Tag Archives: motorhome

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.

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IMPORTANT – About My Home – Clutter Porn

Well, maybe not that important. Just a mini rant about the overuse of the word important, along with its close cousin, urgent, in communications and especially on mail items. They seems to be cluttering half of the envelopes that arrive in my mailbox, yet their contents are rarely important to anybody except the sender.

Why do mail marketers and others continue to use this tired old trick? I suppose that’s rhetorical — they use it because it works. After all, even though we know the odds are it isn’t important, and may be of no interest to us at all, we don’t dare throw it away unopened just in case it actually is important.

More Tricks

Sure, sometimes you can tell from the return address who it’s from, but sometimes there’s no name; just an address. Or worse yet, the return address is misleading. Bank Of America (or its “marketing partners” – euphemism for “companies we sold your name and address to”) sends all sorts of things in essentially identical envelopes, all with the bank’s return address. Usually it’s an offer for some sort of insurance, or trying to get me to apply for some sort of loan or another, but I am forced to open each and every one and give its contents at least a cursory glance, lest I discard my statement or other legitimate communication regarding my account.

OK, now that I have that mini-rant out  of my system, and just to show you my headline isn’t totally bogus, let’s move on to something that, while it might not be too important in the overall scheme of things, you might enjoy.

About My Home

With all that describing of different kinds of RVs in my last post, I didn’t even tell you what I live in. My home is a 1979  Georgie Boy Cruise Master  CM20RB. It is a 20-foot class C motorhome. Interior space  is 18 feet long by 7 feet wide, or 126 square feet.  Here’s the floor plan:

Here’s what it looks like on the inside…

…or at least what the one in this brochure did when it was new:

If you’d like to learn more, or are just into 70’s advertising or shag carpeting, you can click the brochure cover for an eight-page PDF.

Ahhh, but what does it look like now, 32 years later, you ask? Time for…

Clutter Porn!

I know that at least one of my readers (Hi Tanja!) has been patiently waiting for me to post some photos of my clutter. While I’m not quite ready to offer a full portfolio yet, I’ll dip my toe in the water with this small offering:

As you can see, I still have my work cut out for me. In my defense, pretty much everything I own is in here, in 126 square feet. I’m still plugging away at it, and I’ll get there eventually (and post more photos, too).

Oh, and here’s what the outside looks like:

Yeah, even the outside is cluttered, but the stuff on top of the table and the boxes and pile near the rear wheels are stuff to be sold or donated, so it’s not quite as bad as it looks. Why’s the hood open? Mechanical trouble? Naw, it’s just open to discourage the packrats (the 4-legged kind) from nesting in there. They’ll make a mess and chew through hoses and wires, too.

What Do You Think?

Are “important” and “urgent” overused? Is 126 square feet too big? too small? just right? Want more clutter porn? Comments are always open.

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!

Repairs, additions, and modifications

Now I had me a motorhome.  Old, but habitable and roadworthy.  Or so it seemed.  I kept noticing a strong smell of gasoline.  It was pooling on the manifold below the carburetor.  Not good – wastes fuel and is a fire hazard.  Maybe a loose hose or fitting?  Tightening everything up didn’t help.  Ahhh… there’s where it’s coming from – accelerator pump.  The rubber diaphragm was dried and cracked and allowing fuel to escape.  Replacement part was about five dollars, plus a half hour of my time to install. 

Motor was now good again – what about the “home” part?  Hmmm… some tiny leaks in the fresh water system.  Like the fuel leak, turned out to be pretty easy and inexpensive – a few connections needed tightened, and an o-ring in one, and that was that.  While I was at it, I made the rounds checking and tightening screws and whatever all over – cupboard hinges, appliance mountings, and what-have-you.  Removed the slightly tattered folding door to the bathroom.  Hung a shower curtain.  Starting to look pretty good.

 Now it’s time to customize a bit.  I started by taking the 8-track stereo (no kidding!) out of the dash and replacing it with something made in this century. Now I can listen to  AM, FM, and XM radio as well as play CDs.  Can’t play 8-tracks anymore, though.  Replaced the existing speakers with something a little better.  Decided not to go overboard with amps and subwoofers and such – just kept it simple, but good enough for casual listening.  I figure I can use headphones when I really want an audiophile experience, and the rest of the time, pretty good is good enough.  Back in the living area, I installed a television, and I sacrificed one of the overhead cupboards in the kitchen to install a microwave oven.  It’s getting pretty darn habitable in here now, huh?  Oh, the exhaust fan in the bathroom vent was pretty noisy and the screen a bit raggedy, so I replaced it with a ShurFlo Comfort Air vent fan (similar to a Fantastic Fan) – very quiet on low, and can move a lot of air if needed – makes a great whole-house ventilator.

