Housing has never been a particularly good investment for most people — and in retirement, maintaining a home generates a lot of work at the very time most people want to start winding down a little. Once the kids are gone, all that extra space becomes an expense to heat and cool, and another place where junk gets shuffled and stored for time without end.
There’s an alternative to maintaining a home that many find both liberating and financially rewarding — selling the house, and trading it for living in an RV. I can speak with some authority on the RV lifestyle, because my wife and I were full-timers for the better part of four years. I even wrote a book about our experiences. For many, the best choice of a home during their later years may be no house at all.
The mobile lifestyle avoids many of the problems associated with traditional housing. Even if you borrow part of the cost of your RV or camper, it’s still financed, taxed, and insured like a car — so there’s no mortgage company involved. Other than tags and insurance, your ongoing costs are fuel, maintenance, and lot rental at campgrounds and RV parks.
When we liked a place, we stayed. If we didn't like it or got tired of it, we moved on.
At RV resorts, the park management takes care of maintaining your lawn, such as it is, and the clubhouse, pool, and common areas. Most parks have a wide variety of activities and events that include golf outings, cruises, card nights, casino trips, and sometimes live entertainment. If you want to get away from civilization, most state parks offer wilderness camping, and the US Corps of Engineers maintains a vast network of limited service camping areas, usually in very remote locations. You can tailor life on the road to fit your preferences and personality.
Traveling in an RV is peculiar in that wherever you stop, you’re home. You wake up in the same bed, eat breakfast at the same table, watch the news on the same TV; the only difference is what you see when you open the front door or look out the window. Sometimes it feels like you’re standing still while the world revolves under your tires.
There are tradeoffs, of course, and one of those is space. You’ll be trading 1,500 to 2,000 square feet of living space for around 400 or less. That’s quite an adjustment, even for people who were already space conscious. It means shedding yourself of the accumulated possessions of a lifetime, and condensing them down to what will fit in a limited amount of storage. We made the mistake of leaving a pile of our possessions in a storage unit that we paid on for years, and then ended up junking most of what we left behind. If you’re going to cut the cord and travel, just do it.
While you won’t have room to accommodate visiting kids and grandkids, you would be able to select RV parks and camping areas near family, at least during the warm seasons. We have many friends who divide their time between children scattered around the country; going to stay the summer near one on the east coast and the next year off to the west coast to stay near the other. In times of family crisis they relocate, and stay to help until the weather forces them south. Mobility is wonderfully liberating.
While we had to take a break from our life on the road for personal reasons, it was the most low-stress lifestyle we have ever lived, and there’s a world of outdoor activities right outside your door. Freed from the petty demands of maintaining a home, we walked and biked wilderness areas across the country. I took my sea kayak out to the salt marshes near Cape Canaveral, and spent endless days exploring the shallow saltwater lagoons. When we liked a place, we stayed. If we didn't like it or got tired of it, we moved on. If we got along well with the neighbors, which was the vast majority of the time, we would have cookouts and regular get-togethers. If someone moved in we didn't fit with as well, we could move to another part of the park. We made lifelong friends all over the country.
Many of our neighbors were motorcycle enthusiasts, and large groups would go on long rides every weekend. Sometimes smaller groups of friends caravaned north and south together, staying at the same parks summer and winter. Other times a few would group up and take cross-country trips. Some years they would take a break from the road and just relax where they were.
You can still work if you choose to do so; several of our RV neighbors had full-time jobs, many worked part-time, a few even ran their own businesses. We met groups of people with specialty trades who traveled the country, going from job to job like modern day Bedouins. We met medical transcriptionists, airline pilots, medical billers, writers, musicians, and one couple who transformed their custom RV into a high tech workstation for IT support. While most people are either retired or semi-retired, you'll meet a surprising number of people still pursuing their work passion.
When you’re considering your options for retirement, instead of a condo or retirement village, the best option may be no house at all.