Traveling By RV vs Traveling By Sailboat

My husband and I call RVs land yachts. Our friends who roll down the highways have a lot in common with our friends who sail the seas.

But is traveling by RV really like traveling by sailboat?

Olympic Harbor Park Marina in Kingston, Ontario.

A Kingston, Ontario marina. It doesn’t look too different from an RV camp, does it? Just wetter.

What Everyone Knows About RVs

You’ve camped next to them. You’ve passed them on the highways. You may have stepped into one at a camper show. You even know that RV is the short version of recreational vehicle.

But what do you know about sailboats?

Many people have never seen one at anchor and some folks living inland may have never seen one at all.

So what’s similar and what’s different about the two vehicles/vessels? And what will it mean for our adjustment to living aboard a sailboat later this year with our dog Honey?

Honey the golden retriever surveys the boat from bed.

This boat is so small I can patrol it all from bed. Bathroom, check. Living room, check. Kitchen, check. Okay, next patrol in 30 minutes.

RVs and Sailboats – The Same and Different

Moving And At Rest

Both an RV and a sailboat move. That’s part of the appeal—getting to visit new places while carrying your home with you.

But sailboats don’t stop moving. Ever.

If you pull your RV into a campsite and go to bed, when you wake up you’ll still be facing the same view. Unless, of course, a cyclone touched down in the middle of the night and carried you off to the Land of Oz.

An RV set up at a camp site.

This baby’s not going anywhere for a while.

You can’t stop a boat in the water. It has no brakes. And wind, tides, and currents will move it along.

Once anchored, your boat will continually move to face into the wind. Which means that while you’re absorbed reading a book in the cockpit, the island over your right shoulder may disappear.

It’s always unsettling until you find the island off the left side of the boat because the wind has changed direction and turned your boat without you noticing.

A Guna Yala island in the Caribbean sea at sunset.

How could anyone lose an island? Stop paying attention when the wind shifts.

Oh, and at dock? Yep, even with lines tying you off to land in four directions, you’ll rock and roll. Even someone stepping on board is enough to move the boat if it’s small enough (and ours will be).

Life Aboard

Both RVs and sailboats share small galleys for cooking, compact sleeping quarters, and storage hidden in every cranny that’s never enough.

But a sailboat can’t pull into the nearest Walmart to stock up on supplies.

When we were in Panama, fresh supplies came once every two weeks when the “veggie boat” arrived from the mainland.

Sailing to Nagana in the Guna Yala islands.

Sailing into the big city of the Guna Yala in Panama–Nagana. You can buy supplies, catch a six-seater plane at the airport, and they even have electricity a few hours a day.

In more populated anchorages, you row your dinghy ashore (many folks have outboard engines on their dinghys; we probably won’t), tie up somewhere, and walk off toward the nearest town.

But don’t forget to leave most of the packaging behind.

In an RV, you can gather your trash and leave it at the dumpsters in a campsite or rest area.

In a sailboat, trash makes more work. In a marina, you just dump it. In a remote area, you burn it on an island. Cans and bottles are carefully sunk so reef animals can grow over them. Food scraps feed the fish.

Burning garbage on the beach.

Garbage burning isn’t only a chore for cruising sailors. It’s an excuse for a party.

Dog Aboard

Unless he gets car sick, life in an RV is similar to life in a house. While traveling, he can sleep on a cushion undisturbed, even if strapped in for safety sake.

But a boat that’s underway often tilts or heels. If the wind is high, this angle might go as high as 40°. When you change direction by tacking (moving the front of the boat through the wind), the boat will heel in the opposite direction.

Just ask Honey how surprised she was when we changed directions while sailing in Canada to find herself on the cockpit floor after sliding off her seat.

Honey the golden retriever lies in the sailboat cockpit.

I’ll make sure you don’t change directions without telling me. I’ll lie on this rope thingy you need to make it happen.

The dog traveling by RV can let out a woof to tell his people to turn into the next rest area.

We’re hoping we can teach Honey who has been perfectly house trained since she was ten weeks old that it’s okay to do her business on the boat. If not, we’ll have to row her ashore at least twice a day.

Needless to say that means we can’t make any long passages far from land. I’ve heard stories of dogs who never learned to go on the boat who held out for 4 days (?!?) without relief. We couldn’t do that to Honey.

