Well it’s been just over a year since I bought my motorhome, and what a year it’s been. For a long time I had contemplated living full time in a motorhome. The idea of it, the freedom, the simplicity, the potential financial benefits, seeing new places all the time, all of it really appealed to me. So I did lots of research and most of it made me a bit anxious. You know, that “I don’t know what I’m doing” aspect? It all seemed so daunting and overwhelming. “What are these people in the videos talking about? I have to empty my own sewer waste? Repairs? Tires? Torque wrench? Seems to complicated”. Well there is lots to learn that’s for sure, but anything worth having requires some effort.
I've been editing this piece for a few days and thinking about it lots. I read other articles that others have written, and our experiences are similar, but in general, I'd say that what all of us who have gone down this path have in common, is that we realised that there is a better and more soul nurturing way to live beyond the normal societal expectations and we have embraced it wholeheartedly. Here is a list of 8 things that I’ve learnt or had to consider in the past year.
1. Freedom makes me so happy. I knew I needed a change! I was living in Vancouver in a $2000 a month condo. A 1 bedroom condo. It was nice on face value. The building had a gym, a communal garden, it was central to all amenities. Sounds great apart from the ridiculous rent, which is now probably $2300 a month. However, the things that started to wear me down were mainly the rules, and the obnoxious people and everything being so bureaucratic.
Those aspects of life that you get in a bigger city, everyone is grumpy and crowded in. They had a
facebook page, that featured a daily barrage of grievances people had about their neighbours, and fellow building dwellers. The property management company would chime in and use the forum to threaten fines. “I can smell you smoking weed, if we find out who you are we will fine you”, “someone’s dog slobbered in the elevator, we will fine you” “Don’t you people know how to separate your recycling, if we catch you we will fine you”. “no bikes allowed in this area, we will fine you”, don’t put cardboard here or there we will fine you. You’re not allowed to move furniture unless you’ve booked it, we will fine you. Don’t do this, don’t do that. And then there are the landlords who’s main mission is to make sure you do not get your deposit back. They are evil people.
Another thing that got to me after a while, And as much I loved the neighbourhood, was listening to people shout at lamp posts at 3 am outside your door, drunks or generally messed up people. It gets old after a while.
Don’t get me wrong I’ve been a city boy my whole life, but I reached the stage, where I like it at a distance. I don’t get impressed with having to go to the new place, or do the new thing that everyone’s doing. Or go to that party, or opening of a something. Those experiences are just marketing. Sure you might have a nice meal somewhere, but is any of it really new? If I need those things in my life now, I’ll go do them, but truthfully I don’t do them often. I’ve found new experiences in travelling that I find much more rewarding that are always unique and not so superficial.
2. You don’t need very much. Truer words have never been spoken. I’ve owned a 5 bedroom house. I’ve owned 3 businesses. I’ve had those things. In retrospect they were a burden. They tied me to an endless circle of work, stress and bills to pay. My first year of owning a business, I didn’t have a day off. The third year got a little better, but no holidays.
Sure I know that owning property is a sensible way to amass wealth so that you can live comfortably in retirement. I get that. There are other places to invest your money that are more liquid though. The familiar routine is buy a house, get a mortgage. Most people will buy a shitty house, work 40-60 hours a week in their job, 5-6 days a week and then spend the rest of their time trying to fix it up and then flip it for something better, and repeat. The thing with property is, it needs maintenance. Mowing lawns, painting, fixing, upgrading, which is great. If those are your goals, to work 5 days a week and then your leisure time is spent working on your home and you enjoy it, good for you. It’s unpopular, and unconventional, but I found it crippling. Where is the adventure in that? Where are the new experiences in that?
But what if you have children, you need a home? Home is where you make it. Children are adaptable. I think broadening someone’s experience, is much more valuable. I have a son, I tried to give him the childhood I had… impossible. My parents probably bought their first house for $20k in the 70’s. That kind of home ownership is impossible now. But I pressured myself to try and give my son the material wealth of 4 decades ago. Places like Auckland, have an average house price of a million dollars now. Incomes have not grown in the same proportion in the last 30 years. Its an unattainable target for most people.
The thing with owning anything is that it is meaningless. Things, most modern things, houses, cars, furniture the material things you buy, all turns to dust anyway. It seems mad to toil away maintaining things that don’t actually make you happy. As Ricky Gervais says, it’s all meaningless, we are all going to die anyway, it’s pointless.
