I wanna live in an RV
June 9, 2008 10:50 AM   Subscribe

I wanna live in an RV

Okay so give it to me straight. I'm 25 years old, not married, and feel like doing something different for a few years. I want to live in an RV for the following reasons:

1. I think I can do it cheaper than renting a single person apartment in Raleigh, NC
2. I like the idea of being able to move it around to be more convenient when I do things.
3. I wanna renovate it and make it really cool inside
4. I wanna pay money into something I can own instead of dumping it into rent.
5. I want to own an RV at some point anyways
6. I think it seems awesome.

Tell me everything you can think of when it comes to doing this. Is it completely impractical? What unknown costs might I face (I dont have a clue what insurance on one of those would be like!). I'd want a relatively short one thats easier to travel in.

I think I can park it at Walmart for free anytime I want, and also just move it around the city for one night stays whenever.

I will follow up any questions because I know theres things I'm forgetting to say here.

Try to talk me out of it or into it. Help me brainstorm!
posted by ZackTM to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
You probably already know this, but gas prices are rising and will likely continue to rise, perhaps indefinitely. You might want to make fuel efficiency a major criteria in your search.
posted by farishta at 10:58 AM on June 9, 2008

Wal-Mart gets tow-ey after like 3 days or so.
RV's start to smell pretty quickly, clean often.
If you get one with a toilet, you need to regularly treat the holding tank and even more regularly empty it. Driving around/living with a large tub of pee or poo is unpleasant.
Showering needs a supply of fresh water in a tank, so does the sink.
Change the oil on the generator regularly and plug in to shore line electricity whenever possible.
Know your height clearance and be aware of where you are going.
RV's guzzle gas. Take this into account.
Get AAA plus RV service. Regular AAA won't help you.

Good luck with your new mobile home.
posted by knowles at 11:03 AM on June 9, 2008

My parents have been living in a camper trailer like this since Katrina. It's not exactly an RV since you need a truck to pull it around, but the living conditions are pretty similar.

You're going to get horrible gas mileage, but that's offset by not paying rent.

Visiting them is like visiting someone in a small efficiency apartment. They have a king-size bed in there, but it takes up 99% of the bedroom. Using the bathroom is like using the lavatory on a plane. They have a separate shower stall that's small but functional.

If you're going to be hopping from one parking lot to the next, you're going to need to think about conserving your water, electricity, and how to deal with your grey water. For my parents this isn't much of a problem because they stay at RV parks with hookups, but if you're in a parking lot you'll be using gasoline or natural gas to power a generator (or you'll be using batteries, but you gotta charge those somehow). You'll also be showering off a tank instead of connecting to a water source, so make sure your showers aren't too long and you have enough water to cook.

They have a 4-burner stove, a small oven, and a refridgerator and freezer that's just a little bit bigger than what you find in a dorm.

I think if you can find a water source, budget your fuel for generating electricity (are you going to run the a/c? that eats up a bit of power), and find a place to dump your grey water (there are facilities at campgrounds; you can't just dump it in the woods) then you could do it. Remember though, rising fuel costs can make this situation more expensive than rent.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 11:05 AM on June 9, 2008

Is there an RV dump station near where you want to be staying, and what if any is the cost, are two questions that you probably need to check out up front.
posted by frobozz at 11:05 AM on June 9, 2008

This probably isn't even a concern, but for one thing the interest you'll be paying on the loan to purchase this RV can't be deducted on your federal taxes the way that mortgage interest can.

You may have some trouble anytime you are required to provide a home address.

And with gasoline at $4/gallon, the cost of running the generator for any length of time each day could add up fast.
posted by wabashbdw at 11:08 AM on June 9, 2008

This is my dream too -- to live & work from a wheels-up custom RV, cruising the American west, with satellite internet.

However, the details are what get you.

Eg. security. RVs are easy to break into and unless you're there 24/7 tough to secure.

Frankly, I'm waiting for some sort of hydrogen cycle power plant to become available before even seriously considering this.
posted by tachikaze at 11:09 AM on June 9, 2008

Oh yeah, and be prepared to never have sex until you get a real home/apartment. I've never been accused of understanding women, but I would think that there are few who would be willing to add "Had sex in a WalMart parking lot" to their life story.
posted by wabashbdw at 11:12 AM on June 9, 2008 [16 favorites]

I would be willing to bet that the "and also just move it around the city for one night stays whenever" would get tiring really fast. Here in insanely expensive LA, there are people who live in RVs, and I know they are viewed as a nuisance by some homeowners. Most people do not want an RV parked near their house, neither do many businesses, so you might find you get chased away a lot. Most parking lots here specifically forbid overnight parking, and many residential streets too. Look into your local laws about overnight parking, try and find out where you can and cannot park.