Guna Yala sunset in Panama.

Well, even if we never sail far, we’ll still have amazing sunsets to enjoy.

The Captains

Both RVs and sailboats have a steep learning curve. Low bridges and narrow streets bring new challenges to someone driving an RV.

But most Americans start driving when they’re teenagers. So driving an RV is adding new skills to basic ones you already have.

Mike is the captain at the tiller of a sailboat.

You gotta love a sailing day when you don’t have to work too hard at the tiller.

When I first started sailing four years ago, I discovered everything was different from driving.

You want to turn the boat to the left? Then move the tiller to your right.

You need to stop? Oops, no brakes. Maybe you can take the sails down or turn into the wind.

Ready to go? Not if there’s no wind. You just have to wait.

And how far will you travel in a day? Well, an RV traveling 50 miles per hour will travel about 400 miles in a day.

A typical sailboat speed in good wind is in the neighborhood of 5 miles per hour. So after a day’s sailing, you’ll be 40 miles farther along. Yeah, I know. It’s pitiful.

But you can’t drive an RV to Puerto Rico or Italy.

A sand crab on the beach.

Is this a future friend for Honey?

RVers and Sailors

I only know of two sailors among all the S’Waggers reading Something Wagging This Way Comes.

But I’ve heard from dozens of readers who think that someday they’d love to travel by RV.

Which has me wondering: are RVers and Sailors part of the same tribe?

I think so, even if they’re not the same in every way.

We share a sense of adventure, a wish to see new places, an enjoyment of the outdoors, a willingness to give up some conveniences to create a rich and interesting life.

And hopefully our Honey will discover what our dog friends who live in RVs with their people have found: everywhere is home if it’s with the ones you love.

Golden retriever on a sail boat.

Boating is always better with the ones you love.

Your Turn: Do you fantasize about going on a traveling adventure some day? Or do you have all the adventures you want right in your home? How about your dogs? Are they adventurers?

photo credit: RV j2davis2005 via photopin cc. Click on the image to learn more about the photographer.

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  1. Love that post. you guys are definitely braver than I. Our commonality (RV folks) is that we seek adventure and what’s around the next bend (what ever that bend is!). I hope your house sells soon. Mine took much longer than anticipated, but then it was under contract and I was going as fast as I could with all the duties to get ready. So keep your preparations moving forward.

    • Yeah, I can understand the stress of waiting for a house to sell. My last house took a year to sell.

      I’ll be putting my current house on the market in March and I suspect it will sell in about 5 minutes. No really. Ithaca has been featured on a slew of best places to live lists and houses in my neighborhood routinely sell for over the asking price.

      But I wish that I could finish up all the painting and light repairs we’re doing to I could move onto panting and repairing a boat. :)

  2. You already know my answers. I personally could never live on a boat though. Sea sickness aside, I just like to have the solid earth under me. I can’t wait to see your adventures though.

    • And I experience claustrophobia in cars and go nuts on long drives. But I’d love to see the Arches National Park and cactuses.

      So keep the pictures coming since I don’t expect I’ll be sailing to Utah or Arizona. :)

  3. We are all homebodies. Jack & Maggie both like stability and no surprises and me too I guess. Our travel is limited to trips required for work (way too many) and short local jaunts to favorite places, like Big Bear. No wanderlust here.

    • I rarely travel now myself. But one of the great things about being a homebody is exploring that great things in your own backyard.

      I’m always amazed at my neighbors who have never hiked the Cascadilla gorge or even taken a short drive to check out Green Lake or to ride the Erie canal trail. Staying close to home can be a wonderful way to get to some a place really deeply. And that’s its own adventure, isn’t it?

  4. We’ve pretty much been there, seen that, have more t-shirts than we have time to wear. We get altitude sickness on a stepladder and a wading pool makes us seasick. So we are content to have adventures close to home and vicariously enjoy the adventures of others.

  5. Our idea of adventure is a nice hotel, not Motel 6, and a great place to go hiking. Mom doesn’t do the camping, RV, or boat stuff. She and her girlfriend were nicknamed the Sheraton Sisters a few years back because of their being fussy about accommodations! Having traveled around the world so much until her 40’s, she doesn’t have much desire to go anywhere which makes it easy with us pets. Most everyone we know can’t wait to travel, and we are right there offering to watch their houses while we stay home.

