Many people are seduced by the idea that you can “live anywhere you want” in an RV. They believe you can “live for free on BLM land”, which is only partially true. To a degree, “free-living on BLM land” is simply clickbait to sell RVs or gain YouTube subscribers. Keep reading, for a little bit of truth on the full-time RV lifestyle.
RVs, and the reality of RV camping, come with an assortment of restrictions. From traveling the highways, to finding boondocking spots, reserving a camping space, as well as gun and marijuana laws, it’s important to know where you are, where you’re going, and what laws and limitations you may encounter.
The biggest limitations usually relate to larger RV rigs
Many free boondocking spots are down dirt roads, which may be deeply rutted, very narrow, or otherwise not suitable for a low clearance and large vehicle to drive. Also, many free boondocking spots do not have enough space to turn a large vehicle around. These issues can be particularly true in the heavily wooded areas popular for keeping cool in the summer. Also in the summer, you may be competing for space in these popular places with locals on summer vacation. If cell reception and internet are important to you, the deeper you go off-grid, the less likely you are to find cell coverage. And the roads will be even worse.
If your goal is camping on free BLM or Forest Service land full time, the best rig is a 4×4 truck camper. Likewise, a small (20′ or less) trailer with high ground clearance, towed by a 4×4 truck.
Although it’s generally legal to camp for 14 days, some jurisdictions are more aggressive about the “14 day, 25-mile rule”. This law not only states a 14-day limit, but a requirement to move at least 25 miles away from your last camping spot. Although you can stay for 2 weeks, you may not feel comfortable doing so. Sometimes, the rangers will keep driving by to take a look at your camp. Local residents can also make you feel uncomfortable on their turf.
Another issue with boondocking on BLM or Forest Service land can be natural disasters, such as fires and floods. Natural disasters can make entire regions unsafe.
Living on the city streets in a motorhome, or with a trailer, may be something that you have seen. Likewise, you think you can do it, but in reality, many cities and towns have laws against it. You may not agree with that, but those are laws that can, and do, get enforced. Living for “free”, going from Walmart to Walmart in a motorhome, is probably not a long term lifestyle. If your goal is “urban stealth camping”, then get a plain white van.
The summer can also be a tough time for full time RVers
This includes both RVers who frequent RV parks, as well as state and national parks. The beautiful and popular places you want to experience, such as Lake Tahoe, Zion, Yosemite and Yellowstone, are booked up to a year in advance. A “spur of the moment” drive to Yellowstone, may leave you disappointed, with no place to park. Overwhelming crowds, and aggressive rule enforcement by the rangers, is also a turn off. If you want to visit the popular state and national parks, book a reservation at least 6 months in advance. Furthermore, that includes a campground within the park, or at a nearby private RV park.
Driving laws vary by state
For example, the length of your trailer can go from legal to illegal by crossing a stateline. Maximum vehicle heights can vary from 13.5′ to 14′, and legal lengths can vary from around 40′ to over 50′. The majority of motorhomes, 5th wheels and trailers will be legal, but the very large ones may run into trouble. Also, “triple towing” (like a truck, towing a 5th, towing a boat) may not be legal in certain states. Here is a handy chart from Good Sam with legal lengths, heights, widths and triple towing by state.
Related to the vehicle size regulations, those driving very BIG RVs may need a commercial driver’s license in some states. Most of the size requirements related to a CDL seem to be a length of 40′ or more, and weight of 26,000+ lbs.
There are quite a few fulltime RVers living on disability
Many fulltime RVer on disability use medical marijuana to counter such conditions as chronic pain, and anxiety. Medical and recreational marijuana is quickly being legalized in many states, but it’s still illegal in most states. Buying marijuana in a legal state, then crossing into a state that has not legalized it, could get you into trouble. Also, the laws in legalized states can be strict. For instance, while recreational marijuana is now legal in Nevada, you can’t smoke it in public, or a hotel room. The only legal place to use your legalized marijuana is inside a private residence.
Gun Laws also vary by state
Many fulltime RVers who believe in the 2nd Amendment, will avoid states that won’t honor their CCW (concealed carry weapons permit). They simply will not cross into states like California or New York.
Concealed carry gun laws are fall into three “issue policies”.
Unrestricted. It does not require a permit to carry a firearm and is often referred to as Constitutional Carry.
Shall Issue. Requires a permit to carry a firearm. The applicant only has to meet the requirements set by law such as minimum age, training, background checks, etc.
May Issue. A CCW permit is required. The laws can be very restrictive, and in some states, nearly impossible to comply with. Some states, such as California, require a “justifiable need” for a CCW, such as a restraining order against a stalker. It’s also left to the arbitrary discretion of law enforcement whether a CCW will be issued. Finally, a few states, such as Hawaii, refuse to issue a CCW permit to anyone.
There are at least four states and one district that have set up a gun registry. These states are: California, Hawaii, Maryland, New York and the District of Columbia.
States That Collect Data on Gun Sales are: Michigan, New Jersey, and Washington.
Gun laws also vary regarding how you can carry a firearm in a vehicle, and how it can be stored in your domicile. In California, for example, guns must be stored in locked boxes.
While living on the road in your RV is definitely a more liberated experience than living in “sticks and bricks”, it does come with a few restrctions, and it is wise to plan ahead, and be familiar with the laws in the various states you plan to visit. Research the areas you plan to visit ahead of time, both in regards to the availability of camping for your rig, and laws that could get you into trouble, such as marijuana and gun laws.