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.
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:
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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?
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!
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.
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!)
Closed all my blinds and curtains and then covered all the windows with heavy blankets.
Put a windshield cover on the windshield and one over the back emergency window at the head of my bead.
Closed all my vents
Sealed off the door with a thermal curtain and then stuffed dog beds and pillows into the step – that door is very drafty!
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
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.
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.
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.
Bake! Do all your baking at night and/or in the morning. The oven adds a lot of heat
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!
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)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last week I was camped out in an auto shop about 100 miles north of San Francisco, getting my RV transmission rebuilt. Being stuck and cooped up was trying, to say the least. And one cold and stormy night, I had quite a fright!
It was just past seven, the air was chill and the wind howled through the metal walls of the old garage. The mechanics were working late, desperate to figure out why, even after a rebuilt transmission, my Class C RV wouldn’t shift into gear on it’s own. It was a mystery that had haunted them for days…
I was alone, inside my RV, trying to escape the pounding noise of rain and wind slamming against the metal garage roof. I was about to make dinner when suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move. It shocked me. I was alone. Capone was fast asleep on my bed in the back. What could be moving inside my RV?
I took a closer look: a ginormous black blob was creeping across the curtain rod in my seating area. Earlier when I was in the waiting room of the garage, I’d seen a mouse scurry across the floor, so my first thought was: Mouse!
I gingerly inched closer to my curtain: Ho-oly Shit! What the f****???
I turned around and bolted out of the RV and into the garage yelling, “Guys?!?! Not to be a total girl, but um… you have to see this spider!”
They smirked and gave each other “that look”: the knowing, smug look that rugged mechanic-dudes give each other when a girl screams about a little spider.
Dave, the owner of the shop, dropped his wrench, and trying his best to not sound condescending, but not quite pulling off, said, “OK, let’s take a look..” He stepped up into my RV and I stood back, keeping a healthy distance in case this crazy alien spider decided to jump and attack. I pointed toward my curtain, “Look at THAT!” I blurted with a mixture of fear and awe.
He spotted the gargantuan, creepy crawly, monster of a spider right away and gasped. “Ho-oly shit!” And he yelled to his friend still in the garage, “Norm, you have to see this!” Yep – he knew he was going to need backup to take care of this monster!
Norm stepped into the rig. Dave and I were keeping a healthy distance and shoved our fingers out in the direction of the intruder, “What the …….?!? What the hell is that??” He cried in disbelief.
I felt vindicated. Ha, I’m not such a squeamish girl after all, am I?
They got a pair of vice-scrips to gently pull the colossal spider out from behind the curtain, where she’d ducked to try to hide from our probing eyes. In the process of extracting her we realized the creepy bumps all over her back were dozens of tiny baby spiders that fell off and went scrambling all over my curtain when they probed and prodded her.
Once they had her safely captured inside a Tupperware bowl I shook out my curtain, but it didn’t prevent me from having the heebie jeebies for days. Holy cow! I’m a backpacker- I live in an RV in the woods, critters and insects are part of life, but THIS thing was beyond “normal”.
Dave and Norm put the bowl on the service manager’s desk as a nice surprise to start his day. And as I sat in the waiting room the next day I got to listen as he grossed out every customer he showed her to. It was good to know I wasn’t just being wimpy!
The next day Brent, the manager set her free in the field across the street. I was glad we saved her and I hope she’s somewhere safe. But I hope I never run into one of those again!
I did a Google search and it looks like she was a Wolf Spider. They’re pretty common and they can bite, but aren’t poisonous. All I know is if I’d woken up and found that thing crawling on me, I’d have died of a heart attack!
What’s the scariest, ugliest or creepiest thing you’ve ever run across in your RV adventures?
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!)
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.
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?