A Few Thoughts on (RV) Size

At this point we have been traveling for 14 months, living in our RV full-time while on the road. Some of you have asked how the RV feels and if it’s becoming cramped. Here are a few of our thoughts on the subject – if you’re in the market for an RV of your own, perhaps they may be of some help.

Where we live

We have a 2002 29′ Class-C motorhome that we remodeled. It definitely feels like home and we love it more the longer we live here. We can see ourselves living here for many years, even if we decide to stop traveling. It’s more than big enough to be comfortable – we feel neither cramped nor is anything too far away if we have to go and get something we forgot.

Physically, the length from bumper to bumper is 29’10” and is externally 8′ wide. So, at most, we have under 240 sq ft of room. Though we will need a workshop or storage shed for storage once we settle down (there are tools and such in storage now), we don’t currently want anything bigger. If we were to build a house of the same size and add a loft above it this would feel absolutely luxurious as we’d have a whole extra room to use for something.

If anything, for traveling, we need something smaller.

We have stayed in a variety of locations – from WalMart parking lots to gravel campgrounds to spots in the woods miles off of a gravel road. Especially with the trailer added in, we are just under the common length limit for a number of campgrounds. While that hasn’t affected us it would be nice to be smaller and a bit more nimble, mostly for our times out in the wilderness. Our entire bedroom sticks out past the rear axle, so we have to be extra careful crossing pot-holes and dips, otherwise we can scrape with the rear bumper and trailer-hitch.

We have had to pass up on some splendid-looking sites because we couldn’t cross the drainage ditch at the entrance. A truck-bed camper in a 4-wheel drive truck or a 4×4 conversion van would suit perfectly for access to the back-country sites that we are drawn to. It would be small for long-term living (or so we imagine) but perfect for our time spent traveling.

A shorter version of what we have now would also allow us to be a bit more flexible, though we’d have to jettison some more stuff to shrink down somewhere smaller. Perhaps having a conversion space – a fold-down (murphy) bed of some sort – would be a good compromise.

Myriad Options

Along the way we have seen quite a few different RV’s of all shapes and sizes. I am intrigued by all of them and interested in trying everything out, at least for a bit. The teardrop trailers look like they’d be perfect for vacationing – small, light, cheap and nimble. The Class-B’s look rather agile and relatively fuel efficient, I’m especially drawn to the RoadTreks. We both think that the classic Airstreams look like a lot of fun and could have very interesting interiors (though I wouldn’t want to polish the outside of one). Always a fan of DIY projects, I love the idea of building a motorhome out of a work van of some sort.

There are so many different variables to consider, it can be hard to choose. We didn’t have, or want to purchase, a vehicle to pull a trailer, so those were out. The Class A’s (look like greyhound busses) were bigger than we wanted, narrowing the field further. Class B’s (that look like a big van) often didn’t have a dry shower (separate shower and toilet space) or permanent sleeping area and we didn’t want to convert our eating booth into a bed and back every day or have a wet toilet seat in our long-term home.

Our decision was relatively easy, as we lucked into a good platform that was readily available at a price we liked. Would we make the same decision today? Absolutely.

While a smaller RV of some sort would open camping options and we would be perfectly comfortable in one, we weren’t just buying for a road trip, we were purchasing a long-term house. We are comfortable inside, with enough space for our things and projects and to individually spread out and also comfortable driving (as long as we aren’t downtown somewhere or on a curvy, slippery road up in the mountain top). A larger RV would give us even more space but we don’t feel that we need it – though we might if we were stationary for longer periods of time.

Eventually, I expect that we’ll try out something different – maybe we’ll have a travel trailer of some sort for vacationing or build a conversion van so that we can spend more time in cities. Until then, we’re happy with our RV, love our home, and really can’t imagine anything better.

Our RV Is Our Home

We moved from a 1,200 sq ft apartment (with attached garage) into a less-than 240 sq ft motorhome (with pull-behind utility trailer).

Yet we don’t feel cramped. It hasn’t been a sacrifice. This is not a temporary situation required for our current adventure.

Our RV is our home. It feels homey to us, comfortable. We feel safe and cozy here.

When inside, we are surrounded by things that we love, that remind us of good times and fond memories.

Outside, we are proud of our house, glad to call it ours, and are comforted by its presence.

While running errands or off hiking on a trail somewhere we say things like, “ready to go home?” and mean it. They aren’t just a turn of phrase.

How much space do we need?

We paid attention to how much space we actually used in our apartment, and how much of it was little more than storage. Our usage patterns were the same in everywhere we had lived.

