The retired Swiss couple I met at a restaurant in Bandipur, Nepal were full-time RVers. They’d just arrived from India and were traveling through Asia in their German camper van. Talk about traveling in faith! I asked a million questions about living in a motorhome over buffalo momos and chicken Thukpa soup (Is living in an RV cheaper than a house? Do RVers freeze in the motorhome in winter or spring? How often do thieves break into camper vans?).
Below is a summary of my discussion with the travel-happy RV couple from Switzerland. I also share an interview I did with an American couple who created a detailed RV retirement plan while they were both still working. Steve and Mona Liza Lowe spent a few years decluttering their house, saving money, and researching RV living. They retired early, donated or sold most of their belongings, sold their house in California, and started living full-time in their motorhome. Their dream was to travel through the U.S. and Canada; now they’ve been RVing for almost 10 years.
My dream is to live like a gypsy and travel the world. I don’t want to buy a huge motor coach (like Steve and Mona Liza’s) or even a smaller motorhome. My dream RV is the German camper van: big enough to do yoga and small enough to easily fit in a parking spot in a city. The Swiss couple said it’s possible to live in an RV in the winter but I think even the “milder” coastal winters are too cold for me! It was really cold in Bandipur’s mountains – so close to the Himalayas. The German camper van has heat and electricity, so those RVers were snugs as bugs in rugs.
Traveling Through Asia in a German Camper Van
The Swiss couple drove through Russia, Middle Asia, India, and several countries surrounding Nepal. They spent several days in Bhutan but couldn’t drive their camper van into the Kingdom (currently, all visitors to Bhutan must be on escorted tours, no private trips for tourists). I didn’t get the couple’s exact itinerary – nor did I write anything down while we were talking because I didn’t realize I’d be writing a blog post about RV life! At that point I hadn’t even created Travel in Faith.
But I write in my journal every night, whether or not I’m on vacation. Here’s what I learned from the retired Swiss couple about driving an RV through parts of Asia and Europe…
Does it cost more to travel in an RV than live in a house?
Living in an RV is much cheaper than living in a house. Of course, this depends on the housing market and type of RV or camper van. The Swiss couple owns a home (the mortgage is paid) in Bern, Switzerland. It’s currently rented, which is a source of income for them. The man was a Swiss banker; his income while he was working and retirement strategy would have been very intelligently planned out.
How long do RVers travel for? Where do they go?
The Swiss couple planned to RV around Asia for one year, but are still traveling after three years. The woman said she was hesitant to commit to even a year of RVing but isn’t ready to retire at home yet. They’re in their late 60s, all their parents have passed on, their two daughters are adults without husbands or children, and everyone is healthy. They think they’ll RV through Africa for another couple of years, then retire back home in Switzerland.
What if one partner wants to RV and the other wants to retire at home?
If my husband was ready to retire, I’d already have a camper van fueled up, the house packed, and the travel apps loaded. But we’re still in the “should we live and travel in a RV for a month and see how it goes?” discussion phase. It’s my dream to live in a camper van. I don’t want to retire, I want to write and travel. The Swiss couple faced the opposite problem: the wife would never have planned to spend her retirement years driving around Asia in a motorhome. The husband started the process by investigating the price of German camper vans, calculating fuel costs, planning routes and destinations. He even went to Germany alone to see different types of RVs, camper vans and motorhomes.
How do you know if you can handle an RV lifestyle after retirement?
The Swiss couple went on a few group tours in Russia and India before buying the camper van and renting their house in Bern. The husband asked the driver and tour guides questions about road safety, sleeping areas, RV security, motorhome repairs, and even the best type of camper van to buy. Those group tours convinced the husband he could drive through Asia alone, and helped the wife see that RVing might be a fun, interesting way to retire.
The amazing part of traveling these days are the apps! MapsMe, uMap, MapOut, Booking.com, Kayak, Currency Exchange – there are thousands of helpful, reliable travel apps. They make travel so easy, whether you’re a retired couple RVing in India or banned from boarding a flight in Kathmandu (like I was).
3 Tips for Planning Your Retirement and RVing Full-time
Steve and Mona Liza Lowe were RVing through Canada when I interviewed them. Their blog is called Lowes Travels; they mapped out their RV adventures in different colors and years so you can easily see where they’ve been. Most recently they’ve been RVing in Indonesia and Australia.
How did this couple save enough money to retire early, buy an RV, and travel the world? They’ve mastered the concept of cheap RV living. They also started their RV retirement planning early, stuck to their plans, and didn’t let setbacks or problems stop them.
“This journey of ours is about pursuing a dream, living simply, and enjoying every moment of life,” says Mona Liza.
