I'm not cut out for these series. I write a couple posts and then start wanting to write about other stuff, but I'm already locked in. Anyway, this is post three of the Living in a Small RV series, coming live from my RV on the side of the road in Austin, TX.
There are three tanks on an RV. Fresh, grey, and black. The freshwater is your water source to be used for showering, washing, and even drinking if you don't mind your water being a bit plasticky.
Grey is usually for the shower and sinks, and black is for the toilet. In my RV, for no good reason that I can deduce, the shower drains into the black tank.
On a SMALL RV like mine these tanks will last about a week between fills. Judicious use of public bathrooms and sponge-bathing rather than showering can get you a lot longer than that.
To drain and refill your tanks you just go to any RV park OR some rest stops OR most truck stops OR free public dump sites. Prices range from free to $15, with most places being $5 or less.
The actual process is oddly enjoyable. You hook one hose up and first dump the black water through it. Then you release the grey water valve which also acts as a cleaner for the valve and hose. Unhook the hose and give it a quick rinse and you're good to go. No mess to deal with.
A normal hose hooks up to the water tank and fills it up easily. On the inside are gauges that tell you the status of your tanks, but toilet paper routinely sticks to the sensors of the black tank and screws up the readings.
RVs have either a propane or electric water heater. Mine has electric, which is terrible. Right now it's hot enough that I don't need a water heater, but I may have to run the generator to shower in the winter. I've also heard of people heating water on the stove and sponge-bathing with it.
Parking seems really difficult until you actually look for it, and then it's easy to find everywhere. Getting an RV that's around 22 feet makes it possible to parallel park or park in any normal spot. Any longer and that and you're running the risk of getting keyed because you've screwed up the parking situation for other people.
You'd be surprised how many places you can park for free, usually for 72 hours or so. Basically anywhere that doesn't say you can't. This even includes prime downtown spots during the weekend. Sometimes I wish I still went downtown just because I could park directly in front of the clubs.
The best areas are the ones that are residential but near downtown, or better is mixed commercial and residential. In those areas the residents probably aren't so paranoid about who is parking on the street.
Again, good to have a nice looking small RV so that you aren't an eyesore.
I park about a mile and a half from the center of downtown, one street off of the main eclectic restauraunt / coffeeshop street. On that street are a couple condo buildings, a restaurant, a small office building, a private elementary school, and a theater.
You can basically ignore the 72 hour rule as long as your neighbors like you. Police probably won't enforce it. When I was programming a lot I holed myself up in the RV and parked for a week at a time. Even if you do have to move, just a few feet is usually okay.
When you're traveling you can park in Wal Marts or rest stops.
The one thing to know about parking is that you have to be relatively level if you want the fridge to work. You can buy levels or blocks to level if you want to get fancy, or you can use a tip that an RV park manager gave me. Just find a level spot.
Because the road contours to the outside I usually have my back tire against the curb and my front tire a foot and a half away from the curb. That's enough for the fridge.
I'll admit that I do almost no cooking in the RV. I've done a bit, though, so I'll share what I know.
Fridges can be powered in two or three ways, depending on the model: battery, AC power, or propane.
Battery is terribly inefficient and can't get very cool. I'm not sure when the prudent time to use it would be. Maybe if you didn't use all of the electricity you generate and were driving around with the AC on.
AC power is great, but it's obviously impractical to run the generator 24/7.
Propane is a miracle. I have a very tenuous grasp on how a small flame chills the fridge down to 37 degrees, but it does, and it does it using very little propane. Maybe $5 a week at most in the summer.
RVs come with microwaves, which I hate and never use. They can only run on AC power.
They also have propane stoves, which are great. Mine has a two burner which you light manually. Just like a normal stove you can adjust the flame and all that.
Some bigger RVs have ovens, but neither of mine have. I used to have a Panasonic Light Oven in my old one, and would just run the generator for a few minutes while I toasted my veggie burger or heated up soup in a makeshift tin foil bowl (don't need to wash anything!)
Internet is a must! Not much to say here, except that you get a wireless connection card from any of the major providers. It will run you $60/month for essentially unlimited bandwidth.
It's more expensive than your cable and also slower, but hey... it's as fast as decent DSL and it's your only bill that will increase over living like a normal person.
To charge things, you buy either the car charger or the USB chargers and get car -> USB adapter. I got one with two sockets so I can charge two things at once.
I don't watch TV, but these things are pretty well equipped. Mine has a huge crank-up antenna that would probably work for HD reception, although I'm not totally sure. Then again, every show you want to watch is also available online, and that's a lot better.
Not everyone lives in this sauna that we call Texas. In fact, rumor has it that some people even live north of Kentucky. For those people, heat might be equally or more important that air conditioning.
RVs come equipped with a forced air furnace. The battery blows air through a heating element that's heated by propane. The bad news is that this thing drains the battery like crazy, making it useless for long stretches.
Fortunately, there's a miracle product called the Olympian Wave. it uses NO battery, barely uses any propane, and the smallest one can keep a small RV 20 degrees warmer than outside. I'll be getting the next biggest one which has double the BTUs.
The installation is super easy and no permanent modifications have to be made to the RV. Just tap into a propane line and let her go.
