Category: Getting Started w/ RV Living

rig-in-canyon-pahrump

8 Signs You’re Destined to be a Full Time RVer or VanDweller

Full time RVers and VanDwellers are as diverse as any individuals you’d find in a traditional community.  Some love to live in RV parks or explore National Parks. Some prefer to stealth camp in urban areas. And others,  like me, are boondockers who crave the peace and solitude that only the most remote National Forest and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands can give us. Some of us are retired, some, digital nomads. Some have families. Some have none. We come from all walks of life, socioeconomic statuses, races, religions and genders, but we all have one thing in common: the need for freedom and adventure.

Boondocking in Pahrump,Nevada
Boondocking in Pahrump,Nevada

There are so many in our society who dream of living the RV or Vandwelling life. But may not be sure t’s right for you.  I want to help you decide, so I came up with a list of 8 signs based on my experience – and others I’ve met – that you might be ready to be a fulltime RVer or VanDweller:

  1. You love road trips. If you’ve taken at least few road trips (or have always dreamed of it) and the thought of hopping in the car, hitting the open road and seeing where it takes you gets your adrenaline pumping and your daydreams buzzing, then full time RVing or Vandwelling could be the life for you!
  2. You fantasize about being free. My whole life, I just wanted to be free (watch the YouTube Video here for my story). I didn’t know what that meant really, or even what it looked like. I just knew that my life, chasing the American Dream, working for a few weeks of ‘freedom” each year, with a promise of emancipation when I retired,  didn’t feel much like freedom. Does that sound familiar? Do you robotically go to work every day, pay your bills, run your errands, go to your parties and submit to a life you thought you were supposed to want, all the while dreaming of something else? If so, you’re one of us!

    Desert Sunrise out my RV Window
    Desert Sunrise out my RV Window
  3. You crave adventure! Life feels monotonous. Blasé.  You love to explore, see new things, go to new places and experience different cultures/communities.  And your life feels more and more like a jail; keeping you from living the life you crave.
  4. Your life feels phony. For many of us, we had a nagging feeling most of our adult lives that something wasn’t quite right. We did everything we were told: got the degree, the career, the house, the spouse and the children.  And when that didn’t fulfill us, we bought the timeshare,  the boat and /or the RV. Day after day we’d stare at our freedom parked in the backyard, with longing,  as it sat, lonely and unused 49 weeks a year.  Deep inside, we felt like our whole life was a sham And then we’d feel guilty or ‘weird’ for craving freedom and independence.   If this resonates,  you’re one of us!
  5. You realize you have too much stuff. One day you wake up, look around your house or apartment and realize it’s full of stuff you rarely use and don’t need. You realize you’re paying rent or mortgage to house your possessions and if it weren’t for all that stuff you could be lighter and more free to travel, explore and live!

    RV Dog Nevada Desert
    Capone in the desert in Nevada
  6. You decide to be more minimalist. Once you realize you have a bunch of junk you don’t need, you decide to stop buying. For me, two years before I made the leap to full-time RV Living, I made a conscious decision to stop buying anything I didn’t need; no new lamps, vases or pictures. No new shoes, dresses jewelry, or handbags. I decided I had enough stuff and it was time to simplify my life. That was the beginning of a mind-shift toward tiny living.
  7. You cruise Craigslist for RVs or Vans. Yeah. You’re ready… If you’re daydreaming at work and the next thing you know you’re browsing craigslist ‘just to get an idea’ of cost. You’re practically there!
  8. You spend your free time watching YouTube Videos or reading blogs of full-time RVers and Vandwellers. If you’re practically obsessed with escaping the rat race and following your dreams and  you find yourself excited and inspired by others who are doing it. You’re ready!

Of course, being mentally ready, doesn’t mean you can sell everything tomorrow, buy an RV or van and hit the road next week. It takes planning. But if you can relate to most things in the list above, you may want to make an appointment with your realtor and start finding ways to become a digital nomad!

For those who are full-timers, what was the one sure sign you knew this was the life for you?

rv life in umatilla national forest

Van or RV: What should you live in?

 

When I decided to become a full time RVer my first consideration was what should I buy? I wanted a mobile home comfortable enough to live and work in but not so comfortable that I never wanted to go outside. My intent, after all was to spend more time in nature.

