Category Archives: Exploring RV Living

Exploring RV Living – Supporting Your Lifestyle

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

I recently pointed out that full-time RV living is something that can be done at any income and budget level. This time we’ll talk about ways to make a living or ways to supplement an existing income stream that can be done while living in your RV.

Workin’ Nine To Five

I suppose I should start out with the obvious and possibly overlooked option: a conventional job. Just because your house has wheels doesn’t mean you have to be on the move constantly. It is quite possible to work a regular job while living at a trailer park, campground, or RV park. Even working in a city, you might be surprised at how many urban RV and trailer parks there are, and often close to shopping and bus lines.

Some people do this as a transitional step. As they prepare to retire or quit their regular job, they buy an RV and begin living in it while they count down to retirement or gear up for a location-independent income opportunity. If you are new to RVing, this is a great way to get used to your new home and lifestyle without suddenly abandoning the support system of friends, family, and job.

It’s also a perfectly good option for someone who isn’t interested in becoming a vagabond, but is interested in an RV as a simple and environmentally friendly minimalist dwelling and an alternative to conventional housing options.

Transient, Temporary, and Contract Work

There are many fields and jobs that involve frequent moving around. Workers often spend as little as a few days or weeks, or as much as several months or more at a given location before moving on. I’ve met travelling nurses, teachers, power plant workers, salespeople, consultants, and technicians of all sorts who have transient work environments. Typically people with such jobs stay in rental homes, apartments, or extended-stay hotels. Employees are often given a generous per diem to cover housing, while independent contractors pay for their own housing, but their compensation usually is more than adequate to cover living expenses.

A smart transient worker can travel by  RV, which will almost certainly cost less than endless hotel stays, even when living at a campground or RV park with full amenities, and pocket the difference. There’s also the advantage of having your own home wherever you are, not having to pack and unpack for each move, and sleeping in your own bed every night.

Location Independent Occupations

This is what some of you may be looking for. You want to come and go as you please – wherever and whenever you want. Is it possible to make a living without being stuck in one place or chasing contract work? Of course it is.

Internet Income

If you have a blog or other website that generates income, as long as you can get online as often as necessary, you’re all set. Maintaining reliable connectivity is indeed possible; look here to learn more. Affiliate programs, online sales (eBay and Etsy are good examples), web design, and more are all internet income possibilities.

Writing

As long as you have a computer (or, for that matter, pen and paper) you can write no matter where you are. Of course you could write on any topic you like–fiction or non, and any format–book, magazine, newspaper, blog–but many RVing authors find the lifestyle an inspiration for their writing. Blogging about your travels or reviewing campgrounds or tourist destinations or offering technical support and how-to articles are just a few examples of RV-inspired writing.

Photography

In the era of digital photography, access to a darkroom is no longer needed to be a professional photographer.  With a DSLR camera and a laptop computer you have all you need for most photographic endeavors. You could take travel and nature photographs for magazines, or photos of campgrounds or other businesses for advertising. You could travel around as a freelance photojournalist, documenting news stories, sporting events, and entertainment news. The list of potential photographic subjects is practically limitless.

Flea Markets, Fairs, Trade Shows and More

If you like people and sales work, or have a trade or craft that lends itself to such venues, then you could become a manufacturer’s rep or salesperson, or an independent vendor, or make and sell your own craft or other product at related travelling or seasonal events,

Get Paid For Being Helpful

Are you handy? You could make your skills known when you stop at an RV park or campground, and get paid to help your fellow campers with RV repairs or computer or electronics help.

Workamping

“Workamping” is an umbrella term that covers varying types of work, with the common denominator being that the work requires one to live on-site and the payment is in the form of a place to camp. Sometimes there might even be some cash to be had, too, but most workamping gigs are just trade-for-campsite deals, so they work well if you already have an income stream of some sort (retirement, internet, writing) that you’d like to be able to stretch by reducing your living expenses.

Campgrounds and RV Parks

The most obvious type of workamping gig is at a campground or RV park. You might do maintenance, security, landscaping, or office work. Many places prefer couples because they get two workers in exchange for one campsite, but solo campers can find work, too. Compensation ranges anywhere from a dry campsite all the way to full hookups (including free electricity) plus free propane, with most being somewhere in the middle – full hookups but you pay for your electric, or have an electric allowance, and maybe a discount on propane. Most places want 20 hours per week in exchange for a campsite.

Parks and Recreation

The US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and other federal, state, and local agencies that operate public camping and recreation areas recruit volunteers as camp hosts, maintenance workers, interpretive guides, and more. In exchange you get a free campsite (amenities vary from primitive to full hookups) and plenty of free time to explore and enjoy our  public lands.

Caretaking, House-sitting, and Animal-sitting

There is some overlap in this area, especially between caretaking and house-sitting, and while the opportunity might be offered under any one of those names, duties might also extend to the other two. Skills needed can vary from an ability to follow simple directions (watering of plants, feeding animals) to basic or advanced maintenance skills. Some opportunities will offer you a campsite, while others, especially house- or pet-sitting, may offer living quarters or even require that you live in the home. If that is the case, make sure you will be able to park your RV on the property, or suitable arrangements can be made for convenient nearby storage.

Musicians

You may not have a chauffeur-driven million-dollar tour bus, but even on a working musician’s income, you can enjoy similar amenities as the top-dollar acts by driving your own RV from gig to gig. You can forget about hotels and motels, too — you’ll have your own bed waiting for you to crash in after the show.

But Wait, There’s MORE!

There are so many possibilities. I’m sure I’ve overlooked many of them. Can you think of more? Comments are open — do share!

Exploring RV Living – Is It Expensive?