How about renting an RV for a couple of weeks just to try out the lifestyle - see how practical it really is in your area.
posted by Joh at 11:24 AM on June 9, 2008

I don't know how common these are in North Carolina, but here in the northwest we have a lot of "RV parks." The nice ones have hookups for water, sewer, electricity, cable TV, and wi-fi. Renting a slot in one of these eliminates a lot of the problems discussed so far (though you wouldn't be as mobile). The parks I've seen so far were all fenced and the one near my house is staffed 24/7, so crime is less of a concern with those.
posted by hjo3 at 11:36 AM on June 9, 2008

You have to buy it (not cheap, unless it is pretty old), insure it, park it, service it, put new water in and dump black water out, etc. Are you going to commute in the RV from Walmart to work every day? Or are you wanting to park the RV and commute in your car? What will you drive when you need to go clothes shopping, or any of the other errands one has to run? Where do you sleep if the RV is in the shop? Who do you call if the RV toilet stops working on a three-day weekend?

It's totally doable, but my totally anecdotal and observational perspective is that people living in RVs are mostly either retired (and at least somewhat comfortable financially) or people who are economically very marginal and without the RV might be homeless or living in a really cheap apartment. The cool hipsters aren't living in RVs, unless it is a fancy biodiesel RV that they are driving to Baja in, or something like that.

The old people drive the big fancy RVs and pass through on their way to scenic pastures, and the other people drive small 1970s and 1980s RVs around town from one ok parking place to another. There's a bunch of them, and I can recognize a lot of their RVs, and I think it works out ok for them, but with a lot of problems and hassles. There is a state campground near to town where a lot stay, because it is really cheap and pretty safe, but you are limited to some number of consecutive days there (ten, maybe, in the off-season) and you need a car or motorcycle to commute from there into town for work; Walmart is ok with people staying the night but not with people setting up long-term residence; RVs can't park on the streets in some neighborhoods unless you are associated with a house (like, you are visiting someone and sleeping in your RV out front).
posted by Forktine at 11:37 AM on June 9, 2008

I own a small RV, but I don't live in it. Old ones like mine (an '86 Sunrader micro-mini, 19' long class C) are cheap to buy and insure for liability, but require significantly more maintenance than a car does. Mine weighs about 2.5 tons and gets about 17 mpg highway, which I'm told is very good for an RV. When we're traveling in it and actually using the toilet and shower, cooking and washing dishes, we need to refill the fresh water tank and visit a dump station about every 2 days (again, this is the tiniest of motor homes so the tanks are small). As others have suggested, find out how far you'd have to drive to dump the gray and black water. Mine does not have an inverter or generator, so it doesn't allow us to plug in any 110V appliance unless we're plugged into an outlet at a campground. The AC unit for the cabin is 110V, so it doesn't work unless we're plugged in either.

I guess I'm rambling, but my feeling is that your RV would not be the place you come home to at the end of your days the way an apartment is; it would become a lifestyle in itself. That doesn't hold as much appeal for me now as it did 10 years ago, when I was closer to your age.

On the bright side, what's the risk here? You can pick up an old one for cheap, drive it for a while and sell it when you get sick of it. Why not do it?
posted by jon1270 at 11:43 AM on June 9, 2008

I think you're largest problem will be overnight parking. We have a large parking lot where I work, and we are very friendly to RVs, but explicitly forbid overnight parking. We aren't an RV park, it increases risk of something happening on our property (accident, fire, robbery), and some people are not at all considerate - just dumping their waste water on the ground, filling up our dumpster, etc. If the cops are called on you more than once, which will happen without warning, be aware that they will not be friendly on that second or third visit to your thin metal door.
posted by shinynewnick at 11:43 AM on June 9, 2008

In NC, weather can be a challenge. Where would that thing go if a tornado is predicted to come? The summers are really hot, the winters can be really icy. It would be easier if you lived or moved to southern California where the weather is more stable. You could probably park the RV in the middle of no where and not worry about storms and severe heat.
posted by sixcolors at 11:49 AM on June 9, 2008

Oh yeah, and be prepared to never have sex until you get a real home/apartment. I've never been accused of understanding women, but I would think that there are few who would be willing to add "Had sex in a WalMart parking lot" to their life story.