Now that I’ve lived in my RV for 6 months, I have a much better idea of what my needs are. When I buy my next one, I think I’ll do things a little differently, so I thought I’d share what I’ve come to realize about the choice I made to live in a 29’ Class C RV and why I sometimes wish I’d chosen something smaller.

Here are some things to consider when choosing your van or RV to live in.

What’s your budget for your live-in RV or Van? –

Yep, of course it always comes down to how much you can spend.  The fact is, older Class C and Class A RVs are cheap. For under $10,000 you can buy something decent that will last you a couple years, at least (most likely a fixer-upper).   Class Bs like Sprinter Vans or even older MotorTreks cost a lot more (even older MotorTreks are $20-$30k), but are durable and dependable.   You may be able to get a box van, or truck with a camper for less, but you’ll have to search long and hard to find a good deal.

What I learned: don’t rush into buying your RV or van to live in. Think about how you want to live and what will make sense for your budget and comfort. If you don’t have a huge budget (and want to pay cash like I did), take your time. Deals are out there; you just have to be diligent and patient (2 qualities I lack!) to find the best vehicle and the best value for you.

 How important is gas mileage? 

The obvious fact here is, the bigger the rig the more horrible your gas mileage will be.  But this may not be a big deal to you. If you’re planning on living in an RV park 3-6 months at a time and not doing a lot of sight-seeing or traveling, or you’re going to primarily stay in one area, you may value comfort over gas mileage and go with a bigger RV. However, if you’re going to be traveling – MPGs will be a huge deal. Huge. (it costs me $100 to travel about 250 miles). You’ll need to figure out what your monthly living budget is and how much you can afford to spend on gas. Then decide if a big RV that gets  8 mpg or a van getting around 14+ mpg makes more sense for you.

WHERE are you going to live in your RV or Van?

This is another huge decision to make before buying your RV or Van to live in.  When you picture your new Nomadic or RV Life what comes to mind?  Do you see RV Parks and Campgrounds? Remote forests?  Desert? Or traveling across the country seeing all the sites and cities?

Here’s why this is so important:

  • RV Parks and Campgrounds: Any vehicle under 30’ can go in just about any RV park or campground (and most can take a larger RV) – so if you want to stick with RV Parks and developed campgrounds, any vehicle would be ideal, for the conditions.
  • Stealth Camping in cities and towns: Trust me there is nothing stealthy about a 29’ RV. While I like to kid myself, and think I can blend into a neighborhood, community college parking lot, country road or strip mall, there is no hiding a big RV. If you’re parked someplace you don’t normally see an RV overnight,  chances are, people will know you’re sleeping in it. A Van, Class B or even truck-camper is much stealthier and will allow you to fly under the radar better when you need to stealth camp. Not to say you can’t get away with sleeping in your RV in cities and towns- I’ve done it plenty – but it’s harder to find places that won’t raise red flags so  there’s always the worry you’ll be discovered and booted out (knocks on the door in the middle of the night are unnerving!).
  • Remote National Forest and BLM lands: This is where I have a lot of experience!  Have I mentioned that I didn’t quite get the fear gene?  Sure, common sense might tell some people not to take a 29’x10’x8’ home-on-wheels on rocky, rutted, narrow, overgrown, barely-roads in national forests, but, seriously, where’s the fun in that?  Instead, I’ve made it my personal mission to prove that having a 29’ Class C RV doesn’t have to stop you from going to remote National Forest lands.  (Ok, ok, we won’t talk about the bumper that’s no longer attached, the duct tape holding the corner panel together, the many crushed and shattered lights – oh and the hole in the back where a branch poked straight through – but hey, it’s my starter rig!).         Yes, I am still learning to drive it and yes, I am also learning its limitations, but I’m also realizing (much to my deep disappointment) RVs are not meant for off-roading!  In a truck or a van, you might have some lee-way on backing up and “feeling your way” when you can’t quite see everything, but RVs are flimsy and so cheaply made, you just can’t do that without damage. This is probably the #1 thing I regret – not knowing how cheaply built RVs truly are. The amount of damage to my rig already is ridiculous, seriously one little tap of a rock or a tree and shit just falls off. (check out this video of me getting stuck – and my friend pulling me out!)off-395

What I learned:  if you want get away from it all and travel on bumpy, rutted, bouncy, sandy and rocky barely-roads, a more rugged, smaller vehicle might be best for you. (I’ve decided I need a conversion military tank to go where I want to go!)