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

RVing is considered, by some, to be an expensive recreational hobby for those who have an adequate supply of disposable income. I suppose it could be, if you intend to buy a brand-new half-million dollar custom motorcoach which you’ll park in a $100 per night RV resort.  Even more costly if you do so while keeping and maintaining your conventional home as a primary residence.

In reality, full-time RV living, just like conventional housing, can fit almost any budget. When you’re full-timing, your RV is your home, so all the money you used to spend for rent or mortgage payments on a house or apartment is now available to spend on the RV. One way some home owners transition to full-timing, if they have sufficient equity in their homes, is to sell the house and use the proceeds of the sale to buy an RV, or at least make a sizable down payment if they choose to finance a larger or newer coach.

There’s really two different costs to consider: the initial cost of acquiring the RV and preparing it for full-time living, and then there’s the ongoing expenses.

Home On Wheels

Let your budget be your guide, along with your expectations and abilities. A shiny new class-A motorhome will easily set you back a couple hundred thousand or more. Go for something a few years old, but still nice, and you can do it for much less. If you don’t mind gambling on an older rig, and you’re a good shopper, you can probably find something decent for $10-20K.  If you’re on a tight budget, and a little handy, you can probably find something under ten thousand. If you’re like me — dirt poor, but very handy and resourceful, and don’t much care what the neighbors think —  you might get away for under five grand.

That range of prices would be for a motorhome. If you already own a decent pickup truck, you might look at trailers instead, for 1/4 – 1/2 the price of a similarly sized and equipped motorhome of the same age and condition. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, and other options too. You might want to take a look at this post for more info on the different types of RVs.

Cost Of Living

Once you have your rig and it’s all set up to live in, you’ll only have your ongoing expenses to worry about. Once again, you have a lot of control over what you spend. There’s plenty of opportunity to spend money if you want, yet living can be really cheap, too.

You can stay in an RV park with full hook-ups and amenities similar to an apartment complex, and you can expect to pay about the same as you would to rent an apartment, and maybe a little less. You could instead choose to be adventurous, and camp on public land, parking lots, and other free places. You’ll save rent, but will have to move more often and will have the inconvenience and possible expense of finding a place to  refill your fresh water supply and dump your waste. Still, if you’re looking to save money, that’s the way to go. I discussed all the different options for different places to stay in this post.

Vehicle Expenses

You’ll have expenses related to your motorhome or your trailer and tow vehicle. There’s insurance, registration, maintenance and repair, and fuel. Various choices you make will affect these costs. For example, an older rig will cost less to register and insure, but might need more frequent or more costly repairs. A smaller rig will use less fuel than a larger one. You can also save fuel by travelling less frequently and/or shorter distances. Routine maintenance includes such things as fluids, filters, and tires.

Tired Tires

Tires are an expense you’ll have to plan on no matter how much or little you drive. While you’re not likely to wear out a set of tires on an RV, they will “age out.” As tires age, they become more prone to failure, no matter how much tread depth they have or how nice they might look. This is something that isn’t thought about much on a passenger car – it is usually driven enough that the tires wear out before they age out. RVs tend to be driven much less, so they can get too old for safety even while they look brand new.

Safety First

I learned that the hard way when I tried to take a trip on 12-year-old tires, and in Arizona in July, no less. So learn how to read the date codes on all your tires, and replace them when they get to be seven years old or so, no matter how good they look. And NEVER drive on a tire that’s over ten years old!

Same As It Ever Was

Of course you’ll also have the same sorts of living expenses that you always have, no matter how and where you live, so keep those in mind as you budget. Things like food, medical expenses, phone and internet.

The Bottom Line

While the sky’s the limit with luxury RVs and resorts, it’s also a great way to live a frugal minimalist lifestyle. If you own your RV outright, you could live on $500 a month without hardship.. You could live quite comfortably on $1000, with money to spare for the occasional splurge (or to stash away for a rainy day).

Living small and mobile is living cheap.  Living cheap opens the door to all kinds of creative ways to make an income, and frees up more time to do what you enjoy most. It can enable someone on a limited budget to live a decent life.  In the next installment of Exploring RV Living we’ll look at all sorts of ways you can earn an income while living in your RV.

Are you a full-timer, or have you been? I’d love to read your thoughts on how affordable RV living is. If you’re considering the lifestyle, but have questions, ask away. Comments are open!

Exploring RV Living – Environmental Considerations

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

When you see an RV travelling down the road, do you see a gas-guzzling road-hog? Or do you see an efficient and eco-friendly home on the move? I suppose it could be either or both — it all boils down to how it’s being used.

Conspicuous Consumption

At first glance a big RV, especially a ginormous rolling McMansion complete with exotic woodwork, crystal chandeliers, two baths, full laundry and dishwasher is luxurious, but far from sensible. If that is one’s mode of recreation, and it is in addition to one or more conventional houses, cars, and who-knows what else, then I’d certainly call it conspicuous consumption.

On the other hand, if an RV – even an oversized and lavishly appointed one – is one’s only home, it makes for a surprisingly eco-friendly dwelling. Of course oversized and lavish is not my style, and compact and sensible is an even more economical and environmentally sound choice.

Drive Much?

The truth of the matter is that while most RVs get horrible mileage, they are rarely used as daily commuters. While an average automobile might be driven  fifteen thousand miles per year, the average RV travels only a few thousand miles. Maybe a little more for frequent travelers, and a lot less for infrequent travelers.

Remember that each time you move an RV, you are moving your entire house and all its contents. Compare that to moving all the contents of a typical household, involving packing, one or more trips in a vehicle at least as large as the largest RV and then unpacking again, and the RV is the hands-down winner.

