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So we talk a LOT about how much we love living in our 1989 Toyota Dolphin camper, and we do love it! But it’s definitely time for us to dig into some of the challenges that go hand in hand with this lifestyle. Some of these challenges are social, some are emotional, and some are humorous, but they ALL are surmountable. So here we go, let’s get real about living in a motorhome!
Where to park for the night
One of the best parts of RV life is the fact that your house is always with you! However, the downside to that fact is that you need to find a place to park your house every night. While there are tons of cheap and free campsites available, there will inevitably be days when you just can’t find somewhere to park for the night. This can turn into a really stressful situation since no one wants to get a 3am knock on the window from the cops.
Our go-to parking spots when we’re in a real pinch are:
Highway rest stops
They may have a time limit (usually 8 hours, if any), but rest stops are there so that people can get off the highway and sleep if they need to. These are often loud and smelly from fumes (at night they fill up with 18 wheelers who run loud diesel generators), but they are a legal and safe option for one night.
Walmart and other big box stores
We have only done this a couple times because it’s definitely not the most comfortable option. The bright parking lot lights stay on 24/7 in these lots, and many of these parking lots tend to be noisy. However, in a pinch a store parking lot can be a life saver.
Walmart, in particular, has been cracking down on this lately so be sure to ask security if it’s okay to park overnight before you get settled in!
Other good options besides Walmart include: Cabela's, Costco, Target, and chain grocery stores.
Casino parking lots
There are small casinos scattered all over the US and Canada, and most of them are happy to let you park for free in their lots. For more information read our post about casino camping.
This may sound like a simple thing because our motorhome has a kitchen sink, right? Well, yes, it does, but we are always trying to conserve water. Doing dishes in a kitchen sink the same way we would do them in a stationary home wastes a lot of water, so through trial and error we figured out a better system!
First, if our meal was not too messy (think sandwiches versus spaghetti) then we immediately wash our dishes using a spray bottle full of soapy water. Hit them with a few sprays of soapy water and wipe with a paper towel!
For messier meals we wipe them off with a paper towel and then they go in a dish tub in the shower stall (I don’t want to have to look at dirty dishes all the time). In a stationary home we would always do our dishes as soon as we dirtied them, but living in a travel trailer or RV means you want to conserve water, and doing dishes in one big batch saves a LOT of water.
Once our dish tub is full we fill it with soap and water, and we fill a second bucket with water. The dishes get scrubbed in the soapy water tub, and rinsed in the second tub of water. Then we usually put our dishes out to dry in this tray, which is one of our favorite RV accessories.
This system works very well for us, and really helps us save our water!
Going to the bathroom
In a stationary home you don’t have to deal with your own waste, you don’t really have to think about how often you go to the bathroom or where your waste is going. Living in an RV year round you will get very accustomed to monitoring your waste. It’s gross, it can be awkward, and it’s a fact of this lifestyle.
Your RV holding tank can only hold so much waste, so you have to keep a close eye on it to ensure you don’t overfill the tank. What happens if you overfill the tank? It's bad, very bad...
You also need to add chemicals to the tank to help break down any solids and keep the odor down. But let me be very straight with you here: On a hot day, no matter what chemicals you’ve used, your holding tank is going to get stinky. For this reason, I recommend using campground and public bathrooms as much as possible when they are available to you, and dump your tank as frequently as possible.
I suppose the lack of smell is one perk to winter RV living, but that also comes with it’s own host of issues!
Living in a camper full time is difficult in winter weather
We avoid this completely by chasing good weather! Why? Living in a camper in the winter means that you need to insulate everything. Motorhomes are not built for winter weather, and even very high end RV’s do not have much insulation. If it gets very cold your RV plumbing can freeze, the water in your holding tanks can freeze, and I’ve even heard of the waste in a holding tank freezing so it can't be emptied!!!
If this sounds as hellacious to you as it does to us then I would plan on chasing the warm weather like we do!
Can you live in an RV legally?
The truth is, in the United States, this is a big grey area. The answer is: if you are in an RV park full time, probably. However, RV parks are expensive! It’s true that RV park monthly rates tend to be cheaper than the daily rates, but they are still really high. In fact, in our hometown of Eugene, Oregon it would be cheaper to rent an apartment than live in the local RV park. Since many people choose camper life as a way to reduce costs, the RV park option is not a great one.
The key to keeping this lifestyle legal is to be on the move pretty frequently, and why we often think of ourselves as nomads. BLM land is a beautiful, free camping option, but you can generally only stay in one spot for 14 days before you are expected to move to a spot at least 25 miles away. The exception to this is a few areas where you can get long term stay permits that allow you 6 months on the land for a very reasonable price (around $150). Quartzite, AZ is one spot where you can get an extended stay permit for BLM land.
In Baja, Mexico there is no limit to your camping stay, which makes it a FANTASTIC option for cheap winter camping (not to mention the fact it’s freaking gorgeous)!
Do people think you’re homeless?
This is a very touchy topic in the van life and RV life communities. If you are a member of any van life, RV life, or boondocking group on Facebook you have likely seen the arguments this topic can incite.
The simple answer is: yes and no (and also, who cares?!)
There are always going to be people who are uncomfortable with alternative lifestyles, and make no mistake, living in an RV year round is an alternative lifestyle. You will likely encounter people who look down on you, or even are rude to you once they realize you are a full timer.
I handle this by shining it on. I know that I am happy and fulfilled in this lifestyle. I also know that when someone is unkind to me about my lifestyle they are saying FAR more about themselves than they are about me and my choices.
I’d also like to take this a step further and point out that I’m really uncomfortable with the way homelessness is stigmatized in the United States, and specifically in the full time RV community.
The truth is that many people do turn to van life or RV life because they have no other choice, and this lifestyle gives them more control and more dignity. In my opinion, the members of our community who did not have a choice are an impressive group who have truly found a way to make the best out of a difficult situation. I would love to see the community begin recognizing that, rather than alienating the “no-choicers” due to a fear of association. Whether we chose this lifestyle or not, we are all gleaning the shared benefits of more time outdoors and more personal freedom.
To dig into this topic more fully, I highly recommend the book Nomadland by Jessica Bruder. She provides a beautifully written and balanced look at the lives of many nomads.
Hopefully this post has given you some real incite into how to live in an RV full time. It’s not always easy, but we find that the benefits FAR outweigh the cons, and we love living in a motorhome full time.
Preparing for your own camper adventure? Be sure you have everything you need!