Nomad Living Comfort and Amenities

  • How much home-like comfort do you need? I’ve met people who live out of barely-converted box vans and they’re quite content; pooping in a bucket, cooking on a camp stove or hot plate and having everything they own within arm’s reach. When I decided to live in an RV I basically thought of it as downsizing to a tiny home that I could park in national forests and have the most amazing backyards ever – “home” being the operative word. I like having a toilet. I love to cook so a stove, oven and a refrigerator were must-haves (plus I wanted to be remote and limit my in-town visits, so the fridge is necessary for my fresh produce). Since I knew I’d be living and working in the RV I thought a separate bedroom was necessary (and because 55lb, 11-year-old Capone sleeps with me, I couldn’t use the cabover).   But now, I wish I’d done without the separate bedroom, I could have gone with a 25′ Class C and been just as happy. One thing I do love is all the windows the RV has, so even when I’m working inside I can feel close to nature. stealth camping in an RV
  • How much time will you spend inside? I wanted something big enough to have the comforts of home, yet not so big that I’d want to stay inside longer than I’d need to. I am learning I spend much more time in my RV than I thought I would. But I do work a lot. so, I wonder if I’d gotten something smaller – or a van – would I still be inside all the time and miserably claustrophobic? Or would that have forced me to find ways to get outside more? I don’t know. But my advice for you is to consider this when choosing your RV or van to live in. It’s not easy to break old habits. And the fact is there are insects, rain, wind and heat to consider when being outside. We’ve been in dwellings for millions of years – just because you decide to sell the house and buy the RV doesn’t mean that instinct to be comfy and cozy inside is going to go away. So, consider your RV or van home purchase with that in mind.

It’s hard to know what you’re going to need and be comfortable in until you get out there – and even then, you may not know exactly what’s right. Most full timers that I’ve met who’ve been doing it a while have gone through several different types of vehicles… trying new ones on for size very few years.

I have no doubts my next mobile home will be smaller, tougher and more agile. For those of you who’ve been doing this a while, what would you change about your RV or van home? And for those who are still planning, what are your questions or concerns?

society-kills

5 Useless Gadgets I Bought for My New RV Life

When you get your RV the first thing you want to do is run right out and buy things for it – especially if you’re going to be living in it.  It’s just like moving into a new home, you want to fix it up and make it yours.  I should have known I was going overboard when the clerk at Camping World asked, “new RV, huh?” as I checked out.

“Yeah, how did you know?”

“Oh, I can always tell.” Great, he’s basically telling me I’m paying too much and I can get this stuff at Walmart for a quarter of the cost. Oh well, I got to shop at the RV store, so who cares?!? It’s worth it (the first time)!

But it wasn’t just that I was paying more than I needed to. I bought a bunch of useless stuff I didn’t need – and I wonder if Mr. Camping World Clerk knew that!?!

5 gadgets I bought for my RV that were useless:

RV Scissor Leveling Jacks –with handle!

These RV Leveling Jacks were inexpensive (around $40/set) and looked easy enough to use, so why not?  Well…. the first time I tried them I permanently branded my hand with the shape of the itsy bitsy handle they give you to crank it with and I didn’t even get it to raise the RV a millimeter.  Useless. Now I know they only have a 5000 lb. capacity per jack and are made for trailers or 5th wheels, not a Class C RV that weights 13,000 lb. A better option is the Lynx Levelers, they’re compact, strong and easy to use. I returned the scissor jack and bought these. They work great.

Removing a seat from RV
RV Remodel Phase I; Remove Seat

 

Poweradd 60-watt solar panel.

When most people first start living in an RV there is a huge learning curve for solar and electrical systems. Sure I did some reading and watched some videos, but there is no better educator than experience! My $120 (it was on sale) solar panel charges my phone and my tablet. That’s it. Oh, ok, it does charge my house battery, but it takes 3-4 days with full sun and no, it does NOT charge my laptop. A better option would have been at least a 120 watt solar panel.  That would charge my laptop, and my house battery faster.

