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?

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17 responses to “Exploring RV Living – Differences Between RVs And Other Dwellings

  1. I have vacationed in a 30′ travel trailer, the longest was 31 days. Of course, everything is smaller than a house but the things that make the most difference to me are the kitchen sink, bathroom and hardly any room to walk around the bed. You do adjust quickly and clean up is a breeze but I have to say, getting home is always nice and everything seems huge!

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      No walking around my bed in this Class C – I call it my loft! Sometimes I wouldn’t mind a bigger kitchen sink if I let the dirty dishes pile up. Incentive to keep up with my chores, I guess.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Betty!

  2. I’m glad to see the series has returned. This is another interesting and useful article. It still sounds like a great way to live to me.

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      It is a great way to live, Gip. Hopefully sometime you’ll have a chance to try it – maybe rent or borrow an RV for a vacation trip or even just a weekend of camping.

  3. Great article. Getting an RV is on my bucket list. I travel and camp frequently. Tents are becoming too rustic for me. I would like to upsize to an RV 🙂

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      A tent might be OK for an occasional weekend, but I wouldn’t want to full-time in one. I’m a little too old to go without at least the basic comforts.

      An option that you might look into, Trinity, is a pop-up trailer. Relatively inexpensive, offers the basic necessities (and some of the larger ones are surprisingly well equipped), easy to tow, and easy to set up. Plus, the soft sides are just rustic enough so it still feels like camping.

  4. Great comments Mike. Probably the biggest difference for us was the fact that there really isn’t a “private” area! You better be on really good terms with your spouse/partner, cause it can get pretty tight sometimes! That being said, we wouldn’t trade it for a stick and brick, for sure! Love the freedom of picking up and going!

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      Thanks, Bernie. Being solo, I didn’t think of that one, but you’re absolutely right about the close quarters and lack of privacy. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. We’ve lived in a cab-over camper for the last two summers. We love it. Drive anywhere you want and camp. Of course, we’re in Alaska, so everywhere is beautiful.

  6. Hi there, love youre blog! I haven’t lived in an RV before but I have lived on a yacht for two years and there were exactly the same challenges. Caravanning in South Africa is super popular too but here it’s normally parked at home and then towed to wherever the vacation spot is…

    • Yes, I’m sure many of the challenges are the same, but each mode also has its unique situations. Vacation RVing is also popular here — moreso than fulltiming, to be sure. Are there many down there who have made their caravan their full-time home? Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • Unfortunately (I think) there are no permanent caravan/trailer/RV parks. Here in South Africa those who can afford to buy a caravan usually have a house also. This in my mind is sucha shame and pity, for those who have good jobs here this is well within reach and people unfortunately choose to has more still, being a developing country I can understand this but I’d love to live in an RV but got no option to. I’m 31 and in a funny way miss living out of one bag of stuff (albeit a big bag) like I did when I was sailing between 24-26. Your challenges with ‘creep’ have given me new inspiration to start a new phase and pair down more. Thank you, you’re awesome!

  7. My girl and I live in a 27 foot travel trailer and also in a big rig over the road. The trailer is a new thing for us,about 2 months worth. A big improvement over living in the truck……..that happens to be where we are as I type this, 2 sardines in a can.

    The goal is 9 months work, 3 months play. We have $4700 in the trailer and $4000 in the truck we pull it with. Used is a good thing, I wait until I find the right deal and am not tempted to spend too much.

    We are very comfortable,great blog.

  8. We been living in a 30 foot trailer with 3people and two labs for two years now. It gets easier after the first year believe me.As a college student living with parents you have to get along to survive. One neat aspect of living in an rv is the freedom of living where you want we have been in the same parlk now for two years going on three and you can become neibors with everyine and a community starts to grow. Plus no one looks down on you become accepted

  9. Great blog…been dipping into it 🙂 just bought a 24ft motorhome in the UK with a view to fulltiming and working at the same time…I’m single, so more than enough space…can’t see any downsides….but getting the rig in good order is costing a lot. Like you said about tyres…just paid £325 for two tyres, Michelin 10 ply camp tyres….not cheap ! But at least the rig will be safe for quite a few years….many thanks !

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