Category Archives: RVing

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!

Desert Rain

After weeks of 110-115 degree temperatures, it’s a delightful 75 degrees and raining here in the Arizona desert. Need I say more?

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.

Me And My RV – New York Times RVing Article

I HAVE spent the night in a Walmart parking lot. I have driven through a national park with a trail of cars in my rearview mirror. I have learned how to dispose of my waste through a plastic hose, and I have filled my gas tank more times in one week than I thought was possible.

From the recently published New York Times  article, in which travel writer and photographer Andy Isaacson documents his eight-day trip in a rented RV.

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 – 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.