Learnings from 2 months living in an RV
Two months ago we started out. In fact, Halloween night was our first night in our RV. We stayed at a park just outside Disneyland where we could see and hear the fireworks up close to celebrate.
After two months there are a few things I’ve learned about living in an RV.
The first realization is really the crux of it all. The “R” in RV is not for ‘living’ nor for ‘full-timing’. When I remind myself that simple fact, all the things that begin to weigh on us get a little bit of perspective.
Like a regular house, there’s a lot to fix or keep up. If it’s not one thing, it’s probably five other things. And just when you think you’ve wrangled your last big issue – SURPRISE – something else pops up.
Nothing really prepares you for living full-time in an RV, except living in an RV. People told us we should have rented first. But I can honestly say, many of the problems we ran into, only revealed themselves after we’d been in it at least 4 weeks. Or, in reality, they were things that were OK for a week or two, but then became tedious, laborious, or things we HAD to fix.
Here are a few dozen or so things I’ve learned in the two months we’ve been living in an RV without traveling much.
1 – There is never enough room – not sure who in the tiny house world thrives as a family, but we’ve got nearly 300 sqft and it can be tough. Within that 300 square feet is 150 sqft of space you can actually walk. That means a lot of passing by each other, stepping or tripping over things that sit on the floor – things like shoes, space heater, coffee pot that needed to be moved off the small counter. It’s something we’re working toward – finding a home for everything.
2 – The layout of Class A’s for living is less than perfect. We’ve got a 35 ft bunk unit which means that there are bunks opposite the bathroom in the middle of the rig. That leaves a bed in the back, and the couch, dinette, kitchen up front. Everything faces the same way, and it’s not really conducive to having conversations, working together, or even watching tv, which is another 8-12 feet away between the captains chairs. Most rigs are some form of this layout and it’s obviously the most practical way to lay things out, it’s still lacking in my opinion. The dinette is the best place to sit in order to see and talk, but it’d be better if it were a table with four chairs, so someone could get out without both people on the bench having to get out. Nothing is perfect, but I’ve learned that some changes could go a long way.
3 – Slides. First, we looked at and almost bought a 2 slide unit. After seeing a 3 slide unit – the extra slide is in the master bedroom making it more roomy – we couldn’t go back. It’s my opinion that having 3 slides is necessary for that little extra space to walk, keep the laundry basket, store things when we’re parked, or just simply to have space to change your clothes, since the bath room is so tight.
Additionally, there are different slide mechanisms – hydraulic and Schwintek to name two. Hydraulic is what we have and we haven’t had any real problems other than a slight hydraulic leak, which has been fixed (we think). But we’ve looked at other units and have heard stories about the Schwintek slides that can too often get out of sync and get stuck. NO ONE WANTS THAT.
Lastly, our bedroom slide, like most, is different than the others. It runs on teflon blocks and needs to have silicone sprayed on it to help it move smoothly.
4 – Inside Storage – again, this is a full-timing issue vs a recreating issue. We stored a LOT of stuff. But we took a lot too. The kids have 2% of the stuff they had in the permanent house and there’s still no real room for it. In the bunk models, not all of them have drawers under the bunks. In my opinion, that’s one of the worst decisions made in bunk models. In addition to that, some models have cubby storage (linen type space) in the hall. Other units use that space on the bathroom side of the wall – not useful for the kids. It’s great that they came up with the idea for bunks, but they forgot the storage space for the people sleeping there.
Georgetowns and Winnies usually have storage under bunks. But the Georgetowns never put storage cabinets over the couch. They opt for a bigger window there. And any rigs with a 4th slide means the kitchen is now a slide. And since every slide loses about 10 inches from the ceiling and the sides, that means significantly LESS space for cabinets. We don’t have a kitchen slide, but we still have little counter and cabinet space in our kitchen because of how they laid it out.
5 – External Storage – outside of the rig are storage bays/ lockers/ what-have-you. This area can sometimes be called a basement. There are a few types – full-sized lockers, or marine lockers. In some sense, the full-sized lockers are just bigger doors covering the same space. But most of the time, the storage space is bigger with the full-sized lockers.
