Category: RV Living Tips

How to Drive an RV on Mountain Roads Without Killing Your Brakes!

I recently drove my 29’ Class C RV over two mountain passes in one day. I climbed from sea level to over 7000 feet,  back down to about 4000 feet, back up to 7000, and finally down to 4000’ again. This is a lot of work for a six-and-a-half-ton RV built on a van chassis.  And as my brakes smoked and spewed the toxic odor of burning brake pads, I realized I had a lot to learn about driving a big Class C Motor Home on mountain roads. The more I drove, the softer my brake pedal became; I had to push it almost all the way to the floor to slow down.  I eventually pulled over to let the brakes cool and that helped, but it didn’t take long for the pedal to get spongy again and by the time I reached the bottom of the grade I was barely stopping at all.  (You can read the whole harrowing story here). I was able to get to the bottom safely by pulling over to let my brakes cool and using low gear, but it was nerve-wracking, to say the least!

Driving RV Mountain Roads

Once I was on flat land again I did research to learn what I’d done wrong to make my RV brakes overheat and fade on the mountain passes. Here is what I learned.

Know Your Route and Prepare Ahead of Time!

I’d driven my Class C RV on plenty of mountain passes in the Sierra Nevada’s, so when I glanced at the Google map and saw the squiggly lines of switch-backed mountain roads, I thought “piece of cake”. What I learned that day is that not all mountain passes are alike. Everything from the length of the grade, steepness of the grade, road conditions and weather can impact travel on mountain roads.

The Lesson: Plan your route ahead. Ask others or do research on the route before you go. My mistake was doing both passes in one day. The grades on both were very steep and very long, causing me to use my brakes a lot! I should have done one pass and rested my brakes at least a couple of hours before tackling the next one.

Driving up to toward Winnemucca, N

Safety First – Know the Condition of your RV

The one thing I had going for me that day is that I’d recently replaced my front brake pads, calipers and rotors. My rear brakes had been inspected and the drums replaced. I knew my brakes were in good shape. So, as I was mentally trouble-shooting what was causing my brakes to slide and smoke, I could deduce they were overheating. However, “to safely control a vehicle, every braking mechanism must do its share of the work. Brakes with excessively worn pads or rotors will not provide the same degree of braking power. If you are not sure about the condition of your braking system, have it inspected by qualified service center.” (Source: FMCA, “Mountain Driving: Let Your Engine Do the Work”)
The Lesson: Keep your vehicle maintenance up to avoid dangerous or even deadly RV brake or engine malfunctions on dangerous roads. If my brakes had been old and worn out, a caliper had gotten stuck or I had a brake fluid leak my situation could have had a very different ending.

 Use Your Motor Home  Engine to Slow You Down!

You should also “shift into low gear before starting the downgrade”,  advises the Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA). FMCA also states, “with motorhomes, a rule for choosing gears has been to use the same gear going down a hill that you would to climb the hill. However, new motorhomes have low-friction parts and streamlined shapes for fuel economy. They may also have more powerful engines. This means they can go up hills in higher gears and have less friction and air drag to hold them back going down hills. For this reason, drivers of newer motorhomes may have to use lower gears going down a hill than would be required to go up the hill.

Usually you want the lowest gear that will keep the motorhome at or near the speed you want in negotiating the downhill. For example, if you’re going down a six-percent grade and wanted to go 35 mph, you would start downshifting and using the brakes to get to an engine rpm that will enable you to maintain a speed at or near 35 mph.”

The Lesson: I drove a stick shift for years and if my RV was a manual shift, downshifting would have been a no-brainer. But with an automatic transmission, I’m always unsure when I should shift into low gear.  A rule of thumb, according to RVers Online who attended an RV Driving School is that if your “RV accelerates more than 5mph going downhill then you need to shift to a lower gear”. How helpful! I will be remembering that!!

On the edge of the Anza Borrego Badlands

Proper RV Braking on Steep Downgrades

RV and Motorhome brakes overheat from excessive use – or “riding”.  Riding your bakes on long steep downgrades will cause your brakes to fade- or with consistent use, to stop working completely.

The Lesson: The goal for safe RV and Motor Home driving on mountain roads is to keep the brakes cool enough to keep working. You can do this by letting up on them for 3 seconds for every 1 second of application. (Source RVersOnline.org)

What to Do if Your Brakes Overheat

If you’re driving your RV or Motor Home down a hill and notice smoking, burning brake odor and/or brake fade, pull over as soon as you are able to do so safely and let the brakes cool. Turn off the engine and test the brake pedal if, after sitting a while, the sponginess disappears and the brake pedal becomes firm again, most likely your issue is brake overheating. It’s best to let your brakes cool completely before getting back on the road; that could take an hour or more depending on weather conditions.