Our bedroom is for sleep and clothing storage. The bulk of our time is spent in the living room. Our kitchen and dining area see the rest. When the weather is nice we head outside, enjoying a patio or deck. A garage space is handy for working on occasional projects and storing tools.

The RV came with all of those spaces, just in smaller, more condensed packages. A bedroom with built-in clothing storage, a couch (living room) and booth (dining area) plus kitchen. We also have bonus room above the “car” cab with an extra sleep space, more storage and shelves (library). A pass-through storage compartment outside replaced the garage’s storage and our parking places combined with our utility trailer serve as a work-space.

Paring Down

A packrat, I had to get rid of a lot of things – paring down a collection that took me, literally, a lifetime to build. Some items (tools and books) took up residence in family’s storage areas (thank you!). They will come in handy for future projects, like building our next home, but aren’t necessary on this journey. Much was donated, sold or thrown away.

Collections of items that were kept as mementos were winnowed down to a single item to prompt the memory or captured in photographs. One thing reminds as well as a dozen. Seeing a picture of the reminder brings the memory back as well as the item itself did.

My life is not lessened for those things I am no longer holding on to. It was hard to let go, and I could not have done it without Ashley’s support, a tight time-frame, and a space limitation. Most of them I don’t miss, or even realize are gone – they are out of recollection already. The few things that I do miss have been tools or materials for a specific project (and are generally things that I have saved in storage). In fact, I still have too much stuff. More than a¬†year into our adventure and we are carrying around items that have not been used yet.

Ashley is not a compulsive saver. If anything, she discards too easily. Occasionally she has been glad that I saved something. Between us we strike a good balance – I see the potential in items while she tries to ensure I don’t save too much.

The Remodel

When we bought it our RV looked just like everyone else’s from the same timeframe. After debating we decided to remodel and make it our own. How glad we are!

Our RV feels like home because it is ours. While we visually updated the inside and made some changes to make it more functional we were ultimately molding it to our tastes. New flooring, painted walls and cabinets, reupholstering the seating, swapping out blinds for curtains, and replacing the couch with a window-seat. All of these changed the feel of the inside and let us add our personal touch.

We are familiar with the systems and bones of our home because we’ve worked with them all, in some fashion. I learned the floorplan by crawling all over it and copying it with wood flooring. Ashley knows the cabinets from applying 3 coats of paint over all of them. While there is still plenty to learn we are more than familiar with our home, inside and out.

Home Sweet Home

A friend recently asked if we were still comfortable, if it was a home and not just a vehicle. Resoundingly yes!

We love our RV! It is definitely our home. We would live here even if we couldn’t travel around. What more could we ask for?

Simple Life

Ashley and I have been very happy on our trip thus far. There have been few bad days. We really are blessed, and we know it.

If you step back and look at it, we are living a pretty simple life. We get up and have a leisurely morning, savoring our coffee and tea as we wake up. Then a home-made breakfast, eaten together.

We write or read or craft for a bit, then either head out for a hike, bicycle ride, enjoy some yoga, or do chores/run errands.

Lunch has recently been a picnic out on the trail (granola, peanuts and raisins, some peanut butter). Or picnics on motorcycle trips, or maybe a salad or left-overs at home. Frequently eaten outside, always together.

In the afternoon we finish our hike, do some chores, read some more, or do more crafts. This is often when we head into town to run errands.

Soon it is time to prepare supper. Once it is finished we eat, together. After cleaning up we relax, get in some more reading, and watch as the sky changes from day to night.

We top off the evening with some herbal tea before bed.

We go to bed tired after a good, full day.

It’s a simple life, one that makes us happy. Set predominately in nature, with good company, real food, and favorite activities. Unrushed and without schedules set by others.

Why Don’t More People Live Tiny?

We are proponents of the Tiny House movement. Fans of living small as the foundation of a large life.

For us, our goals, that means an RV. For others, probably for many, that means a fixed residence. Either way, Ashley and I frequently find ourselves amazed at our life and wondering why more people don’t utilize “alternative” housing to more intentionally build their lives.

Fourteen¬†months into our adventure and we love it more as we go. It suits us perfectly. Maybe one day we won’t. Perhaps our needs will outgrow the RV, or we’ll need something with thicker walls. Or the RV will prove to be too large for us and we’ll want something smaller. But for now, we couldn’t ask for anything better.

One size definitely doesn’t fit all.

Technically speaking, I believe a Tiny House is defined as less than 1,000 sq ft. We are living in less than 240. The popular shows on TV seem to focus on very small, 250 or less (from the handful of episodes I’ve seen).

