I Can Live Free, Anywhere I Want in My RV… Well, Not Quite.

living free RV

Many people are seduced by the idea that you can “live anywhere you want” in an RV, that you can “live for free on BLM land”, which is partially true, but also to a degree, simply click bait to sell RVs or gain You Tube subscribers. Keep reading for a little bit of truth on the fulltime 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; and 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 into the forests, to get away from the crowds, the less likely you are to find cell coverage. And the roads will be even worse.

If your goal is to camp on free BLM or Forest Service land full time, then the best rig for you would be a 4×4 truck camper, or a small (20′ or less) trailer with high ground clearance, towed by a 4×4 truck.

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. Also, although it’s generally legal to camp for 2 weeks at a time, some jurisdictions are more aggressive about enforcing the “14 day, 25 mile rule”, which not only states a two week limit, but a requirement to move at least 25 miles away from your last camping spot. So although you can technically stay for 2 weeks, you may not feel comfortable doing so, if the rangers keep driving by to take a look at your camp. Local residents can also make you feel uncomfortable on their turf.

Living on the city streets in a motorhome, or with a trailer, may be something that you have seen, and think you can do, but in reality, many cities and towns have laws against it. You may or 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 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. You may be disappointed if you “spur of the moment” decide to drive to Yellowstone, and expect to find a space to park. You may also be overwhelmed with the crowds, and with aggressive rule enforcement by the rangers. If you want to visit the most popular and famous state and national parks, it’s wise to book a reservation at least 6 months in advance, whether that is at a campground within the park, or at a nearby private RV park.

RV driving safety

Driving laws vary by state; for example, the length of your travel trailer can go from legal to illegal by crossing an imaginary line in the road. Maximum vehicle heights can vary from 13.5′ to 14′, and legal lengths can vary from around 40′ to over 50′. The vast majority of motorhomes, 5th wheels and travel 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 or 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 licence (CDL) in some states. Most of these size requirements related to a CDL seem to be a length 40′ or more, and a weight of 26,000+ lbs.

legal marijuana and RV livingThere are quite a few fulltime RVers living on disability, who use medical marijuana to counter such conditions as chronic pain, and anxiety. While medical, as well as recreational marijuana is quickly being legalized in many states, it is still illegal in most states. Buying legal marijuana in a legal state, then crossing the border 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 not smoke it in public, or in a hotel room. The only legal place to use your legalized marijuana is inside a private residence.

Click here for a state by state guide to marijuana laws.

Gun Laws also vary by state. Many fulltime RVers who really believe in the 2nd Amendment, will avoid states that will not honor their CCW (concealed carry weapons permit) and will not cross the border into states like California or New York.

Concealed carry gun laws are fall into three “issue policies”.

Unrestricted – 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. Applicant only has to meet the requirements set by law such as minimum age, training, background checks etc.

May Issue – A concealed carry permit is required, but the laws can be unusually restrictive, and in some states, nearly impossible to comply with. Some states, such as California, may require a “justifiable need” for a CCW permit, such as a restraining order against a stalker. It is also left to the arbitrary discretion of law enforcement whether a CCW will be issued, and 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 setup 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 in regards to how you can carry a firearm in a vehicle, and how it can be stored in your domicile. For example, in California, guns must be stored in locked boxes.

For more information on the gun laws in all 50 states, click here.

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 space for your rig, and laws that could get you into trouble, such as marijuana and gun laws.

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