Best method, I hear, is to set the forced air thermostat for 50 degrees so that if things get too chilly it will keep you at 50, but the Olympian can do most of the work.
I know you guys want pictures of all this stuff. Maybe I'll make a little video of my RV so that you can see all the stuff I'm talking about. Rialtas have retractable bathrooms, which are really neat as well.
I think this is all I have to say about living in an RV for now, but if you have any questions, I'll answer them all in the comments.
Tynan, I've definitely enjoyed this series... I plan to do this myself in the near future. Question: is insurance similar in price and ease to car insurance?
You could get the RV on a 5 year loan and treat it like rent if you cant afford 10/20k upfront. It would be a pretty cheap rent!
I looked up the broadband plans in the US and they all have 5GB caps. That's almost nothing!!
I'm sure I could tell you this some other way, but while I'm here: your flash bake oven is in mom and dads storage if you're wondering!
I'm in Austin too. Clear high speed mobile Internet is about 45 a month or 55 for home or mobile. It's great. I became a dealer after being 'downsized'.
Can someone suggest utensils and living accessories that makes life easier for two adults, a puppy, and a cat?
The RV may be a nice toy when you're rich, but what about people who can't shell out 10k or more to buy one?
What would be the cheapest way to "have shelter", but still be able to use your laptop and bathe from time to time? I'm thinking no setup money, less than 300 per month. Any ideas?
This was posted five years ago, but it is still a common misconception. The trick is not to rush into the purchase. I am currently living in a refurbished 1988 Chevy Sprint which I bought through Craigs list for $3800 when I lost my job and my house was foreclosed on. It took me seven months of couch surfing, taxing the generosity of several friends, and a lot of disappointment to find it, but this is a case in point of the idea that patience is a lucrative virtue. I love this RV.
I took it to my mechanic and had him go over it. If any seller baulks at this, walk away. There are too many other opportunities. I also ran it through the car wash a couple of times to be sure there were no leaks.
The one thing that went bad on it shortly after I bought it was the steering gear($487.00), and the break cylinder seals went out necessitating a new cylinder purchase. There were also a few minor electrical problems, most of which I fixed myself, and I was planning on ripping most of the old stuff out and customizing it anyway. Everything else has been working fine and it has everything I need, and it absolutely beats the hell out of being dependent on the largess of friends for a roof over head. I have christened it The Serenity, because it really is more serene than I have been used to in a while and because I loved the Firefly series.
I have since gotten a subsistence job at Panera Bread. I also do network and BPI building energy efficiency consulting part time. The cost of living in the RV is so low that even the small income from Panera allows me to save money each month when the consulting slows down.
I have been happily saving and planning further mods ever since I moved in.
I think Tynan mentioned that his Rialta got approx 20 mpg Hwy. I would assume 14-15 city.
I think my 1979 Itaska gets maybe 12 mpg hwy, although I have removed a ton of weight including water tanks and kitchen so maybe a little better now.
I'm not sure if you posted this before, tried to look, but couldn't find.
What is the actual gas mileage of your RV in city and highway driving?
Obviously living in the RV would make it awesome for travelling. From my quick calculations based on some info I found online, it seems to be pretty expensive to go long distance.
I've lived in my RV for 10 days now. I have only gone back to the condo to get clothes, and to sleep one night (basically I picked a loud parking spot that was 10 feet from the condo and it was 5am so I just went inside instead of driving to a quiet spot). A lot of things have panned out as expected, but there have also been some big surprises.
I could go on and on, but you probably get the idea. I totally love living in this RV. It's a great feeling to drive over to my mom's house and have her say "Oh, you didn't happen to bring those tickets, did you?" and to just be able to walk into my house and get them.
My parents are really into the RV thing, which is funny. They're always a bit skeptical about my schemes. My dad helped me take out the CRT TV and the Microwave which I replaced with a flat panel and a flash bake oven. My mom made me nice curtains. I'm trying hard to resist the urge to totally trick out the RV. The carpet smells a bit musty so I might put in granite tile or bamboo floors. I think that would be neat.
This post was originally posted by me on a different blog on May 21, 2012:
My wife and I took a road trip from San Francisco to visit the Overland Expo in Flagstaff, AZ this past weekend. The best way for me to describe it is a mecca for overlanders with copious amounts of offroad vehicle porn. If you’re at all serious about overlanding, it’s a can’t-miss event.
We’ve been considering a slide-in pop-top camper (like the one Tom & Janet put on a Nissan Titan in this article), so we went primarily to learn more about slide-in pop-top camper vendors. Here’s a review of what we learned, and what we experienced at the event.
About the Overland Expo:
This is a three day event in its third year. It’s a mix of exhibitors and attendees who participate in overlanding, or want to get into it. Overlanding is a somewhat new term to describe self-reliant overland travel where the journey is the goal – what one might’ve called “traveling the world” before. Although we’re interested in taking a boat around the world at some point, interestingly there is almost no overlap between overlanders and those who travel by sea, despite the vast similarities. The closest we came to seeing a crossover is the Turtle V vehicle created by Gary & Monika Wescott, who have been traveling the world in various vehicles for over 30 years. I took a video of Monika describing how they used marine-grade equipment in their Turtle V vehicle because the typical RV gear isn’t strong enough for extended overland travel.