    • Years ago I used to joke that my idea of roughing it was staying in a Holiday Inn. :) And I wouldn’t have been caught dead wearing anything but full make up and high heels.

      But everyone can change.

      Emma, you and your mom make the most of the places you live. Staying home doesn’t have to be boring as long you know how to have fun. :)

  6. We talked about selling the house and doing the RV thing for a year or two, but we also would love to have a small sailboat (not to live on, but for short adventures) but of course, that means a move to the beach, most likely somewhere along the Outer Banks of NC. Who knows what adventures lie ahead, but I’m really looking forward to following your big life change when you move onto your sailboat!

    • Maybe some day we’ll cross paths around the NC outer banks. I expect we’ll be stopping there regularly so we can enjoy both lovely Canada and the Caribbean.

  7. I would never want to drive one of those really huge RVs. Driving and towing our itty-bitty jetski stresses me out! I can’t imagine changing lanes in one of those behemoths. Sailing, while requiring a completely different skill set, is so very much more peaceful. On low wind days we just did a lot more motor-sailing, catching wind as we could but letting the motor get us where we were going. August on the Chesapeake is notorious for the doldrums. Plus, statistically, I would imagine sailing is much safer. It may have higher-end risks when a fierce storm blows in, but day to day travel is probably much safer without the other 10 zillion drivers an RVer deals with. Despite loving to sail, going below on a choppy day to use the head always left me seasick! LOL!

    • Great point. Driving is absolutely the most dangerous thing most people ever do. And yet everyone is so nonchalant about it.

      I’m with you. Driving a big old camper is terrifying. And noisy.

      Your comment reminds me on an article I read that talked about how as soon as the engine shuts off and the sails go up, someone always says, “Ahh, that’s better.”

      I don’t have that experience very often since we usually sail off the dock and sail back into our slip. I’m actually not looking forward to using the engine more in our future travels. But I have a feeling we’d create a lot of panic if people saw us trying to sail into a crowded marina. :)

  8. I have traveled extensively by sea (sail, motor and hand powered) as well as by land (but never in an RV) and they are definitely two very different types of travel. However, wanderlust is wanderlust and there is definitely a commonality shared by all who desire the freedom of roaming… Except for jet setters! Hopping from city to city aboard a plane to spend a few days, even with a tiny dog stowed under the seat, is one type of traveler I have never been able to find common ground with. So maybe the commonality for traveling sailors and drivers is believing the journey is more important than the destination.

    • I have the same problem with RV travel that I have with flying: it’s noisy and it’s too fast.

      I wouldn’t turn down a ride on a motor boat, but I’m definitely much happier kayaking or sailing. It’s so quiet and you see so much when you’re traveling that slowly.

      But you’re right, that a willingness to enjoy the journey does unite all of us who adventure at least than 100 miles an hour. :)

  9. Beautiful photos, The sunset is amazing! Thank you so much for your comments on self hosting, it was helpful.

    • My husband takes credit for those sunset pictures. I’m so glad he captured them. Because we haven’t seen the sun set for quite a while. :)

  10. Wow, there is just so much to your upcoming adventure that I never thought of! I think I’d be happier (and feel safer) staying closer to land anyway…but that’s just me.

    I often say that I’d like to get an RV and travel the country when we retire. But in reality I’m pretty much a homebody, and I don’t think my hubby is that nuts about driving. As far as the dogs, I think Luke is the only one that likes riding enough to want to take traveling on. But it’s fun to think about and you never know. We used to camp on weekends (in the same place) and our camper quickly became our second home, so it’s as you say, home is with the ones you love.

    • In truth, I’m overwhelmed by all the new things I’ll have to learn too. Writing about it calms me down a little bit.:)

      I know other people who have enjoyed their camper set up near the lake that they visit on vacations and weekends. It sounds like a great way to get a little bit of “home” while having a base to check out other places.

      • We had our camper at a very rustic campground with swimming holes in the river, a pond, and hiking trails right there. We were also close to the White Mts. When our dog Maggie passed, camping wasn’t quite the same without her, plus we were neglecting our first home too much….so we sold the camper and got three more dogs instead. :)

  11. What an exciting adventure! I do have to say that I prefer to travel by car or plane, but your way sounds like a blast!

