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.


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.

14 responses to “Exploring RV Living – Camping vs. Living

  1. I’ve never been camping or anything close to camping, nor have I ever lived in anything smaller than a one-bedroom apartment, but I feel like I have an affinity for small spaces that I’d like to explore.

    Tiny, cozy spaces are always more comfortable to me than larger ones. They say that little boys always build forts with sheets and chairs or carboard boxes, so it may be something hard-wired that makes me dream of more confined spaces.


    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      As a kid I did my share of tent and cabin camping in Boy Scouts, Gip. Tents can be fun when the weather cooperates, but I wouldn’t want to live in one. A rustic log cabin with a nice fireplace and/or wood stove would make a nice and cozy home in the winter!

      Yeah, boys like tree forts and caves and boxes and other neat hideaways. I wonder what it is that makes many men eventually lose that desire and go to the other extreme of wanting everything bigger?

  2. The longest I’ve lived in a camper was one month. It was a 29′ trailer with a slide out. It was great except for the bathroom shower is small and hot water runs out very quickly. Having to turn the water off after getting wet, soaping up, rinsing off, etc. Other than that, the small space was great we (my husband and I) didn’t feel cramped. But like you said, we didn’t have everything we owned with us. Wherever you live, organization is key. Especially in 126 sq ft!

  3. Mike | HomelessOnWheels

    That’s probably 225-250 square feet with the slides open, Betty. That’s a decent size. Yes, with the 6-gallon water heater in most RVs, you aren’t going to take long luxurious showers, even with full hookups. You learn pretty quickly to take a “navy shower” as you described. Or, if staying in a campground with facilities, using their showers. Yes, organization as well as careful curation. They are a must, as I am learning.

  4. Been reviewing my current situation lately, which is, full time living in a older Winnebago, with approx. 150 sq ft. After two years of this, I am still far from experienced. So many repairs I still have no idea how to do. More down sizing of possessions to do. Working with heating and cooling is still far from perfect. This is certainly a continual learning lifestyle!
    Also, I have mostly been parked, since buying and moving into this rig. So driving this vehicle down the two lane highways is something still to be truly encountered.
    Meanwhile, I am encouraged by reading about how others are doing this, and occasionally, someone I meet may even remark in a positive way about this life choice. Most do not “get it”.
    Since this rig is paid for, and the land is paid for, that leaves the water bill and electric bill, internet connection, yearly taxes, and some items that going along with living within a grid. In other words, costs are lower, which can make up for the lack of space. Plus, I am continually adding things to the exterior areas around the rig to make outside space for living also. For example, I have an older washing machine, on a pallet, under a tree, that I hook up to the existing water hydrant, and use a clothesline strung between trees, to dry the clothes. Plus, an 8×8 deck, with a small table with umbrella and two chairs, that allows me a spot , that is level to walk on, where I can sit and have coffee, read a book.. that sort of thing.
    This still “feels” like a bit of a complicated lifestyle, in many ways, after living most of my life in “regular” housing.. Yet, it gets easier each season to appreciate what I have.

  5. Mike | HomelessOnWheels

    It helps to be handy. I’m able to do most of my own repairs, as well as various upgrades, additions, and modifications. It sounds like you have a nice setup on your property. If all you need to pay is taxes and utilities, that’s some pretty cheap living. You might consider solar and reduce or eliminate your electric bill.

  6. I grew up in a beach cabin. 7 people. 8 dogs. 9 cats. 3 birds. In a 1 bedroom beach cabin 16 feet long by 9 feet. This sort of thing is not unusual in my town, which is a tiny Maine beach resort with 8,000 residents. More than half the houses in town are under 1,000 square feet, many under 300 square feet. Ours was one of the larger houses. Behind our land is an RV resort with 400 lots, beside them is a “hide a way” campground with 225 lots. Across the street and down away is the largest of our towns 30 RV parks, which has 725 lots. Many people in these parks are fulltimers. So, I grew up with the “small living lifestyle” and growing up in this town, I was well into my 30s before I realized that the year round residents of our town were sort of considered as freaks to the rest of society, seeing how the entire community was made up of families living in homes smaller than the average family’s bedroom! In fact I was shocked to learn that people ACTUALLY LIVED in houses that were bigger. (You can tell I had never been outside of this town. Also I have Autism, so I’m not prone to thinking about what other people do much.)