Overheating your RV brakes can cause permanent damage to your pads, rotors and calipers. If you do overheat them, it’s best to get them checked out by a brake service center as soon as possible.

Do you have any RV driving safety tips you’d like to share? Or how about a scary story to share? Leave your comments below!

How Full-Time RVers and VanDwellers Get an Address and Mail

When you live full time in your RV, Van or Camper and travel all over the country, ‘normal’ life things like having a state to call home, a real address, and a place to receive mail and packages are left behind.

I get asked a lot how I handle these challenges, so in this blog I will cover how full time RVers and VanDwellers deal with residency and receiving mail and packages.

Note: I am not an expert on the federal or state laws pertaining to residency and docile. I am sharing MY experience and that of other full time RVers I’ve met.  This blog serves as a guide to get you started, I urge you to do the research and learn the specific requirements of the state you choose to declare as your domicile state.

Residency for Full Time RVers and VanDwellers

Now that you’re a nomad, you can declare a new state as your home state. Many full time RVers and VanDwellers choose a state with no income tax to save some money at tax time.

Joshua Tree National Park, December 2016
Joshua Tree National Park, December 2016

There are seven states that currently don’t have an income tax: AlaskaFloridaNevadaSouth DakotaTexas, Washington and Wyoming.  Residents of New Hampshire and Tennessee are also exempt from normal income tax, but they do pay tax on dividends and income from investments.

Tax savings may be one motivation for choosing a home-state, but there are other considerations.

What Does Residency Mean to a Full Time RVer?

Once you claim a new state of residency you will want a driver’s license or ID card from that state (this makes it official).

Residency requirements for obtaining a driver’s license vary by state; some are very lax, like Nevada, which just requires you to pay a month’s fee at an RV park and show a receipt. While Texas requires two forms of proof of residency such as: rental or mortgage documents, utility bill, automobile registration, etc.  Check the requirements for each state you are considering to learn what you will need to provide to prove residency.

Many full time RVers and VanDwellers choose South Dakota (check out this great guide by Interstellar Orchard) or Nevada for their loose residency requirements.

austin-leaving-medford

Other Ways to Deal with Residency

If you don’t wish to change your domicile state, you can rent a PO Box or get an actual street address through a mail forwarding service like UPS Stores. I have a mail box with the UPS store in my home base town of California. It’s an actual street address; I used it to register to vote and register my vehicles. You could also use a friend or family member’s address.

Receiving Mail and Packages

Choosing to use a friend or family’s address as your domicile address could be convenient for you, but that would put the responsibility of forwarding mail on friends and loved ones. This is something to consider when selecting a solution to your full-time RV life.

I chose the UPS store for my address. As mentioned above, this gives me an actual street address (not a PO Box) and they accept mail and packages.  A PO box will not accept UPS shipments.

Mail Forwarding Services

pahrump-josh-treesThere are mail forwarding services in popular full time RVer domicile states like Nevada and South Dakota that help you get your residency. I have not experienced them myself, but have heard great things about their services. Google “Mail Forwarding Nevada” for example to find services to help you.

I am using a UPS store and have been very happy with their service. I call them, they check my mail for me, tell me what’s there and then will mail it to me for about $5. I explain below how I receive my forwarded mail on the road, below.

They will also accept UPS shipments and forward those to me as well (of course, I try to avoid that, because I’m paying shipping twice). ‘

Getting Mail & Packages While on the Road

When I’m traveling, I have my mail sent to the post office in the nearest city or town I’m visiting. Most US post offices accept what is called “General Delivery” mail. That means anyone can have their mail sent to just about any post office c/o GENERAL DELIVERY and they will hold it for pick up.  You then go to that post office, show ID and retrieve your mail. Yep, it’s that easy!

I use this service a lot and have never had a problem.

Beware: not every post office accepts General Delivery mail. CALL THE POST OFFICE AHEAD OF TIME, to verify they will accept it. I recommend also calling to verify their address, what you see online isn’t always accurate.

Packages are different, Post offices will not receive UPS or FedEx packages.   When I shop online, I   plan, to know where to have the order shipped.  You can have your packages shipped to most UPS stores or other mail/copy/package stores.  Call ahead to ask if they will accept packages on your behalf. There is usually a fee (about $5 per box).

You can Google “UPS Store” or “Mail Services” in the city you’ll be close to and ask if they accept packages.  Also, verify the address and any special addressing instructions before placing your order.