Less Is Less

While camped in one spot and providing a cozy place to live, an RV is very thrifty in its use of resources. This is primarily a result of its smaller size in comparison to conventional housing options. Less space to heat or cool means less energy is used. Same thing goes for having less space to light. With a rooftop photovoltaic array, I can be off-grid and free of fossil fuels for most of my electrical needs. Conservation habits learned while boondocking help me save resources (and money) even when I have full hookups.

Small Is Smart

Regardless of type of construction,  smaller homes are better for the environment and the budget. Being among the smallest homes around, an RV is an excellent choice for the eco-conscious as well as the frugal. Add to that the convenience of being able to move about readily and on short notice (and at lower cost, both financially and ecologically, than moving a conventional household) and RV living is just the smart thing to do.

Exploring RV Living – Differences Between RVs And Other Dwellings

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

An RV is an attempt to take all the comforts and conveniences of home and assemble them into a compact, mobile, and self contained package. This transformation results in some differences in form and function that affect liveability to varying degrees.

Size Matters

One significant difference between an RV and most other housing options is the size. Ranging is size from under 100 to about 400 square feet, all but the largest RVs are much smaller than most apartments, and sometimes smaller than  a hotel room. An RV certainly makes for a tiny house, available within the same size range as the recently popular “Tiny Houses.” If you are considering leaving your conventional house or apartment to go full-timing in an RV, be prepared for a major downsizing.

Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’

Unlike most houses and apartments, an RV has wheels. It is easily movable to suit your whim or need. Don’t like the weather? Move! Obnoxious neighbors? Move! New gig in another town? another state? Move!

Depending on the size of your rig and how lightly you travel, you could move in as little as a moment’s notice. In reality, unless you’re just at an overnight stop and haven’t really unpacked and settled, it might take anywhere from an hour to a day to be ready to roll.  I’ll admit I still have much more stuff than I should, but even I can be on the road within a few days of making the decision to travel.

Yeah, But…

I suppose those first two were pretty obvious differences. But let’s say you’re sitting still for a while — what’s different about day-to-day living between an RV and other similarly-sized homes?

Fixed Furniture

Some people like to rearrange the furniture in their rooms from time to time for a bit of variety. In an RV most, if not all, of the furniture is either built-in or bolted down so it doesn’t rearrange itself while you’re bouncing down the road. Sure, chairs might swivel and recline, and sofas and tables might convert to beds, but otherwise you’re stuck with everything where and how it is. That’s why one of the most important parts of RV shopping is making sure you will be happy with the floor plan. That’s not to say it’s impossible to make changes. Modifications can be made, but it’s a major remodeling project.

Blowin’ In The Wind

Unless you have leveling/stabilizing jacks, your whole house is sitting on a spring suspension. This suspension is necessary to absorb the shock of bumps, potholes, and irregular road surfaces while traveling. Once parked, it is subject to blowing winds as well as movement of the occupants within.

Limited Resources

This may or may not apply to some or all of your consumable resources, depending on how and where you are camping. If you are at a fancy RV park with full hookups, you might not have to worry about running out of water or electricity. On the other hand, your electrical service is delivered via a glorified extension cord, with about the same capacity as two regular household circuits. Your water service is delivered via a garden hose. Your propane isn’t limitless like a conventional home’s piped-in natural gas or huge propane tank.

You’ll  have to exercise conscious consumption of resources. Of course that’s a good habit to acquire, because even “limitless” resources are not really limitless in the bigger picture. You’ll be kinder to the earth and to your wallet if you try to use only what you really need instead of using as much as you can.

Extra Maintenance Chores

If you are camping with full hookups, you might be tempted to just hook up your sewer hose, open the dump valves, and forget about it. Not a good idea. While it’s OK to leave the hose connected, you really should leave the valves closed (at least the black one), and  periodically open to dump as needed.  Those of you who are RVers, especially full-timers, already know why. The rest of you can search RV Poop Pyramid for the gory details.

Batteries also require periodic maintenance, even (especially?) when you’re sitting still and connected to shore power. If they are traditional flooded(liquid electrolyte) batteries, water lost due to evaporation will need to be replaced. When the batteries are constantly under a float charge, as when continuously connected to commercial power, the rate of evaporation is accelerated.

With limited indoor space and close quarters, you’ll be taking the trash out at least daily, and sometimes several times per day.

Step On It!

Some fixtures in an RV don’t work the same as they do in a conventional home, most notably the toilet. Instead of the usual handle, an RV toilet is flushed with a foot pedal. Pressing the pedal opens a trap door in the bottom of the bowl, allowing the contents to fall into the holding tank below. The same or a second pedal regulates the flow of fresh water to rinse and refill the bowl. There may even be a hand-held sprayer for stubborn spots.

It’s The Little Things

You already know an RV is small, but so are many of the fixtures and components. Most traditional homes and apartments are built using standard materials to standard dimensions. Even in a small apartment, with less square footage and smaller closets, the kitchen and bath fixtures are still  normal sized.

In an RV you not only have fewer square feet — most everything is smaller. Doorways are shorter and narrower. Ceilings are lower. Sinks, lavatories, and toilets are smaller, and the shower is downright tiny. Beds are often smaller and may have thinner mattresses.

Cupboards and drawers are smaller. The cookstove is smaller and may have only 2 or 3 burners, and might lack a conventional oven. The largest RV refrigerators aren’t much bigger than a small apartment fridge, and the smallest ones are the size of the tiny cubes you’d find in a dorm room or hotel mini-bar.

Counter space is somewhere between little and none – covers for the stove and sink that transform them into additional counter space are popular accessories.

Comments Are Open

Have you vacationed in an RV? Live in one? Visited one? What stood out as something that made for a different experience than a conventional home?