Seligman, AZ rte 66
I got my RV Living Kicks on Rte. 66 in June, 2016

Magnetic paint

I bought a 1993 RV. It’s dated and kinda ugly. I decided I was going to remodel. The first thing that had to go was all the fake wood veneers on the doors and refrigerator. And I decided I wanted my fridge door to be magnetic, so I bought magnetic paint primer. After 3 heavy black coats, it still barely holds the lightest of magnets.

Uniden 500 Cell Signal Amplifier (3G)

 I still work, so an internet connection is critical to my RV lifestyle. I also like to boondock in remote locations – away from cities (and cell towers). After reading a bunch of reviews, I decided on the Uniden 500 Cell Signal Amplifier. It wasn’t cheap – at $450 – but I needed it for work and could write it off, so I figured it was worth the investment.  Except that it never worked. I thought I must have been doing something wrong, or was too far away for it to work.  I kept trying and kept trying. Finally – after the warranty had expired – I realized I’d gotten the 3G version instead of the 4G. I didn’t even know there was an 4G option when I bought it! So now I’m stuck with a $450 piece of useless equipment!  Moral:  do a ton of research and read all the fine print before you purchase anything. And don’t be afraid to call customer support if you need help (I have horrible luck with support centers, so I avoid them like the plague).

New toilet seat

My RV toilet came without a toilet seat. It’s old, I’m sure it broke off along the way. I thought they just never got around to replacing it. So I went to Camping World and bought a toilet seat. WRONG. A 1993 Class C RV toilet is not your everyday toilet and they do not make replacement toilet seat covers for them. I realized this after I tore out the whole toilet ring and everything… no fear, that’s what industrial strength Velcro is for! My standard toilet seat is now Velcroed to my non-standard RV toilet.  It may not be pretty, but it works. A better option: someday I’ll get a composting toilet. But I’ll wait for the prices to go down!

We all buy stuff that doesn’t work – or that we thought we needed, but don’t need at all. . What did you buy for your new RV Life that turned out to be useless?

big trees

14 Things I Learned in My First 4 Months of RV Living

This week was my 4-month anniversary living in an RV!

Last week, I posted a blog about the day I left the backyard of my suburban apartment and embarked on my new life. And today I’m sitting in my RV, writing and working,  while enjoying a warm breezy day, the sound of a gentle stream and views of Deschutes National Forest right outside my door. I have to admit; life is pretty damn good!

Four months ago, when I started this new chapter, I had a whole bunch of ideas about what this life would look like. Guess what? It looks nothing like that!  (What is that saying about the best laid plans??? ) All I know is that nothing every turns out like I plan – and it’s always better than I could have imagined.

RV Life is full of surprises!

  1. I thought I’d stay close to my home-base in the Bay Area and try to retain a small portion of my old professional life. The fact is, trying to live in an RV in such a densely populated area completely sucked. My goal had been to live in National Forests a couple hours away and commute back a couple times a month. This proved to be too expensive and stressful.
  2. Trying to find remote places to live with a cell signal was harder than I thought. I’m not retired, I have to work. Many of the places I’d planned on living had zero cell coverage. Which meant I had to spend more time in cities. I have to tell ya, trying to be invisible and fly under the radar living in a 29’ Class C RV, so people don’t think I’m a homeless vagrant got old pretty quick. (Read my blog, “How to Stealth Camp in a 29′ Class C RV” here).
  3. Saying goodbye to California! Oh my gosh, how uptight and mean California seems now that I’m living on the fringes of society! When I left California for Arizona two months ago, I knew I never wanted to go back; I fell in love with the open space, the tiny, uncrowded towns and the obvious absence of “Do Not Enter”, “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs.  Over the past two months, I’ve spent 2 weeks in California – and 6 of those days was a backpacking trip. I love California, but not as a full time RVer!
  4. I have a traveling companion! I’m independent and I like being alone.  Sure, I had some reservations about constantly being alone, living in remote areas of the National Forests, but I knew I’d be just fine.  The last thing I expected when I headed to Arizona for CheapRVLiving.com’s summer Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) was to meet someone I’d develop a deep connection with and end up traveling with. Today Bob and I have been traveling together on and off  for 5 weeks. It’s nice to have a fellow nomad to be with when I want company and who understand when I need my alone time and need to take off for a few days – or few weeks! After-all, my new life s about freedom and living my life MY way: no exceptions.

