One of the biggest decisions you'll have to make if you want to
travel extensively in an RV is whether to sell your "stick" house (or
condo, mobile home, etc.) or end a lease in a rental unit and sell, give
away, and/or store your possessions.
There are financial and other advantages to doing this, but it's a
huge, scary step for most people and particularly difficult for folks
who have strong ties to their communities.
Then there's the issue of where to establish a legal domicile if you
travel and live in your RV full-time. Should you keep it in the same
state where you've been living or change it to a state that might have
more favorable tax and other financial consequences?
This entry discusses these issues.
WHAT ARE SOME CONSIDERATIONS RE: SELLING MY
HOUSE TO LIVE FULL-TIME IN AN RV?
True full-time RVers do not have any stationary dwelling any more.
It's easier to make that transition if they've been renting than if
they own property they want to sell, especially in this terribly
depressed housing market. Some people like us would be full-timing now
if we could sell our houses without taking a big financial hit.
Just waitin' for those leaves to
come down so we can hit the road again . . . (November, 2010)
About the only bright spot is if they can find suitable tenants to
live in their house until they can recoup their equity in a few
years; rental properties are commanding increasingly higher rates
now than before since so many people are unemployed, have lost their homes to
foreclosures, can't get housing loans because the standards are much
stricter, or are simply fearful of making such a large financial commitment because of the
risk of losing their jobs.
As much as Jim and I would like to sell our house or derive income
from it while we're out of state, we
have no desire to be absentee landlords -- for a variety of good
reasons. For some other folks, it could be a great solution in this
There are some advantages to having a house and going out for
extended RV trips.
If you keep your house for a while you can ease into the full-time RV
lifestyle to see whether it's "right" for you. I recommend a gradual approach to this full-timing stuff anyway.
There is so much to learn about yourself and the whole full-time
lifestyle that it's really risky to sell your house, sell/donate/store
all of your belongings, and hit the road in an RV unless you've been
doing it for long enough periods of time to have a good idea of what
you're getting into.
The early December snow is pretty
but we'd rather be in the sunny Arizona desert! This year's
winter trip was delayed by Jim's
unexpected meniscus surgery. We left a couple days after this. (2010)
I'm sure there are things that even Jim and I haven't considered yet,
and we're about as close to living full-time as we can get while still
owning a house.
When we sell it we'll have a myriad of decisions about
what to sell, what to give away, and what to store. We don't know how
long we'll want to live full time on the road. Should we store the
things we keep in Roanoke or somewhere like Colorado or Texas, closer to
the areas we most frequently visit? Should we keep our medical providers
in Roanoke or choose new ones somewhere else? If so, where??
Early May, 2010: Jim gets the
truck and Cameo ready for our five-month summer trip.
The peonies and bearded irises are just beginning
to bloom. (Want a house in the Roanoke area??)
For some folks these decisions are easier than others. It just
depends on their personal circumstances.
Selling a house to which you've become attached is hard enough. Leaving an
entire community of neighbors, friends, co-workers, organizational ties,
familiar places, and perhaps family members is even tougher on a lot of
retirees and other folks who decide to hit the road in an RV full-time.
You have got to think
realistically about your emotional ties to that area.
What sounds like a grand adventure may be short-lived because you
can't live without someone or something that you left behind, even
if you plan to go back for visits.
It's another one of those things that you can't really know until you
do it. It's only natural to feel some sense of loss and sadness
initially, but most full-timers get over it pretty fast as a whole new
world of exploration and opportunity opens up to them.
Then they start writing blogs and bragging to their family and
friends about all the great places they've been! <grin >
View of Table Mountain and the
"back side" of the Tetons
from our NFS campsite in the
Teton Valley. (September, 2010)
Consider, too, that moving around the country for months or years at a
time can play havoc with health care, group organizations, and other
things that require some continuity. That's one advantage to retaining
some sort of home base and going out for extended trips like we do.