    Anyways. May 9, 2006, a flood came home and took the house with it. I was surrounded by death and destruction and found myself alone. Just me, 2 dogs, and 9 cats. Me with Autism and having no idea how to do pretty much ANYTHING.

    I stayed on the land, but having no house, I lived the first few years under a 8×6 tarp. I eventually got a Volvo and lived in that for the next couple of years. I am currently in the process of buying a motorhome, and should be moving into it this fall. A 31′ Class A from the 1980s, it’ll be my BIGGEST home yet – at 31’x9 ‘ it is almost twice as big as the 16’x9’ house I grew up in, and it’ll be just me and the cats, in the house I had been one of 7 people.

    When I tell people about my motorhome I’m buying (for $3,000) and how it’s like moving into a mansion for me, they respond wit: “That tiny thing? You call that a mansion? What the heck did you live in before?”. Than they laugh and tease me about it. Well, I don’t care what they say. I’m glad I’m getting this motorhome. Having all that living space available for me and the cats is going to make HUGE improvements in my life. I can’t wait to move in.

  7. Living in small spaces isn’t hardwired, but it is something you get accustomed to. I was born overseas, lived in a big house with 2 maids. When I turned fourteen, I moved here in the US. A bit of a culture shock, but I loved the freedom of doing my own chores, not depending on anybody to take me to school, the freedom to decide what I can do on weekends. I joined the Air Force after high school despite of my high GPA, which is enough to get accepted to many universities. The military has trained me how to live minimally, in small quarters, from tents to dormitories. The point is that living in small quarters is not something innate, but a learned behavior.

    The point is that adjusting your life c

    • I’m not sure if most peoples’ habit of accumulation and consumption is hardwiring or programming, Anthony. But either way, you’re right — living small takes some adjustment and reprogramming for most people. I wonder if “living large” really is innate, as you believe, or simply taught, through example and marketing, to all of us beginning the moment we are born.

      Either way, I’m glad you were able to adapt so readily to a compact and mobile lifestyle. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  8. I have discovered that the larger my house the more junk I accumulate. Back when I was married we added on to our house and it just got messier. I’ve been living in a 3 bedroom house for 22 years. It was perfect when my 2 kids lived at home but me and my German Sheppard need a much smaller place. Plus you can’t stop the house insurance and taxes from going up every year and I’m on a fixed income. Since I want to sell the house and get a class B or C I thought renting one for a month and travelling might give me an idea. All I know now is I have too much room and it is getting too expensive to cool, heat, do yard work, repairs, etc. Love your blog.

  9. I spend a lot of time in a few rooms (bathroom, part of kitchen, bedroom – my computer is in the bedroom). Only thing I worry about in super downsizing is how to run my small business on the road. Right now its in a closet but even that may be too much. Great blog!

  10. Nice blog! I love the ideas of RV living jobs… hmmm… let me think what’s the best for me.. thanks for your post it really helps me..

  11. I loved you comment about living in your kitchen.. I never thought about that. I might just try it.

  12. Murray Covert

    We started camping 3 years after we got married. A small rented house could sit by itself for a while.We managed to camp over all of the eastern North America, across the Northern States, and from Montana to Yellowknife. Then Back across Canada .We started with a 7’Sq. tent and ended up with a 10’X15″ with an 8’awning, propane stove and heater, large shower bag heated by the sun in a couple hours. a bake oven that sat on the stove took care of baking. Lived very good. 62 years later, camping is done, but the odd trip can be done with motels off the track.

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