Had to fix the ladder on the back, and I put a couple coats of Kool-Seal on the roof to seal and insulate it.  Put some new fog lights in the front to replace what was left of the pair that used to be there.  Of course all this work took place over the course of several months worth of weekends.  So the forum people were right about finding something that had “nothing wrong with it” – despite the lack of obvious defects, there was plenty to do to keep me busy between chasing down the more subtle issues and customizing it to meet my needs.  Still – it was cheap to buy and so far I haven’t had to sink too much money into it.  All the expensive stuff (engine, transmission, fridge, and a/c, for example) continues to be OK.  Even the customizing has been pretty inexpensive, using mostly stuff I had around anyway or picked up on the cheap.   

Good and cheap – mutually exclusive?

Sorry I haven’t written in a bit. Had a bit of whatever’s been going around and just wasn’t in much of a writing mood for a few weeks.

So where were we? Oh yeah – filling you in on a little history.  So I’d decided this was do-able.  I’d have basic shelter plus all the technological comforts of home.  Next step was to learn as much as I could about RVing in general and motorhomes in particular.  Where did I go?  Where I always go when I need to absorb information on anything – the internet.  There I found lots of info.  Blogs and websites about general RVing, full-time RV living, technical info about all the various systems (as a fully self-contained living unit, a typical RV needs its own electrical, water, and septic systems, heating, cooling, ventilation, and more).  Now I’m a very handy person and can fix almost anything, but there was still plenty to learn.  How the RV systems differ from conventional systems, for example.  And how they are similar.  What things are subject to more frequent failure and why.  A fantastic resource was (and continues to be) the RV.NET forums.  Full of people who’ve been there and done that.  Post a question and you’ll quickly have lots of good answers.

Now that I’ve educated myself a bit, it’s time to go shopping.  My budget?  As cheap as possible.  I hoped to find something a little older, maybe in need of a little TLC that I could do myself, but no major problems.  I posted on the forums about what I hoped to do, asking if I was being realistic or just dreaming.  As you can imagine, the replies ran the gamut.  Some folks wouldn’t feel safe (nor be caught dead driving) anything older than five years old.  Others were a bit more realistic, suggesting that I should be able to find something good in the 5-10 year old range.  All but a few seemed to think that trying to buy a motorhome for full-timing on a shoestring budget was more wishful thinking than reality, suggesting that in the long run it would be more trouble than the money saved would be worth.  Some went as far as to suggest that if I couldn’t afford to buy a nice, late-model rig, then perhaps I shouldn’t be contemplating the lifestyle.  But it’s all opinion.  Some folks, OTOH, were supportive, with the caveat that I’d need to be pretty handy and do my own repairs, and to try to buy something with no apparent defects because there will always be some hidden problem or another, and things will eventually break.  No need to complicate matters by starting out with known problems.

Time to hit the usual places for used vehicle buying.  Dealers tend to be more expensive than private sellers, but they are nice for being able to compare different units all in the same place and get an idea of what I like and dislike about different styles and different floorplans, get a feel for different sizes and features, etc.  Most of the stuff at the dealers was bigger and more expensive than I was interested in, but it was still educational.  Next stop, the private sellers. Craigslist, RV Trader, and a couple other sites that list RVs for sale by private individuals.  Looked at tons of ads.  Most of the cheap ones were obviously junk, and most of the nicer ones were either way too expensive or already sold.  Alot of them I just didn’t like the floorplan.  Still, I managed to find some that seemed promising enough to actually look at in person.  What did I say about the cheap ones being junk?  Oh well.  Then I found one that looked OK.  Even in person.  I liked the floorplan.  Everything seemed to work.  No evidence of major leaking or structural damage.  Ran well.  Tires were decent.  Despite being almost 30 years old, it was in better shape than alot of much younger coaches I’d looked at.  It seemed to have been well maintained.  Had just the right mix of replacement parts of various ages, indicating that things were serviced or repaired as needed (rather than a rush “let’s get it fixed so we can sell it” rehab project).  After a little haggling, I became the proud new owner of a 1979 Georgie Boy Cruise Master “Mini-Home”.