So far Jim and I have kept all of our familiar medical providers. We
see them in the spring and fall when we go back to check on the house.
We've been able several times to find competent medical providers when
we've needed them on the road, however. When we do sell our house and go
full-time, we'll find new providers in another city that's more
centrally located to the areas where we like to travel or in the place
where we think we might "settle down" when we come off the road.
Keep in mind that choosing a full-time RV lifestyle doesn't have to
You can always change your mind if it isn't satisfying.
Don't worry about the curmudgeons who might say, "Told you so!"
Find a new house, condo, or apartment where you used to live. Sell
the RV or use it for shorter trips. Get your belongings out of storage and live the
life you really want to live.
Heading west on US 285 from Kenosha Pass to the Collegiate Peaks
in Colorado (Aug., 2010)
Chances are, however, that you will find that selling your house and
putting what you want to keep for "someday in the future" in storage
will be quite liberating, allowing you to thoroughly enjoy your new
journey to parts unknown!
WHICH LIFESTYLE WOULD JIM & I MISS THE MOST?
Jim and I have few ties to the Roanoke area, as I talked about in an
earlier entry. I do have some attachment to our house and woods and the
general beauty of the region (Blue Ridge Parkway, Appalachian Trail,
etc.) but selling that place won't be as difficult as all the changes I
made when I left the Atlanta area after living there for 25 years. I adapted
fairly quickly to that new adventure, and I will do it even
faster now with many fewer ties to the Roanoke area.
At this point in our lives it would definitely be harder to give up our RV
lifestyle than our house.
View of Longs Peak from our
campsite in Rocky Mountain Natl. Park, CO (September, 2010)
A runner who is considering selling her house to live in an RV
recently asked us what we miss most about our house when we're traveling
in our RV for long periods of time. I answered her direct question in an
it made me realize that I'd miss a whole lot more if I could
no longer travel in our RV for long periods of time:
The freedom to roam just about anywhere we please around the country.
Hanging out in warm weather during the winter and cool
weather in the summer (if we out-maneuver Mother Nature correctly).
Every day is Saturday. Few or no schedules or demands on our time.
Sleeping as late as we want. No need for an alarm clock except on race
An occasional sunrise (we'd rather sleep late!) A leisurely cup of café
Vienna in the morning as we catch up on e-mail. Planning new adventures.
Meeting interesting people in the campground or on a wilderness trail.
Spotting another Cameo in our campground or on the road. Serendipitous
discoveries of every kind. Visiting a national park that is new to us.
Revisiting local, state, and national parks we love. Learning about
local archeological and cultural history. Exploring ancient Native
American sites. Living smack dab in the middle of a forest, desert, or
mountain range. Running, hiking, and cycling in some of the most
beautiful terrain imaginable. Exploring a new trail and seeing what's
around each bend. Ditto for winding roads through the mountains.
Panoramic views from the summit of high peaks. A kaleidoscope of
wildflowers in an alpine basin. Tiny sun-dappled waves dancing across a
lake. Water cascading over rocks in a rushing stream. The visceral pull
of the tides on the Gulf coast. Birds singing and squirrels chatting
away on branches above my head. Coyote choruses. Moose slurping water
from a mountain creek. Elk bugling near the campground during the
rut. Dozens of baby alligators swimming around their mama in the
wetlands. Watching Cody roll around in snow on a mountain - in July.
Sunset over the Grand Canyon. Sunset reflected in a lake. Sunsets
anywhere. Gazing at the stars on a clear night. The thrill of seeing a
meteor shower. A full moon hike in the Arizona desert. Owls hooting.
I could go on and on but you "get the picture."
I didn't mention anything about cities or populated areas, did I?
Gee, what a surprise!
This isn't our idea of fun, either -- photo of the
winter crowd of snowbirds at Quartzite, AZ
(from the January, 2011 "Highways" magazine
published by the
Good Sam Club)
Escaping to nature isn't as important for some other RVers. They'd
much prefer to hang out in or near urban areas or with thousands of
other RVers in Quartzite, AZ all winter. That's fine for them. It's just not us.