But there are a few main problems with storage:
a) some of the bays are already filled – generator, freshwater, batteries, dump station, etc. That takes away some of the storage.
b) locker doors can open UP, or to the SIDE. it’s really preference, unless you have marine lockers that open UP like we do. Because of the slides, MOST of the marine doors don’t have clips – that means, while you are digging around in the storage bay to pull something out, there’s no way to hold the door open, unless you prop it on your head or someone holds it. Can I just say LAME!
c) Gas coaches (and some front end diesels) have a front engine and rear drive. That means that there isn’t much passthru storage. This limits how much you can store. This happens to be a bad thing for full-timers, but a necessary thing for the weight of the coach.
6 – Weight. I hear that almost no one weighs their RV. I’ve heard that from people who’ve been using them for decades. Well, as fulltimers, weight can really add up. The rig chassis has a MAXIMUM weight for safety. And they do FAIL .
There is a GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) which says the chassis can handle ONLY this much weight. Then there is a Front Axle and Rear Axle maximum weight, so that the Gross Weight must be distributed – generally 1/3 on the front axle, and 2/3 on the rear axle.
The coach itself is generally rolled off the lot with a dry weight (no fuel) or an unloaded weight (with fuel) and you have all that extra weight for propane, water, waste tanks, people, pets, and stuff/cargo. AND yes, the hitch weight of anything you tow. That means you have to calculate how much you and your stuff weigh so you don’t over weight the coach.
The problem with most GAS Class A’s with bunks is that they come in a 22000 pound (or less) chassis rating. Ours happens to be 20,500 pounds. Dry weight is 18K or so. My calculations for fuel, propane, water, waste, and people is 2010 pounds. That means we have a few hundred pounds for ‘stuff’. We just happen to be a few pounds over weight if we have a full tank of gas and everyone is in the vehicle. Worse, our front axle is about max weight, which means I’m not sure how to fix that. There isn’t much even at the front of the coach to move.
We’ve looked at 22k chassis and 24k chassis. The problem we found was that even though the chassis was rated for more, the dry weight of each rig was also more, so in some cases we might only gain a couple hundred pounds of available cargo weight, despite having a 2000 pound higher rating. AND some rigs, both 22k and 24k chassis, had a 4th slide which means that the weight of the rig is significantly heavier due to the weight of the framing and the slide itself. And that can lead to failure of the springs & suspension causing a rig to be leaning.
We did find gas rigs that would be better suited, but it’s a trade-off of other things like windows. We are looking at diesels as well, but we’ve heard good and bad about them as well. The real issue is a newer one is REALLY out of our budget, and older ones need some work and we’re not really that adept yet, nor wanting to pay for more repairs.
7 – Windows. We’re doing this lifestyle to see the country. For us, that means we like windows. And one of my girls LOVES the bunk windows. Our rig has probably the largest bunk windows in the industry – they are four feet wide! We’ve looked at a lot of rigs and she doesn’t want to give that up if we can help it.
Also, the master bedroom has 3 windows. My wife and I enjoy it. Some people prefer less windows because they find it easier to sleep. But for us, we need light in that bedroom to make it more useful and positive in the day time. We have a window at the back of the coach (most don’t) and we have a window on each side of the bed. Many have a window BEHIND the bed, and I find that awkward – I have to sit up against it and I can’t see out of it. It’s all preference, but it’s what we like.
8 – Pets. I rescued a couple of dogs and a bunny years ago. In the family house, they became our pets. My youngest also won a beta fish at the county fair – 2+years ago! Before we left, we found an organization to take care of the bunny. I loved the bunny. He was quiet, loved people, did tricks, and was the only other boy in the house – even if he was a bunny. The fish made it onto the rig, and takes up valuable counter space. (Note: as of writing this, I think our fish friend has finally gone belly up. He out lived his expectancy for sure)
The problem with pets is, unless you have a pet that is an integral part of life (and trained), it’s really just a pet. What I mean is that, while the dogs were part of daily life at the house, we could let them roam the back yard, occasionally play with them, and they were easy to maintain. But we didn’t take vacations because we needed to board them or have a sitter – both cost money and one of the dogs is fearful of most people. They also (despite my prodding the family for years) never got any training. So, they can never be let off a leash outside like many dogs, and if left alone in the rig, they bark at most things – especially if they hear voices. This received a reprimand at one park.
Worse is that between them, their crates, and their stuff, they take up a LOT of room in the rig that we could use. We took out a chair to make space for them, plus it’s still not enough space since the co-captain chair can’t be turned without moving the crates. They also shed hair, they track in dirt, burs, and who knows what else. AND… they wake me up several times a night. Sometimes, they wander the rig – I hear the nails tapping on the linoleum (yes they’ve been professionally trimmed) and one of them jumps on the bed a couple times. I need to lock them in their crates at night, but I haven’t had the heart – yet. Also, they occasionally shake, which means their collar tags jangle loudly. We’ve tried taping them together so they jangle less, but it still wakes me up.