Exploring RV Living – That’s Entertainment!

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

I’ll be mostly talking about in-home entertainment, and the options that exist for occupants of RVs and other small dwellings.  For outside-the-home entertainment, the options are the same as anybody else has, and depends on where you live and what is available. Living in an RV can arguably add to the options, though, because you can easily move your house to be near the entertainment.

Reading

The book is the original portable entertainment system. It’s compact, goes anywhere, uses no energy, and requires nothing more than enough light to read by. Its biggest drawback for RV living is size and weight. While a single book isn’t especially big nor especially heavy, things can quickly get out of control if you are an avid reader. Unlike a regular house, an RV doesn’t have enough space for a very big library so you will be limited in the number of books you can carry on board.

In And Out

You’ll have to decide how many books you can comfortably carry, and stick to a strict “one in, one out” plan. Each time you get a new book, you must gift or donate one. Friends, neighbors, and fellow campers might enjoy reading some of the books you are finished with. Some RV parks and campgrounds have informal exchange libraries where you can leave some extras and maybe find something new, too.  If you want to make a fun game out of giving away extra books, try Book Crossing.

Library

If you plan to stay long enough in one spot, find the local public library and see if you can get a library card, or if they will honor the card from your hometown. Even if you can’t do either, you can always sit and read right there in the library. Many libraries also lend CDs and DVDs – great for music and movie lovers.

E-Books

Some consider e-books to be the future of publishing. While blog readers are certainly familiar with self-published e-books written by bloggers and other independent authors, most mainstream “big-name” authors and publishers offer their works electronically, too. Amazon recently announced that e-books are outselling physical books on their site. E-books are ideal for RVers with space at a premium since they take up no physical space at all. Some people like to use an e-reader to mimic the ergonomics of reading a traditional book, but that’s not necessary. You can read e-books on many devices now, including whatever you are using to read this blog.

Music

Music was one of the earliest entertainment media to go digital. This is wonderful for the music lover and collector who wants to live small and portably. What would have once been a room-sized library of LPs, or a full-length bookcase full of CDs, now fits in the palm of your hand.  Your existing media can be “ripped” to digital files, and in the future you need never visit a record store again (if you can find one – I actually liked going to the record store back in the day). As long as you have internet access, you can get all your music digitally, either buying and downloading files or merely streaming the music.

Movies And More

Movies and other video content can also be digitized and stored on a hard drive, but there are potential legal issues. While many people rip their own DVDs that they have purchased, the DMCA has technically made that illegal. In spite of “fair use” allowances, the law is worded such that merely breaking the encryption on a DVD (necessary to copy it) is illegal, even if copying it would otherwise be permissible for personal use. My advice, and it’s worth what you’re paying for it, is to let your conscience be your guide. In reality, I doubt anybody is going to come beating down your door because you ripped your DVD to watch on your computer or streaming media server. They are interested in people pirating and distributing copyrighted material – not the average user doing format conversion for his or her own convenience.

That said, you can still easily store quite a large movie library on DVD or Blue-Ray discs in a small space if you are willing to give up the inefficient packaging they come in. One of the large binder-style disc albums, about a foot square and six inches thick, will hold 300 or more discs and can easily be tucked away in a corner somewhere.

Of course if you have fast internet, you can always download or stream movies and TV shows. If you are staying in one place long enough, you can do rent-by-mail, and if you are close enough to civilization, you can do Redbox or a video store (are they still around?) for rentals.

Making Music

Do you play an instrument? That’s a great way to entertain yourself as well as neighbors and friends. You might have to think a bit outside the box, and not all instruments are RV-friendly. You won’t likely be carrying a piano or organ, but a portable electronic keyboard instrument, why not? Guitars, violins, and similar stringed acoustic instruments as well as most brass and woodwinds are small and easy enough to carry on board, and, as a bonus, need no power to play. How about a harmonica? an accordion? Maybe you like to sing. Many DVD players will play karaoke discs – no special machine needed. Or, if you’re really good, you could sing a capella.

I’m sure I’ve just scratched the surface, but as you can see, there’s no want for entertainment when living in an RV. Feel free to share your own experience and ideas in the comments.

Exploring RV Living – Staying Connected

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

As humans, most of us are social creatures by nature. We also need to stay on top of business communications, both personal and professional. While it remains a challenge to live a location-independent lifestyle, recent advances in technology have made it much less so, at least when it comes to communication.

Trip Down Memory Lane

Thirty years ago, mobile phones were an expensive toy for those who could afford it, or couldn’t afford to be without, and the internet was just getting its start. Twenty years ago, mobile phones were starting to be almost affordable for average people, and the internet was becoming popular with 56k dialup modems. Mobile internet was possible, but excruciatingly slow and prohibitively expensive.  Ten years ago, WiFi became popular, and cell-based mobile internet was just beginning to become faster and more affordable. Today, almost everybody has a cellphone, and wireless internet, while still slower and more expensive than wired, is affordable and tolerably fast.

Cutting The Cord

My cellphone is my only phone, and it was my only phone even when I lived in a regular house. It just made sense to me. For about the same price as a wired phone, which only works in my house, I can have a wireless phone, which works in my house as well as almost everywhere else. To me it was a no-brainer.  When I was ready to move from house to RV, the telephone was a non-issue, since I’d already made the transition to wireless.

Internet Options

There are a number of options for internet access. If internet isn’t a part of your daily routine, or you expect to only stay where there is WiFi available or nearby, then that’s a great option, and inexpensive or even free. Some people go with satellite. It gives decent speeds, and will work anywhere you have a view of the southern sky.  It is also expensive, both for the hardware and the monthly service. Setup and aiming of the dish can be finicky, but systems are made that automatically track the birds, even while in motion — for a price. Some people use cell-based internet by tethering their phone to their computer, or they use a dedicated device.