Click here to watch the YouTube Video. 

 

RV Living Boondocking Winnemucca Nevada

How I Insulate My RV on the Fly to Not Freeze in Cold Weather

Life is an adventure… at least mine is- and that’s very much by design!

I was recently driving through the high desert in Nevada, on my way south, after spending Thanksgiving with my friend Bob (Bob Wells, CheapRVLiving.com –  I know many of you know him) and his family in Medford, Oregon. Since I don’t have family, Bob was kind enough to invite me to spend the holiday with his sister, mother, son and him. It was a nice visit. His family is exactly what you would expect: warm, welcoming and kind!

dogs in the snow
Capone and Cody having fun in the snow!

Bob and I have formed the kind of easy and relaxed friendship that has been rare in my life. We’re like old friends, despite having met just a few months ago. We quickly fell into a comfortable and easy friendship and I’ve enjoyed him as a traveling companion. He’s as fiercely independent as I am and we respect each other’s privacy.  This has allowed us to travel together, float in and out of each other’s lives and become good friends.

Since Bob and I were both heading south (he to Quartzsite – and me, to wherever I end up) – we traveled to NV together, stopping along the way near Winnemucca, NV. He probably would have driven straight through to the southern desert, but I wanted to lolly-gag, so he lolly-gagged with me. I’m not sure if he regrets or not.  It was COLD! The nights dipped into the twenties and the days were barely above freezing. But we both had to catch up on work after spending time with his family and driving for a couple of days, so we decided to stay put a full day to get caught up.

That’s when I realized I needed to find a way to insulate the inside of my RV from the cold air that seeps through the many gaping drafts.  On the spur of the moment I decided to shoot a video of the steps I took to insulate my RV with what I had on hand.

High desert snow, Austin, NV
Austin, NV city view

Here is how I kept the inside of my RV at 50 degrees or above when it was 20 degrees outside (I added Amazon affiliate links so you can see the products I mention. If you choose to buy, it helps me out and it costs you nothing! – thank you!)

  1. Closed all my blinds and curtains and then covered all the windows with heavy blankets.
  2. Put a windshield cover on the windshield and one over the back emergency window at the head of my bead.
  3. Closed all my vents
  4. Sealed off the door with a thermal curtain and then stuffed dog beds and pillows into the step – that door is very drafty!
  5. Draped a heavy blanket between the cab of the truck and the RV living space to keep the cold from the truck out and the warmth of the living space in
  6. Used thermal curtains to close off the cab-over. They drape all the way to the floor, so it’s extra insulation from the cold truck cockpit.

    Camping Winnemuccca in the snow
    Boondocking near Winnemucca in the snow
  7. When I’m in the dining/seating area of the RV I open my bathroom door, blocking the bedroom off – that raises the temperature about 10 degrees.
  8. Put throw rugs on the floor to cover the drafts and insulate the floors (I have laminate floors)

Other Tips to Stay Warm in Your RV in the Winter.

  1. Bake! Do all your baking at night and/or in the morning. The oven adds a lot of heat
  2. Insulate the underside of your RV with spray expandable foam
  3. Use Velcro to seal the blankets or curtains around your windows.
  4. Use Reflectix to cover your windows and vents (some suggest bubble wrap so you can still let light in).
  5. Use clear caulk in the gaps in your floors or walls where air is coming through.
  6. Insulate your cupboards and closets with bubble wrap or insulating foam.

To learn how I heat the inside of my RV without my furnace and what I do to prevent the pipes from freezing you can watch the video below.

I hope you’re all staying warm and cozy out there and enjoying the holiday season!
In case you missed the video, here it is!

stealth camping in an RV

How to Stealth Camp in a Class C RV

When you picture a 29’ Class C RV, “Stealth” isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind. But in my young RV Life,  I was determined to be a stealth-nomad, flowing in and out of cities, flying under the radar and living free!

I’m not quite sure where the idea came from, but for some reason, when I first starting living full time in my RV, I equated “full-time RVer” with “Outlaw”.  Who knows where I got the idea  -or maybe it was just an  excuse to let my inner outlaw/rebel come out to play.  Or maybe, since,I was dropping out of society and living on the fringe, I thought I was suddenly invisible.  Whatever the reason,  I was convinced that normal rules and laws no longer applied to me.  I scoffed at “No Parking”  signs and laughed at  warnings of “No Trespassing”.   Nope-  I’m FREE: mere mortals’ rules don’t apply to Tilly, Capone and me!

Boy, did I get a rude awakening!