9 – Sanitation/Dump Station. Our dump station is small and crowded. It’s got the water connection, the waste tank connection, and the 50amp power cable, a cabletv/phone hook up (unusable) and an outlet, and a valve to fill the fresh water tank or just run off city water.
Add to that, it’s in a marine locker that opens up and that is under a slide – meaning there is no clip to hold the door open, I’d give it the worst design I’ve seen in any rig I’ve looked at. We’re still open to the option of changing rigs, so I look at the dump station on every rig and by far, this is the dumbest setup period. So much so, it’s in the top 3 of my reasons to abandon this rig and move on!
Forget about the door, it’s a pain to wrestle a long water hose, a fat 50amp cable and all the sewage stuff. I need to move some of the stuff to another bin for storage, but we’re already low in that department.
10 – Safety. The last eight weeks living in this rig are our only experience living in a rig. So I don’t know what’s exactly safe or not. Doing research and looking at other rigs, I’ve found a few things to be concerned with.
Blowouts can happen. Two things help to prevent tragedy with blowouts. First, a tire pressure & temperature monitor. Tires that are under inflated can heat up and explode. Yikes! The rig we’re in had a blow out with the previous owner. One of the duallies blew out causing damage to one of the storage bays. Second, in the case of a front wheel blowout, things could get very ugly. I’ve learned that you can install a Safe-T-Plus and that can ensure you maintain steering in the event of a front blowout. I’m planning to install one soon. Some rigs also have additional anti-sway bars for safer driving as well.
Lastly, there’s a lot of propane usage – furnace and fridge. The Norcold fridges are one of the top reasons for fires. I’m not sure what to do about that other than make sure ours isn’t on the recall list, but it crosses my mind at night. Fuel leaks can be another, as can overloading the electrical – which I think about when using our electric space heater.
Our smoke/CO2 alarm has been malfunctioning lately. Lately, each evening we get our hearts jolted when the thing starts randomly beeping. No it’s not the batteries. I’ve changed them. I now open the battery container and then close it again, and in about 24 hours, it’ll beep randomly again. We need a new one – two preferably, and a second (& third?) extinguisher. We’ll be looking into that soon. I guess maybe sooner, as waiting too long could put us in a situation where we’d need it and be without it. (makes note to self)
11 – Personal space. What personal space? I always joke that in a rig, if you want to get away from someone, you just move over a foot or two. That’s about all you’ve got, outside of locking yourself in the bathroom. Unlike a 5th wheel or Travel Trailer, there aren’t really any good places to go inside the rig if you want to get away.
This issue has been coming up more lately as everyone is sort of getting tired of having no place to just ‘be alone’. And with winter and freezing weather (for California) outside is only good for a short time.
**If you have any suggestions for this, I so need to hear them. We’ve thought about getting a rig that had an additional bunk over the cab, thinking that might be one place where someone (one of the kids) could go to be alone. My youngest likes to hang out on the dash and read and look out the window. Many times, I don’t even see her there and wonder where she is – a world away in a book but keeping an eye on the world around her. But that space doesn’t work for anyone else.
12 – TV. OK, honestly we rarely watch TV. Seriously, almost never. But just in case, I fixed the TV antenna and got a hard drive full of movies for us to watch, and we’ve always had Amazon Prime for movies. It’s rare – 1-2x a month that we watch (I say this while my wife literally just turned on the TV to watch the New Year’s Rose Parade).
But the person we bought the rig from put in a ROKU TV. This is by far the dumbest smart-tv I’ve ever seen. To use it you have to turn it on and then select what you want it to do. For us, just to watch TV, we need two remotes and to hold the cabinet open so the remotes can work. Heaven forbid you want to change the channel while you’re sitting down. I will fix this. Even if we rarely watch TV, I can’t stand things that don’t work well.
13 – One car. When we had a house, we had two cars. We could go different places whenever we needed. Now with one car, we have to learn how to run errands together in one trip. It’s a bit difficult to plan things and trips can take long hours. What we used to get done at the same time is now done one-at-a-time, and means the whole family is along for the trip. This means I’m often trying to encourage tired kids and make the trips a bit more fun for them – for the benefit of the adults too.
