Category Archives: Exploring RV Living

Exploring RV Living – What’s In A Name?

(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 live in an RV, but just what does that mean? “RV” is actually an abbreviation for Recreational Vehicle, although many of us who live in one full-time prefer to think it really stands for Residence or Residential Vehicle. Elsewhere in the world “recreational vehicle” refers to the ruggedized, often four-wheel drive vehicle that we call an SUV, or Sport Utility Vehicle, but here in North America, an RV  is a motor vehicle or trailer having at least the basic necessary amenities of a home. For licensing, registration, and insurance purposes, to qualify as an RV a unit must include, at minimum, sleeping, cooking, and toilet facilities. In most other parts of the world a similar unit would be called either a camper van, if motorized, or a caravan, if towed. It is self-contained and self-sufficient, enabling all on-board systems to be functional without external connections for periods of days, weeks, or even months.

Now that we’ve defined the umbrella term RV, let’s take a look at all the different types of RVs. We can start by separating the lot into two groups: drivable and towable.

Drivable Dwellings

Drivable RVs are called motorhomes. They have an engine, a steering wheel, and a driver’s seat. They are fully self-contained motor vehicles that are also fully functional residences. Or, as Homer Simpson says, “It’s not just a motorhome — it’s a car you can go to the bathroom in!” They have the advantage of being a single vehicle that does it all. The disadvantage is that most motorhomes are too cumbersome and fuel inefficient to use as daily drivers. Most motorhome dwellers either tow a small car behind the motorhome or carry a bicycle, scooter, or small motorcycle for everyday local transportation.

Class A motorhomes are the largest of the motorhomes, built on a truck or bus chassis. They resemble a bus in that they usually have a flat front and boxy shape to them. The driver’s seat is obviously located at the front of the cabin, but there is no separate cab.

Bus conversions are a subset of class A motorhomes. A transit or school bus is converted, either commercially or DIY, into a custom motorhome. Commercially manufactured bus conversions usually start with a new empty bus shell, while DIY conversions are often made from retired commercial or school buses. There is plenty of room for creativity and originality in DIY conversions – many are as much works of art as they are homes on wheels.

Class B motorhomes are built inside a modified standard full-size van, and are sometimes called camper vans. From the outside it might be difficult to tell a class B motorhome from a regular van – the exterior differences include a raised roof (so that one may comfortably stand erect inside) and various vents and connections belonging to appliances and subsystems but may go unnoticed to the untrained eye. One of the biggest advantages of the class B van is that it is small and nimble enough for regular driving, so it could easily be your only vehicle. It’s also pretty stealthy, working well for urban camping.

Class C motorhomes are built upon a “cutaway” van or truck chassis. They retain the truck chassis’ cab, complete with its doors, windows, dashboard, and driver’s seat and controls. From the outside they are easily recognized by the telltale “cab over” portion of the coach which overhangs the cab.

Draggable Domiciles

Towable RVs — trailers — have the advantage of being able to un-hitch and use the tow vehicle for local transportation without having to carry your whole house around as you would with a motorhome. Trailers also come in a variety of styles.

Travel trailers are perhaps the most common trailers. They are towed by a bumper- or frame-mounted ball type hitch. They are sometimes also called bumper-pull trailers. For all but the smallest and lightest travel trailers, you’ll need a full-size pickup truck or large SUV to tow it with.

Other bumper-pull trailers include popups, sometimes called tent trailers, which are low profile when closed for travel, but “pop up” into a soft sided tent-like structure for camping, as well as “teardrop” and other hard-sided micro trailers.  The advantage to these lightweight trailers is that they can be easily towed by almost any vehicle, including a compact car or mini pickup.

Fifth-wheel trailers connect to the tow vehicle using a fifth-wheel hitch and kingpin system, just like a semi-trailer on a big truck. The fifth-wheel hitch is installed in the bed of a pickup truck, though some owners of very large fifth-wheel trailers prefer to use a semi tractor instead of a pickup truck as a tow vehicle. The big advantage of a fifth wheel trailer is size and carrying capacity. If you want the most living space possible and less risk of overloading it, a fifth wheel would be a good choice. In addition to the extra towing capacity, a fifth wheel offers improved handling and maneuverability over a travel trailer’s bumper pull system.

