One of the early criticisms I received for My House Has Wheels is that it didn’t spend enough time on van living. There’s a reason for that and that reason is I think it’s crazy. Not too far from here is a homeless guy living in an old refrigerator box; just because he can do it doesn’t mean I’d recommend it as lifestyle.
My opinion, based on years of actual research, is that there are two extremes to avoid in RV living: Having too much space, which comes at a steep cost, and not having enough, which can make you crazy.
We have met people in every type of mobile living you can imagine from the grandest 45 foot diesel Class As to teardrop campers towed behind a Jeep. Through all that we met people who pushed the envelope at both ends. We met a girl workamping at a state park in Florida living in a pop-up tent. Another couple in Alabama lived in an Army surplus tent piled high with plastic boxes of their old life as they tried to save up money for a new house.
At least in the U.S. we are gripped by the desire for space. We put a premium on poorly built large houses over better built and more energy efficient smaller homes. A big house isn’t just shelter, it’s also a status symbol. It’s not just the home, it’s also that personal park we call our lawns. People sink an unbelievable amount of time and resources into maintaining grass. Americans spend more time on their lawn than they do on sex and, as a nation, spend more money taking care of grass than we do on foreign aid. Talk about misplaced priorities.
RV living is more than a mobile convenience, it’s also a realignment of your priorities. Instead of spending an average 150 hours a year on taking care of grass, you have the whole outdoors to explore. Instead of a 2,500 square foot monstrosity that has whole rooms you rarely use, you have closer to 250 square feet that you can clean from top to bottom in about 30 minutes. Once you spend time living in an RV, you’ll never look at housing quite the same way again. When you look at a 4,500 square foot house you won’t be green with envy, instead you’ll be glad you don’t have to clean that sow or mow that pasture they call a lawn. You won’t imagine the people who live there are successful, you’ll think they have more money than sense.
RV living looks so good compared to traditional housing because the houses we live in today are too big, ghastly inefficient and poorly made. It’s easy for RV living to look good in comparison. The best house I ever owned was 995 square foot house in the Pacific Northwest that both well-built and well insulated. I could heat that entire house with a small wood stove and it got so hot I had to open the windows in the winter. I thought 1,000 square feet was perfect for a single guy and even two people were comfortable. In my opinion the tiny house people have gone too tiny. 115-200 square feet is about the same size as a decent travel trailer which can be had used for $5,000 – $7,000, less than half the cost of a tiny house.
It’s also possible to go too small in RV living. I think living in a van is going overboard. In my opinion a small, ultralight travel trailer is a better option that costs less than many vans, has more space and it’s better organized. You’ll have at least a livable amount of space, a bathroom and shower, which I consider necessities. Just because you can live in a van, doesn’t mean it’s a good plan.
Your RV or camper will likely fall somewhere in between the extremes and will depend on a number of factors, including how much you want to travel. If you want to travel a lot, then seek the smallest, lightest camper that provides enough room for comfort. If you’re not planning to travel as much, then look for a bigger rig that offers a bit of privacy for two people.
RV living should be fun and stress free, so don’t feel like you have to be crammed into a space that makes you unhappy.