I don’t wonder why everyone doesn’t live in a 220 sq ft house. A couple with young children need more space. A couple with children at all need private spaces. That takes more room.

RV’s aren’t well insulated (at least ours isn’t). They aren’t built for 4 seasons. So those in cold or hot climates wouldn’t be super comfortable, at least not without high utility bills to offset the lack of insulation.

It isn’t traditional

This, I believe, is the real reason people don’t pursue alternative housing. Financial institutions aren’t equipped to deal with non-traditional housing situations. Living in an RV doesn’t fit into their spreadsheets of security. Nor does living out of a converted van. At first glance wheels don’t provide a permanent mailing address.

Tiny houses fit into a gray legal area that have to be dealt with or worked around. Utilities have to be searched out and found. Traditional houses fit in designated situations and utility companies will gladly allow you to pay them for the privilege of letting them provide you with their services.

Nontraditional means you have to do a lot of the work

You have to find a mailing address for yourself and search out your own utilities. It might mean you don’t have unlimited water and electricity like you’re accustomed to. Perhaps you’ll have some extra paperwork to do that others won’t.

The benefits are great

A smaller abode can mean smaller expenses. Less to heat and cool means lower utilities. Fewer square feet require less lights to see and less furniture to fill. It can mean a smaller purchase price and thus fewer payments.

Though it doesn’t have to be, your home can be portable. You can live right next to work when you need to. Vacations could be more relaxing because you simply move to an area, taking everything you own with you (including the kitchen sink!) You could move as often as you like, with far less trouble – and none of those pesky leases or utility hook-up fees.

Live a Rich Life

In Ramit Sethi’s book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, he talks about the meaning of being rich. Rich doesn’t always equal great amounts of money. It is personal. Perhaps to you being rich means being able to eat out every single meal and taking flying lessons. Maybe it means that you can travel every month. Perhaps it means that you don’t have to work at jobs you don’t enjoy.

Ashley and I love to travel, to explore, to be out in nature. We are homebodies with wanderlust in our hearts. Our RV affords us this opportunity. It costs less to live in than our previous apartment so we can afford to travel. We get to take our home with us everywhere we go so we can comfortably experience new locations. And it is self-contained so we can spend a week or so out in nature without the convenience of utility hook-ups.

A traditional life is expensive. Keeping up with the Joneses can take all of your income. But it’s easy. Others understand it. Our culture guides you to that lifestyle.

But if it doesn’t provide you with a rich life, the cost might be too high.

A couple of examples

Whenever Ashley and I wonder why more people don’t live a non-traditional life we always think of people who we think would be happier with a few changes.

A single person (likely with college debt and maybe owing on some credit cards) who spends most of their time working, hanging out with friends, and perhaps engaged in some sort of hobby or second job to help pay the bills.

They could live in a conversion van that could be parked anywhere, provides a places to sleep and store clothes and food. A camping stove or little microwave could heat up meals. Wifi could be shared with a neighbor. A gym membership provides showers and exercise equipment.

This would allow them to live close to whatever job they have at the time, save most of their income (or use it to pay off the monies owed) and still functionally live their current life with no interruptions. They could go to work, pursue their hobbies, and hang out with friends.

If they have been moving regularly (new job, room-mate leaves, etc) this would allow them that opportunity without the annoyance of deposits and leases.

Too unconventional? Buy a travel trailer, pay for a long-term parking spot and live the same way, except with full utility hook-ups and a direct internet connection.

More than one

Of course, this isn’t limited to single individuals. Two people can be more than happy in a smaller house. Just look at us!

But you don’t have to travel to appreciate it. We were looking at a tiny house even if we hadn’t decided to hit the road. Less to clean, to decorate, and less room to fill with items.

By my rough estimates, we could have built a tiny house, paid it off with our then-incomes in about a year. Then, with some careful managment we could have continued saving and been almost financially independent (ie: retired) in around 10 years.

What about the children?

While I can’t speak personally, I have read about a number of families who are traveling even while having young children. One family of four set off to sail about the world with two boys who are not yet teenagers. Another family began a bicycling adventure, aiming to ride all the way across the continent, down to the tip of South America. Yet another, with three children, have flown around the world, visiting many countries with their family. The Tougas family have lived in five places in two countries, plus hiked the Appalachian Trail – including all three kids!

Children seem to be far more resiliant and flexible than adults. Especially if you can keep their routines/schedules the same. It will be an adventure for them as well. And just imagine how much they will learn! Geography will have meaning. Historic sites will help provide rich memories of the past instead of just being dates and names.

