with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Home Base: Residency on the Road

When you take your life and camera on the road, no matter how foot loose and fancy free you are, the law still requires a legal "residence".

In order to fit into our modern society, you have to have a permanent address. Where you set that address determines how much you pay in income taxes, property taxes, personal taxes, licence fees, insurance, vehicle registration fees, and numerous other costs. A few states charge about $20 for auto registration and licenses, while others charge hundreds of dollars for the same vehicle. Some states have income taxes, while others don’t. Some have high or low insurance rates. Whatever state you choose to establish residence, you become liable to their rules and regulations, whether or not you actually reside there. You still have to pay to support that community.

graphic of money coming out of a walletIf you are giving up your home for the road, it’s important to understand the benefits and restrictions of each state in order to choose a permanent address that will be most beneficial to you. Trailer Life Books, Trailer Life magazine, Good Sam’s Club and Escapees feature books, articles and information regarding state residency issues to help you make your decision.

Some full-time travelers are registered to vote in one state, pay taxes in another stae, register their vehicle in a third state, and get their mail in a fourth state. In some states, it’s illegal to have more than one "residence". Research your decision carefully and get all the facts before you choose your residence.

Here are some tips to help you establish residency and still be able to function while you travel on the road. Again, before choosing a residence, research the laws and consult an expert or attorney to make sure you are taking the right steps:

What are you paying now and what will be gone on the road
Examine all the fees you pay now as a resident somewhere. Which ones will you not have to pay when you hit the road? You might not have to pay property tax if you give up your property in that state, but your motor home or trailer might be considered property in some states. Look at license fees, sales tax, income tax, vehicle registration fees, insurance rates, all the expenses associated with living in one place. Then list what you will not have to pay when you go on the road, and compare the cots. This will give you a guide for your research into residency.

If money is an issue and "where" is not
If money is an issue, and you want to avoid the high cost of living on the road and maintaining a residence, and you don’t care where "home" is, consider one with low or no sales tax, vehicle license fees, and insurance rates. Use your two lists from your research above to compare them to the average cost of living in the different states across the country and find the one that best suits your needs. There are no "right" states. If you don’t own property or have income and will only be paying taxes on vehicles and licenses, then choose one with a cheap license and registration fees. If you have income and property, the tax expenses associated with those might be less in some states which might have a higher license and registration fee. The higher costs of those states’ vehicle fees might be offset by the savings on property and income tax. You have to find a place that suits your personal needs and follow the rules on establishing residency there to save money.
Make your cell phone your home phone
Slowly, banks, credit card companies, and other institutions are accepting cell phone numbers as resident phone numbers. This is great news for those of us living on the road. We no longer have to be tied to a physcial address. Check with your bank, credit card company and others to see if you can use your cell phone number and get it changed today.
If they won’t accept your lifestyle, drop them
Fortunately people living in the United States have lots of choices. We can choose to live anywhere. We have thousands of banking systems and credit card companies to choose from. If you run into a bank or credit card company, or other financial or related institution that will not allow you to use your cell phone, a post office box, or to have a mobile, life on the road traveling lifestyle – drop them. Fire them. Get rid of them. Find companies willing to work with your lifestyle and don’t conform to their archiac immobile attitutes. As transportation becomes easier and faster, people living and working in separate communities is becoming more common. We met one woman who has spent the last 12 years living and raising a family in India and flying to her job in Texas every two weeks for four days to seven days, then returning home to her family on the other side of the world. It used to be more often, but Internet connections and video chat have made her job much easier and she can spend more time at home with her family in India while continuing to work. This will become more and more common over time and it is our job, as travelers living on the road now, to help pave the way for the future’s mobile community.

What You Lose By Not Having Residency

The excitement of life on the road can be so alluring, we often forget what we lose when we take our life on the road traveling. For some, they lose a sense of home, a sense of identity tied to a place, a piece of land. For others, they lose friends and family when they are on the move, not tied to a community. Aside from the emotional loss, what else can you lose when you don’t have a permanent residence? Probably the most important loss to an American citizen is the right to vote. When you give up resiidence, you can lose the right to vote.

If voting and participating in your local government is important to you, then find out what the rules are in your state and community which give you residency status and the right to vote. For some areas, you have to physically be present in the location for three to six months. For others, physical residence must be for one year. In other areas, all you need is an address and they don’t check to see if you actually live there. Even if you don’t spend enough time in a location to quality, you can often convince the local authorities to give you an exemption and allow voting by absentee ballot if you can still show ties to the community. This is proven by the length of time you have lived in the area over time rather than consistently, proof of family and a connection through work to the community, and through legal action. If voting is important to you, find out what your rights are and follow the law to remain a registered voter.

Traveling all over the country, camera in hand, does not have to be expensive. But sometimes, staying in touch with the rest of the county can be. Maybe it would be smarter to stay at home…nah! Catch you on the road!



  • Posted April 11, 2006 at 23:59 | Permalink

    I toured all over the United States and Canada and even Mexico, while playing in a band. It was the best part of my life, it’s true I miss my family and friends,but it was always exicting to get to the next place to perform and meet new people and places, and how beautiful this country is, and how nice most people are. Also the view and the Landmarks are breathing taking for the most part. I would be willing to do so, with the right people agin to play with.
    Keep On Motoring, and Happy Motoring.


  • John
    Posted September 13, 2006 at 4:20 | Permalink

    I have met some people who have a post office box in Texas and use it as a permanent address. They travel all over the United States but receive their mail at the post office box address. I have lost touch with them and would like to rent a post office box in Texas and use it as my permanent address while I’m travelling. Suggestions?

  • Posted September 13, 2006 at 7:56 | Permalink

    Escapees is one choice. You can also search the net for “mail forwarding service texas” and I’m sure you’ll find more. Good luck.

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