes and load cars is invaluable to us.

Utilities provided at campgrounds vary, but they all include water and sewer. Electricity is either included or metered (paid for separately in addition to the monthly rate), but is always provided one way or the other with no additional setup by you required. Most, but not all, campgrounds have wifi included and some have cable included as well. Not having to set up your own utilities saves time and frustration.

Constantly moving to new locations is very exciting, but we find that we really enjoy having the consistency with our living situation. We always know that no matter where we go we will have the same bed, same couch, same chairs, same shower, etc. In addition, our clothes, dishes and other belonging are always in the same place as they were at the last location. This might sound insignificant, but it can mean a lot in some situations.

Having a smaller living space may be a problem for some, but this has not been an issue at all for us. Our fifth wheel is about 230 square feet inside with the slides out. This may sound small to some, but it’s bigger than it sounds. For some pictures, check out this post written by Whitney.

Camper maintenance is a given and needs to be factored into costs. For the most part it is usually very minor if you stay on top of things, but, of course, there could be occasional big costs if something malfunctions and has to be repaired in the camper.

Learning about the camper including hooking up, unhooking, pulling/backing, emptying tanks, etc. can seem daunting, but with Youtube and forums, is really not that bad. As I mentioned earlier, we started learning a few months in advance, so we took our time reading and learning which made it easier. We had some problems when we started, but thanks to helpful fellow campers and the internet, we figured everything out.

Overall we have been very happy with our decision and enjoy the adventure of living in the fifth wheel. It allows us to save money and travel with much less hassle. If it wasn’t an option we probably would have taken permanent jobs long ago because packing and moving is very draining for us.

I hope this post is helpful. I’m always open to questions about anything in the comments section below!

Camper Life

*Scroll to the bottom for more pictures*

-by Whitney-

Let me start by saying that I, nor Jared, would have ever imagined that we would be living in a camper. Neither of us are even “camping” people. I’ve been camping once in my life, and Jared just a few times. Sleeping outdoors in a tent isn’t really my idea of a good time, so traditional camping wasn’t for me. However, as many of you know, “camping” with an RV vs. a tent is like night and day. But I digress. Not only did we have zero experience with camping/RVs/campers, we were also not in any way drawn to the tiny house movement (at the time). That is not at all what started this. It was just business. We thought: travel PT is the way to go for us. Travel the country, have great experiences, make more money. Done. But when we started looking at the logistics of packing and moving all the time, we got a bit skeptical. It was a patient of mine at an internship that first gave us the idea. He said he and his wife traveled the country in an RV, and they had met many travel nurses who also traveled by RV. At first I thought, hmm that’s interesting, but I could never do that.  No way. Then we started thinking more and more about it, and realized there really wasn’t going to be another way. We both hate packing. I pack way, way… way too much. We both hate moving. Moving furniture? Forget about it. So, there we were, we were going  to get an RV.

We decided during our 3rd year of PT school that buying a camper was definitely going to be our plan. So we started looking, searching Craigslist, going to dealerships, going to RV shows, searching RVTrader.com. We learned about all the different types of RVs. We had to choose whether we would get a motorhome (that you drive) or a travel trailer (that you pull with a truck). We chose the latter. There are definitely pros and cons to both. One con is that now we have a truck that is one of our main vehicles we drive to work (Jared drives the truck, I drive my Trailblazer SUV). The truck is definitely costly on fuel (it’s a diesel). However, our biggest concern with having a motorhome was if we had to have maintenance on the engine or transmission, first it would be costly, second how would we put our whole home in the shop if it needed fixing? Overall it just seemed more complicated, so we picked the truck + trailer option.

A lot went in to picking the right travel trailer that fit our needs. After searching hundreds, maybe thousands, of them, we started to compile a list of things we liked and didn’t like. For example, the layout, amount of storage (drawers, cabinets, hideaway spaces, closet), size of the kitchen, dining room table/chairs vs. booth (yes this was near the top of my list, ha), open vs. closed bathroom (yes some of them aren’t fully enclosed), etc. We also had to pick between the style of travel trailer: standard “pull behind” type with a regular hitch, or a 5th wheel travel trailer. We ultimately ended up choosing a 5th wheel, because they typically offer more space since the bedroom is “upstairs” and are easier to tow without risk of jack-knifing. After searching for a long time, it all really boiled down to trying to get most of what was on our wish list within the price range we had set for ourselves. Just like with any big purchase, we had to sacrifice some things in order to fit the budget. Why the budget? Because we wanted to own it and we wanted to pay in full, not lease or finance it. (Refer back to any number of Jared’s posts on finance). In the end, we ended up with a 2009 Coachman Chapparal 278DS, which was of course used (and also repainted a funky color scheme which wouldn’t have been our first choice haha), and we found it from RVTrader.com at a dealership in Concord, NC. After we finally found our camper, we then had to find our truck. Similarly, we scoured the internet searching for a truck that fit our needs and our budget. The primary objective and our key phrase during our searches was: “Will it HAUL?”. We had to do our research on how heavy duty of a truck we needed to pull this 10,000lb+ trailer. We ended up with a 2005 Ford F-250 Diesel.

