Living off grid in an RV is similar to living in a tiny house except you are completely mobile. Learning how to live in a very small space has some unique challenges. Even after living in a one room cabin for the past 20 years, there were still some challenges and limitations I had to overcome.
Keep in mind that RV living is not just for retired folks. It is in fact a much less expensive way to live than most people realize. On my 6 month RV adventure, I met several people that no longer wanted the expense and responsibility of maintaining a regular house. They sold everything and purchased an RV and now live easy with little to worry about.
Presently, there are about 1 million Americans living full time in an RV. But if you are new this idea, the most frequent question I hear is whether nor not an RV can serve as a complete house.
The short answer is “YES”. The longer answer is “Yes, but it depends.”
What I mean by this is it depends on how long you want to live in the RV. In other words, how will you actually use the RV, full time or part time? If there is one thing I have learned about living off the grid, if you are going to do it long-term you absolutely have to produce some level of comfort and convenience. If you truly want to live off grid in an RV, there are several things you need to know and several RV features that are important.
What Is Needed to Live Off Grid in an RV?
One very important thing that most people over look these days is that it truly takes very little to survive on a day-to-day basis. However, if you want to live full time off the grid there are some basic things you will need in order to live well. Otherwise, over time you will become discouraged and go back to what you were doing before. Here are some things that I learned after being off grid in an RV for 6 months. These are some of the most important things to consider as well as the best features of an RV.
RV shopping can be long, tedious, and very confusing. There are so many things and options to choose from. But ultimately if you are going to live in something, you need to think about having a certain amount of personal security. What I mean by this is the ability to lock up your vehicle with not much to worry about. After shopping around for months and considering numerous options, I finally elected to purchase a hard sided model. One of the reasons is that I could easily lock it up.
Protection From the Weather
Protection from the elements is key no matter where and how you live. Again, if you plan on living off grid in an RV on a full time basis, protection from the weather and the ability to stay warm and dry is imperative. This is another reason I purchased a hard sided model. After much consideration, I decided I could stay much warmer in an RV that had more than simple tent fabric between me and bad weather.
This is somewhat dependent on whether you are alone or with a partner. Personally, I purchased a 20 footer. This has more than enough room for me regardless of where I am. It is adequate for two people. A third person, plus any pets, makes it tremendously crowded when the weather confines you to the indoors for several days at a time. I know because I tried it.
Outdoor Living Space
If you have an awning this can create a little more living space regardless of the weather. Even during a torrential down pour, I would still sit outside and read because I liked the fresh air.
I looked at numerous models of RVs for about a year prior to my purchase. There were some really cool models that had these pull-out outdoor kitchens. The only downfall is that none of them would pull out into a covered area. If that is what you like just keep in mind that your are only going to be cooking during fair weather. Make sure you have the ability to be completely closed in and function well indoors. I spent this past winter in an area of the country where it would rain for 3 to 4 days non-stop.
Also, purchase something with an oven. It gives you may more options for cooking. My travel trailer has a combination microwave/convection oven and I love it. I can cook almost anything albeit in smaller quantities.
Adequate Bathroom/Toilet Facilities
This may seem like a given. But, I looked at numerous models that had a shower stall that was barely big enough to stand in and spin around. I now know what a sardine feels like. I decided that if I was going to live in something, I at least wanted a decent sized shower. So, I sacrificed a living bit of living space in order to have a larger shower area.
Some sort of storage space is necessary for clothes, extra food, dishes, cleaning supplies, etc. However, what I learned is that no matter what you do you are always going to need storage bins. That is unless you purchase something that is huge, which of course comes with a huge expense.
The longer I lived in my RV, the more I collected extra food and dry goods. I also do home canning and needed some storage space for that. I purchased three inexpensive, water tight storage containers that fit perfectly underneath the travel trailer.
I would strongly recommend that you purchase something that is pre-wired for solar. If not, at least purchase an extra battery, some solar panels, and a charge controller. This way you can truly be off grid.
When I first purchased my travel trailer I had numerous frustrations due to not being familiar with how things functioned. One of the things I learned is that the electricity from the battery is necessary to run some of the electronics in the trailer. Consequently, the battery needs to always have a decent charge. Your life will be so much easier if your RV is pre-wired for solar. Then it is a matter of plug and play and you have instant electricity.
Generator or Not?
Most travel trailers are going to come with heating, air conditioning, and a microwave. Generally, the air conditioning and microwave draw too much amperage to function on battery storage alone. This is where a small portable generator will come in handy. It can also be used to charge the batteries in the event there is bad weather for several consecutive days.