What I Use

For me, cellular was the best balance between cost and usability.  I have a cellular modem and router that gives me ethernet and WiFi connectivity whenever I’m within range of a cellphone tower. I have an outdoor high gain antenna and an amplifier to stretch that range and make sure I have the fastest connection possible (speed is directly related to signal strength). Speeds can range from slow-as-dialup in rural areas, to a respectable, if not blazing, one or two megabits per second.

Hello Radio!

The cellular system does a good enough job with phone and internet, but sometimes it goes down, and there are also plenty of places with poor or no coverage. That’s when amateur radio becomes more than a hobby. It becomes my only communication link. HF (shortwave) bands offer the ability to communicate with stations all over the country and even around the world. It offers true point-to-point communication that doesn’t rely on cellphone towers nor other infrastructure. One of the earliest uses of radio was to maintain contact with ships at sea, and it still serves that function today. There are also groups of RVing hams who keep in touch daily not only to keep track of friends’ travels, but also as a means of checking welfare and relaying messages when necessary. Formal message handling isn’t as common as it once was, but it is indispensable as a means of getting an important message to or from a traveler who is out of range of other communication methods. Ham radio also gives me the security of knowing if there was ever an emergency, be it on the road or at a remote campsite, I would be able to summon help. Amateur radio can even be used to send and receive email.

Neither Rain Nor Snow…

What about the mail? Even with email and the internet, and despite the decline in use of postal mail, there’s still a need for snail mail. But how? There are a number of options. If you tend to stay mostly in one general area, or frequently return to a particular town, you could get a post office box. While the US Postal Service offers the best rates, a third-party mailbox store offers the ability to receive packages from any carrier as well as an actual street address.

Follow Me

If you expect to be roaming far and wide, with no plans to regularly return to any “home” location, you’ll need your mail forwarded. You could get a trusted friend or family member to do it for you. This probably offers the best flexibility. They would be able to recognize potentially important mail and alert you to its presence. They could recognize and discard junk mail. If they follow your travels and know your habits, they’d be better equipped to anticipate your needs than a stranger at a commercial establishment.

There are a number of mail forwarding businesses that can do this for you. They will receive and save your mail for you, and, on your request, will send it on to the address of your choice — often General Delivery in the town you are staying in. These companies specialize in mail forwarding and offer many services (sometimes at an extra charge). You can call them and ask them to tell you what mail you have waiting, or look for a particular piece you may be waiting for. Some will even open and read you your mail to you at your request.

Mail-To-Email

There is a variation on the mail forwarding service. These services open all of your mail, scan it, and email you the scanned images. You can then instruct them, on a piece by piece basis, to shred, save, or forward the original.  There are varying options you can specify as to default actions for different types of mail, and pricing varies with features offered and options selected. This is a good plan for someone who has good internet or email access, wants the ability to read their mail as quickly as possible, and isn’t bothered by the thought that somebody else is opening and handling their mail.

Reduction Strategies

Along with forwarding, you’ll want to practice mail reduction, too, to save on the cost and frequency of re-mailing.  In fact, everyone should seek to reduce their paper mail to the absolute minimum as that will help reduce your ecological footprint. Cancel any catalogs and junk mail that you can. Even if you like reading catalogs, you can do that online. If you subscribe to any magazines, see if they are available on the web (sometimes as a PDF-like electronic version that attempts to mimic the print edition). Check with creditors and service providers to see if they offer electronic billing (online or email) — most do. You can even take that to the next step and do electronic bill pay to save yourself a stamp, a check, and a trip to the post office. You can even have predictable recurring bills paid automatically so you don’t have to worry about forgetting them.

As you can see, even though the government and many businesses would prefer you to have a fixed address so they know how to find you, it isn’t too hard to meet all your communication needs while maintaining freedom from location.

Your Turn!

Please feel free to ask questions or share your experience in the comments.

Exploring RV Living – All The Comforts Of Home: Water, Gas, And More

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

In order to be self-contained, an RV needs more than just electricity. Water is necessary for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and bathing. That means there also has to be somewhere for the used water to go, as well as the, ahem, used food. Speaking of food, we need gas to cook it and to refrigerate it. Gas also keeps me toasty warm in winter, heats water, and can even be used for lighting.

Elixir Of Life

While in a campground offering hookups, the fresh water system can be supplied via a hose connected to the so-called “city water” inlet on the RV. Regular garden hose fittings are the standard. By convention, a white hose is always used for potable water, and never for anything else. With this arrangement I have a virtually limitless supply of water as you are probably used to at your house.

Getting Tanked

When not connected, water is supplied from an on-board tank. An electric pump operates on demand to distribute water to the various fixtures when called for. In this mode water becomes a precious commodity, and conservation is a must. I have a 25-gallon fresh water tank and, with care, I can go two weeks between fill-ups. Doing the math, that’s less than two gallons per day. How much water do you use in a day? If you have metered water service, take a look at your last bill and do the math. As you can imagine, I’ve learned to not waste water. Do you usually let the water run while washing dishes, brushing your teeth, or washing your hands? I can’t afford to do that.

Down The Drain

Most people give little thought to what happens to water after it goes down the drain, or what happens to the contents of the bowl when the toilet flushes. Since it is not only disgusting, but also illegal to release raw sewage, and even relatively clean wastewater is not permitted to be discharged in most places, an RV needs holding tanks. As the name implies, these tanks hold the sewage and wastewater until they can be emptied at an appropriate “dump station” into a proper sewer or septic system. Most rigs have two tanks. One is for “gray” water – sink and shower drains lead there. The other is for “black” water – the toilet bowl contents go there when flushed. Plates need to be scraped thoroughly before dish washing to avoid bits of food going down the drain. Special care needs to be exercised with the toilet too.