I'm a woman who would fuck someone in a RV in a Walmart parking lot, and tell my friends about it. :) But, I'm a little bit of the hippie side. I think I could live with someone in a RV for a little while, it would be an interesting experience. Not forever, of course.
posted by sixcolors at 11:55 AM on June 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

I spent three weeks in an RV last year, travelling NY -> LA -> Seattle. If you're staying around Raleigh and not generally taking in an itinerant lifestyle, especially if you'll be doing this without placing yourself in a dedicated RV park for access to hookups and dumps, I think it would be completely not worth it.

You will probably also get hassled if you try to set up long term residence in any spot that's not an RV park or your own private property and run a risk of hassle even short term.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:57 AM on June 9, 2008

i think some wal-marts are starting to frown on the parking lot thing. http://www.freecampgrounds.com/noparking.html
posted by rmd1023 at 12:07 PM on June 9, 2008

Where would you get your mail? What address would be on your driver's license? And how much does RV insurance cost?
posted by GuyZero at 12:10 PM on June 9, 2008

I always thought it would be fun to travel the US for 6 months or so in an RV and did quite a bit of research on it a few years ago. Here are some things you need to know:

1) Not all Walmarts allow overnight parking. Sometimes this is a city regulation not Walmart's policy. The stores that do allow it limit you to one night.
2) Google RV and boondocking. There are a lot of websites and forums that list free places to camp.
3) You will need to empty your grey and black water tanks at an rv park, so add those fees into your budget.
4) Most of your questions can be answered by reading the forum at the Escapees RV Club website.
posted by Ariadne at 12:20 PM on June 9, 2008

There's a book available on any subject you can imagine, including Living in an RV.
posted by drezdn at 12:26 PM on June 9, 2008

Where would that thing go if a tornado is predicted to come?

Yea. When I lived in Georgia and storms rolled through town, part of the news coverage always had something along the lines of, "x and y rv/trailer park was devastated by tonights storms!"
posted by jmd82 at 12:29 PM on June 9, 2008

This is obviously possible, many in the retired set live either full time or for months at a time in RVs. Most of those go from park to park but there is the wilderness (or less well off) type. Plus of course all the people (usually single guys) who are homeless either because they move around for work all the time or can't afford housing for whatever reason. How affordable this is depends on your requirements. It will cost hundreds of dollars a month in some combination of operating and capital depreciation costs every month. More capital upfront can reduce the operating costs at the expense of greater depreciation. If you are just staying in town gas is probably going to be a minor expense relatively unless you are forced into a long commute. Licence/tags, insurance, and maintenance (tires, tune ups, oil changes, glass, batteries, 12V accessories, budgeting for major repairs and eventual structural replacement) plus the expense of living a JIT life style are going to be over riding. You'll need some money set aside for a at least a couple days in a hotel if you ever expereince an accident, theft or break down that separates you from your ride until it gets fixed. It sure won't be an investment though it may be cheaper than rent.

If it was me I'd buy a used tall Sprinter in either wheel base (144 or 170) depending on your wants. A 144 is a lot more town friendly than a 170 but obviously a 170 has quite a bit more interior space. The contractor group package has a 220 amp battery and second battery. The little turbo diesel they have gets great mileage for this class of vehicle and their construction makes customization easy.

I'd add a bulkhead with access door if not factory equipped behind the seats, a built in bed, a counter/desk with sink, gas fridge and cooking area, some shelving for storage and batteries/inverter. On board propane tank for the stove and fridge. A simple grey water system to handle the sink. Cooking would be via a propane camp stove which would also supply hot water for washing. If you aren't moving around all the time to charge your batteries Honda makes small generators that are pretty quiet and you can convert them to run on propane. My only electrical demands would be a radio (finally a use for those head unit remotes), lighting, charging AAs and my laptop, if you anticipate more you might need more generation.

Obviously this doesn't incorporate a shower or toilet. I'd join a gym/health club for showers and free bathrooms are everywhere (work, stores, gas stations, health club, parks) but I'd have a honey bucket or porta potty stowed for emergencies.

I wouldn't hesitate to park over night on quiet residential streets if I wasn't running the generator however it's not illegal here. You'd want to check you local laws.

One hassle is internet access. I probably use the internet a couple hours a day. However if you can arrange wireless you're go to go. Last time I was in the states several of the public libraries had wireless you could access from the parking lot.

wabashbdw writes "Oh yeah, and be prepared to never have sex until you get a real home/apartment. I've never been accused of understanding women, but I would think that there are few who would be willing to add 'Had sex in a WalMart parking lot' to their life story."

This might not be as rare as you think, especially in America. I wouldn't be surprised if the majority of sexually active americans have had sex in a vehicle.