  12. Hm, here’s where kitties probably have it a little easier: litterboxes vs. a woof to let you know to pull over to the nearest island? 😉
    Either way, life on the go is something our mom envies!!

    • You’re absolutely right. And lots of people sail with cats.

      In fact, I’ve been thinking of adopting a kitten when we move aboard. Honey loves cats and I think she’d enjoy the company.

      But the truth is that many people aren’t any more careful with their sailing cats than they are with their land cats. And it doesn’t always go well. I won’t do it until I’m sure I can teach a cat to tolerate a leash and a a tether to keep her on the boat.

      • Maureen Ferrara says:

        Took my small Service Dog on a Carnival cruise this year. The first for him. Always went outside to take care of his toileting. Ship was going to be another issue. Bought a ‘potty patch’. Trained him to use it by gating an area just outside of the doggy dog and placing the patch in it. This prevented him from getting to the grass and forced him to use the patch. It took a bit of positive reinforcement training to get him to urinate on it. Getting him to use it for bowel elimination took a little longer. When on the ship, it was 3 days before he had a bowel movement. Per his Veterinarian’s advise, I carried a can of pumpkin and was prepared to feed it to him if he went longer than the 3 days. Afterward, all toileting was as normal as on land. To keep the patch from sliding around too much, I placed it in the shower which had a raised lip. Worked great for us.

        • Thanks, Maureen, for your advice on training your pup to use a potty patch. I’m hoping that once we get some of Honey’s scent on the patch that she’ll adapt. But it sounds like even with your careful work, it took some patience for your dog to get the idea.

          I’ll keep that in mind.

  13. Loving these photos!!!
    I have always wanted to go sailing, but haven’t had the opportunity yet!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

    • I would never have gotten to try it if I didn’t go looking for community sailing classes. Maybe you’ll check it out for yourself some day.

  14. I am so jealous, I would love to be brave enough to do what you are doing – maybe one day in the future!!

  15. I really can’t wait to read your adventures on the boat. It’s going to be exciting!

    Monty and Harlow

    • Thanks! Glad you’ll be traveling with us virtually.

      If I had your photoshop skills I could just shop ourselves on the boat and save some money. :)

  16. I love this post, Pamela! I do think that sailors and RVers are part of the same tribe, though I see what you’re doing as more adventurous that the life we’ve chosen. Sailing seems harder to me than RVing … a little further outside the “typical” than cruising the highways in an apartment on wheels. And yet, the chance to live your life differently than most, see places you never would have, and learn so much about yourself are similar. I’m so excited for you, Mike, and Honey – I can’t wait to see where this adventure takes you!

  17. Rebecca Jackson says:

    I just happened on your site by accident and loved what I read. Will definitely be following from now on. My dogs, Lizzie and McGee, and I currently travel by car, rent pet-friendly cabins, and hike everywhere we can and as far as we can. My dream is to someday sell my house, buy an RV, and travel around the country with my dogs. Back in September, we traveled to New Hampshire a d hiked in the Whites. What a fantastic adventure we had.

    • Welcome, Rebecca. I’m so glad you happened by.

      Lizzie and McGee sound like they’re great hiking companions. Since you hiked the White Mountains, have you read Tom Ryan’s Following Atticus? It’s a wonderful read and you might enjoy reading about places you’ve hiked:

      • Rebecca Jackson says:

        Funny you should mention that. I read the book when it first came out, and it was the reason I got started hiking with the dogs. It was also when I started trying to plan the trip. I loved the area and the mountains and hope to do a return trip soon.

  18. I love driving. My dream is to drive across Canada and the U.S. to every state and province. I don’t think I handle the advance planning necessary for living on a boat. I’d be sure to forget something critical– like toilet paper or feminine hygiene products– and not realize until it’s too late to go back. Then I’d be VERY grumpy for a while. :)

    But I would love to come sailing with someone else for a day or two. I might even drive some distance to meet up with friends for the chance to get out on the water. :)

    • Well I hate driving. But I’ve wanted to cross Canada as well. Preferably on one of those beautiful trains with class ceilings.

      We’ll make a sailing date once we find our boat. :)

  19. You know I was thinking about the bathroom breaks, and wondered how you planned to tackle that one. That’s a couple of lo posts all by themselves. I still think the whole boat thing is super exciting. I am so happy for you Pamela.