1. Start saving for a motorhome or camper van as soon as possible
Mona Liza and Steve had stable technology careers, and were good at saving money. They also tried to invest their money wisely throughout their lives. Unfortunately, I didn’t ask how expensive it is to live in an RV or how much their daily travel costs are. I suspect the cost of RV living fluctuates dramatically and depends on the travelers, location, fuel price, time of the year, food and lifestyle choices, health issues, motorhome size and shape, and how often they go to hotels and restaurants.
Regardless of how much it it costs to live in an RV, it’s smart to have a monthly budget. It’s also important to have enough money saved up to pay for unexpected repairs, accidents, and even health issues that require hospital visits or prescription medications.
The Lowes had an early retirement plan, but they didn’t know they’d be living in an RV full-time when they started saving money to retire. “Once we were married, we worked as a team to save for an early retirement,” says Steve. “We don’t have children, and of course we realize that the huge costs of raising kids would have delayed our plans. We lived below our means (no new cars, few meals out and reasonable vacations) during the first 10 years we were together. Anyone with financial discipline can do what we have done – if they start early in their career.”
When they decided to buy a motorhome and retire as full-time RVers, they developed a detailed budget to support their retirement plan. “We continued working until we had saved enough to pay off all of our debts, and until we believed my pension would fund our budget,” says Steve. “Having a sizable emergency fund is crucial in this lifestyle, since many major repairs on a motor home can cost thousands of dollars (just like with a house). We also continue to save into an account that allows us to take “side trips” overseas or an occasional cruise.”
2. Expect downsizing your house to be difficult emotionally
“It took two months to sell, donate, give away and trash our possessions,” says Mona Liza. “Due to limited space and weight constraints I couldn’t take all my shoes, my purses and clothes! I have to choose wisely taking with me what I only need and what fits in the limited storage.”
Steve was pleased to downsize. I’d feel the same way because I love to get rid of stuff. That’s part of why I’m suited to the gypsy or RV lifestyle. I want as few possessions as possible. I’ve always traveled lightly and believe that less is more. But, many people accumulate more things every year and have a hard time letting go of their possessions. That may be partly why my husband isn’t as keen on an RV retirement plan. He keeps stuff around just in case we need it because you never know what might come in handy someday. He’s right; some things have come in handy. But full-time RV living requires simplicity and space. It’s a retirement plan that requires two free hands.
“It’s hard to describe the liberating feeling of getting rid of almost all of our personal possessions, including our home,” says Steve. “Starting over in an RV was incredible. Daily life is so simple now. Even though I clean and maintain the motorhome and car, it is such a joy to have so little to worry about on a daily basis.”
“Getting rid of most of your stuff and simplifying sounds crazy and terrifying, but it is freeing,” says Mona Liza. “Downsizing is not emotionally easy, but I know it can be done. I found it difficult to shed our stuff from a big house to a motorhome but I am so glad I did.”
3. Learn the art of saying goodbye…and hello…and goodbye
“Living on the road also means bidding goodbye not only to family and friends, but also to the people that you have relationships with,” says Mona Liza. “I made my last appointments with my dental hygienist, my masseuse, my hair stylist, my periodontist, my eye doctor, our landscaper and our neighbors all of whom were sad to see us go. They were happy about our RV retirement plan and new beginning, though!”
Another retirement option is to retire somewhere that costs less than your current home. Some people retire to Florida or Panama, but what about India or Africa? Read Should You Move to Africa? 7 Mistakes to Avoid.
Your thoughts – big and little – on RVing as a retirement plan. If you’re selling a German camper van or small motorhome, please tell me about it! I’m in the market for a small, newish camper that is big enough for yoga and small enough to drive in the city :-)
Resources for the RV Lifestyle
In So, You Want to Be An RVer? by John and Kathy Huggins. If you’re thinking or dreaming about becoming a full-time or part-time RVer, then this is the book for you.
Learn what John and Kathy found out the hard way in 11 years of full-time RVing. The advice they offer is based on their experience motoring and traveling the world. They offer tips for choosing the right rig, buying the best RV for you, camping and beyond. They also discuss what you need in your motorhome and why – as well as their most memorable lessons learned.
Retire to an RV: The Roadmap to Affordable Retirement by Jaimie Hall Bruzenak and Alice Zyetz is another good resource for couples considering full time RV living. Is RVing a good retirement plan for you? Can you afford to retire AND travel 365 days a year? This book will help you make this decision. It not only combines the authors’ knowledge, but tips from 41 solo and couple RVers who contributed their experiences to all aspects of retiring and living on the road. This book address key questions about full time RV living as a retirement plan.