Mail isn't a problem, lots of people get mail either at a PO box or general delivery. It would be nice though if you have a friend or parent who would let you use their address as a mail drop. Also you might need storage for stuff like winter/summer tires, tax and other records and off site computer back ups.
posted by Mitheral at 12:30 PM on June 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Diesel pushers cost more but get better gas mileage than non-diesel rigs. My wife's parents drive a 33' RV and a huge proportion of their money while traveling goes to gas; they would have picked up a diesel RV if they could have afforded it when buying.

If you have a car you'd keep with the RV, remember that towing it is not possible without a car trailer for some models. Saturns and Jeeps seem to be towable directly (the in-laws have a Jeep in tow), but many other types of vehicles cannot be towed without causing major engine damage unless they are on a car dolly. Car dollies are major pains in the ass to deal with, as they aren't as stable as a car on 4 wheels, and make it really damn difficult to quickly unhitch to make a run to the store, etc.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:49 PM on June 9, 2008

I know a couple who have one of these. They don't live in it but they do travel round a lot (they're retired), staying in RV parks, so hooking up to services isn't a problem. I remember them saying that the biggest pain in the arse is having to pack everything away before they move off.

So if it's going to be your home, remember that you'll have to pack away all your bits and pieces every single time you want to drive anywhere, or it'll probably get broken. That'd probably get very old very quickly.
posted by essexjan at 12:59 PM on June 9, 2008

Tynan lived in an RV. Here's a post about his first 10 days.
posted by nitsuj at 1:40 PM on June 9, 2008

I have a slight tweak on this idea to run by you: school bus. Buses are generally cheaper to buy than RVs, you have a blank slate to build off of, and they run on diesel (or veggie oil). RVs are more expensive, generally gas engines, and have crappy floor plans. I went to an RV show earlier this year to check out floor plans to see if I could get any ideas for my bus, and they were all very flashy and inefficient. I know older RVs are better at space management than newer ones, but still.

Converting a school bus is pretty easy, and there are massive communities online to help you with it (skoolie.net being my favourite).

There are some downsides to living in a bus, such as being more conspicuous/creepy seeming. Just food for thought. Good luck.
posted by daboo at 2:54 PM on June 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

There's a large community of folks that do this in the VANDWELLERS yahoo group. Go check them out:

posted by TigerCrane at 3:06 PM on June 9, 2008

I lived in an RV for about a year recently. One thing; buy an attractive, well maintained unit - preferably new. You will attract much less unwanted attention. I purchased a newer Toyota Tundra and Northstar camper - this afforded me much better gas mileage and the ability to park somewhere without it glaringly evident that I was squatting. The camper also allows me back road access – which I love. Do you have a skill amenable to this lifestyle? As pointed out, it can be more expensive than one might imagine. I’m a RN so there is the advantage of being able to work, literally, anywhere. Getting laid is not an issue, many people find the setup irresistibly intriguing.
posted by rotifer at 4:11 PM on June 9, 2008

Wow, there is a lot of stereotyping going on here. We have lived in our RV for 4 years traveled all over the US, we aren't retired...his work involves travel, I have an online business (data cards are great). We have not ever had a problem with crime, and I think it's rare in RVs. We move anywhere from every few days to staying several months at a time...depending on the work. We have stayed at Wall-mart once in a while ( and had sex there I'm pretty sure) but usually we stay in RV parks. Some are fancy, some are grubby...we usually pick some place in the middle. Rents range from $250-$400 a month with some higher or lower. That usually includes the utilities, sometimes not.
Yes, you'll need insurance...and a tow car, unless you want to take your rig every time you need milk. But the rest of the issues are pretty easy. You do need somebody to back you up to get mail ( and forward it to you), but there are even ways to work around that. Check here for more information and helpful hints.
Oh...and our bathroom doesn't smell. Sheesh.
posted by what-i-found at 4:59 PM on June 9, 2008

Alternative recommendation: volkswagen van plus gym membership for showers. Smaller turn radius, better gas mileage.

Raleigh is good for this. In northern states, the winter nights can be too cold to do this well.
posted by salvia at 6:40 PM on June 9, 2008

Have you considered living on a boat? Just thought I'd throw the idea out there.
posted by kmennie at 6:52 PM on June 9, 2008

Related question: Living in a motorhome

Although the question appears to be more about travelling in an RV, there is some very useful advice for living in one.

One of the posters in that thread actually lives in an RV (and is not retired), so maybe you could MeFiMail her.

You might also try to MeFiMail the OP of that question. If everything went OK, he should have already completed his adventure.
posted by lioness at 1:43 AM on June 10, 2008

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