Don’t Forget The Paperwork

Toilet paper must be of a type that breaks up easily in water. The best seems to be the Scott single-ply 1000 sheets per roll variety. Other single-ply paper claiming to be RV or septic safe might work too. Multi-ply, super-comfy plush paper will only cause trouble. It is too bulky and does not easily break apart in water. Aside from the paper, nothing else goes in the toilet unless you’ve eaten it first. That’s a reminder that some  things that you might be used to flushing down your regular toilet do not belong in an RV toilet or holding tank.

Got Gas?

Propane is used to operate the various gas appliances. My motorhome has a frame mounted tank plus I’ve added a hose to attach a portable cylinder to make for easy refills without breaking camp. A four burner gas stove with oven serves most of my cooking needs. In fact, it is an improvement over the stove in my last stick house, that having been electric. I have a 6-gallon  water heater, too.

Snug As A Bug

The coach was equipped from the factory with a forced air furnace, but I don’t use it often because it is inefficient in its propane consumption as well as using quite a bit of electrical power for the noisy blower. Mostly I use a small blue-flame heater – silent, efficient, and uses no electricity.

Wonders Of Ancient Technology

Perhaps my two favorite propane appliances, at least from the standpoint of interesting technology, are the refrigerator and the gas light. The mantle gas light remains relatively unchanged since its invention over 100 years ago.  At around 2000 BTU per hour, mine puts out just the right amount of heat for a mild winter evening or a cool spring or fall morning and makes a very bright light, too!

Making Cold From Heat

The propane-fired absorption refrigerator is almost magic – it turns the heat of a gas flame into cold! It is also another technology that has hardly changed since its invention in the 1920’s. While it may not be as energy-efficient as a mechanical compression-cycle refrigerator, it has a few advantages. No noisy compressor means it is totally silent. No moving parts, other than controls, means nothing to wear out. The main reason, however, that it is used for RV and other off-grid homes is because propane offers a much denser and therefore efficient means of energy storage than do batteries. A 20-pound cylinder, common for gas barbecue grills, will run the fridge for a month, while a battery the same size might run it for a day, and a battery of the same weight might run it for an hour or two.

Conservation Counts

Like other consumables that I carry on board, propane is a finite resource so I must plan my usage and practice active conservation. Unless I’m hooked up and plugged in, things that most folks take for granted and treat as unlimited are things I must carefully mind my usage and plan for resupplying as needed.

Your Turn

As always, your comments and questions are welcome and encouraged!

Exploring RV Living – All The Comforts Of Home: Electricity

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

I had planned to cover all the house systems (water, waste, gas, and electric) in one post, but as I got to writing about the electrical system I realized it would need its own post. The rest will be covered in the next installment.

Twelve Volt Basics

All RVs have a 12 volt DC electrical system. This powers interior and exterior lighting and a pump for the fresh water system, as well as exhaust fans and the blower of a forced-air furnace. Most newer rigs have smoke, propane, and carbon monoxide detectors, all running on 12 volts, and ignition and control electronics for the propane-fired combustion appliances.

More About Batteries

The 12 volts is supplied from a deep cycle storage battery. This is similar to a car battery, except that it is designed for deeper discharge at low current. A starting battery, in contrast, is designed to deliver short bursts of high current. Another reason not to use the engine starting battery to power the house loads is to avoid becoming stranded in the event of running the battery down while camping.

Getting Charged

The house battery is charged by the RV or tow vehicle’s engine alternator while driving. There is also a “converter” which converts 120 volt AC to 12 volts DC,  while connected to electric hookups, powering 12-volt loads without discharging the battery. The converter usually incorporates a charger as well. Photovoltaic solar panels can be added to generate power whenever there’s sunshine. With a decent sized battery bank and solar system, combined with mindful conservation habits, it is possible to go almost indefinitely without connecting to shore power or running an internal combustion engine.

What I’ve Got

What do I have? I’ve got 500 amp-hours (6000 watt-hours) of rated house battery capacity. In practice, a storage battery should not be discharged past 50% capacity or the life of the battery is severely impacted, so that leaves me with 3000 watt-hours to use. I have a 500 watt solar system, so an average six hours of insolation on a sunny day gives me, not incidentally, 3000 watt-hours of daily charging ability.  Take a look at your latest electric bill. Do the math and determine what your daily kilowatt-hour usage is. Could you live on 3 KWH per day? I can, at least when I don’t need air conditioning.

Household Power To Go

What about all the common electrical conveniences and necessities that run on regular 120-volt AC power? Most RVs have a 120-volt electrical system with standard receptacles. The power comes in through what amounts to a big thick glorified extension cord which you plug in when you stop at a campground or RV park offering hookups. But what about in the middle of nowhere? There are two options: inverters and generators.

Inversion Layer

Inverters change 12-volt DC battery power into 120-volt AC household power. They are available in numerous sizes from 100 watts, suitable for operating laptops, electronics, and small appliances through multi-kilowatt units able to power almost anything. Many RVers find that 300-500 watts is enough to power their TV, DVD, computer, and kitchen gadgets with power to spare. If you want to be able to power a microwave oven from your battery bank, you’ll want at least a 1000 watt inverter, though some folks will just run a generator for that. I have a 3000 watt (there’s that number again!) inverter that will allow me to operate anything I own, limited only by the capacity of my battery bank.