Remember: the RV
lifestyle is whatever you want it to be.
WHAT ELSE IS A "HOME BASE" IN RELATION TO FULL-TIME RVing?
January 3 entries I used the term "home base" to mean having a
house, condo, mobile home, apartment, or other type of dwelling and traveling in an
RV for extended periods of time.
"Home base" has another meaning for full-time RVers -- it's
their legal residence or domicile, the place where they register their vehicles, get
their drivers license, buy vehicle insurance, have their mail sent, vote,
pay some taxes, etc.
If you are retired or earn no income in the state in which you've
been living -- and can prove that you live there less than six
months of the year -- you may be able to choose another state to
claim as your legal residence. (States have different residency rules,
Why would anyone do this? To save a bunch of money, that's why.
South Dakota is a full-timers'
friendly state, one of seven with no state income tax.
(view of Mt. Rushmore framed by a
tunnel, May, 2009)
For example -- if you had the choice -- in these crazy economic times would you rather claim
residency in a state like New York or California that levies high income taxes,
has multi-billion dollar budget shortfalls, and must either raise taxes and
fees even higher than they are and/or seriously cut services . . .
. . .
or would you rather claim residency in a state that is more fiscally
responsible and collects no income tax or outrageous fees that
will affect you (think vehicle/RV registration and "personal property
Entrepreneurs and high-income earners aren't the only ones
migrating out of states like that in droves and into states with more
favorable tax rates and legislators with more fiscal sense. So are
Lake Livingston SP, Texas (Feb.,
2010). The headquarters of the large Escapees RV Club,
which caters to full-time RVers,
is located nearby. Texas has no state income tax.
States have a vested interest in this whole process, too. Each one
wants as many residents as possible (for federal dollars and
representation in Congress) and as much tax money as they can collect.
Some states bend over backwards to encourage full-timers to establish a
home base there by eliminating taxes on their income and keeping other
taxes and fees that affect them (and everyone else) at a reasonable rate.
Note that I am not dispensing legal advice here. I'm not a lawyer
or tax advisor, and I certainly don't know your particular
circumstances. I'm just a wannabe full-timer who's learned a thing or
two about this lifestyle and I'm putting it out there for your
consideration. You can thank me after you've done your own research and
talked to your own lawyers and tax advisors!
HOW DO I CHOOSE A LEGAL DOMICILE?
We first learned about this subject from an RVing friend we met a
couple years ago when we were in need of a good professional mailing
service. Further discussion and research led to the whole issue of
full-time RVers being able to choose a home base. Here are some basics:
State income taxes: Every full-time RVer has some type of
income. If it's high enough, Uncle Sam and 43 states want a portion of
It is my understanding that at the current time (before state legislators have a chance to screw
around with their laws this term) seven states -- Alaska,
Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming --
do not collect taxes on any type of individual income, including wages,
pensions, Social Security, dividends, and interest. Two states, New
Hampshire and Tennessee, tax some wages but not most sources of income
that retirees have.
Don't take my word for this, however, because the states are
continually tinkering with their laws. Do your own timely research.
There are other financial considerations regarding the choice of a
home base besides state income taxes. That's just the most obvious
factor. Making a poor decision
about other costs might wipe out any income tax savings a particular state
offers. You might actually come out ahead if you choose a state with
a low income tax but lower taxes and fees on everything else that
affects your wallet.
Mustang Island, TX
Here are some other factors to consider:
- State sales or excise tax, which will affect how much you
pay in taxes for a new RV, tow vehicle, or towed vehicle. Even if you
buy a new vehicle in a high-tax state, you will pay only the sales tax
levied by your state of residency if it's lower. If your home
base state has a tax rate of 6%, for example, you'll pay considerably
more than you will to a state with a 3% rate on vehicles. Purchase
even a $100,000 RV, which is low-end for a Class A or C motorhome, and
you're talking about a chunk of change -- a difference of
$3,000 in that simplified example.