Yeah, my 29’ Class C RV and me – not so invisible. And as FIVE security guards, cops and property owners told me in my first eight weeks of my new life, laws most certainly DO apply to me!  Perhaps even more so now that I was living on the fringes; and in some peoples’ eyes a dirty, freeloading, homeless vagrant. (I also thought showering didn’t apply to me anymore either! When I do something, I go All In! lol).

It was a real wake up call.

I’d read a lot about stealth camping before I started my new life and I knew a 29’ monstrosity like Tilly would never exactly be “stealthy”. Still, being the rebellious person I am, I was determined to make it work. I spent about two months pushing my luck, determined to find places to ‘stealth’ camp in cities and towns around the Bay Area. I had some success, but also had more than my share of knocks on the door in the middle of the night or early in the morning, making me mosey on down the road!

stealth camping in an RV
Stealth camping in a Warehouse on a Sunday in Auburn, CA

Here is what I learned about stealth camping in a Class C RV:

No Trespassing means NO trespassing – even if you THINK no one is looking! Seriously I’d be on a desolate road or a gravel parking lot that seemed like no one EVER goes to, and sure enough, I’d get a visit from a farmer in a dually pick-up telling me to go: even when I gave them my “I’m a woman alone and need a safe place to park” spiel. They were nice about it, but still kicked me out.

Street Parking – In cities where you can find street parking, warehouse districts work well. You can even turn on the generator, because no one is around on nights and weekends. And on weekdays, it’s so noisy with big rigs, no one will notice your generator running.

However, it’s not always easy to find street parking. It’s amazing how many cities make it illegal to park on streets overnight. Just because you find a warehouse or commercial district, doesn’t mean you can park there.  Woodland, CA for example, just off I-5, has absolutely NO Parking on any commercial or warehouse streets in the entire city! So, you either have to keep searching, go to another city or just take your chances (like I did and got kicked out in the middle of the night).

I’ve also had good luck parking overnight on streets near medical offices, apartment complexes and parks and baseball fields. As long as they’re away from houses and there aren’t any “No Parking” signs.

I also found that community colleges can be good places to park: when school is not in session (often Sundays and vacations). Otherwise permits are enforced and I learned the hard way, campus security will knock on your door at 7 am with an actual police officer and ask you to move.  But if you know for certain the campus is closed, it can be a great place to park AND get free wi-fi! I stayed at a Community College in California for two or three nights.

New housing subdivisions are also great stealth camps!  I’ve spent four or five nights in areas where new houses and neighborhoods are being built. The streets are there, maybe even the foundations of houses, but they’re not occupied yet.  Park there when construction crews aren’t working or get in late and leave early before they get there.  I stayed in one for 2 nights in a row and was never bothered. (Do a google search for “Model Homes” and you can often find new developments)

Stealth camping in a Class C RV fulltime
Stealth camping in a new housing development dead end street, Vacaville, CA

Walmart. We all know that Walmart is RV friendly and you can often park overnight there.  Unfortunately, many cities aren’t as accepting of this practice and have local ordinances making it illegal to park overnight in Walmart parking lots. So, before you go parking in any old Walmart, check ahead of time to make sure it’s ok.  Here’s the resource I use:  http://www.walmartlocator.com/no-park-walmarts/. I’ve also seen RVs park overnight in Walmarts on the Do Not Park list (Medford, OR, for example).  If you’re in a bind, go in and ask management. You may be able to get away with it if local law enforcement is lax.

I’ve stayed at a couple of Walmarts – one was loud and a little sketchy (Rancho Cordova, CA) and the other, quite pleasant (Gardnerville, NV).  While Walmart is never my first choice, it works in a pinch -and beats getting a knock on the door in the middle of the night!

I’ve also stayed near Truck Stops, off remote country roads, boat launch parking lots (I got lucky on that one, the next night they closed and locked the gate!),  residential streets where the houses are behind big brick sound-walls, dead end streets, parking lots behind warehouses and local and regional park parking lots that didn’t have “No overnight parking” signs.

Tips for successful stealth camping in a Class C RV:

  1. Don’t attract attention to yourself: If you must park someplace where sleeping on the street would be frowned upon, do your best to stay under the radar. Walk your dog somewhere else, so they don’t see you coming in and out of your RV. Leave your lights off or put up blackout curtains. Don’t run your generator and don’t put out your slides if you have them. Parking your RV on the street is not a problem – SLEEPING in it is. So we want to give the impression no one is inside.
  2. Explore the city or town you’re in for the best spot: Some of my best spots have been discovered by driving around. And sometimes, I just have to take a chance. Recently, in Medford Oregon, I camped near a warehouse in a gravel lot. I felt safe and slept well. I decided to stay put for a few hours in the morning and work and drink my coffee (it was a Sunday). I got a visit from the property owner telling me I couldn’t be there (even though there were no Private Property or No Trespassing signs). He was nice and explained that they’d had a lot of problems with vagrants. “in fact”, he said, “It’s not safe for you to be here.” Of course, “safe” is relative and the ‘vagrants’ could very well have been people just like me. Nevertheless,  I moved on.