14 – The beds. Beds in RV are often ‘short’, meaning that instead of being 80 inches long, they are 72-75 inches or so. This leads to feet hanging off the bed. We’ve solved this by getting mattress extenders, and are also looking into adding a bit of wood at the end of the bed that can be folded away when we put in the slides. The Bunks though, ARE 80 inches long – the longest in the industry I think –, which can also be tough for sheets as they are only 30 inches wide, making them the equivalent of a ‘split-queen’ which is expensive. Bunk sheets are difficult anyway due to the short width and no fitted sheets.
15 – Campgrounds. Not everyone gets what we do. Not every campground is what it presents itself to be. And be prepared for just about anything. We needed to hook up to 30amp, even though we were 50amp. But our 30amp connector was not a match for what the campground had. Twice we had issues connecting to the sewage drain – once because it was a foot underground and I had nothing to go that deep to connect, and another time, someone else’s connector was stuck in a drain. I had to hack it out to connect mine.
Twice, we’ve hooked up and despite having a water filter, yellow water came out. Ick!. Hoping it was rust and not the other thing. I sanitized our lines after both bursts of yellow water. But I’m investigating better filters.
Some people are living in these parks and they work, which means they start their loud diesels or muscle cars early in the morning. Thank you for getting me up to see the sun rise :).
Not everyone wants to talk to you. Nothing new there.
All in all, we’ve been fine, but it’s been good to learn a few things and be more ready for what else we might find. We’re here to enjoy life – as well as to live it, but often the people running the campground are anything but helpful (we’ve even been chewed out and had a nasty note put on our rig), but it was a good reminder that we’re not going to be treated as special anywhere just because we’re in an RV. In fact, life is pretty much the same as it was when we lived in a regular house. People are people.
The biggest thing we’ve learned is that little things make a BIG difference.
We’ve only got a little bit of space. So ANY additional space is a plus. For extra storage, we’ve taken out the hide-a-bed in the couch and built in some storage. This gives my wife a place to store her pressure cooker, conduction plate and a 12-pack of paper towels.
Little holes or gaps in the floors or slides can really make a difference in temperature – and water leaks.
Our shower is nearly 12 inches off the ground. We’ve solved the water pressure problem by using an Oxygenic shower head and removing the flow regulator in the shower. But stepping out of a small shower door and stepping out 12 inches to the ground – while trying to not fall into the toilet – is a daily acrobatic task.
It’s not quiet. Our windows are not double-paned and that means wherever we park, we hear traffic or outside noise. That always wakes me up, too. And if you’re sick and need to cough or blow your nose a lot, well, everyone hears that, so nights can be rough if someone is sick.
Sometimes, the leveling seems to be off. Even after you go thru the whole process. It means feeling like your going up/down hill, or doors & cabinets swinging open.
While I’ve listed a lot of negative things, there are certainly positives so I want to end with those.
Unlike hotels, you always know who slept in your bed the night before – you.
I used to be in a hurry and avoided people. In fact, just a few years ago, I really didn’t want to chat with people much. Now, I get to experience different people and hear great stories. It’s also great to hear that others had similar difficulties that you have. It’s encouraging to hear that the couple in the beautiful, new rig spent a year getting it fixed and dealing with issues – sometimes in tears, fears and fights. It makes you realize that while this IS difficult, it’s not just you.
Doing this forces us to be creative – and adventurous. Every challenge is waiting for a solution. Sometimes it takes longer or goes on the bottom list, but we’ll get to it. It’s also been great because the kids are often happy to try to offer ideas for how to solve problems. This means they are invested and interested in success. Unfortunately, it also took a family meeting to explain that we’re all going to do chores, and we’re all going to help plan where we’re going and what we’re going to do. But giving that structure and specific time each week will help that occur.
Windows. We have a lot of windows. Big windows. The master has 3 and the bunks have four foot windows.
The bunks are 80 inches long. Most are only about 72 inches. This is good and bad. I’d prefer that the extra 8 inches was storage, and that there was storage UNDER the bunks. But all-in-all, they’re bigger than most and that’s good.
I haven’t even mentioned all the travel and amazing things we hope to see. But that’s mostly because we haven’t actually left ‘home’ yet. We’ve been staying close-by for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. But we’re scheduled to head out on Jan 3, toward San Diego to meet up with a bunch of other Fulltime Families.
We’re obviously still learning. I’m sure we’ll continue to learn more as we actually begin to travel, meet other families and encounter new challenges.
I’d love to hear your challenges and rewards that your family has encountered.