We’ve all had those moments where you covet something… shoes, a car, a house, clothes, and we go get it! And then we have it and most of the time, the initial exhilaration of having that thing fades quickly, and we have that empty void still there that the thing didn’t fill. End rant. So now all my possessions have a purpose and fit neatly into a 32 foot motorhome. I do admittedly have some stuff in storage which I have been too busy enjoying myself / lazy to finally get rid of. I have my complete array of cooking equipment, clothes, music, art and tools I need, and that’s it. I don’t even need ¾ of the clothes I have but hang on to them from some sense that I probably need them. But I will have a cull again soon. If you don’t need it, get rid of it.
3. Choose an RV that makes you comfortable. What kind of RV do I need? Get what works for you.
There are 5 basic kinds of RV. Class A, which are bus shaped basically. Class B are your van conversions, Class C motorhomes are built with a cab or cutaway chassis. Like an F450 with a motorhome built on top of it for example. They’re the ones with the over cab bed. Then you have trailers and fifth wheels which are both towed. For me, I didn’t want to tow anything. Mostly because I’m a wimp and don’t know how to, but also 90% of the RV disasters you see on social media are trailers and fifth wheels that flip over.
I decided on a Class A motorhome, because I wanted space to live comfortably. I wanted a comfortable shower, bathroom a kitchen a living room and a bedroom, and I have those things. In
fact my bed is the absolute most comfortable bed I’ve ever owned. There really is nothing that I want for in my Bounder. It has the comfort and all amenities that an apartment would have. Some people live quite happily in a van. Things to consider though. Class A’s and Class C’s will use up a lot of gas when you are driving. A LOT OF GAS. Class B’s are probably the best fuel wise, followed by the trailer and fifth wheel options. But you will also need to invest in a grunty vehicle to tow them with. There is a trade off between mobility and comfort. You can often only park a class a in certain places. You can occasionally spend a night on a street in town, but for the most part this is frowned upon. Class B’s are the more stealthy of the RV’s, and you could easily live unknown to your neighbours on the street. But the comfort levels drop significantly. But as I said, do what works for you. Do your research. Go view all the options and decide. You could even rent a few to try it out.
4. Resources are Finite. You will quickly learn resource management and being efficient. No matter which kind of RV you buy, you will realise that your resources are limited, and you will need to get rid of spent resources or replenish what you have used. This is particularly important for Class B RV’s. Most RV’s will have a fresh water tank, for all your water needs. Waste water will go into a grey water tank for showers and dishes and a black water tank for toilet matters. They may
have a propane tank, which can run your cooking, heating, and hot water, and fridge. RV’s will generally have a battery bank that recharges either when you drive or with solar panels, or if you are plugged into shore power. Bigger RV’s will also have a generator built in which can provide you with electricity and charge your battery bank. Motorhomes will have 2 battery systems. Your chassis batter which runs some onboard systems and starts your engine and the house battery which will run most of your “house” items like your fridge, lights, water pump, etc. RV’s are designed so that you can go to serviced RV parks and campgrounds and often plug into power, and connect to city water and sewer. But if you are not plugged into anything, then you will be, what’s called boondocking, and you will be relying on the resources that you have on board. This can be a juggling act. You may be totally self sufficient with a big independent solar power system, that even runs your air conditioning, and everything else, but more often than not, you will need to balance the resources you use. It is a great way to learn to conserve water, limit your power usage, and be more efficient. It’s amazing how wasteful your average home is. When traveling your destination will be dependent on your resources. If you’re fully stocked you could go a week or more, all depending on you carefully you manage your usage. At first, I was blowing through some of my resources in a few days!
5. Be prepared, Plan but don’t over plan. What do you need to be prepared for? Well I wasn’t quite prepared for that question when I started. I had some basic tools and figured I’d cross that bridge when I got to it. But it isn’t just about being ready for repairs. It’s about so many different aspects and variables that go into living in an RV. Weather. That’s a big one. If it’s too windy, you want to avoid traveling and seek shelter. I’ve learnt that the hard way, only minorly, but still, it’s an important factor.
The first time I boondocked, I learnt that my house battery bank is needed to start the generator. I let it run dead, which is never advisable. So I had no power to run anything including my fridge, and I had a generator that I could not start. To add insult to injury I was in the middle of nowhere. I know, I said! “I have a backup booster battery…aren’t I great for planning ahead!” Except I hadn’t charged it in a few months and it was dead. Luckily someone was there to boost me…. Oh… I had no booster cables….You get where I’m going with this. Now I am prepared and have 3 backup plans to ensure I can always get power running if I need to.