    Stealthy camping in a class c rv
    Stealth camping on a country road near Latrobe, CA (the night after my scary night)
  3. Use Google Maps and Google Earth. This is one of my best resources for finding areas to park. You can look for parks, forest roads, commercial centers and medical parks and get street level views. This is very helpful! You can also Google search “warehouse space for lease”. This usually gives me an address so I can find the warehouse district.
  4. Ask people. I was once kicked out of a community college by a Police Officer who, when I asked where a better place to park might be, gave me the name of a business owned by a friend of his who wouldn’t mind me being there overnight. Of course, the conversation was completely off the record. But he was very helpful. As a woman, I find most men want to help me if I pull the “I want to feel safe” card.

All in all, my outlaw days are mostly behind me. I prefer the safety and solitude of the forest and no longer need to stay near cities and towns. But there are times it can’t be avoided and I’d rather take my chances stealth camping than spending $35-$50 to stay in an RV/Trailer park jam packed with residential mobile homes.

What are some of your questions/concerns/experiences stealth camping? I’d love to hear from you.

 

Solo RV Living Safety for Women and men

16 Safety Tips for Solo RV Living (and Vandwelling too!)

I don’t subscribe to “the world is a mean and scary place” agenda that is prominent in our media these days.  Our news has become a joke. With a 24 hour news cycle, they literally scrape the bottom of the barrel for stories to keep their ratings up 24/7. And guess what sells? FEAR.

Safety Advice from a  Solo Traveler and RVer 

I’ve backpacked over 400 miles in the back-country alone. I’ve traveled to 8 countries alone. I’ve lived alone in some rough neighborhoods in and around San Francisco and Oakland. And now  I live and travel in an RV alone. Guess what, I’m still here. Unharmed and safe and sound.

The world isn’t as scary as some would have you believe. Umatilla national forest campsite oregon

With that said, we do have to take precautions for that “just in case” AND perhaps it’s street smarts and gut instinct that have kept me safe. So, here is how I stay safe traveling alone:

16 Tips for Safety when you live and travel alone in an RV or Van.

  1. Always give the impression you aren’t alone: put out two camp chairs and a couple pairs of shoes.
  2. Get a giant pair of men’s shoes to put outside your door.
  3. Carry bear spray and learn how to use it – BEFORE you need it!
  4. Carry a baseball bat (and glove so it doesn’t look like a weapon, which is illegal in some states, like California) and keep it by your bed at night.
  5. Keep your cell phone close by at night and know where you are: your address, GPS coordinates, etc.
  6. Keep a set of keys with you at all times and another someplace inside your RV or Van that would be easy to grab in an emergency. bigstock_vector_burglar_3457584
  7.  Don’t leave hammers, hatchets, or other heavy tools laying around outside your RV! (they could be used as weapons against you)
  8. Get intimidating signs for your windows. “Beware of Dog” or something gun related.
  9. Be aware of your surroundings! – Know who is around you and what kind of people your area attracts. Get out if it doesn’t feel right.
  10. Trust your gut. NEVER EVER second guess your gut! If you feel something isn’t right,  just GO. NOW!
  11. Point your RV, Van or Rig in your escape route. Don’t get stuck in an emergency always be pointing in the direction of your ‘out’.
  12. Strategically place your tools around your RV. Don’t just leave your tools in one place, you never know which direction danger could come. Leave tools around your RV so you can get to them no matter where danger might come from.
  13.  Use your car alarm. In an emergency sound your RV or van alarm – that could scare off potential threats.
  14. Buy a siren or loud horn.  In an emergency this will attract attention and scare off the bad guys.
  15. Get a dog! A scary one, not a fluffy white one.
  16. A gun is a personal decision. There are plenty of gun owners out there who  want you to believe if you don’t have a gun you’re just asking to be murdered, raped and pillaged. The fact is, street smarts, common sense, and gut instinct  go a long way toward protecting yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t be safe without a gun.  If you’re comforable with a gun, get a gun, But if you’re not, don’t. Trust me, you WILL most likely survive.

In this video I tell a story of my one and only scary night so far of RV living and the lessons I learned. I also go into more detal about all of these tips:

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?

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?