    Bob and Cody at Crater Lake on my Birthday
    Bob and Cody at Crater Lake on my Birthday

Besides my RV Life looking quite different than I’d expected, I’ve learned a TON! (There is so much to learn!).

Here are the most practical things I’ve learned so far about living full time in an RV:

  1. I can boondock for 2 weeks before I need to dump my black and gray water tanks and fill  fresh water (F/W 33G + 6G H/W; B/W 33G; G/W 25G)
  2. Propane lasts me about 3 weeks (13.9G). I cook twice a day, it runs my refrigerator and I turn on the water heater maybe once a week. I  can also run the heat for about 30 minutes in the morning 4-5 days per week.
  3. All of the sensor lights for black and gray water, propane and battery levels on the range hood are useless. They either don’t work at all or are inaccurate. The only one that works is the fresh water light.
  4. My house battery needs to be filled with distilled water about once per month. (I fried my first battery).

    Great views - near Lake Tahoe
    Great views – near Lake Tahoe
  5. You have to own a voltmeter! Property house battery charging and maintenance is very important if you don’t want to keep frying batteries! (I’ve bought two already – but in all fairness, the first one came with the RV and was 5 years old).
  6. I will never ever ever be completely dirt-free again.  I live with dirt, eat wit dirt and even sleep with dirt. When you boondock in National Forests, dirt is a fact of life (especially with Capone).
  7. A daily sponge bath is just as good as a shower and uses about 1/10 of the water. (Speaking of bathing – baby wipes are your friend – stock up!)
  8. Canned goods can never be stored in overhead cabinets securely – no matter what, they shift and move around when I drive. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had cans come crashing on my head after moving camp.  The other night, I almost killed Bob with a giant mason jar full of lentils!
  9. This lifestyle is NOT necessarily cheap. All that money I thought I’d save by not paying rent??? Yeah, it goes in the gas tank and repairs. I was at the gas station one day and the guy next to me looked over my rig and said,  “that thing  must really eat the gas!” I replied, “yeah, I call it ‘Rent’”.  I get somewhere between 8-9 MPG.
  10. 30 Gigs of data is barely enough – I started out with 10 – and now I barely get by with 30. I only stream about 3-4 hours of TV a month, the rest is work; email, social media, uploads and downloads, etc.
  11. “No Trespassing” means NO Trespassing. In my first four weeks, I was kicked out of 4 different spots. For some reason I thought “Full Time RVer” meant “Outlaw” and rules didn’t apply to me! I was quickly set straight by unamused property owners, security guards and police officers.  I’m now happy to say my outlaw days are over and I’m a law abiding Nomad (mostly). More about this in my blog about stealth camping in a Class C RV. 

    "Stealth" camping in Auburn, CA
    “Stealth” camping in Auburn, CA
  12. I really wish I’d gotten my rig inspected before I bought it. New issues pop up almost every day. Yesterday I turned on my water heater and the place flooded with the smell of propane. My fuse keeps blowing in my speedometer and odometer and the last time I tried to change it, it sparked… so it stays blown (find out why this was a huge deal!)  My ABS light has been on for two months. My engine stopped charging my house battery… the list just never ends. Learn from my mistakes: get your rig inspected before you buy it!!! (So,, at the very least, you know what needs work = peace of mind!).  (Read my future blogs about the transmission rebuild.. ughhh): 
  13. The only weapons I need are my common sense and my gut. But a bat, an ice ax, a hatchet, bear spray and sword don’t hurt for backup! Seriously, I was out in some remote places alone for a couple months and all I needed was my common sense. Read my blog about Solo RV Life Safety or watch the video.
  14. Living in an RV has ruined me. Already, I can’t imagine ever going back.  Even on my toughest days (and there have been a few – especially in the beginning), the thought of going back to my former life fills me with angst and dread. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.  I am exactly where I want to be!

I’m sure there are a million other things I’ve learned – and have yet to learn. I’ll be sharing them as they come up.

I look forward to celebrating many more anniversaries on the road!

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a fulltime RVer? And if you’re still in the planning stages, what’s your biggest concern or fear?