Overall, we have been very pleased with both the camper and the truck. We have found that we actually have a lot more space than we anticipated. It’s just like a small apartment, and there is so much hidden storage. And believe me, I have a lot of stuff. The thing I love most about living in the camper is that everything has its place and it all comes along with us from assignment to assignment. I don’t have to worry about packing and unpacking everything. It’s all just there in its normal spot and it’s perfect. I did have to downsize and get rid some of my clothes, but that was honestly for the better. I had so many things that I really don’t even wear. In fact, I probably still have too much even in the camper. Five days out of the week I wear the same things, work clothes. I get 2 days a week where I can wear fun clothes, and half the time I’m just wearing workout clothes/pajamas then anyway. A big help for storing all my clothes has been space bags. I keep whatever season of clothes I’m not wearing in space bags stored under the bed and plan to switch them out as needed. We also only brought along a few dishes and the minimum stuff we needed for the kitchen. But really, we’re 2 people. 4 plates, 4 bowls, 4 cups, 2 wine glasses (both for me–ha). What else do we need? Living in a small space definitely makes you think about all your belongings and what you actually use or don’t use. I think we’re having some of the same revelations that the Tiny House folks do, and we’re loving it.

Now, I won’t lie and act like living in a camper is always butterflies and rainbows. There was a lot to learn about RV/travel trailer living (connecting/disconnecting truck & trailer, the water/sewage tanks, slide outs, electric vs. propane, leveling, etc). Some of these things are a hassle, but it has been a cool learning experience. In addition, it’s a very small space. The fortunate thing is that we are at work a lot of the time, so it’s not like we are together 24/7 in this small space. Cooking at night can definitely make us testy, though. One thing we did sacrifice on in choosing our camper is that the kitchen space isn’t very big. Besides space issues, the camper itself comes with some mechanical issues. Like water freezing. That happens a lot more easily than it does in a regular house. Winter in Virginia was tough at times with the water hose outside freezing several times and leaving us without running water until it could thaw out. Also it can get cold in there. We were fortunate to stay at a campground where they didn’t monitor/charge extra for the amount of electricity you use, so we ran 2 space heaters all winter long. Otherwise, you have to use central heat which runs off propane, which can get costly. Running 2 heaters all the time can have its cons as well, like the circuit blowing. Don’t dare think you can have 2 heaters plugged in and also cook dinner using the toaster oven or microwave. Not a chance. We learned that far too many times. We’ve had some other mechanical issues too such as water leaks, birds nesting, cabinets breaking, etc. But, living in an apartment or house you may have to deal with similar problems. Overall, the camper has been great, and we just can’t imagine our Travel PT journey any other way.

Check out the pictures to get a peek into our camper life!

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Our Truck and Fifth Wheel Trailer! Why the 80’s colorful racing stripes? Who knows!
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Living room with huge couch, reclining stadium seat chairs, ottoman, and cabinet storage
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Living room once we put all of our stuff in!
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Living room/kitchen/dining room area. All of the parts to the right are in a slide-out.
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Recliners and dining room table/chairs in the slide-out portion. When it’s not slid out, everything is compressed and you can’t walk through to the “upstairs”.
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At one point, we rearranged the chairs to give us more space for the heater and sitting at the table. We’ve since moved it back.
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Modified dining room sitting area and the stairs to go up into the bedroom/bathroom.
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Empty kitchen/entertainment area when we first got the RV
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Kitchen/entertainment area with all of our belongings in place!
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Kitchen with all of our stuff in place
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Bathroom: standing shower, sink, cabinets
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Bathroom: toilet/hanging space
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Empty bedroom with the bed slide-out (when not slid out, the bed touches the dresser). The mattress lifts up and there is storage underneath.
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Moved in bedroom, closet, and my 3 large drawers
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Dresser area, Jared’s 4 smaller drawers and my storage cabinets beside the closet
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Dresser area in the bedroom (mostly my stuff on top), plastic storage drawers (mine- yes I have a lot of stuff), laundry basket
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We love snuggling on our huge couch! Jared is 6’3″ and we both fit!
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Selfie stick action on a snow day at the camper!