Next installment:  repair and customization

Portable Living Via Technology

The seed had been planted. I wanted to do this.  But could I?  While it’s true that it doesn’t take too much for basic survival, I didn’t want that to mean deprivation.  A motorhome would provide a roof over my head, a bed, bathroom, and kitchen.  Basic needs fulfilled. How about the secondary needs?  Not true necessities,  but stuff I’d rather not do without.  For me that means a computer with internet access, a decent sound system with music library, and television.  Pretty simple, really.  The hardware isn’t too much of a challenge.  For the computer a laptop would be ideal, but even a compact desktop system could work.  There are some pretty nice audio components made for the mobile environment, plus some compact home equipment that might be modified as well. And TV is, well, TV.  For those who want it, satellite TV adapts well to the RV environment, but personally I’m happy with what I can pull in with an antenna or the occasional DVD.  How about the internet connection and music library?  As recently as less than ten years ago the internet connection would have been almost impossible, and what was available, via cellphone, was very expensive and excruciatingly slow.  Now there’s cell-based wireless broadband service, satellite internet service, WiFi all over the place, and other options just over the horizon.  And a music collection?  I’ve been a music lover all my life, and a working DJ for part of it.  Can you imagine my trying to carry around a collection of thousands of vinyl records, hundreds of CDs, and hundreds of cassettes?  Not too long ago I’d have had to decide between music and mobility.  Not anymore.  With digital music storage and small hard drives with huge capacities, it’s now possible to carry an immense music library in the space of a single paperback book.  Add XM Satellite Radio and it’s like having a library of millions of songs, plus news, sports, talk, comedy, and more.  Cool.  Maybe this really can be done without too much technology deprivation. 

You’re going to do WHAT?!?!

As promised, here’s some more of the “back story”.  But where to begin?  When I was a child, I’d always been fascinated by the concept of a fully self-contained mobile dwelling.  Not that I really ever lost that fascination, but as a child all I could really do is fantasize.  Eventually, as a young adult, I discovered motorhomes.  Wow – it’s a fully self contained house, AND you can drive it! Or, as Homer Simpson would say, “It’s not just a motorhome; it’s a car you can go to the bathroom in!” As working young man, however,  a motorhome was pretty much out of my budget, and even if I could afford one, maybe find one cheap enough that wasn’t too beat up, where would I keep it?  I was living in apartments at the time, and apartment complexes tend to be pretty picky about what you park there, especially if it’s a big honkin’ motorhome.  Of course I was thinking of it as a “toy”, a recreational vehicle for maybe weekends and vacations or whatever. I didn’t see the obvious – live in it *instead* of the apartment.  Not that you can blame me, after all, as I mentioned before, society in general tends to approve of permanent living, and disapprove of “temporary” or transient living. A few times I got real close to actually buying one, but ultimately didn’t.

Fast-forward to a few years ago, when the thought struck me to just sell the house and everything I couldn’t take with me and move into a motor home.  Why?  Well, there was still the lingering fascination with motorhomes and the technologies involved. It seemed practical, and potentially a fairly economical way to live.  It offered freedom of location.  Ease of moving. Lots of good reasons. Why now?  Maybe a midlife crisis, or perhaps a midlife awakening. I realized just how much of my life has been spent pretty much in the same place – at least in the same city.  I realized just how much junk I’d accumulated over the years. All this stuff needs to be moved every time I move,  and it seemed I needed to keep getting bigger and bigger places for it all. Like George Carlin says, what is a home, really? It’s a place to keep your stuff!  I had a whole room full of stuff that I literally hadn’t touched in several years. I was suddenly feeling like all this stuff was getting to be more of a burden than it was worth. I wanted to downsize and minimize and simplify.

Did some reading (alot of reading, actually) on the internet about folks who’ve done that – drastic downsizing and move into a very small place – an RV, or maybe a “microhome” or something like that.  I don’t remember reading a single person who regretted it, even among the few who eventually went back to a more “normal” lifestyle.  They found it cleansing and liberating.  Free of the responsibilities of “stuff”.  Free of the hassles of cleaning and maintaining a large home and yard, and the associated expenses. 

It wasn’t just that, though.  There was really an accumulation of various other factors that also helped nudge me further along.  I’m single. Do I really need a three bedroom, two bath house with a yard?  Not really, considering I actually use very little of it.  It’s just more space to clean, more to heat or cool, mortgage, taxes, all that expense and responsibility.  Add to that my neighborhood in particular, and my city in general seems to get worse each month. Higher and higher crime.  Worse and more violent crime.  Graffiti.  Litter.  Polluted air.  Just an overall unpleasant place to be.  Over a several-year span, I’d been the victim of multiple burglaries and a home-invasion robbery. 

Add to all that the fact that I’m slowly becoming burnt out in my work (I’d say “career”, but that implies a future) in the quickly dying dead-end industry of consumer electronic repair.  I mean who’s going to pay to get a DVD player fixed when you can just go buy a brand new one for $25?  And why was I working so hard? To pay the mortgage and taxes and all the other bills for a house I didn’t need in a neighborhood I didn’t want to be in.  I’ve heard “insanity” defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Well, I needed change.  Big change.  That’s when I decided I wanted to do this.