Pickup Campers

There’s one more type of RV that’s worthy of mention but is neither motorized nor towable. The pickup camper is a complete dwelling unit that slides into the bed of a pickup truck. This combination offers some of the convenience of a tiny motorhome with some of the advantages of a trailer. At the campsite, the camper can be supported by jacks and the pickup truck can be driven out from under it, so it may be driven as needed without having to break camp.

That’s Not An RV!

The Mobile Home – while it is a house on wheels, it is usually mobile in name only. They are difficult to move, and therefore it is rarely done. Also, they are not fully self-contained – they need to be connected to water, waste, and electric infrastructure. House Trailer is another name for a mobile home.

Your Turn

Did I miss something? Have any questions? Comments are open!

Exploring RV Living – Introduction

Many of you probably already know, or have deduced, that I live full-time in my RV. A small motorhome, to be exact. Somewhere back in my early archives I wrote about some of the considerations that led me to this lifestyle choice, but I figured it was time to revisit the whole concept. I’d also like to explore how it has been working out, now that I’ve been doing it for several years, and share with the curious just what RV living on a full-time basis is like.

About The Headline

While looking at my blog stats, I’ve noticed that I often get search hits with variations of “RV living” in them, yet  “RV lifestyle” or “RV full-timing” almost never appear. While the latter terms are common among the RV community, “RV living” or “living in an RV” are what I guess most people call it. I hope my decision to go with a title that favors common usage over insider jargon helps folks interested in this lifestyle to find this series. I’ll be offering a combination of general information and specific details of my own personal home and lifestyle.

Did You Say Series?

I’ve decided to make this a series for a few reasons. There’s way too much to cover for a single blog post. It would end up being far too long while still skimping on details. By breaking it up into a series of posts I can give each subtopic the attention and space it deserves.

Each reader may not be equally interested in each facet of RV living. Some may be more interested in the technical details of the various subsystems, others in the details of travel and locational possibilities, and still others in the social and community aspects of the lifestyle.

There will even be topics of interest to folks who could care less about the RV lifestyle, but might want to learn about off-grid living, strategies for living in tiny spaces, and location independence, all of which are parts of RV living.

The series format will allow readers to pick and choose what interests them, while allowing me to sufficiently elaborate on each topic. It will help keep follow-up discussions in the comments section organized too.

Topics I Plan To Cover

  • What’s in a name? – RV, camper, motorhome, pop-up, caravan, fifth wheel, house trailer, travel trailer, mobile home, van and bus conversions; what do they all mean and what’s the difference?
  • Camping vs. living – The similarities and differences between RV camping and full-time RV living.
  • Home is where I park it – Campgrounds, RV parks, private property, boondocking, and more.
  • All the comforts of home – Lights, running water, flush toilet, and a complete kitchen, even in the middle of nowhere.
  • Staying connected – Wireless telephone, internet, and HF radio keep me in touch no matter where I am.
  • That’s entertainment – Accommodating music, video, and reading libraries on-the-go in tiny places. Other entertainment options, too.
  • Similarities and differences – How is it the same as living in a tiny house or apartment, and how is it different? Exploring the unique challenges and rewards.
  • Environmental considerations – Many people think of an RV as a big, gas-guzzling road-hog, but is it really that bad? It makes for a very eco-friendly dwelling when it isn’t rolling down the road.
  • Is it expensive? – You can spend a fortune if you want, yet it can be surprisingly affordable, especially if you are handy and creative. Ongoing expenses can be very minimal.
  • Is it for you? – It may not be for everybody, but if you have a sense of adventure and a taste for unconventional living, it might be for you. Why I chose to try it and why I’m still doing it.

You Can Help

I’m sure I’ve missed something. Those are only the things I’ve thought you might be interested in. Please jump in down in the comment section and let me know what interests you and what you want to read about. Nothing is carved in stone – this series can go where you want it to.

Also, would you prefer that I concentrate my writing efforts exclusively on this series, until I’ve exhausted the topic, or would you rather I do, say,  one “Exploring RV Living” post plus an unrelated second post each week? Your opinion is important to me.