Another thing I learnt quickly is that Tires on an RV are very very important. I was very ignorant about them. Motorhome tires are high pressure truck tires, not like a car. They are very expensive and unbeknownst to me, you cant fill them at your average gas station. Car tires hang around 32 PSI? RV tires fill to about 85 PSI. So that portable air pump you have in the back of your car, won’t even touch the sides. I learnt that investing in a good powerful air compressor will make your life easy. At first I had a short hose , so had to lug this compressor around the whole machine with an extension cord, pumping up my tires. Eventually I got a really long hose, and that has made my life so easy! You pick up little things along the way. Talking to other RV people is a great resource, as is the internet.
Apart from technical things, you want to enjoy your time traveling. Sometimes plans don’t work out. The traffic could be bad, the weather could be bad, or there could be an accident and you have to divert. Learn to go with the flow, make the best out of any situation and keep that smile on your face! You’re having an adventure, and seeing the world, make the most of it. I’ve had some great times and experienced some great things following a path less travelled unexpectedly. Embrace it. It will happen. And take time to enjoy your traveling. Don’t rush. You will absolutely miss a lot rushing.
6. You will learn how to fix things the internet is your friend. Rv’s are generally built cheaply and not sturdy like a house for several reasons, mostly because If it were, it would weigh too much. Things will break. Even on brand new RV’s things are already broken and need fixing. I’ve never owned a brand new RV, but I have learnt that people will get second hand RV’s just so they are broken in and everything is working. My fridge wouldn’t light… what do I know about fixing an RV fridge? Nothing, but lots of people do. And there is so much on the internet and YouTube for you to use as a resource. I guarantee you will fix most problems googling it.
Be prepared to deal with leaks. That is one of the biggest issues that RV’s face. This can literally
ruin your entire investment. Water will find a way to get in, rot your walls, floors, roof, so check this often. Check your seals. I’ll say it again, check your seals. Make sure you are water tight, and then check again. Another problem that often happens is that if you rv is built with slides, they can often leak. There’s several reasons this could happen. As they go in and out, the seals and gaskets may not end in the correct position. Always double check them. Water is your biggest enemy. And when you buy an RV, THOROUGHLY check every wall, roof, floor for soft spots and water damage.
7. Living in an RV can be as cheap or expensive as you want it or need it to be. Your biggest cost will be staying in RV parks. (apart from gas) They have everything you need right there. Power, water, sewer, laundry, internet. It’s all there. But they can be very expensive. But in winter you can easily find monthly spots for under $500, which is pretty cheap. Also, having a full hook up in winter is convenient so that you can heat your RV with electricity, and be cozy. Summer Is peak season, and expect prices to double or more… suddenly this isn’t such an affordable proposition. I traveled in the summer staying in more remote areas, national parks, campgrounds, and places I’ve found that you can boondock.
There are several RV group memberships that you can get and pay a small fee up front, and then you can basically stay for free at their partner locations around North America. One of these is Harvest Hosts, which I enjoy the most. They tend to be farms, breweries, wineries, golf courses and attractions. I’ve always had a great experience, and for payment on the day, you are expected to buy something from the location. Which is a great deal. I was going to drink that wine or eat that food anyway!
If you are on the road all the time, then Gas will be your biggest expense, most definitely. It takes at least a few hundred to fill a motorhome’s gas tank, and it doesn’t last as longs as you’d like! But if you want to, you can live in a local area if you find a boondocking spot, or Walmart lots, or some cities even let you park overnight on the street, but this depends on the kind of rig you have, and the city or town you are visiting. There is often a sneaky off grid spot to be found.
So how much does it cost to live in an RV every month? It’s entirely up to you. You could easily park in different parts of Vancouver on the road and live there for example. I wouldn’t want to do that myself, because I wouldn’t find it comfortable. My motorhome has slide outs, and I enjoy the space. It is totally doable, but I like my comforts, so I compromise somewhere in between. Winter season is your friend though. Some campground are free in winter, and they are often in stunning locations. Or they will be very very cheap for a night. Winter is the time to embrace cheap living if you are set up for it. I’ve used summer for long distance traveling and going to specific destinations.
Pushing your comfort zones makes you grow. I suppose for me this is what it's all about. It's human nature to be cautious, sit back and not do that risky thing, or thing that you aren't familiar with because you are scared of failure or your family, or friends or spouse or society will look at you sidewise for wanting to do something so outrageous! Do it. Go and do
that thing. Whether it is hiking up a mountain, or salmon fishing in a Grizzly Bear infested area like I did, go do it. It’s terrifying and anxiety inducing at first, but once that threshold is broken and you are there doing it, your whole world opens up. Be brave. Give all the nay sayers the finger and live your life! You have one life, make the most of it.