- Vehicle registration fees and license tag fees --
compare current rates among the states you're considering. Some charge
flat fees, others figure the rates on weight, age, and/or $$ value of the
- Personal property taxes on vehicles -- try to find a
state that doesn't charge this because it can add up to thousands of
dollars on an RV and tow or towed vehicle.
- Insurance rates for vehicles vary widely among and inside
states for many reasons (claims, weather hazards, mandatory state
minimums for liability, different insurance company rates, etc.);
do your homework. Be sure to include coverage for the
contents of your RV, too.
- State emissions tests and/or vehicle safety inspections
don't cost much but they can be a big hassle if you're traveling
around the country and your home base is at the other end of
the country when one of these tests is due. Some states do not require
either emissions tests or inspections.
- Estate and inheritance taxes -- some states have
none, one, or both -- in addition to federal estate taxes!
- Voting -- compare address requirements and procedures for registering to
vote and voting absentee. You may not be
interested in local issues if you don't actually live in the area, but to be a good citizen we think it's
important to vote on state and national issues. We do it by absentee
ballot when we're traveling.
- Some people have to change their medical insurance when
they change their residency from one state to another = more
homework to do!
The alligators at Brazos Bend SP in Texas won't put
you in the hospital
unless you get too close to them!
Here are even more things to consider if you're thinking about
changing your legal domicile.
It's best to have a current driver's license from your home
base state. You'll most likely have to appear in person for that,
especially to get one of the new federally-compliant Real ID driver's licenses that will
soon be mandatory for all U.S. citizens. You may
also have to appear in person to register to vote. Some states allow you to
register by mail.
It's also a good idea to rewrite your will to comply with your
new state's laws to eliminate problems if you die unexpectedly while
WHY ARE ALL THESE STEPS RECOMMENDED?
Many government drones simply don't understand the concept or
legalities of extended-travel or full-time RVing. To avoid any hassles
from the state you left re: taxes they say you owe them, get all
of your ducks in a row in your new state as quickly as possible after
you make the decision to change residency. The more proof of residency
you have, all the way down to a library card, the better your case if you end
up in a tax dispute.
You may also want to consider changing your
medical providers, bank/credit union account(s), and phone number to
your new legal domicile. That's more for residency proof than
convenience. I don't see any real need to change
financial accounts when you can do everything online, and cell phone numbers
are portable from one state to another.
Nevada has no state income tax, either. (Lake
Tahoe, July, 2009)
Choosing an appropriate RV home base for your particular situation takes a lot of time and
research. It's well worth it unless you're rolling in dough and don't
care how much the government gets. Just be sure to use information from
each state that is as
current as possible because any of these factors can change from year to
If you'd like a handy way to compare taxes, fees, cost of living, and
a lot of other useful data between the fifty states, I recommend the
book, Choosing Your RV Home Base. It's a fairly comprehensive
planning guide by Roundabout Publications that is updated yearly. It's
interesting to read even if you aren't considering moving to another
state or claiming another state as your legal domicile.
It does not contain all the information you need, however.
You'll need to do some further research to get all the facts.
Also double-check the
figures with the specific locality you're considering in case
any of the information has changed since the last book was published.
Dramatic sunset at Galveston
Island SP, Texas (February, 2008)
Then keep your fingers crossed that if you choose a state with no or low
taxes and fees,
the legislature doesn't vote to increase them significantly in the future to help
balance the budget! States that have gone this route already are
very short-sighted because more people -- not just full-timers
-- have fled to states that levy lower personal and business taxes.
Just ask California, New York, Connecticut, and some other states how
this has backfired on them.
Next topic in the series: how to stay "connected" in your
RV while gallivanting around the country -- internet, mail, TV,
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil