Tips & Picks

Living The Mobile Lifestyle in Retirement - Chapter 3 - The Turtle Life: Buying an RV

Betty Fitterman - By Betty Fitterman
If the idea of mobile living, with its cost savings and opportunities for travel, appeals to you, my advice is take it easy.  Try before you buy.  Don’t rush headlong into a major investment before you sample the lifestyle.  Remember that like any vehicle, an RV will lose significant value once you drive it off the lot. 

Fourteen years ago, we took a vacation in a rental RV.  You can rent RVs pretty much anywhere in the country.  We flew into Denver and picked up our rental there, a 23’ Class C, the kind that looks like a truck in front.  I slept on the sofa and John slept over the cab.  We picked up our son Jeff at CU Boulder (the dining booth also converted to sleeping) and did the Rockies.  It was an amazing trip and we thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Rank amateurs, we took off low-hanging tree branches, learned by default how to park without too much collateral damage, added a few scrapes to the body of the RV, then turned it in and walked away.  The insurance we took was well worth it, believe you me.

Some years later, John took off on a solo trip in another rental, this time for three months, where he followed the competitive trapshooting circuit around the country and gained more experience handling a big rig – and had a few more incidents, like the awning that was shaved off by a gas pump overhead structure, then the mini-tornado that ripped off the new awning – and threw John out of a golf cart, by the way.  Renting cost $10,000 for the three months, so we began to consider buying something.

We ended up with a used 28’ Class C for about $62,000, which John took to his trapshooting events for a year.  It had a queen-size bed you crawled into, a tiny kitchen with a teeny sink and room for 2 guests to sleep over.   Without good hydraulics, it swayed on the road, and you couldn’t sit for long in the back without getting carsick.   But it was perfect for a guy hauling his guns, his rations and his dog to faraway places.

Last year, in that selfsame RV, we went to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts for a week.  It was our first time backing our RV onto a ferry, and it was quite a breathtaking experience.  Literally.  It was another great vacation, nevertheless.  We grilled dinner over the campfire, sat outside by a lake in the evenings and actually talked to each other.  Long, lazy conversations, a roaring fire, a cozy lap blanket and a glass a wine.  Heaven.

I should mention at this point that with a big RV, you get to where you’re going and you settle in.   You don’t drive this thing into town for an ice cream soda.  First of all, you’re big and most town streets are narrow.  You don’t just stop and run in for your treat.  Not unless you want to cause a traffic jam in a town that hasn’t had one since Old Dobbin threw a shoe while pulling a Conestoga down Main Street in 1865.

Besides, you’re tethered to electricity, water and waste disposal, you have your levelers down (so you don’t sleep uphill) and unhooking everything is a major pain.  So you either stay put, or you rent a Jeep, as we did in the Vineyard, for local touring.  And hot fudge sundaes.  Not that I ever have anything so caloric.

(Note:  There’s another kind of RV called a Fifth Wheel that is towed behind a truck and can be detached and left behind when you want to leave the campground.  I’ve been in them but never driven one, so I can’t speak with any authority on them.  They appear to have good living space and cost considerably less than a motor home, but you have to buy a truck to pull it.  You can compare both types at most dealers.)

When I finally agreed to permanent Turtle Living, the one thing I was adamant about was space.  I knew I couldn’t live full time in our tiny camper, so we traded our 28’ rig for a 41’ Class A Mobile Coach.  It looks like a bus, drives like a bus, and we had lots of adventures mastering its excesses (check out my blog).  But it has a king bed, tons of storage, two bathroom sinks (I took the big one), a double sink in the kitchen, four slides that double its width when parked, two flat-screen TV’s, a washing machine and … you get the idea.  Now this I could live in. 

The point here is, before we committed to living full time on the road, we tried this lifestyle out.  Before we committed to buying something that costs almost as much as a small retirement home, we tried it out.  Even then, we bought a used vehicle.  In two years we may be ready for a brand new top-of-the-line rig.  Or not.  We’re adventurous, but we’re not foolhardy.  Taking baby steps into this lifestyle, we were able to ease our way in without losing our money, our minds or our marriage. 

I hope the same for you.

Betty Fitterman
Bio Information:  Betty Fitterman was in advertising for over 30 years before her retirement in July of this year.  An award-winning writer, she was EVP/Creative Director and a member of the Board of Directors of Lintas Advertising until 1997, when she and her partner Frank DeVito formed DeVito Fitterman Advertising, which today is a successful agency serving blue chip clients like Johnson & Johnson, Ricola, ASCAP. Fujifilm and Arch Insurance, among others.    To read her humorous observances on mobile living, visit her blog at


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