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How I Researched and Purchased My First RV

The search for my first RV started soon after purchasing twenty acres for my off-the-grid house. My initial search for basic RV living information started on the good old dummynet! The internet is good and bad: just as there is a lot of good information; there is also a lot of really bad information. Not only that, but when looking for product information, it can be completely overwhelming. I recommend using the internet as a cursory search tool but for you to do the majority of your research in person. Yes, that means investing in personal interaction with other human beings!

You can also join social media groups who are living the mobile lifestyle and search posts for the same questions you have. Trust me, you are not the only person who has gone this route. You will be able to ask questions of people who are actually living the lifestyle; it doesn’t get any better than that. Again, do not rely on this method solely. You still need to get out and search for RVs. Test out your plan yourself. Like I said earlier, this is your journey, so you need to figure out what is going to work best for you.  

I started by looking at various types of RVs, used and new, for sale on the internet. This did not make me an expert by any means, but it did give me insight into the different types, and most importantly, what the heck one of these things costs. I’m not going to candy-coat it—at first, I was completely overwhelmed by the options. Any simple search for RVs for sale will bring up hundreds to thousands of results depending on your search parameters. Patience and due diligence are key. Take your time and do not rush into anything you will regret later.

At that point in my life, I had never owned an RV, so I was a complete rookie. My grandparents had owned an RV that I went on a couple of trips in, and I had several friends who owned them, but that was the extent of my knowledge and experience. Another important point—they were using their RVs for vacations. I was planning on living in mine for part of the year, so this was a very different approach to an RV.

Once I did my basic research, I contacted a couple of RV dealers and explained to the salespeople what my needs were, the extent of my budget, and how I planned to use the RV. These answers would not address all my questions, but they gave me a starting point to figure out what I was actually looking for and what the price range would be. I knew that it would be best to purchase a used RV for a couple reasons. First, I had no clue what I was doing, so the lower the investment, the lower the risk. Second, the price would be low enough that I could pay cash and not have to worry about carrying debt, just in case I changed my mind on this lifestyle down the road. There are many people who have bought expensive RVs, used them once, and now the monstrosities sit in their yards while the owners make payments for years for something they never use—do not be that person!

Here is another option: I didn’t do this, but for people who are really not sure about how far they want to go in this mobile lifestyle, or even if it is for them, renting an RV from time to time to test it out is not a bad idea. Here are some of the benefits of doing it this way:

1. The financial commitment is minimal.

2. You can test a variety of options before you purchase.

3. You can evaluate the mobile lifestyle and decide if it is for you.

In addition, if you are interested in living an off-the-grid lifestyle, an RV is a good way to getting familiar with its many facets, including camping out in the woods or in remote areas.

Eventually, I narrowed down what I was looking for, a travel trailer between eighteen and twenty feet in length. This is considered a small travel trailer by today’s standards. The reason I decided to select this size was for two major reasons: First, I had a small truck, so I needed something small and light in order to be able to tow it. Second, a smaller RV meant a lower price of entry to get started.

I ended up purchasing a used eighteen-foot travel trailer from an RV dealer. The reason I ended up purchasing from a dealer was that it came with a warranty. Unless you purchase a very new RV from a private seller, you get what you get. I will tell you, when things break in an RV, it can be an expensive fix unless you are handy and know how to do it yourself. For me, it was worth a little extra money to have that peace of mind that if anything went wrong, the dealer would fix it.

Here was my setup at this point:

2005 4X4 V6 Toyota Tacoma, plus a 2003 eighteen-foot Lightweight tow-behind travel trailer (these travel trailers are designed to be towed by smaller trucks or SUVs). 

I bought both the truck and travel trailer used. The truck was $22,000, and the travel trailer was $9,000, so a total investment of $31,000. I know some of you are falling out of your chairs thinking that is expensive and completely out of your financial means. As I said earlier, this lifestyle doesn’t fall out of trees. You need to have money to get started. Another important point—this was my transportation and home all in one! When you look at it from that perspective, that is dirt cheap. Also, I made sure this was within my financial means. I paid cash and had no residual payments. I’m a realist. I’m just giving you this as an example of how I did it. I would say, though, from my experience, this amount is not out of the norm for what people would spend to outfit such a venture. Some people spend far, far more than this because they have the money to do so.

When you factor in that the average sale price of an existing American home is around $300,000 and new construction with land is over $400,000 today (2021), I consider $31,000 for complete freedom a deal!

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