Generation XYZ

A generator can deliver all the power you might want or need, as long as you have fuel for it. Most motorhomes have a generator as standard or optional equipment, while trailers usually don’t. Trailer owners often carry a portable generator. In addition to powering standard 120-volt loads, the generator can also, via the converter/charger, power 12-volt devices as well as charge the house battery during a cloudy spell or for folks who have no photovoltaic system.

Twelve Volt Native

An alternative to using an inverter or generator is to find 12-volt appliances. You’d be surprised at all the different things that come in 12-volt versions, and not just electronics. I’ve seen blenders, coffeemakers, hair dryers, and even microwave ovens designed to operate directly from 12 volts DC. My recommendation, however, is for large or heating appliances that only get used occasionally for short intervals, stick with standard 120 volt versions. Most of the 12-volt kitchen appliances I’ve seen offer very disappointing performance. Electronics, lighting, and ventilation, however, are good places to look for 12-volt options.

Generator vs. Solar

There seems to be two kinds of RVers at any boondocking gathering.  There are the folks who have an adequate solar system and are careful about their usage. They do this to avoid having to run a noisy, smelly generator any more than absolutely necessary. They might have to succumb to generator usage either to recharge batteries after a string of cloudy days, or perhaps for a few minutes occasionally to operate a high-current appliance (microwave or coffeemaker, for example) if they have only a small inverter. They enjoy the peace and quiet and community with nature.  The other group enjoys their creature comforts and either have undersized (if any) solar systems or can’t concern themselves with energy frugality. These are the ones who fire up their gensets at the crack of dawn and run ‘em until noon, and then fire them up again around dusk and don’t shut ‘em down until long after dark. I’ve seen some campgrounds and events where they actually segregate campers based on generator usage. For the record, count me in the first camp. I prefer not to use a generator if at all possible.

Bucket Of Juice

Most people are used to having a virtually unlimited supply of electricity. Sure, you might try to conserve a bit to save money or help the environment. But you know that as long as you pay your electric bill, you aren’t going to run out of electricity unexpectedly. Not so when you’re off-grid. Your battery bank is like a bucket of electricity. It holds a finite amount of energy. Every time you turn on the light, listen to the radio, grind some coffee, or read my blog, you’re taking electricity out of the bucket. When the sun is shining, the generator is running, or you’re connected to shore power, you’re putting electricity back into the bucket. There are some pretty fancy instruments made that can measure the amount of energy going into and out of a battery bank and give the user a reasonably accurate indication of where they stand – much like the gas gauge on your car lets you know how far you can go before you need to fill up.

My Plan

I don’t have such a fancy system. I have very simple voltage and current metering, which keep me advised of the overall health of the system, and I rely on my experience with the system and familiarity with all of my devices and how much power they use to keep track of things. While off-grid, I am very conservative with my usage. I don’t leave things on when I’m not using them. I use only the lights I need, turn off or sleep the computer when not using it. I ration my TV and internet usage as well as my broadcast radio listening. If I’m not inside, then everything is shut off. Remember that 3 KWH figure I cited earlier? That’s not a goal – that’s a very real limit on my daily consumption.

Are we there yet?

Whew! This ended up being much longer than I expected, but there’s plenty of room in the comments if there’s something I left out, you didn’t understand, or would like more info about.

Exploring RV Living – Home Is Where I Park It

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

Living in an RV means that home is indeed wherever you choose to park it. But where? The possibilities are virtually endless, limited only by your imagination, resourcefulness, and sense of adventure. Let’s look at some of the options.

RV Parks And Campgrounds

First of all, what’s the difference between a park and a campground? There’s no real rule and sometimes the difference is in name only. Generally speaking, however, an RV park is oriented more toward longer-term residency — months, seasonal, or full-time. Campgrounds tend to be geared more to short-time visitors, and usually allow non-RV camping too.

Hook Me Up

RV Parks will almost always have full hook ups, meaning water, electric, and sewer connections. Cable TV, telephone, and WiFi may also be available. They are a good place to stay for someone who wants or needs the conveniences of “on-grid” living.

Campgrounds are often more rustic, and may offer fewer or different amenities. They may or may not have electricity. There may not be water or sewer hookups at each site, but rather a shared dump station and water spigot for campers to dump and fill as needed. Since campgrounds usually allow all types of camping, including tents, tiny trailers and vehicles without their own facilities, there are often toilets and showers available. You’ll frequently find picnic tables and fire rings. Campsites tend to be spread out more than they are in densely packed RV parks. You are not likely to find cable TV nor telephone hookups, and WiFi is rare, too.

Private Property

If you like privacy and space, and plan to stay put for a while, a plot of private land, rented or owned, may be a good option. If you are renting, your ability to customize the property might be limited. If you own the land, you are free to do as you please, minding local codes, of course. You have the choice of using available electric, water, and sewer infrastructure, or going off-grid with solar or wind power and your own well and septic system. You could even plant a garden and grow your own food! While you might enjoy a similar lifestyle in a small cabin or “Tiny House,” the advantage of an RV is that you can travel in it whenever you want, knowing you have your own home base to return to.

With the downturn in the economy, some private homeowners rent space to RVers to raise extra cash. Space, hookups, and amenities vary greatly, but it can be a nice alternative to an RV park. Craigslist is a good place to find such opportunities. Look in housing > parking & storage. While many of these private RV spaces are in exurban and rural areas, you can find them in cities and suburbs too.

Living Free

So far I’ve talked about places that will probably cost money. There are also places you can park and camp for free. You may give up some convenience as well as most amenities, but the price is right. You’ll need a fully self-contained RV for most of the free options.

Wally World

Parking lots are good for overnight stays. Wal-Mart is a popular spot; most of their stores are RV-friendly, knowing that the occupant is likely to do some shopping while there. Sometimes, however, local laws get in the way – if you’re not sure, check with store management or security. If you arrive late in the evening and leave early in the morning, you can usually get away with overnighting in almost any parking lot. Just use common sense, keep a low profile, and if you’re asked to leave, be polite, apologetic, and compliant.