A 2000 watt inverter generator is efficient on gas and runs very quietly. They generally cost around $2000.
Fortunately the market for off grid, off road RVs is improving due to increased public demand. Consequently, there are some pretty rugged models out there. But I still see a lot of travel trailers with tires that look way to small for the size of the trailer. Those folks will never go off road. I would advise that you purchase something with decent sized tires with some rugged tread. I pull my travel trailer up a one lane rocky dirt road and through a creek in order to get home.
Source of Water
This goes without saying. You have to have water to live, take a shower, wash dishes, wash clothes, and clean the RV. Wherever you decide to live off grid, make sure you have a clean source of water.
If not, then learn how to purify water. I do this sort of thing almost everyday. You can learn more in my post on How to Maintain a Safe Water Supply.
Preparing healthy meals, eating well, and taking care of yourself is vital no matter where you live. Adequate refrigeration will help you to do that. Additionally, make sure the refrigerator will store enough food relative to the amount of people in the family.
On Board Storage Tanks
This is an important feature that cannot be overlooked. In order for an RV to be completely self contained you must be able to store fresh water, grey water (water from washing dishes and showering) and black water (waste from the toilet). Not only that, you must have a way to dispose of that water when the time comes.
When first shopping for an RV, I did not think this was a necessary feature. But the more I looked, the more I became convinced that it was truly advantageous to have a slide out. A slide out will give you a bit more room and make your RV living feel more like a home.
Seating and Dining Area
This goes along with having an indoor kitchen. Make sure you have adequate indoor seating and eating area in the event you have bad weather for several days in a row.
If you happen to live in a humid climate, sometimes the accumulated moisture will literally be running down the walls. Good ventilation helps with moisture control and prevents mold and mildew build up. Generally speaking, mold and mildew is considered and maintenance problem NOT a warranty problem.
Set of Tools
If you want to live off grid in an RV always, always, always, have a good set of tools on hand. You will use them more than you know.
Handy Man Attitude
When I purchased my travel trailer I was sitting in a small office signing paper work to close the deal. Part of that discussion was whether or not to purchase an extended warranty. The financial person said to me that only 50% of first time RV owners purchase an extended warranty. However, 96% of second time RV owners purchase an extended warranty.
He followed that by saying “It is not that you are purchasing a piece of crap. You just have to realize exactly what you are purchasing.” He went on to explain that RVs are not as solid as a house. Every time you move them it is similar to putting them through a series of small earthquakes. Consequently, things are going to move and things are going to break. Just keep that in mind.
I learned this important lesson my first winter in the RV. This goes along with having a good set of tools. With a good handy man attitude, you can fix things yourself without having to pay for services. So, just realize, you are going to have to fix things.
Where Will You Live?
It may seem silly, but this topic was saved for now in the event you did not make it this far. Maybe by now, it all seems way too complicated. Just keep in mind that if you are willing to step outside the box a little bit, you will have more adventure than the average person every dreamed about.
There are multiple places you can park an RV. Camp grounds and public lands generally have a 14 day limit for any stay. Forest service land is generally the same. You can also find a nice isolated RV park and pay rent. Just keep in mind if you want to live near the coast, you will pay a lot of money for this option.
If you have a friend or acquaintance that has vacant land, you may be able to live rent free. You may also be able to find a farmer that will allow you to do the same. You could also purchase a few acres and park the RV on the land semi-permanently. The last option, is to simply move every couple of days and take advantage of free over night parking.
It is also imperative to know the local weather conditions and general climate. Make certain that your RV can handle it.
Buy New or Used?
RVs generally hold their value well. What I found when shopping for an RV is that for only a few thousand dollars more, I could purchase a brand new model and have a warranty. Consequently, that is what I decided to do.
However, you can find some exceptional deals on used RVs that need some work. If you are a good handy man and have the tools and time, this may be the least expensive way to go.
Several years ago I took a full time job with a veterinary university in the Caribbean. I would regularly send pictures of my weekend adventures to friends. Of course my friends thought that was the only thing I did. But what I learned is that the problem with taking a full time job out of the country is that it was a full time job. I tended to establish the same routines as I did at home in order to make sense out of my life.
The same is true for living off the grid in an RV. You will develop routines for taking care of life’s necessities such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, etc.
I am for off grid living of course. But if you are determined to live off grid in an RV it is entirely possible. It is also a very inexpensive way to live. Go ahead and do it and you will have a great adventure.
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Go off grid and live well,