**The image above was taken on Friday at our campground on the NC coast.
One of the most common concerns for those contemplating travel therapy is regarding housing. Most people love the hearing about the higher pay and adventure of traveling around this beautiful country but are nervous about the uncertainty of housing. Unfortunately, there is a lot of uncertainty. I’ll go through some of the various housing options, and explain why we decided before ever graduating PT school and starting our traveling careers that traveling by RV was going to be the best for us.
People often ask us if the travel company sets up the housing for you. Yes, there is the option of having your travel company find housing for you, but if you go this route the company will use your housing stipend to pay for the housing which will likely mean $2,000+ less take home pay per month. Also, I have heard stories of people having to commute an hour each way from their company provided housing to their assignment which would be terrible in my opinion. This may be the easiest and most convenient option in some cases, but you will definitely pay for the convenience.
If company provided housing isn’t ideal, then what other options are there? Well, there are a few. You could always travel to places where you have family or friends to stay with, but this would certainly limit your options for location. You can try to find an apartment complex in the area that would be willing to let you sign a three month lease. However, this is often impossible to find. When we were first starting out, we decided to go the apartment route for the first assignment while we saved to buy our RV. We called about 20 complexes in the area of our first assignment, and six month leases were as short as they would go, and in most cases 12 months. So usually this just won’t work when your contract is for the usual 13 weeks (plus there’s always the uncertainty that they could end your contract early and you’d be stuck in a lease, or you may end up extending your contract and your lease may not be flexible). In addition, if you do find a place that will allow you a three month lease, you have to see if it can be furnished or you have to rent or move furniture and set up your own utilities. If an apartment complex doesn’t work out, you can search Craigslist for housing, but this is hit or miss and can be time consuming. On our first assignment we found housing on Craigslist, but it was a bedroom in a house in which the owner was extremely particular about things. We were very unhappy with the set up, but it was the only convenient option in the area. You can look for housing on AirBnB or VRBO. These places are furnished with utilities included most of the time, but you’re going to be paying a premium for this, and, as with Craiglist, it is hit or miss based on your location. You can choose corporate housing which are furnished (which is usually where the travel company will place you if you go that route), but these places know that you have limited options for short term housing so they are not cheap. We spoke to a complex in our hometown about corporate housing and their rate was $2,200 per month for a one bedroom (furnished with utilities) while a normal yearly lease for a one bedroom would have only been $800 per month. You could stay at an extended stay motel, which is generally quite a bit cheaper than corporate housing ($1,200-$1,500 for the ones we’ve priced). However, these are often not in the best parts of town and the furnishings often leave a lot to be desired. The last option is to buy an RV and stay at a campground near your assignment. I will expand more on the pros and cons of this below. We were already pretty sure this is the route we wanted to go, and after our bad Craigslist experience, it solidified our decision. We never wanted to have to pack and move our stuff again or risk being in another housing situation we hated. A camper was the only option that made sense for us.
Neither Whitney nor I had ever spent even one night in an RV. We were complete beginners, but we knew that it would be the only way that we would continue traveling. We started reading and learning about campers and trucks back when we were still in PT school, and really started narrowing down our search several months before we were planning on buying. We went to an RV show while we were first starting to learn about them in our last year of PT school, and as time grew closer to buying, we scoured every RV sales place near us as well as the internet for sales in Virginia and surrounding states. After looking at hundreds, we determined that it would be better for us to air on the side of buying something too big than risk getting a camper that was too small. We found that a fifth wheel fit our needs better than a regular travel trailer. We set a budget of $40,000 to buy both the camper and the truck which meant that we would be buying both of them used. This price was a big factor in waiting until after our first assignment to buy, because right out of school we didn’t have very much money saved up, and we preferred to buy them outright instead of financing. We ended up waiting for 6 months after starting working to buy. During our search, we made a list of all of the features and amenities that we couldn’t live without. After scouring RV lots, Craigslist, and RVtrader.com for hundreds of hours, we found a fifth wheel with a layout that we loved and for a price that we could afford. Then, we found a truck that had the features needed to tow our camper. In the end we paid about $35,000 for our 2009 fifth wheel and our 2005 diesel F-250. This was a big upfront cost, but more than worth it in our opinion. We have now been living in the fifth wheel for our past four travel assignments and wouldn’t do it any other way. Let’s look at the pros and cons of living in a camper to see why we believe it’s the best option for most travelers.