Truck Stops

Truck stops are another place to stop overnight or even for a few days. On the plus side, they have some useful amenities for the traveler: fuel, restaurant, laundry, showers, WiFi, and a store. Many truck stops even cater to RVers by providing a separate RV parking section, water and dump station, and propane. On the minus side, they can be busy and noisy, and some might find the diesel fumes unpleasant.

While parking lots and truck stops may be fine for spending a night or two along the road between where you were and where you’re going, you wouldn’t want to spend too much time there. So what to do when you get where you’re going?

This Land Is Your Land…

Plenty of public land, mostly overseen by the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, is available for what is called dispersed camping. This is totally free camping outside of designated improved camping areas. It’s an opportunity to get away from it all, enjoying nature while testing your own self-sufficiency. There are no hookups or amenities of any kind. You bring what you need, and take everything back out when you go, leaving the land exactly as you found it.

While there’s a 14-day limit on dispersed camping, the BLM maintains Long Term Visitor Areas in Arizona and California that allow seasonal camping for up to seven months (September 15th – April 15th). These areas have dump stations, potable water, and trash dumpsters available. LTVA camping is not free, but it’s darn close to it at $40 for two weeks or $180 for the whole season.

Thousands of full-time RVers spend their winters on BLM land near Quartzsite, AZ in either the LTVAs or dispersed camping areas. I spend some time there myself each winter, part of it attending the annual week-long Quartzfest ham radio gathering in January.

Unfortunately there really isn’t a good single source of information regarding camping on public lands — you’ll have to start by going to each agency’s website (BLM or USFS) and then choosing the state you are interested in. A couple of crowd-sourced online databases look interesting — boondocking.org and freecampsites.net — the first allows you to search based on proximity to desired GPS coordinates, while the second lets you browse by state.

Friends and Family

Last but not least, if they have the room, you might be able to camp in a friend or family member’s driveway or yard. It’s a great way to visit loved ones, or to support them in times of need.

Please share your thoughts — comments are open!

Exploring RV Living – Camping vs. Living

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

Let’s clarify what I mean when I say camping. Some people would go so far as to say that RVing isn’t camping at all. Well, according to my dictionary, camping means “lodging in a camp” with no mention of what or even if any shelter is involved. While there may be different styles of camping, and some folks may prefer more primitive camping, RVing is indeed camping. The confusion can also go in the opposite direction. One might think “if you live in your RV, are you then camping all the time?” Maybe so.

Let’s Go Camping!

For the purpose of this discussion, “camping” is what someone does when they leave their normal home for a period of time, and pack what they expect to need for the period of time they plan to be away. Like a vacation. They do not usually carry all of their earthly possessions with them. They know that they will be eventually returning home.

Home Is Where I Park It

No matter where I go, I take my home with me. All my possessions. Everything. Whether I’m spending the night in a parking lot, a month in the middle of the desert, or a year in a small town, there’s no going home because I’m already here. And so’s all my stuff. While the vacation camper only needs to pack what he or she will need for a week or so, the full timer takes everything. Well, that’s not always true. Some full timers do store off-season clothing or items they aren’t ready to part with. Not me.

That’s Life

Campers need only be prepared for their planned trip. The full timer must be prepared for every day life. While this includes the obvious things, such as food and clothing, it also includes things that one doesn’t give daily thought to. Stuff like business records, passports, birth certificates, medical records, and more. Maybe work-related tools or equipment. Even the obvious isn’t as obvious as it seems. Take clothing, for example. Unless I want to maintain storage at some permanent location, and return to it as needed, I must carry with me clothing appropriate for all seasons and any climate I expect to travel to. To complicate matters further, most RVs are designed with the occasional traveler, not the full timer, in mind, with precious little storage space.

Not Always a Holiday

The recreational RVer might enjoy leaving cares behind, forgetting about computers, telephones, bills, and other responsibilities. To live full-time in an RV is not the same as always being on vacation. In a future installment of this series, I’ll get into things like mail, telephone, and Internet, as well as how to stay on top of bills and other obligations.

Minimalism Helps

As you can imagine, if you want to carry your home and all its contents with you everywhere, a minimalist mindset will make things much easier. You will want to own only what you really need or really love. Although I downsized 90% of my possessions when I moved out of my 1200 square f00t home and into my 126 square f00t RV, I’m learning now that I still have a long way to go. Experience has really been my best teacher. If you’ve been following me for a while (and if not, feel free to browse the archives) you know I’m still working on my clutter, in order to live more comfortably in this tiny space.

One-Size-Fits-All?

That’s not to say you have to be able to fit in 100 square feet. Still, you’ll probably be significantly downsizing from whatever you live in now, unless you already live in an RV, a hotel room, or a really really small studio apartment. The tiniest pop-ups and pickup campers are well under 100 square feet, while the largest, most luxurious motor homes and trailers are barely 300 square feet. Still pretty small by traditional standards. If you’ve ever thought about living in an RV, or any sort of “tiny house”, you might consider the following experiment. Try living for a month in just your kitchen, bathroom, and smallest bedroom. In fact, if you have a large eat in kitchen, try confining yourself to just the kitchen and bathroom. For the whole month, all other parts of the house are off-limits, except for navigation purposes. This includes their contents, so before you begin, make sure everything you’ll need is in your kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom.

Are You Experienced?

Have you ever been RVing? Have you ever imagined spending more than a week or two in one? Are you a fellow full timer, or have you been in the past? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comments are open; questions are welcome.