Of course, one doesn’t have to travel. There is something to be said about having a stable community. So maybe you don’t live in a tiny, mobile structure. But at least you don’t have to stretch your mortgage to buy the biggest thing you can. Purchase a modest house, work to make it yours, and revel in the joys of life instead of the joys of home-ownership.

No longer a spring chicken?

Travel and RV living runs in my family. My mom does it, who learned it from her parents. For at least 20 years they spent part of every year living in their RV. They traveled, visiting friends and family around the country. Eventually, they parked their travel trailer in a single location and lived half of the year there and half at their house.

If G-mom had gotten her way, however, they would have just lived in the travel trailer. She liked the town it was in so much more than where her house was. While I don’t remember her mentioning them specifically, there are additional perks to living in a smaller space – ones that might be of particular interest to someone who is older, or is living on a fixed income.

Everything is within easy reach. Forget something in the bedroom? It’s only 20′ away. Your favorite coffee mug is just across the aisle from the table. You can still clean every day, if that’s your habit, and finish the entire house with time and energy to spare. Not so steady on your feet? There is always something near-by to provide support if it is needed (a counter, wall, or piece of furniture) without requiring a walker or hand-rails inside your own home.

While my grandparents were able to keep their home and still travel, others might not be so fortunate. They could rent out or sell their home. Even if the sale results with them breaking even, their other retirement income (fixed amounts, I expect) would allow them to travel around. Even if the mortgage has been paid off this still saves on other recurring costs – taxes, insurance, utilities, and maintenance expenses. When funds run low, you slow down or stop traveling. If you need special medical equipment, it can be incorporated in your home.

Tiny isn’t for everyone

While we think that living tiny is a great way to build a foundation for a large life we know that it’s not for everyone. But we do think it’s for far more people than are currently doing it.

Incredible lives don’t just happen. They are intentionally designed and built.

Space Awareness

  When we first bought our motorhome and told friends and family our plans to move into it full-time we inevitably received this response:

Is that enough room? How will you fit everything in there? Won’t you get tired of each other?

This was not a spurious decision on our part, we had carefully considered this before our purchase and came to the conclusion that smaller would be better for us, for a variety of reasons.

We didn’t use most of our space anyway

After living in a variety of apartments over the years, gradually working our way up from a small one-bedroom to a roomy two-bed/two-bath with attached garage, we have noticed that we just don’t use that much space. Oh, we are able to fill as much space as we have available, but actually spending time in and utilizing space? Not so much and in predictable patterns.

No matter what grand ideas that we had for a spare room: office, art studio, guest bedroom, or neatly organized workshop/garage – it just became a storage space for unused items. We gravitate toward each other, so if one of us is in the living room doing something, the other can generally be found there as well.

Ultimately, we realized that we spend the majority of our time in the kitchen, dining area, living room (couch/laptop/TV), asleep in the bed, and of course the bathroom.

After living in a variety of apartments with differing floor plans, we also noticed that we prefer openness. We want the ability to interact from the kitchen to the dining area to the living area. The bedroom can be separate, as we primarily use it to sleep and store clothes.

An RV meets all of these requirements

It has a full kitchen, dining booth, and a couch-sized window seat in the main living area. There is a bedroom in the back, with a full-sized bed (which is what we’ve always had, no adjustment for us) and in-between there is a full bathroom.

The bathroom can be closed off from either or both the bathroom or living area, providing private spaces as desired.

Above the cab is additional storage and a pull-out twin bed. We keep our books on the shelves up there. There are privacy curtains available, so if we so desired, one of us can go and barricade ourselves in “the Library” for a bit of privacy.

All of the spaces that we actually use are available and open to each other – though they can be partitioned off so that we can have various spaces as we desire.

But what about when you get tired of each other?

Since we tend to gravitate toward each other anyway, we don’t seem to get tired of each other’s company. If we happen to, we will just plan a day separate from each other, or one of us will stay inside and the other will go out.

What did you do with all of your stuff?

We did put some things in storage. Most of my tools, a select few pieces of furniture, and some mementos. Fortunately, family kindly offered space so that we didn’t have to find a storage unit.

Between Goodwill, two yard-sales, family, and friends we dispensed with the rest of our possessions. (A process which Ashley had no trouble with while I struggled mightily. Though I appreciate and flirt with minimalism: I am still a natural saver and hoarder.)

In short, everything we own is being carried with us, or could be condensed down to a single storage shed.

So far we haven’t missed anything that we got rid of, and more than half of the things that we did bring along haven’t yet been touched.

How will we make do in such a small space?

Splendidly! We are minimizing material possessions in order to maximize our experiences and the relationships in our lives.