- Cheaper monthly living costs
- No scouring the internet for short term rentals
- No packing or moving furniture
- No setting up utilities
- Consistency with your surroundings/home
- Quicker turn around from one assignment to the next
- Initial learning curve for camper living, setup, driving, etc
- Upfront costs
- Maintenance on camper
- Less living space
- General “camper life” things such as dealing with water tanks, sewer, setup/breakdown
Although we paid upfront costs of $35,000 for the camper and truck, we estimate that we are able to save about $1,000/month on housing costs staying at a campground vs. finding short term housing. Our average housing at campgrounds has been about $520/month to this point compared to $1,200-$1,700 (sometimes much more) for short term housing options with utilities and furnishing included. Add in the costs of maintenance/repairs, personal property taxes, and extra cost of gas, and we probably come out about $800/month ahead. Since we plan to travel for about five years total, the truck and fifth wheel will more than pay for themselves. In addition, when we finish traveling we estimate we will be able to sell the truck and fifth wheel for somewhere between $20,000-$25,000 which will allow us to recover much of that upfront cost. Based on my estimates, we will save about $33,000 by living in the fifth wheel for five years compared to living in short term housing, and this includes a loss of $15,000 on depreciation of our truck and camper.
Finding somewhere to stay while living in the camper is fairly easy- much easier than the alternative. Once we find two jobs that are near each other, we immediately look for campgrounds that are between the two assignments, find prices on their websites, call to confirm availability at the campsite, and make a decision. Usually this can be done in an hour or less if we are able to call during their business hours. This is so much more convenient than just guessing at whether we will be able to find housing between our two jobs. Even if there is an apartment complex on the map, there are again a lot of stipulations as to whether they will have openings and if they can do a short term lease. If you’re going with other options like corporate housing, extended stay motel, Craigslist, or Airbnb, your search is going to take a lot longer and have a lot more uncertainty, all while your recruiter is waiting to hear whether you’re going to take the job or not. Otherwise, if you accept the job upfront BEFORE finding housing, you’re really going to be at the mercy of whatever you can find, despite the cost, the hassle, or the distance, because you already accepted the job.
We have determined that securing everything inside the camper, unhooking everything from the outside and hooking the camper to the truck takes us about three hours. Getting things back out inside, unhooking the truck, and setting up the outside takes about two hours. Total set up and break down time is five hours, so we can usually complete this and the drive to the new location in one day, or at most over a weekend depending how far we are traveling. Due to this quick turnaround, we have so far always been able to finish an assignment on Friday and start a new assignment on Monday, including our biggest move so far from VA to 13 hours away in MA. Since daily and weekly pay is so high as a traveler, missing one day or one week of work due to moving can be very costly, especially since there is no such thing as paid time off between assignments. Also not having to pack boxes and load cars is invaluable to us.
Utilities provided at campgrounds vary, but they all include water and sewer. Electricity is either included or metered (paid for separately in addition to the monthly rate), but is always provided one way or the other with no additional setup by you required. Most, but not all, campgrounds have wifi included and some have cable included as well. Not having to set up your own utilities saves time and frustration.
Constantly moving to new locations is very exciting, but we find that we really enjoy having the consistency with our living situation. We always know that no matter where we go we will have the same bed, same couch, same chairs, same shower, etc. In addition, our clothes, dishes and other belonging are always in the same place as they were at the last location. This might sound insignificant, but it can mean a lot in some situations.
Having a smaller living space may be a problem for some, but this has not been an issue at all for us. Our fifth wheel is about 230 square feet inside with the slides out. This may sound small to some, but it’s bigger than it sounds. For some pictures, check out this post written by Whitney.
Camper maintenance is a given and needs to be factored into costs. For the most part it is usually very minor if you stay on top of things, but, of course, there could be occasional big costs if something malfunctions and has to be repaired in the camper.
Learning about the camper including hooking up, unhooking, pulling/backing, emptying tanks, etc. can seem daunting, but with Youtube and forums, is really not that bad. As I mentioned earlier, we started learning a few months in advance, so we took our time reading and learning which made it easier. We had some problems when we started, but thanks to helpful fellow campers and the internet, we figured everything out.
Overall we have been very happy with our decision and enjoy the adventure of living in the fifth wheel. It allows us to save money and travel with much less hassle. If it wasn’t an option we probably would have taken permanent jobs long ago because packing and moving is very draining for us.
I hope this post is helpful. I’m always open to questions about anything in the comments section below!