There are fulltime RVers and then there is Campskunk.
Most fulltimers travel in Type A motorhomes or Fifth Wheels. They also tow a car. And though their RVs are as long as many a subdivision house, they are still a rare breed, disposing of only what they can put in storage or pack in their 36, 40 or 43 foot long RV. They're generally celebrated by the RV community, looked up to and envied for their independence and vagabond freedom.
But imagine doing it in a 22-foot long Class B campervan. That's what Campskunk has been doing for the past three years. With wife, Sharon and their Ragdoll cat, “Fiona the Fearless,” they live 24-x-7, 365 days a year in their 2003 Roadtrek Type B motorhome.
Campskunk, of course, is not his real name. But he's known to thousands in the RV community by that moniker, which comes from part of the couple's joint email address that blends the first part of Sharon's maiden name with his old nickname from the days he held a high profile state government job that had him doing a lot of quality control work that made him more than his share of enemies.
That was before he retired in 2010, let his hair grow down to his waist, mothballed his sportcoats and literally burned his ties to set off on the road, living life a day at a time in the most beautiful places he could find.
“I wore a coat and tie everyday,” he says of his former working life. “I was burning yard trash getting ready to leave the house and begin fulltiming in late July 2010, so I just took my ties and draped them over the burning pile, one by one. It was intensely satisfying to leave that part of my life behind.”
He does keep one tie, one sportcoat and one pair of dress slacks in his RV for funerals, weddings and special occasions. But his typical wear is a T-shirt, jeans or shorts. That's because he is always somewhere warm. Always. It's his hard and fast traveling rule.”I consider it operator error if we end up in a place colder than 70 degrees,” he says.
Full time living in such a small motorhome is not nearly as difficult as it sounds, he says. “It a matter of priorities and planning, Most of us just don't need all the stuff we have. The more stuff, the less free we are to live the way we want to.”
Campskunk is a regular on RV forums on Facebook and Yahoo!. He's well respected as an expert tinkerer, someone who can fix anything, build anything and modify an RV for years of use. His Chevy-based Roadtrek has 120,000 miles. He thinks he can get another ten years of use out of it and hopes to take it to Europe after several more years of traveling across the U.S.
Money is admittedly tight. He and Sharon meticulously budget.
“Leaving aside all the regular non-fulltiming-related expenditures like car insurance and health insurance, etc, we originally budgeted $50 a day, or $1500 a month: $500 for fuel, $500 for groceries and spending money, and $500 for lodging/campground fees,” he says. “Since we started fulltiming, fuel costs have averaged $346 per month and our campground costs have gone down to $1,776 for the last year, or $148 a month.”
That's because whenever possible, he chooses to boondock, staying in free or reduced rate non-commercial campgrounds, typically in state and national forests, coastal areas or pubic land.
“In one memorable month the summer before last, we only spent $600 – camping was free and town was only 5 miles away, so no fuel costs. And there was nothing else to spend money on. We were up at 9,800 feet near Silverton, CO,” he says.
Campskunk has become amazingly adept at finding spectacular boondocking spots.
“I Google around,” he says, “The national forest service's website is very hard to find stuff on, But there's a book of all the national forest campsites in a book put out by Coleman. Find the ranger station, stop in and talk to them about dispersed camping – that's the best. I also keep my eyes open when driving, and have literally stumbled into many great places. Know the state laws where you travel – you can park along the pacific coastal highway anywhere There are no local ordinances or signs prohibiting it for 8 hours in California and 12 hours in Oregon. I think you can stay for longer in Washington state – nobody's ever up there. The best way to find overnight spots when you're just traveling through and want to overnight near the highway is http://www.overnightrvparking.com/ It costs $25 a year for a subscription but you make your money back the first campground you avoid. It has up-to-date information on 10,000 free or very cheap overnight parking spots nationwide.”
He's totally wired with satellite Internet and commercial TV. “Sharon insisted that if we were going to really do this, she'd have her TV,” he says. “I needed the Internet. So we have two dishes.”
He is solar powered and has a wind turbine that also helped top off the coach batteries in his RV. He did it all himself thanks to skills he honed in the 70's when he worked as an automotive mechanic befofe heading back to school for the specialized education that got him his government job.
There are unique challenges to fulltime RV living, he admits.
“Challenges are anything that you can't do electronically – get a prescription filled, get your new credit cards when the old ones expire, getting your new insurance cards, etc. We now have east and west coast dentists. The other doctor stuff is harder- we had to go to Mexico once to get one prescription filled when the logistics of getting it filled by regular means failed. There's no ‘see you in three months' when you're a fulltimer. One really annoying thing is going into a different grocery store every week – you never learn where they put things, and the next place is always different.”
Campskunk turned 60 last fall. He travels about 15,000 miles each year, making non-rushed loops around the country.
Fulltime RVing is not for everyone, he is quick to point out. But it is doable. His best advice?
“Just get out there and do it. You'll get better at it after a year or two. We are still learning as we go. We're poor but happy.”